How to Triumph with Online Committee Review

September 28, 2020 Rebecca Delaney

An admissions officer relaxing in her living room as she reviews a private school applicant online.

After years of carting around boxes of paper files overflowing with report cards, writing samples, and recommendations, Reed Green, coordinator of admission and outreach at Metairie Park Country Day School (MPCDS) in Louisiana, was more than ready to lead the charge to an online committee review process for the pre-K to grade 12 private school.

As an early adopter of the Online Committee Review feature in Blackbaud Enrollment Management SystemTM, Reed has found what works and what doesn’t in implementing the new process. In her recent presentation at UC20, Blackbaud K–12's virtual conference, she shared some of the best practices that helped MPCDS make a smooth transition to online review.

1. Make sure your admissions team is ready and committed to change. 

“It’s scary to make a change,” Reed said. “Even though you might not be happy with how the process is now, at least it’s known.” She shared that the admissions process at Metairie Park Country Day involved “hours and hours of face-to-face meetings.” Teachers and learning specialists had to stay late to review files and the paper-based system wasn’t efficient. “It wasn’t working and we were ready for a change.”

To help introduce her team to the new process, Reed shared videos from Blackbaud (Committee Review Setup and Reviewing and Submitting Feedback) that provided a high-level overview. Before they started making any changes, the MPCDS admissions team reviewed the department’s resources to ensure they had the equipment and personnel to scan and upload records and to train committee members on the online platform.

Reed then met with committee members to secure their buy-in on the change. She asked them to share their fears around the new process, what they like about the current process, and what they wanted to change. Most members wanted to reduce the time commitment required after school.

2. Customize the review process for your school.

Once everyone is on board, it’s time to build out what the admissions committee will see on their screens when they log in to review a candidate. There are several customizable options that admissions teams can work with based on their admissions requirements and processes. Reed decided not to let the reviewers see each other’s summaries on candidates as she didn’t want them to be influenced by another reviewer’s opinion. You can also choose to use Blackbaud’s recommendation forms. MPCDS has its own form, so Reed did not select that option.

Another customizable option is the comment field next to each admissions requirement. Reed kept the comment field next to most requirements to help save time for the reviewers. In these fields, admissions staff provide a synopsis of test scores or recommendations so the reviewer doesn’t have to page through several documents. They did not use the comment field on school records or writing samples, however, as they want the reviewers to analyze these themselves. 

3. Map out your admissions requirements.

Reed says it’s crucial to have a clear sense of where each admissions requirement will live in the candidate record. “You don’t want your reviewers searching around for test results or school records,” she said. “Make sure it’s all the same place.”

She suggests creating a spreadsheet with your school’s admission requirements on one side and the location of that requirement in the candidate record on the other side to help map out where everything will reside.  

After reviewing an applicant, committee members at MPCDS are required to mark accept, deny, or discuss for each candidate. They also use tags to indicate various characteristics of the applicants. When it comes to creating tags, “less is more,” said Reed. “We took the most critical admission criteria such as academic, social-emotional, character development, and interest in arts and athletics, and created tags around those.”

After the admissions cycle concluded, Reed and her colleagues estimated they saved approximately 40 percent of meeting time, and 100 percent of the admissions committee found the new online system beneficial. Reed said in the next admissions season they may change some tags or add some additional student records to review, but overall, the transition to online committee review was a success.

About the Author

Rebecca Delaney

Rebecca Delaney is a writer and editor based outside of Boston. She has worked in marketing and communications for independent schools and higher ed for several years. She graduated from the College of the Holy Cross and Northwestern's Medill School.

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