Peabody is the building, Jack is the dog, and I'm Dean J (she/her, btw).

Three notes:
1. There are fifteen years of posts here. The search box works well, but please consider the age of the posts when you find them. The college admission process changes over time!

2. The comment box doesn't show up when viewing the blog optimized for mobile. Click the "view full site" link at the bottom of the page and the site will reload with comment boxes.

3. Pick a name, real or otherwise, if posting a comment.

Welcome to the blog and thanks for reading!

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Does a College Application Essay have to be Unique?

It's getting late and I should probably close the laptop, but I thought I'd share a couple observations from reading this evening. Specifically, I'm going to talk about essay topics. Students are always asking for more specific examples of "essays that worked" during my q&a sessions on Instagram. I often hesitate because I don't want to imply that there are right topics and wrong topics. What's more, the essays that usually pop into my head are the unusual ones - the essays that were outrageous or hilarious or even devastatingly sad. Those aren't normal essays, so I don't want students to leave the q&a thinking that they have to brainstorm something shocking to say. 

Keep in mind that what makes an essay good is what the student shares and how they do it, not the topic. This evening, I read a really lovely essay about a ritual that's related to food a student's family makes for a holiday. I've probably read thousands of essays that are food-related (and they make me hungry sometimes!), so this one wasn't unique in its topic, but I found the way it was written, the voice, and the little story that unfolded really...nice. 

Another essay I read this evening was about sneakers. Sneaker collecting and flipping is pretty common these days. I feel somewhat familiar with the sneaker world because of all the essays I've read about that topic. This evening's student talked about planning for their next sneaker purchase and then about how they changed their mind due to some realizations about why they were attracted to fancy (my word, not theirs) sneakers. Instead of being a narrative about procuring sneakers, the student wrote a reflection. It was nicely done.

I haven't laughed this evening. I haven't cried. I've smiled several times. If you are an early applicant who is worrying about essays already written or a Regular Decision applicant feel a bit intimated by your essays, I hope you can remember that you don't have to write a unique essay to get our attention. Write about something that interests you and let your voice come through.

Essays don't have to be unique to get our attention


Thursday, October 29, 2020

Submitting Resumes, Research, Portfolios, and Non-Academic Recommendations to #UVA

 I'm gotten more emails from people trying to submit extra items this year than ever before. We cover supplements and updates in the application instructions and if you follow me on social media, you have probably watched me beg people to read the instructions over and over again. Let's go over things in a little more detail...

We instruct applicants to submit updates through the student portal, but we realize that there are other voices out there telling them to get in touch with admission officers. Please do not send updates, supplements, and other application items to admission officers. We want our staff to be dedicated to application review, not tending to a constant stream of emails. Following directions helps the process move quickly. Not following directions slows us down...and I know you all want us to work efficiently so we can get decisions made!

Remember that the application is enough. We ask for the things we know we need to make our decisions. If someone is telling you that UVA needs things that aren't listed in our application instructions, they are mistaken.


Here are some of the things people may tell you to submit and why they aren't necessary:

 

1. Resumes 

The Common App allows each college to turn the resume function of the app on or off. It is OFF for UVA. UVA does not accept resumes. The application presents information in a systematic format, which allows us to zero in on pertinent information quickly. You don't need to make more work for yourself. Follow our instructions and use the application to share information in a concise way.

2. Non-Academic Recommendations 

We require one recommendation from your counselor and one from a teacher of your choice. We are looking for insight into your style in the academic environment. People who have never taught you can't speak to your classroom performance. Also, those people tend to think they need to summarize facts (hours worked, tasks performed). Repetitive information isn't helpful.

Some people want to send recs from faculty they met at conferences or special programs. Consider how briefly these people have known you and remember that your teachers and counselors have a little more familiarity with you.

The required academic recommendations are perfect! Don't worry about sending extras!

3. Research Abstracts 

It's great to tell us about research, but don't send us an abstract. A line or two in the activity part of the application summarizing what you did is great. A paper is over the top and not useful. In fact, if you send us a paper full of jargon, you're increasing the chances that the gist of the work won't be clear.

