Every year at this time I wonder how time flies so quickly. This weekend I began reading early decision applications. I will be reading applications for the next 5 months of my life.
Given that I run the selection process here at Oberlin, I thought you might be interested in learning how we read applications. First, let me stress that this is a personal process. There is no computer that separates students based on GPA or test score. Every one of the admissions counselors reads applications from his/her regional territory. This way we get to read applications from students we perhaps met during our fall travels or get to know the schools in our region.
So when I open an application, I spend the most time reviewing the transcript. Oberlin staff recalculates an unweighted GPA for every student based on the 5 core academic areas (English, math, science, social studies and foreign language). I know I've probably pushed some panic buttons, so let me further explain... We place your unweighted GPA into the context of the rigor of your curriculum. We look for any trends in grades (it's better to have an upward trend than downward☺). If there has been a blip along the way, there may be a very good reason for it (mono often seems to be the culprit) - if so, just let us know! Along with the review of your transcript, we look at your standardized test scores. Take either the SAT or ACT; either is fine with us.
Then I look at recommendation letters. Most of the time teachers are writing that you are the best writers in the class, that class discussions aren't the same when you aren't around, etc. I'm not trying to sound flip about these; the bulk of the recommendation letters I read are full of platitudes about your abilities. It just goes to show that we have stellar students who value learning applying to Oberlin.
Then comes my favorite part: the essay. This is truly the one part of the application I look forward to reading because I know that it will be different for every person who applies. Here's a tip: put it through grammar check and spell check; also have someone else read the essay. Have you heard about the essay written about OC alumna Julie Taymor's "The Loin King"? A typo like that truly made for an amusing essay, though I'm pretty sure that wasn't the author's intent. I hope to be able to share some of my favorites this year, so stay tuned. (And everyone asks if the Loin King girl was admitted; she was not.)
Along with the essay, we look at your response to our supplemental question: Why have you chosen to apply to Oberlin and what do you believe you will contribute to the Oberlin community? In essence, we are looking to see that there is a good match between you and Oberlin. I'll never forget reading a young lady's response to this question as she listed 3 criteria for her ideal college. Number 1: location in a major metropolitan area (for those of you who have yet to visit our quaint town, I don't think anyone would mistake it for a huge metropolis). Number 2: major in physical therapy (Oberlin does not offer this as a major). And Number 3: sorority life (Oberlin does not have a Greek system). IMHO, she'd be pretty unhappy at Oberlin if these were the things she was truly seeking in a college (and no, she wasn't admitted either).
We do spend time looking at your activities. Oberlin is fortunate that we have very interesting students apply here who are involved in a wide variety of activities. So we don't have a tally sheet running to keep track of how many lit mag editors or volunteers for Habitat for Humanity we've admitted. We're really just interested in seeing that students are involved outside of the class in something, that perhaps they have taken on leadership roles. Your activities help us to envision how you might be part of our community.
So that's it! I'll end this by saying how much I enjoy getting to know students by reading their applications. And don't be freaked out if I comment on your essay or some other tidbit that made an impression on me. Your terrific stories are what keep me going for the next 5 months.