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

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Welcome to the blog and thanks for reading!

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Notes from Peabody is 13 Years Old Today!

I wrote my first, short post on this blog thirteen years ago today. I was one week into my job at UVA, completely homesick for Boston, and wondering if I could really make it to the end of the three years I planned to stay here. The blog started with my observations of UVA as an outsider, but evolved when I realized people really enjoyed the posts in which I attempted to demystify the admission process.

One of the most popular photos from the early years...our file room.

Whether you just stumbled upon this blog today or have been reading for a while, thanks for reading.

Monday, July 23, 2018

2018-2019 #UVA Application Essay Advice

One of the most common questions I get from students is "what was your favorite essay." It's a hard question to answer because I have read so many excellent essays over the years and could never pick just one favorite. Instead, I often talk about what makes an essay good. Notice that I didn't say great or memorable. Every essay doesn't have to be off-the-charts amazing. They don't have to be destined for publication (more on that later). They have to be good. Aim for good.

A good essay conveys the voice and personality of the writer. A good essay shares something that hasn't come through in the other parts of the application. A good essay has made it to it's final form after a round or two of editing. So how does this all come together? Well, I have three main pieces of advice that I give every year:


1. Don't "Overthink" the Topic

The essay prompts colleges give you are deliberately broad because we want students to have some room to take an essay in whatever direction feels right for them. I think some people spend a lot of time googling essay prompts (that's a major source of traffic for the blog in the fall) because the think someone will tell them what the college wants. What we want is to get to know you through these essays. Use the topic that lets you be authentic in your writing.

As you get closer to the deadline, you may start hearing others talk about their essays. Don't let other people's essays make you second guess your topic. You may be tempted to change your essay. I don't think this is always a good idea. You probably wrote with more authenticity about your first choice topic than you will if you use a topic that popped into your head during a moment of panic.


2. Don't Feel Beholden to the Academic Essay Format

Many students are taught to write the "five paragraph essay" in school (I learned it when I was in grade school, too!). This kind of essay has an introduction, three supporting paragraphs, and a conclusion. This format is fantastic for class or for a testing situation, but it's not necessarily the best way to let your personality shine through. Don't feel obligated to use the academic essay format for your application essays. Application essays are personal statements. Use the format that works best for the story or message you want to convey.

I usually tell students to free write first and then cobble together the structure that makes sense for their essay.


3. Get Some Advice.

It's smart to get someone you trust to look over your essays. Remember, though, that these essays need to convey your voice and style, not someone else's. When someone gives you advice that you find helpful, rework it to fit your style. If someone gives you advice that doesn't feel right, don't use it. This sounds obvious, but when you are having a moment of self-doubt, you may need a reminder.

If you're a parent reading this, try to empower your student to say no when the advice they are getting isn't right for them. There are some well-meaning, but not necessarily helpful folks who may want to chime in during this process. The student is the expert on what a high school senior sounds like. They should have final say in what goes into their essays.


  Bonus Tip: Don't Be Intimidated by "Essays that Worked."

The first time you have to do anything, it's really common to google it. If you google "college application essays," you will come across some essays that will be said to have gotten someone into a dream school. First of all, an essay alone doesn't do that. A compelling application, which includes well-written, interesting essays gets someone into college. Second, essays that get published are not normal. Most application essays are never going to see publication. It's fine to look for inspiration online and in books, but do not let an essay about some great feat convince you that your essays needs to be over-the-top impressive. Again, those essays aren't normal.

Most students talk about everyday things in their essays. They write about an academic interest, an activity, a family situation, or a work of art/music/literature. The way you can distinguish yourself from the other students who are going to write about that same topic? You write about why that thing is important to you instead of writing about why it's important to all people.


We can't wait to read your application essays!

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Which Activities are Most Valued by #UVA Admission?

I was reading some old articles about admission with an eye towards how parents provide support and guidance during the college search. I came upon a comment on an article that struck me.
The problem is often that children's childhoods are literally sacrificed to that ideal of getting into UVA/Princeton/Yale, etc. This girl may have been discouraged from pursuing her actual interests (scouts, horseback riding, etc.) and instead had them channeled into things that would look better on an admissions application (chess club, afterschool Chinese) beginning in kindergarten.

Our solution was to encourage our kids to do what they loved and to think of college admissions as a crap shoot. 

First of all, lumping UVA in with schools that have single-digit admission rates might not be the best move. We have always published our admit rates broken down by residency. We offered to 38% of the Virginia residents who applied this past year and we offered to 23% of the out-of-state applicants. I can't fathom UVA ever being among the 15 or so schools with single-digit admit rates.

When it comes to a student's involvement outside the classroom, we don't favor certain kinds of activities over others. With 869 student organizations are currently registered in our system, it should be pretty obvious that we value variety. I hope you'll chose to make meaningful contributions in some arena (home, school, job, community, etc) of your life.

I've heard a lot of people talk about colleges valuing long-term activities in the admission process. While it's always interesting when a student has sustained involvement, that isn't something we require. Plenty of students change their activities as their interests evolve. Also, as your academic responsibilities become heavier, it may make sense to cut pack on your involvement so you can get your school work done. I don't want you staying on a team or in a club if it's making your feel stressed or miserable. Move on to do other things!

Lastly, admission is not a crapshoot. Admission offices establish pretty elaborate review processes to form their incoming classes. It is not random. I do like that the parent who wrote the comment encouraged their student to participate in activities that they loved!


Friday, July 06, 2018

2018-2019 #UVA First-Year Application Essay Prompts

The first #UVA22 orientation is on Grounds right now, which marks the end of our time working with last year's senior class. It seems like a good time to share our essay prompts for the next application season.

Each year, we solicit feedback about our prompts from students and admission staff. Some times we tweak a question, sometime we add to the options, and sometimes we remove options. Our prompts aren't changing too much, but we did add one option to the second.


2018-2019 First-Year Application Essay Questions 

1. We are looking for passionate students to join our diverse community of scholars, researchers, and artists. Answer the question that corresponds to the school/program to which you are applying in a half page or roughly 250 words.

  • College of Arts and Sciences - What work of art, music, science, mathematics, or literature has surprised, unsettled, or challenged you, and in what way?
  • School of Engineering and Applied Sciences - If you were given funding for a small engineering project that would make everyday life better for one friend or family member, what would you design?
  • School of Architecture - Describe an instance or place where you have been inspired by architecture or design. 
  • School of Nursing - School of Nursing applicants may have experience shadowing, volunteering, or working in a health care environment. Tell us about a health care-related experience or another significant interaction that deepened your interest in studying Nursing
  • Kinesiology Program - Discuss experiences that led you to choose the kinesiology major. 


2. Answer one of the following questions in a half page or roughly 250 words.
  • What’s your favorite word and why?
  • We are a community with quirks, both in language and in traditions. Describe one of your quirks and why it is part of who you are.
  • Student self-governance, which encourages student investment and initiative, is a hallmark of the UVA culture. In her fourth year at UVA, Laura Nelson was inspired to create Flash Seminars, one-time classes which facilitate high-energy discussion about thought-provoking topics outside of traditional coursework. If you created a Flash Seminar, what idea would you explore and why?
  • UVA students paint messages on Beta Bridge when they want to share information with our community. What would you paint on Beta Bridge and why is this your message?
  • UVA students are charged with pushing the boundaries of knowledge to serve others and contribute to the common good. Give us an example of how you’ve used what you’ve learned to make a positive impact in another person’s life.

I'm happy to answer questions in the comments. I'll share some more advice for essay writing next week.