What Is Committee-Based Evaluation, and How Will It Affect My College Application?

 What Is Committee-Based Evaluation, and How Will It Affect My College Application?

Committee-Based Evaluation (CBE) is a new admissions method gaining steam at universities across the US. With more and more universities and colleges implementing CBE each year, 2018-19 college applicants are likely to have at least one of their applications reviewed with this new method.

What is CBE?

CBE is essentially an assembly line for admissions officers; it’s a method designed to speed up the admissions process. But it’s not just about efficiency. One of CBE’s express aims is to provide a fairer, more holistic evaluation of each application. Whether it accomplishes that goal or not is a matter of debate.

Under the traditional model, university admissions demand long, grueling hours of poring over one application at a time. Traditionally, applications received an initial solo-review, in which an admissions officer read over all parts of the application in one sitting before making a recommendation.

CBE replaces the initial solo review with a two-person review called “tandem” or “committee-based reading.”

This means different things for different schools. In the standard model first developed and practiced at the University of Pennsylvania, two admissions officers sit together, each with their own computer monitor. While one admissions officer focuses on transcripts, test scores, and recommendations, the other looks at non-academic components, such as extracurricular activities and essays.

After both officers complete and score their part of the application, the officers briefly discuss whether or not to recommend the applicant for admission.

Here’s the main difference from the traditional evaluation method: under CBE, the initial recommendation is made by a committee of two rather than a single individual.

If the application does make it past this initial tandem-read, the entire application is then typically read by all of the other admissions officers. This larger committee makes the final admissions decision, but the decision is usually based primarily on the initial “committee-based” assessment.

Do all colleges use this new method?

No, not all. Not even most. But many do, and even more university and colleges are exploring implementation of CBE this academic year. As of September 2018, about 40 public and private colleges and universities of various sizes and selectivity have adopted CBE. That number is sure to grow in the years ahead.

Some schools that currently use CBE include UPenn, Bucknell, Caltech, Case Western, Colorado College, Emory, Georgia Tech, and Swarthmore.

When did it start?

CBE was first developed by admissions officers at the University of Pennsylvania in 2013. More schools have adopted CBE each year since, and the method is becoming increasingly popular among university admissions officers.

Why is CBE gaining popularity among colleges and universities?

In short: efficiency.

Let’s consider some examples to illustrate the point.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Bucknell University typically receives over 10,000 applications per year. Under the traditional admissions model, each application took 12 to 15 minutes to review.

Under CBE, applications are now completed in just six to eight minutes. CBE saves the Bucknell admissions office about 1,250 hours of work.

According to the same article, Georgia Tech’s admissions pool recently jumped 13 percent, to 35,600. With CBE, the admissions office is able to make evaluations in eight to 10 minutes. About 85% of those applications are never reviewed again.

CBE allows Georgia Tech’s team of about two-dozen staff to evaluate about 500 applications in a single day.

At UPenn, the results have been even more drastic. According to Inside Higher Ed, admissions officers at UPenn used to take about 25-30 minutes on an initial read of each application. They would then write a report of the application for their colleagues, a process that took an additional five minutes.

Under CBE, admissions officers at Penn discuss the candidates while reading the applications, a process that takes all of four to 10 minutes to complete.

With about 45,000 applications to review, Penn admissions saves around 17,000 hours of work thanks to CBE.

With college applications rising about 30 percent (and growing) since 2000, it is safe to say that more and more colleges and universities will look into implementing more efficient methods for evaluating applications. CBE seems to be the wave of the future.

Should I do anything different in my college application because of CBE?

It’s too early to say how CBE is affecting college admissions. Based on what we do know, the change probably has little to no bearing for the vast majority of applicants, but there could be some consequences for those on the borderline between admission and rejection.

Consider this hypothetical scenario:

Admissions officer 1 reads your transcript, test scores, and recommendations. With CBE, she has more time to read and a fresher set of eyes than she used to, so she carefully combs over your recommendations.

“I’ve legitimately read—not skimmed, but read—more counselor recommendations in the last round than I have in the last three years,” said Rick Clark, director of undergraduate admissions at Georgia Tech. “I have time to read them.”

Meanwhile, admissions officer 2 reads your application and essays. Maybe he is not as moved by your personal statement as you had hoped. Based solely on his half of the application, he is leaning toward passing you over for admission.

When the two speak to each other about your application, officer 1 is insistent: this applicant is a superstar, based not only on the numbers, but on the stellar evaluations. Officer 2 doesn’t feel strongly enough to challenge officer 1’s enthusiasm, so your application gets recommended for admission.

A committee-based system turns your application into a subject of debate. This could open—or close—doors to some applicants in unanticipated ways.

There really is no need to tailor your application for a CBE school, mostly because it is impossible to know the dynamics of the tandem that reviews your application. But CBE should serve as an important reminder of the importance of clarity and, to put it in crass terms, branding.

Even with CBE, college admissions officers are taxed. Their job often entails a wide variety of tasks that engage multiple aspects of their campus. They are always looking for ways to get through applications more efficiently. They desperately want your application to scream at them: HERE’S A WINNER! Or: MOVE ON!

You know you need to hit the numbers that schools expect, and you hope that your teachers and counselors write you stunning letters of recommendation. For all other parts of the application, remember to keep things clear, direct, and striking.

Keep in mind that admissions essays are read in just 90 seconds to four minutes.

That means you need a crystal-clear, well-organized narrative of yourself.

It means you need a memorable and striking answer to the question, “How will this student impact our campus?”

Your essays need to provide the essential context to understanding you beyond the numbers: reveal to college admissions officers your most fundamental self and a projection of your ideal self. What’s your story, and what do you want it to be?

It’s your job to move your readers.

And remember, you only have a couple of minutes.


Need a hand with college apps? With Elite Prep’s College Application Services, you’ll work with an experienced counselor and mentor to craft a winning college-application package that shines a light on exactly who you are and what you’ve achieved. Schedule a free consultation today!


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Stephen P. is a writer and teacher based in Los Angeles. He has taught literature and writing courses at several universities and has taught writing and reading at Elite Prep Los Angeles since 2010.