4. Writing Portfolios 

We get three pieces of polished writing in your application. The application has a long essay and there are two short-answer prompts. That's plenty of writing for us. We don't accept portfolios.

5. Copies of Certificates 

You sign off on our Honor Code when you apply and promise that the information in your application is accurate. We don't need a copy of a certificate to believe that you are a member of a certain organization or received an award for something. Leave those papers in the baby book or that folder where you stick important stuff.

6. Newspaper Clippings or Pictures of You Doing Something 

Anyone who was on the staff of a literary magazine, newspaper, or yearbook is proud of their work. It's best to keep copies for yourself and your family. The same goes with photos (even the adorable baby-on-the-UVA-Lawn photos). They belong in a safe place at home, not in a college application.

7. Art/Music Supplements that Don't Follow the Guidelines

I've gotten several emails and DMs from students who have read the art and music supplement guidelines and want to send portfolios that don't follow them. Do not do this. Consider the message you are sending when you don't follow directions. You will not get a good review from the faculty if you don't give them what they want to review.  


Again, colleges ask for the things they need to make their decisions. If we don't ask for it, we don't want you to spend time (or money) on it. So when you hit submit, it's time to move on to monitoring your status. You don't need to spend time and money crafting extra items to send us.

Please don't spend your money on stuff like this.



Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Three Last Minute Essay Reminders for Early #UVA Applicants

We are a few days from the Early Action and Early Decision deadlines and some of you are probably putting the finishing touches on your application essays. I thought I'd share a few last minute tips for you.

1. The Prompts are Deliberately Broad

I get a lot of DMs on Instagram from students asking whether their essay topics are appropriate for a certain prompt. They seem to think there's a right answer, but there really isn't! We wrote the UVA essay prompts in hopes of inspiring you to share something about yourself that we wouldn't otherwise know from your application. Ideally, your topic will be a vehicle for sharing your voice and style. It'll let you be authentic in your writing. It will give us insight into who you are and what things interest you.

One specific tip about the favorite word essay: It's not a literal question. I love the sound of the word pamplemousse, but I would never, ever write an essay about that. Maybe I'd use la investigadora or la chercheuse because I love to research things using google.es or google.fr for fun. Then that would lead to talking about a love of language and the importance of the internet in helping us connect to people/places we don't usually. Get it? Don't fixate on the word.
 

2. There's No Correct Format and We Aren't Counting the Words

Many students assume there are "correct" answers for certain parts of the application and essay formatting seems to be one of them. They ask about word counts, whether it's okay to rhyme or be funny, and if they use a certain tense or point of view in their writing. If you see general language (like when we say the essay should be "half a page or roughly 250 words"), that is permission to be in the ballpark.
 
When it comes to the specific format of the essay, you have my permission (and encouragement!) to deviate from the more traditional style of writing essays that you use for class. The five-paragraph essay is great for school and for timed testing situations, but your application essays aren't academic papers. I'd much rather read a personal story about how your topic affected you or why it's important to you than a report about why it's important/interesting to all people who have experienced it. I think the academic essay format leads you to write the later kind of essay. I don't need a stale run down of why a piece of music is technically sound or considered important by critics. I want to read about what that piece of music(*) means to you. How does it make you feel? Where does it take you? How has its message impacted you? Use the format that lets you do that.
 
*This applies to any topic, whether it's a book, academic interest, activity, etc.
 

3. Stop Getting Advice

At this point, I think you should lock your essays down and stop asking for advice about them. The anxiety of a big deadline sometimes has us consulting too many people on our work. Look your essays over a couple more times. Read the essays out loud to make sure they sound right. Remember that you are an expert on what college-bound students sounds like. Hit submit.

Parents, run interference for your student if there are people who think this is a team activity. They are well-meaning, but this isn't the time for that. The period leading up to submitting an application can be scary for a student and you can be a calm, supportive influence.


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

Friday, October 23, 2020

Course Rigor is Not a Number in the #UVA Admission Process

A student in a social media forum recently (12 hours ago, to be exact) asked for people to guess their chances at admission by listing out the number of advanced courses they took each year. Some people will toss out a number and say "you need x AP courses to be competitive" or they'll express disbelieve that someone with x number of APs was not admitted. Our academic review is far more detailed than just counting courses.

