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Saturday, May 27, 2006

Every generation needs a new revolution

What's a UVA blog without a few quotes from TJ (oops...Mr. Jefferson)?
I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times.
I think admission is long overdue for some changes. The first two Deans with whom I worked were anti-early decision and I agreed. To be committed to one school and to have applications done by November 1st, most students will have to get applications completed while they're still adjusting to a new set of teachers and possibly a heavier workload if they're carrying a full load of AP/IB courses in the senior year. It seems like a horrible time to expect students to take some time to write brilliant essays and to expect teachers to write amazing recommendations.

When I came to UVA, I changed my stance a bit. Early decision seemed like a great way for students who were absolutely in love with the place to possibly get a positive admission decision early and not have to fill out applications to other schools. However, at every gathering of prospective students comes comments that make me revert back to my earlier opinion of the ED process.

"I heard out of state students have to apply early."
"I heard to get into Architecture, you need to apply early."
"I heard early decision applicants must have a GPA over 4.0."
"I heard that Echols/Rodman Scholars are always chosen from the early decision pool."
"I heard that Jefferson Scholars are always early decision applicants."

It really goes on and on. No matter how many times I refute the rumors, people still think they "have" to apply ED. Maybe the staff at University of Delaware had the same conflict. They've just abandoned their early program completely (The Chronicle wrote about this last week).

Is this move a sign of things to come? I'm not sure. We've talked about the future of ED here and I think it will stay in place for the time being.

I wonder if students see ED as a positive thing (get accepted early, less applications to fill out) or as placing more pressure on them at a time when there is a considerable amount already on them.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Who is most impressed with rankings?

I think it's safe to say that many of us in higher ed are reluctantly obsessed (and obsessed might be a tad to strong) with the rankings we receive from the press. Regardless of our opinion about the authority of the magazines and their methodologies, constituents' interest in the rankings translates in our interest in the rankings.

Our publications list our accomplishments on these lists, even if The Princeton review rank us 2nd in ability to take a bus to the airport (no, that's not a category, but there are some odd ones on that list). Each year, we brainstorm ways to improve our rankings and secretly hope that those above us on the lists don't maintain their positions.

I admit that I get caught up in this. I'd love to believe that people analyze school websites and course catalogues before deciding that one school is "better" than another. I have to face facts, though. The guidebooks and ranking issues affect the perception of quality.

But, I want to know why. Why do YOU care about the rankings? If you comment, I'd love to know if you're a student, parent, colleague, etc.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Where are the admission blogs?

About a week ago, I emailed a listserve made up of my colleagues asking for links to any blogs being written about the admission process. The results were a little disappointing. Plenty of emails came in asking me how to set up a blog, but not many came in with URLs for others.

I did some Googling and came up with the short list on the sidebar of this page. I was very surprised by the lack of "issues" oriented blogs. Most are newsletter style, telling students information that they can find elsewhere (Our deadline is coming up!). We aren't exactly lacking in "hot button" topics in this field. Perhaps people just don't want to take a side for fear that their opinion will reflect poorly on their institution. Or, perhaps, many of us think we're too busy or not savvy enough to write in a blog.

If you know of a good admission blog, please share it via the comment function. If you want help starting a blog, contact me (leave your email address in the comment box) and I'll walk you through it. There should be other admission officers blogging out there!

Friday, May 12, 2006

A little help for NOLA

I've already written about my love for New Orleans. For those "in the know", yes JazzFest ran the last two weeks and no, I wasn't there this year. MSN had a live stream for some of the shows, so I got to watch a bit of the festivities. Another local blogger posted a link to some photos from the weekend.

Anyway, scrolling through my Headline News this morning (a daily email about UVA in the news), one of the stories jumped out at me:

U.VA. ARCHITECTURE STUDENTS COMPETE TO REBUILD NEW ORLEANS

Of course I had to check it out.

The students competed with professionals and were recognized for their talents from the 275 entries. The judges selected two winners, three commended projects and about 20 others for exhibition.

