What Happens Between Submitting Your Application and Receiving Your Decision?

Inside the Admissions Office

What Happens Between Submitting Your Application and Receiving Your Decision?


Most colleges you will apply to will use either the “Common Application” or the “Universal Application,” which are essentially software tools that allow you to store your basic information before submitting it to one or more schools for processing. All colleges require slightly different materials, but these are the basic components of an application:

  • Basic information (name, high school, parents occupations, extracurriculars, etc.)
  • Application fee
  • Secondary school report and international school supplement
  • Teacher evaluations (usually 2)
  • Test scores (usually the ACT or SAT)
  • English language proficiency test (TOEFL, IELTS, PTE)
  • Interview (optional)
  • Supplemental materials, such as research abstracts or musical recordings (optional)

Many colleges have gone completely digital, and you no longer need to wait to mail documents back and forth, but in some cases you will need to ensure delivery of all documents by the appropriate deadline.

But what happens to these materials after they’ve been submitted? They are sorted and tagged to your name, but different colleges might look at applications quite differently. Here are a few things to keep in mind:


Applications are often read according to high school. This means that an admissions officer will sit down and read all applications that have been submitted to their college from your school. This helps them become familiar with your unique curriculum because they will have access to what is known as the “school profile,” a brief breakdown of what kind of high school you attend, if you have AP or IB, what % of students matriculate abroad, etc.


Sometimes applications are sorted by GPA or test score. Colleges often have “academic ranking” tools they utilize to determine the strength of an applicant. For example, students with above a 700 on the English section of the SATs might be given a better ranking than students with below 700 on the SATs. This helps colleges determine the overall strength of the pool and can then “sort” for applications when deciding how many students are qualified in a given year.


Admissions officers are looking consistency. The reason colleges ask for so many pieces of information is so they can be confident you’ll be successful in their English-heavy programs. So if you have a low SAT score, but a complex and well-written essay (or vice versa), this raises red flags for officers who are always on the lookout to ensure the work you’re submitting is your own.


Creativity is important. With the massive numbers of international applications, colleges are looking to differentiate between who might be a good cultural fit for their institution. Officers will make notes about your extracurriculars, essays, and interview, and when it comes time for the officer to bring applications to committee, they’ll be looking for students who have that “unique flair.” Unfortunately there is no universal definition about what this “flair” might be, but you should work closely with your college advisors and ask lots of questions to ensure you’re not unintentionally sabotaging your application by trying to conform.