I hit submit, now what?

Posted on January 8th, 2018 to College Admission by

As admission decision deadlines come and go, I feel like this is an opportunity to strip away the mystery around what happens after a student clicks “Submit”.

When I think about this process in its entirety, it’s really kind of weird. First, schools spend a lot of time and resources trying to market themselves to the “right” students. Then, students and families spend a great deal of time researching and identifying schools that are the “right fit”. Then, students invest a great deal MORE time completing their application. Then, students click “Submit”, and…

Fast forward a few months and all of the sudden emails and letters start arriving informing the student of the school’s decision. So what the heck happens between hitting submit and this seemingly faceless organization rendering a decision on the student’s qualifications for admission?

This is a great question. Especially when we consider that in this technological age we know what is happening exactly when it is happening. Think about the last time you ordered something from Amazon or sent a package in the mail. You immediately received a shipping confirmation, which allowed you to track your package and see every place it traveled, from its starting point to its final destination.

When it comes to college admission and what happens post-submitting, a lot less is revealed to the applicant. I’m here to tell you that the answer to this question, frankly, has as many answers as there are schools. To date (and I encourage all of my friends in college admission to please correct me) there really is no single standard way to review a student’s application. Sure, there are some agreed upon best practices within the community, but it is different from one school to the next. Each school defines “fit” differently; each school has different goals, which are mostly achieved through enrollment. Now, the best way to know what happens after submitting an application is to simply ask that question–obviously, the best time to bring it up is during the research portion of this process (a different blog post for a different day) but better late than never. What I can do is break down what happens in very basic terms.

  1. After clicking submit, an application is funneled to an applications processing team. This is a group of extraordinary individuals–usually a combination of full-time staff, temporary staff, outside vendors, and student workers. This team works incredibly long hours to process all the data, triple check that all the data matches the student info (there are like a million Jane Smiths), recalculate GPAs, upload data from SAT/ACT, etc. Despite living in a tech. age, a lot of this process is not automated.
  2. Once a student’s file is complete, and it is confirmed that it is 100% accurate, it is ready for review. At the outset of this process, admission officers sometimes wait until they have a decent mass of applications to review. This is especially true if the admission counselors/committee read by high school (meaning that they try to read all the applicants from a single high school together). The review process can get complicated–so please take my advice from above and simply ask how the office reviews applicants. Here are some examples of how it might happen:
    • Admission officers read for their geographic territory, render a decision; that decision is either confirmed or changed by the Dean/Director/VP. Often times a change to the decision is discussed. Or…
    • Admission officers read for their geographic territory and render a decision. Acceptances and denials are read a second time by a different counselor; waitlist decisions are ready by 1-2 other counselors. Then all decisions are funneled to the committee (a group of all the counselors who deliberate on the decisions). Or…
    • Every application is read by an admission committee who then renders decisions together. Or…well I think you get the idea that there are a lot of ways to review applications.
  3. Once all decisions and other information are entered, the head of the office will run the numbers. Basically, s/he will take a look at all the percentages (accept, waitlist, deny, gender breakdown, geographic breakdown, etc.) and see how it compares to the enrollment goals for that year. Depending on how things shake out, some decisions might have to be adjusted to accommodate the school’s goals and needs.
  4. Once the senior leadership enrollment team is confident in all the decisions, the letters and emails are released!

At the end of the day the important take away is that A LOT happens after a student clicks submit. As I mention above, for as many colleges and universities as there are, there are as many ways to process and review an application. The best way to understand what will happen after an application is submitted is to ask the question: “how do you review applications?” I wish you the best of luck as you hit that submit button!

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