Projects by finalists are currently on display at New Orleans’s Ogden Museum of Art and will be exhibited at the American Institute of Architects convention in Los Angeles in June. Winning designs will be published in the June issue of Architectural Record magazine with selected designed posted on the McGraw-Hill Construction Web sites.

I'll definitely be picking up Archtectural Record (okay, maybe reading it in the aisle at Barnes & Noble) when the next issue comes out.

I know I usually focus on "issues" on this blog and stay away from being a newsletter, but this was such a great story that I had to post about it.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

It's been a while...

...since I posted a picture.

When we go "on the road", it's with mixed emotions. On one hand, we know we're going to meet great kids and see colleagues who have become our friends over time. On the other hand, it's time away from home, often with a grueling schedule, unhealthy food and non-stop repetition of the same answers to the same questions.

Despite this, I've always loved my trips to NYC for the spring college fairs (maybe because I grew up in the area!). One afternoon on this year's trip, I found myself taking the subway all that way out to the last stop in Brooklyn with my friends from Kenyon to the fair at Poly Prep. The walk to the school was like any other walk in Brooklyn, but when we turned into the school's gate, I saw a first: a live chicken.

I'm a "city kid". I've only seen chickens on the dinner table. I never saw a live chicken before and I was delighted! The college counselor at the school said the chickens come from people who want to get rid of Easter chicks that have gotten too big to keep (they toss them over the fence at night!). Regardless, the Poly Prep campus has a slew of chickens running around.

On my way out of the campus, I snapped a few pictures. Scratch that. I chased some chickens and took their pictures. I wonder what the high school students thought of the crazy admission dean running after their chickens.




Waitlist, Part 2

I guess I should lead this off by saying this blog is about my take on the admission process. Please do not interpret my blog as the gospel according to UVA.

Here's what I think about the waitlist at UVA. It's big. There's no way around that. We have to bring in a class that will maintain that 2/3 : 1/3 ratio for Virginian and non-Virginian students. So, think of the waitlist as two main groups, in state and out of state. Next, consider that we have to fill four different schools within the university: College of Arts & Sciences (CLAS), School of Engineering (SEAS), School of Architecture (SARC) and School of Nursing.

Now, we don't break up the waitlist into smaller groups, so don't think of this as eight separate waitlists. It's still just one bunch with no ranking.

By May 1st, all the admitted students are supposed to have mailed their enrollment confirmations, saying that have either accepted or rejected our offer of admission. It usually takes a week for all of those letters to get to us. Only when the enrollment confirmations are counted do we know what will happen with the waitlist. We might realize that the Architecture school needs a few more students or that there's room in the College for a few. While keeping the in-state/out of state ratio in mind, we then go to the waitlist.


The time between April 1st and May 1st is always an uneasy one for us. It seems as though students are applying to more schools than ever (I met a student who applied to 20 at my last institution) and as a result, we always worry that a tiny fraction of the students who receive an offer will accept us back. Just yesterday at our retreat, our dean told us about a time when he'd accept just a few hundred more than the class needed because yield wasn't a huge issue. People were applying to 1-3 schools back then, so if they got accepted to a school, the odds were high that they were going there. Because of the uncertainty on the yield side, we have to maintain a sizeable waitlist.

Yes, the waitlist is still quite large. I wish we didn't have it at all. I remember the state of limbo I was in as a waitlisted student a one of my top picks. Thankfully, I wasn't admitted and wound up where I belonged.


For a future post: Why I think everyone feels the need to apply to 20 schools.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Waitlist, Part 1

In early April, we start taking "decision calls" in our office. Those are calls from parents asking why we made the decision we did for a certain student. For the first two weeks of the month, the calls are almost non-stop. The most popular question: "Why was my child waitlisted?"

Now, I've always worked in the private college sector where we didn't entertain these conversations at all (and not many people called to question our decisions). However, at a state school, we try to be responsive to our constituents and respond to each and every call.


There's a reason this is titled "Part 1". I'll continue this tomorrow. I'll be on retreat with the office for the rest of the day, discussing how we'll change strategies for next year's admission cycle.

