How applications are reviewed at AU, from an admissions director

Students can be a little flawed.” We continue our interview with Jesse, who previously worked as an admissions director at Johns Hopkins and Rice. This week, we talk about disagreements between admissions officers, what separates top performing admissions officers from the rest, overly-edited essays, and Jesse’s secret to getting into college.

Catch up on part 1

Exclusive Insider Interview: Admissions Director, American University

SocratesPost: Sometimes admissions officers disagree on who gets in. What happened the last time there was a big disagreement in your office?

Jesse at AU: At Rice, we had a new VP of Enrollment who was bringing perspectives from his old institution. We were going through international admission for our ED class. There was a clear disagreement between the person who travels to that part of the world who presents and the other committee members who were leaning in the other direction. You have tension in the room.

SocratesPost: What was the difference between what the field admissions rep thought and the other committee members and readers?

Jesse at AU: You have a green admissions counselor with 2-3 years of experience advocating for the student they met on the road. The other people were reviewing the applicant from a more process-oriented perspective.

SocratesPost: How did you bridge the differences between these two admissions officers’ opinions?

Jesse at AU: I looked up the context of the student and compared the student with historical performance averages in the area and that ultimately got him in.

If this new admissions counselor wasn’t advocating passionately about the student or if I wasn’t in the room to add that additional context, maybe a different outcome would’ve happened. This speaks to the time and energy the AOs put into it. It’s a thoughtful and strenuous task.

SocratesPost: How did the admissions office hierarchy work?

Jesse at AU: The VP was making the final decision. The territory manager was presenting the file. I was the third perspective who was overseeing all of the international apps. There were 2-3 newer staff members shadowing and observing.

SocratesPost: It seems like a lot of voices and opinions go into play here. Is that similar to what you experienced in the admissions offices of other schools?

Jesse at AU: I’ve worked in schools where it’s only the leadership making decisions. Every school will do it slightly differently. Some will have more committee-based reading, two versus one reader, reading a file within 4-5 minutes.

SocratesPost: With that timeframe, do you feel like you’re not giving each application enough attention?

Jesse at AU: It’s a great question to ask institutions: are you trying to evolve a process that is antiquated?

SocratesPost: What about AU?

Jesse at AU: I don’t see us overhauling it. I can see us making adjustments to the transfer student process. I realized the transfer students aren’t being prioritized. My goal in the next year or so is rethinking the way we select transfer students. I could see more and more schools doing that as well.

SocratesPost: What differentiates a top-performing admissions officer from the rest?

Jesse at AU: The one skill set that a really strong admissions counselor could bring to the table is adaptability to not just the institution they’re working for, but ultimately, just being able to learn and a willingness and eagerness to understand the rationale behind the decisions that are being made. That’s one thing I’ve leveraged in the last institutions I’ve worked for. Learning one process, you can get great understanding about one school but that’s not always the case at the next school. In general, the work can quickly change from week to week, just knowing how the process evolves year to year. The strongest admissions counselors are the ones asking questions, trying to learn and evolve and be adaptable, and they’re able to tap into the national and regional organizations and tap into the knowledge in other institutions and pull out the best ideas.

SocratesPost: In your position as a director, you’ve trained and onboarded admissions officers. What do you feel like most new admissions officers are unprepared for?

Jesse at AU: It’s going to take the first year or two years to understand the cyclical nature of the work. If you’ve never worked for an admissions office before, if you’ve never reviewed a high school or college transcript right away you won’t be good at it right away. It’s very important to have the right people in the positions and the onboarding and support you give admissions officers is integral for their and the offices’ growth. Training will lead to their own opportunities and the possibility for them to develop within the office and university and will deter them from leaving.

SocratesPost: Wow, that’s something I’ve never thought of before. What else can you think of that many new admissions officers lack in their skillset?

Jesse at AU: Another deficit that’s most common in new employees in the field is their ability to read. When it comes to reviewing apps for a selective institution it’s very true. The idea to go thru 21k apps and to turn away 91.5% of them — that’s a very challenging dynamic. You’re not used to saying no more than you are saying yes to those who are excited to be a part of your community. That can be challenging. There needs to be a lot of care and dedication when it comes to training. They’re supported in the 3-5 month window where one individual might read 1,000-2,000 apps.

SocratesPost: Sometimes admissions insiders will say the secret to getting in is being yourself. What do you think about that?

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Perfection isn’t something we expect in the process and we don’t expect it in your lives.

SocratesPost: So what do you think is the secret to getting in?

SocratesPost: Speaking of essays written partially by essay coaches, how can you tell when an essay or app has been overly edited by a professional?

SocratesPost: Instead of the polished essays, what do you really want to see then?

SocratesPost: That’s reassuring, especially for those students overworking themselves to get into college. What’s the admissions office culture at American University like?

SocratesPost: Thanks for the insider peek behind the gates of admissions. What would you do if you weren’t in admissions?

SocratesPost: You’re busy with so many responsibilities and aspirations. So what interested you in participating in SocratesPost’s interview series?

Jesse at AU: I get a handful of messages and requests here and there. The mission of what you’re trying to do aligns with my belief system and the way I view the admission experience. There’s a lot of bad news and bad publicity and incorrect info that’s being communicated out there. To the best of my ability, I like to be a part of clearly communicating the strengths and challenges of the admission field.

SocratesPost: Alright Jesse. One last question: what other questions did you wish I asked you?

SocratesPost: Thanks so much for your time and incredible insights today, Jesse.

This concludes our insider interview with admissions director at AU. Stay tuned for a brand new insider interview next week!
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