Summary of the Report by the Ad Hoc Group on Reporting of Applications


In your charge, you asked our ad hoc group to formulate a recommendation and rationale for a clearly defined internal policy and protocol for counting applicants for purposes of reporting to IPEDS1 and the Common Data Set (CDS)2 and to provide our best sense of accepted industry-wide standards in counting applications. We met as a group to consider your charge and to develop a strategy for fulfilling it.  This included reviewing relevant definitions and survey instructions from IPEDS and CDS, developing a preliminary set of questions, and identifying those people on and off-campus with whom we wanted to communicate.  We met and exchanged emails with senior Washington and Lee employees in Admissions, Institutional Effectiveness, Communications and Technology. We also conducted phone or email interviews with three well-respected and long-time deans of admission from around the country.  

Summary of Findings

We find no evidence that W&L Admissions has engaged in an improper method of counting or reporting undergraduate admissions applications, or that anything was done to gain an unfair advantage. We believe that Washington and Lee has counted and reported applicants in accordance with industry standards and IPEDS and CDS methodologies.    

There is no prevailing definition, agreement, or bright line test in the admissions industry of what constitutes a “complete” or “incomplete” application.  Indeed, those terms are not part of the admissions lexicon, except as a clerical mechanism to generate reminders to applicants of supplemental materials that have not been submitted. In its application instructions, Washington and Lee has included a list of “required” supplemental materials in addition to the completed W&L application form itself. These materials include such items as counselor and teacher recommendations, official test score reports, and secondary school reports.  It is a common practice at W&L and other schools to process, invest staff time, and ultimately act on some applications which lack one or more of those pieces of supplemental information, and to count those as applicants. The reasons for doing so are strictly practical. They allow the institution to consider each applicant individually, and to have the flexibility needed to attract and enroll the desired class. Our Admissions office has focused on that goal, and the final tally of applicants is not driven by any other factors.     

Admissions acknowledges that approximately 1,100 of the reported 5,900 applications in the 2011-12 cycle lacked one or more of the supplemental items W&L had listed as required. However, to the best of our knowledge, no one was included in that 1,100 who did not submit both parts of the application (Common App, QuestBridge app or W&L app) as well as the application fee or a fee waiver, and the practice of the Admissions Office would have been to take some action on all of those 5,900 files. 

Before this matter arose, W&L had decided to require and accept only the Common App beginning in the 2012-13 year.  This will make the issue of tracking and counting applications a more straightforward exercise.  


  1. Absent changes to the current definitions used by IPEDS, Common Data Set or others, we recommend the University continue to count as an applicant anyone who submits the Common App and either pays the application fee or submits a fee waiver. Such a person is viewed and treated by the University as an applicant, resulting in the expenditure of time and resources.
  2. The University should publish and adhere to this specific methodology for counting applications. This should be a relatively easy task because the University now uses the Common App exclusively. We note also that in order to submit the Common App to any institution, an applicant must now complete both parts of the Common App, including providing information that is institution specific.  
  3. The University should clarify in writing which supplemental application materials it recommends, and which ones it truly requires.
  4. The Admissions Office and the Office of Institutional Effectiveness should work together throughout the cycle to ensure consistency and accuracy in the collection, analysis and reporting of data internally and externally. We recommend that the Office of Institutional Effectiveness be given read-only rights to the data throughout the process.  
  5. The University should continue to participate in the discussion in higher education on developing clearer definitions, terminology, and standards for gathering and reporting admissions data, including how applications should be counted.
  6. The University should continue its practice of applying the definitions set forth by IPEDS and Common Data Set when providing data for those surveys.
  7. The University should give notice of all decisions to all applicants via email or regular mail.
  8.  Although we will count and report the number of applications and the number of acceptances, the University should consider discontinuing its current practice of reporting acceptance rate/selectivity percentage in any internal or external communications to avoid placing undue emphasis on these figures. 

Submitted by:
Marc Conner, Associate Provost
Beau Dudley, Executive Director of Alumni Affairs
Sidney Evans, Vice-President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students

1Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) glossary defines applicant as follows:  An individual who has fulfilled the institution’s requirements to be considered for admission (including payment or waiving of the application fee, if any) and who has been notified of one of the following actions:  admission, nonadmission, placement on waiting list, or application withdrawn by applicant or institution.

2Common Data Set (CDS) instructions state:  Applicants should include only those students who fulfilled the requirements for consideration for admission (i.e., who completed actionable applications) and who have been notified of one of the following actions:  admission, nonadmission, placement on waiting list, or application withdrawn (by applicant or institution).