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MIT staff blogger Bryan G. Nance

You Make The Call by Bryan G. Nance

So you think you've got what it takes to admit the Class of 2010 to a highly selective college or university? How hard can it be?

Back in the good ol’ days (winter of 1983 to be exact) there was a commercial that ran during football season titled “You make the call.” The idea was to show you a controversial play where a penalty has occured and just before you’re told how the ref rules, the screen freezes and a voice bellows YOU MAKE THE CALL.

So boys and girls, guess what game we are going to play today? You guessed it… Admissions: You Make The Call.

So you think you’ve got what it takes to admit the Class of 2010 to a highly selective college or university? How hard can it be? All you need to do is admit the best students with the highest grades, right?

It sounds easy until you realize that you need to balance many factors and enroll a diverse class that reflects the values and goals of your institution. For a moment, let’s put racial and ethnic diversity to the side. With that said, what does diversity mean to an Admissions Selection Committee? Here are just a few ways that diversity will affect the way you’re going to shape the class.

Can they do the work here? Will they thrive academically? Do their grades and scores support this? If you answered yes to all three, great – you’ve just described the vast majority of our applicant pool.

Now consider the following:

  • Gender Equity. Have you taken care to admit qualified women in enough numbers to reflect the applicant pool?
  • Geographic Diversity. Have you ensured that your admitted class is as global as your applicant pool?
  • Intellectual/Academic Diversity. Despite the stereotypes, everyone admitted to MIT will not be an engineering major.
  • Don’t over-enroll. Per MIT policy, all freshmen are required to live on campus in their freshman year. And no one wants to spend his or her first year of college sleeping in the kitchen of New House.
  • The “IT” factor – Cool kids doing cool things that really add to the richness of the student body. In other words, finding the people who are going to go out and change the world somehow, not just those with good grades and scores.

Now that you have controlled for those factors, please remember to act affirmatively and admit solid numbers of well-qualified, under-represented minority applicants. (Remember, this is not up for debate, interpretation or discussion. MIT as a matter of public record and policy is a staunch supporter of Affirmative Action.)

OK. Are you ready to make some decisions? I’m going to ask you to go the following website and act as an Admissions Officer for a fictional College or University. Please click here. (Warning – this site does require a broadband connection.)

After a short video, you will be asked to review five candidates and to admit two, deny two and waitlist one. I’ve participated in this exercise and found it quite interesting. After you’ve finished the evercise, please come back and let us know your choices, and more importantly, the reasons for your decisions.

In addition to the brief directives provided in the video clip, remember those factors that I touched upon earlier in this entry, AND the fact that we review more than 10,000 applications for a class of ~1000.

Enough from me. Tell me what you think!

26 responses to “You Make The Call”

  1. Interesting, I really liked this topic. I guess I’ll post the answer to the Admission decisions when I get to school and I can use the broadband connection, it sounds really cool.

  2. Hmmm… My choices were:
    Deny, Deny Accept, Waitlist, Waitlist.

    The applicants were more or less equally matched, so I looked at the summaries in red at the bottom, and less at the academic courses. The standardized testing scores weren’t exactly reflective of the individual’s capabilities…

    I noticed one applicant who wanted to do pre-med, but applied to a school that didn’t have pre-med. I guess that’s a grave mistake to make… It shows a lack of research and reading on the university that you’re applying to…

  3. Timur Sahin says:

    Sadly, my hearing is pretty bad, so I haven’t even installed a sound card onto this computer. Looking at just the last segment though, I denied, denied, accepted, accepted, waitlisted.

    I looked for desire to learn. #3 (I didn’t look at the names, regrettably) seemed like he wouldn’t be applying if he genuinely didn’t want a higher education. #4 also seemed passionate about learning. #5 seemed to have gone through problems with her parents’ relationship, but having experienced that myself (stupid arranged marriages of foreign origin), I can say it is very pivotal, but not the crux of what her essay should be about. I guess the situation would be different if it was particularly messy or long, but given what little information I had, I was left to make the decision I did (waitlisted). #2 was denied because while she seemed to be statistically well off (her school seems more competitive, so a lower rank seems acceptable), she also seemed a bit disinterested (not to say a bit unresearched, as Eric mentioned). #1’s only crime was not standing out.

    Hope this helps,
    – Timur

    P.S. Although I hear that at MIT, you read everything we send, which I rather like. I don’t like the thought of another school truncating the application I worked so hard to put together. The short summaries we had for this project really weren’t enough to make solid decisions by.

  4. Oops, just realized my mistake. My second waitlist should be accept.

    Hm, I agreed with Timur on the first three, just that for the fourth and fifth, I chose the fifth because of her wide exposure to the world, which would have given her a broader perspective on issues.

