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Thursday, October 20, 2016

Yes, We Really Read All the Files

It's always a head-scratcher when someone asks me whether admission officers really read all of the applications students submit. For admission officers (and for our families), there are two main times of year: reading season and not reading season. The "not reading season" is broken down into smaller bits (travel and yield seasons, for example), but reading season is the main event.

Thanksgiving Day, 2015

There are many different ways to organize your staff and the applications you have to read. Most admission offices split the files up by regions so the admission officers who know the area best can read the files from there. At UVA, we work in teams to make sure each file is read multiple times during the application season. How many times a file is read can vary, but the first two times the file is reviewed, the application is read in its entirety, front to back. There are no "minimum" GPAs or test scores used to reduce our reading load. We read everything.

My colleagues and I are in the last couple weeks of our travel season, when we visit high schools. When we get home, we'll be moving into reading season (though some already started with spring transfer applications earlier this month). We won't emerge until late March (at which point we'll move to reading fall transfers). 

Good luck to those who are putting the finishing touches on Early Action applications. We're looking forward to learning more about you!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

UVA Admission Quotas for Northern Virginia

"Beyond our in-state to out-of-state ratio (2/3 of our students are Virginia residents), there are no restrictions, targets, or quotas regarding how many students we may take from a high school, town, county, or region."

I say this sentence during every information session, evening program, and high school visit. I've been at UVA for 11 years, so you can imagine how many times those words have come out of my mouth!

Rumors of regional quotas are pretty prevalent in my territory in Northern Virginia. My students in Fairfax, Arlington, and the continuous cities (cities are separate from counties in Virginia) are convinced that we have to balance out the class between the 95 counties and 38 independent cities in Virginia and that means it's easier to be admitted from the counties with smaller populations. Let's look at some of the most common things I hear and some data...

1. Only __ people are admitted from my high school each year.

Many conversations I see about admission quotas cite enrolled student numbers that have been confused with admission numbers. This is probably because many schools publish lists of college destinations for the graduating class and people count up the number of times a certain school is listed. What's missing is a discussion of yield. Yield is the percentage of admitted students who decide to matriculate at a school.

At UVA, we break down our admission and yield stats by residency. About 60% of the Virginians who get offers of admission wind up enrolling at UVA. When you see a certain number of seniors headed to Charlottesville, remember that there were probably some more who were offered the option, but turned it down to attend another school.

2. The students from my area are more qualified than students from other places.

The notion of "qualified" applicants is a little bit funny to me. Students have access to so much admission information between their counselors, data that we put out, and data that high schools collect that most of the people apply because they know they are qualified. 

In a selective admission process, academically qualified students get denied because the vast majority of the applicant pool is qualified. Those students aren't denied to make room for students who can't do the work. The applicant pool is full of people who are prepared and ready for UVA.

3. UVA doesn't like my school because last year's seniors didn't attend in high numbers.

This is a relatively new rumor and I hear it in different iterations. One student told me that someone  said that her brother turning down his offer from UVA and attending another school a few years ago was going to be held against her.

We don't hold grudges. Students say no to us every year. That's how this process works. Our feelings aren't hurt.

Okay, now let's look at some maps!

UVA Magazine published an awesome article about the Class of 2020 that includes a lot of admission data. My favorite part is the map area, where you can hover over a county (or state or country) and see how many students in the first-year class are from a particular area. If you hold the shift key and click on multiple areas, you can get a summary. 

Above, we saw that 3,720 students are in the Class of 2020. If I add up the counties/cities in Northern Virginia, I can see that 1,130 students are from the area. So, four counties and four cities are pretty well-represented in the class. So 2,590 students are from the other 91 counties and 34 cities that make up the Commonwealth.

Side note: Back in the day, I'd set aside a day or two for Loudoun County visits. These days, one of my colleagues covers Loudoun while I cover Fairfax, Arlington, and Alexandria. The number of Loudoun high schools has increased as the area has been developed!

You can see how the numbers increased in our student body on the map:

Keep in mind that when you see charts with admission data on them, you are seeing the results of an elaborate review process plotted using just a couple variables. Things like scattergrams don't tell you how we make decisions. 


 As always, I'm happy to chat with you via the comments!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Notes from Northern Virginia

It's day three of my first week in my Virginia territory (I cover part of Northern Virginia) and I've had some great high school visits. Even after a few visits, you can start to see trends on topics that are on students' minds this year.

1. Study Abroad, Study Abroad, Study Abroad!
I love talking about study abroad options at UVA and it seems like more students want to talk about those options than ever before. When I was in school, the options were pretty limited - humanities majors studied abroad, usually in the spring of junior year. There are so many programs at UVA that any student can find a way to study abroad, regardless of their major. What's more, there are semester, summer, and January Term programs.

If you want to explore the programs we offer, check out this UVA study abroad search engine. You can search for programs based on time of year, region, language of instruction, housing style, academic discipline (some programs are tailored for a particular major), and other criteria.

2. Concerns about extra application components
I've gotten several questions about sending writing portfolios, research papers, non-academic recommendations, and resumes after submitting an application. The Common App is pretty thorough and provides us with a lot of great information. We don't encourage extra submissions outside of the optional art and architecture supplements.

What's more, the consistent format of the activity section in the Common App allows us to zero in on the pertinent data quickly. This lets us read efficiently.

3. Rumors
Some of the rumors students share with me make a little mad. We all know that students are anxious about the application process and it doesn't seem fair that some people are dialing things up with their made up stories about how our office works.

One student said that someone told her that her brother denying his offer of admission to UVA years ago would hurt her chances of being admitted this year. Thousands of students decline offers of admission every year. We don't hold a grudge! We hope all of our applicants choose the college they feel is the best match for their needs.

If you want to follow along as I make my visits, follow me on Instagram (@UVADeanJ). I try to post from each stop I make, bouncing between posting regular picture and using Instagram Stories. 

