This is my 7th year of reading applications. You’d think that after 7 years and close to 20,000 folders read I’d be able to specifically address what part of the application I like the most. It’s not a difficult question; after all, an application has but so many parts. While my colleagues were prepared with ready answers I realized that my favorite part of the application is not an actual specific application component, but a specific part of the reading process. I most enjoy the moment when I close one file and open the next. In that moment, anything is possible.
Maybe I will read about the applicant who humbles me with his or her brilliance and success (whether that’s the student who is in the process of patenting a weather forecast model or the student who won Miss Teen Virginia or the student who was published in Teen People Magazine for her charitable work with young AIDS patients). Maybe I will read about a student who inspires with his or her grit (whether that’s the Somali refugee who fled his home without knowing English and is now valedictorian or the openly gay young man who started the Gay-Straight Alliance at his high school). Maybe I will read about a student who amuses me with his or her humor (whether that’s the young woman who drew herself as a red devil – her school’s mascot – or the young man who writes about a pants-less road trip). These are the extraordinary applicants who come around only a few times a reading season.
Maybe I will read about the applicant who attends my high school (a rarity if one is an Iowan working for a Virginia public university) or the applicant whose parents are divorced or the applicant who has a disabled younger sibling. Maybe I will read about the applicant who loves history or Jane Austin or music. Maybe I will read about the child of military or diplomatic parents who has lived all over the world or the first-generation American who is so grateful to call the United States home. Maybe I will read about a Caucasian student who yearns to learn about other cultures or the student of color who has done a lot of self-exploration to develop his/her racial identity. Maybe I will read about the track captain or the choir president or the accomplished equestrian. These applicants may be a bit more commonplace but they are the students on whom our class is built and they are the students who become the next members of Phi Beta Kappa, the next Student Assembly Presidents, the next Tour Guides, and the next members of Tribe sports.
Each individual applicant is unique and each individual folder provides me with the opportunity to be humbled, inspired, amazed, elated, disappointed, or confused. Reading applications is an emotional five-month voyage that takes all of us across the emotional spectrum and back. For me, the moment before that journey begins with each individual applicant is a moment of anticipation, of expectation, of excitement. For what lies between those folder covers could change a campus and could change lives.
- Wendy Livingston