To high school seniors who just submitted their applications (which I realize can range from having submitted it two months ago to frantically trying to pull everything together by 11:59 on Saturday night): congratulations! You did it. Now you can take a deep breath and revel in the fact that you don’t have to log into commonapp.org ever again if you don’t want to. On our end, however, the work is just beginning. We wanted to give you a little insight into how an application goes from “submit” on your end to “admit,” “wait list,” or “deny” on ours.
But before I get into all that, I should introduce myself—I’m Miriam Samuelson, another admissions officer at St. Olaf who contributes to this blog. I graduated from St. Olaf in 2008 with majors in English, Women’s Studies, and Social Justice Studies (a major I made up through the Center for Integrative Studies). I love this place and the people in it, and I love helping people make connections with aspects of St. Olaf that resonate with them. I also like explaining the nuts and bolts from time to time, so I’ll explain a few things about the reading process here—lighter/more fun posts to follow!
St. Olaf is a single notification deadline school, which means we have one deadline for all our Regular Decision applicants (January 15) and we read the entire pool at once and get back to everyone at the same time (on or before March 15). This differs from schools who do rolling admissions, where you’d apply and hear back x weeks later. We read applications this way because it gives us a chance to look at the entire applicant pool at once—each year brings a new set of students who are very well qualified to be at St. Olaf, but we only have room for so many (in past years we have received about 4,000 applications and have only been able to admit a little over half of those applicants). And so begins the reading process.
When we receive pieces of your application, they all go into a manila folder with your name on it—pretty standard. We have an amazing team of individuals who work very hard to make sure this is done correctly and efficiently, and this is their busiest week of the year, so please be patient as we get everything from mail bins to files and subsequently notify you that your application is complete (via a letter from our Dean of Admissions Derek Gueldenzoph)! When an application is complete, an admissions officer will pull the file and start reading.
Each officer at St. Olaf has an admissions territory—particular states or high schools within a state where we travel and work with students. We also read applications from our own territories first—for example, I will first-read all the applications from Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Iowa, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Nebraska, South Carolina, Tennessee, and selected Minnesota high schools. We all follow the same guidelines when reading, but we all have different personalities and reading styles, which is why your application will be read once by a first reader, once by a second reader (another member of the admissions staff), and then be reviewed by a committee of the deans and assistant deans in our admissions office. We look at your application pieces in order of their importance to us: transcript, supplement, Common Application, teacher recommendations, test scores. My personal favorite is reading the supplement—I love reading why applicants connect with St. Olaf and all their profound, quirky, and generally awesome answers to all the other questions.
After reading a file, we make notes on what we noticed about your application in regards to academics and extracurricular involvement, as well as anything else that may be of interest or importance, and we think about where you fall in comparison to our average applicant pool. A first reader will make a recommendation to admit, discuss or deny an application, and the second reader will make one of those three recommendations as well. From there, your application will go to a committee and be discussed by the deans and assistant deans in our office.
So that’s what’s happening on our end while you’re doing all the waiting—I’m not sure which is more difficult and nerve-wracking! Keep in mind that it’s a human process, but also a process where we take many factors into account. We’re excited to get to know about you through your application and we hope you use some of your freed-up time to get to know us a little better as well.