Monday, September 19, 2016

Admission Travel Season Begins

I recently got an email from the parent of a middle school child who thought it would be a good time to set up an appointment since this is the "break time" in the admission calendar.

There are three issues with this. First, we don't really want middle school students to be actively involved in a college search (they should be focused on just doing well in school). Second, our staff isn't large enough to meet with every prospective student. Third, it's travel season!

Travel season, which is predicated by planning travel season, is when an admission officer hits the road to spread the word about the school in his or her territory. For us, there are five types of events: college fairs, evening programs, high school visits, high school college nights, and counselor breakfasts. Here are some thoughts from the admission side of things to help you understand what events might be of interest to you.

College Fairs

You know what a college fair is, right? In Virginia, we have what we call The Virginia Tour, which has admission officers running all over the state for college fairs. Each week is in a different region, so UVA admission officers trade off on weeks (the person who does week 1 usually is the person who covers that territory). In my time at UVA, I've covered weeks that had me in Northern Virginia, Shenandoah Valley, Central Virginia, and the Northern Neck. I learned a lot about the state while racing around on the Virginia Tour in those earlier years.

These days, I go to the big Northern Virginia fairs as a "second" to one of my colleagues. The big fairs there are at the Fair Oaks Mall (so big that you can feel the mall moving if you are set up on the second floor), Hayfield Secondary, and Washington-Lee High School. I tend to have a lot of fun because there is so much energy at these events, but it can be overwhelming, too.

Who would enjoy this event: Anyone just starting the college search who wants to get a lot of reading material at once. Big fairs aren't always the place to have an extended conversation with an admission officer due to the crowds, though.

My advice: If you're going to a big fair, wear comfortable shoes and dress in layers (it can get hot with all those people walking around!). If the fair gives you a bar code, consider printing it out because sometimes the scanners they give admission officers don't work well with cell phones.

Evening Programs

Have you gotten an invitation to attend a college presentation at night? Our office does two kinds of evening programs: consortium travel or "UVA only" nights. Consortium travel means a group of schools (usually 3-5) have teamed up and are planning programs together. UVA only programs are when we are solo, though our alumni often step in to help us with these events.

Having done both kinds of programs, I like both for different reasons. Traveling with a group is wonderful because our work is often a bit lonely. It's also great to learn about what is happening at peer schools and get outside perspectives on our presentations. I look forward to my New England group trip every year because of this. You can imagine, though, that presentation time is shorter at a group program. We usually get about 10 minutes to talk.

At a UVA-only program, I enjoy going into more depth, often showing a video and longer slideshow than at a group program. I often spent a little time reading excerpts from essays, which I think is really helpful for seniors.

Who would enjoy these events: Evening programs have something for everyone. The benefit of a consortium is that you might learn about schools that weren't on your radar. There is also usually some time for Q&A afterwards. UVA programs are great for people who can't make it to Charlottesville during the college search.

My advice: If you have already visited a school, you probably got more information than you would at a group event (remember, we each get around 10 minutes to talk!), so don't feel pressured to come to these programs, especially since we don't use demonstrated interest in our process.

High School Visits

Almost every day in the fall, you'll find admission officers visiting the high schools in their territories. We often get 30-45 minutes to present to prospective students and answer their questions. Interested students often sign up in advance to leave class for the visit. When we're done, we race to another school to do it all over again.

In my territory (Fairfax and Arlington counties, plus Fairfax City, Falls Church, and Alexandria), I try to visit 4-5 schools each day. If you know Northern Virginia, you can imagine that the traffic sometimes makes an ambitious schedule difficult!

Who would enjoy these events: High school visits are generally geared towards juniors and seniors, but your school might restrict attendance to seniors at certain times of the year. These are a great way to get some information about a school if you won't be able to visit the campus in person for an information session. I don't think anything substitutes for a tour, though!

My advice: Don't leave a really important class for a college's visit if you have already visited the school. Just as with evening programs, you probably got a lot more information during the visit.

High School College Nights

I love college nights (sometimes called Senior Night, Junior Night, or Parent Night). These events are organized by the counseling staff at the high school and are meant to introduce families to the application process and procedures of the high school. I've seen many colleagues on the high school side walk families through transcript and recommendation requests, explain financial aid forms, and demonstrate online resources available to families during the college search.

Admission officers are sometimes asked to attend these programs to sit on a panel about the college search. We definitely field questions specific to our schools, but often give advice about the college search overall. The panels are often fun because we get to be a little less formal than we are at evening programs or high school visits.

Who would enjoy these events: Parents and students who are starting or engaged in the college search. Many don't realize that their school counselors have some pretty great tools to assist them with the search for a college. What's more, the financial aid process can be confusing, so it's nice to have some help navigating the forms and documents.

My advice: Go to your school's college night. Do it!

Counselor Breakfasts

I wasn't going to mention these events, but the fact that a parent found out about one last month and brought her son makes me think people misinterpret to whom these programs are geared. (Side note: The student was lovely and a colleague from another school chatted with him outside.)

Counselor breakfasts are put on by a school or consortium of schools. All of the school counselors in the area are invited to breakfast at a hotel or local restaurant before school starts. The admission officer(s) give updates about the college and high school counselors can ask questions or discuss issues that are specific to the area. During consortium travel, we often have evening programs at night, a counselor breakfast in the morning, and then spend the day traveling to the next city. We do the same two events in 5 cities in a week.

Who would enjoy these events: High school counselors. I'm guessing that the "counselor" part of the name made that student think of college admission counselors and not school counselors.

My advice: Don't worry about counselor breakfasts just yet!

Maybe you'll see UVA admission officers at some of these events in your area this fall!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

How Much Time Do You Spend on Testing?

"Here we go."

We were only a couple minutes into an "ask the deans" panel at a high school's college planning program and the first testing question was asked. We all knew from experience that once the first testing question is asked, we don't get away from testing questions without some sort of intervention from the counseling staff in the room.

