April 18, 2014

College Admissions | Who Is Reading Your Application?

So far, I've spent a great deal of time discussing your college application.

However, it's also important to look at the other side of the equation. Let's take some time to think about who reviews your application.

The biggest thing to remember is that the people reading your application are real people. So what do you need to keep in mind while filling out your application?

1. The people reading your application are short on time. This means you need to be as succinct as possible. Whatever they ask, give them exactly that and nothing more. The more you elaborate, the more you'll bore them. Trust me, they've seen it all before. Don’t try to sound smart by using big words. They might not know the meaning of the word you found in your thesaurus, and they're not going to take the time to look it up. They'll just skip it and move on. This especially applies to your essay. I know it sounds basic, but stick to the word count. A long essay might seem impressive in theory, but when the reviewer has a stack of 200 to read, it's only going to annoy him or her.

2. The person reading your application is overworked, so don’t be obscure in your language or your structure just to seem unique. Most schools use a simple rubric where a certain GPA will give you a certain number of points, your SAT is worth another, your extracurricular activities another, and so on. If this total number exceeds their requirement, they’ll send you a letter of acceptance. That means everything you've done for the past 4 years will be combined into a single number. The easier you make it for your reviewer to calculate this number, the better your chances of acceptance. Don’t force him or her to think about the number to assign. Make the admissions officer's job easy, and they'll be more likely to reward you.

3. There's a certain degree of randomness involved in college admissions. Since these applications are read by a human, not a machine, there's always some arbitrariness involved in the decision. Maybe the reviewer has a cold or is just having a bad day. Unfortunately, these small things impact the final decision. The flip side, of course, is that maybe he or she got some good news and is feeling especially generous. The point is, the decision may be unfair in your favor or not in your favor. Don't put all your eggs in one basket by only applying to one school. The only way counteract this randomness is to apply to many schools.

In short, remember to keep in mind that the person reading your application is a real person. Keep things simple, to the point, and obvious. Follow all directions carefully. Don’t do more than you are asked. Remember that there's a certain degree of randomness, so apply to several schools.


  1. Ahh, the days of applying to colleges. This is one of the most stressful times for students - as soon as you send away your application, it's completely out of your hands! That lack of control and the fact that you have no idea what's coming can be such a stressful combination, and really upset a lot of people. But, those are some great points you made.

    I find media on the internet to help people feel more positive in their daily lives. I think this one might help you out (along with many other people): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qR3rK0kZFkg - Jessica takes you through her daily affirmation, and it's really funny!

    Hopefully this helps you out a bit...


  2. Great post, Steve. As you say, the only way to counteract the randomness intrinsic to college admissions is to apply to lots of schools--ideally 8 to 10.