Some students think colleges review applicants alphabetically. Others believe they are in direct competition with high school classmates who apply to the same college.
But what really does happen after you apply?
1. You’re assigned to an admissions rep
At many schools, an admissions officer is assigned a territory. The admissions officers will make visits to high schools in their territories and review admission applications, says Bruce Hammond, co-author of several Fiske college guides.
“Most people envision a committee sitting around and arguing about it,” Hammond says. “In reality, most institutions are more clear-cut than that.”
Most schools have a second reader consider applications. A dean may have the final word. Only applications that are considered borderline are brought before a committee, Hammond says.
2. They collect your application’s pieces
Heath Einstein used to review applications as an admissions officer for George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Now he is director of college counseling at Solomon Schechter School of Westchester in New York.
At George Washington, Einstein did not begin reviewing an application until all the materials were submitted. If a transcript or recommendation were missing, Einstein would start by calling the college counselor. If necessary, he would e-mail a student and follow up with a phone call.
You can breathe easy—Einstein says admissions officers won’t trash your app just because a document is missing. “We never deactivated a student until several attempts of contacting them,” he says.
3. Admissions reviews your app
As an admissions rep, Einstein didn’t use cutoffs like SAT scores or GPAs to reject students. Instead, he says he tried to take a more holistic approach to learning about a student.
Public universities may place more emphasis on grades and test scores as cutoff points. And Hammond says most admissions officers aren’t interested in your extracurricular activities unless you were in a leadership role.
Only 7.5 percent of colleges consider extracurricular activities of “considerable importance” in the application process, according to the National Association for College Admission Counseling.
In the same survey, extracurricular activities rank behind grades, test scores, class rank, essay or writing sample, counselor recommendation, teacher recommendation and interview.
Instead, admissions officers are looking for students who form a well-rounded freshman class. “There are some students who have special talents that fit into categories the university needs,” Hammond says. “Any time you’re in an underrepresented category, you have a better chance,” he says. “If you’re from Wyoming and you’re applying to a school on the East Coast, you may have a slightly better chance than someone from New Jersey.”
4. You wait
Hammond recommends waiting several weeks for word from the admissions office that they’ve received your materials. If you don’t receive a response, he recommends sending a professional e-mail asking whether your materials were received.
A professional e-mail might also serve as a reminder to the admissions officer. Hammond says that the admissions officer who visits your school is many times the one who reads your application. He recommends sending an e-mail before you apply to thank the admissions officer for their visit and say how you look forward to applying.
5. They make a decision
Because the college admissions process can be subjective, Einstein urges students not to take rejections personally. “It’s important for them to recognize that even though they may be admissible, they may not be admitted,” he says.
Instead, Einstein encourages students to be patient with the process. Every admissions office has its own procedure.
“In some instances, they are reading 20,000 applications—and these things take time,” he says.
Make over your e-mail before applying!
Attention SoccerGurl76, TallDude81 and SeniorHottie8: It’s time for a new e-mail address.
Heath Einstein, director of college counseling for Solomon Schechter School of Westchester in New York, says a professional e-mail address is a must.
Your e-mail address should be your first and last name or first initial and last name. That’s it. Also clean up your MySpace and Facebook accounts.
“We want our kids to be wary about what they’re saying about themselves,” Einstein says.
Next Steppers talk back:
Q: What do you wish you didn’t have to do to apply to college?
A: Fill out so many applications. But in the end, they’re all worth it. —Latifah A. is a sophomore at Selma High School in Selma, Ala.
A: I think the application process is necessary. I want the opportunity to show colleges why I believe I’m the top candidate! —Tracey Ogagba is a senior at Alief Taylor High School in Houston
A: I wish that the applications were more streamlined. —Jordan Schwartz is from Marietta, Ga., and goes to Atlanta Girls’ School
A: All the forms and financial aid information gets a little heavy to handle. Plus, all the college vocabulary terms, like “EFC,” can get confusing. —Jessica Meoni is a senior at West Scranton High School in Pennsylvania
A: I wish I didn’t have to send in my high school transcript. Like any other typical high schooler, freshman year was my laid back year. —Juliun L. Kinsey is a junior at the Academy of Business Administration at W.T. Loften High School in Gainesville, Fla.
A: I wish you didn’t need to have a certain GPA. Just because you may have had a low GPA in high school doesn’t mean you can’t turn yourself around in college. —Kristina Barbaro is a senior at Medford High School in Medford, Mass.
A: I wish I didn’t have to write the essay or pay the fee. The essay because I don’t like that the choice is based on a few words that I write. The fee because some of us don’t have a lot of money. —Alejandra Mendez is a student at Johnson & Wales University