What process does an application go through? How many people see it?
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 that students never in a million years would think were 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.
Here is my video response to the question.
Most applications travel the same course – transcript review by 1 or more, actual application review w/or w/o essay review, which can stand on its own, interview results factored in (there had better have been one), and possibly a committee meeting to make the final decision. Impossible to determine exactly how many people were involved from beginning to end.
It depends on the school. It also depends at what point an officer receives/evaluates the application (Pre-read, 1st read, 2nd read, Committee), and this may vary from university to university. Generally, test scores and grades will be reviewed first. Essays, letters of recommendation and support, if applicable, and then extracurriculars/resumés are reviewed in detail, in addition to any other information that may be in the applicant’s file – perhaps an interview report. How each component of the application is rated or factored into whether or not an applicant’s file moves on is different at every school. The admissions websites of many schools make clear what they take into account when evaluating applications, so be sure to review this information if it is available.
The application review process varies from school to school. The less selective the school, the less extensive the review. In contrast, at truly selective schools there is a multi-faceted review process usually beginning with the regional rep conducting the first full scale review with the file later being looked at by others. In these reviews essays and recommendations, as well as the overall file may be reviewed by numerous members of the staff and may ultimately be brought to committee where they are discussed. Obviously the decisions on some applicants will be more obvious—either for acceptance or denial—than other and they may not need as many people to review their files, but the larger middle group will receive considerable attention, all in the effort to determine what the candidate can bring to the college community that the admissions office is trying to create.
Processes vary significantly based on the size and type of institution. Most selective colleges use a holistic review process based on several academic and non-academic factors. In a holistic review process, one or more individuals will read a file and render an admission decision. Students without a clear decision after one or more reads are discussed in a committee format. Depending on the circumstances, a file may be read by 2-3 individuals or as many as 20 different people. After decisions are made, the class is evaluated as a whole and small tweaks may be made to outlying decisions. Jacques Steinberg’s book “The Gatekeepers” offers a great inside view of the admissions process at a highly selective institution.
An application was be downloaded within a 24-48 hour time frame. It is coded and handed off to the enrollment management department to place holds if necessary for actions or items needed to be completed. If there are official transcripts matched to the application then an evaluator will check college readiness.
On the minimum, the application is seen by at least 4 people not counting the number of times when a student visits the admissions office with questions about his or her application.
While working at four-year public university with an enrollment of around 16,000 students, when an applicant’s file was complete, I, as an Admission Counselor, would review it thoroughly (curriculum review, read the essay and any addenda, and then score the applicant). After reviewing the application, the file would go to a senior employee in the admission office to more or less double check my work and assuming I didn’t miss anything big, the student would then be accepted or denied based upon my review.
Keep in mind, the larger the school the less thorough of a review an application is going to get, which means, admission decisions are going to be more numerically based. Regardless of how “holistic” a large university says their review is, fact of the matter is, there are only so many hours in a work-day for admission counselors, so large universities can’t conduct the type of thorough review a small liberal arts college might do.
Mike Chapman, Owner
Chapman College Admission Consulting
These types of questions are always tough because there are so many answers. Each college processes applications a little differently. At most selective colleges an application will be read by a minimum of two admissions professionals, and could be read by as many as four. Generally, the first reader is the regional admission officer–the person who knows the school and region, and may have met the student. The second (and maybe third)reader is random, any admission officer from the office. The folder would then go to “committee” for decision. The Dean always gets involved with applications that are “sensitive” or of “interest” for some reason.
At large universities with many applications and not enough staff, the application might only be read once. If it is a clear cut admit, the student will be admitted; if it is a clear cut deny, the student will be denied; if the decision is not clear cut it will probably be read again by the Dean or Director.
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.
Every school processes admission applications differently. While some schools divide files by geographic territory, others concentrate on certain majors only. At some institutions files are read by numerous individuals and then again within a committee meeting. In some situations faculty are part of the process and at other places they are not. Depending on the deadline cycle: rolling, early action, early decision; some schools offer a closer read than others.
Most applications travel the same course – transcript review by 1 or more, actual application review w/or w/o essay review, which can stand on its own, interview results (there had better have been 1), factored in, and possible a committee meeting to make the final decision. Impossible to determine exactly how many people were involved from beginning to end.
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