    For no. 4, I waitlisted her because she definitely has the capability to be outstanding academically, but she lacks all-roundedness. After all, she didn’t demonstrate much active involvement in leadership or community service.

    Comparing 4 and 5, even though no. 4 may be better academically, and no. 5 may have had difficult circumstances, I still felt that no. 5 made better use of the opportunities given to her. That’s why I picked her over no. 4.

    It’s interesting to note that no. 3 came out as the strongest candidate. 75% of the counselors picked him, and that reflects much on his involvement in school life as a student. That’s a very impressive record he’s got.

  5. nehalita says:

    I had the same things as the two people above me — but I realize how hard it is now. These people had around the same scores, same ranks and their location/parents really didn’t matter to me.

    I found myself drawn to the bottom part of the app summary about the essays. I wanted to accept the last three but i had to waitlist the last one because they wouldn’t let me accept 3. Now I think i’m beginning to realize how sad it is to reject someone — I only role-played for a few minutes and already felt bad about it — the people weren’t even real!

    This is an excellent post =).

  6. Good Evening All!

    Wecome to my world! It’s not quite as easy when you are on the hook to make the call.

    Eric, I really like your first post. Standardized tests are not the Alpha & Omega of a student application. This a really good example of how we have to focus on the whole application. You made another good catch with applicant #2 and his per-med desires. There are 2 lessons to take from that applicant: focus on what you want to study not what you want to be, and DO YOUR RESEARCH BEFORE YOU APPLY! If you lack the proper fit/match for the institution that you apply, you will immediately become less than competitive.

    TIMUR! WHAT UP DOG! I see you are holding it down once more!!! You are spot on with what you said about desire to learn. That is very important because colleges are looking learning potential not just past academic performance. I know that it is difficult to think that we will condense your entire application down to a few comments. The truth is these comments are necessary to so that we can quickly & briefly reflect how you stand out in the pool. Think of it like cooking: whenever there is a reduction of liquids you are left with a very strong concentration of flavor. Those comments can only help strong candidates.

    Also remember to dig for information not readily available. For example, how many students are first generation college students? Could that affect certain aspects of their educational experiences and their application?

    Finally, Nehalita don’t be too hard on yourself. You’re not picking the last humans for Noah’s Ark. It’s a tough job but someone’s got to do it!

    Keep the comments coming.

  7. Timur Sahin says:

    I told you I had your back, Nancester! :D. See, me and you, we’re a team. Of ninjas. Admissions ninjas. The Admission Ninja Squad! Only without stealth or shuriken or katanas or any of that cool stuff. :/

    I’ve heard discussion here and there briefly mentioning “cards” of somesuch used in the app process… is this the summarization you’re talking about? Ben told me that the apps get summarized by two people, then sent to 2-3 committees for decision making. Does this mean that every person doesn’t look at every app? And that only two people get to see your whole app? That’s kind of frightening, as I’m spending a lot of time on it (and I’ve written you all at MIT quite a few interesting things I think you’ll have fun looking at!).

    Ah well, no way you can get through 10,000 apps if you don’t shorten the process. :D. I can respect that.

    Oh, and I told Mrs. Perez to say hi to you for me. Don’t know if that’s gone through yet, but it’s like I’ve said hi to you, *by proxy!* She also happily informed me that your hair was “longish.” Longer = better. :D.

    Oooo, by the way, are you supposed to take the pens at the regional meetings, because otherwise I kinda walked away with one and I feel bad about it.

    Keep on keepin’ on.

    P.S. (I never really got the purpose of a postscriptm but I like using them.) I feel bad that I keep commenting here without actually asking questions about minority admissions, so here are a few: Do ninjas count as underrepresented minorities? Is there a ninja student organization chapter at MIT? As 1/2 of the MIT Admission Ninja Squad, I feel it’s important that ninjas be viewed as equals in the eyes of the admissions commitee.

    I just reread my post. MAN am I tired. uhh… feel free to ignore everything I just said. raspberry. But that wouldn’t be nearly as entertaining, would it? smile

  8. Timur Sahin says:

    As Nance implied, I believe their goal is to make their incoming class represent the geograpic distriubution of their applicant pool. If anything, I’d think this would put Massachusetts students at a disadvantage due to the state’s high population, and therefore likely high numbers of applicants.

    Of course, I also have to say, I doubt where you’re located will be the deciding factor as to whether or not you get in (1 state didn’t even send people to MIT last year, if that puts it in perspective). Don’t expect to get in (or get rejected) just because of where you live. MIT admits qualified students only; it’s just a matter of determining *which* qualified students. If you’re good enough, they’ll take you regardless of your geographic location, I believe.

