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

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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Let's Talk About Everything #UVA20

Whenever I see or hear chatter about the admission process that warrants a blog post, I jot a note in the task app on my phone. If you've been reading for a while, you know that I try to address one big topic at a time. Well, this week, my task app looks like this:

I'm going to attempt to address each of those topics in half a page or roughly 250 words (haha, get it?). If you've been reading  the blog for years, you have probably read posts where I have addressed these topics many times before. I'm going to link to some of those longer posts at the end of each section.

GPAs are Meaningless Without Context

Almost every time a parent starts a conversation about a student, they begin by citing a GPA. That number is meaningless without context. What does a 4.0 mean when there is no standardization in that calculation of that number?

The way I see it, your GPA is an attempt to summarize the work on the transcript. It doesn't tell the whole story, though. Two students at a school could have identical GPAs with very different paths behind them.

More about GPAs.

Strength of Program

A conversation I had with a parent on Facebook last night prompted this one. We look at progress over the course of four (really 3.5) years across academic disciplines. We don't just count up the number of AP courses to assess program strength. After all, there are students who load up on APs in one subject area and shy away from challenging courses in others.

More about program strength (see the second part).


There are people out there who have decided that you have to be either well-rounded or angular when it comes to involvement. This is false. The bottom line is that we are looking to build a well-rounded class. There is room for all kinds of people in a well-rounded class. If you have something to put down in the activity section (and that would be clubs, sports, a job, or other responsibilities), you did it properly. You don't need a resume (we don't accept resumes at UVA). Just fill out the form on the Common App and move on to the next section.

There are 959 student organizations on the books at UVA. They cover things you have your high school and then the list goes off into all sorts of directions, even into fringe-y and strange territory. We want students who are going to help propel all those things along. That's why we don't prefer certain kinds of commitments over others.

More about activities.


Keep it simple. UVA asks for two recommendations, one from a counselor and one from a teacher of the student's choice. Most students should send two recommendations. If your style is dramatically different in different classrooms, it might make sense to send an extra recommendation. Repetition is not necessary, so think carefully about whether you really need the extra recommendation.

I see recommendations as a compliment to the transcript. The transcript provides the data and the recommendations bring the data to life with examples and anecdotes about the student's efforts and style in the classroom.

More about recommendations.

Holistic Admission

People throw the word "holistic" around and want it to mean lots of different things. In a nutshell, holistic admission means that all components of the application are considered when rendering a decision. If your school has Family Connections, I know your instinct is to draw conclusions about our process by looking at scattergrams, which plot past admission decisions on a chart that uses GPA and SAT scores on the axis. This isn't appropriate. Scattergrams show you the result of our review, not the methodology.

In our review, academics come first. After all, that transcript represents 3.5 years of development. Most of our applicants are perfectly qualified to do the work here, so we also look to recommendations, essays, testing, and activities to understand the big picture.

More about holistic admission (and some really bad drawing from me).


I try to have a sense of humor when it comes to the rumors that fly around about our process, but that gets difficult at this time of year because students are so eager for this process to conclude. When you hear a rumor, choose to do the ration thing and check it out with us. You can call, email, tweet (@UVADeanJ), or comment here to get our take.

This was especially long, so we need a Jack picture to close the post.