The crowd probably has lots of questions about other topics, but once testing comes up, they skip down the list to the testing stuff. And so we dwell. And the admission officers are a little perplexed that all the time is being spent on testing when there are other things they could discuss.


This is going to be an interesting year because of the changes made to the tests and how they are scored. Rest assured, we've been through things like this before (recentering in 1994/5, the move of the Writing test in 2005) and we will all get through the changes together. I actually like years like this because they often force students to look at the more substantial parts of their application. Remember that four years of development get much more of our time than the four hours spent taking one test.

Students, as you start this year, I want you to pay attention to how much time admission officers at schools with holistic processes spend talking about testing. I assure you that the time spent talking about the SAT and ACT will be dwarfed by the time spent talking about programs, grades, recommendations, and essays. I'm not saying testing doesn't matter. If a schools asks for something, it matters. Testing is definitely an interesting piece of data. However, we don't have minimums or cut offs in our process. We read the entire file and render a decision based on the whole package. That's what holistic admission means.

Testing doesn't warrant getting half the time during a panel program and it doesn't warrant getting the majority of your head space as you are juggling the academic load and responsibilities that come with being a junior or senior in high school.

As always, I'm happy to answer your questions in the comments.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Happy #UVAMoveIn Day!

This is one of my favorite weekends of the whole year. The first-year move-in has begun, with half of the class arriving today and the other half arriving tomorrow. We can't help but feel proud as we see the students we got to know on paper (okay, on computer screen) making their way around the UVA Grounds.

Congratulations, new Hoos! You're always welcome in Peabody Hall and we hope to see you as ambassadors, guides, or DOTL volunteers in the future!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Counselor and Teacher Recommendation Requirements for UVA

Before I get into UVA's recommendation letter requirements, I'd like to share an observation:

Some people seem to think that application requirements are for average applicants and if they want to show a school they are especially worthy, they have to go above and beyond those stated requirements. I promise you that colleges ask for the items they want to review. There is no hidden message that we really want something else.

Today, I thought I would share my thoughts about recommendation 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. If someone tells you that UVA wants a bunch of extra recommendations, show them this blog post.

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. Everything meets up in the applicant's file.

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 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.

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 dramatically different in different classrooms, it might make 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.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Essay Advice for UVA School of Engineering Applicants

My serious of posts with essay advice for the specific colleges at UVA continues. Last time, I covered the College of Arts and Sciences. Today, I'm addressing the essay for the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

If you were given funding for a small engineering project that would make everyday life better for one friend or family member, what would you do?

Here are three pieces of advice for those who are going to be responding to this prompt.

1. Small is a key word.
Years ago, this question took on a different form and this question asked students to describe a project they'd do with a "limited budget." The enthusiasm in the essays was fantastic, but the projects were a little over the top. Solar panels for everyone! Purify all the water!

It's great to aspire to use engineering to solve big problems, but for this essay, we'd like you to look for an everyday problem that needs a solution that can be found through engineering.

2. Think outside your box.
Many students seem interested in addressing their own time management issues or sleep deprivation in their essays. Reminder apps or alarm clocks that turn on the shower for you have been popular ideas (don't use those...they've been done!). We'd like to see you turn outward with your problem solving. We added the "friend or family member" part to the question this year to help make that happen.

3. Be creative!
I can't tell you how many essays I've read about things that already exist while reviewing engineering applications (iRobot created the Roomba almost 15 years ago, so no more robot vacuums, please).  I've also read about using the funding to pay other people to do something. Show us that you have that innovative streak and have an eye for problem solving in your essay!

One more thing I have to say: don't be intimidated. We aren't expecting anyone to actually know how they would prototype, build, or finance their idea.

Good luck, future engineers! These are my favorite essays to read and I hope the information above makes writing them a little less scary. As always, feel free to ask questions in the comments.

In honor of Orientation Season, here are some 2015 OLs with CavDog and Jack. :)

Monday, July 18, 2016

Heads up: Order Test Scores Well In Advance of Deadlines

I started writing posts about the timing of test scores a few years ago. The posts always seemed most appropriate for October, a few weeks before the first application deadline (our Early Action deadline is November 1). A colleague told me something she learned on a conference call a couple weeks ago that made me think a summer post was more appropriate. Seeing the info repeated on the SAT website confirms the move.

Be sure to send your scores well before the deadline. The SAT is saying it could take them longer to deliver scores from the Fall 2016 test dates. The last recommended test dates have always been the month before the application deadline. Be sure to use your free reports to make sure scores get to us before the deadlines.

From the SAT website:

We built our system to automatically select the best scores from each section of the SAT. When we open a file, we don't see all of the scores the student has submitted, we just see the best ones. So, there is no need to wait to see your scores and then spend money sending just your best ones to us. Use those free reports!

In case you are wondering about ACT score delivery:

Friday, July 15, 2016

Essay Advice for UVA College of Arts and Sciences Applicants

It feels like there is so much college application essay advice out there and there isn't a real need for me to add more, but the questions we're hearing from callers and visitors have me thinking I'm wrong. So I thought I'd add some more thoughts to the essay conversation (you can see past posts by hitting the "essays" tag at the end of this post). I'm going to break the advice up, so come back next week for posts for the specialty schools. First up, the College of Arts and Sciences.

 What work of art, music, science, mathematics, or literature has surprised, unsettled, or challenged you, and in what way?
This prompt is a bit of a tradition here and students in the College can often remember the work they used when they wrote their response. Most of us in admission can cite the most interesting responses we've read and rattle off the ones that fell flat. Here are some ideas to consider if you'll be writing the College essay this year.

1. The phrase "work of art, music, science, mathematics, or literature" in the prompt is deliberately broad. Go in whatever direction feels right for you!

