Tag Archives: App Reading

Reading Playlist

First things first: a very happy 2013 to all of our prospective students and other followers of this blog! The hustle and bustle returned to our office on January 2nd, a day after our Early Decision II deadline.

Though there’s really never a dull time of year as an Admission Officer, this is one of my favorite parts of the cycle; it’s a time when we finally get to put the entire picture together. Students who have visited campus, who we met on our travels, or who we may not have had any contact with at all become much more complete individuals. We learn about your interests, your passions, and in many cases, your quirks. As the applications flood in, here’s a little taste of the tracks that are playing in offices throughout Penrose House.

Esther: “On to the Next One” by Jay-Z
Jee Won: Silence! “I get distracted by the music and start singing along,” she says.
Bruce: “The Sound of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel
Tillie: Louis Armstrong Pandora station
Katherine: College a Capella

What would you recommend that we put on our reading playlist?

Welcome to Reading Season!

Well, it’s been a crazy three weeks or so as the January 15 regular decision deadline has come and gone, leaving support staff inundated with sorting essays, importing test scores and common applications, and printing golden “complete” letters, informing anxious students we do indeed have all the components of their application. Soon after the kind ladies upstairs work their magic, the various pieces arrive in our reading tool in a .pdf file ordered common application, transcript, Whitman supplement, teacher recommendations, and finally, interview notes. The switch to electronic reading is relatively recent; I just graduated from Whitman last May and when I started as a student worker five years ago compiling and sorting the paper files was a major part of my job. Now students digitize any and all paper we receive.

Anyway, back to the present; while it would be a neat trick if the completed files automatically migrated from upstairs to officers’ various computers, it’s just not that simple. Due to major discrepancies in the number of applicants from various geographic locations, not all officers are able to “first read” all the students from their territories. While PJ, the California officer, is an absolute file master, there is simply no way he can keep up with the massive number of Cali applications, and so officers with less populated applicant territories, like myself, pick up the slack, especially if we’ve had past interaction with the student. These decisions are made by the all-powerful kings of distribution,  Josh and PJ. For the most part, however, the majority of any territories files, even Seattle and California, are first read by the area officer. After the initial vote, the file is distributed again to a “second reader,” and from there a decision is made, either admit, deny, committee, or waitlist.

If the two readers disagree on their votes or an application hits a committee trigger (recent C, test scores or GPA below a certain threshold, to give a few examples), but at least one officer wants to admit the student anyway, the applicant will be discussed in a committee of 6-10 admission officers in early to mid-March. Knowing all this, students can rest assured their application is receiving a thorough vetting.

Right now distribution is really beginning to heat up as more and more files are processed.  Batches of files go out twice  a week in groups between 15-60 at a time, and are due back one week later.  One thing I’m really loving about reading season so far, besides all the amazing applicants, is the fact officers are given one whole day and two half-days out of the office each week to focus on reading (it’s hard to focus on anything for too long here).  Kicking back with a good essay on The Great Gatsby and a cup of coffee on your own couch hardly feels like work. Of course, I might change my mind hundreds of files and a few months later…

Reading Season, Regional Variety

I fire up the computer sometime between 6 and 7 each morning—read my overnight email, go upstairs and brew Starbuck’s Sumatra (my older daughter works for Starbuck’s so no whining about corporate coffee, yadda yadda), walk the dog, pick up the two newspapers in front of my house.      Drink the coffee, read my newspapers and then am in front of my two screens about 8 a.m. for a day of reading—vote sheet on the screen to my left, scrolling app directly in front of me.

I do the easy lifting first as warm up: 2nd reads take 10-15 minutes each and I’m looking to see if the 1st reader has missed something or if I disagree with the read: sometimes yes, usually no.

The heavy lifting begins. 1st reads can take over a half-hour. I come at them with a blank slate and scroll through the app with great care, taking notes on scratch paper as I go. I want to know what the student has to say and what the recs say about the student. Most everyone is a good student so what distinguishes this individual? Do they have special talents, intense passions? Will they fit in Whitman’s participatory, collaborative environment? What will they bring to the table and what will they take from the table?

An admission from an admission officer: I sometimes email a student whose app I’ve just read if their writing knocks my socks off. Sometimes they email back, surprised that there’s a human being on the other end of cyberspace. There is.

Some Advice for Juniors

As I sit here reading applications from all of the seniors interested in Whitman for the fall I can not help but page forward on my calendar a little bit to April.  This is when I will get to be out on the road again.  This is the time of the year that I get to work with juniors specifically.  I like this because the juniors have a broader perspective on the college search process; I am able to be identified as more of an advisor and counselor.  As a junior, and especially sophomore, you are not expected to have it all figured out right now.  My first tip for you in the college search process is to utilize the Whitman Admission Office and our thousands of colleagues on college and high school campuses dedicated to helping you out.  You would honestly be amazed how much we know, how helpful we can be and how nice we are.

