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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Common App tutorial for requesting counselor & teacher recommendations

As if you haven't heard it enough, we're a paperless office. Ideally, each component of your application will be submitted electronically, including your school forms, transcripts, and recommendations.

The Common App has put together a quick video
that walks you through the process of requesting information from your counselors and teachers. It also explains how you can request a recommendation from a teacher for a specific school.

Please encourage your schools to move to electronic submission! If we all get on board with this, we'll save time and resources (paper, toner, transportation costs associated with mail). Online submission is easy and it is far more "trackable" than the mail is.

The Common Application

Let me put this out there right off the bat: I love the Common Application.

I came to UVa knowing there was a plan to move to a new Student Information System (central system where all student records are kept) and had a feeling we could go paperless and possibly move to the Common App at the same time. I was pretty adamant that the band-aid be ripped off all at once, meaning all three of these changes should be done concurrently. It would be hard, but at least the transition wouldn't be prolonged over many years. After a few years of meticulous planning by a fantastic team, we were live with all three - the new SIS, the paperless system, and the Common App.

During all of this, we worked with people from all sorts of outside organizations and the Common App group was an absolute dream. That contributed to my affinity for the new app. What's more, I remember friends applying to Common App schools back when I was in high school and they simply made copies of forms to send off while I sat in front of a typewriter (this is a while back) trying to fit my information into form after form because none of my schools were Common App schools (just checked and all but one are members today).

Anyway, there is a reason we are Common App exclusive these days. The Common App is a good vehicle and it has simplified the process immensely. There are bound to be hiccups with any online app, but with the Common App, there is a fantastic team waiting to help you and solve any problems you have.


Oddly, at the NACAC conference last week, another online app was marketing itself by calling the Common App "elitist" because only schools that are holistic in their admission process (meaning schools that consider essays and recommendations instead of just objective statistics) can use it. I realize that there are schools out there that have a formula for admission and that works for them, but I don't think it's fair to call us elitist if we want to read your words and hear about who you are beyond your grades and testing.


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

You don't have to pay to play

A few weeks ago, we got invited to a college fair in the suburb of a small city in the south. The invitation came from a yahoo email address and no one recognized the name of the group behind it. The fair was being held at a golf club and the letter said there would be a $10,000 "scholarship" given out, raffle style, to one of the attendees. To have a table at the fair, all we had to do was pay $1,180.

Needless to say, we declined.

The person behind that yahoo email address has been pretty persistent and has continued to email us, wondering how we could pass up on this opportunity.


Around the same time, we got anther invitation to a fair, this time costing us close to $900. The students invited to attend were ones who paid $45 to belong to some scholars society. You probably know these groups...they sound impressive, but I could nominate CavDog for membership and they'd happily cash the check and add him to the rolls.

I asked around about whether people were seeing a rise in the number of these fairs and a colleague in Ohio reported back that their local TV station sponsored a college day and wanted $1,000 for a table that their fair and $17,000 from colleges that wanted to co-sponsor (no report on whether anyone took them up on that offer).


In case you didn't know, those costs are insane. Most college fairs are free to both the colleges and the students. There are a few, mostly those held in giant convention centers, that cost a little bit on the college's side, but the fees are no where near those I described above.

It's no secret that there are a lot of people out there who are willing to help you with your college search for a fee. Some of the help these people give is great, but there are people out there who are hoping to make some money off the fear and anxiety that surrounds this process. I want you to know and I want you to make sure your friends know that they don't have to "pay to play".

Students and parents should not be paying a fee to attend college fairs or information sessions. We hear about events with admission fees every year (especially events about financial aid and scholarships), but it seems as though the number of them is growing. Stay away from them.

