"Wow, Meghan. How intriguing! Oh, please, do go on."
Well, if you insist. I'm sure you've been waiting with bated breath for phase two of this process, so here goes. When last we left our heroes, everyone had just gone through an academic read. The data has spoken, I've made my notes, and now we're ready for the good stuff: your voice!
Why Tufts? Your answer to this question is my first stop on the reading journey, and sets the tone. Responses cover many topics, and the best responses reflect you and your excitement for Tufts. That excitement gets me excited.
Next, you let your life speak. I made some notes about your family and background when I first saw your file, but this answer gives the picture a bit more color. Whether it's your family, community, school or hometown, you give me a glimpse of the external forces that have shaped you. It's interesting on its own, but the better part is that I find this essay can follow me through the rest of the read, and gives roots to other pieces. Like when I read later about the time you dedicate to cartography, and can nod and think, "I bet that comes from his dad who once circumnavigated the globe in a sailboat!" Or, when I see your interest in Peace and Justice Studies and a desire to study abroad in Northern Ireland in your “Why Tufts?”, and recall mention of a childhood spent in Israel. Are you staring to see how the pieces can fit together?
My review of your supp ends with question three, a grab bag of sorts that can result in essays, poems, videos, websites, blogs, art, or pie (no one sent pie, but I won't discount it as a possibility). This is often my favorite response, and can elicit a "Well how about that?!" from me. The things that make baby Jumbos happy and nerdy are just so interesting. (Sidebar: So much just came out of your supp! I haven't even opened your Common App! At Tufts, we ask questions that are important to us, and place a premium on your responses. For the juniors in the crowd, I'll tell you something I say in my sessions and visits: Do not underestimate the Tufts supplement.)
Onward to the Common App, where I'll read your personal statement. I'm assessing content and presentation (aka voice). What did you say? How did you say it? What did I learn about you, and how does it add to what I know already? From here I'm scrolling up to your extracurriculars. I notate, read the little sample where you elaborate on one, then summarize. "A three season athlete and two season captain... A little bit of everything but all sustained for four years with LGBTQ leadership... A clear emphasis on community service and faith... Lots of time at a job, then responsibilities with siblings at home.... King/Queen of the school." The effect is cumulative, and the puzzle pieces that I've seen so far contribute to the full picture and are interpreted within the framework you create.
Did you know your teachers love you? Go say thanks! From your recommendations, sometimes trends will emerge from a few sources. Maybe more than one rec mentions that you stand up for the little guy, or your interviewer and teachers comment on your inquisitive nature. They add fuel to the fire your essays built, round out the picture, and reinforce your overall feel. That's usually everything, but I'll flip through your file to look for miscellaneous pieces (the rec from your rabbi, a research summary you sent along, the update you sent us a month or two after applying, certificates of achievement from 3rd grade, etc.).
Everything's accounted for, I've made copious notes on each element, and it's my turn to synthesize, summarize, and bring your academics back into the mix. For some students, the narrative adds up neatly, the pieces all snowball, and my picture of you is crystal clear. For others, I need to put in a bit more hustle to make sure everything makes sense. But, hey, that's my job. I do my best to create a snapshot to share with the committee that will give them a comprehensive sense of what you're bringing to the process.
Thus concludes the read of a file. The order of operations is not set in stone, but no matter what shape it takes, every reader is seeing the same pieces. We shuffle off our completed "first reads" to a variety of destinations for another look from a fresh set of eyes. Some will go "up" or "down" to be seen by the dean or director and admitted, denied, or sent for another look. Others will go directly for a full "second read," which is a process worthy of its own blog post. When March rolls around, any student who has not been admitted or denied (aka - most applicants) goes to committee with input from two readers in tow and discussion to be added in the room.
It's a long process, but it's thorough, thoughtful, and as fair as possible. And that's where your file went!