By Joshua Henry
To the aspiring student, the moment in which you click “submit” to send one or more applications to the colleges and universities of your choosing is the momentous culmination of an arduous and invested application process. But in reality, that moment is merely the beginning of a larger, complex process that results in an admission decision.
Submitting an application really means that you make the application available for a school to download. Days, weeks or, depending on how early your application is submitted, months can pass before a school does anything with it. You can expect to receive confirmation that your application is received, and you can expect to receive notification that your applicant file is complete – both usually via email. Other than that, no news is often good news until you receive your decision letter.
But while you, as an applicant, are pining with anticipation for your admission decision, what’s happening to your application? The truth is, it’s doing a lot of waiting too. Think about this: you submit your application, your school submits your transcript and letters of recommendation – sometimes online and sometimes in the mail; sometimes together and sometimes separate – and your standardized test scores are sent by the College Board or the ACT. There are a lot of pieces of information coming from a lot of different sources in a lot of different formats, and they all need to be married together before your application can be reviewed.
Based on personal experience*, colleges and universities do a remarkable job of correctly matching all of the information and completing applicant files. Once all that matching is finished, the application waits no longer. Finally, it undergoes a review process, and that can mean a lot of different things at different institutions.
Most if not all processes begin with an application review – an admission officer sits down and reads your application. At few schools, a decision is made and the process stops. But at most, the first review is just the first step. Commonly, an application undergoes a second review – either a second reading by a different admission officer, or a review by an admission committee.
Many rolling admission institutions – schools that accept and review applications, and release admission decisions throughout the admission cycle – use two readings or one reading and a committee discussion to make admission decisions. Typically, they have smaller applicant pools and are able to return decisions quickly, though some larger universities, like the University of Pittsburgh, practice rolling admission too. Highly selective schools typically read an application twice – sometimes thrice – and make tough decisions on applicants in a committee setting. The entire review process at such schools can take several months.
Through the long process, colleges and universities continue to gather information on their applicants, receiving midyear grades and new standardized testing results. These new pieces of information are used to influence admission decisions and evaluate decisions already made. No decision is final until the admission letter is delivered to the applicant. It’s important for you to continue to work hard and do well – you want to be sure that any new information a school receives about you is good information.
As an applicant, it’s natural to wonder why you must wait so long to learn the outcome of your higher learning pursuit. Hopefully, this provided explanation offers some insight as to what is happening behind the scenes. The best thing you can do while waiting for your admission decisions is not worry about them. If you’ve applied to enough schools and the right types of schools for you, you’re going to have options and they’re going to be good options. Enjoy your final year of high school – it goes by faster than you can imagine.
* I was an Assistant Dean of Undergraduate Admission at the College of William & Mary for three years, and I reviewed over 7,000 applications for admission.