Inside the Admissions Committee: What Really Happens

by Bethany Goldszer | Last Updated: April 7, 2023

Congratulations on completing the biggest and most crucial step in your college preparation journey! For the last few months, you have spent a significant amount of time and effort crafting the perfect college application. The anticipation and excitement leading up to the moment when you finally hit the Common App’s submit button at 10:59 p.m. on October 31st must have been overwhelming. Now, you can take a deep breath and relax, knowing that you have completed a major milestone in your journey toward attending college.

However, the waiting game has just begun. The question that might be lingering in your mind is, what happens next? What will the admissions committee do with your application? How will they decide who gets accepted?

Well, here’s the good news. We’re here to break it down for you so you know exactly what to expect.

Admissions committee

Key Takeaways

Table of Contents

What is an Admissions Committee?

An admissions committee is a group of people responsible for reviewing and making decisions on applications submitted by individuals who wish to be admitted to a specific program or institution. The committee’s members are typically experts in the relevant field and have the knowledge and experience to evaluate applicants’ qualifications, such as academic records, test scores, essays, and letters of recommendation. The committee’s decision-making process involves assessing the applicants’ suitability for the program or institution, considering factors such as their academic background, personal characteristics, achievements, and potential for success. The committee’s decisions determine whether an applicant is accepted, rejected, or waitlisted for the program or institution.

How Do Admissions Committees Evaluate College Applications

After you submit your college application through an online portal like the Common App, it will be screened and sorted by a computer. The computer will evaluate your application based on select criteria, such as your intended major, high school GPA, test scores, and application completeness. If your GPA or test scores are low, you may receive a denial letter at this stage. If you pass the initial screen, your application will proceed to an admissions officer (sometimes more than one) who will review it.

To bring some organization and objectivity to the admissions process, colleges often assign each student an index score. This score is based on a combination of factors, such as your tests, grades, recommendation letters, extracurricular activities, and personality. The index score is assigned by either a computer program or an admissions officer.

Your application will be read one, two, or even three times by different admissions officers assigned by the college. The first reader is usually your regional representative; additional readers may also review your application. These readers aim to learn about you beyond your academic record. They will look for information about your talents, interests, passions, and quirks. After the initial review, your application will be presented to the admissions committee for a final decision. The admissions committee will evaluate your application, along with others, and make a decision based on a combination of factors, including your index score, the readers’ reports, and the committee members’ own judgment.

admissions committee

Holistic Application Review

When you apply for college, your application will be evaluated based on several factors that demonstrate your potential for success. The admissions committee will take a holistic approach, considering your academic achievements, extracurricular activities, personal essays, letters of recommendation, and other relevant factors to get a complete picture of you as a candidate. They will also consider the overall competitiveness of the applicant pool and the needs of the program to make informed decisions about who to admit. This means that while certain aspects of your application may stand out, the admissions committee will evaluate you as a whole person and consider how you fit into the larger applicant pool and program needs.

Academic Achievement

When applying to college, it’s important to keep in mind that academic achievement is a major factor that admissions committees will consider. This means that your high school grades, the rigor of your academic program, and any advanced coursework you’ve taken will all be taken into account.

Admissions committees want to see that you have challenged yourself academically and have excelled in your coursework. They are particularly interested in the rigor of your academic program. This means that they will look for evidence that you have taken the most challenging courses available to you. If your high school offers Advanced Placement (AP) courses, for example, the committee will expect to see that you have taken advantage of these opportunities. AP courses are designed to be college-level courses, so they provide a good indication of your ability to handle the academic rigors of college coursework.

Overall, it’s important to take your academic performance seriously when applying to college. Admissions committees want to see that you have a strong academic foundation and the ability to succeed in a rigorous academic environment. Make sure to take challenging courses and perform well in them, as this can make a significant difference in your chances of being admitted to your desired program.

Standardized Test Scores

Admissions officers do value standardized test scores as they can provide valuable insight into an applicant’s academic abilities. However, it’s important to note that these scores are just one factor among many that are considered during the evaluation process. Admissions committees take a holistic approach, examining an applicant’s entire profile, including their extracurricular activities, personal essays, and letters of recommendation, in addition to their academic achievements.

Furthermore, some programs may place more or less emphasis on standardized test scores depending on their specific requirements and goals. In recent years, many colleges and universities have also implemented test-optional policies, recognizing that standardized tests may not be the best measure of an applicant’s potential for success in a program.

