Do admissions officers know each high school relatively well?
Here is my video response to the question.
if only. It’s your job, and your conselor’s job to describe your high school in enough detail so that the admissions officers can know where you are coming from.
Depending on how long an admissions officer has been responsible for a particular territory, they may be very familiar with the high schools in that region. Admissions officers travel to high schools in their territories, develop relationships with counselors over time, and read many applications from the same schools. For newer admissions officers, or for admissions officers who are less familiar with a region, each high school sends a detailed profile of their school along with every application. That way, the admissions officer has all of the information they need to understand where each student is coming from. If there are questions that can’t be answered from the profile or from past experience, admissions officers will call the college counselor for clarification.
The degree to which admissions officers know high schools is a function of several factors, including their years working in a particular geographic region and the previous applicants to that college. I remember attending an information session with my son and being so impressed that the young admissions officer knew his school by name. Remember that reps are assigned geographically, and part of their job task is to travel within that region, especially in the fall. Through various stops and college fairs, they get to know various schools in their regions well. Of course if previous years’ students have gained admission, the admissions officers may be more aware of the school. Sometimes, guidance counselors may wish to introduce themselves to admissions reps, particularly if they have candidates whom they think would be of interest to a particular college.
Admissions officers usually have specific regions of the country for which they are responsible. That means that they don’t need to know the merits and strengths of every high school in the U.S.! They are focused on smaller regions. Admissions officers also have the benefit of studying the school reports submitted with each application. School reports provide admissions officers with information regarding the strength of curriculum, student achievement levels (grades/test scores), and other information like extracurricular offerings for the applicant’s school. That way — admissions officers can get an idea of the quality of the high school — and also — where the applicant falls within the student body. Admissions officers also visit specific schools and participate in regional/local college fairs so they can also get to know high schools in these ways as well.
In most cases the admissions office does know the school relatively well. However, they can’t visit and have a good relationship with every school in America. Counselors can learn about the school in a couple of different ways. First, the high school counselor always sends a profile of the high school which will detail how many AP courses are offered, average SAT score and any other important information that is needed. Second, the admissions office can always contact the high school counselor to help with any misunderstandings.
Most college structure their offices in such a way that certain people are responsible for certain areas, and thus they develop a familiarity and understanding of the schools from which they may receive applications. This helps them better understand the curriculum, know which co-curricular activities are the most meaningful, and in general helps them to read applications with a far more informed eye. All of this is magnified if a student attends a school that sends large numbers of students to the college on an annual basis. At the same time, wide ranging territories, staff turnover, and a limited number of students applying on a regular basis can limit the knowledge and that is why the school profile is an important resource for providing context for a student’s application and record.
Most college admission offices are set up by regions or territories so the admission officer responsible for that territory knows most of the high schools well. If they don’t know the school, they read the School Profile that is sent with the school credentials and will also call the counselor to learn more if needed.
Typically admission staff are given a region or area of the country that they are responsible for. This means they are the ones who travel to those territories, do the first read on those applications, interview the students from their area. This allows the college to better understand the circumstances the students are coming from. In addition, schools include a profile when they send the transcript. This document shows the rigor of the curriculum offered, average test scores, etc. for that school. The more students that matriculate at the college from the same high school, and depending on how they perform, the more knowledge the admission committee has to go on.
In my role as a college consultant for a large high school I had the privilege of meeting hundreds of admissions representatives.
Usually colleges assign admissions officers to territories and they cover the same high schools year after year, though changes definitely occur.
Each high school sends what is called a “high school profile” to every college where their students apply. The profile gives detailed statistics about the high school demographics and curriculum. In that way admissions officers can make fair comparisons between high schools. For example if you attend a rural high school in North Dakota they know that the number of AP classes available for a student to take will not be the same as a high school in suburban Washington DC for example. They would therefore not expect a student to have taken as many AP classes if they were not available to them.
Francine Schwartz, M.A., LPC, NCC
Founder and President
Pathfinder Counseling LLC
Seasoned admissions officers who have spent years working at colleges in the same state will know your high school fairly well. However, this can cause them to prejudge your application.
There is a great deal of prejudice in college admissions – as many different attitudes as there are counselors — so the fact that an admissions officer knows your school can work both for or against you.
High schools that are in socioeconomically challenged areas are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to college admissions. Counselors who have personal prejudices against certain ethnicities or economic backgrounds will lean toward not admitting students from those high schools.