2. Make sure your choice isn't forced, since authenticity comes through pretty clearly in writing. Some students seem to look to the reading list for their English class for inspiration, which means we read a lot of essays that sound like assignments. Be careful about that!

3.We want to learn about growth. Some students spend a lot of time summarizing plot or describing their work and the "in what way" part of the essay winds up being one sentence. The part that is about you is the most important part. If you feel you need to include a description, make it one or two lines. Remember that admission offices have Google, too, so if we feel we need to hear the song or see the work of art, we'll look it up. The majority of the essay should be about your response and reaction to the work. How did it affect or change you?

Are you applying to the College? What questions do you have about the College essay prompt?

Jack's favorite work of art is Jack Blackburn's portrait!

Thursday, June 23, 2016

2016-2017 UVA First-Year Application Essays

Towards the end of every reading season, we gather to talk about which essay questions elicited great responses, which ones could be tweaked to be better, and which essays we'd like to retire. We often pull students into our discussions to get their perspectives. Conversations we have at Days on the Lawn and other admitted student events sometimes come into play as well. Some essays work year after year and others need tweaking. This year, we've made

You'll write one general essay for the Common App and then you'll write two short responses on the UVA screen. The Common App announced their general essay prompts back in January. Here's what you'll see on the UVA part of the application...

2016-2017 First-Year Application Essay Questions

1.    We are looking for passionate students to join our diverse community of scholars, researchers, and artists.  Answer the question that corresponds to the school/program to which you are applying in a half page or roughly 250 words. 
  • College of Arts and Sciences - What work of art, music, science, mathematics, or literature has surprised, unsettled, or challenged you, and in what way?
  • School of Engineering and Applied Sciences - If you were given funding for a small engineering project that would make everyday life better for one friend or family member, what would you do?
  • School of Architecture - Describe an instance or place where you have been inspired by architecture or design.
  • School of Nursing - Discuss experiences that led you to choose the School of Nursing.
  • Kinesiology Program - Discuss experiences that led you to choose the kinesiology major.

2. Answer one of the following questions in a half page or roughly 250 words.
  • What’s your favorite word and why?
  • We are a community with quirks, both in language and in traditions. Describe one of your quirks and why it is part of who you are.
  • Student self-governance, which encourages student investment and initiative, is a hallmark of the UVA culture. In her fourth year at UVA, Laura Nelson was inspired to create Flash Seminars, one-time classes which facilitate high-energy discussion about thought-provoking topics outside of traditional coursework. If you created a Flash Seminar, what idea would you explore and why?
  • UVA students paint messages on Beta Bridge when they want to share information with our community. What would you paint on Beta Bridge and why is this your message?
A note about word limits:
The word limits are there so you know that we are expecting short statements, not term papers. Be concise and thoughtful in your statement statement and try to convey your voice and style in your words. This is the one spot on your application where your personality gets to shine, so don't treat this like a formal school assignment.

We are looking forward to seeing what applicants for the Class of 2021 do with these questions! Good luck with your writing!

As always, I'm happy to answer your questions in the comments.

Thursday, June 02, 2016

The Class of 2020 is Complete

In about half an hour, everyone who opted to remain on the waiting list will receive an email from Dean Roberts letting them know that the Class of 2020 is complete. We won't be making any more offers of admission and it is time to release the waiting list.

I know this isn't happy news for those who have remained on the waiting list. You may not be joining us in the fall, but I'm confident that you are going to have a wonderful first year.

Please be sure to check the email account associated with your Common App account for Dean Roberts' email.

Best wishes for a relaxing summer and an exciting start to your college career!

Friday, May 20, 2016

UVA and the New SAT

I usually write a post about a big admission issue when that topic has come up over and over again in discussions with prospective students or their parents. When it comes to the redesigned SAT, it seems like students and parents that are visiting us this season aren't all that worried. Maybe there are so many changes in college admission that a test redesign doesn't cause anxiety. Or maybe people are happy about the new scoring...

Anyway, we have a page on our website that addresses our testing policy.  I thought I would go into a little more detail here.

1. By the application deadline, send something.

While it's nice to have one thing in the file that is standardized (remember, schools have very different styles when it comes to calculating GPA and rank), we don't have a preference when it comes to the test you take. By the deadline, you want a score from the ACT or SAT (either of them) in your file.

2. We recombine sections to get the best set of scores.

I shy away from saying we "super score" the SAT because that implies that we are just looking at your total SAT score. Students with identical total scores could have very different sections scores. For example...

Student A:  1300 SAT (500R/800M)
Student B:  1300 SAT (650R/650M)

This isn't to say those two students would be put side-by-side in our review like that. I just want you to consider why we don't just use total scores in our review.

When we open a file, our system will automatically look for the best possible sections to show to us. We don't even see all of the scores you send us. 

3. Scores from different exams aren't combined.

We don't mix sections from different exams together. So we wouldn't put a math score from the ACT together with a reading/writing score from the SAT. Similarly, we won't mix sections from the old SAT and the new SAT. The College Board directed colleges on this last summer. They said it isn't appropriate to mix old and new because the exams are different.

4. For the 2016-2017 application season, we aren't using essay scores.

We won't be using the essay score from the new SAT next year. It doesn't mean you should take a name during that portion of the exam since plenty of schools will be using it. In light of this, we won't be using the writing section of the ACT next year. 

Let me reiterate that my statement is about next year. This doesn't mean we won't ever use those sections.

5. Four hours doesn't overshadow four years.

At the end of the day, remember that the testing piece of your application is a four hour piece. It does not take precedence over the four (okay, 3.5) years of information in the rest of the file. Test scores are interesting and helpful, but they don't "make or break" the application.

What are your testing questions? Share them in the comments and I'll get back to you as soon as possible. Keep in mind that we have Final Exercises this weekend and we are still working with the waiting list, so my replies might not be immediate.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

A 2016 Waiting List Update

It's waiting list season! I can't help but be excited about this part of the process because we get to make admission offers to some of the students we really wanted to take, but couldn't fit into the class back during the RD review. We like to move quickly, so let me explain what is happening around here...

