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Saturday, December 30, 2006

Deadlines looming!

I hope some of you were able to relax and enjoy your holiday vacation, though I know that plenty of you were thinking of putting the finishing touches on your applications for the last few days. With the deadline looming, I thought I'd make my annual plea that you hit the submit button BEFORE 11:59 PM on the 1st. Murphy's Law says that the moment you're ready to release your application to us is the moment your computer will freeze or your internet service with go down. Give your essays a final read and hit the submit button.

Now, if you're convinced that something is terribly wrong with the application website, remember this: we are concerned with the information you've written into the text boxes, not the layout or the PDF. If you log out and log back in to see the correct information in the text boxes, you're fine.

Your teachers and guidance counselors have until January 10th to get their information to us. If you're concerned about a component they were supposed to complete, you have a few days once you get back to school to follow up with them.

Remember to log out of your account and log back in to verify that your submission went through. Also remember that we're receiving thousands of transcripts, recommendations, and test scores right now. It will take a while to have each item logged into the system. The note on your account says to check back in the beginning of February to verify that your application is complete. I'd recommend checking more frequently than that (maybe once a week), but I don't think it would be appropriate to call the Office of Admission next week asking why your supporting documents haven't shown up on your status page.


In a few days, a majority of the application process will be behind you! Just think...after you hit submit, all you need to do is wait for decisions and then make your finial choice. Hang in there! The end is in sight!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Radio buttons, check boxes, ethnicity, oh my!

My goal with our online application is to be easy, clean and neat. While bells and whistles are great on most websites, the online app needs to be simple and work well with different operating systems on your side and the databases on my side.

Earlier this week, I read a post on a discussion website frequented by "tech types" like myself bashing one particular part of our online application (the ethnicity question) because of our use of radio buttons instead of check boxes. The person decided that our use of radio buttons meant that we didn't understand HTML. A few others replied, some knowledgeable about databases and about reporting profile information like gender and ethnicity.

If you're going to answer the ethnicity question on our application (and you don't have to, it's completely optional), you have to pick something from our list. The last choice, unclassified, is for those who don't think the choices presented accurately describe them.


If you have an issue with the online application, call or email us. We try to monitor major websites for problems, but I'm sure we miss things!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Who is Dean J?

I think I need to make it clear that I am not Dean Blackburn. I don't think it should really matter who I am, hence the anonymous name.

If you want to know more about me, feel free to ask some questions, but keep them fun and not too personal. I'm all for making students feel more comfortable asking questions and know that that could come from knowing about my taste in music or what I do for fun. Ask away, but understand if I don't respond to all the questions.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Q&A with Dean J, part 2

There were a few comments from my last "Q&A" post that I'll address here. I'm going to ask newcomers to use the comments on this entry to send questions for a future Q&A installment.


Q1. I requested a teacher recommendation (using the email option on the UVA online app) but the teacher I asked has been out on sick leave for nearly 2 months and won't be back before the deadline. I asked another teacher to write my letter instead, but will my application be considered incomplete if Teacher #1 never submits her recommendation, since there is an outstanding request connected to my online application? Will her failure to reply to your email request for a recommendation reflect badly on me?

A1. Let me start with some general information about recommendations. When a teacher's information is entered on the online application's recommendation page, an email goes out with a special URL and password to access their personalized submission page. Plenty of teachers opt to send paper copies of their letters instead. Some will do both (submit their letter online and by snail mail). Usually, when we get the paper recommendation, we'll check the names listed by the student on the online page and see if the sender matches on of the teachers you listed.

We don't read into recommendations that don't arrive through the online site. In fact, when we read applications, we don't even see the names the student entered on the recommendation page, we just see what letters came in for that student.

Q2. Could you please, percentage-wise, list the emphasis you put on GPA, SAT scores, Extracurricular Activities, Essays, Teacher Recommendations, etc? I can't seem to find this information anywhere. Thank you very much.

A2. You can't find this information because it doesn't exist. We don't use formulas here, so components don't carry "weight" the way an AP English class carries more weight than a regular English class when calculating a GPA.

But let's be frank. The transcript (and that means course strength and grades) is going to get the most scrutiny in our review. With the school profile as our guide, we'll rate the strength of the students chosen curriculum (keeping what is offered in mind, so those who don't have access to AP Bio aren't penalized for not taking it). Grades are obviously very important, but again, the profile gives us context so we understand that, for example, an A at Central High is given for grades of 93% and higher while an A at North High is given at 90%.

I know it would be nice if you could reduce everything to a formula to see your chances of admission, but it's just not how we do things anymore.


Q3. What's the best way to have this missing/additional information included when my application is reviewed again? Thank you in advance for your advice.

A3. The best way to have new information added to your file is to mail it to us. We'll make sure anything you send is filed appropriately.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Essay advice...for those who haven't gotten enough yet!

I hope that prospective applicants reading this blog have clicked the link to the right that goes to Parke Muth's essay advice article. Parke talks about "the good, the bad and the risky" essays with examples that might make the idea of writing your essay a little less scary.

