How do you get in? Let’s begin with a brief college admission overview. Your goal is to get acceptance letters on April 1st from your target colleges. This can only happen if your application receives a favorable review by the admissions office, and they decide to admit you. How can you make your application stand out in a competitive applicant pool, and to help ensure it gets into the “Yes” pile?
Your chances of selective college admission are better if you understand what happens to your application after you submit it. Who reads it? What they are looking for? How the decision will be made? Having some idea of how your application will be evaluated will help you apply to the right schools in the first place. It will also help you to tailor your application to put yourself in the most favorable light to the admissions staff at each one.
Help the Admissions Office Do Its Job
A college is just another business: it has a mission and goals (education), is organized to meet those goals, and is run by ordinary people that want the organization to be successful, and keep their jobs secure. It has a budget, funding sources, bills to pay, customers (students)to serve, and employees working to meet the goals.
The Office of Admissions is a key cog in the college wheel, and the people who run it have their own set of targets for the profile and characteristics of each new class. You can maximize your chances of getting a “Yes” by clearly showing the admissions committee how you can help them meet their goal of building the kind of class they have in mind.
Building the Ideal Class – One Student at a Time
When your application hits the admissions office, it will be evaluated in light of the overall objective of building the right “portfolio” of students to make up the incoming class. They want to assemble a group of students that will comprise an entering class with the right mix of individual talents and characteristics to create the desired class profile. This means that s college isn’t looking for just “well-rounded” students, but rather managing the college admission process to get a well-round student body.
This ideal class can only be built one student at a time- by admitting students that fit into the overall “portfolio” of students they want, and who have a high probability of success and contribution to the college community. Even if you aren’t the “perfect” applicant (who is? if your application shows you as a strong “win-win” fit, you’ll have a good shot.
The Life of an Application – How the Admissions Decision is Made
The basis for the college admission decision is your application file. This file is created as soon as any part of the application is submitted or there is some meaningful interaction. All pieces of the application such as application forms, test scores, letters of recommendation, supplemental materials, etc. are placed in the file as received. The file is complete when you submit an application and any fees, and all other required items are in the file; this is what the admissions committee will read.
Admissions offices typically are structured as committees with responsibility for reading and acting on applications. Often the members of the committee have responsibility for a specific geographic region. Each application will get an initial complete reading by a member of the committee, usually by the regional rep, who will complete a rating sheet. Each college has their own version, with separate ratings usually given for academics and extracurricular/personal categories.
At most schools, applications receive a reading by another committee member for a second opinion; this reading may not be as thorough as the first. If the reader(s)have a clear recommendation to admit or deny, the application may go straight to the director for final action. In the case of borderline applicants (or at some schools all applicants) individual applicants are discussed and voted on in committee, with one member (usually the first reader) presenting the applicant. Final decisions are made to admit, deny, or defer each applicant.
Win by Demonstrating the “Right Fit”
The process by which the admissions committee decides on your application is as much an art as science. Each school has its own selection criteria and process. But it is not completely mysterious. By researching the college’s website and other publicly available information, and talking with the college admission staff, you can glean a lot insight into the goals of an institution, how its admission process works, and what they are looking for in building their ideal class.
You can’t assure a successful college admission outcome on any given application. But by understanding what colleges are looking for as they build the next class, and presenting yourself towards that in your application, you will increase your chances of admission at each school. And by carefully choosing the target list of schools you apply to, you can almost be assured of getting into one or more colleges that are the right fit for you – and the college, and happy news on April 1st.