The Ivy Coach Daily

October 14, 2021

Hungry Admissions Officers

The findings of a study written about in Scientific American apply not only to judges but also to admissions officers.

There are lots of things that are in a college applicant’s control. Their grades, test scores, extracurriculars, how they tell their story, where they choose to apply to in the Early Decision / Early Action round, and much more. But there are some things that aren’t in their control that impact the highly selective college admissions process nonetheless. And as silly as it might seem, the time of day the admissions officer reviewing an applicant’s file could have a significant impact on the ultimate decision. Why’s that, you ask? Because if an admissions officer is hungry, well, they might be less lenient. Think we’re kidding? The science backs us up.

As Kurt Kleiner reports for Scientific American in a piece entitled “Lunchtime Leniency: Judges’ Rulings Are Harsher When They Are Hungrier,” “Researchers at Ben Gurion University in Israel and Columbia University examined more than 1,000 decisions by eight Israeli judges who ruled on convicts’ parole requests. Judges granted 65 percent of requests they heard at the beginning of the day’s session and almost none at the end. Right after a snack break, approvals jumped back to 65 percent again. Jonathan Levav, associate professor of business at Columbia, said that the judges could just be grumpy from hunger. But they probably also suffer from mental fatigue. Previous studies have shown that repeated decisions make people tired, and they start looking for simple answers. For instance, after making a slew of choices, car buyers will start accepting the standard options rather than continuing to cust­omize. As sessions drag on, judges may find it easier to deny requests and let things stand as they are. Levav says he suspects a similar effect occurs in hospitals, university admissions offices or anywhere people make repeated decisions. So if you’re thinking about asking the boss for something special, you might want to do it right after a nice lunch.”

Yes, judges are rendering decisions just like admissions officers. And just like judges, admissions officers are human beings so they too are susceptible to, well, being hangry and thereby being less lenient in their decision-making. As associate professor of business at Columbia Jonathan Levav suspects, there well could be a similar pattern in admissions offices since admissions officers are also making repeated decisions. So, basically, cross your fingers and toes that the admissions officer reviewing your file ate their lunch. Let’s hope it was delicious. And let’s hope his or her tummy is full. To misquote Marie Antoinette, “Let them eat lunch!”

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