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United States

How Ivy League universities deal with applications

What is studying in the USA like?

Nelson Ureña is someone who has sifted through literally tens of thousands of Ivy League applications over the years.

He is the man who decides what will happen to the applicants, ambitious young men and women alike – the brightest and the best. How does he make his decisions? Read on!

Do you remember how stressed you felt when you were waiting to hear back from the universities? Do you remember the grades you got in your high school final exams, the documents, signatures, conclusions? Here, we just look at marks and if there is an available place for you. That’s it. The same is not the case with the Ivy League universities. Faced with a stream of applications which demonstrate high academic achievements, the recruiters also take into account a number of other factors. These include the achievements, motivation and the degree of success which the candidates have already had in their lives.

After all, Ivy League graduates are expected to expand the frontiers of knowledge and make significant discoveries which benefit mankind. A series of mini-essays extracts the applicant’s life history by asking questions like: What problems have you come across in school or in your life in general, and how did you deal with them? How do you want to use
the knowledge you will acquire at university? How has your view of your surroundings changed over the last two years? These are simply examples of the types of essay you may be asked to write.

Nelson Ureña points out that when a candidate submits an application to Yale, Harvard or Stanford, for example, it is subjected to what is known as a first reading. The application form is read and assessed from beginning to end, and the main points and arguments it contains are extracted for consideration. Within 15 minutes, the recruiter has decided whether to put the application into one of three piles: Accepted, Rejected, Waiting List. Does this sound cruel and soulless? People’s fates are determined in a quarter of an hour, on the basis of documents they have worked on for hundreds of hours, revising language, adding or taking away commas, checking spelling, scouring
their brains for new passions they can describe, new books they have read and fresh motivation to reach their goal in life. But that’s how it is…

These files then get passed on to the second recruiter , who goes through the application forms all over again, and checks whether they agree with the first assessor’s conclusions. This process also takes about 15 minutes. The second recruiter is drawn from the field the candidate has applied to study and has detailed knowledge, vast experience and professional expertise of the subject — whether this is quantum physics or alternative funding for micro businesses.

The second reading also finishes with a decision: accept, reject or put back for a year. The next stage comes when the entire academic staff in a faculty meet with its head and form a commission which goes over the applications. Each one – and one at a time. Nelson Ureña states that this personalised assessment is both rare and time-consuming and such commissions are a unique feature of the application process, and ensure that the cream of the crop do not get overlooked. It is normally the case that when the first and second recruiters agree in their decision, this is ratified by the commission. Where they disagree the commission arbitrates and makes the final decision.