When we finished the transfer review, we moved right into re-reading the applications of our students on the waiting list. Remember that about half the people who are offered a spot on the list opt to take one and they fall into ten areas - Virginia and out-of-state (OOS) students for each of the five academic areas that take first year students (Arts & Sciences, Engineering, Architecture, Nursing, and Kinesiology). I don't know how much space there is in the class at this point. The admitted students had until midnight to accept their offers and some of their deposits may still be processing.


How Do Offers Come?
When we make an offer to someone on the waiting list, they get a new decision letter in SIS. We always call students to give them a heads up that their status is going to change and explain what to do next. You'll have a few days to think things over and submit a deposit if you get an offer.

Obviously, some tell us they aren't interested anymore when we call and that's totally fine. We realize that students on the waiting list have deposited elsewhere and may have gotten excited about another school since accepting their spot on UVA's waiting list.

When Will Offers Come?
We try to call the number on the application between the end of the school day and 5 PM, when our office closes.

It could take several weeks for this to play out. We'll make a few offers, give those students a couple days to deposit, make a few more offers, give those students a few days...this repeats until the class is complete. We usually finish things up in June. Looking back at my "the class is full" blog posts, we finished the waiting list process on June 22, June 6, June 3, and June 11 in past years.

What Do Applicants on the Waiting List Do Next?
Keep focusing on school work and your other commitments while hoping for the best.

The accept/decline buttons remain visible in SIS so you have the option of removing yourself from the waiting list at any point. If you have anything to add to your file, send it to right away.

Having done this for a while, I know there are questions coming that I can not answer. Please understand that there are times when I can't talk about everything that is happening in our office. Rest assured we move as quickly as possible. We are eager to see the Class of 2020 complete!

Friday, April 29, 2016

Picking the Right College by May 1st

Many of us have been on the road in recent weeks to help high schools with case study programs. During a case study program, students are put into groups and told to evaluate a handful of deliberately strong applications as if they are an admission committee. School counselors often ask admission officers to facilitate the discussions.

Before one case study program a couple week ago, a counselor friend said that her students had a few days to read the applications and many thought there was a "right" answer to each case. There were obviously three possible outcomes (admit, waiting list, deny), but each committee was bound to have different results for the hypothetical applicants. There were no right answers because all of the hypothetical students were awesome. That's the point of the exercise.

You can't make a bad decision when all the options are wonderful!

The notion of a "right" decision has been a theme this week as well, even though I'm back in the office. With May 1st around the corner, we're getting calls and visits from some who seem more anxious than ever about this choice.We can imagine the spreadsheets being developed when people ask about double majors or studying abroad, or how much the laundry costs (yes, that was a question the other day).

So here's my pep talk for everyone who is worrying about making a final decision in their college search:

You vetted these options back in the fall when you put them on your list of schools to which you would apply. All of these schools have great professors. All of these schools have exciting opportunities inside and outside of the classroom. All of these schools have happy students. If you are still debating your options, relax and remember that you can't make a bad decision.

There is no "right" decision, there is a "best" one. If you pick the school that is best for you, you'll take advantage of all those exciting opportunities. You'll be fostering your growth as a scholar and as a person. 

Whether your next stop is here or another school, best wishes for a great end to your high school career and an exciting next step on your journey.

If you're joining #UVA20, I hope to see your photo from the "College Signing Day" photobooth on Instagram or Twitter!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

When the Trophy Generation Applies to College

I'm used to fielding calls about admission to UVA from friends, friends of friends, and complete strangers. At this time of year, most of the conversations are with parents and are about the waiting list, but one exchange rattled me a bit. The woman on the other end of the line told me she was having trouble eating and sleeping because of her son's admission results. At one point, the conversation went like this:

Me: What other options are on the table?
Her: No good ones. We've had no good news.
Me: None of the schools on his list admitted him?
Her: Well, no elite ones.

Thank goodness we were talking on the phone because I winced. I pointed out that the schools on her son's list were probably all places he imagined attending back when he was working on the applications. His personal ranking system for schools might make them elite in his mind (I tweeted about this a while ago).

By the time we were done with our conversation, I think she was feeling better.

Being a high school student right now must be so confusing. This is a generation of students who have gotten tremendous support from adults throughout their lives. This is a good thing. From getting participation trophies to seeing 112 people named valedictorian at their school, they've experienced a lot of validation. But when some of these students get to this point in their senior year, it seems like the script gets flipped on them and only certain options are valued. Why did the support evaporate? Why was that mom losing sleep and not eating despite her son having multiple offers of admission at schools he probably liked? We gave them trophies for a job well done before, but why not now?

As we approach May 1st, let's all try to congratulate students on their success and encourage them to attend the best school for them. That's the school where they are most likely to be happy and engaged both inside and outside of the classroom.

As always, if you have lingering questions about UVA, we are here to help. There's a dean on call during business hours and a team answering emails to our general email account. I'm also happy to answer questions in the comments below.

We're here to help, too!

Monday, April 04, 2016

The #UVA20 Waiting List

If you were offered a spot on the waiting list at UVA, you had a link to the Waiting List FAQs in your decision letter. I'm going to go over the parts that come up the most and add some more information. Feel free to ask questions in the comments.

How many people are on the waiting list? 

We won't know this until May 1st. The waiting list forms as people hit the "accept" buttons under their letters in SIS. The Common Data Set, something every school fills out, covers the numbers. Every school publishes a Common Data Set, so you should be able to google and find these numbers for every institution.
From the 2015-2016 Common Data Set:
Do you have a policy of placing students on a waiting list? Yes
Number of qualified applicants offered a place on the waiting list: 4,547
Number accepting a place on the waiting list: 2,081
Number of wait-listed students admitted: 402
The waiting list will be big on May 1st because we need to ensure there are students to fit all ten sections of the first year class (Virginia and out-of-state students for each of the five schools/programs that take first years).

