What Is Committee-Based Evaluation?

For the past several admissions cycles, college applications have mostly been on a steady incline. To meet the supply, colleges have streamlined the admissions process departing from a multi-step review to, in some cases, a single, committee-based selection meeting. Whereas in the past, college matriculation was almost exclusively a practice among America’s white, wealthiest class, today, more than half of Americans across racial and socio-economic lines opt to attend at least some college. That means that the rising generation of college-aged students will not only be the largest in American history, but also the most well-educated. Yet, in spite of a massive (30 percent since 2000) increase in applicants, universities have been slow to expand their admissions teams. So, what does this mean for applicants now vying to capture the attention of admissions counselors against millions of others?

Enter the New Way 

In 2013, the UPenn admissions team decided it was time for an overhaul of the multi-step process and thus began the formal Committee-Based Evaluation. Committee-Based Evaluation is basically what it sounds like. A committee (sometimes of two or three admissions counselors) conferences over an application. One counselor might focus on the academic aspects of a student’s application (grades and scores), while another other focuses on the supplemental stuff (essays and extracurriculars). In a matter of minutes, the committee will look over the application in one-sitting, discuss both aspects, and recommend a decision for the final selection committee right there: admit or reject, along with some notes (i.e.: check out this paragraph in the personal essay.) As the Jews among us might ask, mah nishtana? Why is this thing different from all other things?

The Olden Days   

In the dates of yore, the admissions process was a multi-step process that began with one counselor, typically accountable for managing the applicant pool of an entire region. For example, years ago, Counselor Joe might have been in charge of reviewing 500 applications in the southeast region, rating each one against the others. Not so terrible. He could read them on the treadmill, at home, on the subway, really whenever and wherever he wanted so long as spent adequate time pouring over each one and writing a comprehensive summary before his deadline. Counselor Joe would then pass said summary onto Counselor Aisha, who would do the same thing. In many cases, if the application made it to the next round, it, along with both Joe’s and Aisha’s summaries, would go on to a committee tasked with making the ultimate decision.

Over time, 500 applications became 650. This was due to a myriad of factors, from student loan accessibility to higher thresholds for jobs, to the digitizing of applications, and most recently, to a reduction in testing requirements, to marketing pushes, among others. Suddenly, Counselor Joe and Counselor Aisha found themselves not only reviewing applications on the treadmill, at home, and on the subway, but also in bed, in the shower, while sitting by the deathbeds of their ailing grandmothers, and really anywhere else they could cram in the time necessary to meet their deadlines. On the heels of the Penn overhaul, a number of colleges, including Swarthmore in 2015 and Emory in 2016, followed suit.

What Does This Mean for You?

What once took hours now takes minutes. Ultimately, the Committee-Based Evaluation could eliminate reader fatigue, but it also means that each counselor is essentially spending less time on your application. Some might think that the new way could lead to sacrifices in careful review and consideration. Whereas Counselor Joe might have read your personal essay about your journey to professional hand-gliding over breakfast and really spent time that day thinking about just how hard it is to leap off of a mountain with no parachute, with the new model, that nuance may never have had time to marinate.

This prospect can be a scary one--consider that you have less time, now maybe a matter of minutes, to wow both Counselor Joe and Counselor Aisha. So, what’s your move?

The truth is, there’s not much you can do other than what you’re already doing. If you worked with us or read our previous blog posts, your essay introduction should have already been gripping regardless of the selection process. Your test scores are what they are. Your essays are the same, but as with any investment in life, it’s good to know the process by which you are leveraging risk.

Concerned your essays won’t grip the admissions committee? Call us. We are experts in developing competitive applications.