Our Own Selection Sunday
Sports talk radio was hammering the NCAA basketball selection committee as I waded through traffic and rain drops this morning. The committee was enduring the yearly second guessing of their work and as they did I thought about how I spent my day yesterday – in Vanderbilt’s own selection committee. I feel for them.
Admissions committees have been described in many ways, often with much greater intrigue and color than is truly warranted. Our committee is made up of me, the other Associate Director, the Director and the Dean of Admissions. Over seven days, we hear presentations from admissions counselors about students in their territory. Yesterday’s session was a multiple state affair lasting from early in the morning and ending well after the sun had set. As I have described on this blog before, the students we are seeing are the muddy middle, students who comprise the tipping point where are our decisions will vary the most in their outcomes. Many applications in this group have similar grades, curriculums, and test scores (though not always), and are generally all highly involved in their schools and communities. These applications appear on the surface to be just alike, and yet our decisions may be very different (usually between waitlist and admit at this point). Why?
The subjective “read” of the committee is why this happens. Based on how many students who will be in our incoming class, and based on a deep and comprehensive analysis of our past yield trends, we have a sense for how many admits we want to go out with. Since we can only admit a small number of students seen in committee we have often difficult decisions to make. What sways us? Sometimes it’s a student’s unique leadership abilities, sometimes it’s the intellectualism, a set of life experiences or perspective, a commitment to a cause, or sometimes we’re inspired by learning of a student that faces down unimaginable obstacles and doesn’t just overcomes them, but thrives. This intricate subjectivity is the principal element of a holistic admissions process. The fragile irony is that these human reactions exist in our process to benefit the applicant and yet simultaneously complicates the predictability of our decisions. Yes, it may confuse you afterwards, but it’s there to help you I suppose.
Which brings me to my kinship with the NCAA selection committee. Here, at the conclusion of a season (reading season for us) beyond the numbers (whether win/loss record in basketball or a GPA or a standardized test score in our world) it often comes down to a subjective determination. It’s a judgment call, and it is not easy to make.