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

There are years of posts here. The search box works well, but please consider the age of the posts when you find them. The college admission process changes every year!

References to emailing updates to your application are from the years when we didn't have the current applicant portal. Please follow the instructions in your portal to submit all updates.

Welcome to the blog and thanks for reading!

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Monday, December 30, 2013

The Timing of Reporting Test Scores

As the Regular Decision deadline approaches, I'm getting lots of questions from those who haven't sent their standardized test scores yet.

Perhaps the immediacy of submitting applications online has made many people forget about the parts of the application that need to be done well in advance. Just as your counselors and teachers need a few weeks to prepare supporting credentials for your application, the testing people need advanced notice about your intention to apply to schools. It can take them several weeks to send scores to your schools.

I wrote a very long post about this back in October. In short, the testing companies take several weeks to delivery scores. If you are applying RD and haven't told the SAT or ACT to send scores to us yet, you need to do it right away!

CavDog isn't a fan of standardized tests.

Monday, December 16, 2013

How to Withdraw an Application to UVa

It's the time of year when many schools with Early Decision programs start making their notifications. Applying to a school via Early Decision is binding, so if the school makes you an offer, you're taking it and your college search is over.

If you applied to a school with Early Decision and they have admitted you, you need to withdraw your application to UVa. To withdraw, just email with your name, high school, date of birth, and tell us that you want to withdraw your application.

Some people are emailing admission officers directly, but remember that doing that will slow things down.

Congratulations to those who have come to the end of their college search!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Let's Talk about Class Rank

Once upon a time, class rank was really simple. Students in a class were put in order by average or GPA and assigned a rank based on that order. The person with the top GPA got the #1 spot. Now and then, you'd hear about a tie or a school where there were TWO valedictorians. Imagine that!

Many schools still use a fairly straightforward methodology for determining rank, but there are schools where class rank has become a bit more complicated. There are schools where large groups of students are huddled at the same spot in the class. There are school that give the #1 spot in the class to anyone with a 4.0 GPA. Most of those schools are on weighted GPA scales where the highest GPA in the class is in the neighborhood of 4.50. There's a school where 114 students are holding the first spot in the class right now.

 You're in good company, at some schools.

So why is rank interesting to us? When it is reported, it can help us understand how strong an applicant's work has been in the context of their class and their school. We're aren't ruled by rank, just as we aren't ruled by testing, GPA, or other statistics. The reported statistics contribute to review.

Some schools have stopped reporting rank. In those cases, we often get GPA and grade distribution charts (via the school profile...see the second half of those post for more about that) that provide context for us.

Here's an example of a GPA distribution chart:

Here's part of a (much longer) grade distribution chart:

We publish a chart that shows where students who were admitted ranked in their high school class (if they attended a high school that provides rank to colleges) in case you are curious. Just remember that your admission decision doesn't rest on one statistic. All of the information in your file is used to arrive at a decision. 

Friday, December 06, 2013

And then we had a dance party

We're only a month into the application season, but for UVa students, it's the last day of classes. It's fitting that the annual Lighting of the Lawn happened last night. It was a nice way to celebrate the end of the semester and get a little fun in before exam week.

This year, the light show turned into a dance party, complete with flying glow sticks. 

I've seen a "glow stick war" at concerts, but never on Grounds. Isn't it fantastic?

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

"View Decision" = Your File is Ready to Read in SIS

I've written about this a few times in blog posts and in my responses to comments, but I think I need to revisit this in depth.

The Student Information System has a built-in feature that adds a box at the bottom of your status page when your file is deemed complete and ready for us to read. 

Here's what it looks like:

The Short Explanation
If you see that box show up, it might cause a little excitement because "view decision" shows up in the box.  Alas, when you click on the words, you get a little message saying decisions aren't ready yet.  Because they aren't.

Early Action Notification = January 31st
Regular Decision Notification = April 1st
(any change will be announced on this blog)

We are just a few weeks into the EA process and there are somewhere around 15,000 applications to read.  Four weeks is not enough time for a thorough review. When we are done, we release all decisions without delay. It only takes a few hours for us to get the system ready to release decisions, so as soon as we know all decisions are finalized, we push them out. I always FLY to the computer to post the update when I get the word.

The Long Explanation
The long version is that student information systems are built by companies that are in the information management business.  The company that built the system that we use did a lot of things right. However, there are a couple things that those of us "on the ground" don't love and that is to be expected. 

The "view decision" box works for lots of admission situations (many undergraduate and graduate programs use a rolling notification).  It just doesn't work for schools that admit a class as a big group.  Our SIS does a lot of things really well, but this one feature doesn't work perfectly for us.

In our process, your file goes through many different statuses. Applications are submitted, incomplete, complete, ready to read, and then they move into the review pipeline. The colors and symbols you see reflect some of those statuses. Don't worry about them. Aside from submitting your credentials, there's nothing you can do to change the symbol. Once your file moves into the reading pipeline, it will go through many different rounds of review. That's why it takes three months to do this. We don't just read a file, throw a decision on it, and move on. We revisit files over and over again during the review process.

If the only thing left on your SIS to do list is the mid-year report, you are done for now. It's time to throw your focus back to school work and preparing for your Regular Decision deadlines. You can also start working with your parents on getting ready to file financial aid forms (the FAFSA comes out January 1 and the CSS Profile is already out). Or, you can take a nap.

