How Do We Make Our Admissions Decisions?: An Insider’s Guide to the Committee Process

JuliaMonday morning, 9:00 AM:  Company in.  Twelve admissions counselors.  Twelve cups of coffee.  Our mission?  To decide who gets in.

With so many remarkable candidates, just how do we decide?  While some contend we could simply throw the applications into the air, grab a few thousand at random, and hope for the best, the Holy Cross admissions process is a democratic one, where all applications are voted on;  majority wins.

As today’s committee fly on the wall, I would like to take this opportunity to shed some light on our unique process.  So follow me, behind the closed doors.

Every day, for nine hours a day, for about 5 weeks, we gather together, in the cozy space pictured below:


Back when we were reading all of your applications, we were also summarizing everything in your file, onto what we call a “reading sheet” – a crucial piece of paper that houses a breakdown of your transcript, bits from your recommendations, quotes from the letter from your mom, impressions gathered from your interview, an evaluation of your essay, notes on the academic curriculum offered at your high school, a listing of your test scores (if you decided to submit them), bits about your extra-curriculars,  awards,  jobs,  etc.

During committee, the reading sheets are projected onto the wall, one at a time, for all committee members to see.  Everything in your file finds a place onto your reading sheet, and thusly, everything in your file is evaluated by twelve sets of eyes, before a decision is made.  IMG_3593

With your reading sheet projected onto the wall, we do, in fact, talk about you. We talk about your achievements, your personality, your background, your goals, your successes, and your failures.   Conversations can last anywhere from two minutes to twenty – depending on the case.   If there are any questions, we rummage through the file and fill in the blanks.   We might re-read the essay.  We might double-check the transcript.   We examine your school profile.   If necessary, we call your guidance counselor.  We check again.  And again.   And again.  We might even call your mom. (I kid).  The point is, when it comes to assessing your candidacy, there are no stones left unturned


When we are ready, it’s decision time.  “Anyone want to Accept?”  Hands are raised. And counted.  Majority wins.  And this is how it works, each and every time.

Why do we do it this way? While admissions-sponsored snacks  (important decisions require sustenance) and the option to dress down are obvious perks, we make our admissions decisions as a committee because we feel that a democratic voting process is the fairest way to handle such an overwhelming and often times subjective task.

Why am I telling you all this?  Because you have worked very hard on your application, and we believe your hard work affords you reciprocity.   We want you to have faith in the fact that your application is in the hands of people that will stop at nothing to make the fairest decisions possible.

And with that, it’s time to get back to work.

Julia Sanders

Admissions Counselor

Sharing is Caring – The Kindness of Holy Cross Students

The people that surround you during your four years of college can truly make or break your experience.  With that in mind,    I just want to take a moment to reflect on how wonderful Holy Cross students can be.  Here’s just one example:

A few weeks ago I was buying some soda pop at the food shop in Hogan.  It was morning, and I was carrying my standard four or five bags (far too many for a normal person) and I’ll admit it, I was flustered.   So flustered,  in fact, that after the clerk had rung in my purchases,  I couldn’t find my wallet.   Panicking, I put all my bags on the ground and knelt down to begin the great search.

On the verge of dumping my belongings all over the floor,  I was stopped by the sweet sweet sound of  “I’ve got it, don’t worry”.   I tried to protest, but the student (whom I’d never met) had already paid for me.

It may have only been $2.50, but during that stressful moment, it made all the difference in the world.   I truly believe that this student’s behavior exemplifies the values that Holy Cross students hold so dear.

(And my wallet was in my pocket).

Julia Sanders
Admissions Counselor

Open House Reflections – Don’t Be Afraid To Ask Questions!

Thanks to all of you who came out to Open House on Sunday, October 5th.
It was so nice to see all of your smiling faces (sometimes for the second or third time!)  And, for those of you who missed it – fear not!  We’re holding a second one on November 16th,  from 9:30 AM – 1:30 PM.  You can register in advance online.

Open House is our “one stop shop” for experiencing life at Holy Cross.  You and your family can take a campus tour;  sit in on faculty, student, and admissions panels;  talk to representatives from various clubs, organizations, and athletic teams;  and most importantly,  sample the food!

And now for some reflection and advice:

While I spoke to many wonderful students and parents with many wonderful questions, at times it felt like I wasn’t getting enough questions. I left Open House wondering if I somehow came across as more intimidating than I had previously considered. I mean, I suppose the hefty 6’4 stature, guns of steel, and world champion logger status could throw you,  but I’m actually quite warm and smiley when you get to know me. I kid, I kid (I’m actually rather lanky and clumsy), but I kid to drive home my point:   Colleges host Open Houses and other similar programs specifically to give you the opportunity to get your questions answered. We know that trying to decide on where to apply to college can be a very overwhelming and stressful process. And the guidebooks, independent counselors, school counselors, and best friend’s sister’s of the world only know so much.  So be smart consumers, and take advantage of the people in the know.  We are here to help. And we are not scary.

Julia Sanders
Admissions Counselor

I’ve Received My Letter, and I’m Not Happy

JuliaTo the Holy Cross Office of Admissions:

I just received my decision letter, and you guys got it WRONG.  JUST PLAIN WRONG.


Sound about right?

We in the Admissions Office recognize that many of you are pretty disappointed right now and we just want you to know — we understand,  we know this is tough, and we’re really bummed, too.

