What’s an admissions committee?

My recent post on extra-curricular activities led a reader to wonder about the term “admissions committee” and who actually reads applications. The best research I’ve found on this was conducted by the College Board, focusing on competitive institutions. In most cases, applications are initially read and evaluated by an admissions counselor, usually one assigned to a region and/or set of high schools. In some models there are two such readers, and the decisions or scores these readers give the applicants are compared; the decision is made if the two readers agree, and if not it is sent to a committee. Another version has one reader only able to make decisions within limited parameters (scores, GPA, etc) and anything outside those guidelines is brought to a committee. There are a lot of other versions and permutations, but those are the most basic. I’m told there are some schools where every applicant receives a full committee review, which terrifies me to imagine the resources those institutions must spend on their admission process (do you wonder why tuition is so high?).

There seems to be two typical committee structures. Over the past several decades, as the number of applications has increased and admissions offices have grown, admission committees are increasingly made up of professional admissions officers. There are still a number of schools, however, where faculty members sit on the admissions committees – and at some they even work as initial application reviewers. At others faculty work in a consultative manner to the committe. At one place, for instance, the faculty conduct applicant interviews and their evaluations carry quite a bit of weight in the decision process. Faculty will also be much more involved in specialized and competitive programs, whether conducting auditions in the performing arts, or reviewing applicants for programs with additional standards such as business or engineering at some institutions. Bear in mind, this regards applications for admission to undergraduate programs. Admission decisions for graduate programs are usually left to faculty, and the faculty committees often do review all such applications, especially for doctoral candidates.

Regardless, it is generally accepted that faculty set the institutional admission standards. At Mason, for instance, faculty do not sit on the admission committee, but I have a subcommittee of the faculty senate that reviews our admission standards and procedures, and I present on admissions to the full faculty senate each year.
Admission committees, then, are likely made up of the admission officers from that institution in some combination, and the number that participates may vary widely. Your application will generally be read by one to two admissions officers, and then may be brought to an admissions committee depending on their evaluation. Thanks for the question, and be seeing you.


4 Responses

  1. I assume this is an attempt to explain how any college, USA, reviews applications. There have been questions in past entries asking who you answer to. These responses are very broad. It would be nice to know who we can send applicants to who have basic problems applying to your university. It is indeed rare that your department receives all the information they are sent from high school guidance departments. After repeatedly speaking to reps in your office, I discover that your goal to be paperless is causing high schools lots of paper (and postage).

    As a person who deals with many admissions departments, George Mason’s admissions process is daunting on many levels. It is not surprising to learn that there is little oversight within the academic community at your school.

  2. “is causing high school lots of paper”?

    What does that mean?

  3. If you mean who I report to, that would be the Vice President of Academic Affairs. If you mean who I answer to, I’d have to say the faculty senate, the president, the provost, and numerous other constiuencies. As to who to send applicants to with problems, that would be me and my office. As with most universities, you’re welcome to check in elsewhere but the other offices try to keep hands off with admissions to avoid perceptions of bias in the process.

    Our admissions office enjoys a wonderfully high statisfaction rate, but I agree that handling documents has been a tremendous challenge. I wrote a post a while back on why this has gotten to be such a tremendous issue – students applying online after submitting documents, transcripts and applications where the names don’t match, added to the elimination of Social Security Numbers as mathcing criteria have hit many colleges and universities very hard.
    Part of fixing the problem is changing the way the high schools send transcripts. We’re piloting a program in Virginia that is already fully working with our partner at the local community college to have entirely electronic transmission of transcripts. This has placed the community college transcripts into files by the day after the student requests them, and saves paper (and postage).
    The pilot is working with two of the largest school districts in the state. Unfortunately, our largest partner school district has huge technical infrastructure challenges (which contirbute greatly to the confusion in our process). Hopefully the new program will pioneer the way to make the process smoother for EVERYONE involved. Be seeing you.

  4. I just got back from a week out of town and so I wanted to write a belated “thank you” for answering my question about admissions committees. Your explanation cleared up the confusion around that often intimidating and mysterious word! Thanks again.

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