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This post is part of a series that will help to demystify the black box of HLS Admissions. In another post, you got to know the admissions team. In this post, you will learn more about the application review process.

As promised, here is a deeper peek into what goes on here in Austin Hall.

The Admissions Process

Step 1: File checking and distribution

We receive thousands of applications each year, and are fortunate enough to have the capacity to thoroughly and individually review each and every file that we receive.

After you submit your file, you can check the status of your application on the online status checker. We will also email you once your application is complete and ready to review.

Once we receive your file and notify you that your application is complete, we randomly distribute it to a member of our admissions team. We don’t sort your files based on where you went to college, your home state, or your scores. This ensures that each reader is naturally exposed to applicants from a representative cross-section of the applicant pool. Since everyone who reviews files has a sense of what the entire applicant pool looks like, we can all make more informed decisions about any individual file.

Step 2: Staff read

Our readers are trained, individually and as a group, on the same set of standards each year.

Prior to the beginning of each cycle, our readers review a small set of sample applications from previous cycles. We then meet as a group, compare our scores against each other, discuss what we like and what we don’t like, and we cross-check our scores against those actually given during the cycle last year.

During the cycle, we read through your entire application, including your résumé, transcripts, personal statement, and letters of recommendation. We look for indicators of your academic ability, evidence of leadership and involvement, and we try to get a sense of what drives and motivates you. Each component of the application matters, which is why we take the time to look at the entirety of your file. Just as we consider your application in the context of the entire application pool, we consider each component of your file within the context of your entire application. After your file has been read, the readers pass along files that look promising.

Step 3: Interview

Skype can be awkward: grainy video quality, bad fluorescent lighting, tension about whether to look at the camera or check your hair in your screen. Relax. When we first started this process a few years ago, we were just as uneasy about how we were going to look on camera, too! If you are invited to interview, know that it is a positive step forward in the application process. It allows us the chance to get to know the person behind the file, and allows you to see the people behind the process.

Despite our prior post (here and here) with interview tips, there is still a fair amount of fretting about what people should wear, so let me offer a little more guidance.  Over the past two years, most people have opted for a shirt and tie or a simple blouse. That is totally appropriate, but if you are more comfortable in a full suit, or more comfortable in “business casual,” go for it.   Be professional, but be yourself. Outside of that, try to look in the camera, but don’t sweat it if look away a few times to check your hair.

If you are selected to interview, we send you an invitation email, you sign up for a slot, and we talk. As with the reading process, interviews are randomly assigned to a member of the admissions team. I gather there is a fair amount of “hypothesizing” out there about this point, so let me say it again.  Interviewer assignment is random.  We do this for the same reason we randomize file reads—it helps every interviewer have a better sense of the full pool.  Regardless of whether you interview with me or another member of the admissions team, keep in mind that while the interview is meant to be conversational, our goal is to learn more about you; the interview is not just a “formality.”

To keep it fair, we only offer our interviews via Skype (so applicants from Cambridge aren’t at an advantage over applicants who live farther away).

While interivew assignment is random, you can learn a little bit about some of the folks who interview in our post on the admissions team.

Step 4: Faculty read

We are fortunate to have faculty members who care deeply about our students and volunteer their time to review applications. The same people who will be teaching and grading you have a say in your admissions decision. We only send files off to faculty for review after the interview stage so that they can see all of the information about you, including our interview notes.

No offer of admission is ever made to HLS without a faculty member signing off. The faculty read helps us to be confident that if you are admitted, you can thrive here.

Step 5: Final decision

Based on the entirety of the information above, the admissions committee makes a final decision about your candidacy. This process allows us to thoroughly review your application, look beyond the numbers, and assess who you are and what you are capable of achieving. We take time and get input from many different people when we review your file so that we can give careful consideration to your application. You spend a lot of time on your application (at least, I hope you do). We not only want to honor that, we also want to ensure that the students who join us each year are a dynamic and passionate group capable of flourishing here at HLS…no matter how pixelated they might look over Skype.

Jessica