I remember a student from a high school in Jersey City, a famously poor, urban, multi-ethnic area. Her academic record was straight As in a strong academic program. She had maxed out everything she could take. She was Valedictorian. However, her high school did not offer SAT prep courses, and clearly her family could not afford to pay for individual coaching. Her combined SAT verbal and math score was 900, well below minimum admissibility. I pushed her file up the line and said to the associate director, “YOU be the one who can’t sleep at night for denying this student.” Eventually we admitted her, but the discussions about it revealed the deeply held prejudices of individual staff members.
Conversely, students from high income communities are expected to have benefited from all the privileges and advantages afforded to their high school students. This can make it difficult for a student whose academic record is weak. The assumption is that the student is either 1) too dumb to make it at the college, or 2) lazy.
The fact is that any number of issues can play into the failure of a student’s academic record. These factors can make it difficult to see the student’s real talent – hidden traumas, family or personal illnesses, divorce, abuse, romantic disappointments, late-blooming maturity, etc. The counselor may assume that the student had all the advantages in the world, so there must be something wrong with this student to not have achieved at a level similar to his/her peers.
The bottom line is this: Admissions counselors that know your high school and community may base their opinion of YOU on past students who have applied from your school – which has very little to do with who you are or who you will be.
A final story: At the NACAC conference this past September, the Princeton rep on the College Interview seminar panel blurted out that Princeton simply “never takes students from West Virginia.” Then she stumbled all over herself trying to take back her words. It would have been funny had it not been so smug and disturbing.
It depends. Admissions Officers spend time every year traveling around the country and the world visiting high schools and meeting students. Often times an admission officer will have a designated region they become very familiar with. When I worked as an Assistant Director of Admissions at Dartmouth College, I travelled around the southeast of the US as well as Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Costa Rica. If I saw an application come across my desk from these places I would often times have a relatively good idea of where the student was coming from. That said, given that over 22,000 students applied to Dartmouth for a place in the class of 2015, it is reasonable to understand that most of the applications that an admissions officer will read will come from somewhere they haven’t visited. In these cases, your school’s profile becomes an important way to understand student context.
When I worked at a small school, I knew my high schools and the counselors incredibly well. When you lobby for a student’s admission, you really need to know the school profile frontward, backward, and sideways.
When I worked at a large public school, I knew zero about our applicants’ schools. We were on a point system that eschewed any “school favoritism.”
In other words, it really depends on the college. Also, it’s worth noting that I would only know a student’s school had that school had an applicant in the past. There would be no reason to know a thing about the school of a stealth applicant in the middle of nowhere. This is where the high school profile and counselor report are invaluable.
It all depends on how long the admissions officer has been in the business. If the admissions staff is new, they may not know a whole lot about the high schools that they visit. High Schools do get ranked though. Admissions Counselors do see high school rank. So, if you attend a school that is ranked highly, we most likely know about it. When admissions counselors come to a high school, we not only hope to meet with students, but with school counselors as well so that we can get a feel for the school and get to know the type of academic environment you are coming from.
Depending on the history and size of your school, admissions officers may have little information about your campus. Counselors should submit a secondary school report with this information, but this can only say so much. Increase your school’s presence by visiting with admissions directors and sharing a few words about your school. You are not only helping yourself, but laying the groundwork for years to come. While budget cuts may have limited campus visits, some schools may be willing to hold a virtual chat. Try working with your counselor to organize such an event and you will show some initiative to the college on the other end and increase the relationship between your school and the college.
Most admissions offices have at least one officer whose responsibility it is to know and monitor a geographical region. Therefore, not only do they know about your high school but will be informed about many other things that are happening in that region as it relates to business and the economy. Doing this helps them to better understand other factors that might influence how and what applicants might surface from this territory from year to year.
In relation to the high school question, admissions officers know the high school from several ways. First, the high school profile usually accompanies all the transcripts. This helps the offer to know the course offerings, special programs, grading scale and general performance of the student body as a whole. Second, admissions officers take the time to meet with guidance counselors from the school who can give them insight into many other factors which are not apparent from the paper profile. Typically, they will keep a file on the high school and record any relevant information that the admissions office should know when considering student from there. Also, the companies that administer the ACT or SAT collect biodemographic information from each student who takes the exam. They bundle this information in relation to the students high school and that cumulative information is available to many colleges so that they have an idea about the students academically as well as whether most of them are sending their scores to out of state or in state schools and their general academic area of interest. This allows many admissions officers to know if the high school is worth visiting because of the match between such factors as these and the college they represent.
These are a few of the ways that admissions officers will educate themselves about their high schools for which they are responsible. If they do this well it will greatly assist them in their job and will help to ensure good admissions decisions for the applicants from that territory to their institution.
Some do, some don’t.
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