January 25, 2013
I’m reading. And I’m reading. And I’m reading some more. You might even call me a voracious reader, as many of you are described in a recommendation from your English teacher. That’s what happens when 18,410 applications need to be evaluated in eight weeks: it’s an all-hands-on-deck moment. And I like it. (I like it a lot.)
Reading is a very satisfying part of an admission officer’s work. Sure, it’s labor intensive (imagine studying for final exams for eight weeks straight) but it’s also very purposeful as we read the narratives you have constructed as we start to shape the new class.
It’s a frosty 10 degrees (Fahrenheit) outside as I sit in my office with today’s stack of 35 files (see pic). The blue ones are ED2 candidates, manila signals regular decision. (We like color coding.)
One by one I work my way through the pile, studying transcripts for curriculum and grades, comparing those results to the subject testing, reading the essays and recommendations. Some are preliminary reads (which focuses on the academic criteria) and a few are second reads for the ED2 crowd but most of today’s reading docket will be full evaluations. Those take longer, and my pile of 35 files might be ambitious. We’ll see.
During reading season I like to set ambitious goals for myself; sometimes I’ll treat myself to a cup of tea after I read 10 or 12. (Simple things make an admissions officer happy in late January, but I noticed that my lemon is almost finished and that’s a problem.) If I’m reading at home, sometimes I take a break and do some laundry (I know, pathetic…) or walk the dog. The arctic air that grips Boston this week is a refreshing kind of cold; when I’m back at my desk I’m refocused for the task at hand (and my playful dog usually stops pestering me to play fetch with his tennis ball). If I really need a reward, I can go to the gym after I read 25 files. Nirvana. (In case you’re wondering, I haven’t made it there very much…)
We read on-line so I type as I scan the contents of the file. I note the salient info as I prepare my 1,500-word summary (we have word counts, too!) and offer a recommended action (i.e., admit, deny, etc.) for the selection committee to consider when it convenes in March. I may be the dean but when I read I am one among 22. We are equals as we sift through this record-breaking applicant pool (it’s up 12% over last year) as we fill the 1,310 seats with an interesting cast of personalities, talents and perspectives.
Given the increased volume of applications, this admissions cycle will also set a university record for selectivity so our reads demand precision and great thoughtfulness as we think about who to accept. Sometimes the decision (up or down) is exceptionally clear but, more often than not, I find myself in the blurry middle: the student is academically qualified (truthfully, the majority passes that bar) and I must knit the student’s narrative threads into something that will (might) garner five votes when our committee of seven reviews the application.
As I read, I digest what a student has shared with us. I often think I’m like the aforementioned English teacher who's grading a critical paper. The task is subjective but it’s based on the student’s input. And everyone won’t get an A.
This year I’m reading applicants from Europe (sans the UK and Switzerland, which are in a different admissions territory), DC and a couple of boarding schools in Massachusetts. It’s an interesting mix of schools and kids and I’m enjoying the geographic variety as I hop from Barcelona to Boston to Moscow to Foggy Bottom in DC. I feel like a jet-setting diplomat (but I have paper cuts on my fingers rather than stamps in my passport, assuming a diplomat moves through a national entry point like the rest of us do). But the range of schools and curricula and cultures and points of view is fascinating; it helps me imagine the class we’re beginning to shape and the global vibe it will have. When I’m reading, that abstraction is very tactile.
Before I started this blog, I’d finished six full reads. One is a recommended admit, three will head to committee after a second reader weighs in, and two will be denied.
And so I keep reading…