I accepted. Why are the buttons still there? 

If you hit the "accept" button, you can always come back and pull yourself off the list. That is why the buttons remain after you opt in. There is no going back once you decline, though. If you decline the spot, the buttons disappear.

How many people will come off the waiting list?

Even though I've been doing this for years, I can't predict this one. May 1st is when all of the admitted students need to have deposits submitted to reserve a place in the Class of 2020. The class is supposed to be about 3,675 students. If we don't have that number of admitted students accepting a spot, we move to the waiting list.

It's hard to cite trends with certainty. One year, we might have room for in-state Nursing students and the next year, that group could be full on May 1. We're all waiting to see how this works out right now.  

How many people got offers to come off the waiting list in the past?

Here's a decade of data, which should show you how unpredictable this part can be.  

2015- 402
2014- 42
2013 - 185
2012 - 284
2011 - 117
2010 - 240
2009 - 288
2008 - 60
2007 - 159
2006 - 145
2005 - 83  

How do I improve my chances of getting an offer?

There is a lot of conflicting information out there about this. Emailing a letter of interest to is appropriate. Mailing a package is not. Updating us with significant news is okay. Bombarding every admission officer with an email each day is not. Please don't email one (or several) admission officers directly. We're just going to forward your email to and it will take an extra day for the email to get filed. Save time and use the general account.

By the way, showing up in Peabody Hall will have no affect. I can't tell you how many students drive here and then sit on the sofa and ask the questions covered in the FAQs. This is not a good use of your time (or gas money!).

When/How do you make wait-list offers?

We start making waiting list offers as soon as we know we have space in the class. We move quickly because no one wants to drag this out. We aim to have everything wrapped up by the end of June. Last year, we completed the class on June 22nd. In 2014, we were done by June 6th. In 2013, we finished on June 3rd and the year before that, we were done on June 11th.  

If you are going to get an offer, we'll call you at the number you put on your Common Application. The call is a heads up that your status is about to change in SIS. Of course, it's fine if you tell us "no thanks" and that's the end of it. We hope that people who are no longer interested in UVA use the "decline" button to remove their name from the list, but some people forget. 

Anyway, the usual response is screaming or "OH MY GOSH!" When SIS updates, a new letter is viewable along with the buttons needed to accept the offer and pay a deposit.

Because we want to give students a few days to think about the offer (and because the Financial Aid folks need a day or two to post a package for the newly-admitted student), this process takes a while. I can't give constant updates on the blog. I can usually check in once or twice in May. I will always tell you when the Dean says the class is full. 

What about aid?

If you applied for aid by March 1st and got all of your documentation in, Student Financial Services will put a financial aid package together. Once that's posted, you'll have a couple days to accept the offer and pay your deposit.

What now?

Look at your other options. Get excited about one of them and pay a deposit to guarantee yourself a spot in a freshman class somewhere.

By the way, calling a student and telling them that they are getting an offer of admission is probably the most exciting thing admission officers experience. We can't wait to make them and everyone has a story or two about favorite calls. I promise you that when it's time, we'll be working very quickly so we can deliver some happy news!

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Unofficial Admission Statistics for #UVA20

As usual, I am sharing some unofficial statistics this application season. These numbers weren't targets (meaning, we don't read to "hit" a certain test statistic), they are the result of the committee's process. Please keep in mind that the Office of Institutional Assessment is the source of all official statistics about UVA. They will determine the final statistics for the class, which can be found in the data digest part of their website.

Here are some unofficial numbers about this year's process. These numbers are up to date as of 3/28/2016. If you are a reporter reading this, please be sure to get in touch with the Media Relations team in the Office of University Communications for all of your reporterly needs. :)

If you want to look at numbers from past years, head to the Office of Institutional Assessment site (link above) or click on the "statistics" tag at the end of this post, which will take you to older posts of this nature. Remember that my numbers are unofficial and old posts were not updated when the census was taken.

Total number of applications: 32,426
Total number of VA apps: 9,653
Total number of OOS apps:22,773
We use completed application numbers in our statistics. There are schools that include incomplete applications in their stats.

Overall offers: 9,416
Total VA offers: 4,019 (41.6% offer rate)
Total OOS offers: 5,397 (23.7% offer rate)
Enrollment goal: 3,675
Schools admit more students than the enrollment goal with yield in mind.Yield is how many students accept an offer of admission. We do not try to figure out an individual student's likelihood of enrolling (or look at demonstrated interest), but overall yield influences the offer rate. Check out yield from past years, broken down by residency.

Middle 50% SAT score (offers only): 1970-2250
Middle 50% ACT composite (offers only): 30-34
We use scores from each section in our review, but the reports I'm using generate totals.

92.8% of admitted students were in the top 10% of their high school class
This number only reflects those who attend schools that report rank.

Defers and the Waiting List
Overall offer rate for the defer group: 21.4%
Students offered spots on the waiting list: 15%
Remember that the waiting list forms as students opt into it via SIS and many will decline. The waiting list will have ten different segments (in-state and OOS for each of the five academic areas that take first-year students).

Please understand that I do not have additional statistics. It's Days on the Lawn season and spring break at many high schools, so we are inundated with visitors. We have also moved into the transfer review process (reading season doesn't end with the first year release!).

Friday, March 25, 2016

Let's Talk about #UVA20 Decisions: The Offer

Admitted students can use this entry to talk. I imagine you might also want to join the UVa Class of 2020 Facebook group to chat with your future classmates. That group is just for students. Parents, you can check out the UVA Parents Page and the UVA Parents Facebook page.

I'll have posts about admission statistics and Days on the Lawn (our admitted student open houses) in the coming days. Just for reference, below your letter are buttons to accept or decline your offer. If you accept, you will see a button to let you pay your tuition deposit online*. I believe orientation registration will open after April 1st, but you'll get more information about that in the future.

