Inside the Black Box: What Happens After You Hit “Submit”

A month or so ago, we at Vantage Point Admissions shared information on the composition of the adcoms at some of the top schools. Knowing your audience is absolutely critical and can make the difference between getting in, or getting dinged. So, it’s crucial that as you write your stories, you also remember who’s reading them, and tailor (ie. eliminate) your industry jargon appropriately.

This month, we wanted to delve deeper into the process. We spoke to two former admissions directors (Columbia and Booth) about what goes on once you’ve hit the “submit” button. Among the most incredible insights – while you’re spending months on your applications, it’s being read for only about 20 minutes (eg. skimmed), including the time it takes to write a summary about you.

Below is a transcript of our conversation. Please note, this has been lightly edited for flow.

Once an applicant submits his or her file, how does the process work? What’s the process for how the applications are assigned, evaluated, and how many adcom members are involved?

At some schools there is a committee of current students and alumni who review the application as well as the Admissions Directors. The application is typically reviewed by at least three different individuals and the method of assigning is varied – sometimes by timing of application submission date and sometimes by other metrics of the application.

At CBS, about 25-30 apps per week are randomly assigned to an admissions officer. They get a first read, and they review it and make suggested decision: admit, reject, or waitlist. Then it is passed for a second read by a director. If both agree on the decision, the dean will usually sign-off on it. If they disagree, they might be talked about in a committee. There is definitely not a committee for the majority of candidates – only a handful that we don’t know what to do with. Honestly, on average it takes about 20 minutes to review an app and write a paragraph summary. The summary usually just highlights high level stuff – the good, the bad and the justification for why admit or reject.

If an interview is required, the interview evaluation form is added to the application evaluations before a final decision is made.

How do you coordinate as an adcom on what you’re looking for? Does the school brief you each year on types of candidates they want to focus on etc? How is the recruitment strategy set?

Year-over-year, the admissions committees are looking for well-rounded applicants who can:
Succeed in the classroom and handle the academic rigor;
Will participate in the student community and;
Be a good alum representative of the school.

Finding the best and the brightest is the bottom line recruitment strategy; however each year we honed which companies and schools we recruited from to find the applicants.

Occasionally, mid-cycle, the dean will say that we need to start focusing on “X”. For example, we need people with higher GPAs (just a random example). But this cannot be predicted ahead of time, as we can never know the pool of applicants for the given year.

With all of the different variables for candidacy, how do you prioritize?

Being confident the candidate can handle the coursework is key and then having someone who knows 1) Why an MBA? 2) Why now? and 3) Why this particular school? This is gleaned from the essays and the interview.

They are also looking at fit for the school and making sure your goals make sense – which is huge for CBS in particular.

How many do you read per day, how long do you spend on each one, how do you keep track etc?

The number per day completely varies depending on size of applicant pool and time of the year. On average maybe about 25-30 apps per week. So, it depends on how you work and how fast you read in terms of how many you get done per day. On average no more than 20 minutes is spent on each app. The summary/feedback is usually just justifying why you came to the decision you came to.

There is an online system to help keep track of the feedback and time on application varies as well. Often times, reading an application and going back to the application some time later helps to clearly evaluate the application.

What are some of the biggest mistakes you see consistently in applications? Are there any best practices?

Biggest Mistakes:

  • Minor errors on the resume (i.e. inconsistency with the periods or no periods at the end of the bullets, not lining up the dates, missing words, etc.);
  • Not stating at some place in the application why x school is your choice.
  • Shockingly, some people forget to put the right school in their essays. If applying to several schools, make sure you put the right school in!
  • If you are applying to CBS, don’t keep Wharton in your essays. People make this mistake!

Best Practices:

  • Well-written essays which early state why x school;
  • Mentioning if the candidate has been to an information session or reception at the school or in his/her home city.
  • Always waive your right to view your recs
  • When submitting a photo of yourself for CBS, make sure it is appropriate (have a shirt on, don’t have drinks in your hand, etc.)

Will the adcom google me / look at my social media profiles?

Yes, increasingly more. Be sure your LinkedIn profile matches your resume exactly and that any and all social media sites are clean and professional.

The application form feels like a lot of repetition from my resume etc – is it ok to copy and paste in job description etc?

Yes, be sure all fonts match and that you are addressing each question.

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