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Peabody is the building, Jack is the dog, and I'm Dean J (she/her, btw).

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Monday, August 25, 2014

The "Right" Extracurricular Activities

I saw a tweet today that said "Choose the Right Extracurricular at the Right Time for College Applications" along with a link. The link was to an article in a magazine [that no one I know buys until they put out a ranking issue] with a year-by-year breakdown of what a high school student's involvement in activities should look like in order to get admitted to a great college. The article is credited to a tutoring company. Nothing gets me fired up like random folks presenting admission information like it's gospel. So, buckle up. This might take a little while.


When I was younger, we looooved a show called Saved by the Bell. It was a cheesy, Saturday morning show that followed a bunch of students over the course of many years. One of the characters on the show was fixated on going to "Stansbury" and was pretty diligent about academics. At one point, she had trouble balancing school work and her after-school commitments (specifically, being in an all-girl pop group while taking geometry) and she resorted to taking *gasp* caffeine pills. This led to a "very special episode" and a truly epic scene in which her best friend discovered her secret.

You'd be surprised by how many choices I had when it came to this gif.

I told you it was cheesy. My point is that going to extremes to "look good" to colleges is not a new phenomenon, but with so many people taking a turn at being a college admission guru, I think more people are spending unnecessary time and energy strategizing when it comes to their activities.

My advice:

1. Get involved in some stuff you like.
    When I was in school we were obsessed with the idea of the "well-rounded student." The only alternative was being nationally recognized in something, so we all aimed for well-rounded. The philosophy here has evolved. We're building a well-rounded class. In a well-rounded class, there's room for all types. Some students are going to be rounded and others are going to be pointy. It all makes the class interesting. Don't "over think" things. We're looking for students who are involved in some things that they find meaningful. There is no check list and no "ideal" activity list.

2. Don't apologize if your interests change.
     I can't tell you how many times a student has expressed fear over dropping an activity that no longer fits into their busy schedule or isn't as rewarding as it once was. This is totally fine. Now, I'm not saying you get to check out on commitments you've made once you have a couple admission offers on the table. I'm saying that if your priorities change, that's okay.

3. Quality over quantity.
     There are students with long lists and there are students with short lists. Everyone knows that student who manages to be everywhere. People wonder how they get things done, but they somehow figure it out. Everyone also knows that student who has a short list, but shows serious depth in one or two areas. Both of those students probably have some interesting, impressive things to share in the activity section of their application. Don't get bogged down in the number of things you can put in the Common App's activity chart. Put your activities in the chart and move on the next section. This part of the application should be easy to complete and make you feel pretty good about yourself, no matter how long your list is!

Oh, and if your list isn't long, don't feel pressured to throw filler in there.


Monday, August 04, 2014

The Best Time to Apply to UVa

These days, college application deadlines should be simple. Back when we had a paper application, we had to move our deadline to avoid New Year's Day, when the post office was closed. Going paperless in 2008 simplified many things for both applicants and admission officers. The deadlines for first-year applications haven't changed since.

The deadlines at UVa are November 1st for Early Action and January 1st for Regular Decision. There seem to be more people concerned with the "right time" to submit an application this year. Let me cover the three most popular assumptions.


1. Applications submitted early get "easier" reads and show interest.
I completely understand this thinking since it is true for some schools. There are plenty encouraging very early submission of applications these days. At UVa, we have the same review process for the entire application season. We probably won't notice the date that the application arrived. As for interest, it is not a factor for us.


2. We fill the class during Early Action.
About half of our applicants applied during the early round last year and roughly half the offers went to that group. I'm saying roughly because there's a lot more to the conversation, but suffice it to say we do not fill our class with the Early Action applicants. You can look at unofficial statistics about the admission process using the statistics tag on this blog. Official statistics are published by the Office of Institutional Assessment


3. Applications submitted around the holidays are read by "jolly" admission officers.
I saw this posted in the UVa forum of a popular college admission message board. When we go into reading mode, we are laser focused on the task in front of us. We realize how important our work is to our applicants and we isolate ourselves from outside influences so we give each file the time it deserves. As a result, we aren't always too jolly around the holidays, but we do feel good about the work we're doing.


In a nutshell, submit your UVa application when you feel it is complete. While I always caution students about last minute submission, there isn't a difference between an application submitted on September 1st and one submitted on November 1st when we read. Don't rush yourselves!

CavDog enjoying the summer

As I wrote this, I got word that our first application for the Class of 2019 was submitted on Saturday, one day after the Common App launched.


Friday, August 01, 2014

The 2014-2015 Common Application is Live!

Happy Common App Launch Day!



The Common App's blog has tips for applicants, parents, and school officials that you should check out before you get started.

If you created an account last season, you need to create a new account. You may notice one format change this season. Common App allowed colleges to choose whether they wanted to maintain a separate tab for essay questions or move their essay questions so ALL questions from the school are on the same tab. UVa and lots of others moved their essays. All UVa specific questions are now on the UVa tab. There's no "Writing Supplement" tab for UVa.

Here are screen shots that show how the essay questions will change based on which school within the University you select. Remember, the essays were posted back in June right here on the blog.




I'll be back next week with a few more Common App related posts. Feel free to post questions (or messages that convey extreme exultation over launch day) below.