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Lin Brehmer’s in my living room . . .

Posted by on Friday, January 11, 2008 in Application Process, File Reading Explained.

As I mentioned in my last post, today’s a reading day for me at home in Nashville. That means sweatpants, cups of coffee, and all Chicagoland all day.

I am a creature of great distraction, meaning I treat these days with an increased level of organization, because hey, at any moment, I could flip on HBO (man, they’ve got pretty solid daytime programming). Here’s how I treat it. Up at 6:30 am, put on a pot of coffee and reading by at least 7 am (breakfast and shower come later). Read in spurts until about dinner time.

Reading a file (for me) is completed in two stages. At work yesterday I prepped all of the files I will read today (stacks in the above photo). Before they reach the reader, each file has been “bluesheeted,” meaning that all your coursework (parsed out by year), standardized testing, high school info, GPA, and a lot more is summarized on this opening sheet of your file (it’s called a blue sheet simply because the sheet upon which this task is carried out originally is. . . wait for it, blue). Prepping the file means that I have gone through the file, checked to make sure everything on the summary sheet is accurate, making sure you got credit for taking that honors course in 10th grade, all the way down to making sure your testing is marked down right. Keep in mind that the summary sheet is only meant to detail the quantitative stuff in your file (we’ll get to the qualitative stuff in a minute). I prep files in my office because it is pretty routine stuff, and because there’s a lot of distractions at the office, I leave the more in-depth reading for later.

The attached picture is of my “desk.” The kitchen table really, with my set up. Prepped files, a couple of pens, my reading binder in it with all of our rating charts (more later), my cell phone (for a calculator if that’s needed) post-its and some rubber bands. If you don’t know, Chicago has one of the best radio stations I’ve come across. WXRT 93.1, is seemingly always in the background (on my desktop) when I’m reading Chicago files, I guess I like to know the weather from Lin Brehmer (the irrepressible morning host who does a great podcast on iTunes called “Lin’s Bin,” check it out). I read in spurts, giving myself breaks in an attempt to stay fresh and give each file my fullest attention.

We read a file in a particular order: start with our VU supplement (we check the major, the other demographic info), then the Common App, your short answer and personal statement/essay(s), your secondary school report and counselor rec, then your transcript, then any standardized testing info, then teacher recs, and finally, any other recs you sent in extra and/or an alumni interview report if there is one. It’s a somewhat aribitrary order, no real inference of order of importance here. You will notice that photos of you or the family pet, dvds/cd’s, jewelry you’ve made, etc., were not listed. This is because they are mostly in bins in our file room (remember, it’s a standard-sized manila folder). There will appear a note in the file indicating there is extra stuff in the bin for this file and if time allows, we may look at (or listen to) it if we feel it may add to our understanding of you as a person. Sometimes I will find newspaper clippings and art portfolios in the file if they fit (again, it’s a standard manila folder). I’m not a fan at all of including photos of you in your application. If they make it to me, I do not look at them and tape them to the bottom of the last page of the file face down. No offense, but this is not a beauty contest, we want to know what substance you bring, what you have to say about life and yourself; your mind, your spirit, your heart are what’s being measured here, leave the Olan Mills portrait of you by the oak tree at home.

We utilize various scales of measurement as a means of summarizing the academic, personal, and other strengths of each application. The ratings from these scales, along with our comments are recorded and passed along to a second reviewer, who will re-initiate the same process, and enter his or her ratings and comments. Students at the very top and bottom of our pool will go to “signoff” (check Christina’s December blog for more on this process) while the middle of the pack will be slated for committee (Christina’s descriptions from November are great on this). Even if your app has gone to signoff, you will still be notified when everyone else is (by whatever mailing date). And yes, sometimes, files slated for admit or deny get pulled into committee depending on the final dynamics of the pool. We can describe how that might work as our admissions cycle goes along (if you’re interested, let us know).

I’m five files in now, had my bowl of cereal, The Decemberists are on the radio, back I go. I’ll check in after lunch.


  • Eager dad

    January 11th, 2008

    That was a fascinating account. It helps to humanize the process. My daughter was accepted EDI but I have to confess I have become somewhat addicted to checking the Vandy web site for information like this. I also discovered the College Confidential site thanks to google and I also enjoyed the recent Vandy blog that talked about “chances” at Vandy and elsewhere. I also do my best work at home drafting leases and other documents for my clients, so I can completely relate.

  • Lin Brehmer

    October 13th, 2011

    I’m so flattered that you are listening in music city.