 Adding up your Honors and AP/IB/DE courses is tempting when trying to convey the strength of your curriculum, but let's talk about why that number doesn't tell admission officers the full story.


1. All of your core classes are important.

A lot of people focus on the core areas that correspond to their current academic interest. I've even had people wave off certain subjects because they aren't interested in them or they don't come "naturally" to them. High school is the time to get a broad education and college is the time to specialize (after foundation work). We are most concerned with a student's work in five core areas (in alpha order, not order of importance): English, Math, Science, Social Science, and World Language*. 

At UVA, students don't even declare a major until the end of the second year in the College of Arts and Sciences or the end of the first year in Engineering and Architecture. The Nursing and Kinesiology students are the only ones admitted directly into a program. There's some data that says you are apt to change your mind about your major between senior year of high school and when you declare. This is why we don't want you to get too narrow in your focus in high school. A broad foundation will help in the long run.

2. The number of APs and the IB Diploma don't drive a decision.

Plenty of people want to know how many AP courses a student should take to be competitive in our process. We don't approach applications this way. First of all, not everyone goes to a school with APs as an option. Second, some schools limit how many AP courses a student may take. Third, with the number of AP courses offered these days, you can rack up a lot of APs in just one subject. There could be students with big AP numbers who have never taken an advanced class in multiple core areas. 

Similarly, students sometimes assume that full diploma candidates at IB schools (which are pretty common in Virginia) get in and everyone else is denied. If you are working on the full IB diploma, that's fantastic. We will also be very interested in your grades and review which subjects you opted to take as your HLs. The full diploma isn't the only route to an offer, though. There are students who weren't able to get the full diploma done while still having some impressive HL work to show. We can admit them, too!

3. Doubling up in one subject at the expense of the core doesn't "look good."

There are some students who are so excited about a certain subject that they want to double or even triple up on courses in that area. I don't think it's smart to drop core subjects to load up classes in one area. Cover the core and use your electives to explore your interests.


As always, I'm happy to answer questions about rigor of curriculum or course selection in the comments.
 

*For a longer discussion of the importance of World Languages, watch this Instagram highlight:  check out this highlight from Instagram

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Curve Balls and the Tricky #UVA Application Instructions

I got forwarded an email the other day that contained an independent education consultant's advice for answering the school-specific writing prompt for UVA. It said that our College of Arts and Sciences prompt was actually asking the student to talk about why UVA was the school for them. The tone of the advice was that our essay prompts are tricky and students should approach them as curve balls that mean something other than what they say.

Plenty of schools use a "why us" prompt on their applications. If we wanted you to write that kind of essay, we'd ask for it. We do not want "why UVA" essays. Don't use the limited space you get for your responses to talk about UVA. After all, we know UVA is awesome - we're here! What we don't know yet is about how awesome you are. We want to get to know you, not read about why you like us.

Now, let me address the larger point: We strive to be clear and helpful with our instructions and prompts. We WANT to get applications that fulfill our needs, which is why I constantly implore students to read the application instructions on our website before applying. If a third party tries to tell you that we want something other than what we say, ignore them. If someone says they get into UVA because they submitted something we didn't ask for, they are wrong. They simply made the application more cumbersome for themselves and for us. 

If you have questions about the application instructions, please reach out to us for clarification. We are happy to help you! When we get lots of questions about the same thing, that helps us update our instructions, too. 

We are here to help, not throw curve balls!


Thursday, October 08, 2020

Why Early Admission Statistics Shouldn't Determine When You Apply to UVA

Students and parents often ask for admission rates for our early and regular rounds of admission as they try to decide which application option is most advantageous. While I have shared admission statistics for years on this blog (here are past statistics posts), I am always hesitant to cite them without an explanation of why the admission rate of the different rounds shouldn't drive the decision to submit an application in the fall versus the winter.

We review the applications the exact same way throughout the entire application season. The admission rates are telling you about the strength of the different pools at UVA, not about a different style of application review.