Today, The Wall Street Journal published a Q&A session of sorts with UVA Dean Jack Blackburn and officers from Brown and Harvard. It's a pretty short article and I'm sure they omitted some of the conversation. If you have questions about essay writing that aren't addressed, feel free to post them in the comments and I'll try to respond.

Knowing the WSJ, the article won't be on the website for long unless you're a subscriber.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Echols & Rodman Scholars Programs

Echols and Rodman. Everyone asks about these programs. To be frank, the Echols Program website has all the important information (the Rodman Program's page also has good info). There are five whole paragraphs answering the question "What does the Office of Admission look for to determine Echols selection?"

I won't restate what is so well presented there. Instead, I'll address a few of the questions and comments that inevitably come up from prospective students and their parents about the programs.


1. UVa does not have honors programs.
A lot of state universities have honors programs. These are often colleges within the universities that have separate curricula, faculty, and resources. We don't have any honors programs at UVa. The entire curriculum is challenging. We have scholars programs for students who are intensely interested in exploring the curriculum in a way that having area requirements (our words for core curriculum) wouldn't necessarily allow.

2. We consider every single Arts & Sciences applicant for Echols and every single engineering applicant for Rodman.
We keep Echols/Rodman in mind when reviewing every application. When we see an applicant we think is particularly strong, we'll put a note in the file. At the end of reading season, we'll go back through all the applications that had a note and make our selections. This avoids the possibility of us being inconsistent...being too selective with Echols/Rodman at at certain point in the reading season, for example.

3. You can't really "show interest" in being selected for Echols or Rodman.
As you can see by reading the Echols website, we look for a few different things when selecting scholars. Writing a letter about your desire to be selected isn't going to do the trick. The best way to show that you're Echols material is to have a stellar academic record, show intellectual curiosity and a willingness to go above and beyond presented subject matter in school.

4. You can't appeal the fact that you weren't selected, but you can try again next year.
This was a surprisingly common question from parents last year. Part of me wanted to point out that they should be extremely proud of their child for being admitted to the University, not fixating on why they did not get invited into the Echols program. If a student thinks they belong in Echols, they can apply towards the end of their first year to be included after that.


I'm sure there are more common questions. Feel free to post them in the comments and I'll try to address them.

Monday, December 11, 2006

AP Study Hall: What will they think of next?

While I work on an ultra serious entry about the Echols & Rodman Programs, I thought I'd share something that made us laugh here in the Office of Admission.

Every year, we come across a few transcripts that list Honors PE, Health or Driver's Ed. It always gives us a chuckle. A few weeks ago, our Dean came across a new one: AP Study Hall. Of course, the idea had us in stitches, wondering what sort of advanced topics were covered and how grades were determined.

Of course, an inquiry was made and the answer came back from a counselor who probably never realized how the "course" looked to those not familiar with her school. At this particular high school, students who take four or more AP courses can opt to take a study hall as part of their schedule.


So, a little lesson for the applicant. Try to look at your application from an outsider's perspective. If there are acronyms or special distinctions that are unique to your school, write us a little note about them. Similarly, there's no need to explain what FBLA is unless it does not stand for Future Business Leaders of America at your school.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Admission Bribes

I'm sure you're thinking this is going to be about people trying to bribe admission officers. It's not, though we get our share of chocolates, cookies, and fruit baskets. This is about bribes in the opposite direction.

It came to my attention today that two schools, Saint Joseph College in Connecticut and University of Alabama, are offering students free iTunes downloads in exchange for either adding their names to the school mailing list or applying for admission. UofA supposedly offered extra downloads to those willing to give their friends' email addresses as well. Alabama's law school is offering downloads to applicants, too.

In my Google searching about this, I came across more than one article from the business media praising this innovative marketing strategy. Now, I don't fault those groups, as they have a corporate mindset and probably don't understand our environment. But I can't understand how admission officers at those schools reconcile what they're doing.

Those of us in admission roll our eyes when we see the armed forces recruiters at college fairs giving out all sorts of gadgets and nick knacks. Giving out these sorts of things is expressly forbidden by our professional organization, NACAC. I usually console myself by thinking that the students gathered round the recruiter wouldn't have been interested in my school anyway. Of course, these iTunes downloads aren't being given out at college fairs, but they are being used for the same purpose.

It's amazing to me that some schools are resorting to a bribe, of sorts, in order to get students to sign up for a mailing list. The investment seems a bit foolish because (I imagine) students wouldn't really be impressed by the offer. If anything, it might devalue the schools reputation, as evidenced by this message board conversation about Alabama Law's offer.

According to an article in Bama's student newspaper, Mary Spiegel, the Director of Undergraduate Admission said this was an attempt to use methods that high school students "associate with". Associate with what? An instant win game in a candy wrapper? A prize code under the lid of a soft drink? The student paper also points out that the recruitment website
is written with young people in mind. After prospective students give their information, the site asks them to tell friends about the offer, "Because that playa, is just how you roll."