Monday, September 28, 2009

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…college fair season

My post title is actually a little sarcastic. It’s college fair season, when admission officers pack their trunks full of boxes of brochures, don their most comfortable shoes, and race around the country while trying to stay ahead of hunger pains and caffeine headaches. We encounter all sorts of people, from the bewildered to the clueless to the fearful to the aggressive. At some fairs (especially those at malls or large venues), our alumni help us by answering questions with us. It’s chaotic and tiring, but also fun. We wind up having a lot of stories by the time the college fair season is done.

The real point of this post is to give you some things to think about before you head off to a college fair. These are things that will help you get better information out of us and help us not leave the fair contemplating a career move.




1. Do a little homework
If you already have a few schools on your list, go to their websites and look up the basics (population, number of applications, deadlines, and admission stats). At one mall fair a few years ago, the only questions being asked were about the average SAT scores and the average GPA. The firsts stat is on our website and on the brochures we give out at these fairs. The second is a tricky statistic because of all the different GPA scales and weights out there. It’s not really a significant stat. I got so tired of the questions that I made two table tents with the answers on them. Of course, then people would read them, look at me, and ask the same question again in the form of a question (“So the average SAT score is 1250-1430?”).




2. Don't ask “How is your __ department?” or “Tell me about your ___ department.”
These questions make admission officers cringe. At a busy fair, few admission officers are going to give anything other than a vague, positive response. There was a time when I would respond asking for clarification (“What would you like to know about our psychology department?”) hoping to get a more specific question. I had a friend at another school who used to simply reply with “very strong” and wait for follow up questions, which didn’t always come.

There is rarely enough time for us to remember who asked us certain questions, so feel free to ask about the fun stuff - food, dorms, activities, sports, etc.



3. We don't expect you to have a resume

A few years ago, I started seeing students arrive at college fairs with stacks of resumes in hand. To be frank, we don’t want your resumes. If you wind up applying to our schools, you will probably fill in a chart with your activities anyway. The resume is redundant. What’s more, those of us who work in paperless offices don’t want to arrive home from a week on the road with stacks of paper.

We aren't expecting you to be perfectly polished at a college fair. You don't have to dress up or be ready to recite your stats. There really isn't enough time for us to get to know you, so relax and don't feel pressured!




4. Conserve your energy and our paper
One of my colleagues called me this morning to say that she went through 750 brochures at a college fair last night. She said that the students at the fair were younger than ever, including a family shopping around with their 5th grader. Pace yourselves. Whatever information you gather from a college fair is going to change in a year or two. While it’s good to attend a fair when you first start your search, there is no reason to go to one of these things if you aren’t going to file an application in the next couple of years. Starting early is good, but starting too early is going to lead to burn out.


For those of you who are juniors and seniors going to college fairs, take it slowly and if you are there when the fair starts, skip the first row of tables so you can walk around without a crowd on your heels. Bring some address labels to stick on the postcards each college will have. It will save time and make sure that colleges have your correct contact info (important for matching things up and avoiding duplicates on our mailing lists).

My colleague also noticed that a family would approach the table and each take a brochure. Now, some schools are happy to unload all of their “stuff” on you, but being a public school on a budget and also being a paperless office, we hope that you’ll help us conserve resources by taking one brochure and sharing it with your family. The school website is more up to date than the brochures are anyway.


I’m sure there are more pointers to be give on getting the most out of a college fair. Feel free to ask questions or share you advice for others in the comments.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites

Let's get this out there first and foremost: I have no interest in tracking applicants down online. I have no interest in reading their feeds, seeing their pictures, or gauging their interest based on online content.

My old philosophy about social media was that it was the students' domain and we should stay out of it. I've changed my stance over time, though. Now, I figure that I should provide students with as many easy ways to contact me as possible so they can get questions answered. So, I'm on Facebook, Twitter, Ning (rarely), instant messengers (on deadline nights), and the blog. The important aspect of my presences is that I'm not searching students out. They decide how they want to get in touch with me. The contact is on their terms.

If you want to make up an alias and comment daily, that's great.
If you never talk to me using these vehicles, that's fine, too.

