We’ve been saying for years that admissions officers have about 5-18 minutes MAX to review an application. Every year parents and students are quite surprised to hear this. In years past the process has been that one officer typically does the review, then “pitches” the candidate to the full committee. As The Chronicle of Higher Education has just reported, UPenn and other high level universities are now stating that the number of minutes in an application review is actually closer to four minutes, and the number of eyes to an application is likely lower than ever.
As The Chronicle states, Penn admissions officers work in pairs, each reviewing an applicant’s materials electronically. Each person scores the applicant, types in notes on the file, and states “admit” or “deny.” From there, the applicant is placed into category 1, 2 or 3 and put into a final review. Penn states that in the past admissions officers reviewed 4-5 applicants in an hour –now it’s 15 an hour.
UPenn Isn’t Alone
The Chronicle confirmed that Swarthmore has also adopted this model of applicant review and this is now the third year working under the model. Admissions officers used to read 40 students a day — now it’s 90 a day. They no longer write, or have time to write, summaries on applicants; notes point the admissions committee to a specific section of the application and THAT is what’s reviewed. That’s one shot, one very brief and quickly read shot.
Given the short amount of time that an applicant has to make a case for himself in his materials, he needs a theme or a hook of sorts to present himself once he makes the grade in terms of scores and grades. This theme is what we set out to help our students articulate and deepen. We encourage students to nurture their natural passions and then help them make choices and present this theme or collection of interests in a bold, clear way on paper. Think of it as an overview of your four years in high school coupled with your academics, extracurriculars and passions. Colleges are looking for what the student will bring to the school; not how well rounded the student is, but rather how well rounded the class will be by admitting that student. We help students see that by presenting clear, focused applications highlighting a student’s academic niche.
Admissions officers want to admit kids with clear passions backed up by action. We encourage our students to add academic activities to their free time—focusing on a very specific academic area—and create a theme that is compelling to colleges, coupled of course with the high scores, grades and rank to maximize their odds. It’s not all about participation in lots of things—lots of students do that—but how can a student stand out in his/her area of academic interest and show leadership in one or two areas? Again, colleges want scholars and we want to make sure students present with an academic niche, a clear scholarly focus. For the top schools, a student simply has to stand out in a particular area –and he must stand out strong and fast…especially with the dwindling time being spent on actual application review.