Behind the Admissions Curtain: Three Most Common Questions on How Colleges Process Applications–Answered!

As a student or parent, your role in the college admissions process is fairly straightforward: Complete the basic application requirements—which vary little from school to school, and usually include submitting an application fee, letter(s) of recommendation, and transcripts—and be ready to shine in face-to-face interviews.

But what happens once you’ve completed the application packet and submitted it to your school(s) of choice? This article offers a glimpse into the basic admissions review process.

Note: Many schools admit students on a “rolling” basis, so students are encouraged to submit applications as early after January 1 as possible to compete for financial aid and housing opportunities. It’s also important to keep in mind that colleges almost always receive more applicants than they have open spots, so presenting a complete, organized file that showcases your best academic attributes is key.

1. Who Reviews Your College App?

Once your application arrives on campus, it is sorted and forwarded to the appropriate office. In general, applications are reviewed by a combination of:

• Directors of Admissions (who usually get the final say)
• Associate Directors
• Administrative Assistants

These career administrators are continually versed in the admissions policies of their respective schools. Depending on the admissions staff’s workload—as well the school’s level of selectiveness—your application could be reviewed by one person or an entire committee. Most commonly, applications are seen first at the lowest level and then flagged up for review by subsequent overseeing faculty members.

A checklist of required contents usually accompanies each admissions file. At colleges where the admissions process is more open, students may still be considered even if portions of their application packet are missing or if they came close but didn’t quite meet established requirements. Naturally, schools that carry stricter selection guidelines are generally not inclined to make such exceptions.

2. What Do They Look For?

For starters, admissions review boards are looking for applicants who meet the minimum requirements for GPA, standardized test scores, high school course completion, and any extracurricular or nonacademic criteria that may apply. A detailed list can usually be found on the institution’s website, but if not, call the school’s admissions office directly.

Further, admissions boards are motivated by their institution’s unique administrative goals, which often include things like meeting diversity requirements, bolstering athletic organizations, and protecting existing programs by admitting students in pursuit of that specific degree.

3. How Can You Boost Your Chances for Acceptance?

While most colleges and universities adhere to a prescribed set of admissions requirements, there are always a few intangibles that are up for grabs. For example, a fantastic personal essay or stellar letter of recommendation can (and does!) often mean the difference between acceptance and rejection. Be sure that your application packet reflects the full spectrum of your abilities—academic or otherwise—keeping in mind that schools are ultimately looking for proven thought leaders who will excel in their chosen programs. When applying to your college(s) of choice, do yourself a favor by emphasizing those qualities that reflect your eagerness to succeed.


This article was written by Hannah Purnell

Hannah Purnell is a staff writer for Hannah writes extensively on the topic of undergraduate studies and the college search process.

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