How College Applications Are Reviewed to Determine Acceptance

Each college has its own method of reviewing your application and deciding if you will be admitted. Some city and state universities set minimum GPAs and standardized test scores (in some cases, a computer determines whether you have met the minimum qualifications for admission). More selective universities have multistep processes.

Many colleges have a two-reader process. Applicants who are not clear-cut for admission or rejection may not go before a committee for a final review.

Here's what a few admissions counselors and directors say about how their college reviews an application:

  • "Each applicant is reviewed on the basis of academic talent and contributions to our pluralistic campus community. An initial review is done by the recruiter for the geographic area within which the student resides, and then the committee reviews each application holistically." - Cheryl Brown, Director of Undergraduate Admissions, Binghamton University, State University of New York
  • "The faculties from both the schools of art and architecture made the creative decisions. The admissions office had a say about the academic strengths of the applicants. For engineering, the admissions office made the decision. Often, the school the applicant applied from played a role in the decision as well. An 'A' in one school is not an 'A' in another. And gender, race, ethnicity, geography, and extracurricular activities played an important role in making a positive decision." - Mitchell Thompson, Dean of Students, Scarsdale HS, former Associate Dean of Admissions and Records, The Cooper Union
  • "They review each applicant individually and we make decisions based on each student's merits, regardless of the student's major, geographic area, or high school. If each student from a particular high school is admissible, we'll admit all of them! We don't cap the number of students we'll admit from each school." - Lauren Kay, Assistant Director, Indiana University
  • "The review looks at academic preparation/level of success in the secondary school program, standardized test scores, and for other evidence (talents/interests/extra or co-curricular activities) that suggest an applicant can be successful and happy. Readers review applications by region which correlates with their recruitment travel. This brings a personal knowledge of the applicants' schools/programs into the review process. After first review, a second review is done by someone who typically does not know the region. If both readers evaluate the application similarly, the review is finished. If the first and second reviews produce disparate evaluations, applications get a third review by a selection committee. One final review is done to shape the entering class. If there are multiple applicants from the same school, the group's results are collected and reviewed to make sure that an applicant has not been under- or overrated vis-à-vis the peer group." - Nancy J. Maly, Director of Admission, Grinnell College
  • "Rensselaer reads applications electronically via committee. We do indicate whether other students from a particular high school have applied, along with demographic data." - Raymond Lutzky, Director of Outreach, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Like many other colleges, the University of Michigan has two people review each applicant. The two initial readers make a determination to admit or reject. Then an assistant director reviews your application, and if she does not agree with the first two readers, she can bring your file to a committee for the final decision. The University of Michigan's rating system targets seven areas, which should give you an idea of how many complex factors some colleges take into account when evaluating applicants:

  • Secondary school academic performance: GPA, quality of high school curriculum, academic interests, class rank, and more
  • Educational environment: Strength of curriculum (honors, AP, IB courses offered), average SAT/ACT scores, percent attending four-year colleges, grading system, academically disadvantaged school
  • Counselor and teacher recommendations
  • Personal background: Cultural experiences, socioeconomic and educational background (including first generation to attend college), awards/honors, extracurricular activities, scholarship athlete, work experience
  • Evaluative measures: Grasp of world events, intellectual curiosity, artistic talent, writing quality
  • Extenuating circumstances: Overcoming hardships, language spoken at home, frequent moves/ attending many different schools
  • Other considerations: Demonstrated interest in college/good match, strong personal statement