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How the Admissions Committee Works

by Bethany Goldszer | Last Updated: January 25, 2019

For the last few months, you’ve spent time crafting the perfect college application. On January 1st, at 10:59 p.m., you hit the Common App’s submit button. Congratulations! You have just completed the biggest and most important step in your college prep journey. Now you begin the waiting game to hear if you’re accepted or denied. You’re probably wondering what happens next? What will happen with the admissions committee reviews my application? How do they decide who’s accepted?

I break it down for you below so you know how college admissions committee will review your application.

1. A computer screens and sorts applications.

After you submit your application through an online portal like the Common App, colleges will receive it. Along with thousands of other applications, your application will be screened and sorted according to select criteria. Criteria can include things like:

  • Application completeness
  • Intended major
  • High School G.P.A.
  • Test scores

At this step, low GPA and SAT scores may lead to a denial letter. If you pass the initial computer screen, then your application will proceed to an admissions officer (sometimes more than one) who will review it.

admissions committee

2. Applications are organized and ranked.

The admissions process is arguably the imperfect process in the world. Many admissions officers are quite frank about it being hard to decide between students and struggle every year on how to choose. But to bring some organization and science to the admissions process, colleges often will give each student an index score. Assigned by a computer program or an admissions officer, the numerical score you receive will be based on your tests, grades, recommendation letters, extracurricular activities, and personality, for example.

admissions committee

3. Applications are read 1, 2, and (sometimes 3) times.

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.

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.

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.

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.

– Inside HigherEd

6. The admissions committee takes a final vote.

After the admissions committee discussions your application, the group will vote. If you are successful, you will be admitted. You can expect to receive a decision shortly thereafter, followed by a financial aid package (if you submitted the FAFSA). If you are not successful, the admissions committee will either deny, defer, or waitlist your application for admission.

admissions committee

Conclusion + Next Steps

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 college admissions officers are human beings. Before you apply, get to know the college admissions officer that represents your region. Their contact information is available on the college’s website.

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