Monday, December 1, 2014

File Reading Part I - Activities, Writing and Creativity

From January through mid-March, the admissions staff will hide out in our offices and read files during our holistic file reading process. And when I say read files, I mean lots of files (I am guessing I will read over 1,200 files this year alone). As such, we want you to know what we are looking at when we review these files. There are six main areas that we look at in our file reading process, and I will cover two areas each in a three part post. The first two areas focus on a student's activities, involvement and leadership and a review of the student's writing, self expression and creativity.

Activities/Involvement/Leadership

The first thing you should know about activities is that we value quality over quantity. What we are looking for is somewhat about the range of what a person does, but more so the depth of their involvement. I see far too many applicants get involved with multiple clubs or organizations in their junior year after the light comes on (or the parent's voice starts to be heard) about being involved. Suddenly a student is involved in seven different groups, from the Green Campus club to the knitting for kids group. Anything and everything gets thrown into the resume.

What we are really looking at is what things you have committed to during your high school years, both in time and in consistency. I am much more impressed with a student who does three things, let's say scouting, cross-country and Habitat for Humanity, growing in ability, leadership and responsibility each year than a student who bounces from group to group, having ten areas of involvement, but not staying with any one of them. We also want to see that you had an impact in the club/sport/activity, whether it is as a leader or an active member. In addition, another area we look at a student's dedication to family and work. At times, a student may have limited involvement in clubs, but that might be due to a dedication to their family and/or job. We have seen students that need to work to help support their family, or at times are expected to help with taking care of younger/older family members. It comes down to looking at a student in context within his/her situation, and what is available or expected within their situation.

We suggest that you look at your time spent outside of the classroom and let us know what you are passionate about and active in. Don't think that just because it is not a "school" club, that you should not list it. If you play the violin, are active in missions with a community group, have the lead in a community theater production, etc, tell us about it. The worst thing you can do is leave a section blank just because you don't think we would want to know about "X". We will then look at what activities you have chosen to participate in over the last 4+ years, what leadership roles you have taken on, and  what type of time commitment you have put into these areas.

Writing/Self Expression/Creativity

In the review of an applicant's writing, our focus is more the writer's voice, how well they communicate their ideas, and how well they "show" us their information, and less focus is put on grammar and structure. Yes, we still want a student to write clearly and spell check their work, but that is not the key (and neither are "big" words or writing about UGA in your essays!). When I talk about a writer's voice, and about "showing" instead of "telling", I will direct you to my Suggestions for Writing Admissions Essays, as this tells you more than I could cover in one post.

I remember reading an applicant's essay where the student really understood the idea of showing, as her essays made me understand what she was going through in the events mentioned in the essays, and I felt like I could almost see the situations as they occurred. One essay focused on her interaction in a politics class where she was the outsider in her political views, and the challenges she faced from both her teacher and the other students (and how she stood her ground while still being respectful).

The other area within this part looks at a student's creative side. While we see some of these items within the activities section, we want to see how a student shows their artistic side. We look at their involvement in the dramatic, visual and performing arts, and try to get an understanding of their aesthetic side of life. We will focus more on the writing part during this review, but a student's passion for the arts does come into play.

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