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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

How Much Time Do You Spend on Testing?

"Here we go."

We were only a couple minutes into an "ask the deans" panel at a high school's college planning program and the first testing question was asked. We all knew from experience that once the first testing question is asked, we don't get away from testing questions without some sort of intervention from the counseling staff in the room.

The crowd probably has lots of questions about other topics, but once testing comes up, they skip down the list to the testing stuff. And so we dwell. And the admission officers are a little perplexed that all the time is being spent on testing when there are other things they could discuss.

 

This is going to be an interesting year because of the changes made to the tests and how they are scored. Rest assured, we've been through things like this before (recentering in 1994/5, the move of the Writing test in 2005) and we will all get through the changes together. I actually like years like this because they often force students to look at the more substantial parts of their application. Remember that four years of development get much more of our time than the four hours spent taking one test.

Students, as you start this year, I want you to pay attention to how much time admission officers at schools with holistic processes spend talking about testing. I assure you that the time spent talking about the SAT and ACT will be dwarfed by the time spent talking about programs, grades, recommendations, and essays. I'm not saying testing doesn't matter. If a schools asks for something, it matters. Testing is definitely an interesting piece of data. However, we don't have minimums or cut offs in our process. We read the entire file and render a decision based on the whole package. That's what holistic admission means.

Testing doesn't warrant getting half the time during a panel program and it doesn't warrant getting the majority of your head space as you are juggling the academic load and responsibilities that come with being a junior or senior in high school.

As always, I'm happy to answer your questions in the comments.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Happy #UVAMoveIn Day!


This is one of my favorite weekends of the whole year. The first-year move-in has begun, with half of the class arriving today and the other half arriving tomorrow. We can't help but feel proud as we see the students we got to know on paper (okay, on computer screen) making their way around the UVA Grounds.

Congratulations, new Hoos! You're always welcome in Peabody Hall and we hope to see you as ambassadors, guides, or DOTL volunteers in the future!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Counselor and Teacher Recommendation Requirements for UVA

Before I get into UVA's recommendation letter requirements, I'd like to share an observation:

Some people seem to think that application requirements are for average applicants and if they want to show a school they are especially worthy, they have to go above and beyond those stated requirements. I promise you that colleges ask for the items they want to review. There is no hidden message that we really want something else.

Today, I thought I would share my thoughts about recommendation letters. Hopefully, you'll understand what we are looking for as we work through this part of your file and you'll realize that for the vast majority of applicants, the two required recommendations fulfill our needs. Sending a bunch of repetitive recommendations doesn't help us in our review. If someone tells you that UVA wants a bunch of extra recommendations, show them this blog post.



We require a counselor's recommendation and a teacher's recommendation. These can be submitted however the counselor/teacher wants to get them to us. Some schools have systems that facilitate submission, some counselors/teachers will use Common App's online system, some will email us (application documents go to uvaapplicationinfo@virginia.edu), and some will drop them in the mail. Any method of submission is fine with us. Everything meets up in the applicant's file.

The Counselor Recommendation

Your counselor will send us your high school profile, transcript, a school form with some basic information on it, and their recommendation. The recommendation can take any form. Many counselors write a letter, some bullet out a few statements about their student, and some schools have a form that that prompts their counselors to cover different topics. It all works for us. A school in one of my territories has a large senior class and 100% of the class typically goes on to a two or four year college. As you can imagine, those counselors are BUSY. When they created a form with areas to address different topics (academics, extracurricular, character, outside issues that may have impacted the student), it was a great move for both "sides" of the desk.

What would happen if a counselor didn't know a student well? Those counselors will sometimes share what they have learned from the student's file or from conversations with the students' teachers. There is also a way for counselors to let us know if the constraints of their job prevent them from writing a recommendation. In those cases, the school form is sufficient.

The Teacher Recommendation

We require one teacher recommendation here, but we don't specify the grade level or subject area for that teacher. We want you to pick the teacher who you think has the best insight into your classroom performance and style. Who might talk about your role in class discussion or your style when working on a group project? Who might have a story about you working really hard to get through a particularly different concept? That's the teacher you should ask!

These recommendations aren't about summarizing information we will learn from other parts of the application, so I don't recommend giving your teacher your activity list. You could remind them about the project you did that impressed them or about the time they asked to hold onto something you did so they could use it as an example. Those little anecdotes bring the data that we get in the rest of the application to life.

If you feel like your style is dramatically different in different classrooms, it might make sense to send an extra teacher recommendation.

"Other" Recommendations

When it comes to recommendations from folks who don't know you in the classroom, I think you have to be careful. Recommendations in the working world have a different purpose than academic recommendations. Academic recommendations supplement the data. Recommendations from outside academia are usually simple endorsements that restate the facts. Having a supervisor at work or where you participate in an activity certify that you do, in fact, work at that place does not provide us with new information. You've probably told us about this in the activity section of the application.

We turned the "other" recommendation feature off in the Common App. Stick with recommendations from people who know you through school.


Do you have any questions about recommendations? Feel free to post them in the comments.