You have until May 1st to decide whether you'll be joining us in Charlottesville. If you decide to go elsewhere at some point in the coming weeks, I hope you'll decline the offer immediately via your self-service page.

Our relationship does not end here. We are here to talk if you need more information about UVA to make your decision. Don't hesitate to call or reach out to us online if we can help.

Congratulations! We are so lucky to have you considering UVA!

Image by Sanjay Suchak

*We have an e-check system for deposits. You'll type in the numbers on the bottom of a check. The system will take certain kinds of credit cards, but it's primarily an e-check system. Be sure to turn off your pop-up blocker when you go to pay the deposit!

Let's Talk about #UVA20 Decisions: The Waiting List

Students offered a spot on the waiting list can use this entry to talk.

This is probably the toughest decision to get from a school. At UVA, the waiting list tends to be large because there are so many different segments to the population here (VA and OOS groups for each of the four schools and the one program that take first year students). At this point, we don't know where there will be openings in the class.

We won't know how large the waiting list is until you all accept or decline your waiting list offers.  Right now, you've been offered a spot on the list. You aren't actually on it until you reply using the response buttons in SIS (you have until May 1st to do this).

Still, the numbers can change dramatically from year-to-year. We took 60 students off the waiting list in 2008 and 288 students the next year. We offered admission to 402 wait-listed students last year, but 42 the year before.

For now, you need to look at your other options and think about which one feels right to you. Some of you will want to hold on and see what happens with the waiting list and others will want to fully invest themselves in another school. Either way, you need to submit a deposit somewhere by May 1st to ensure yourself a spot in a freshman class. If you are offered a spot in our class and you decide to accept it, you'll have to write to that other school and withdraw your name from the class (you may lose your deposit at that school). Just remember that you can't "double deposit".

Feel free chat here. You should have already seen the link to the waiting list FAQ page in your decision letter, which answers the most common questions (is the list ranked, what do I do now, what's the time line, etc.).

We hope you find a peaceful place to think about your options

Let's Talk about #UVA20 Decisions: The Deny

Denied students can use this entry to talk.

I know this is hard to handle and some of you might not have gotten a disappointing admission decision yet. I hope you all can look at your options and get excited about your other schools. If your immediate reaction is "I'll transfer", don't let that plan keep you from getting involved in campus life at the school you choose. I think many students come to think of their next choice as "home" and can't imagine leaving it after a little while. Give yourself time to explore your options.

Some students inquire about being moved to the waiting list group. We do not have an appeal process.

Please be polite and respectful of others when posting.

BTW, if you signed yourself up to read the blog by email and don't want the messages anymore, there's an unsubscribe link at the bottom of the page. 

Regular Decisions for #UVA20 Posting TONIGHT!

When Dean Roberts stops talking about applications and starts talking about basketball, that's a really good sign that decisions are final and he is ready to release them. I think our big game against Iowa State in the Sweet Sixteen round of the NCAA Tournament has inspired him.


This is a long post with lots of important info, so keep reading!


The release is always exciting, but some of you aren't going to get the decision for which you hoped. I hope you'll focus on the college options you have instead of the ones you don't. Celebrate your success, but also be gracious around those who might not have gotten good news.
I will post blog entries where you can talk about the different decisions at the end of the day. I'll be back to work through any questions that are asked in the comments over the weekend.  I trust you to be respectful of others in the comments.

Please don't post personal information in the comments (contact info, statistics, etc.). School-specific statistics like GPA and rank are subjective these days and don't represent the applicant accurately. Our review is far more elaborate that a simple GPA and test score review.

Keep an Eye on Social Media

You may want to follow the UVA Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook accounts. There might be some nice messages! The Class of 2020 Facebook group is full of students who want to connect as well!

A lot of people on Grounds will be watching #UVA and #UVA20 so they can welcome our newest Wahoos to the UVA community.

Now, let's go over what is going to happen tonight.

What Time is the Release?

I don't have an exact time for you. Our IT folks handle the release, so I can't pinpoint a precise moment when they will appear in your SIS account. Back in the pre-SIS days, I just typed "-1" in the code a few times and it was done, but they have to run a few processes to make it all happen, so it's not instantaneous.

Where Will Decisions Appear?

The "View Decision" link at the bottom of your SIS page will go to a decision letter instead of that "April 1st" message that's there right now. If you can't find your login info for the SIS, use the links on the login page to generate a new password. Please do not open multiple windows or constantly hit refresh. Students have slowed SIS down to a crawl in the past by doing it. Use one window. Set a time tonight when you'll check and do something offline until then.

Decisions do not come by email and they are not reflected in MyUVA. 

What about Scholars Programs?

Echols, Rodman, and College Science Scholars will be notified by email on Saturday. A follow-up letter will be mailed.

How Many People were Admitted/Denied?

I'll have a post full of unofficial statistics on Monday. For now, know that the applicant pool was a little larger this year, which resulted in us being slightly more selective. I wouldn't characterize the changes as dramatic. We've never felt pressure to drum up the numbers, so I'm happy about this.

THANK YOU for hanging with me through a tough application season. Your comments and tweets have been bright spots throughout the process. Your energy, enthusiasm, and humor has been so uplifting!

Regardless of what SIS shows you tonight, you are going to attend a great school. You're going to learn from amazing professors, administrators, and peers. You're going to meet people with whom you will stay friends for the rest of your lives. You're going to pull all-nighters studying. You're going to pull all-nighters not studying. You're going to have great successes and you're going to fail miserably at some things. What's going to make or break those experiences is your response and your openness to learning from them, not where you are when they happen.

Remember that your decision is not a statement about your value. Most of our applicants are qualified. They are perfectly capable of doing the work at UVA. Our first-year class just isn't large enough to accommodate everyone.

