How the Admissions Committee Reviews Your Application.

Time needed: 7 minutes.

You have spent the last 11 months crafting the perfect college application. Then, on January 1 at 10:59 pm, you hit the Common App submit button. Congratulations! You have completed the biggest step in your college admissions journey. Now you wait to hear if you’re accepted or denied. Like many students and parents that I work with, you’re probably wondering what happens next? How does the admissions committee work? How do they decide who’s accepted?

  1. The Initial Computer Screen and Sort

    Online applications like the Common App allow colleges to screen and sort through thousands of applicants. The technology will check for criteria such as application completeness, intended major, GPA and test scores. At this step, low GPA and SAT scores may lead to a denial letter. Applicants who pass the initial computer screen will proceed to the appropriate admissions officer (sometimes more than one) for review.

  2. Rank and Organize by an Index Score

    To make the imperfect admissions process organized and scientific, colleges often give students an index score. Assigned by a computer program or an admissions officer, the numerical score can be based on tests, grades, recommendation letters, extracurricular activities, and personality for example.

  3. First and Second (Sometimes Third) Application Reads

    Colleges assign readers to learn the story that your academic index does not show. Usually, the first person to read your application is your regional representative. Some schools add a second or third reader to look at your application as well. From your application, readers learn about you — your talents, interests, and hopefully, your quirks; they learn about your passions – the classes and activities that you are excited about. After their initial examination, readers will present your application to the admissions committee.

  4. Admissions Committee Review: How Do You Compare?

    During deliberations, the admissions committee will compare you to other applicants for fit and chance for success. Rest assured the committee will consider your application holistically. For example, you may have a low SAT score. Perhaps English is not your native language. But, you wrote a stellar essay and scored a 4 on the AP English Lit exam. What is more, your English teacher wrote a letter about your improvement in reading these past two years. With this story in mind, since special circumstances impacted your score, the admissions may vote to accept you.

  5. Admissions Committee Review: Are You a Good Fit?

    Also, the admissions committee will discuss your fit for the college. Each year, college admissions offices have to build a well-balanced class of incoming students. College admissions offices are under pressure to meet hefty enrollment goals. In fact, a 2016 survey conducted by the National Association for College Admissions Counseling indicated that only 37% of U.S. College Admissions offices met their enrollment goal. What this looks like, of course, differs by school. Before you apply, it’s helpful to know what the college is looking for in their incoming class. Can you imagine what Boston University would be like if it only admitted journalism students? Other departments that make BU a world-class university would shut down. To be sure, this example is far fetched. However, I want to show that admissions committees spend a lot of time trying to make a diverse class.

  6. The Final Vote

    After committee discussions, the group takes a vote. If you are part of the lucky few, you are accepted, sent a financial aid package, and mailed an acceptance letter. If you are not accepted, you are either denied, deferred, or added to the wait list.


After you submit your application, it must pass the initial computer screening process, impress the readers, and be memorable and strong enough for you to survive the admission committee’s deliberations. If you’re reading this article before you apply, you now know how colleges will review your application. Remember that there is a human element to college admissions. So, begin getting to know your regional representatives. Their contact information is readily available on the college’s admissions website.

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