bloomtwo blog

Who actually reads my college application?

March 2020
Fortunately, it’s not this judgmental guy :)

Who actually reads my college application?

You spend hours on your college application: considering which teachers to ask for recommendations; fine-tuning your extracurricular descriptions; drafting, revising, and perfecting your essays. Once you’re done, you click “submit,” then it feels like your application goes into an unknowable abyss. Who actually read the application that you so painstakingly prepared?

In a previous job, I worked at a college scholarship organization and read applications for several top-tier schools, including Stanford, Princeton, and Yale, so I have some insight into the admissions review process.

College and university typically have a small team of people who work in Admissions year-round. These folks are like the sales team for the school. Rather than trying to find customers or clients, Admissions teams are trying to sell parents and students on their schools. Throughout the year, Admissions reps travel throughout their territories, which are cities, states, and/or regions to which they are assigned, in order to attend conferences and meet potential applicants.

These same Admissions reps are some of the folks who read applications. The rest are seasonal application readers, who are short-term, contract workers, trained on the college’s admissions standards and ethos. The qualifications of seasonal readers are typically as follows: they graduated from college, they adequately completed a set of mock application reviews, and they have either read applications before or they know someone in the Admissions office.

Each reader is assigned to specific schools, which are ideally in regions with which they are familiar. So, the application reader assigned to review your applicant at, for example, Yale University, will be the same reader assigned to review all the Yale applicants at your school and possibly all the applicants from your city. Some colleges pair application readers, meaning that two readers are assigned to each application. The pay for this work is okay, but people primarily take on this role because of its flexibility and short-term nature.

After applications are divided up between readers based on region, readers are supposed to review all the applications from a specific school in one sitting (if possible), so they can compare candidates against their classmates. Often, readers will sort candidates by test score or GPA to provide a baseline comparison. The readers review each application according to a well-defined rubric, which is typically protected by a non-disclosure agreement. Then, the reader scores and/or gives a recommendation for each application. The scoring systems differ between colleges, but basically, the readers recommend one of these outcomes: Strong admit, admit, reject, strong reject. A committee of Admissions reviewers discusses the applications in the “admit” and “reject” categories in-depth, but does not spend much time on the ones in the “strong admit” (these are very rare) and “strong reject” piles.

(Update: for more insight into this process, check out my post, “What is holistic review?”)