A lot of people also look to test scores to tell them about the competitiveness of the admission process. I've written so many posts about testing over the years that helps explain why that's not the best idea, but another one is coming, but our early and regular pools have had pretty similar testing. What can't be conveyed in statistics: strength, consistency, and breadth of work in core subjects, recommendations, and essays. What's more, a good portion of our class won't submit testing this year because we are test optional.

My advice: Submit when you can share your very best application with us. Some students have had time to put together an application they can be proud of in the fall and others will be better off with a little more time.

Golden retriever looking overwhelmed by toys all around him.
Too much on your plate this fall? Don't feel pressured to apply early.


Tuesday, September 29, 2020

What is the Counselor's School Report?

As students read application instructions and start working on their Common Apps, they sometimes wonder about the School Report (also called the SSR or Secondary School Report) that counselors submit to support the application. 

This School Report is sort of like a "cover sheet" for the documents sent by the counselor. In our system, this form is bundled with the high school profile and counselor's recommendation. The School Report and a high school profile help admission officers calibrate to read the file. Generally, the high school profile gives information about the curriculum at the school, grading scale, and information about how statistics like GPA and rank are calculated (remember, those are not standardized). The School Report is a little more specific to the applicants and the current year's senior class.

The first page has biographical information on it and the privacy waiver...

 
The questions on the back of the School Report aren't all required, but they prompt the counselor to provide information about the student and contextual information. 

Some high schools don't allow their counselors to complete all sections of this form. For example, the sections asking counselors to rate a student compared to others and the disciplinary questions are regularly left blank.
  
 
 
Do you have questions about the School Report? Post them in the comments below. If you're on a mobile device, you'll have to look at the "full" version of the site instead of the mobile version to see the comment box.
 

 

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Does Your #UVA Application Need to Show a Spike?

What does "spike" mean to you? If you've been spending time on websites where college admission advice is given out in the last few years, you've probably seen it used in conversations about extracurricular activities. Let's talk about that and what UVA admission officers are looking for when we review the activity section of your Common App.

The Definition

The spike being talked about on those sites refers to the notion that students should tailor their activities (and in some cases, the entire application) to fit their intended major. Most recently, I've seen people talk of showing a "business spike" or "psychology spike." 

The General Concept Isn't New

There were people talking about crafting and packaging yourself to fit a specific theme back when I was applying to college! We thought you had to be either well-rounded or pointy. We'd also hear people talk about students being specialists and generalists. I think that the internet has made "spike" spread very quickly to the point that it's become generally accepted.

My Take on the Spike Messages I'm Seeing

When it comes to activities, we don't craft the class to cover certain interests because we don't have to. When you have an incoming class of ~3,900 students, you don't have to engineer variety. No one is going to say "where are the drummers" or "who will write for the newspaper?" There will be drummers. And writers. And dancers. You get the idea. 

When I look at your activity list, I simply want to see that you're making a contribution in some area of your life. Activities don't have to be related to each other. Activities don't have to be related to your academic interests. Activities should be rewarding, interesting, and fun. You shouldn't be afraid to try something because it doesn't fit into a strategy.

Also, consider the fact that we are looking for curious students who will take advantage of all the wonderful options in the UVA curriculum. It's great to have an idea about what you'd like to study, but I hope you're excited about explore subjects you haven't had access to in high school.

What Applicants Should Do

Ask a few admission officers about this spike concept. You might have to explain what it is, as this idea didn't come out of admission offices. I hope you'll see that we are all interested in learning more about you in the activity section, but we aren't expecting your involvement to dovetail with your academic interests.


Activities should be rewarding and fun, not part of a strategy!


Wednesday, August 26, 2020

What Does Test Optional Mean at #UVA?

I shared that UVA has gone test optional for Fall 2021 applicants in the beginning of June. The feedback to my accompanying posts on Twitter and Instagram was positive then. We had a nice q&a session on Instagram, too. 

Recently, there's been a resurgence of questions about what test optional means as exams have been cancelled. I see people on social media talking about traveling hours to take the SAT or ACT, perhaps because they're listening to inexpert voices on what test optional means. A lot of people are worried that admission officers will penalize students who don't submit testing. They have decided that we'll assume a student is withholding a poor score if one isn't submitted. 

