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Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Recommendation Letters for UVa

Sometimes I worry that the anxiety of this process makes applicants think that if they want to show a school they are worthy, they have to go above and beyond the application requirements. One of the areas where people seem especially intent on doing this is in the recommendation letter department. Today, I thought I would share my thoughts about letters. Hopefully, you'll understand what we are looking for as we work through this part of your file and you'll realize that for the vast majority of applicants, the two required recommendations fulfill our needs. Sending a bunch of repetitive recommendations doesn't help us in our review. Keep it simple.

Now, let's talk more about what is required. We require a counselor's recommendation and a teacher's recommendation. These can be submitted however the counselor/teacher wants to get them to us. Some schools have systems that facilitate submission, some counselors/teachers will use Common App's online system, some will email us (application documents go to, and some will drop them in the mail. Any method of submission is fine with us.

The Counselor Recommendation

Your counselor will send us your high school profile, transcript, a school form with some basic information on it, and their recommendation.The recommendation can take on any form. Many counselors write a letter, some bullet out a few statements about their student, and some schools have a form that that prompts their counselors to cover different topics. It all works for us. A school in one of my territories has a large senior class and 100% of the class typically goes on to a two or four year college. As you can imagine, those counselors are BUSY. When they created a form with areas to address different topics (academics, extracurricular, character, outside issues that may have impacted the student), it was a great move for both "sides" of the desk.

Students always ask what would happen if a counselor didn't know a student well. Those counselors will sometimes share what they have learned from the student's file or from conversations with the students' teachers. There is also a way for counselors to let us know if the constraints of their job prevent them from writing a recommendation. In those cases, the school form is sufficient.

The Teacher Recommendation

We require one teacher recommendation here, but we don't specify the grade level or subject area for that teacher. We want you to pick the teacher who you think has the best insight into your classroom performance and style. Who might talk about your role in class discussion or your style when working on a group project? Who might have a story about you working really hard to get through a particularly different concept? That's the teacher you should ask!

These recommendations aren't about summarizing information we will learn from other parts of the application, so I don't recommend giving your teacher your activity list. You could remind them about the project you did that impressed them or about the time they asked to hold onto something you did so they could use it as an example. Those little anecdotes bring the data that we get in the rest of the application to life.

If you feel like your style is very different in different classrooms, it makes sense to send an extra teacher recommendation. 

"Other" Recommendations

When it comes to recommendations from folks who don't know you in the classroom, I think you have to be careful. Recommendations in the working world have a different purpose than academic recommendations. Academic recommendations supplement the data. Recommendations from outside academia are usually simple endorsements that restate the facts. Having a supervisor at work or where you participate in an activity certify that you do, in fact, work at that place does not provide us with new information. You've probably told us about this in the activity section of the application.

We turned the "other" recommendation feature off in the Common App. Stick with recommendations from people who know you through school.

Do you have any questions about recommendations? Feel free to post them in the comments.

Monday, October 05, 2015

UVA Evening Programs in Virginia

While we will always do lots of high school visits around the state, we realize that it's hard for students to leave class to attend our visits sometimes and parents can feel left out of the loop. We are holding six evening programs around Virginia to give more people a chance to meet us, learn about UVa, and become more familiar with the admission process.

Charlottesville - Tuesday, October 6th (TOMORROW NIGHT!)

This program will be led by Dean of Admission Greg Roberts. There will be a panel of faculty and students, too!

Williamsburg - Tuesday, October 6th

Fredericksburg - Sunday, October 25th

Newport News - Monday, October 26th

Yorktown -  Tuesday, October 27th

Harrisonburg - Date TBD (keep an eye on the UVa Visits You page for an update)

Students, parents, and counselors are welcome! We ask that you RSVP for these programs, so please click through to register. There is still room for more guests at each event.

If you aren't in Virginia, check our "UVa Visits You" page to see if we'll be in your area this fall!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Should I Apply Under Early Action or Regular Decision?

