Oberlin Blogs

And the letters are... almost in the mail

March 24, 2011

Elizabeth Houston ’06

Application reading season is winding down, Jesse has finally stopped dreaming about applications, and all our applicants are eagerly awaiting those decision letters. So, what's taking us so long?

Well. Let me tell you a story about what has happened to your application. Possibly as long ago as last fall, you sent us your Common Application. Possibly as recently as a couple weeks ago, your teachers and guidance counselors and testing agencies have sent us the other materials required to complete your application. If these materials were submitted electronically, they were automatically imported into our new paperless application reading system. If they were submitted by mail, fax, or hand-delivered by albino squirrels, they were scanned into our electronic system.

Wait, paperless application reading system? Yes, that's right, this year we have switched from reading applications using paper files to reading them on the computer. This means that we're no longer printing out all of the materials you submitted online and putting them into paper files. This means we're no longer alphabetizing anything. This means I no longer have ominous stacks of files in my office constantly reminding me of all the work I have to do. This means we're saving trees!

It's been pretty exciting switching to the paperless system this year, but, as with any major software implementation, we have of course run into various bumps and delays along the way. Luckily, we got them all sorted out in the end, and we're really looking forward to next year, when I expect everything to go much smoother.

But let's get back to your application. Once each application part (transcript, teacher recommendation, etc) makes its way into our electronic system, it still needs to be processed. Each part must be reviewed by a data entry person, who enters various important information into our database, and marks each required application part as received. After all the parts arrived, your application was read by your first reader--the person primarily responsible for applications from your state. Your first reader is the one who signed that nice letter thanking you for applying, and they may have visited your school last fall. They do the most thorough review of your application, and they're able to evaluate your grades and curriculum in the context of your high school.

Once your first reader read your file and made assorted notes and a recommendation, that file was electronically passed along to another person for a second read. The second reader also reads through your file and makes notes and a recommendation, and they basically serve as a second opinion. This second opinion helps to ensure that our standards are applied uniformly, and it also helps make sure that no one is unfairly advantaged or disadvantaged by the mood their first reader happens to have been in while reading their application.

After the second read, we're still not done. Each application is discussed in committee, with the first reader presenting the highlights of each file. These presentations range from the routine to impassioned defenses of students who may not have the highest gpas and test scores, but that the readers still found to be particularly interesting and compelling. The committee, which is usually made up of 3-5 readers and the Dean of Admissions, will discuss each application and make a decision. Sometimes the committee will be unable to reach a decision, and we'll set those files aside to discuss again later.

Once every file has been read and discussed in committee, we're still not done. This time of year, we've read and decisioned just about every file, including those difficult cases that we postponed discussing until the end of the cycle. Now it's time to look at the class as a whole. Are we admitting the right number of students to meet our enrollment target? Is the class well-balanced (as measured by a number of demographic factors)? Did we stay within our (very large) financial aid budget? The answer to these questions is not always yes, and minor adjustments to the class are usually required. We generally find this process very difficult, as it involves going back and changing some of our initial decisions. We'll also go back and review transcripts that have arrived since we discussed each application, to make sure that none of the students that we're planning to admit have grades that have dropped dramatically in their senior year. This is the time of year when about half the staff is relaxing a bit because we no longer have lots of files to read, and about half the staff is frantic because they're responsible for double-checking everything and making lots of little changes to make sure that everything is just right before we mail out the letters. We even have people that double-check every letter before it goes out to make sure that we're not sending anyone the wrong letter. It's a pretty intense process, but it's what we do every year to make sure that we end up with a great group of students arriving on campus in the fall.

So, back to the big question: when are the letters going out? At this point, it looks like we will mail our decision letters on Monday. We do not make our decisions available online, but if you're living in another country, we'll send you an email in addition to your paper letter. I know you won't all be receiving happy news, but I wish you all the best, and everyone can at least look forward to receiving our decision letters soon.

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