Admission News

How Do Elite Universities Evaluate your Application?

Written by CB Experts

In a recently published book Behind the Ivy Curtain: A Data Diven Guide to Elite College Admissions Aayush Upadhyay looked at data for nearly 5,000 applicants to Ivy League colleges over a six year period and analyzed what works and what doesn’t to get into top schools. Information in the book can help applicants have a competitive application.

Here Aayush explains what happens after an application is submitted. How does an admission officer actually evaluate your application?

Initial Submission

Once you submit your application, it lands in the school’s admissions office through a series of intermediate software. A PDF is generated, and the data is stored in some servers provided by a company like Technolutions. From there an admission officer will do the first read.


Application Reading

This is the really interesting part. When an application comes in, it is assigned to an admissions officer based on your region. The admissions officer spends about 20-25 minutes going through your application and trying to build an image of who you are. There is an entire code language they use. A phrase like “top ac” means top academic credentials—all your scores and grades condensed into one comment! There’s commentary on how the essays, recommendations, and activities come together to represent you. They are trying to get a sense of who you are as a person.

Finally, there’s a section to give an overall rating and ratings for your academics, extracurriculars, counselor recommendation, teacher recommendation, and interview. The overall rating scale varies from school to school, but it’s usually from 1-4 with +/-’s. Getting a “1” means you are in the top 5-10% of candidates and really excellent. A “4” means you’re basically out. Most others fall in the 2-3 range. A “2+” is promising, and getting in the “3” range is not a deal breaker, but it will be much tougher to get in. For the specific areas (academics, extracurriculars, etc), a score is given from 1-9, where 5 is middle of the pack. 8’s and 9’s are rare here, and getting a few 6’s/7’s will help you.

After the first reader finishes reading your application and writing comments, the application is passed on to a second reader who is either another admissions officer, a professor, or someone outside the college who is trusted to read applications. They also evaluate you, and then you’re off to the “adcom” or admissions committee.


Admissions Committee (Adcom)

The adcom is a group of people, mainly admissions officers and the Dean of Admissions but sometimes professors or external people, who go through your application and make an “Accept/Reject/Waitlisted” decision. The adcom convenes in the last couple weeks before results are released and they work non-stop to evaluate everyone.

The evaluation process is simple. Everyone has a paper copy of your reviews and your admissions officer makes a case for why they should admit you. There is usually a spirited discussion about your achievements and character and how you’ll fit into the campus environment. Your application is usually grouped with people from your region since your admissions officer is trying to make a case for all of his or her applicants. At the end the committee makes a decision and they move on.

And that wraps up the life of an application. The process is the same for early admission/decision, except most schools defer more liberally than they do in regular decision. At the end, either you get in or you don’t; there’s no appeal process. For some of you, wait listing is an outcome. The odds are awful—at a top school, hundreds of students are waitlisted and only about 10-20 come off the waitlist.


If you wish to learn more about the evaluation of an application and how admission to a college work, you can find more in Upadhyay’s book.

About the author

CB Experts

Content created by retired College Admissions consultants.