Being a "reading person"
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.