Just Admit It: How Are College Applications Reviewed?

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Learn How College Admissions Committees Really Review Your Applications

While many students may think they know how their college applications are reviewed, very few individuals are actually in the room where decisions are made. If you’re curious to learn all of the details about how application reviews work, admissions officers are the only source for first-hand experience. 

Here at IvyWise, our counselors are all previous admissions officers who once sat on the committees where decisions were made. Keep reading to learn some of our team’s top takeaways about the application review process. If you’re eager to learn even more, check out our recent Just Admit It! podcast episode, which covers how admissions committees review applications. 

Academics are Always First

One of the top insights our admissions counselors are in agreement about may sound obvious: when it comes to application review, grades are the most important factor. While many students have likely heard this before, it’s important to understand what course rigor and strong grades mean in the context of application reviews. Although grades alone may not be enough to set a student apart from a sea of applicants, it is the first criteria admissions officers will be looking for. In addition to simply earning a high GPA, admissions officers want to see that students are challenging themselves by selecting advanced courses, such as AP and honors classes when available.

They Want to Learn Something New About You

Your college application is your opportunity to convey who you are to a team of admissions officers who have never met you. Every question is a chance to help the admissions team create a clearer picture of exactly what kind of student you are and what you will bring to campus. Instead of wasting space reiterating something about yourself that can be found elsewhere in your application, make sure every essay and short answer response reveals something new about yourself. If you write your personal statement about what you learned from your summer job, reference different experiences in your supplemental essays to help the admissions office discover more about you. 

They Care About the Supplements

While many students devote hours to refining their personal statements, far fewer put the same level of thought into short answer questions. Don’t discount short answer questions as less important simply because they have a shorter word requirement. In many cases, it can actually be more challenging to write a compelling response when you’re limited to 50 words or less. Consequently, students need to prioritize short answer questions and devote the same level of effort they do for longer-form essay responses.

Your Activity List Structure Matters

It’s not just what’s on your activity list that counts, it’s also how it is structured. Admissions officers review thousands of applications during a given year and are often under tremendous time pressure. Make sure your most compelling extracurricular involvements are at the top of your activity list, so admissions officers can focus on these commitments first. Strive to prioritize activities that require significant skill development and time commitments, as well as those that are unique and aligned with your passions.

Don’t Be Afraid to Be Labeled

Typically students want to avoid being labeled, but it can actually be an advantage when college admissions committees are reviewing your applications. College admissions officers want to know exactly who you are and what kind of impact you will make on campus. Whether it’s “Best Roommate” or “Future CEO”, if an admissions officer can assign a label to you after reading your application, it means you’ve made a powerful impact.

There’s a lot of uncertainty around how admissions decisions are made. The more students know about application review, the more confident they will feel when it comes time to submit their applications. If you’re looking to make the most of your admissions process, get in touch with our team of college counselors.

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