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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A love letter to Fairfax County

Dear Fairfax County,

You'll always hold a special place in my heart. Oh so many years ago, when I got my very first job in the admission world, my first recruitment trip was to Virginia and the first stop was Fairfax County. Wait, I'm lying. The first stop was Baltimore because it was cheaper to fly into BWI, but you get the idea. I spent three lovely days in NOVA and was struck by the great schools I visited. Every student I met seemed enthusiastic and engaged.

When I moved to Virginia to work at UVa, I was overwhelmed with the number of fantastic Northern Virginia students who applied. Of the in-state students at UVa, about half were from that area and with good reason. Some of the best schools in the country are up there.

Imagine my complete shock upon reading an article in which an admission officer at another school felt Fairfax County schools were weak; specifically that they have "a culture that’s more dominated by athletics and rock music and less dominated by APs and high academic achievement." The math, science, technology magnet school is blamed for "robbing" the rest of the county high schools of all the best students. Unfortunately, our Dean, Jack Blackburn, was also interviewed for the article and some people have decided that he said the things I've quoted.

So, my dear Fairfax, I want to set the record straight. We love you. We understand your grading system and it doesn't confuse us. We know that you have great curricula for your students. We think TJHSST is a wonderful place, but we know that there are amazing students who opted not to go there; ones who had no interest in leaving their home high school. We think rock and roll is just fine and good sports are a lot of fun to have around, so don't apologize for being great musicians, singers, or athletes.

We've had large numbers of wonderful students from Northern Virginia coming to UVa for years and I don't see anything about to change that trend.

~Dean J

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Printing problems resolved

Apparently, tightening security on some of our servers made the print function on the online application a little buggy. A solution should be in place today.

Just to reiterate what is already on the Print Application page, the process was written before Adobe 7.0 debuted with significant changes to the way past versions worked. It's not perfect, but it should give you an idea of what your data looks like on a PDF.

Monday, October 29, 2007

A fun diversion for the football fans

Something a lot of students attending football games look forward to is The Adventures of CavMan, an animated short that features the visiting team's mascot causing some sort of disturbance on campus and CavMan appearing to send the mascot on its way. The film always ends with CavMan riding across Grounds towards Scott Stadium and the entrance of the real, live CavMan into the stadium with fireworks, the band, cheerleaders, and football team.

I've always thought the videos are pretty clever and fun, but never realized that a few were available online. I also never realized that the same technology that's used in video game animation is used to create these videos. You can see the making of CavMan videos on the Virginia Sports website. A few of the videos are available on the Special Programming page of that same website.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Recommendation Overload

I've spoken with a good number of students during this travel season who are prepared to send supplemental recommendation letters. I always tell students that we'll read whatever they send us, but that they need to keep the number of supplements reasonable. I fear that by not naming a specific number of recommendation letters, "reasonable" is being defined as the number each particular student has decided to send us. Let me see if I can explain where we stand on this.

UVa requires one recommendation letter as part of your application. Traditionally, your guidance/college counselor writes this letter. Now, many students feel as though there's a teacher who knows them better than their counselor, so they supplement the counselor letter with a recommendation from a teacher. This is often a good idea.

Some students don't stop at one supplemental teacher recommendation and we wind up getting several letters that basically say the same things. Teachers tend to know students in similar ways unless they moderate a club or activity in which the student is involved. The letters wind up being a tad redundant. The extras don't add anything to the application. In fact, if you have an admission officer who has been reading for eight hours before getting to your application, they might find plowing through your folder to be quite tedious.

If you feel strongly that you must send multiple recommendation letters, they should be from people who know you in different ways. Beyond that, they better know you and not your parents. Letters from people who are writing as a favor to your parents typically follow a formula: one paragraph about themselves, one paragraph about your lovely family and parents (as if we don't assume everyone comes from a lovely family with nice parents), and one paragraph, usually about two sentences long, that mentions some information gleaned from your resume and then asks that we give you our "full consideration" (wink, wink). Early in the season, these letters are kind of humorous (as if we weren't going to give you our full consideration before, but now that someone has asked us, we'll read everything and give you a shot). After a few months, though, you can imagine how they come across.


Bottom line: Quality over quantity is the best rule of thumb for all parts of the application, but especially for your recommendations. I'd rather read a nice, short letter from your counselor or a teacher that tells a story about you than get oodles of letters with sweeping generalizations that could apply to any smart, hardworking high school student.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Did you forget to write a thank you note?

Recent chatter on a professional listserve prompted a New York Times reporter to write about the thank you letters admission officers receive from students after info sessions, tours, and interviews. When I interviewed students at another school, I always sent a little note of encouragement after the fact and often got a thank you note in return. I thought it was a nice practice. However, these days, it seems as though even the simplest act, such as visiting a high school, is deemed thank you "worthy" and the number of letters, and their frequency, is surprising.

If you write a thank you note to someone at UVa, it'll probably get sent downstairs to the file room to be placed in the miscellaneous credentials files. If an application with a matching name arrives at some point, the letter will make it into the application folder, but it won't get much attention considering the other documents in the file.

I guess what I mean to say is that thank you notes are fine to send, but no student should suddenly panic because they haven't been sending notes during their college search. I fear that the New York Times article might make students feel as though this is a practice they "must" to do in order to be competitive. That just isn't the case.