You’ve read about the Front Office. Now, meet Patty and Cindy, the Back Office team.
KJ: So, we’re here in the “back office” in Austin Hall. First question: why is this called the back office?
CP: That’s a good question. Perhaps we should be called the front office. All the work starts here!
PG: I suppose it’s because we’re the furthest office down the hall on one side. Or maybe because we’re the team that makes everything happen behind the scenes.
KJ: Tell us about your roles and responsibilities.
CP: Our main job is processing application files for the JD, JDP, and transfer application cycles. Additionally, I handle financial operations for the office.
PG: Absolutely, our focus is processing files. In addition to file processing, I schedule everything during recruitment season (sixty or more campus visits each fall). I also process all application fee waivers. In the spring, we support Admitted Students Weekend programming. In the summer, we verify transcripts and certifications for admitted students.
CP: Everything from ordering coffee to soap in the bathroom to mothering everyone.
KJ: And sometimes everyone needs some mothering!
PG: I feel like I have four separate jobs, and they’re all cyclical: comp-ing files, fall visits, ASW, transcripts and certs – then we start again.
KJ: So what does it take to make a file go “complete” on a status checker? Walk our readers through the steps.
PG: We create a tracking report of all applications submitted within a specific time period. Then we download all the documents from LSAC’s system and upload those documents into reading software. We prepare each application’s documents for the readers by splitting up PDFs and filing them into separate categories. Then we have to ensure that all pieces of the application are present before we hit “complete” – scores in, fee paid or waived, personal statement, resume, letters of recommendation, etc. We keep track of where each application stands with respect to any pieces that are missing.
CP: In other words, plenty of download and upload. Lots of bouncing from screen to screen.
PG: The CAS report is usually the most time-intensive part.
CP: When the entire application was submitted on paper and not computers, each applicant would have to fill out multiple postcards and submit them with their application materials. After processing the application, we would mail the “complete” postcard back to the applicant to confirm receipt.
KJ: Cindy, you have worked in HLS J.D. Admissions for thirty-three years.
CP: I started when I was 18, right out of high school. Both my mother and my father worked here at Harvard Law School. I didn’t want to go to college, and my mom said I had to get a job with benefits. Her boss in the HLS publications office knew the head of admissions and career services (at the time, those two offices were combined). As it happened, a job opened up when I graduated high school, and I applied. I went to the Holyoke Center to take my typing test, passed it, and have been here ever since.
KJ: How has the HLS admissions office changed in the past three decades?
CP: The biggest change was going from paper to computers – the entire office was filled with filing cabinets and applications would go into folders. Our biggest year ever was 8,500 applications. Three of us processed all of those applications. We split it by the alphabet. I had A through G. We had rolodexes with names of applicants – red if denied, green if admitted, blue if on hold. We would have to walk over to the word processing office at HLS and pick up a stack of decision letters. I used to help sign deny letters on behalf of the Dean.
KJ: So how does it feel to have comp-ed the files of future Senators, professors, CEOs, Supreme Court justices, and at least one President?
CP: Exciting! Who knew? We split up the applications by last name, and I have always had the first part of the alphabet, though – so I can’t take credit for comp-ing any Presidents (yet).
PG: Usually we go too quickly to really review the application. But sometimes when processing files, something will jump out and then I have to stop and look at it. A word will jump out at you – particularly in the optional statements. Sometimes I write down the name of someone I read who really wowed me, and then I check later if they’re admitted.
KJ: Really? You’ve never said anything about that!
PG: I keep my list to myself, and just wait until the end of the cycle to check on them.
KJ: Do you have any favorite memories from your time working in HLS admissions?
CP: A few years back, a mother and her daughters came by dressed as Elle Woods. They were absolutely adorable, and we all took pictures with them.
PG: I loved attending HLS 200. My favorite panel featured alumni who work as writers in television for shows like Burn Notice and Hill Street Blues.
CP: A few years ago, Alec Baldwin stopped by the admissions office. He was presenting in the Ames courtroom next door, and walked into the front office to say hello. He commented on the big candy bowl we keep at the front desk. A few days later, we received a box of chocolates from him.
KJ: It feels like there’s always someone interesting going on in Ames. I’ve only been here six months, and already we’ve had Justice Gorsuch, Justice Sotomayor, and Ralph Nader next door.
PG: Last year, I reached the second floor of Austin and the office was filled with security personnel. The President of Colombia was here presenting in Ames, right next door. He used our bathroom to get ready, and left his toothpaste behind.
KJ: How many files have you comp-ed in your time at HLS?
CP: I’d guess at least 87,000.
PG: A measly 6,000. But I haven’t worked here as long as Cindy!
KJ: What’s the busiest time of year here in the back office?
CP: November to August.
PG: It’s cyclical, and I’ve never seen a non-busy time.
KJ: What advice do you have for prospective applicants?
CP: Apply early. And please don’t send photos or books or CDs – those are really hard for us to process!
PG: Some of the items we’ve received from applicants include a hammer, a shoe, cupcakes, chocolates, a painting, a bound senior thesis, a Christmas ornament, and a bottle of Coke.
KJ: Hard to upload any of those into the reader file.
CP: No kidding!