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What To Expect During The University Application Review Process

Published by at January 12th, 2024 , Revised On February 1, 2024

The university application review process can be a nerve-wracking time for many students. It is that liminal space between the culmination of years of hard work and the first step towards a promising future. But what really goes on behind the scenes after you’ve hit that ‘submit’ button on your application? Let’s talk about the university application review process to shed light on what you can expect.

A university application is a formal request by a student seeking admission to a higher education institution. It typically includes personal information, academic records, standardized test scores, letters of recommendation, essays or personal statements, and often additional materials related to the student’s achievements, experiences, or program-specific requirements. The application allows the university to assess the candidate’s qualifications and fit for the institution and specific program of study.

What Is The University Application Review Process?

The university application review process varies by institution and country, but generally involves the following steps:

Submission of Application

  • Applicants typically submit their applications online through the university’s portal or through a centralised application service like the Common Application (used by many US institutions) or UCAS (for UK universities).
  • Essential components often include personal information, academic records, letters of recommendation, standardised test scores (e.g., SAT, ACT), essays or personal statements, and sometimes supplemental materials or answers.

Initial Review

Some institutions have an initial vetting process to ensure applications are complete and meet minimum requirements.

Holistic Review

This is a comprehensive evaluation of the applicant, considering all submitted materials. Universities often emphasise a holistic approach, meaning they do not just look at grades and test scores, but also consider extracurricular activities, leadership experiences, personal statements, letters of recommendation, etc.

Specialised Department Review

For programs that require specialised knowledge or skills, such as fine arts or engineering, there might be an additional review by faculty members from the relevant department. This might involve reviewing portfolios, conducting auditions, or evaluating other relevant materials.


Some universities or programs conduct interviews as part of the application process, either in-person, over the phone, or through video conferencing.

Committee Deliberation

Larger universities might have an admissions committee that gathers to discuss and decide on borderline cases or to ensure that a diverse and well-rounded class is selected.


After the review, universities will make a decision: accept, reject, or waitlist. In the U.S., most universities notify all applicants of their decisions around the same time in the spring.


Applicants are informed of the university’s decision, usually through email, online portals, or traditional mail.


Accepted students typically have a window of time to decide whether they will attend. They might receive additional information about housing, orientation, and registration. Those who choose to attend will need to send a confirmation and often a deposit.


Students placed on the waitlist may be offered admission later on if space becomes available. However, being on a waitlist does not guarantee admission.


Some universities allow students to appeal their admissions decision, especially if there are new significant achievements or extenuating circumstances to consider.

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Initial Receipt And Verification

Once you submit your application, the first step for most universities is an initial review to ensure that all required materials have been submitted. This includes:

  • Application forms
  • Transcripts
  • Standardised test scores (like SAT, ACT, GRE, etc.)
  • Personal statements or essays
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Any supplementary materials required for specific courses or majors.

If anything is missing or not in order, universities may contact you or your school guidance counsellor to obtain the necessary documents.

Holistic Review Process

Most reputable institutions pride themselves on a holistic review process. This means that rather than looking at a single number or score, they take into account the entire picture of who you are as a student and individual.

a. Academic Achievements

Your grades and test scores provide an objective measure of your academic performance. However, the context is essential. Some universities will consider class rank, the rigour of the courses you took, and the trends in your academic performance.

b. Personal Statement/ Essay

This is your chance to speak directly to the admissions committee. Through your essay, universities get a glimpse of your personality, aspirations, and how you might fit into their community.

c. Letters Of Recommendation

These provide external perspectives on your abilities, character, and achievements. Good recommendations can significantly elevate your application.

d. Extracurricular Activities

These showcase your passions outside the classroom. Whether it is sports, music, community service, or a part-time job, universities are keen on knowing what drives you.

Specialised Departmental Review

For certain programs or majors, once the general admissions office has done its review, your application might be forwarded to a specialised department. For instance, if you are applying for a Fine Arts program, your portfolio will likely be evaluated by faculty within that department.


Some universities require or offer interviews as part of the admissions process. This can be an opportunity for the university to get to know you better and for you to ask questions about the institution and program. Remember, it’s as much about you assessing if the university is a good fit for you as it is the other way around.

Additional Testing Or Submissions

Depending on the university and the specific course you’re applying for, you might be required to undertake additional tests or submit more materials. This is particularly common for professional courses like Medicine or Law.

Decision Time

Once all reviews, interviews, and evaluations are complete, the admissions committee convenes to make their decisions. They look at the applicant pool, and the available spots, and make determinations on whom to admit, waitlist, or deny.

The decision-making process can be influenced by various factors, including:

  • Institutional needs (e.g., filling a particular program, maintaining diversity)
  • The overall strength of the applicant pool in that particular year
  • External pressures or requirements.


Once decisions have been made, universities will send out notifications. The timeline for this can vary, but many institutions adhere to common notification dates in the spring. These can come in the form of an email, a letter, or through the university’s application portal.

Post-Decision Steps

If you have been accepted – congratulations! You will typically be given a deadline to confirm your acceptance. This might involve submitting a deposit, signing up for housing, or attending orientation events.

For those waitlisted, the wait continues. You might be offered admission later if spots open up. It’s essential to have backup plans and keep an eye on timelines and requirements for other potential institutions.

And if you did not get the decision you hoped for, remember, it is not a reflection of your worth or potential. Many factors play into admissions decisions, and there are numerous pathways to success.


The university application review process is comprehensive and multi-faceted. While waiting for a decision can be anxiety-inducing, understanding the process can help demystify what’s going on behind closed doors. Most importantly, keep in mind that universities are not just choosing students, but building a community. 

Whether or not you are admitted, always remember that the journey does not define your destination, and multiple paths can lead to your goals.

Frequently Asked Questions

University applications are reviewed holistically, considering academic performance, standardised test scores, essays, letters of recommendation, and extracurricular activities. Some institutions also conduct interviews or department-specific evaluations. The goal is to assess both the applicant’s academic potential and their personal qualities to ensure a diverse, well-rounded incoming class.

An admission review is the process universities undertake to evaluate prospective students’ applications. This holistic assessment considers academic records, test scores, essays, letters of recommendation, and extracurricular activities to determine the applicant’s fit and potential contribution to the institution. The aim is to select a diverse and qualified incoming class.

The time it takes for the University of Alberta (U of A) or any other institution to review an application varies depending on the program, the volume of applications, and the time of year. Generally, applicants can expect a few weeks to several months. It’s best to check with U of A’s specific admissions office for precise timelines.

“Application ready for review” means that an applicant’s submission is complete with all required documents received, and it’s now in the queue to be evaluated by the admissions committee or relevant department. This status indicates the application will soon undergo the assessment process to determine the applicant’s eligibility and fit.

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