Do you know what happens to your FASFA financial aid application after you send it? Does it sit in the mail room with the others or being scanned by computers to be archived for later use? Or are they read by several of unenthusiastic admissions officers?
Believe it or not, your applications are treated with a great deal of care. Colleges receive a ton of mail related to applications. Whether you submitted your application online or by mail, your data is entered into a central computer system, creating a profile about you and your application. Every application file generates a card, sometimes called a “master card,” on which the application readers will write notes. Once your application is complete it goes to its first reader. At larger schools, prescreening by computer may take place first.
Colleges will continue to add different data to your profile like teacher recommendations and other information to your file to make it complete. If some data is missing, you will be contacted by the staff to let you know what information they might need.
Most colleges will compare your grades, so that they can rate how your grade point average differs from other students from different high schools.
Who Actually Reads Your FASFA Financial Aid Application?
Applications are read by college admissions staff, professionals with backgrounds in education, psychology, or sociology. Sometimes, at least three people read each application, noting their comments and impressions as they do so. They may divide the applications by where applicants live, each reader getting all the applications from one region. The last reader is usually either the admissions director or the associate director.
Most applications are easy to categorize as definite admits or rejects and will not go beyond the first round of readers. If readers agree that a candidate is a possible admit, the application may go to committee. A committee could be a small select group of admissions staff and professors. Or it could be a large group, including all regional officers and the associate director and director of admissions.
How Is Your Application Scored?
Most admissions offices use a scoring system, which can differ from school to school. As each reader goes through your application they score each component of it and then score the overall application.
The first part of an application has general information. This is considered to be your “snapshot.” A reader may spend only a few minutes glancing at this information. They will note on the score card form what kind of socioeconomic background you come from as well as your parents’ occupations and educational background.
In the next section, typically the academic background section, they will review your grades, honors and AP course outcomes, and sometimes class rank. They assess your grades taking into account your high school’s level of academic rigor. They will check to make sure that the test scores that you have written down match those that were submitted by the Educational Testing Service. They will then score the overall strength of your academic record.
The next part of the application typically includes the essay and short-answer sections, which give the readers more of an idea of who you are. They are looking for smart, enthusiastic, well-written answers. They also look at yourextracurricular activities. Readers look for depth of commitment and leadership skills. If you have only an average academic record but are strong in a couple of extracurricular activities, or you can write a great essay, this section could give your admission chances a boost.
The final parts of an application typically include the teacher and counselor letters of recommendation. A reader wants to see if each opinion agrees with the other opinions. Your high school counselor will rate you as a person and as a student. For instance, did you take the most challenging courses offered at your school? Your counselor will also tell a college whether or not your school uses a GPA ranking system and whether the GPAs are weighted.
The last part of your application is your transcript, which lays out your entire academic history. Readers want to see a consistent effort to take challenging instruction, particularly in the most recent semesters. If you are planning to major in a specialized field, such as engineering, there may be extra requirements reviewers want to see fulfilled, such as additional math courses. Requirements for these majors should be spelled out on the college’s website.
The reader normally compares all the parts of your application to make sure everything gives a consistent picture of you. You might be an academic all-star but your counselor might mention that you were suspended for cheating. This is an extreme example, but these are the kinds of things a college wants to know.
How Do Readers Reach a Final Decision?
The first reader, usually the regional officer, marks your application with an initial response: admit, possible, or reject. Your high school GPA is usually a critical concern at this point. Highly selective colleges look for students who did well in demanding classes. If the verdict is a definite admit your application may skip the second reader and go straight to the admissions director, who reads the applications of all definite admits. A majority of the possibles, the borderline candidates, go to a committee. The committee will know how many definite admits and rejects there are so far. They will choose the rest of the admitted students from among the possibles who are standouts. The rest will go in the reject pile.
How Do Admission Committees Identify Standout Candidates?
What considerations do admission committees weigh as they decide whether you are a standout or not? Outstanding academic background is always critical. In large public colleges this may be enough to get you in. Special academic and non-academic talents may get you noticed, especially if a professor or coach has drawn attention to your application. Some colleges, especially smaller ones, weigh their own needs for certain types of students. Perhaps this year they are seeking students from a certain part of the country. Maybe they are looking for certain academic talents.
The tipping factors for “close call” situations include writing skills, recommendation letters, legacy connections, interview notes, and grade discrepancies. Your energy level and enthusiasm can also make a difference.
The reading of applications can take months, and your application will normally get a careful reading. No one wants to overlook a possible standout candidate. If you have additional questions about a specific college’s application processing procedure, ask an admissions counselor before the rush of the application season. You may also want to check out published “insider” guides, usually by former admissions officers, that tell you how the admissions process works.
Rest assured that your application isn’t buried in a mass of misplaced documents or lost in cyberspace. The people reading your application know what they’re looking for. Hopefully, it’s you.