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Breaking Down The Admission Team: Week 3: The Bench

Breaking Down The Admission Team: Week 3: The Bench

Alright, after a break for the election and Thanksgiving, it’s time to refocus on the important things in life… like Fantasy Football.

If you apply to a selective school (schools that  have an admit rate of less than 33%), they will use a holistic review process. Given that full-time admission staff also needs to travel for recruitment, meet with families, and make presentations on campus, there is simply no way for them to also read every application, front to back, with care and detail.

In Fantasy Football when you’re down a player, you need to have a good bench: skilled, experienced, and readily available to help out when the team is down. And trust me, when thousands of applications pour in on the last two days before the deadline and you are looking at a calendar trying to calculate daily quotas, you can feel down. The weather is getting colder, the sun sets earlier, caffeine doesn’t have its normal effect, the kids get sick and… sorry, where was I? Oh, yeah… the bench. Every good team has to have one, and in admission offices around the country, the bench are the seasonal employees.

 Our Bench: The Seasonals

Back when we received about 17,000 applications at Tech, we had five folks on the “bench.” Now we’ve crossed over the 30,000 mark, and our bench has grown to 15 (for context, plenty of other institutions employ well over 50 seasonal readers). Some schools only hire former admission officers, teachers, or counselors for these roles. We take a more holistic approach, so our bench includes an aerospace engineer, a former TV show producer, consultants from a variety of industries, several GT alums, and yes, some with extensive admission experience. Nationally, more and more of these employees work remotely, but ours mostly come into the office for 20-30 hours each week. They start with a week of training in early October to refresh on our process, learn any new updates, and go through complex application examples. They wrap up their work in mid-February each year.

Our staff loves this group– not just because they lighten their load, but because they bring life, energy, stories, and tons of personality with them each day. We call them “The Seasonals” (but we’re open to new team name suggestions).

Their Job

Seasonals come in specifically to read applications. Exactly which role this group plays varies from one school to the next, but ours are primarily doing first review. They review your transcript, enter your GPA in the system, count the number of AP/IB/ Dual Enrollment courses you’ve taken, note your highest math class, confirm official test scores are in, and verify that your senior schedule is complete. When they’re all reading, AND if our technology (including the Keurig) is working well, AND assuming no fire alarms, AND barring no silly meetings called by the director, they work through roughly 500 applications a day. Think of these folks as dental hygienists: they are poking and prodding around to ensure the file is complete, and clean, before advancing to second read.

Your Job

I’m not going to rename them “The Hygienists,” but to extend the metaphor, you would not intentionally put your tongue in the way of a double bend hook or ask to have your gum pierced by a sickle scaler. That would only lead to a bloody mess and severely slow the work of the hygienist. Similarly, you want to submit an application that’s clean and keeps these folks working smoothly.

1. Follow Directions. Before you start any section of an application, read all directions thoroughly. I know that sounds preachy, but this is a serious pitfall. Most applications specifically tell you not to abbreviate, and that’s for good reason. Sure, we know what Lit and Comp mean. But how about Dis of Hum Geo? Is that math or social science? And some abbreviations lead to all kinds of awkward… for example, Anal. Geometry is uncomfortably common.

2. Run Spellcheck. Senior schedules are basically free form, which can lead otherwise academically talented students to list Psycology, Psychologie, Scicology. Or how about Chemistrie, Cemistry, Chemistree? I’m not making these up, and they’re not one-offs either. The bench has a lot more patience for this kind of thing than I do (they’re good people, I tell you).  But remember that “best foot forward” thing? Yea… it’s a thing.

3. Be Specific. Students often say they’re taking Calculus spring of senior year, when in reality it’s actually Multivariate Calculus or BC Calculus. More information, not less, is the basic principle of holistic review.

4. Send All Transcripts. Have you switched schools in high school? Be sure that you have official transcripts sent from each one. We’ve seen plenty of examples of early grades being misrepresented (and often shortchanged) on the current school’s transcript. Is 9th grade not on your current high school transcript? Get it and send it.

Your School’s Job

1. Quality Check. Some schools (and at least one entire state) send photocopied transcripts (some with test score tapes covering important information). If we can’t read it, it’s pushed to the bottom of the stack until we can get a better copy. Not only does this not help your students and your school, but it also upsets the hygienist!

2. Help Us Help You. On the counselor form of The Common App, there is a place for “student rank.” This is where we should see simple numbers like 2/245 or 11/326. Instead, we will often see 1/119 followed by “Number sharing this rank: 21.” What the…?! 21 valedictorians? NO! Just like there should be limits to the distance off the highway that a restaurant must be in order to advertise on the exit sign, so too should there be limits to number sharing rank.

3. More Information, Not Less. Again, this is Rule 1 of holistic review. Selective colleges are making nuanced decisions. Based on application volume and class size, we are going to differentiate in extremely slight ways. Over the last decade we’ve seen fewer and fewer schools provide rank on profiles and forms. It’s moderately annoying, but borderline understandable. Lately we’ve seen a trend to not provide a GPA. Line crossed. Now we are in a position of making some uncomfortable assumptions about calculations in the absence of critical information.

I’ve heard many reasons from friends on the secondary side for these adjustments. Invariably, the headmaster or board or Grand Poohbah believes that not giving rank, or not giving GPA, or altering a grading scale, or not adding weight, is going to help more kids “get in.” We all have bosses, right? Admission directors can relate to the shoulder shrug, head tilt, eye roll, and knowing glance of “Yep. That’s what I told them.” Just humor me and add that Harvard’s admit rate is not going back above 7% regardless of how you frame your profile… and the bench doesn’t appreciate the extra splinters in the pine either.

Vegas, baby.

Our Seasonals primarily work out of two offices. These are small conference rooms with multiple desks or long tables. One is called “The Bat Cave.” The other is affectionately called “Vegas,” because what is said there stays there.

Don’t let the tips above be like Vegas. Share this, heed this, discuss these points, and put them into practice. We love reading your applications. We want to turn around decisions as fast as possible.

So show some love to the Seasonals as you submit information this winter. Accuracy and the quality of the information you and your school provide dictate their ability to keep the rest of the team moving. So how ’bout a slow clap for the bench?

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