Thursday, January 12, 2012

What Takes Us So Long

It's only January 12, and I think I've already gotten the "When will EA decisions be released?" question about umpteen times here on the blog and elsewhere. And I absolutely understand your anxiety and frustration. I know the stress of waiting for a decision can be even worse than the stress of completing your applications--especially because the anxiety is usually accompanied by the very uncomfortable feelings of vulnerability and helplessness. It’s not fun at all. I totally get that.

And I know it's hard to understand why in the world it takes us so long to get you a decision. It seems pretty simple: yes or no, thumbs-up or thumbs-down. But the kind of holistic review that we promise to our applicants actually requires a tremendous amount of work. It takes a lot of effort and a lot of man-hours. We want to make sure we get it right, as best we can.

So what exactly takes so long? Well, first we have to assemble all the requisite parts of your application. We've made a lot of gains in efficiency over the past few years with this part of our work. We've transitioned to electronic submission of data wherever possible, so that computers can do a lot of the work of sorting, filing, and assembling application materials. But there's still plenty of manual work and data entry involved in this step, as evidenced by the rows of mail bins that fill our mail room. And, with tens of thousands of applications, there is a lot of data-checking and correction that is necessary.

Most time-consuming of all, of course, is the next step: the reading of your application. Each application is read, in its entirety, by at least two members of our admissions committee. Many applications are reviewed a third time, usually by a committee, and some are looked at four or even five times before a decision is finalized. We don’t filter applications by SAT score, or geographic area, or GPA. We just read them all, one by one, from cover to cover.

Once this preliminary review of all of our applications takes place, we look at our numbers and make some tough decisions about how many students we should admit to fill (but not over-fill) our target class of about 4,000 students. This involves a lot of statistical models, projections, and number-crunching. Thankfully, I have some very smart colleagues with far better math skills than me—and many years of experience under their belts. I leave all of this work to them while I go and write overly wordy blog entries like this one (even though I should be reading—I don’t even want to look at how many RD applications are waiting in my queue…)

We also do a lot of double- and triple-checking of decisions at this stage. We're human and we do make errors, so we have many safeguards in place to make sure that each decision released is the one we intended.

Before we can finalize decisions, we also have to review all the community standards cases from those students who reported disciplinary infractions. Most students only report minor issues, but due diligence is required in reviewing every single one so that we know we're doing everything we can to ensure a safe campus. We also review, with the help of a faculty committee, finalists for merit scholarships, Honors, and our other special opportunities.

And, of course, we have to make sure everything is ready for students to start enrolling. We’re busy planning all the admitted-student events we’ll be hosting this spring—invitations for those will be included with admitted students’ letters.

So that's just some of what we've been working on for the past couple months. You put a lot of work into your application, and it's only right that we put a lot of work into reviewing it. We want to be as fair, honest, and thorough as we can possibly be.

We're on schedule to release EA decisions, as promised, by the end of January. You'll receive a paper letter in the mail, and you'll be able to view your decision on MyUNC. I will not be able to tell you a specific date or time that decisions will be released on MyUNC. We've found in the past that giving out a specific time will only increase the frenzy, and if 13,000 students all sit on MyUNC, constantly clicking "refresh," the whole system will crash. The result is only more misery, more anxiety, and more anger. My best advice to you is to concentrate on your schoolwork, your life, and your family and friends. Remind yourself that anxiety is a waste of energy—and it will only make the next couple weeks feel that much longer.

Please let me know what questions you have. I reformatted the comments so they are now threaded—we can now respond directly to each comment. I would still love it if you'd include your name or at least a screen name, though. I like knowing who I am talking to!

UPDATE 1/23: I am closing the comments on this post as they have gotten unwieldy. I have posted some FAQs for admitted, deferred, and denied students. Please see those posts for more info and add your questions there. Thanks.