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Saturday, September 15, 2007

Greetings from Northern Virginia!

I thought I'd post my travel schedule in case any Fairfax County students want to ask questions in person this week. I'm hitting about 20 of the 25 public schools in the county. Wish me luck with the traffic!

Monday
10:00 am - Hayfield Secondary School
12:00 pm - West Potomac High School
1:15 pm - Mount Vernon High School

Tuesday
8:00 am - Lake Braddock Secondary School
9:30 am - West Springfield High School
11:45 am - TJHSST
1:00 pm - Edison High School

Wednesday
7:30 am - Chantilly High School
9:00 am - Centreville High School
10:30 am - South County Secondary School
1:00 pm - Robinson High School
7:00 pm - Bishop Ireton Evening Program

Thursday
8:00 pm - Fairfax High School
9:15 am - Woodson High School
10:45 am - Annandale High School
12:00 pm - JEB Stuart High School
1:30 pm - Marshall High School

Friday
8:00 am - Madison High School
9:30 am - Oakton High School
11:30 am - Langley High School
1:15 pm - McLean High School

One of my colleagues will be visiting other Fairfax, Arlington, Alexandria, and Loudon schools. If your school wasn't on the list, sit tight and check with your Career Center in a few weeks!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A first for Dean J


Walking down the stairs from the dome room in the Rotunda where I gave this morning's information session, I saw something I've heard about, but never seen at UVa. A letter to the Seven Society. The Sevens are one of the "secret" societies at UVa (the quotes are because only a few of the societies are really secretive). The Sevens are a philanthropic group of alumni that's been known to help people in need with a financial boost now and then.

There's a great story about The Sevens giving tuition money to a student who had lost both his parents in an accident. The roommate of one of our summer tour guides once got a letter instructing him to go to the 7th aisle of the supermarket, to the 7th box, etc. and he found an envelope with $277 in it and instructions that he was to buy a needy family in Charlottesville a Thanksgiving dinner. It's definitely one of the most interesting groups we have!

To get a message to The Sevens, put a letter in the arms of the Thomas Jefferson statue on the second floor of the Rotunda.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

The Essay Topic

If you were a college admission officer at UVa, you'd read about 100 application essays each day. The vast majority would be in response to the question that asks students to write about a challenging or unsettling work, as the majority of students apply to the College of Arts & Sciences (CLAS). Many of the essays written in response to that prompt will contain, roughly, one of the following ideas:

  • Calculus is hard
  • AP _____ (fill in an subject) is hard
  • 1984 is an unsettling book
  • The DaVinci Code is an unsettling book
  • Guernica is an unsettling painting
Those may all be true, but the fact is that they are common topics and no matter how eloquently a student writes about one of them, it's unoriginal and to an admission officer reading 100 essays each day, it's boring.

This is one exercise in which you want to stand apart from the rest of the applicants. So, while Calculus may be challenging, it might be more advantageous to write about something a little more unique. While the work you've been studying in your AP or IB class may be unsettling, keep in mind that students around the country are taking AP and IB classes with a similar syllabus.

I'm not completely certain about how students arrive at these common topics, but "over thinking" might be to blame. After reading the essay topic, something must pop into your head. Don't second guess it and talk yourself into writing about something more "impressive" or academic. Write about what comes naturally...we'll probably get a better sense of your voice and style in that essay than from something that's been contrived and coached into existence.

Sound good? Feel free to use the comments section for asking questions.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

How important is the essay?

It's a beautiful Saturday morning in most parts of the country and a lot of you are stuck inside with your first weekend of homework since going back to school. Your college application essays are probably at the forefront of your mind in addition to the work that comes with the new school year. I've given essay advice in the past, but I thought I'd revisit the topic since it's an extremely important one. I'm going to do this over the course of a few entries. Let me start actually convince you that your essay is important because I don't think students believe this when they hear it.

Inside your application folder (and folders can be electronic or physical...we have physical folders this year and will be using electronic ones next year) is your application form, the School and Transcript Report form filled out by your counselor, school profile, transcript(s), recommendation(s), and a reader sheet that has your simple biographical data on it, testing, and areas for making notes about every component of the file.

There are a lot of forms in there and a lot of the information is in the form of data. It seems as though students know how the data elements need to look to be competitive. Your transcript should show a strong curriculum and good grades, your resume should show some involvement in school and/or community, your recommendations should be from people who can say wonderful things about you, etc. Most students wind up looking pretty strong. So, what's to distinguish one student with a strong curriculum, good grades, and nice recommendations from another student with a strong curriculum, good grades, and nice recommendations?

On top of that, consider the human element in the application review process. I hope you've picked up on this during your campus visits...admission officers like students. When we read your application, we're looking for reasons to admit you, not reasons to deny you. Reading a strong application with boring or predictable essays isn't very exciting, but when we're "won over" by amazing essays, we're quick to advocate on an applicant's behalf. If you're worried about getting into some of your schools, I think you should spend more time editing your essays than on reformatting your resume.

Are you convinced?