Who actually reads your college application?


If you’re reading this article, chances are you’re either a high school student preparing for the SAT, ACT, and college admissions, or the parent of a high school student gearing up for college applications. It’s a process that’s incredibly time-consuming, contains significant hurdles, and can be stressful, at times, to even the most laid-back among us. Think about how many hours of work go into preparing a student for college. Though there isn’t a fixed date as to when preparation begins (What constitutes preparation? One’s earliest education?), even if you only consider the time a student spends researching colleges, preparing for and taking the SAT or ACT, and filling out college applications and drafting dozens of essays and short answer questions, the process takes hours and hours—more realistically, days and months—of your time.


It might be fair to wonder, then, given the time commitment involved in preparing a student for higher education, just how much time the college admissions committee might spend with your college application. Who are these people? How long does it take them to judge you? Do they even read your college admissions essay? This article aims to answer these questions, and offer concerned students and parents advice on how to make the best impression on a college application that will receive only a miniscule fraction of the hours of time you’ve invested in completing it.


College Admissions Officers Are People, Too

The first thing to understand is that college admissions officers are PEOPLE. They’re human beings, just like you, and they have their good days (and moods) and bad. They have their likes, dislikes, biases, blind spots, and so on. They’re people from all walks of life, of all ages and interests. Some might be recent alumni from the college to which you’re applying. Others might be administrators or faculty representatives. Sometimes different people are assigned to read and review different applications based on what region you’re applying from, or based on what your intended major field of study. You have no way of knowing, however, who the person who reads your college application and college application essay will be.


How Long Might They Spend with Your Application?

You should know, though, that your application will be read, and your essay is perhaps the most important component of a successful college admissions application. Some of the elite colleges make application decisions in five to eight minutes. That means 1) to the degree that you can, telegraph passion and competence, and 2) don’t take it personally if one person’s opinion on one specific day based on a few minutes of their time doesn’t fall in your favor. Cast a wide net and apply to a large number of colleges. You never know which college will accept you, and you’ll never know why. People more academically successful than you may be chosen, but so will people less academically successful than you. People with perfect SAT and ACT scores may be denied. An essay that fails to find a sympathetic reader may sink your college hopes, while an essay that strikes just the right chord with whoever’s reading it might inspire the confidence in you necessary to admit you despite bumps in your academic and extracurricular career.

There are so many unknowns in the process that it’s easy to get lost in anxiety. Don’t do that. Also, don’t be fake or try to write what you think the person reading your essay and application will want to hear. Because there’s no way of knowing just who will be reading and judging your application in a matter of minutes, there’s truly no point in either a) being fake to impress, b) phoning it in, c) making yourself seem as bland as possible, so as to appeal to a wide audience.


What Can You Do, Given What You Know and Don’t?


Be authentic. The college admissions representative will likely be able to spot a fake from a mile away. Don’t try to impress. Be yourself.


Be passionate. Have interests, goals, plans. Articulate them. Don’t seem as if you want to go to college just because it’s expected of you.


Be competent. Develop skills and master them.


Be precise. Express yourself clearly, concisely, and intelligently.


Inspire. Make the admissions committee believe in you.


Do the best you can in school, get recommendations from teachers and counselors who know you best, take SAT and ACT prep classes and 1-on-1 lessons, take the SAT and ACT a few times to ensure the best possible score, write several drafts of your college application essay and short answer questions, have a skilled reader and writer (or several) conference with you about your writing, stay organized, check all the boxes, cast a wide net, and recognize that whether you get in or are rejected, it’s not a judgment on you as a human being. The right path will reveal itself to those who are authentic, competent, conscientious, and resilient. Good luck!

* * *

That’s it! For more college application advice, as well as a wealth of SAT and ACT prep tips, check out the rest of our blog. Looking for 1-on-1 ACT or SAT prep tutoring? Want to join an SAT or ACT group class? Contact us today!

Share This