A Committee Discussion for Every Applicant

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A guest post by Yvonne Romero da Silva, Vice Dean, Director of Admissions at the University of Pennsylvania.

In the Spring of 2013, the Penn Admissions Office looked to develop a more sustainable evaluation model for our increasing number of applications. The key aim of the model was to conduct holistic, individualized evaluations for every applicant to Penn. At the same time, we wanted a model that could handle a potential 20% increase in applications and account for staff saving one day per week to work on other priorities, including spending more time communicating with high school guidance counselors, and working to evaluate and continuously improve our recruitment and communications strategies. What we came up with was a radical new way of evaluating applications that gives every student a full and fair evaluation.

The Penn Committee-based Evaluation (CBE) model is based on a two-reader, team-based evaluation process. Two admissions officers evaluate applications simultaneously and discuss the merits of the candidate focusing on three key areas – excellence of mind, impact in their community, and fit with Penn – and making a recommended decision. The territory manager, an admissions officer who is the regional expert for a specific geographic region, follows the application throughout the Penn evaluation process. As the territory expert, territory managers evaluate the high school transcript, secondary school report, high school profile, and school recommendations to formulate an impression of the academic strength, rigor, and accomplishment of the student. The second admissions officer evaluates all the personal components, including the Common Application, student essays, and interviews to develop a sense of the personal accomplishments of the student. Together the CBE team discusses the merits of the applicant, often looking for corroborating evidence about the student’s interests and accomplishments throughout many components of the file. The CBE teams are also looking for any contextual information that will help give them a better understanding of the student. If you want to know whether we read the essays or recommendations letters – we definitely do! They truly matter.

CBE ensures that each applicant gets an equitable, fair, holistic, and individualized evaluation of their qualifications, accomplishment, and circumstances, and that each application is seen by a minimum of two admissions officers. The CBE evaluations are only the first step. Nearly 50% of our applicant pool advance to a second or third round of evaluations, always in a team setting, always with the territory manager or academic expert present. Nearly 20% of our applicant pool make it to the final selection committee. This thoughtful and layered approach to evaluating applicants to Penn is important to us. It means that we are constantly discussing the interests and accomplishments of our applicants within the context of their environments. What does it mean for the students who apply to Penn? It means that:

• Each application is evaluated by a minimum of two people – discussing the merits of the candidate relative to the school or program to which the student is applying. By the time applications make it to the final selection committee, they may be seen by as many as five to ten admissions officers.

• Admissions officers get daily training and feedback about how to evaluate applications for Penn, so even new admissions officers can quickly become aware of the evaluative nuances that used to come only with years of work experience. Individual reader bias is reduced because each admissions officer has to justify their impressions of the applicant and discuss their recommended ratings.

Penn Admissions is proud that CBE has been adopted by many other admissions offices around the country: our founder, Benjamin Franklin, would likely be pleased that we carry on his legacy of invention and impact. But, most of all, we are happy to conduct a process that creates a holistic, thorough, and individualized evaluation for every applicant to Penn.

Yvonne Romero da Silva is the Vice Dean, Director of Admissions at the University of Pennsylvania. She is also a doctoral student in Higher Education Management at the Penn Graduate School of Education studying five colleges and universities that have implemented committee-based evaluation. Her study “Change in the Admissions Evaluation Process: A Study of the Adoption of Committee-based Evaluation at Selective Colleges and Universities” is scheduled to be published in August 2017.


*PAGE 217
refers to the always legendary and occasionally dreaded essay which was once a mainstay of the University of Pennsylvania application. The question read as follows: “You have just finished your three hundred page autobiography. Please submit page 217.”

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