Full stop.

This is a year unlike any other. We have watched along with you as tests have been cancelled. If an application doesn't have testing, the assumption will be that you did not have access to testing. If you have a score and you think it will help your application, feel free to self-report it on your application. If you don't, move on to editing those essays and juggling all the other things that come with being a senior. 

Optional means optional. 

Monday, June 08, 2020

2020-2021 #UVA Application Writing Prompts

There are three required pieces of writing on our application: the Common App essay and two shorter responses that are specific to UVA. The Common App prompts are on their website. Our prompts are below.

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

2020-2021 First-Year Application Writing Prompts

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, literature, or other media has surprised, unsettled, or inspired you, and in what way?
  • School of Engineering and Applied Sciences - Describe an engineering feat that serves the common good and why it inspires you to study engineering.
  • School of Architecture - Describe significant experience that deepened your interest in studying in the School of Architecture.
  • School of Nursing - Describe a health care-related experience or another significant interaction that deepened your interest in studying nursing.
  • Kinesiology Program - Discuss experiences that led you to apply to 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?
  • Rita Dove, UVA English professor and former U.S. Poet Laureate, once said in an interview that "...there are times in life when, instead of complaining, you do something about your complaints." Describe a time when, instead of complaining, you took action for the greater good.

Thursday, June 04, 2020

We are Test Optional for Students Applying to #UVA for Fall 2021 (and a Deadline Change)

I've gotten your emails, comments, and DMs asking about our admission policies for next year. I promised to share any changes that UVA leadership made as soon as possible. I have two updates to share today...


Given the uncertain prospect of universally accessible, reliable and equitable SAT/ACT testing in the next admission year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the University of Virginia will not require that applicants submit standardized testing to be considered for admission for at least the next application cycle.

“Students and families face enormous challenges as a result of the coronavirus pandemic,” President Jim Ryan said. “This change in our admission system during a year in which all applicants might not have the same access to testing will remove at least one obstacle that might otherwise discourage a student from pursuing her higher education aspirations. At the same time, this will give us an extraordinary opportunity to explore the utility of tests in our overall admissions process going forward.”

A test-optional approach could also assist first-generation and underrepresented student populations including minority and low-income applicants who historically have not  benefitted as frequently as others in preparatory help such as test-tutors.

When making admission decisions, the Office of Admission will continue to offer a comprehensive, personal, thorough and holistic evaluation of each application, Dean of Admission Greg Roberts said. Students who wish to include testing as part of their application may continue to do so, but those who do not will be at no disadvantage in the application review.  

The pilot testing policy applies to all applicants for undergraduate admission to UVA – domestic and international, first-year and transfer students.

Additionally, the University has pushed back its Early Decision application deadline to Nov. 1 to give students more time to examine their college options and submit an Early Decision application if UVA is their first choice for college. 

“Before making this recommendation, we consulted with the deans of the undergraduate schools that accept first-year applicants,” Roberts said. “All expressed a deep commitment to equity and fairness in the admission process for their schools, and given the uncertainty surrounding the availability of testing this year, all offered clear and unwavering support for a one-year, pilot test-optional admission plan.” 

UVA will review the data related to this new, test-optional cycle to inform potential, longer-term policy considerations in the future, and will decide by next spring whether to extend the pilot.


You can see the full announcement on the UVA website. Our application instructions have been updated as well.

Monday, May 18, 2020

A #UVA24 Waiting List Update

Hello, everyone! I'm stepping back into the blog after weeks of student takeovers to let you know some more about this year's waiting list. If you haven't read the Waiting List FAQ page (linked in your letter) and the first post about the waiting list on this blog, those might be helpful.

During our 4/21 question and answer session on Instagram, I shared that we would be making waiting list offers, but I couldn't predict how many offers we'd make. Historical data can help admission officers predict their yield (that's the term for the students to accept admission after we offer it) and something that is called melt.

Melt (sometimes referred to as "Summer Melt") happens when students who paid an admission deposit decide that they aren't coming after all. You can see melt happen as other schools go to their waiting list. Someone who deposited at UVA might get off the waiting list at another school and decide to withdraw from here to accept that other offer.