So while standardized test scores are certainly important, they are not the sole determining factor in the admissions process. Admissions officers recognize that there are many different paths to academic success, and they strive to evaluate applicants in a fair and holistic manner.

Extracurricular Activities and Community Involvement

When evaluating applicants, admissions committees consider extracurricular activities and community involvement as important factors. These experiences can reveal an applicant’s potential for leadership, teamwork, and community engagement. Committees often prioritize well-rounded candidates who can make meaningful contributions to the program and the larger community. However, committees do not simply count the number of activities or volunteer hours. Instead, they look for quality experiences that demonstrate a genuine interest and commitment to a particular cause or activity. It’s better to have a few deep, meaningful extracurricular experiences than a long list of superficial ones.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Matters

When evaluating applicants, admissions committees also consider the role that diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) play in their decisions. The committee wants to create a diverse and inclusive community of students, so they consider factors such as race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, and other factors that contribute to diversity. They want to ensure that they are admitting a class of students who represent a variety of backgrounds and experiences.

DEI also plays a role in the committee’s consideration of an applicant’s extracurricular activities and community involvement. They want to see that the applicant has engaged in activities that demonstrate a commitment to promoting diversity and inclusion, such as involvement in multicultural clubs or volunteer work with marginalized communities.

However, it’s important to note that DEI is just one factor among many that the committee considers. They still prioritize academic achievement and potential for success in the program. Nonetheless, a commitment to DEI can certainly enhance an applicant’s overall profile and increase their chances of being admitted to the program.

Admissions Committee Review: How Do You Compare?

When the admissions committee reviews your application, they will compare it to those of other applicants to determine how well you fit with the college and your likelihood of success. The committee will consider your application holistically, taking into account all aspects of your profile. For example, if you have a low SAT score, the committee will look for other indicators of your academic ability and potential. Perhaps English is not your native language, and this impacted your score. However, if you wrote a stellar essay and scored a 4 on the AP English Lit exam, the committee will consider these as positive indicators of your language skills. If your English teacher also wrote a letter about your improvement in reading over the past two years, this will be taken into account as well.

In light of these special circumstances, the committee may vote to accept you, even though your SAT score is lower than the average for the college. This is because the committee understands that a low score on one test does not necessarily reflect your overall academic potential or potential to succeed in college.

The admissions committee’s decision-making process is complex and involves weighing many factors. Therefore, it’s important to present yourself as well-rounded and unique as possible on your application. By highlighting your strengths and accomplishments, you can make a compelling case for why you would be a good fit for the college. Remember that the admissions committee is looking for students who will contribute positively to the campus community and succeed academically, and by presenting yourself in the best possible light, you can increase your chances of being accepted.

Admissions Committee Review: Are you a good fit?

When the admissions committee reviews your application, they will not only consider your academic achievements but also how you fit into the college community. College admissions offices have a tough job each year: they need to build a well-balanced class of incoming students that will thrive in the college environment. This means that they must consider various factors such as race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic background, and geographic location, among others.

It’s worth noting that admissions committees are under significant pressure to meet hefty enrollment goals. According to a 2016 survey conducted by the National Association for College Admissions Counseling, only 37% of U.S. college admissions offices met their enrollment goals. As a result, admissions committees spend a lot of time and effort trying to attract and retain students who will contribute to the college’s community and help them meet their enrollment goals.

To achieve this, colleges often have a set of criteria they use to evaluate applicants’ fit. These criteria can vary by college, but they usually include things like extracurricular activities, leadership potential, community service, and work experience. By considering these factors, admissions committees can determine how well an applicant aligns with the college’s values and mission and how they can contribute to the campus community.

For example, if a college values diversity and inclusivity, they may look for applicants who have experience working with people from different backgrounds or have been involved in activities that promote diversity and understanding. Similarly, if a college is known for its strong engineering program, they may look for applicants with a background in STEM fields or who have demonstrated a strong interest in these areas.

