Admission committees: just who do you think they are?


I’ve been wrestling the last few days with the follow up on essays and recommendations, and finally realized what’s been bugging me. I’ve been answering questions on this blog and on a few other sites that all seem to be wildly misled about who actually reads your application. One site refers regularly to the “ADCOMM” – admissions committee – likes it’s some alien entity that always acts the same way, and not thousands of individuals. Questions like “how do admissions committees look at esays about my trip to Antartica?” are almost as nutty as answers (and this is actually what was posted on one of these garbage advice sites), “ADCOMM’s don’t want to hear about your trips. They hear to many of those. Write about something else.”

Oh PLEASE. There is absolutely no way to predict how any one subject will be read by the many many many different people that might make up decisions at different institutions. To understand that, a quick review on how the admissions process works.

In 2002, my good friends at the Collegeboard published a great review of admission processes called, “Admissions Decision-Making Models: How U.S. Institutions of Higher Education Select Undergraduate Students” (Rigol, 2002). It identified seven basic processes competitive institutions use to evaluate applications. The most selective will tend to start with 2 independent readers. If those two agree on their evaluation, one of them will take the file to the “ADCOMM” – if they don’t, the application will often be referred to a third reader who will bring it to committee, or directly to the committee with both contrasting recommendations.

In that model, at least, every applicant does go to a committee, but only after screening by individuals. In most models, quite a few files never make it that far. Another prominent version has two readers, and the application only goes to committee if they disagree – if not, the decision is made. At others, a single reader can decide within set parameters as to an admit or deny, and only need bring an application to committee if it falls outside those parameters.

Many schools use some kind of scoring system, some done by computer – so the first review is done by your score, before any human even sees your application. The computer recommends a decision to an invidual (who, if he or she agrees, makes the decision) or to a committee. There are even some schools where the computer makes a significant number of the decisions with no human involvement AT ALL.

In other words, it’s not really an ADCOMM that has the most influence on your decision. It’s AN admissions officer, usually the person who reads all the files from your school, state, and/or region. That person is the one most likely to be representing you at committee, if you go there at all.

So stop worrying about some scary committee that is carefully reading every word you share with them. Worry about that one person whose job it is to do so, and hope they are responsible enough to do so thoroughly. You won’t know if that’s a Dean of Admissions with 20 or more years of experience reading thousands of applications, or a first year admissions counselor, just graduated from college, having their first application evaluation experience – and you can’t be sure which one would be better.

You also won’t know that reader’s sense of humor, or what mood might strike that day, or whether (lucky you) the reader thinks travel to Antartica is the coolest thing EVER.

So don’t get sucked in by a lot of the bogus advice about “what works” in an essay. It’s usually shared by someone who got in (or whose kid got in) somewhere and believes (usually mistakenly) that their admission was because of this INCREDIBLE ESSAY. It happens – but it’s not like we call everyone and say, “Finally! I got an essay I LOVE – now if you would all just write like THIS I’d admit ALL of you.”

Now that I’ve got that off my chest, there are a few things that can help. I’ll share those over the next few days – unless I get distracted again. Be seeing you.

PS – not really a shameless plus, but in between blog posts I’ve been working on the recruitment for next year, and we just posted our updated incredibly cool virtual tour at masonmetro. Go check it out and let me know what you think, good or bad. Personally, it gives me a headache, and I think tour guides are a LOT more energetic and exciting when we don’t have cameras on them, but I’m old and often cranky. BSY!

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One Response

  1. At my institution, the Admissions Committee is blamed if a student is denied an application.

    “Why was I denied admission?”

    “The Admissions Committee denied your application for this reason” or “The Admissions Committee denied your application for that reason.”

    The Admissions Committee is BAD. Who makes up the Admissions Committee? I am the Admissions Committee for the files I review.

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