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4 Important Things You Probably Didn’t Know about Admissions Committee

There is a lot of mystery surrounding what happens to your application after you submit it. You put in weeks of hard work to perfect each component and tell your story as clearly as possible. Then, you hit the submit button on the Common App, stare at the confirmation screen, and wait for a committee of admissions officers (AOs) on the other end to make a decision about your future. 

But how do they do it? Admissions officers take the time to read through each piece of your application—your grades, test scores, essays, letters of recommendation, extracurricular activities, and intangibles—and then form their opinion about how hard they want to advocate for you. And though no two schools are alike, and each admissions office will have its own priorities, there is much common ground between the way selective schools evaluate students. 

Every AO wants to find talented 12th graders who will thrive on their campus and leave the environment better than they found it. They are looking to create a complete class that represents diverse interests, abilities, accomplishments, and perspectives.

Let’s take a closer look at some important commonalities that you’ll find across admissions offices, so you get a better understanding of how decisions are made. 

Not Every Admissions Officer Reads Every File

Perhaps this comes as a surprise to you, but most of the people who vote on your application will not have read your file personally. Instead, they will rely on the write-up and testimony of their colleagues who have been assigned to read applications from your region of the world. 

Typically, colleges assign two readers per region. The first reader will take detailed notes about the strengths and weaknesses of your application and assign a score to your file based on your stats, the quality of your essays, and other subjective data points (interview performance, impressiveness of extracurriculars and recommendation letters, and the like). Once finished, he or she will pass the file to a second reader for another opinion. 

Based on how your application stacks up with the rest of the pool, it will be advanced to the next round of committee for a larger discussion. Understanding that not everyone in the room will have read your file increases the importance you should place on making your story clear and amplifying your voice. Your passions must ring out in a way that makes it easy for the admissions officers that did read your file to articulate it to their colleagues. It’s quite common for these AOs to quote compelling lines from your essays or letters of recommendation to help boost their argument. 

Never Underestimate the Human Factor

I vividly remember some of the students I met while on the road as an admissions officer. Having a positive personal experience with them made me more eager to read their applications when they came in. I could more easily envision how they would fit on my campus because they had already impressed me with their intellectual curiosity. 

And then there are other students whose impression they made on a visit, writing styles, or personal interests work against them in the minds of an admissions officer. It doesn’t mean that they aren’t qualified or capable of success at that particular school, but for some reason they failed to establish a connection that gives them the benefit of the doubt. 

You must remember that the admissions process is subjective, and your application is being read by a real person. Human beings are doing their best to make decisions, but there are limits to being human. Tiredness, personal preference, and unfamiliarity can all color the way an AO reads your file.

When a school receives more fantastic applicants than it has room to admit, these subjective factors play an increased role in determining final outcomes. Do your best to make your application personal, compelling, and specific to the school to which you’ve applied; it will make a big difference in how memorable it is. 

The Little Things Make a Big Difference

Pay attention to details. Assume you only have one opportunity to make a first impression. How do you want the admissions officer who reads your file to view you? 

If there are typos, poorly worded sentences, or other evidence of a lack of care on your part, this will have a detrimental effect on how your file is read. Even if your grades are strong and your test scores are above the average, carelessness will reduce your likelihood of gaining admission. Proofread everything you submit

This extends beyond your application as well. Be diligent and punctual in every correspondence with the admissions office, coaches, or professors. Make your interest and professionalism clear and you will be viewed as a more serious applicant than your haphazard peer. One of my long-standing pet peeves is having my name misspelled, especially when it appears in my email. Avoid simple mistakes like this that do more harm than you can imagine. 

The Process is Very Personal for AOs Too

If you ask any admissions officer to talk about his or her favorite students, the stories will begin pouring out before you finish your question. The people who read your files are invested in your life story and care deeply about what happens to you. I’ve been on the phone with AOs in tears because they were unable to admit a student they loved or that student selected a different school. 

I’ve also known admissions officers who feel a duty to fiercely guard their alma mater and make sure that its incoming class shares the values they held dear as a student. Your results matter quite a lot to AOs. 

It may feel like you’ve been reduced to a test score or a GPA decimal, but the people reading your files want to view you as much more than this. They want to connect to your story, to be personally affected by it. They learn from you even as they are evaluating you. And when they advocate on your behalf to their colleagues, it’s personal. 

Your high-quality application makes it easier for that AO to convince her colleagues to choose you over their own favorites. As you communicate with AOs, remember how invested they are in your outcome and correspond with them accordingly; be polite and grateful for their time and give them reasons to look favorably upon you. 

Understanding how committee works will hopefully give you a greater appreciation for the men and women who read thousands of applications every year. And for students in 11th grade and younger, this is a perfect opportunity to begin thinking about what themes you’ll want to showcase to make your application more compelling when the time comes. 

Working closely with a well-informed admissions consultant can help you create a solid roadmap for the work ahead.

The expert admissions consultants at Wise World Prep have helped hundreds of students maximize their potential of being admitted to their top choice colleges and universities. Over 20 years, we have successfully guided students through each stage of the application process – from choosing competitive high school courses to building an appropriate college list to drafting winning essays to writing persuasive update and appeals letters. We would be happy to answer your questions and partner with you to create a successful admissions roadmap.

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