Expert Admissions hosted a webinar with Mike Devlin, Director of Admissions at Stanford University, and Christina Lopez, Dean of Enrollment Management at Barnard College. We discussed trends in applications, how Covid impacted this year’s admissions results, what admissions officers look for (and don’t) when they read applications, and more. In this three-part series, we’ll give you the highlights from that conversation. Keep reading to find out how admissions decisions are made for both US and international students and to learn more about our panelists.
The Application Review Process
At both Stanford and Barnard, applications are reviewed first by a regional admissions officer and then by a larger committee that ultimately votes on each applicant. Devlin noted that at Stanford, the regional officers can make the decision to let an applicant go if they think they will not make it through to admission, but that often files will go to a second reader. Every application at Barnard is read by at least two people. Lopez emphasizes that this helps to avoid implicit bias and make sure admissions officers thoroughly consider all aspects of an applicant.
A question that comes up a lot is to what extent colleges have special relationships with certain high schools. Deans Devlin and Lopez were clear that you cannot compare what’s happening at your school to what’s happening at another. Devlin stated that there are too many great students at great schools for a university like Stanford to take at least one from each high school each year. Highly selective colleges and universities do not operate with a quota system when it comes to admitting students from certain high schools. Admissions from each high school will vary from year to year. As Dean Lopez succinctly put it, “We don’t admit schools, we admit students.”
Both Barnard and Stanford pulled only a small number of students off their waitlists this year. But every year is different. Dean Lopez announced that Barnard’s incoming class is complete, and Dean Devlin said it was very unlikely that Stanford would be going to the waitlist again this year. We also got important advice from Dean Lopez: If a school asks for a letter of continued interest, you should move quickly because you don’t know when a school will turn to their waitlist – Barnard was done by May 1!
At Barnard, pandemic restrictions seem to have played a role in decreasing applications from international students. However, for those who did apply, there was a high percentage that ultimately enrolled. At Stanford, international student interest was up this year compared to pre-pandemic levels, but they admitted about the same proportion of international students to the incoming class as usual. The deans anticipate that most international students should be able to travel to US campuses this year, though it may vary by geographic region as pandemic conditions continue to change.
How international student applications are read depends on the institution, but Stanford and Barnard have the same procedure. While the review process for international student applications is the same as that for US citizens, the admissions decisions are made a bit differently. Both Stanford and Barnard are committed to meeting the demonstrated financial need of every admitted student, but they are need-aware for international applicants. This means that whether an international student needs financial aid will impact admissions decisions. With limited funding for international students, they must take into consideration whether they will be able to meet the financial need of the students they admit. This then limits the number of international students with demonstrated need that they can accept.
Dean Devlin also pointed out that the question of international student enrollment is linked to the question of deferrals. Many international and US students decided to defer their enrollment and take a gap year because of the pandemic. While Barnard saw very few deferrals this year, Stanford’s deferral rate skyrocketed to close to 400 students (as compared to about 50 in a typical year). Devlin clarified that even with the large number of students coming in from a gap year, Stanford decided to admit the same number of new applicants as usual. This has created an unusually large class of 2025!
Mike Devlin joined Stanford University in 2016 and assumed the role of Director of Admission and Associate Dean of Admission, Financial Aid, and Visitor Services in 2017. In his current role, he provides strategic and operational oversight for all aspects of the admission office and leads the enrollment process for all incoming students to Stanford. Prior to joining Stanford, Mike was the founding Director of Admission for New York University’s newest campus in Shanghai, China – the first ever joint Sino-US university – where he oversaw the recruitment, selection, and enrollment of its inaugural four classes. He has also directed the admission process for several of NYU’s schools and colleges in New York. Mike holds a BA in Political Science from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and an MPA from the Wagner School of Public Service at NYU.
Christina Lopez has served in college admissions for 15 years and truly loves this field. She is currently the Dean of Enrollment Management at Barnard College, where she leads the Office of Admissions and the Office of Financial Aid. Christina attended New York University Tisch School of the Arts and has a BFA in Drama and an M.Ed. from NYU Steinhardt in Higher Education Administration. After graduating, she worked in television and film casting but realized she enjoyed working with young people. Her first admissions job was at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in NYC. Later she moved back to her alma mater, NYU, to work in undergraduate admissions. During her time at NYU, she read for the Stern School of Business and managed the admissions process for Tisch School of the Arts. She joined Barnard’s admissions team in 2014 as the Associate Director for Multicultural Recruitment. During her career in higher education, she has served as an Executive Board Member for the New York State Association of College Admissions Counseling (NYSACAC) and Co-Chair of the Association of Black Admissions and Financial Aid Officers of the Ivy League and Sister Schools (ABAFAOILSS). As an advocate for access and equity within higher education, she currently serves on the board of Go-To College NYC and Minds Matter, two Community-Based Organizations in NYC that serve under-resourced students as they navigate the college process.