Know Your Reader: What Your College Admissions Committee Members Look Like
Want personalized (and free) advice while applying to college?
We’re building a free college guidance platform for high school students like you! This means we’ll let you know exactly what and when you should be focusing on things like extracurriculars, college essays, standardized tests, and more. Sign up now to get early access to our platform and get guidance applying to college!
What’s an Admissions Committee?
When you submit your college applications, who exactly will be reading them? Focusing on communicating your grades, test scores, extracurricular activities, and essays are all important, of course, but another factor you should keep in mind is the audience that will be evaluating your accomplishments. Whenever you’re writing, it’s a good idea to keep your audience in mind, and your college application is no different.
The admissions committee is made up of the professionals who make admissions decisions at a given college. At many schools, your first readers will be roughly two admissions officers who specialize in your region. You may have met these people at some point in the application process if you attended college fairs or if representatives visited your high school.
These individuals’ experience with the region will help them assess your application and background within the context of your high school and community. They’re the ones who will know your school culture well, what your GPA and class rank really mean in comparison to the rest of your class, and the overall rigor of your academic curriculum.
They are also comparing you to other applicants in the area. They will likely rate you according to specific criteria (grades, extracurriculars, tests scores, and so on), make notes, and compile an initial assessment of you as an applicant. If you clearly don’t meet the minimum admissions standards, they will set aside your application for rejection.
Most schools don’t reveal the specific criteria for the admissions process, and, except for some very large public universities, they tend to be somewhat subjective. That’s why it’s important to remember that a person (and often multiple people) will be reading your application, rather than a machine checking off boxes on a rubric.
If you make the initial cut, your regional admissions officers will present you to the full admissions committee, who will discuss your case and ultimately make a decision about whether to accept you.
So who are the people who make up the admissions committee at a given school? Generally, the people on the admissions committee come from three main groups: admissions staff, faculty, and students. Alumni interviewers may also have input, but usually aren’t part of the full committee; instead, they provide some written comments about your interview. Read on to learn more about these groups.
Most of the admissions staff on the committee is comprised of officers who focus on providing information about the school and application to prospective students and, later, assessing applicants. You may have encountered some of these staffers if you visited the school. Some colleges make a point to hire a certain number of recent alums as admissions officers because they know firsthand what makes students successful on campus and what constitutes a good fit with the school.
There are also probably higher-level people who manage and supervise the admissions officers, such as directors, deans, and other people with administrative titles. These supervisors are knowledgeable about their individual college’s application and process. They’re also familiar with other schools and how they compare, and their jobs are specifically to facilitate the process of choosing a matriculating class, so they can be focused on applicants at all times and the corresponding big picture.
Ultimately, they’re trying to fulfill the needs of the school and ensure that the incoming class is a good fit. They also might be looking to develop or build new departments and may be seeking candidates with qualities that will strengthen those department. For instance, if a college generally known as a techie school is trying to strengthen its creative writing department, the admissions committee might seek out applicants with a strong writing background.
Faculty include professors or instructors who have teaching positions, but also have a larger interest in shaping the college’s student body and environment. They can provide the perspective of what qualities instructors would like to see in their students, since they will ultimately be the ones teaching and working with you. Deans and other high-level administrative officers often start out as faculty, so it makes sense that they would be involved in the admissions process — determining who will shape the new class — earlier on.
Since faculty teach specific fields and courses, they also bring special knowledge about a particular subject or area. For instance, a writing professor might evaluate a student’s writing samples, and a biology professor could be better able to assess the quality and rigor of research program or internship you list on your application.
The procedures by which faculty members are selected for the admissions committee vary by college. Students might vote, other faculty might vote, or admissions officers might appoint them, among other selection processes.
Some colleges include student representatives on admissions committees to bring in different perspectives that only students can have. They may have a better sense of whether you’re a good fit for life on that campus, how you compare to the existing student body, and what unique qualities you would bring to the everyday campus experience. Remember: These people may well be your future classmates.
The procedures for selecting these student representatives vary, but they will typically be students in especially good standing who are well-respected by faculty, administrators, and other students and actively involved with the life of the college, such as through student council or government, clubs, or other aspects of student life.
More Resources for Learning About the Admissions Process
Admissions committees may vary from school to school, but often the general structure is similar. It’s important to keep the members of the committee in mind when working on your applications. To learn more about the process and inner workings of admissions committees (as well figuring out your likelihood of getting into a certain college), check out Who Elite Colleges Compare You To When Making Admissions Decisions.
Looking for help with your college applications? Check out our College Application Guidance Program. When you sign up for our program, we carefully pair you with the perfect admissions specialist based on your current academic and extracurricular profile and the schools in which you’re interested. Your personal specialist will help you with branding, essays, and interviews, and provide you with support and guidance in all other aspects of the application process.
Want more college admissions tips?
We'll send you information to help you throughout the college admissions process.