For now, take a look at my colleague's blog at Johns Hopkins. He wrote a great entry about the waitlist a few weeks ago. Interestingly, they have a waitlist similar in size to ours at a school that doesn't have state and individual school ratios to maintain.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Message Boards...where armchair counselors and anxious students meet!

At 1:23 PM, a student posted a link to my blog on a fairly popular message board run by a private counseling firm. Traffic to this blog exploded (though that term is relative when it comes to blog traffic), with 20 hits coming within minutes of the post. New readers are, obviously, always welcome, but I'm afraid anyone coming from that site will be disappointed by the lack of "secrets" posted here. This is more of an issues-related blog where I react to things happening at UVA and in the admission field.

Anyway, welcome new people! Feel free to comment if you have something to contribute (read: swears, rants, and rude comments do not belong here).

Now, you'll notice I'm not linking to the board. There's a reason. While much of what goes on over there is the typical chatter about college admission, there's a lot of problematic info given out as well. I saw one post state with authority that UVA practices "yield protection", which means we deny students we think will turn down our offer of admission (absolutely untrue). I see post after post telling high schoolers "you're in" in response to a list of stats (an entire forum is called "What are my chances?").

The fact is, admission isn't a science (to quote the first Dean for whom I ever worked) because it's about more than calculations and stats. College admission is a mysterious thing that even surprises those of us in the field. I don't think the "armchair counselors" out there are doing any service by suggesting that one can "handicap" chances of admission.

So, be careful if you frequent the admission message boards. I know it's great to have others with whom you can chat about admission when your friends/colleagues/classmates are sick of it, but remember that the anonymity of the web allows some people to sound very knowledgeable when they might not have all the answers.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Psst...you're allowed to comment on this blog

This blog gets a good number of hits each day. I can see how visitors get here (referral pages), their general location and how much time they spend on the page.

I was pretty surprised by the number of visitors I have from Google, but realized that searching for "UVA Admission" brings up the University's page and then this blog. I was not surprised at the number of referrals from cvilleblogs, an aggregator site for local blogs to which I've become addicted in a very short amount of time.

Location has really been interesting. While there are plenty of locals reading, it seems there are people as far away as India checking in every so often. Too bad I only know French and Spanish.


Despite all the hits, there are almost no comments. What gives? Are my posts so laden with nuggets of wisdom that no comments are needed? I doubt it. Tell me what you think! I love a good discussion and was hoping to incite some good conversations with this thing.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

College Admission on Steroids

At lunch today, a few of us talked about private admission coaches and whether we are able to spot applications that have been polished by professional counselors before being submitted. I'm not sure I can. I imagine I've seen plenty of these applications already, though I only read one application this year with essays that seemed too sophisticated to be the work of a 17 year old.

When I first heard about private college counselors, I figured a bunch of opportunistic folks decided to cash in on the fear and anxiety parents and student experience during the college search. I knew one woman personally who became a private counselor after retiring from her job in guidance at a public high school and couldn't reconcile the move, especially when I found out how much she was charging for her services.

A writer from the New York Times recently compared the hiring of private admission counselors to the use of steroids in baseball (In College Entrance Frenzy, a Lesson Out of Left Field).

CONSIDER this situation. An ambitious and talented person, having worked extremely hard for a decade or more, sees a competitor suddenly performing at an inexplicably higher level. That first person comes to believe the second must be obtaining secret, unacknowledged help. So, rather than risk being left behind, he pays for the same stealthy assistance.
* * * *
Under the pretense of fair competition, tens of thousands of high school students and their families employ the scholastic equivalent of steroids — test-prep courses, private consultants, Internet mills for massaging if not entirely creating their essays, exaggerated or cynical accounts of their community service.


I'm so conflicted about private college counseling. On one hand, those at schools where guidance counselors are overwhelmed by triple-digit case loads might need the extra help. On the other hand, an application that's been massaged and cleaned up by a third party shouldn't just have one person's name on it.

I'd love for someone to convince me to fall on one side of this fence.