Ivy League admissions officer reveals how they pick students

Reddit hosted an Ask Me Anything (AMA) interview on Monday that featured former Cornell admissions officer, Nelson Ureña, answering questions about the admissions process at the Ivy League.

Urena has unique insight into how Ivy League schools sift through tens of thousands of applications and eventually come to a decision on whom to accept or reject.

Here is how Ureña described the admissions process (emphasis ours):

Once a student completes and submits his or her application to Cornell via the Common App, a first reader sheet is created and farmed out to an admissions officer who acts as a first reader for that particular student.

The mission of a first reader is to read the entire application from start to finish and extract the important information from the application and condense it onto a two sided sheet of paper called the First Reader Sheet.

At the very bottom of the first reader sheet there is a section for recommendation, the first reader gets to circle one of these options: Admit, Deny, Waitlist (and if it is the ED round they can also circle Defer). This process takes about 15 minutes.

Yes 15 minutes is a very short period of time to devote to a student who has spent months working on their application but admissions officers tend to be highly efficient and the process does not end here.

Once the first reader sheet is completed it is turned in to the director and a second reader sheet is created. The student’s file is handed to a second admissions officer who will be able to see the first reader sheet along with the application.

The second reader also spends about 15 minutes looking at the application and the first reader sheet (15 minutes is an estimate and can vary from admissions officer to admissions officer).

This person is often times a little more experienced in the particular major/subject area than the first reader. He or she also makes an evaluation about what to do with the application: Admit, Deny, Waitlist (if it is the ED round they can also circle Defer).

After the first and second reader have reviewed all their files all the Assistant and Associate Directors along with the Director gather in a committee.

During committee the director leads a review of all files based on the decisions of the first and second readers. When there is agreement between the first and second reader the committee will usually agree with the decision of two readers.

Often times the two readers disagree and the officers spend time in conversation about what decision should be made and why.

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