While admission officers have historical data to look at when trying to predict their yield and melt, no one anywhere had data that could predict the impact of a global pandemic. We are all learning about this together.

So...Who is Getting Offers?

You are probably aware that I think of our waiting list as having ten different segments: in-state and out-of-state for the five academic entry points. There are years when we need all of the segments to fill in spots and years when we might need one or two. Generally, more spots are available in the College of Arts and Sciences and School of Engineering. The College is the largest school with about 11,500 of the 17,000 undergraduates enrolled there. Engineering is the next largest with 2,870. As usual, those are the schools where we've made almost all of our waiting list offers. We have made offers to both Virginians and non-Virginians.

Why is This So Slow?

This is a time when we work one-on-one with students, not with large groups. It may feel a little slow on your side. We review the applications of those who accepted a spot on the waiting list and submit the names of students we'd like to admit from our regions to the Dean. The Dean approves some of our students for an offer and we get to call to let them know that an offer is coming in the student portal.

Students coming off the waiting list get a few days to think about their offers and make a deposit.. If the student applied for financial aid, we let Student Financial Services know so they can put together an aid package and their days to consider the offer begin when we get word that the package has been posted to their SIS account.

On our side, the waiting list process moves like a pendulum. We make some offers, we wait for the replies, then we make a few more offers.

What Can You Do?

There are two things you can do if you are on the waiting list. First, you can submit any updates through your applicant portal. Second, you can look for an email that is going out to everyone on the waiting list asking you to confirm that you still want to be considered. That's it.


I'm going to make some calls myself in a moment, so I'm in for a happy afternoon. I hope I get to talk to a few of you!




Thursday, April 30, 2020

Meet Kelley, a Spanish and Anthropology Double Major from Virginia!

If you're a Virginia student, this blog post might be of interest! Even though Kelley didn't travel too far to go to college, she's made a new home at UVA.
As a reminder, if you are viewing this on a mobile device, you'll want to click the "View Web Version" link at the bottom to get the Disqus comment box to appear.



Hi guys! My name is Kelley and I’m from Fredericksburg, Virginia. I’m a second year studying Spanish and Anthropology with a concentration in culture and communication. I’m planning to graduate a year early to pursue an accelerated Master’s in Anthropology here at UVA! Outside of the classroom, I’m really involved in research, the University Guide Service, and Madison House (which is our volunteer center here on Grounds). I love UVA and am so excited to share a little of the place I call home with you all.

UVA is a big school, but it starts to feel much smaller once you arrive. I quickly met friends on my hall and in my dorm, and began to join clubs and other activities that gave me my own community within the larger UVA bubble. One of these communities has been the University Guide Service, which I joined second semester of my first year, and which gave me some of the best mentors and friends I could have ever asked for. The other organization that I joined was the Latinx and Migrant Aid (LAMA) program through Madison House. We travel to different places around the Charlottesville community and work with Spanish speakers and students to help with English language practice and other tutoring. LAMA is one of my favorite things to do at UVA because it has allowed me to grow a community and build relationships with people in the Charlottesville area, not just inside the UVA bubble.

I have loved my experience at UVA so much, but what’s crazy is that when I was a senior in high school, I really didn’t think I wanted to come here at all. As an in-state student, I knew a lot of people who came here every year and I wanted to be the one who did something different. I toured a bunch of different schools, waiting to have that “a-ha” moment that everyone talked about, the moment when I was supposed to magically know that a school was for me. But it never really came, and I think that for a lot of people, it never really does.

It wasn’t until I began to attend events for admitted students, watch silly Instagram takeovers, and talk to current students that I began to really see myself at UVA. I began to realize that what I was looking for in a school was not that “a-ha” moment standing on some campus, but people who made me excited to get up and learn something every day. These are the people that I’ve found here in Charlottesville: people who are passionate about the things they study and the place they get to call home. I have met people who 3D print toys for fun, who organize climate strikes, and who take on passion projects to keep making this University a better place. Whether I’m watching my best friend nerd out over Russian history or listening to my roommate tell me about his 20 mile run, it is thanks to them that I get that “a-ha” feeling every day.