How Selective Colleges Read Applications

A peak behind the curtain of admissions

There has long been a knowledge gap between admission offices and the students who desire to attend their highly selective universities—a guarded process on how students are analyzed and considered for these highly coveted spots. This post aims to demystify the unknowns surrounding how selective schools evaluate admission applications.

How Selective Colleges Read Applications

Committee-Based Evaluation

What is it?

The process of Committee-Based Evaluation (CBE) was created in 2013 by admission officers at the University of Pennsylvania. As of 2018, 40 universities have adopted the CBE process including institutions such as U Penn, Rice, Cal Tech, Emory, and Georgia Tech. This number has grown substantially since and will continue to grow in the future as the number of college applications continues to rise. This process boasts many benefits to students including an increased number of reviews for each application, multiple admission officers reviewing each file, and overall a better holistic review of all aspects of each application. The number of students applying to a university each year will affect the average time spent on each file; however, the average is 6-8 minutes spent on each review. This leads us into the stages of CBE and how the application files are read during this process.

CBE Review

Each application file goes through an initial CBE read. This is the first introduction that the admission committee has to each student. At this stage, the student has to make the most significant foundational impact on the admission officers. They are looking to answer the following questions; does the student have the academic foundation to succeed at their institution, are they showing leadership and presence at their high school, do they convey passionately about their interests and genuine desire to attend this specific university?

Officers begin the CBE review process by evaluating students in the context of their school group, which includes all students applying to that university from each specific high school. This tactic allows for more efficient use of time in the application reading process. Prior to reading a school group, admission officers are able to familiarize themselves with each school’s academic profile and understand the school context allowing for a more effective and skillful evaluation. Most admission-based customer relationship management (CRM) systems sort school groups either by school rank or, if that is not available, weighted GPAs. This indicates that grades and rigor (weighted courses) affect the order in which a student shows up on this list of peers. The lower a student falls on this list the lower their chances of standing out in the grand scheme of admission meaning they will need to compensate through other aspects of the application as the holistic read continues. After this initial read, the admission officers decide if they want to move a file forward or deny the application in this round of review. 

Committee Review

If you are an applicant who makes it through the initial rounds, your application is then reviewed by a team of admission professionals in the committee round. At this stage, your application is read in relation to other students applying to the same School of Study (Natural Science, Engineering, Social Science, etc..). After they’ve seen you against your local high school classmates it is now time to see how you fare against other students who are interested in a similar major area.

Unlike the initial reviews, in the committee round, more importance is now held on intellectual vitality and alignment to your chosen major area. By now, the committee knows you are academically capable, have shown leadership, and are spoken of highly by your school. Now comes the time to narrow down a pool that is still too large to admit by focusing on more nuanced aspects of the application. They begin to scrutinize in detail how a student has engaged in their intellectual growth, committed to academics at a higher level, and how their activities align with their expressed college goals. 

Lastly, from my personal experience at Rice University, the factor that can often tip the admission scales is how articulately the student expresses their interest in attending a particular university and how clearly they demonstrate that they’ve taken the time to research the institution before applying. Most universities are very passionate about finding students that are the right match; both the student for the university and the university for the student. 

Knowledge is Power

The more you know about the admission process the less stressful it becomes. It is never too early to begin thinking about the college application process. Solomon consultants are here to offer our experience and knowledge in selective admission to help guide, support, and coach you to stand out in an overcompetitive academic environment. 

If you need any assistance with the college process, contact us today to learn how we can help. We can’t wait to help you reach your college goals!

Former Assistant Director of Admission at Rice University

4 Years in Rice University Admission
14,000+ Applications Read and Evaluated

Jessica has her Bachelor of Business Administration in Marketing from The University of Texas. She also completed her MBA while working full time in the Office of Undergraduate Admissions at her alma mater before transitioning to Rice University. As a first-generation college graduate, she is passionate about helping students apply to their dream schools.

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