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Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Three Interesting Questions from the Fair Oaks Mall Fair

The always massive, usually chaotic Fairfax County Public Schools college fair was Sunday night at the Fair Oaks Mall. I don't know if this is because UVa was in a new location (the center of the mall instead of by a department store) or if attendance was down, but the fair wasn't as frenzied as it has been in years past. Instead of people shouting basic questions over the crowd (what's your SAT score? what's your average GPA?), we actually got to have some nice conversations with students and parents.

This fair always gives us insight into the issues that are on people's minds in one of the most densely populated areas of the state. Most of the questions were totally normal, but a few raised an eyebrow.

1. How many hours of community service do we need for UVa?

 When I got this question from a dad, I realized that there are still people out there giving really bad advice to people about the college process. I don't think students and parents come up with a question like this on their own. Rather, they're told by someone who claims to know better that colleges want a certain number of volunteer hours on the activity sheet. Perhaps there is one out there, but I have never heard any admission officer state any sort of service requirement for admission. 

If service work is something you do, that's great. It is not required for admission to UVa, though. When it comes to your activities, there are no check lists and no preferred activities. We are looking to see that you will contribute to our community is some way.

2. Is a bad grade in a really tough course okay?

 One student asked a pretty standard question about course selection. She wondered whether it's better to take a top course and get a "bad grade" or to take a lower-level course and get an A. When I asked her to define a bad grade, her answer almost made me tear up. She said "a B+ or an A-." I was pretty shocked.

I think some of you are way too hard on yourselves. I think your ideas of weak credentials and my ideas of weak credentials are really, really different. It makes me wonder if there are students who don't even apply to their dream schools because they have convinced themselves that they aren't competitive for admission.

When we look at your transcript, we are looking at all four years of work. One grade doesn't derail an application. If we see a low grade, we look to the next semesters to see if the student has rebounded. I think it's smart to address a dip in grades if you have one due to illness, a family situation, a change in schools, etc.

3. What will the admit rate be for ______ High School this year?

I think this points to how someone is using admission statistics. Admission statistics are the result of the process. We don't start reading each year with a goal of having a certain admission rate or a certain testing statistic. The data can help you understand some of the characteristics of the incoming class from the prior year, but it doesn't tell you exactly what will happen in future admission seasons. The applicant pool can evolve over time.

Jack with members of the Class of 2019. Your admission process won't be exactly like theirs!