Selective Universities Admissions Series: 6 Admission Process Part 2

Hello again!  I’m Bill Parker, your friendly neighborhood alumni interviewer for the University of Chicago, and this is my next installment on admissions at selective colleges and universities.  In mid-March, as this installment is written, the U of C is finalizing the list of students whom it will soon be accepting via regular notification into its Class of 2020 (recall that some 600 early applicants were accepted back in December). The process is long and grueling; thousands of applicants will have to receive their fair hearing before the entire Admissions Committee. Years ago, a friend on the Committee related to me that three nights previous, they’d sent out for Greek food, two nights before they’d had pizza, last night Chinese, tonight Mexican, and tomorrow night, Thai, while they debated the merits and demerits of each applicant in turn, long into the night.  It’s no different today.

For some unexplained reason, the University sends out its regular notification decisions a week to ten days before the Ivies, so expect the news to come out any day now.  For the last couple of years, the Admissions Office has invited the much beloved Dean of the College, John Boyer, over to the Admissions Office where, with suitable fanfare, he hits a SEND command on a computer keyboard, and with that single poke from his index finger, Chicago acceptances go flying out all over the world -- including a few, I hope, to some fine, fine students in Southwest Florida (evil thought:  wouldn’t it be awful if John mistakenly deletes the entire outgoing email file?).  Though this act may seem hokey and overly theatrical, one assumes John will once again visit the Admissions Office to reprise his performance from prior years.  

His tap on the SEND key instantly focuses the attention of the Admissions Office on two critical tasks.  The first is to convince as many acceptees as possible to actually commit to attend Chicago. It will accept the absolute crème de la crème from its applicant pool, which today is as strong and deep as the best anyplace else, and so, no surprise, many students accepted by Chicago also get invited to attend other highly selective colleges and universities, such as the Ivies, Stanford, Caltech and others. The competitors are formidable, and the competition, exceedingly intense. In coming weeks, Chicago will pull out all the stops, including hosting weekends for students whom it accepts, in its efforts to entice them to the Midway. Its competitors will do likewise.

A Note from Amanda Sterk, Founder of Unmaze Me - Going to these university-sponsored trips is extremely important to the overall process of selecting the school that is best for your student. While your student may have several offers, these trips are excellent ways to recall what drew you to the school in the first place and to ensure the best “fit” possible.

An aside here.  How did May 1 become the commonly agreed-upon deadline for admitted students’ reply?  Until 25-30 years ago, there was no universal deadline and many accepted applicants waited long into the summer to reply.  And so, as kids made up their mind and summer melt reduced the numbers of matriculating students whom a college could bank on to show up for freshman orientation, schools running short of numbers would turn to their wait list and invite the most attractive candidates there to come on in, we have a place for you.  It also meant that kids culled from the wait list then had to decline their prior acceptance at another, usually less prestigious, school, which then had to scramble to fill the resulting unanticipated opening(s) in its class by turning to its own wait list.  While this bumping went on all summer, it reached its climax in late August.  By necessity, last minute invitations tended to be swift, sudden and without much pretense of grace:  "Dear wait-listed student. We have a place for you. You have 36 hours to respond.  Sincerely…" The loss (some would term it poaching) of incoming students from schools below the upper-most end of the prestige ladder, cascading down the rungs, meant that on opening day, some schools down the ladder would inevitably come up short. This was explained to me in terms of Princeton, a couple of weeks before opening day, turning to its wait list and snaring kids from, let’s say, Bucknell. The students Bucknell loses to Princeton are almost certainly among its very best acceptees, after all, they were good enough to make it into Princeton! Predictably, the Bucknells of the world, left scrambling with only a few short days to fill out their class -- and with kids nowhere near as appealing and talented as those lured off to Princeton -- cried foul. Eventually, their plaints were heard, and the problem was resolved by making May 1 the universal deadline for accepted students to respond to their offers of admission – yes or no. To be sure, a school can still turn to its wait list to fill out its freshman class, but the wild gyrations that occurred 25 years ago immediately prior to freshman orientation no longer take place.

While many U of C Admissions Department staff are working like tigers on steroids to “yield” next fall’s class, a second, less obvious task begins; although John Boyer may not be aware of it, that much hyped poke of his index finger also signals the start of the next admissions cycle -- even though the current cycle is not yet finished (it won’t end until the day freshmen report for Orientation next fall).  Admissions reps fan out from Chicago, travelling the country to visit high schools that their fall travel schedule did not allow them to reach.  Most will stay on the road until mid-May, when for many high schools, the year ends.  And this is a great time to travel; not only is the weather pleasant, but it’s when high school juniors who want to attend selective colleges and universities buckle down to the task of figuring out where to apply, which guarantees the reps an attentive audience.  Back on campus, colleges and universities host tours for interested juniors and their families, tours that continue throughout the summer and deep into the fall. Long ago, when colleges used to send videotapes of the school to woo prospective students, I used to say (echoing Confucius) that one video is worth a thousand pictures, and today I say that one visit is worth a thousand videos (Query to you math jocks:  If, as Confucius originally said, a picture is worth a thousand words, and assuming the two preceding measures are valid, then how many words is a campus visit worth??).