Karen S. Felton, director of admissions at George Washington University, left, reader Britt Freitag, assistant director, right, and Jim Rogers, assistant director, discuss application cases that need a little further discussion before a final decision is made. Freitag is one of 20 readers that view every single of the 19,000 applications that need to be processed until the end of March. (Astrid Riecken/For The Washington Post)

In the world of selective college admissions, the inner sanctum is The Committee.

This is a panel, found at many colleges and universities, that typically convenes to deliberate borderline applications. The Committee weighs the case and decides whether a student should be admitted, turned down or put on a waiting list.

At George Washington University, one such panel met on Feb. 26 in the President’s Room on the second floor of Rice Hall in Northwest Washington. Despite the grand name, it was a fairly modest conference room. The Washington Post observed the proceedings on condition that applicants and their high schools not be identified.

The committee was led by Karen S. Felton, GW’s director of admissions. She and Jim Rogers, an associate director of admissions, were joined by various admissions officers who came into the room one at a time to present cases.

The presenting officers summarized each applicant’s credentials and usually gave a recommendation for action. Felton and Rogers then responded.

Here are excerpts. Frequently, the committee discussion refers to a supplementary “Why GW?” essay the university requires to gauge applicants’ interest in attending.


Student “seems likeable and sincerely interested in GW but unfortunately also very similar to many of our applicants. Not much rigor throughout high school and taking a lighter senior year ... I recommend waitlist.”


Student “has an intriguing personality, a unique point of view. . . . His passion for GW is evident and I think worth an admit.”


“I like [student’s] consistency. His application presents slightly more outgoing than the [recommendations] give him credit for, I think. The activities are limited but focused. The ‘Why GW’ statement reinforces the focus and ambition cited in the recs. I like him, would like to see him here. Just not sure if there’s enough distinction. He’s a talented student who fits our profile. I recommend ‘possible.’”


“What I like about [the student] is that he seems comfortable and confident in himself. I always find that to be appealing. He has a passion for something. Test scores are okay, not extraordinary, but what gave me pause with him was his rigor. I wish he had taken harder courses in high school. But still, he is at the top of the class and has strong interests, based on his essay and his visit. I was inclined to admit.”


“I like that [the student] has one of the more rigorous curriculums of this school group. I like that he has high test scores. He has very vigorous extracurricular involvement. What’s giving me pause is that I’m really not clear about why he applied to GW. . . . We kind of stick out like a sore thumb on his list. I just don’t get it. So I was leaning to wait-list, but I didn’t know if I was being harsh.”


This student “comes across as really likeable in her application. . . . I’m hesitant to admit outright because she’s got some of the lowest test scores, rigor and grades of this school. Although I’m sure she’d be fine.”


Student “is below profile academically and shows little involvement outside of school and very little knowledge of GW. . . . Unfortunately, I don’t think she’s a good fit. I recommend deny.”


Student is “a good student who . . . continues to challenge herself in the classroom. The one issue is her F [in math]. . . . [But] I think ultimately she will do well here and think she should be admitted.”


Student “sits close to the bottom of the applicants from his school in terms of GPA, although his results are relatively consistent as a B student. I double-checked the grade distribution for the classes where it looks like [he] struggled, and his grades were below the vast majority of his peers in those same courses. Additionally, his ‘Why GW’ essay was pretty bland. . . . I recommend deny.”


“So I think [the student] really could handle the work. He also brings some diversity. What’s giving me pause is that weak ‘Why GW’ essay. . . . But I also worried I was being a little harsh on him, which I can do sometimes. . . . That’s why I’m bringing him to committee.”


Student “definitely seems like an ‘it girl’ . . . with the potential to navigate the college transition successfully. She has been able to engage in activities that stimulate her all around. I like her rather clear mission, both personally and academically. . . . I think she’d be a gem here. I recommend admit.”


“Even though [the student] hasn’t visited, his ‘Why GW’ essay convinced me of his real interest in the university. Test scores are okay, extracurriculars are solid. What’s giving me pause is we have much stronger students from this school, and his rigor is on the lower end. I’m biased because I think he’s charming, so I’m bringing him to committee to be fair. I recognize that denying would be the more appropriate course of action, but I just thought, just in case we could, you know, tip him in, I really liked him.”

Case discussions

Case A:

Rogers: “I liked her. She’d bring diversity to campus, she’d bring conversations about diversity to campus. To me the big holdup is obviously rigor and her performance in the limited rigor she had. She’s not a bad student. She’s a B student, that prior to this year was average rigor. I was probably leaning more toward a wait-list on her. But it’s tough, because [of] those personal qualities she would bring to campus. She would be somebody who brought those conversations about diversity. But I just don’t know academically if it’s there.”

Felton: “I like her a lot. I think her scores make her very solid, particularly given the diverse background that she brings. Yeah. I would say let’s ‘possible’ her for now and kind of see where we land.”

Case B:

Felton: “Hmm. ‘Possible’ but not admit?”

Officer: “You know, now — that seems like a better option.”

Felton: “I’m not pushing, I’m just asking.”

Officer: “No, I mean you’re so clear when you’re in there, and [then] you review it again.”

Felton: “So you’re sticking with a possible?”

Officer: “No, I’ll say admit.”

Felton: “Okay. James?”

Rogers: “I kind of prefer the possible. I can go for the admit though. He’s a B student. At this level of rigor I would have liked to see a little bit more of a mix of As and Bs. But I think he can do the work here, yeah.”

Case C:

Felton: “What was your recommendation — I’m sorry?”

Rogers (laughs): “I didn’t hear one either. Either admit or deny!”

Felton: “Okay, let’s pick one.”

Officer: “So I was thinking either deny or [admit].

Felton (laughs): “Admit or deny!”

Officer: “I think I see, like, she probably has to be a deny. I just really didn’t want to pull the trigger.”

Felton: “B student. Scores slightly below profile. But she does bring some diversity, and she’s interested.”

Rogers: “To me, she looks like a wait-list. Academically, in the context of the school and the overall pool, I’d probably lean more deny. But to me, that personal side pulls her up to a wait-list. And we’ll see where we land and where she lands.”

Officer: “A good solution.”

Felton: “Yeah.” (Pause.) “I’m fine with that.”

Case D:

Rogers: “I’d admit him. You know, what I sometimes struggle with and have talked about in my committees is those ‘Why GWs’ where that isn’t a passion, where that passion doesn’t come through. And I think what I need to remind myself is, not everyone writes like that. He interviewed, he visited, he researched his ‘Why GW.’ So to me, the interest is there. He just may not have chosen to write his essay in that more informal . . .

Felton: “Or his personality may not be gregarious.”

Rogers: “Right! But I liked him. I think academically he’ll be fine. He’ll get involved and be an active member of the community.”

Felton: “Yeah. I think in terms of A-B mix, he’s the strongest we’ve seen of those presented. And yeah, absolutely.”