    Of course, the exception to all of this is the international pool, but it doesn’t sound like you’d need to be concerned with that.

  9. Timur, that’s where I am concerned actually, coz I’m a Canadian student studying in Singapore. So that kinda puts me in a different position.

  10. Timur Sahin says:

    MIT does limit its incoming international students to about 6-8% of those students that applied.

    Some important statistics for you include:
    ~5% of international students were accepted last year (which was also the most selective year in MIT’s history).
    ~7.5% of accepted freshmen last year were international students.

    I can understand that the quota is disheartening, but there really is a good reason for it. Go to and go to the 23rd comment (4th from the bottom as of the time this is being written) and you’ll get my explanation for the quota, which seems to be backed up by both Ben and Bryan. :D. Matt’s in charge of international stuff if I recall correctly though, so you may want to address further questions towards him ( ).

    There seem to be a lot of questions regarding international students and such lately, both here and on CollegeConfidential. Maybe it’s something that merits its own entry from one of the MIT Bloggers?

    As always, good luck,
    – Timur S.

  11. Hm, about instate applicants, do private institutions also have such practices to favor these applicants over out-of-state applicants?

  12. Sunil says:

    deny, deny, accept, waitlist, accept

    The SAT scores were close enough together that they were not a factor.

    Daniel: He had a fair application, but nothing stood out, especially the essay summary, when I compared it to the other apps.

    Nicole: Her percent ranking was by far the worst, and her curriculum was approximately the same as the the other applicants. Nothing really stood out, and she applied to “premed” when no such program existed.

    James: James had the best percent ranking and had seemingly taken the most rigourous coursework available. He seems to love a sport, and his essay summary was great.

    Melody and Sterling were similar applicants in most respects, but I would rather have someone who has spent significant time in another country. Such an experience probably gave her an outlook that cannot be gained any other way. Plus, UNC is a public institution and Melody is an instate applicant.

  13. Anonymous says:

    deny, deny, accept, waitlist, accept

    The SAT scores were close enough together that they were not a factor.

    Daniel: He had a fair application, but nothing stood out, especially the essay summary, when I compared it to the other apps.

    Nicole: Her percent ranking was by far the worst, and her curriculum was approximately the same as the the other applicants. Nothing really stood out, and she applied to “premed” when no such program existed.

    James: James had the best percent ranking and had seemingly taken the most rigourous coursework available. He seems to love a sport, and his essay summary was great.

    Melody and Sterling were similar applicants in most respects, but I would rather have someone who has spent significant time in another country. Such an experience probably gave her an outlook that cannot be gained any other way. Plus, UNC is a public institution and Melody is an instate applicant.

  14. Timur Sahin says:

    Do the best you can do, and see what happens. smile

  15. Hey Timur,

    Thanks for the information man.

    Yeah, it is disheartening to see a quota imposed, but I can recognize the need for it.

    Then again, it wouldn’t stop me from putting my best into the application form. I can just hope for the best and nothing less.

  16. Linda says:

    deny, deny, accept, accept, waitlist

    James was easy. URM, similar stats to others, but achieved them in a tougher situation. Seemed to have the drive.

    I waffled between Melody and Sterling, but went with Melody as a “gut feeling.” I’m not sure Sterling deserves too many sympathy points because her *mother* went back to school… Taking a year off to travel can be a maturing experience, or it can be a sign of indecision; a “Scarlett” attitude.

    I was distracted by the red. Daniel was declared too scattered. Then Nicole was too focused. I tried to ignore the red comments, or play devil’s advocate. I found myself pulling for Daniel, because I felt he was being disadvantaged by someone’s subjective decisions. I LIKE well-rounded as much as I like passion. There’s room for both.

    But not this time. James was an easy admit, and he was male, so I had to go for a female for the second one.

  17. Cheryl says:

    Yes, James was the obvious one to admit for me. I am afraid I DID pay attention to the comments in red. Not the class rank, because the size of the school makes such a difference (in terms of what it offers and how hard it is to make the top 10%), but I looked at ambition and motivation. I did think that to put “premed” on an application to a school without premed shows a lack of attention to detail, so I did not accept her.

    This was a great exercise. Thanks!

  18. Timur Sahin says:

    I have to say, considering how new this blog is, it’s getting (relatively) a lot of comments.


  19. Linda M says:

    I assume we were to be the second person to look at the files and the one to make the decision. It was hard becuase I could not confirm the points made in red by the first screener.
    I took into consideration challenges a student faces and how much effort they had to make. Clerly a student from a home with two well educated parents would get plenty of direction and opportunities, where students from single parent homes and/or uneducated parents would really have to make an effort to find the path leading to college. I compared that to what appeared to be the first contenders well prep’ed life and how he appeared to now be unmotivated and unfocused. I’ll take the hardworkers who appreciate their education any day. But then I was not looking for an Ivy League product. I was looking for someone who would really apply their education. So would I loose my job?