The frustration you’re feeling is indeed justifiable.  You’re probably brilliant, hard working, charismatic, thoughtful, and talented.  You’re a three sport captain.  A class president.  An Irish step dancing mathlete.  A bassoon-playing robotics champion.  And on top of all of that, you are getting an A in AP Calc!  You are an admit-a-la-mode.  It may not feel like it right now, but we think the world of you.  And though you may have visions of us sitting around some big table, laughing devilishly, drumming our fingers together a’ la Mr. Burns, casting out careless decisions while contemplating the many delicious ways to destroy your life, the fact is, none of us enjoy letting you down.  Our decision making committee consists of a bunch of sappy, sensitive nerds, who’ve committed the last four months of their lives to meticulously scouring your applications for every morsel of goodness.  Deciding between such wonderful and often equally deserving students is incredibly grueling, and simply heartbreaking.  Smiling devilishly? No.  We rather feel like sulking in the corner.

Please try not to doubt yourself or wonder what you could have done differently.  Due to a record breaking number of applications totaling well over 7,200 (200 more than last year), and an insanely competitive applicant pool, we simply couldn’t admit all of the admissible applicants we wanted to.   So, while we hope you can trust that we did our best to make the fairest decisions we could, we acknowledge and understand your disappointment.

Please know that you are all stars.  You’re part of the most exceptionally talented applicant pool Holy Cross has ever seen, and we’re confident that wherever you end up, you’ll find unlimited success.

Julia Sanders
Admissions Counselor

Keeping Your Hands on the Wheel

JuliaAwhile back I found myself in a gloriously gold rented Impala on the Mass Pike, west of Springfield, headed toward the New York state line.  It was just one of those days: fake blue sky, fiery leaves, twinkling sun, me pretending I can sing like Bob Dylan – the whole nine.

It also happened to be the last day of October, quota-filling frenzy day for state cops. Western mass’s unpredictable downhills and traffic-free highways were making it difficult for me to sustain my careful 72 in the 65 mph zone, and I slowly became frustrated by the attention my speed maintenance was requiring. After all, it was taking away from all the foliage-viewing and loud-singing I had on my schedule.

To remedy the situation, I considered, for maybe the first time in my life, setting the cruise control.

I scrapped the idea about five seconds later.

My thinking was this:  My hands are on my wheel, I am driving this car.  This is my experience, not the Impala’s.

This decidedly lame analogy is leading up to one anti-climactic piece of advice:   As you go through the college search-and-destroy process, make sure to keep your hands on the wheel.  By this I mean two things:

  1. Try not to place too much importance on other people’s opinions.
  2. Work on trusting your own beautiful instincts.

Many of you are blessed with guide book –toting parents, schlepping you from college tour to college tour, quite certain that their idea of your perfect collegiate experience precisely reflects your idea of the perfect collegiate experience.

And don’t get me wrong, your parents/guardians are great (the Holy Cross Admissions team LOVES parents).  Your parents are so great that many of them are financing much of your postsecondary education. They’ve also souped you up with great features; and made sure you’ve passed all your inspections.  But they’re not the ones driving.

Consider them your GPS navigation system, attempting to steer you in the right direction.  But (as many of us have learned the hard way) the GPS is not always right.  Sometimes, it’ll direct you into a lake. That’s when your instincts can be rather beneficial.  When your hands are on the wheel, you are the song that’s playing, you are the one that follows the sign to the farm stand. You are the cloud watcher, the photographer, the ice cream seeker.   Your parents might tell you how to get to the ice cream shop, but you order cookies n’ cream because your taste buds told you it’s delicious.

So keep your hands on the wheel.  Pay attention to your gut when you take that campus tour.   Ignore the gossip. Ignore the hype. Hone in on your pitter-patter. If a school feels right to you, it probably feels right for a reason.

Julia Sanders
Admissions Counselor

Interview inspiration from Facebook

We spend a lot of time online: researching, doing business, emailing… maybe even procrastinating. And without much contemplation, I can guess that you probably spend more time renovating your Facebook pages than you do reading our Holy Cross admissions blog. Terrible pity. But understandable nonetheless.
The fact of the matter is, you’re living in a world where opportunities to advertise yourselves are countless, and extremely accessible. Forums like Facebook, Myspace, and Youtube give you the opportunity to paint fantastic portraits of yourself, package them up nicely, and send them out across the universe for all eyes to see.

Ironically, one of the biggest problems I encounter in the interview process is a student’s inability to do just that: to paint an honest and glorious portrait of him or herself and hand it to me in a pretty little package. Many students are extremely uncomfortable with the idea of self-promotion in the interview arena. They struggle to pinpoint significant accomplishments, and to list what they’re proud of, for fear they will come across as conceited, cocky, or even worse, corny.

Throw those fears out the window. The interview is your time to shine. If you have nothing to be proud of, why should we admit you?

Now we’re not asking you to jump around our offices Muhammed Ali –style, air boxing and listing off accomplishments with reckless abandon, but we do urge you to think about achievements – big or small – and come prepared to tell us about them.

So start thinking of the interview like you think about your Facebook page. Don’t be afraid to promote yourself. It may be the only time you have to tell us how truly awesome you are. If you do a good job, we may just “add” you (sorry, just couldn’t help myself) to our next class of Crusaders.

Julia Sanders
Admissions Counselor