The curtain has officially lifted for those who once screamed, cried and lost functionality over the painstaking admissions process.
George Washington University took The Washington Post within its life-altering admissions offices to give the world an inside look at what actually goes on during these decisions. So for all the scenarios you thought up of gallant pleas for your creativity or vehement scrutiny over that unintentional D in calculus, take pause. Everything you once believed will change.
In February, The Washington Post’s Nick Anderson experienced firsthand how students’ futures are determined when he sat in on a handful of admissions officers discussing applications.
Britt Freitag, the senior assistant director of admissions at GWU, broke down the language of acceptance or denial and revealed several surprising tactics the officers used during their crucial deliberation. The conversation included comments such as: “I could go both ways,” “Look at that gaudy GPA, four-point-something,” “Uh-oh, got a D” and “I’m biased because I think he’s charming.”
The commentary is amusing at first but becomes more and more daunting when one realizes how quickly these choices must be made. Felton said the committee could determine 20 or more cases in one hour — three minutes for applications that went briefly undecided. It’s a quick, nearly painless and highly efficient routine that is often scrutinized.
Freitag explained that the “quota theory” of certain admissions quotas per high school is “a huge misconception,” although GWU officers do analyze student profiles according to which school they attend — meaning classmates are reviewed back to back.
“We read in school groups because then you get more consistency. It’s actually more fair,” Freitag said.
Senior Associate Provost for Enrollment Management Laurie Koehler also clarified GWU’s previous comments about how financial aid was not a factor in the admissions decision.
In 2010, previous Dean of Admissions Kathryn Napper was quoted on GWU’s webpage as saying the university was “need-blind” and that the “requests for financial aid do not affect admissions decisions.” According to Koehler, the applicants are reviewed first, then aid is considered for those the university wants to admit in a “final review.”
Karen S. Felton, director of admissions at GWU, oversees 22 officers at GWU’s Rice Hall when she isn’t deliberating over student files. The officers’ lives are not what one would expect; for the most part, they are jet-setting recruiters for the university, telling students all over the world about the perks and opportunities at GWU.
However, when applications roll in, officers get back to reading. Over the course of one day, 30 or 40 files may reach their eyes.
While the obvious — grades and test scores — are considered, there are several factors that go into the decision-making process: personality; drive; work history; family legacies; the number of core, Advanced Placement and honors courses; expressed interest in the university; if you’re a “first gen” — the first generation of your family to go to college — and sometimes, for GWU, gender.
“We have fewer males in the pool,” Felton said. “That doesn’t mean men get an edge, but I notice it when it’s being presented.”
The last stage in the admissions process is for the college to be accepted by the student. George Washington’s class of 2018 has had 19,025 applicants, and the school’s target admission number is 2,350. But once the acceptances or denials are sent out, the officers become the audience once again as students set out to plan their educations.
For those with applications in mind — be they undergraduate, graduate or transfers — this insight may be quite overwhelming.
I, for one, am discomforted but not entirely surprised by the details of this painstaking event that, for some, sets the tone for the rest of our lives. While playing puppet to the admissions officers around the globe, I remember feeling as if the decision would be just as theatrical as it was in my mind and that someone at some university would yearn for my attendance and move the stars and planets to secure it.
So GWU has officially crushed that theory, just as Snapchat has crushed the majority of my interpersonal skills. I digress; expressive selfies will become the new resume.
Opinion columnist Alex Meyer is a creative writing freshman and may be reached at [email protected]