The admissions process is the necessary evil that every college applicant encounters. Whether through the Common Application or Georgetown’s tailor-made application process, we all know what it means to slave over every word and mark of punctuation before hitting that dreaded but cathartic submit button. Despite our hard efforts, and the repeated advertisement of a “holistic review of the student’s application,” we still viewed the admissions office as an impersonal bureaucratic machine, churning through the thousands of applications it receives year after year. Surely our SAT scores and the constant and banal struggles of teenage angst in our admissions essays bored the admissions officers.
Moreover, we now realize that after getting accepted into Georgetown, we feel totally and completely divorced from the admissions office — an institution that looms all too large, and may be the most visible, when applying.
The realization of this separation led us to the front doors of White-Gravenor. We wanted to know more about whether the admissions office truly operates as an assembly line or if there was more of a personal element to the admissions process. To refine our understanding of the process as a whole, we sat down and spoke at length with Berkley Braden (COL ’11), an admissions officer and a Hoya alum.
What Ms. Braden revealed to us was that the application process echoes the values of the Georgetown community in structure and in function. Applicants are assessed on their candidacy within the context of their environments; someone who is a first-generation college student in an impoverished neighborhood will be evaluated on a different standard than someone from a top-flight prepatory school. Despite our relatively low endowment in comparison with our peer schools, it is encouraging that this effort is embedded in how admissions make its decisions.
The commitment to cura personalis and service is also reinforced in the application process. Georgetown has consciously shied away from using the Common Application because our current system gives the school more flexibility to ask the questions that it wants. It also ensures a more self-selecting applicant pool; students must actively go out of their way to apply to Georgetown rather than just submitting an addendum to a Common Application. In order to further evaluate a candidate holistically, 6,400 alumni interviewers, who come with their own Georgetown experiences, donate their time to help craft each class. The admissions officers themselves also seem to exude the characteristics Georgetown cherishes. Braden has focused extensively and deliberately on service and education by serving as a Fulbright Scholar in Colombia and with Teach for America for two years.
After speaking to Braden, we re-examined our own perceptions of the admissions process. We are often left with the perception that the system is impersonal, and has to be, given the volume of students that apply. It often feels like a crap shoot, since most of the applicants are decidedly academically qualified. But all students are given their due concern, and are evaluated in the reference frame of their life circumstances. The committee’s work spans the entire year and is clearly thorough.
Overall, the impression we got was that every student who submitted an application was given due concern and evaluated very fairly in the context of their life circumstances. But even with this more or less fair appraisal, there are clearly tough choices to make. At one end, do we give preference to students from elite preparatory schools with more resources? Do we focus solely on kids with fewer resources? What is the right balance? We cannot take everyone who is qualified, and there is no perfect solution. But the general process Georgetown employs is a solid framework for building the jigsaw puzzle that is a college class.
Parth Shah is a senior in the College. Charlie Lowe is a senior in the School of Foreign Service. Many Georgetowns appears every other Friday.