Overall, it’s essential to keep in mind that the admissions committee is looking for a diverse and well-rounded class of students. By understanding what colleges are looking for in their incoming class, you can tailor your application to highlight your unique qualities and experiences that align with the college’s values and mission.

women in a committee meeting

Admissions Committee Decision-Making Process

After reviewing your application, the admissions committee will hold a meeting to discuss your candidacy. During this meeting, they will take into account all aspects of your application, including your academic performance, extracurricular activities, essays, letters of recommendation, and other relevant factors. The committee will evaluate your application holistically, considering all the strengths and weaknesses to determine whether you are a good fit for the college and have a high chance of succeeding there.

If the admissions committee decides that you are a good fit for the college and have a high chance of success, they will vote to admit you. This means that you will receive an acceptance letter shortly thereafter. Additionally, if you submitted the FAFSA, you can expect to receive a financial aid package outlining the types and amounts of aid you are eligible to receive.

On the other hand, if the admissions committee decides that you are not a good fit for the college or have a low chance of success, they will deny your application. This means that you will not be admitted to the college. Alternatively, the committee may choose to defer your application, which means that they will revisit it at a later date before making a final decision. In some cases, the committee may also choose to waitlist your application, which means that they will reconsider it if space becomes available after the first round of admissions decisions have been made.

Admissions Committee Challenges

The growing number of applicants can have a significant impact on how admissions committees review applications. As the number of applicants increases, it may become more challenging for the committee to review each application thoroughly and make informed decisions. In response to this challenge, admissions committees may need to implement more efficient and effective methods for reviewing applications, such as prioritizing applications based on specific criteria or using technology to assist with the review process.

Furthermore, the growing number of applicants may also lead to increased competition, making it more difficult for applicants to stand out. As a result, admissions committees may need to become more selective in their review process, focusing on specific qualities or achievements that distinguish applicants from one another. This can lead to a greater emphasis on factors such as academic performance, extracurricular activities, community involvement, and leadership experience.

Overall, the growing number of applicants can increase the workload and complexity of the admissions committee’s review process, requiring the committee to adapt and adjust their methods to accommodate the increasing volume of applications.

Admissions Committee Ethics

Admissions committee members are responsible for making important decisions that can have a significant impact on an applicant’s future. As such, they must uphold ethical standards throughout the decision-making process.

One of the most critical ethical considerations is maintaining the confidentiality of the application review process. Committee members must not discuss applicants’ information outside of the committee, and they must not share any details about the review process with applicants or anyone else who is not a member of the committee.

Another ethical issue that arises in the admissions process is the issue of bias. Admissions committee members must evaluate each application objectively, without any personal biases or prejudices. This means that they should not consider factors such as an applicant’s race, gender, or socioeconomic status when making admissions decisions.

Additionally, committee members must not accept any gifts or favors from applicants or their families, as this could create a conflict of interest and compromise the integrity of the admissions process.

Finally, it is essential that admissions committee members communicate with applicants in a clear and transparent manner. Applicants should be informed of the decision-making process, including any criteria used to evaluate applications, and any steps they can take to appeal a decision. This transparency helps to ensure that the admissions process is fair and unbiased.

By adhering to these ethical principles, admissions committee members can ensure that they are making informed, objective decisions that are in the best interests of both the applicant and the institution.

Conclusion + Next Steps

Now you know that the admissions committee is made up of individuals who are dedicated to finding the best-fit candidates for their college or university. Admission officers use a holistic approach to evaluate applicants and take into consideration a wide range of factors, from academic achievement to extracurricular activities and personal background.

While the admissions process can seem daunting and opaque, it’s important to remember that admissions committees are bound by ethical standards and committed to creating a diverse and inclusive student body. So, if you have submitted a strong application and demonstrated your potential for success, you can rest assured that the admissions committee will carefully consider your candidacy and make the best decision for both you and the institution. 

Keep in mind that even if you don’t receive an acceptance letter from your top-choice school, there are many other great colleges and universities out there where you can thrive and achieve your academic and personal goals.

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Bethany Goldszer is top college admissions and financial aid expert. She's been featured in HuffPost, USA Today, Newsday, Queens Gazette, and Official Black Wall Street & voted Best of Long Island. Faced with the overwhelming stress of applying, getting admitted to and financing her University of Chicago education, she started Stand Out College Prep LLC in 2012 so that no student or parent would have to go through this process alone. Over the last 15 years, Bethany has worked with over 1,500 students, helping them and their parents get into their top choice colleges and secure more than $20M in financial aid and scholarships. And each year, she continues to help more students stand out in the college admissions process and their parents navigate financial aid and scholarships.