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Friday, February 17, 2012

The Rumor Mill

I started this blog because of rumors.

There is no shortage of "experts" who have plenty to say about how the admission process works.  There is some good information out there, but there is a whole lot really bad information being shared by people who have no experience working in our office. 

There was a time when I would get exasperated when I heard rumors.  I'd fly to this blog and dash out a post to address what I heard.  The next year, the same rumor would float around and, well, lather, rinse, repeat. You get the idea.  It's such a common occurance that I now find it almost humorous when I hear about the silly "rules" that people cook up.  I remember this happening when I was in high school.  We were convinced that because Dream U admitted two girls who happened to belong to the same club, that Dream U had a preference for said club.  We didn't consider that the people reading the applications at Dream U might have a slightly more complex process to arrive at those decisions.

I thought I'd post some of the most common rumors about how admission works at UVa and invite you to share some that you've heard in the comments.  I'll reply to confirm or give you the real story.  Sound interesting?

Rumor: It's harder to get in from __(insert your geographic location here)__.
Reality: Yes and no.
Since I spend much of my travel season in Northern Virginia, I most often hear this from students or parents up there.  I assure you that students in other areas think they are at some sort of disadvantage in the application process.  For those who live outside of Virginia, this one is true.   Within Virginia, it's not harder to be admitted from region to region.  People in densely populated areas tend to worry about this the most.  Schools in those areas tend to have fantastic program options and we see large numbers of students who have the academic preparation that will make them successful here. 

The Commonwealth of Virginia mandates that 2/3 of the students at UVa be domiciled in Virginia.  Out of state students tend to make up about 2/3 of our applicant pool, which results in a lopsided offer rate.  Last year, we admitted about 45% of the Virginia residents and about 26% of the out-of-state applicants. 

Rumor: You need __(arbitrary number)__ AP courses to be admitted to UVa.
Reality: False
What we expect of you depends on what is offered to you at your school.  There are so many different sorts of curricula out there that it wouldn't make sense to set a bar for the number of AP courses someone must have to be admitted.  There are schools that offer every AP under the sun, schools that only offer a few, IB schools, Cambridge Program schools, schools that offer duel enrollment courses, schools that just have advanced/honors courses, and schools that don't have tracks at all.  We start with the school profile, we we can read about the options available to the applicant and what restrictions are placed on students at the school.  Only after we understand the curriculum in place can we judge the strength of a student's program.

Rumor: If you don't have _(community service, leadership, athletics)_ on your resume, don't apply.
Reality: False
I love this rumor because it's been around for decades.  When I was in high school, we were convinced that there was some sort of extracurricular checklist used in admission offices.  You had to have service, athletics, something creative, leadership, and something academic on your resume.  I'm happy to report that with 715 student organizations on the books at UVa, we have no specific preferences when it comes to activities.  We have mainstream groups that probably mirror the ones you have at your high school and we have fringe-y ones that you probably never dreamed of before.

In recent years, the Common App has cut down on the number of lines in the activity section of the application and I fully support that.  The length of your list is of no importance.  We're interested in knowing about the activities in which you are deeply involved.

In addition, we don't know which clubs have value and prestige in your high school's culture. Don't join an activity because it is valued at your school if you don't enjoy it.

Rumor: You need to tailor your high school program to your intended major.
Reality: False for most.
When people ask us about course selection, they sometimes have interesting reasoning.  For example, someone who thinks they want to student business in college is told to take a course or two in the business disciplines in high school.  That's fine if you have elective time and want to do that, but I don't think you should sacrifice your core subjects for such work.

High school is your foundation.  Your foundation needs to be strong in your core subjects (English, Math, Science, Social Studies, and Foreign Language).  Dropping a core course is not going to make you more attractive to us.

Now, if you plan on going into specialized school like Engineering, Architecture, Nursing, or the Kinesiology program, you can probably imagine that we'll be looking pretty hard at certain parts of your academic preparation. 

What rumors have you heard this year?

CavDog swoops in to stop the spread of rumors