EDIT: I should add that I post something like this each year, just to restate my position on the issue. I gave an interview to USA Today about this last week and the resulting article spawned similar pieces by Reuters (with quotes from my interview, interestingly) and CBS.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

On a rainy day...

...there's nothing better than thinking about how beautiful this region is in the fall. UVa Magazine has a nice web feature showing 16 things to love about Charlottesville in the fall. At the end, there's a video of students chiming in with the things they look forward to about this season.

I can't wait to put away the rain boots and do some of the things on the list.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The logistics of filing applications and credentials

For a few decades now, admission offices around the country have been processing applications and filing all the supplements (required and completely superfluous alike) that come along with them. Everything was paper "back in the day" (and by that, I mean 2006) and an entire room of our office was dedicated to keeping track of of the paper.

Applications got file folders. Anything that arrived before an application got filed in miscellaneous credential files. Each time an application arrived, staff members would go through the credential files to match supplements with applications. This process was used at every school at which I have been employed. It worked quite well.

With the implementation of paperless admission processes, all of those physical files are gone, but the process remains, albeit with a few changes. When credentials arrive before your application, they still get filed, but they get filed electronically. Ideally, the items coming from your school would come electronically, though the Common App's counselor and teacher portals. If something comes in the physical mail, it has to be opened, have staples and any special packaging (folders, binders, etc) removed, then scanned into our paperless system, and manually labeled with your information and the document type (transcript, recommendation, etc.). Items that come in through the Common App's system already have all of that information embedded in the electronic files, so our system can automatically file them.

The testing agencies have been sending scores electronically for years. Scores show up almost daily and they just sit in the system until there's an application.

One thing that we've have to deal with since going paperless is, surprisingly, MORE paper! For some reason, despite getting confirmation that an electronic item has been submitted to us, people are sending us paper duplicates. Some applicants fill out the Common App online, but print it out and mail it to us. Others send us elaborate supplements (and I'm not talking about the portfolios submitted by students who are going to study performing or visual arts). Please help us out! We are a relatively small office and all of this extra paper slows down the process.

Remember that colleges ask for what they need to make an admission decision and they will provide a vehicle for you to submit that information. You don't need to submit complex extras. This process is complicated enough without worrying about those sorts of things!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Under the weather

I had hoped to have a few posts for you this week, but I'm under the weather right now. I promise to be back and posting more regularly in a few days.

CavDog's even happy when he's sick

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Paint the Town Orange Pep Rally

iPhones aren't the best at catching action shots, but I figured I'd share a few pictures I snapped last night at the pep rally. The last photo was attempt to catch Tracy Clemons, a local television reporter, completely fired up and dancing throughout the rally. I have a feeling he was a member of the marching band when he was a student at UVa (edit: just checked his profile on the station's website and he was in the band).




By the way, before home football games, the University sponsors free lectures for visitors and alumni. If you plan to be in town on a football game day (we don't really encourage prospective student visits on these days, but we realize they sometimes happen), check the More than the Score website for info about the lectures!

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Getting ready to hit the road


I'm getting a late start with the travel season this year. We're cutting back on travel (again) and my trips will be limited. I'll be spending a week in northern Virginia and one week in New England with my friends from Hopkins and Northwestern. I'd like to do a STEM Program (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) in northern Virginia, but changes in policies up there have stymied our plans a little bit.

Next week, I'll post my specific travel plans. For now, check out the "UVa Visits You" page on our website. We have most of our evening programs scheduled and ready for RSVPs.

By the way, please RSVP for evening programs if a registration form is provided (we ask you to RSVP for our group programs, the ones we do with other schools). We report headcounts to the venues where the events take place and rooms are often set up to accommodate those numbers. Last year, it seemed that many people showed up without RSVPing, which overwhelmed meeting spaces and left many people without a place to sit during our presentations. Even if you only realize a day before the event that you can attend, you should fill out the RSVP form if there is one.