There’s a good article in The Wall Street Journal today by Jeffrey Selingo that focuses on how college admissions offices put the final touches on an incoming class. In his piece, “The Secrets of Elite College Admissions,” Selingo focuses on his year — the 2018-2019 cycle — embedded within the admissions offices at Emory University, Davidson College, and the University of Washington. And while Selingo doesn’t write anything particularly revelatory about the highly selective college admissions process in his piece, he does paint a nice portrait of how admissions officers shape the incoming class in the days before decisions go out.
The Final Shaping of Emory’s Incoming Class
As Selingo writes, “In early March, just weeks before official notices were scheduled to go out, the statistical models used by Emory to predict enrollment indicated that too many applicants had been chosen to receive acceptances. In the span of days, teams of admissions officers covering five geographical areas had to shift 1,000 applications from the thin ‘admit’ stack to the much larger ‘deny’ or ‘wait list’ piles…The admissions officers didn’t spend much time talking about any one student. Their goal wasn’t to readjudicate an applicant’s entire file but to see the potential admit through the wider lens of a nearly finished class. They moved one young man to ‘deny’ after looking at his senior-year grades—lots of Bs—noting that they had already rejected four other academically stronger students from his high school. They switched a legacy applicant—meaning that a parent had earned a degree from Emory—to ‘deny’ because of his light extracurricular involvement.”
Final Shaping is to Balance the Incoming Class
No student will ever know if their file was in the admit stack only to be moved to the waitlist or deny stack in the final days before the release of notifications. But, yes, these kinds of last-minute changes do indeed happen — not only at Emory but at highly selective college admissions offices across the nation. And many of these changes are made to balance the final group of admits: by gender, race, geography, high school, and more. Emory, and all highly selective colleges, ideally wants a 50-50 gender balance. They want to be able to boast that they admitted more Black / African American, Latinx, and Native American than any year in history. They want to be able to claim they’ve admitted students from all 50 states and from so many countries throughout the world. And in order to achieve this balance, it sometimes means moving a file from the admit pile to the deny pile in the days before final decisions are released.
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