I love quirky marketing, but isn't the goal is to be humorous and clever?





The email from Alabama Law (sent last spring and again in November):
Admit it! You are an outstanding student. For a select number of students like you, The University of Alabama School of Law is still accepting applications.

Your special application deadline is April 15, 2006.

To encourage you to consider Alabama as your law school, we’re making two special offers:

1. We'll waive your application fee, and

2. We’ll present you with 5 free music downloads on iTunes® if you apply now!

To receive your iTunes codes, you must apply online at http://www.law.ua.edu/apply/.

No purchase is necessary. If you apply by April 15, your music downloads on iTunes will be available until March 17, 2007. (Info about the school follows)

Online vs. mail submission of credentials

This year, I've had more people than ever question whether documents arriving separately from applications and other credentials will "make it" into students' files. What makes the questions so surprising is that application components have arrived this way for years and years. Online applications haven't brought this about.

If you apply online, there is absolutely no problem with teachers sending in recommendation letters on their own if they don't want to use our online submission feature. In addition, while it's easy for our staff members to log credentials into the computer system when items for the same applicant arrive together, your guidance/college counseling office does not have to collect everything and mail it all it once.

We only ask that your full name appear on each item you send us. Feel free to add other identifying pieces of information if you think your name is common. People seem to like to put their social security number on supplemental documents and while we'll protect that information and limit access to it, we don't need it on every bit of correspondence (SSN is needed on your application to match it with the financial aid record).

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Q&A with Dean J

I'd like to know what topics are important to you! What parts of the application are troubling you? I'm not promising I'll get to every topic addressed, but I'll try. Hit the comment link and tell me what's on your mind!

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Snail Mail Clarification

It occurred to me that some students might think we were mailing hard copies of your decision letters at 6:30 PM last night, making today the first day they could be processed by the post office.

We actually mailed the letters around mid-day yesterday, so they should be making their way to your home as I type.

Please be sure to read your letters. They aren't just one line for a reason. There's some important information in them for those of you who were admitted and deferred.


Those of you who were admitted will probably experience a reduced amount of communication from us until we finish regular decisions. For now, check out the Office of Orientation and New Student Programs' admitted student website. The "Hoos Got a Question" link is a way to ask current students questions that you might not find the answers to on the UVa website.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Preparing yourself for your admission decision

This evening, most early decision applicants will log into their online application accounts and see a short message revealing their admission status. Please don't hammer the site at 6 PM or even 6:15 PM. I will be changing the settings on the system at 6:30 PM on the nose and they will go into effect within about 30 seconds. Consult time.gov if you feel the need to sych your clock.

Some of you will see a congratulatory note and not think a lot about the Office of Admission again. Others will see another message and probably think a lot of things about the Office of Admission. On Monday morning, we'll start taking what we call "decision calls". The calls will almost exclusively be from parents and they will primarily be about students who were deferred.


Deferral, obviously, puts a student in a holding pattern of sorts. We understand that it's frustrating. But, I hope you can also see deferral and an opportunity to improve your application. If you get the defer letter, you have some follow up to do. Send us updated grades as soon as they're available. If a teacher wrote a great rec for a different school, sent that along, too. If something happened in your life that you're really proud of, tell us about it.

I think our acceptance rate for deferred students is low because so many fail to give us new information. When I open the folder of a deferred student in February or March, if there's nothing new to go on, I don't have any reason to push for an offer to be made.


Now, if you're going to call the Office of Admission on Monday, here are a few tips:

1. Don't have mom or dad call for you. We're much more impressed by a student who shows initiative and interest in their application than by one who lets their parents do the talking for them. Even the busiest student can carve out five minutes during lunch or after school to talk with us (we're open until 5 PM).

2. Know why you're calling. Many people call us to rant and have no real questions to ask. We'll sit here and patiently listen, but we'll also think about the students we could be talking to; those who actually have questions for us. So, before you pick up the phone, think about the goal of your call. Do you want to get tips on strengthening your other applications? Are you calling to see what else needs to be done? Write down concrete, specific questions. "How would you rate my program strength?" is specific.

3. Refresh our memory. Sometimes I'll take a call from someone I've met, but don't remember. We meet thousands of students in our travels and while we try to remember them all, it's not always possible. Remind us of where we met and if we had a conversation, what we talked about.

4. Be realistic. We received 2,311 early decision applications last year and we made about 950 offers. The vast majority of students were deferred, primarily because at the time of our review, we could only see information pertaining to freshman through junior year. In many cases, we want to see more information before making a decision.

In addition, while we try to analyze school profiles and use our personal knowledge during our review, we can't possibly know everything that's going on at every high school. If you don't have a top program because of scheduling conflicts, you have to tell us about it. Also, it's very rare that we know that your Physics teacher is the hardest teacher in your school and that your B in class is miraculous.


Hang in there just a few more hours.