Headed to Admissions Committee…
Well, I just finished reading the last of my ED applications. Whew! We received a few hundred applications more this year for ED than we did last year, and due to technical issues beyond our control, we just started reading those applications right before Thanksgiving. So… it has been a busy couple of weeks to get approximately 1,000 applications read twice already. Our office deadline says that all files must be read and rated and to our senior data entry woman, Kathy, by 10am tomorrow. Kathy will input all of our ratings, decisions, and recommendations into the computer system so that we have accurate information on all aspects of our ED1 applicant pool by early next week. On Tuesday, ED admissions committee will start. While a few of our ED applicants’ files have already been decisioned (unbeknownst to them, the very strongest have been admitted and the very weakest have been denied), the majority of our applications will be discussed and decisioned in admissions committee next week.
Committee is a really interesting, intense, and important part of the admissions process at Vanderbilt. Typically, about 60% of our files go to committee. These 60% are statistically fairly similar (fairly similar testing, grades, and level of extra curricular involvement), but of course these files represent individual students with their own specific strengths and unique traits. Committee is exhausting and isn’t exactly an efficient method for finalizing decisions (we can talk about the same file for up to 15 minutes), but my colleagues and I agree that it is the best way to distinguish between these statistically similar files. I’m sure you are curious about what committee is like. I assure you that it is not like the movies (such as Legally Blonde) depict. I hope that you are relieved to know that committee is a very straightforward process for dissecting applications and making the most fair and appropriate decisions possible. Our committee consists of one admissions counselor presenting his/her files to a committee of 2-4 veteran colleagues. The committee is chaired by our Dean, Director, or one of our Associate Directors. If I am presenting my FL files, I’ll bring all of the files that need to be discussed in a big stack. We will go through them one by one, discussing a variety of things about the application.
The admissions officer presenting the file guides the discussion and gives relevant information about the student or the context of the high school. We start by looking analytically at a student’s grades, curriculum, and test scores. For instance, I might start by explaining that a student’s slight dip in grades during 10th grade coincided with her contracting mono, which kept her out of school for 3 weeks. Or I may explain that a high school does not weight its AP or Honors classes, which may negatively affect the gpa of a student who has taken tough classes and earned a few B’s along the way. We will then review the student’s extra curricular activities; again, I will clarify these within the context of the high school. We don’t have any preference for any kind of activity (athletic vs. community service vs. leadership vs. employment vs. artistic, etc.), because we need students with all of those interests and talents to come to Vanderbilt and maintain our high level and broad spectrum of student involvement. However, not all activities or titles are the same. I hope you agree that being the president of a senior class of 600 seniors is a bit more impressive than the same position at a school with 60 seniors. Then we may discuss the student’s essays and recommendations. The essay is important because it shows us how well the applicant writes and gives him or her free reign to tell us anything they want us to know. We certainly have admitted a few borderline applicants because of their essay, and even a few despite an essay that we felt missed the mark (or maybe just couldn’t appreciate). Most Vanderbilt applicants are beloved in their high school community, and therefore their recommendations are very positive. That said, there are varying degrees of strong recommendations from teachers and counselors. Recommendations help us differentiate between students who are well liked and those who help raise the level of discussion in classrooms, or who have impacted the high school community in a real way.
As you can see, we really read everything you send us. Each of us admissions counselors tends to be biased towards our own applicants (I hope this doesn’t surprise you), and it is the job of the committee to remain consistent when hearing files from any of us. That way, all applicants are considered in the same light and held to the same standard for admission. I have certainly advocated for students who were eventually denied, but I am proud to say that each of those applicants was carefully discussed. We do not take these admissions decisions lightly, and I think we really do honor the applications on which you have spent so much time and energy. I hope that this information gives you some reassurance and some peace about the state of your application at Vanderbilt. For those of you working on your Regular Decision applications, perhaps this gives you some motivation to submit a carefully done application, to give it the best foundation for committee discussion. After all, an application that is submitted on time and in the proper manner is easy to process and easy to read- that can never hurt your chance for admission!
As I’ve been typing I’ve been watching the Vanderbilt men’s basketball game on TV, and am now pleased to report they have improved to 6-0, with a double overtime win at home. While you all have spent a lot of time working on your applications, I assure you that we are spending a lot of time carefully evaluating them. Trust me, we are all making sacrifices to our personal time in this process- I had planned to go to the game tonight, but willingly stayed home to read applications. While I missed tonight’s game, I plan to be at the next home game against Ga Tech on Saturday. Good luck to all of our applicants, and Go ‘Dores!