Skip to main content

Being a "reading person"

Posted by on Thursday, January 29, 2009 in Application Process, File Reading Explained, The College Essay.

Now that Early Decision 2 is almost done, we’re settling in for the bulk of our “reading season.”  This is when we spend every waking moment either, a) reading applications, or b) feeling guilty for not reading applications at that moment.  My job turns into a 7-day-a-week undertaking that includes many long evenings, less time to spend with my friends, and many, many manila folders.  The strange thing is that I like this part of my job best.


I’m going to let you in on a secret about admissions officers.  Very few admissions officers would talk about this with students, and we rarely even talk about it with each other.  The secret is that there are two types of admissions officers, “reading people” and “travel people.”  In-office duties, program planning, publications, and everything else aside, the two main duties of most admissions officers are recruitment travel and file reading.  Nearly all of us do both of these things, and there is enjoyment to be found in each.  But deep down, most of us would admit that we prefer one over the other.


I am a reading person.  There, I’ve said it, it’s out in the open now.  Some of this comes from the fact that I’m a homebody.  Sure, I enjoy the travel of my job because it’s fun and exciting to see different parts of the country and meet the students and counselors in those areas.  But I miss my own bed and my own kitchen and my cat and the comfort of being at home.  So when it’s time for travel season to end and reading season to begin, I’m ready.


More than just a preference for home, though, I find the evaluation of applications to be truly fascinating work.  Each one of those manila folders that I see is a new person and a new story.  Each part of the application is a piece of a puzzle, so my duty is to put those pieces together into as much of a person as I can glean from pieces of paper.  Hopefully, the things that the student tells me mesh with the things that the counselor and teachers tell me and I emerge with a sense of who this student is.  This is why it is so important for students to explain themselves as fully as possible in the application.  You don’t want to have to hope that your counselor mentioned that book award that you got junior year and explain what it means – that’s your job!  Most students do a great job of this and so I’m able to build a solid picture of the student behind each application.


I also enjoy using other sources to fill out this picture that I’ve developed.  We read applications based on geographic territories, so I get to know the schools in my territories.  Sometimes I can even figure out the social circles in these areas!  I’ve read an essay from a student that mentions his or her friends, only to then read essays from the friends that mention the first student.  I had two files from one high school this year in which the counselor said of the first student that everyone was surprised he wasn’t elected Student Body President.  The second file was from the “surprise” Student Body President!  There are also times when a student is applying from a school that I don’t know, or even a town that I don’t recognize.  In this instance, I’ll read the profile that the school provides (ask you guidance office about it) to build as much context as possible around the student.  This is also why I keep a map nearby when I read, so that I can add another layer of perspective by seeing where this student is from.  I am sometimes amazed by the distant corners of the country from which students apply to Vanderbilt!  It is genuinely interesting to put these pieces together and understand the person behind the paper.


Ultimately, this reading process is a long one, but one that constantly intrigues me.  I was a sociology major in college so I am always curious about people (see, now you are building a picture of who I am!)  That’s what makes these manila folders so interesting – they represent people.  I know that it can feel like you are sending your application off into an abyss and you wonder if anyone is reading it or paying attention to all the effort that you put in it.  The answer is yes, we read your application.  We want to hear what you have to say, we catch your humor (like the student who listed his ethnicity as “New Englander”) and we want to know all the relevant information that we can about you before we render our decision.  Even travel people would agree with me on that.


  • Josh

    January 29th, 2009

    You mentioned that ED II was almost finished. What day are they planning on sending decisions???

  • Thom

    January 29th, 2009

    Our target mailing date for ED2 letters is currently Friday, February 6th. Our materials usually state 2/15, but we’re hoping to mail earlier this year. Early Decision II committee starts tomorrow.

    And for the record, I’m a travel person. Wouldn’t you be if your territory was Chicago and Las Vegas? No seriously, the interaction with families in their home towns – being a resource during this exciting time, that’s cool.

  • Becky

    February 2nd, 2009

    By mailing date do you mean you send out letters on the 6th or applicants
    receive letters on the 6th?

  • Thom

    February 2nd, 2009

    The letters will leave our office on the 6th (again, hopefully).

  • Huynh

    February 3rd, 2009

    Thank you so much for updating information for us.

    May I ask two questions?

    So, are you going to mail to the international applicants’ mailing addresses or their permanent addresses? And can we call you to know your decisions?

    Again, thank you so much and I wish you all a wonderful day.

  • Maria

    February 4th, 2009

    As much as my fingers itch to go on and on about how Vandy is my top choice school, etc, etc. I’ll spare that for Ms. Harper Haynes :)

    I do however, want to thank you (and all the staff of Vandy Bloggers) for giving me the confidence that the people that are reading my application are truly interested in me. When I visited Vandy, it would be a lie to say that I didn’t think it was total cliché when they said Vandy looked for reasons to admit…as if!!! However, after reading these blogs and learning more about you guys as individuals I can at least know the AdCom is not a robot, but real people that enjoy sociology and manila folders.

  • VandyMine

    February 5th, 2009

    What is the ED II commitee?

  • Abby

    February 6th, 2009

    Hi all, thank you for your comments and questions! Huynh, we will mail decisions today to all students that attend high school in the US. For any student attending high school outside the US, we will email the decisions on Monday or Tuesday. We will release decisions by phone for any student that has not yet received a decision on Wednesday, February 11.
    Maria, you’re welcome! We’re always happy to pull back the curtain on our process as much as we can, we strive to be honest and transparent with our students and families.
    VandyMine, I’m not 100% sure what information you’re looking to know. If you’re wondering what committee is, it’s a process during which we discuss the students who are right on the bubble for admission or who need discussion before we can decide what to do and it works in basically the same way at ED1, ED2, and Regular Decision. We’ll talk more about that process in a future post, I’m sure. I think, though, that you might be asking about the statistics/profile for ED2 and we’ll release that information at a later date.

  • Bailey

    February 6th, 2009

    So, just clarifying, EDII letters were put in the mail today?

    Thank you guys for running this blog so openly and honestly. It seriously has been so helpful in this whole process!