I've heard some interesting opinions about when you should submit your application to UVa. Many of those opinions seem to be about the mood or level of activity in the Office of Admission. I thought I'd address when you should apply.

Apply to UVa when you can present your strongest application. Remove thoughts about testing, how the admission officers will "feel" at certain times of the year, and offer statistics. Think about your application when making the decision. Here are a few questions to consider:

1. Does your academic program build nicely over the first three years of high school?

We know that freshman year of high school doesn't allow for too much variety, but that you are allowed to make more choices about your program as you advance. Your counselor will send us a document called a high school profile that explains how the curriculum is structured at your school. If you have stepped up each year to take on more challenging courses, you  might be ready to submit an Early Action application. Early Action is not binding, so you aren't committing to UVa if you submit under EA.

If you think your senior year might really help showcase your ability to take on challenging coursework, you might want to wait for the Regular Decision period. Students who apply RD will have their mid-year grades in their file before we make final decisions.

2. Have your grades from freshman to junior year been consistently strong?

If your grades have been pretty consistent, Early Action might be the route for you since we will be making our decision based on the work you did in first three years of high school. If fall semester of senior year is really going to help you, wait for Regular Decision. RD is probably better if your grades dipped at some point (maybe you were sick, moved, or had a touch transition to junior year). Your fall grades can show that you've rebounded and the stumble is a think of the past.

3. How long will it take your to finalize thoughtful, interesting essays that convey your personality?

I think many students make the EA/RD decision based solely on academics (or sometimes testing, which I'll address below), but the subjective parts of the application are important, too. If fall semester is super busy and you don't think you'll be able to present yourself well in the written parts of the application right now, it might be best to wait for Regular Decision.

4. When will you be able to have a complete application ready?

If you are late asking for recommendations or won't have results from either the SAT or ACT ready by the early deadline (November 1), you might want to apply for Regular Decision (January 1).

This is NOT saying that planning on taking SAT Subject Tests or making a second pass at the SAT or ACT should stop you from applying early. The Subject Tests are optional and can come in after deadline. New SAT/ACT scores will be added to your file as soon as they are sent to us by the testing agencies. You need a score in your file at deadline time. That doesn't mean you can't send more later.

 So many students worry that they can't apply to a college under and early plan if they have signed up to take a standardized test in November. In short, I don't think testing should determine when you apply.

Our review process is the same no matter when you apply. We aren't "easy" on the early group, which is a common perception. The applicant pool is strong no matter when you apply. When thinking about when to submit your application to UVa, I think you should think about the strength of your application right now and compare that to what it might look like once the first semester of senior year is finished. Apply when you feel your application presents the best case for admission to UVa!

That isn't the type of strength I meant, Jack.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Three Sources for UVA Admission Statistics

I was a little startled today when an independent counselor complained that they couldn't find admission statistics broken down by residency, so I thought I would point out a three resources for those who are looking for UVa admission data.

First of all, I always post unofficial admission stats just after our decisions are released. You can click on the "statistics" tab at the bottom of this entry to see those posts. I'm pointing this out because some readers ask questions about data in the comments and the discussions might be interesting to you.

Second, there are tables of data on the Office of Institutional Assessment websites. Most schools have an office that generates official statistics. The name of the office will often have to words "institutional assessment" or "institutional research" in it. You can review the Common Data Set (all schools fill these out) and also see admission and enrollment data broken down by school and residency on the assessment website.

Third, there are some government websites that aggregate statistics from many universities. On the IPEDS website, you can look up specific schools and even compare multiple schools that you may be considering. If you are looking at Virginia schools the State Council of Higher Education in Virginia (SCHEV) collates statistics from all Virginia schools on their site.

If you decide to dig into the charts, just remember that in a holistic admission process, decisions aren't made using numbers alone. We'll be reading your entire file before rendering an admission decision. There are obviously pieces of data in your file, but all of the components of your file tell your story.