By Andy Lee

You have just spent the past six months polishing your application essays, retaking your standardized exams and chasing after your teachers and counselors to send their recommendation letters. After those long caffeine-fueled all-nighters you have pulled in the months leading up to this moment, you are now finally ready to hit the submit button. The next part, the seemingly eternal wait before your admissions decisions are finally sent, is perhaps the most grueling. When students and their parents embark on the college application process, the majority of them do not actually know what happens behind the scenes of an admissions office, the department that is responsible for deciding which students are admitted into a university. How are applications evaluated? Who decides on the fates of these applicants? How do they come up with a final verdict?

While all leading universities employ their own independent admissions practices, the majority of them actually adhere to a fairly similar model based on four successive steps: sorting, evaluating, deliberating and

Sorting: During first step of the process, applications are carefully checked to ensure that they are fully complete. Application essays, transcripts, standardized test score reports, recommendation letters and other supplementary materials must all be received before the applications are funneled to admissions officers for evaluation.

Evaluating: In the next stage, all elements of the application are carefully scrutinized by the first reader. This admission officer will closely assess each component of the application by assigning a score based on a rating scale that is specific to each college. Afterwards, the reader will summarize all the main aspects of the application and then render one of the following decisions: admit, deny, waitlist or defer. In order to ensure fairness, this file is subsequently sent to a different officer for another round of evaluation. This officer will conduct a review and then issue an independent verdict.

Deliberating: The files are then sent to a committee composed of admissions officers for deliberation. Usually, if both the first and second readers reach the same decision, the committee will defer to them. However, for a file where the two readers arrived at different verdicts, the committee will debate the merits of the application before putting it to a vote, with the majority opinion prevailing.

Finalizing: In the final stage, senior admissions officers will conduct one final review of all the decisions to ensure that the next incoming class of students are qualified, diverse, balanced and reflect the institutional priorities of the university. Occasionally, some decisions may be overturned at this juncture to ensure that all the objectives enumerated above are satisfied. Lastly, all the finalized admissions decisions and financial aid packages are released to all the applicants.

This process is highly subjective because it employs both quantitative and qualitative approaches, where Admissions Officers’ facts are balanced with feelings. In order for students to gain a coveted seat at a prestigious institution, they must craft a flawless application that showcases all their distinctive skills, talents and attributes in a compelling manner in order to capture the attention of the admissions officers. By planning early, thinking strategically and working hard, students will be able to ensure that they are maximizing their chances of gaining acceptance into their dream school.

Five ‘Dos’ and Five ‘Don’ts’ of Applying to College

The Dos
1. Plan and strategize at least two years beforethe application deadline

2. Consider early decision and early action admissions plans

3. Revise your applications multiple times and read them aloud before submitting

4. Visit college campuses and interact with admissions officers and current students

5. Focus your time and energy on no more than two extracurricular activities at high school

The Don’ts
1. Don’t procrastinate on your application essays. Start working on them during the summer before your final year of high school

2. Don’t judge a college based on its appearance and/or ranking. Make a concerted effort to understand its academic and extracurricular offerings and student outcomes after graduation

3. Don’t bombard admissions officers with questions that you can easily find answers to by simply researching the universities’ official websites

4. Don’t request prominent people who do not know you well to write recommendation letters for you. You should only ask people who are intimately aware of your strengths, passions and special qualities to
write these letters

5. Don’t use the same supplementary essays for every college you  apply to. You should try your best to tailor each essay for each college