Best wishes to those who won't be back to the blog after this (if you're reading this by email, you can unsubscribe yourself at the bottom of the email). To the rest, I hope you'll continue to comment and stay in touch!

It's a big night for you and for UVA. I'll be thinking about you all. Good luck and go hoos!

UVA is yours now!

You don't need to call us to verify this. It's true. We are releasing decisions tonight. The receptionists can't tell you an exact time or your decision.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Overlap Season Begins

It started a week ago, but I just actually had a moment to stop and think about what is going on. We're trying to wrap up the Regular Decision review, we're reading transfer applications (their deadline was March 1st), and the juniors have started to descend upon the UVA Grounds in huge numbers. It's overlap season.

Overlap Season. So tired. (outtake from CavDog filming this last summer)

I thought I'd share a little bit of advice for each of the groups with which we are working right now...

1. Regular Decision Applicants

We are seeing the news from our colleagues at other schools on Twitter, so we know you are starting to hear from the colleges on your list. Rest assured that we are working as quickly as possible to get decisions finalized and ready to release. If you read the blog, you know that while April 1 has always been the official notification date, we always post decisions as soon as they are done instead of waiting for that day. We're getting there! Hang in there a little while longer.

2. Transfer Students

If you are reading this blog and you are a transfer student, be sure to visit the UVA Transfer Admission Blog. My colleague who writes that blog is the expert on transfer admission in our office. Even though I've been at UVA for over a decade, I still find myself running down to her office to ask questions about courses or transfer credit. She is the best. Use her as a resource!

3. Juniors

We are probably seeing over 1,000 visitors right now due to high school spring breaks. We are getting a lot of questions about GPA and course selection. I've addressed GPA fairly regularly on the blog, but please remember that it is not standardized. We are more concerned with courses and grades than with a number. Your GPA is an attempt to summarize that information, but remember that two students could have identical GPAs and very different coursework behind them.

When it comes to course selection, remember that high school is the time to create a solid foundation for the more advanced work you'll do in college. Pay attention to your cores subjects (English, Math, History, Foreign Language, and Science). Electives are wonderful, but you should not be doubling and tripling up in an elective area because you think it will "look good" while dropping a core subject.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Notes from the first #UVA20 Days on the Lawn

We interrupt this Regular Decision review process to bring you the first Days on the Lawn for #UVA20! This DOTL was for students admitted during the Early Action process. The day is winding down and families are heading out, so I thought I would share a few photos from the day.

 DOTL check-in is at Old Cabell Hall. Most people take one of the shuttle buses from the Emmet & Ivy Garage, which we take over for these days. We have some entertainment in the theater before the official welcome.

After the welcome session, some students head off to sit in on classes and others will go to sessions given by the different schools and colleges at UVA. We also have a resource fair, tours of the grounds, tours of the residence halls, and chances to relax and socialize. 

I think it's safe to say that our press conference photo booth was a hit. Since May 1st has been dubbed "College Signing Day," we thought we'd set up a faux press conference so students could take pictures to post on the big day. 

Jack even decided to crash (and steal a pom) at one point. Sorry for the photo bomb, Future Hoo.

Only a fraction of the 900+ organizations at UVA can fit in the resource fair, but we had a great variety represented.

How does the Cavalier Marching Band do it? They are always on the road, but they manage to play at DOTL and have a table at the fair. I can't wait to see them on Friday night. (Go Hoos!)

This was Jack's first DOTL and I think he had a fantastic day. Of course, he thought everyone was here to see him and posed for pictures like his brother did before him. He's still learning the ropes, so thanks to those who put up with his puppy energy! 

Jack, exhausted, around 4 PM.

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Days on the Lawn Update for #UVA20

I wrote a general post about Days on the Lawn earlier in the season, but wanted to add a few notes. As a reminder, here are the DOTL dates for this year:

2016 Days on the Lawn
Monday, March 21
Monday, March 28
Monday, April 4
Friday, April 8
Monday, April 11
Friday, April 15
Monday, April 18


The two dates set aside completely for admitted Early Action students have been popular. We are no longer taking reservations for the 21st and there may be a little more space available on the 28th. The April dates are open to all admitted students since they obviously come after the April 1st Regular Decision notification date. We have blocked spots for the RD group on those dates and will open them up soon after decisions are released.

There is a waiting list for each date, so if you register for a day and your plans change, please change your reservation right away so someone can come off the waiting list.

Who can join me?

This is addressed on the registration site, but each admitted student can bring two guests. We ask that you not bring the entire family down for DOTL. Space is limited and we want to make sure as many seats as possible are available for admitted students and a parent or two.

 What if I can't come to a DOTL?

You can do a lot of the same things on another day, but you'll just have to do a little planning. Our "Plan a Visit" page has links to an open class list, the Monroe Society (overnight visit hosts), and other resources for visitors. If you scroll down on the tour page, you'll see that there are department tours offered in addition to the general tour.

 Feel free to use the comments to ask questions!

Jack's First Visit to UVA, around 10 weeks.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Internet Rumors about UVA Admission

If a random stranger walked up to you on the street and started telling you how UVA admission operates and makes decisions, would you believe them? Of course not. You'd want to know how they learned the information and about their connection to the Office of Admission. So when an anonymous person on the internet starts doing the same, why do people believe them?

I know you are anxious. If you have questions about something you've heard, know that we are more than happy to chat. You can call us at 434-982-3200 during business hours, email us at, or reach out to me here or on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.

Hang in there. 

How can I help?

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Sending Application Updates to UVA

I'm going to make this short and simple because there is a lot of reading to do. Many students want to update their files right now. This is totally fine. On our contact page, the page where people fine our email addresses, we have this statement:

Application updates are sent to 
and not to individual admission officers.

 If you send an application update to an admission officer, they forward it along to that address. To speed things up, just send the updates directly to We are reading all day and into the night and many of us stay off email so we can focus on applications. 

Nobody available to play because they are reading files!