Behind the Doors of the College Admissions Office

With applications sent off, the college application moves from the student’s desk to the college admissions office where, for the next two months hundreds of thousands of applications will be reviewed while students across the country anxiously await a decision. What goes on behind the closed doors of the admissions office is a mystery to most and decisions can seem to reflect more “artistry” than science. In fact, the process varies from school to school and depends on the size and type of institution, its selectivity, and the school’s own “flavor. However, every college and university assesses the strength of each application relative to the applicant pool as well as the school’s enrollment objectives. While each student is considered on his or her own merits, schools work to “socially engineer” a class that reflects the demographics of society as a whole and each student is valued for how they contribute to that mix.

While larger universities typically use a formula based on standardized test scores, GPA, and other pertinent information to calculate a student’s admissibility, most schools review each and every application personally and thoroughly. Students can be assured that their application will be reviewed by a committee comprised of admissions counselors, faculty members, current students, part-time hired staff, or any combination of the above. By being viewed by several different people representing a variety of perspectives and interests the goal is to make the process as fair as possible.

After reviewing the file, students are assigned a ranking, either numeric or alphabetical, and those given the highest scores are typically admitted and those with the lowest ranking are usually denied. It is the applications that fall in the middle that receive the greatest attention. At this point the colleges are looking to fine-tune the composition of the incoming class and each applicant is evaluated for the ways in which they might uniquely contribute to the school based on their particular strengths and talents.

Admissions offices are always interested in increasing their “yield”, or the number of admitted students who actually matriculate at their school. A student’s “demonstrated interest” can be a good indicator of their likelihood of yielding, so admissions committees note if the applicant visited their campus, met with them at a college fair, interviewed, or joined the group when the college visited the student’s high school. Typically, the more often the student demonstrated their interest in a school, the better.

Admissions officers are also interested in letters of recommendation and look specifically to see if what others have to say about the applicant supports the information the student has provided in his application. Is the student the passionate scholar he claims to be? Is she really a leader in a meaningful way or are her positions merely titular?

Finally, some students may be “on the bubble” because of their academic standing. If their grades are close, but not quite, what the admissions office would like to see, they may wait until the third quarter grades are released to make their decision. As at this point no applicant really knows where they stand in the admission pool, it is important to continue to strive to get the best grades possible. It is not too late to make a good impression!

So, the waiting game continues. Know that admissions counselors are doing their best to weigh every piece of an application to make the best and fairest decision possible. In the meantime, keep working hard, and keep your fingers crossed.