Subjective College Admission Process

Subjective College Admission Process :


Many students are surprised at how subjective the admission process can be. Why is it not a completely numbers-based, objective process?


Peter Osgood - Director of Admission - Harvey Mudd College and Former Associate Dean of Admission - Pomona College

At Harvey Mudd our selection process is highly individualized. The reason is because the vast majority of applicants present very similar records in terms of SAT scores and GPAs. Most fall within the top 10 percent of their high school classes. Using these objective criteria or the marginal differences in a student’s GPA doesn’t serve us or the students very well.

The kinds of things that tend to be intriguing to us and may even suggest potential for real success here are qualities like attitudes toward learning, problem-solving ability and being able to work with others.

In other words, qualities that objective measurement are not good at measuring. Intellectual curiosity, for example, doesn’t necessarily translate into a particular grade. Since we look for these other qualities, the essay is one area where we expect to find them.

Lloyd Peterson - Former Senior Associate Director of Admissions - Yale University and Director of Education - College Coach

At Yale, when we assembled the various parts of the application into a folder we put all the qualitative pieces, like the essay, up front. The reason is because I wanted to get to know the applicant as an individual before I saw the numbers like their GPA and SAT scores. I wanted to know John Smith the person before I knew John Smith the scholar.

That’s why I always looked at the essays and recommendations first. If I looked at an SAT score first, it would have too much influence on the rest of my reading. I didn’t want to go into the essay thinking 1280. I want a blank canvas. This philosophy is very typical at the Ivy League and other selective schools.

Elizabeth Mosier - Acting Director of Admissions - Bryn Mawr College

Many applicants imagine the admission committee meetings as taking place in a smoke-filled room with a bunch of sneaky people looking for any reason not to admit them. I hate to disappoint anyone, but the committee meetings are actually quite congenial. We discuss each candidate. We don’t always agree and sometimes we can debate for hours. But this is all part of what makes our process work.

Because we are a small college and have the ability to evaluate each applicant individually, we can be really focused on the match between the applicant and our campus. We try to ask ourselves if the applicant would thrive in this environment. It’s not an exact science admitting students. It’s a very personal process. If students can write essays that show us who they want to be, that helps us see them in our college. We want to make good matches. We want students to come here and love it.

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