There are a few big questions you want to ask yourself in the early phases of your search.  The first is, “How has high school been for me?”  Depending on your answer you want to evaluate what has made you happy and/or discontent.  “Do I want a similar experience in college, or one that could not be more different?”  Building on what you know is good, but college is also a great time to try new things.  “Do I want to stay close to home, or try out a new location further away?”  Laundry at home and Sunday dinners are hard to beat, but exploration and the unknown can be alluring.  “Am I determined to be awestruck by the bright lights of a city, or do I want to bask in the purity of unobstructed moonlight?”  Both types of environments are home to some of the best schools in the world.  “Do I want to go somewhere with national attention for its size, or somewhere where I will get attention as a member of the community?”  Football games, sprawling campuses and thousands of new people are really exciting.  It is also really cool to know others and be known, have dinner at your professor’s house and walk to class in seven minutes no matter where it is or you are on campus.  Lastly, “Do I want to be somewhere with a specific focus or population?”  The institutes of technology, religious, single sex and historically Black colleges make deep impacts on their students, as do the schools with a little bit of everything and everybody.  These are the first questions and the most important.  You will hear it until you are tired of hearing it, “College is all about fit!”  You need to be happy with the place you are for the next four years.

You also want to think about academics.  This has a few meanings.  There is the obvious question of, “What do I want to do as a career and study in college to get there?”  If you have an idea, look for schools with programs in what you want to study which meet your qualifications above.  If you are undecided look for places which have a variety of offerings, or where you can take a whole assortment of subjects.  Next, you want to objectively ask, “How have I performed academically over the last few years?”  You either need to keep the momentum going, or pull it together to be where you know you should be.  Colleges are very interested in your grades and like to see you consistently doing well or having your grades rise as time goes on.  Lastly, senior year is a blank canvas at this point, choose your classes wisely.  “Where can I continue to challenge myself?”  “What subjects do I want to explore as I prepare for college?”  “Am I interested in these subjects, and do I look interesting to colleges?”  “What will I be able to handle with all my activities and college applications to prepare?”  Senior year is a perfect time to push yourself with the rigor of your courses, check out the coveted electives offered, show colleges what you are all about, but also avoid burning out.  College will not be any fun if you do not make it through senior year.

OK, you have some reflecting to do.  Pick a rainy/snowy day, pick a period of time over a long weekend or school break, pick people’s brains.  Just make it happen.  We, I, Whitman, our thousands of colleagues are all here for you.  I look forward to seeing you on the road and answering some of your very important questions about Whitman.  You can actually see where the whole Whitman Admission team will be this spring at: http://www.whitman.edu/content/admission/whitman-on-the-road/travel/?state=all&range=current

Musings on Application Reading

Musings on reading your college applications…I always feel honored
that I have the opportunity to read the personal stories that students
share in their applications.  I get glimpses of the beauty of humanity.
Stories of hope, joys, the tiny moments that make life real, the
life-changing experiences. Everyday I find myself laughing aloud or
tearing up over the words in these essays.

The art of story telling is a valuable one. We all have stories to
share, that help communicate who we are by how we react to an
experience, how we perceive it, and what we learn from it.

What goes through my head when I’m reading your application?

Consider the Mona Lisa, simply because it is one of the more famous paintings in history. If I were to review the Mona Lisa, I could take one of two paths. On the one hand, I might spend hours scrutinizing every facet of da Vinci’s iconic painting, from the most minute of brushstrokes, to the dramatic scenery in the distance, to the posture and gaze of the woman herself. No pattern of cloth, curl of hair, or suggestion of fidelity would be lost in my meticulous appraisal.

The alternative actually requires much more time and study, though its focus is broader and its study cumulative. This second path would require intimate knowledge of Leonardo da Vinci’s entire surviving corpus, a familiarity with the Italian Renaissance and its many expressions, the broad context of the 15th and 16th centuries in which da Vinci’s life and work are framed, and a comprehension of oil and wood panels as media. From this broad context, the beauties of the Mona Lisa are readily apparent. With even a cursory glance, the viewer is captured by the women’s expression. The imaginary landscape stands the more poignant, and the subtle nuances of the woman’s hands, cloak, hair and smile race to the fore. The charm of this approach is that each new piece I analyze adds to my knowledge and context for the next! Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, Annunciation, Virgin of the Rocks, and Last Supper are the more unique and appreciable because of my newfound familiarity with Mona Lisa. Moreover, other artists and their work come into sharper focus as well. Michelangelo, Verrocchio, and Raphael become framed by and distinguished from da Vinci, and each respective work then begins to take on an enriched character and significance.

Such is the path of the Admission Officer, by analogy. Though I am woefully ignorant of the world of art criticism, I am similarly tasked with reviewing an applicant’s file for all of the rich strokes, subtle nuances, and characteristic choices they might employ. I began reading files in much the way that I first outlined above – and the investment of time and energy into each file as a stand-alone entity was monumental! What’s worse, at first I carried little from one application to the next, which meant I hardly ever left square one. As my experience grew, and the sheer volume of applications demanded I spend less then several hours per application, I began to see similarities, harmonies, and contrasts.

Now when I open an application, I spend just a few minutes gathering all the vital contextual clues. I want to know who you are as a person, so that I can frame your academics, essays, and activities with who you see yourself as. I begin with biological points such as gender, age, and ethnicity. I want to know if and to what extent your nationality, religious preferences, political ideology or sexual orientation might be informing your application as you write it, so that it can similarly inform my reading of it. Questions of culture, class, and even what city or high school you are writing from often impact your responses and essays dramatically. For example, the kind of high school you attend matters when we consider your unweighted grade point average. Are you a first generation college student? How familiar are you with Whitman? Do students from your high school usually go to four-year colleges? Once I get a broad sense for the angle from which you are coming and the perspective and life experiences that might be informing your application, I can read your transcript, teacher recommendations, and essays for all they are worth. It’s not just about static data, but how you view yourself. The joy is in the discovery of all that you are and love and want to be – which makes your writing in particular a highlight for this “critic.”