An Inside Look at College Admissions

Senior artists create a thank you banner in preparation for a Case Study program with college admission professionals.

How convenient it would be if students could have a voice in college admission committees.  In the admission world, “going to committee” means a student’s application is in some middle percentage of the applicant pool – not admitted, not denied admission after thorough review, often by at least two readers.  The student’s admission fate is eventually decided by a round table discussion of several admission counselors who then take a vote – in “the room” as depicted in the relatively new film, Admission, with Paul Rudd and Tina Fey.  Which aspects of the application are discussed?  What questions about the applicant are posed?  What about the applicant is compelling?  Of the applicants, whose story is authentic and who is genuinely interested in attending this school?

VMS juniors, seniors, and their families will have an opportunity to be a member of an eight person mock admission committee led by one of 24 admission counselors representing various colleges around the country.  The overarching goal is to answer some of the questions posed above and understand the thought process in evaluating each student’s story.  Attaining this goal, students will realize that many colleges do read holistically and do think critically and thoughtfully about whether or not each student is an optimal fit for the school.

During my days in college admission, I felt privileged to learn about the students in such personal ways.  Thus, it makes it extremely difficult to cut a student loose, particularly when the student was first introduced at a college fair, later visited campus and interviewed, and then followed up thereafter with an email or additional correspondence.  Unfortunately, easy math suggests that many of those students simply can’t be included in the admit pile at selective and highly selective schools.  Though it was eight years ago, it felt like yesterday that I cried all the way home after a committee meeting.  I knew the student would land at college, and most likely land well.  Nevertheless, I wanted the student to be a part of the community with which I too fell in love.  And, college admission isn’t getting any simpler

Northwestern University’s president, Morton Schapiro, shared with a group of counselors two weeks ago, his struggle with being at a hot, top tier 1 school with a 14% admit rate: With such huge applicant numbers, the admission staff wants to admit and yield students who are top notch and, further, want to be there because they love the place. On the contrary, at a school like Northwestern, you can only imagine all the applicants who want to be there for what the school represents, not for what it is.  As a remedy to preserve the Northwestern spirit and to enroll the students who are best fits, admissions takes up to 40% of the incoming class through Early Decision – a binding agreement between school and applicant that states the student must attend, if admitted, as the first choice school.

There will be a lot to ponder on Sunday, and I trust that the light bulb will go off as the admission process – after the application submit button is hit – is revealed and students will realize what they do have control over as an applicant.  In other words, they do have a voice and it is heard in committee, even if the decision is not up to them.  I look forward to presenting this program, and for the VMS community to welcome the college admission professionals.

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