Assessing Application Criteria

on July 23, 2018

As application periods loom, it’s time to set criteria on how to judge the applications that come flooding in for early action or early decision and, eventually, regular admission. There can be a lot of outward influence on admissions criteria, from making a Princeton Review list or pressure to increase yield rates. It can muddle the entire purpose of admission criteria: discovering students who will flourish at your institution.

 

The Criteria Rubric

Does your institution already have a rubric that admissions are judged on? When was it last reviewed? Does it still align with what your institution is looking for in prospective students?

 

It’s good practice to review the rubric every year, even briefly, to make sure that it encompasses your mission and requirements. While some things that you’re looking for are black and white—like meeting a GPA or standardized test requirement—others land in a greyer area, like essays, recommendation letters, and even extracurriculars. It can get more complicated when your institution is test-optional because you have to scrutinize the students’ grades and other submitted items much more closely.

 

What becomes more important then? The student with consistent, decent grades through high school resulting in an overall high GPA is always a tempting choice. Then there’s the transcript that tells a tale of a student that struggled their first two years of high school but clearly worked hard to increase their GPA over the past year and a half only to fall just shy of what your institution would prefer.

 

It’s not an easy decision to make, but it’s a circumstance that you’ll likely confront more than a few times while reviewing applications late into the night. And, it’s worth saying, that while students feel pressure on their end, of course, it’s often overlooked that admission officers are under pressure, too.

 

Prepping for the Stress of Subjectivity

It’s easy when it’s a numbers game. If it was based solely on academics, on needing a 32 ACT, a 3.8 GPA, and passing 2 AP exams at a college prep high school, the admissions process could likely be entirely digitized.

 

As it stands, in America, there’s a lot more that’s tossed into the admissions mix, and it’s subjective rather than quantitative. That leaves it on your shoulders to determine who does and doesn’t get admitted to your institution.

 

These aspects are especially important as admission rates lower closer to single digits. When thousands of applications are sent in from valedictorians boasting perfect GPAs and matching test scores, what’s an admissions officer to do? How do you choose between one top tenner and another?

 

It comes down to the list of extracurricular activities, the essay, and the recommendations, and there’s not a concrete quantitative way to rank them. You can use a simple 1-to-5 ranking on punctuation, grammar, and diction on the 500 words submitted. You can gauge dedication based on length of time involved in activities, or gain a little insight on a student’s astuteness from their favored teachers.

 

Ultimately, though, that stamp of approval comes down to your subjective response. Sure, there are fail-safes built into your admissions office, including second (and possibly even third) reviews of applications, and then committees where you’ll present your defense for students straddling the line like an attorney in court, but your reader card and first response hold weight through all of that.

 

That first response is precariously balanced on a lot of “life.” Was the coffee in the office made too weak? How many times did you have to honk your horn in traffic on the commute to work? Did you have trouble sleeping because your significant other was snoring? There’s a heavy reliance on you to be objective while reviewing applications, and that’s a steep expectation when the world around you is far from understanding of that.

 

It’s not that you can’t have bad days; we all have bad days. The fact of the matter is, though, you can’t let it influence your feelings about a 17-year-old teen’s college application.

 

Take Stock of Your Mood

It’s simple, but it’s just before you start looking at emails, before you open the program you use to review applications, where you take stock of your mood. It can go both ways. If you’re in an incredibly bubbly mood, you might find yourself softer on applicants you’d scrutinize more deeply. If it’s been a difficult week and it’s only Tuesday, you might want to pump the brakes before tossing each application aside.

 

Take a deep breath and remember that a teen who probably hasn’t celebrated their eighteenth birthday yet stressed over this submission for months. Then remind yourself that, that fact alone doesn’t qualify for them admittance to your institution.

 

Now make your decision.

 

Remember That Not All Students Have the Same Opportunities.

Some students have parents that move district lines so that their kids can go to a college prep school that will adequately prepare them for higher education. Other teens have had to help their families out by working at the local grocery store after school and on weekends to pay rent. Seeing potential is part of providing equal opportunities to low-income students.


None of this is new to you, but it’s good to bring up now and again, just as a reminder, especially with applications set to open over the next several weeks, including The Common Application as soon as August 1st. The entire process is stressful on both ends of the spectrum, making admission officers’ objectivity in high demand. Set your criteria, straighten up your desk, and find your inner peace: application season approacheth.

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