How much time do admissions officers spend on each application?
Listen as an NPR reporter gains access to the secret room where the Amherst College admissions committee decides the fate of thousands of applicants. NPR reports that the college will accept 1,000 of the 8,000 applicants who applied. This glimpse into the process reveals that decisions truly come down to the smallest little differences those students never in a million years would think we’re going to make the difference.
This recording underscores the importance of the personal statement. The college essay will be the first opportunity most students encounter to present themselves on paper. The essay truly can be the difference between acceptance and rejection. Unfortunately, often students are told to “be honest” or “write about something that “means a lot to you” or “show them how passionate you are” and then students sit down to do that and they have no idea what to do. At that point they generally write something that is forced and boring. Since the high school English teachers are so swamped and they don’t have experience reading applications often they simply make minor corrections on the essays or point out grammatical mistakes. There is no way they can possibly put the time necessary into reading every student’s essay. In the end, the sad truth is that the people who can afford outside consultants who know the system really well are the ones who experience the most success.
The application review process varies from school to school, so there will always be significant variations in the time that is spent reviewing an individual application. Too, the applications and the applicants vary so that impacts the amount of tiem they are given as well. Many applications are “no brainers”—either to admit or to deny–and they do not need the same amount of time or debate that other, more middle of the pack ones do. In the end, it is less a matter of pure time then the quality of the review and given the importance to the institution of the admission process, a process that creates a class and shapes the culture of the school, applicants should feel confident that their application received a fair and through review by experienced, dedicated professionals.
When I worked in private college admissions, I would spend about a half-hour on the application proper. However, this doesn’t take into account any of the following:
The discussions I had with counselors regarding their students.
The follow up I would (somewhat frequently) conduct with individual teachers regarding letters of recommendation…especially those with, “Please call me with any questions or concerns,” written in the body of the letter.
Meetings with prospects at information sessions.
Meetings with prospects at college fairs.
In other words, I was able to get to know the kids really well.
When I was with the University of California system, I spent an average of five to seven minutes per application. And, this does take into account the following:
I never spoke with a counselor regarding one of their students.
I would not always be well acquainted with the high school from which the applicant was applying.
We didn’t solicit letters of recommendation.
We didn’t offer interviews.
We would rarely attend college fairs outside of our area.
So, here you have the two extremes. I would even go further, and claim that at a more prestigious private school versus a less selective public school than mine, the “attention gap” would be even wider.
Sometimes no one sees it.
One of the ways admissions directors are judged in their performance evaluation is by the increase in applications every year. If there is not an increase in applications, it is a black mark against them.
In an economic crisis where budgets and staffing in every department are being slashed, colleges must do more with fewer people. There are two ways in which they do this:
1. Each admissions counselor is under pressure to make a certain number of application decisions each day. With fewer admissions staff to “read” applications, less reading actually gets done in the process of making a decision.
In one situation I am aware of, the institution kept track of the numbers of applications read each day (it was all electronic – students were simply a bunch of numbers and calculations on a screen), and supervisors were required to monitor this output. My own “personal best” in terms of “applications read in a day” was 100. Yes: ONE HUNDRED. [Usually it was 50-80.] I can tell you this: Reaching one hundred decisions in a day did not allow time for reading essays or letters of recommendation.
2. Certain institutions with high volumes of applications are now using algorithms that make the decision on applications without anyone ever seeing the application. The same machine that generated all those marketing messages and letters to you from the time your PSAT information became available is now making the decision on your application. No human being ever touches or sees your file.
3. Some colleges – usually the small, private ones — still use faculty committees and an individualized approach to application review. Many of these small colleges have a specific combination of characteristics in mind when looking for students. In some cases, it is very much a matter of outstanding grades, and grades only. But often, they will take more time with your application and discuss it with others.
It really depends on where you apply. Some schools will spend just a few minutes. That is all they have time for. They will look over your transcript, check out your test scores, glance over your essay and rec letters, check out your extra-curricular activities and make a judgement. Some schools take longer at doing this, others do it really quickly. It depends on what the school values. Is it a transcript or test scores or is it something else?
No one knows for sure, but my guess is 20-30 minutes max.
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