A sprint to the finish for admissions officers

The University’s admissions office is normally calm, but as the acceptance deadline nears, it is bustling with activity.

More than 30 admissions officers have read about 21,600 undergraduate applications over the past two and a half months, shaping the Class of 2016 until letters of acceptance go out at the end of this month.

Their job is a cyclical one, a process that requires each reader to examine about 1,000 applications annually. Half of their year is spent trekking across the world, reaching out to prospective students. The other half is spent on campus or at home, reviewing final applications. Days after spring break ends, the cycle will start over.

The admissions team hand-picked more than 7,100 applicants last year, yielding an incoming freshman class of about 2,400 students last fall.

During reading season, admission officers spend eight hours per day scouring applications and writing up reports of each potential student, including their recommendation for each admission decision.

Senior Assistant Director of Admissions Dan Miller, who has reviewed applications for six years, said he reads the academic transcript and guidance counselor recommendation first. Alex Trempus, assistant director of undergraduate admissions who is currently in his second year of reading, said he prefers starting with the personal essay.

“Putting a voice to the application before you start getting all of the nitty-gritty information can be really nice because it puts all of the quantifiable information in context,” Trempus said.

As reading season comes to a close this week, a committee made up of the officer who reviewed the application and two senior staffers deliberates over each applicant, with the reader advocating for the student he or she believes should be accepted.

Associate Vice President and Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Kathryn Napper said the goal of the process is to understand how a student would fit into the incoming class and the University community as a whole.

“It’s an art, choosing which students attend,” Napper said.

The number of undergraduate applications is up 100 students from last year – 100 more hours of work for the admissions staff.

Market basket schools saw varying degrees of growth this year. Boston and Northwestern universities saw larger increases, while Syracuse University’s small bump matched GW’s numbers more closely.

Jeffrey Yu, an applicant for the class of 2016, is relying on his extracurricular activities and life experience to set him apart.

“I think the whole idea that, if you can get a certain score, you’ll be accepted is totally irrelevant in today’s college application process,” Yu said.

He emphasized his varsity soccer experience and student government position in his GW application.

Jeannie Borin, founder and president of College Connections, a college admission counseling service, said schools prioritize parts of an application over others. She said that colleges want to see the academic credentials that qualify them for admission first, and then build a more personal vision of students based on their essay and recommendations.

Borin said that students should use their applications to demonstrate uniqueness, which admissions officers look for to “build a well-rounded class.”

After decision letters go out in late March, Trempus said he looks forward to visit days, when he can recognize students whose applications he read. He recalled meeting an applicant on campus after she had driven four hours each way for an admissions interview with him in rural Kansas.

“It was so exciting to see her here, and to see her realize that this was the perfect fit for her on that April visit,” Trempus said.

One applicant who discussed how she came to understand her deceased grandmother through her recipe collection stuck out to Senior Associate Director of Undergraduate Admissions Touran Waters, who said she feels invested in the students whose applications she has read over the last 19 years.

“The next step is them accepting our offer. You’re inviting them, and you want them to come because you talked about them, you’ve read about them, you like them so much,” Waters said. “The process doesn’t end when we admit them, the process ends when they’ve accepted.”

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