  20. Timur Sahin says:

    Truth be told, I’m beginning to worry. It’s been 11 days since we’ve heard from Bryan.

    Well, of course, he’s going around doing central meetings, but still. raspberry. He might have been mobbed by a group of pre-frosh!

  21. Timur, rock on. You remind me of myself a year ago. I haven’t been ignoring you, just busy as hell what with Rush and whatnot. IM me though, this time I’ll actually respond. Life is back to semi-normal now.

    I haven’t taken the thing yet, but I will post results as soon as I do.

    But you guys have to keep something else in mind…just because someone thinks he might be pre-med doesn’t mean he’ll stay pre-med. I came in to MIT thinking I was definitely course six, hardcore 6.3. Now, not so much. Now I’m probably doubling 6.2 and 21M, but I’m also looking at 2 or 3. I don’t know. People change their minds.

    Anyway, Timur, do IM me, I kinda have something I want to tell you anyway.


  22. Good Day All

    Contrary to popular belief, I

  23. nakki says:

    My choices were deny, deny, accept, waitlist, accept.

    I read all the applications straight through twice first to get a good feel for each student. Then i compared the studentgs extracuricular and classes. I ended up baseing alot of my decisions off the bottom red paragraph, since it seemed to give a good summary of each of the students. One person I kind of threw out right away. The girl who listed premed as her intended major when the school didn’t have a premed program. She obviously hadn’t researched her school choice very well. From there it was just my gut feelings as to which two students to pick. I’m a bit of a femisit, which is probably why I was leaning more towards the females, but in the end I waitlisted one female, accepted the other, and accepted the black student because I like all of their overall pictures. The first student just didn’t appeal to me at all as it looked lioke he lacked focus and a drive to do something.

  24. Laura says:

    Here were my choices: Deny, Waitlist, Accept, Deny, Accept

    I did notice that Nicole messed up with the premed bit and choose to ignore it (mosty because of the “ambitious and hardworking” comment, which I thought must count for something) until I read everyone talking about it, which made me change my mind. So I’d have to chuck her out.

    So for real this time: I denied Dan, but only because I didn’t have the room too. I can’t hold it against him that he has “too many” interests, because that sounds a lot like me. =) But nothing about his app really stood out for me. Nicole was rejected, as previously discussed. James was a clear admit because of his leadership and community service. He seems like a kid who really CARES about something.

    At this point I got really confused, because I originally rejected Melody and accepted Sterling, but now that I have an open waitlist spot I’m tempted to give it to Sterling and accept Melody instead!

    I guess I’d make a horrible admissions officer, I’m too indecisive! =)

    This was a great exercise. I always knew it must be hard to choose people from such a qualified applicant pool, but I never tried it before. Although the one thing I do know is that I hate standardized test scores- the first time around I accepted the two lowest SAT scores. =)

  25. Mikalye says:

    My choices were waitlist, deny, accept, deny, accept

    I found Nicole and James the easy applicants (deny the premed Nicole, admit James). Of the two women, I was struck by the comment in Melody’s red box that she hadn’t shown much leadership or community involvement, whereas Sterling could potentially bring different experiences to campus. So I chose to admit her.

    That left me with Daniel and Melody both of whom struck me similarly. Fine applicants, but nothing that really made me want to admit either them (one to WL, one to deny). In the end I chose Daniel to WL, but would not feel bad if it had gone the other way. Admittedly, Daniel had quite a few opportunities, but I did not want to hold that against him. His recommendations were “great” and he was well-rounded (admittedly lacking focus, but I have had too many friends in the MIT Community who dramatically shifted focus while on campus for me to count that too far against him). Contrasting Daniel’s “great” to Melody’s “solid” student status I think I made the right call.


    PS: It is interesting that I find myself writing the most about the candidates that I wasn’t sold on admitting. I suppose that it is always the “edge” cases that attract the attention. I’m an EC, and I can assure you that the really obvious deny candidates are the easiest interview reports to write. With the great cases, you really have to analyse what about their context struck you, and determine whether that would already be on their paper application before sitting down to try to explain it to an Admissions counselor who wasn’t there. But the longest of all to prepare are the border cases, where you want to be scrupulously fair to the candidate and not damn them with faint praise, particularly as we are not seeing the rest of the application, but make clear why they did not stand out for you. It can be a challenge. I spent 3 hours on one interview report last year (and she got in).

  26. John says:

    What is wrong with “premed”? Something else is wrong if a “ambitious and hardworking” applicant is rejected simply because of that. All engineering majors at MIT can be considered as “premed”.