Who Exactly Are College Admissions Officers?

Confession: when I was a high school student, I used to think college admissions officers were mysterious, extremely learned, possibly stodgy (and admittedly “older”) gatekeepers who sat around a single large mahogany table deliberating seriously while stamping ADMIT or REJECT on piles upon piles of paper applications. I know I’m hardly the only one who thought this.

The reality turned out to be quite different. Before joining the LogicPrep College Consulting team, I served as an Admissions Officer at Stanford University, focusing on undergraduate applications from Southern California, New Jersey, and New York. Though my colleagues were in fact very learned (and only occasionally mysterious) people whom I truly admired and respected, they certainly weren’t stodgy.

So who exactly are all of the admissions officers? And how are they selected to carry the important responsibility of admitting students to each university?

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For the most part, each university’s admissions staff has a large percentage of alumni who attended that school. These folks were oftentimes heavily involved on campus while they were students, as leaders, scholarship recipients, student ambassadors, tour guides, prize winners, RAs... in short: they were champions of the university, and accordingly, deeply committed to advocating for students whom they would have wanted as classmates and friends. These admission officers understand the culture of their university and have been involved in a diverse range of experiences and communities while there, so they can easily imagine each applicant and how you might contribute meaningfully to their school.

On LogicPrep’s college consulting team, Ashley and Alexandria are great examples of this. Ashley was a Spanish tutor for the peer tutoring program, an active member of the Latinx organization “Mi Gente,” a dancer in Duke’s premier Latin dance troupe (Sabrosura), and helped organize the annual Latinx Student Recruitment Weekend before joining their admissions staff to review applications from Southern California, South Texas, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Central & South America. Alexandria was a GOLD Class Agent, on the advisory board of the Medicine Health & Society organization, recipient of the National Charity League Scholarship, The Links Incorporated Scholarship, Global Summer Fellows, and Nichols Humanitarian Fund before joining the Vanderbilt admissions staff.

The next group of admissions officers tend to have some sort of background in education. Whether they hold degree(s) in Education, worked for an education-focused non-profit, offered guidance to students as a high school counselor, or founded their own education firm — they’re passionate about access to education and hope to bring more talented, interesting, and interested students to make up the university’s diverse class. They are trained not only to review your application holistically but to learn the ins and outs of the university in order to effectively advocate on your behalf to the committee. On LogicPrep’s college advising team, Grace, Meghan, and Erika all have graduate degrees from Harvard’s Graduate School of Education and have experience advising students for many years, advocating for equity and access in education.

The last group of AOs may be comprised of “miscellaneous educators” from different contexts: musicians, former business people, veterans, reporters, novelists — folks whose unique backgrounds may reflect and resonate with the diversity of university applicants. They, too, can withstand the high-pressure nature of this role, reading hundreds to thousands of applications in a given season, and look to celebrate your quirks and distinct contributions as they read your applications.

Of course, each admissions office is distinct and the makeup of their team can vary each year with turnover. But the most important thing to remember is that these decision-makers reviewing your accomplishments, personal narratives, and recommendations are people — typically high-energy, empathetic, excited-to-admit-you people who are delighted that you have applied and are rooting for you.