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.