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College Resources

Who Gets In? How Admissions Decisions Get Made

Admissions Decisions: How They're MadeThrough the college admissions process, colleges and universities are trying to build a student body that matches what their programs have to offer. They want individual students who are likely to be academically successful and become future alumni who will contribute to the college community. Each college has a relatively complex admission system that guides their recruiting, admission, and enrollment objectives. So the college application process can be lengthy, and having a better idea of how it works from start to finish can help you understand how colleges get to their admission decisions.

From College Prospect to College Applicant

Before you begin to formally apply for college admission, you are considered a prospective student, or “prospect.” When you begin to fill out your application online or your college application documents begin to arrive in the school’s admissions office, you become an “applicant,” and the school creates an official applicant’s file bearing your name.
Once your applicant’s file contains your complete college application and all the supportive documents -- your college essays, your high school transcript, your counselor/teacher recommendations, your official test scores and any other material required by the school to arrive at an admissions decision -- it is considered complete. Your file will then start its way through the application review process.

College Application Review

Your college application and its supporting documents will be used by the school’s admissions office to make its decision. College and university admissions officers and committees also review notes from their high school visits or contact with you during things like the college interview or college fairs. They are interested in knowing all they can about you academically and personally. If they have questions about your application, they may contact you, your guidance counselor or other high school personnel for clarification.

How Admissions Officers and Committees Make College Admissions Decisions

Colleges and universities base their decisions on the strength of your application as compared to their enrollment objectives and the overall pool of applicants competing for admission. Sometimes they are looking for people with specific demographics or skill sets.
Some colleges and universities -- particularly state colleges and universities where the applicant pool may be extremely large -- use a formula based on a combination of the applicant's grade point average, test scores and other key information.
Final college admissions decisions, especially at highly selective colleges, are not usually made by a single person. To ensure fairness in the selection process, colleges and universities rely on input from a group of reviewers who can bring different perspectives. Your application may be read by several admissions officers or by a committee that includes faculty and other university personnel along with a number of admissions officers. As each member of the admissions staff or committee reviews the application, comments are recorded in the file.
In many cases, the admissions officer assigned to your school, state, and/or region and with whom you may have had personal contact may present your application to the committee and make a case for or against your acceptance. The committee may arrive at a decision by a formal vote or by a more informal agreement or consensus.

College Decision Notification

With the increase in the use of online applications, some colleges post their decisions online. However, most institutions will notify you by mail or may do both. For early decision, early notification, or rolling admission applicants, notifications will begin in December in most cases. Notifications will continue to arrive throughout the year. Regular decision applicants, many of whom are completing their college applications for deadlines in December to April, will have to wait until March or April to learn the decisions.

Beware of the Waitlist

You will only be accepted for enrollment from a waitlist if a significant number of students who are admitted choose not to enroll. Since some waitlists are longer than others, you should not be overconfident that you will get in. Discuss your waitlist options with your guidance counselor or advisor as soon as possible for help in deciding whether it makes sense to accept a waitlist offer.
If you decide to stay on the waitlist, return the card indicating your intent promptly. You might also want to write a letter to the Director of Admissions to express how much you want to attend the college and share any honors or achievements you have earned since submitting your college application.

The Light at the End of the Admissions Tunnel

Once you have received your decision notifications, congratulations, you will again become an active part of the college admissions process! The next step is to transform from an admitted student to an enrolled student. You will need to choose among the colleges and universities that have admitted you or placed you on their waitlist and decide where you will enroll.


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Don Munce