I have a feeling that if you have an offer on the big day, you'll be pretty happy with SIS.  Without it, you'd be standing by the mailbox, waiting for the postal service to bring your decision the way I did a long time ago.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Missing Credentials Emails Going Out!

Remember when I told you not to panic about your status pages? Well, you still shouldn't panic. However, we are now in the process of emailing those of you who are missing key components of your applications (recommendations, test scores, etc.).

Mid-year reports are a "to do" item for everyone, regardless of when an application was submitted. EA decisions come out before most schools send mid-year reports, but if you get an offer or are deferred to the Regular Decision round, we expect your counselor to send those mid-years along. We want you to be aware of this now as opposed to having that pop up late in the game. Some students are apt to stop checking their status once the to do list disappears.

If you get an email about a missing credential, don't panic. Please contact the appropriate folks to get that missing item sent to us as soon as possible. Testing comes to us through electronic transfers from ETS. Teachers can send recommendations through the Common App website or email.

Stay calm.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Sending Application Updates After Deadline

My physical mailbox and email inbox are flooded right now. I have to imagine that the same is true for my colleagues. Many applicants are sending updates for their Early Action applications right now.

I know many of you have been conditioned to communicate with a regional representative, but sending your updates to a specific person will delay their appearance in your file. Here's what happens...

How Updates Sent via Physical Mail are Processed
All of the snail mail that comes to UVa goes to the school's central mail facility first. There, it is sorted into divisions/offices/buildings and sent out for delivery. Mail that is sent to the Office of Admission arrives in the Peabody Hall mail room that is in our processing area. Anything sent to the general "Office of Admission" stays in the processing area because those envelopes usually contain application credentials. Envelopes addressed to a specific admission officer get sorted and set upstairs to our mailboxes.

During reading season, admission officers only spend part of the week in their offices. Some days, we stay at home to read, which lets us be more productive (no commuting, no walk-ins, no phone). We love reading from home!

When I read from home, I generally start around 6 AM and will read until late at night. When I read in the office, I have to get ready to come into the office, commute to Grounds, and walk to Peabody Hall from the parking garage. That means I start reading around 8:30 or 9:00 AM and stop reading around 5:15 PM to head home. It might not sound like a big difference, but there's a lot of time lost when we read in the office.

Because we read at home a few days each week, our mail can sit for a while in our mailboxes. When we open the mail and see application credentials, we put them in a bin to go back downstairs. It goes right back to where it started to be scanned.

We are a paperless office, so we prefer electronic submission of application materials. That's why we put the email address on the top of our instructions page.  Let's cover how email gets processed...

How Updates Sent via Email are Processed
When you email an application update, it gets opened and filed by our administrative staff. That's all there is to it.

If you send an email to a specific admission officer, guess what happens? We sent it right over to our administrative staff to file it. At the height of the season (now through March), we are immersed in the review process. When I'm reading a file, I'm completely focused on the student in front of me. I schedule specific breaks to look at email and clean out all the update emails by sending them to be processed.

Please use the general delivery methods we've give you for updates. 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

The turkey's in the oven, so it's time to read some files. Hope you all are enjoying a wonderful day with your loved ones. Happy Thanksgiving!

CavDog takes the sous chef role very seriously and is guarding the turkey.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Preview the New UVA Commercial

I love a good college commercial. You know how some people wait with baited breath for Super Bowl commercials? That's how I am with college spots. Most schools get a 30-60 second spot during half time of televised games and I have to see them.

I find that the good ones either give me chills or make me want to stand up and cheer. The new UVa spot just came out (it will make its TV debut this weekend) and it makes me want to do both of those things. I feel very lucky to be part of this amazing place in my very small way.

Many will be traveling tomorrow, so I'll wish you a happy Thanksgiving today. Safe travels and have a wonderful holiday!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Quotas. Again.

Here's the CavDog image I pull out anytime I fear I'm covering a topic so much that regular readers will be horribly bored by the post:

Really? You're talking about this again?

He's only about six months old in that picture. I think the dog was born to be on a blog because he gives me so many great expressions to use here. Anyway...

Let's talk about quotas
I'm going to talk about quotas again since it came up in the Washington Post today. Reporter Michael Chandler linked to my last post about quotas (unfortunately, it was the mobile version, so folks won't see that big, beautiful picture of CavDog), but I thought I'd revisit the topic just in case it will help quell some of the anxiety that will come up if people see this tweet and the related article:

I'll say something I've danced around through all of my posts about this topic. I think quotas are dumb. I want to concentrate on reading applications, not constantly have an eye on some counter that will stop me from admitting people. Quotas get in the way when you're building a great class. I don't think I could ever work for a school that has a cap on how many students we could take from a particular high school.

Look at posts on my Instagram account from the fall travel season and you'll see that I adore my high schools. I adore my applicants. I adore their Career Center Specialists (I'm resisting the urge to do shout outs right now). I spend a lot of time telling my colleagues about my fabulous visits to schools in Arlington, Fairfax, and Loudoun. If someone suddenly told me there was a cap on how many students we could take from each of those schools, I would be completely gobsmacked. Honestly, I would leave if that ever happened.

About those numbers...
A parent quoted in that WaPo article cited his daughter's GPA. The GPAs at many schools these days are approaching 5.0, so it's hard for some of us who grew up with unweighted 4.0 scales to understand what the numbers mean. What's more, the GPA doesn't tell us about the courses the student selected and the rigor of the applicant's high school program is hugely important in this process.

Each high school sends us a profile that explains how they calculate GPAs so admission officers understand the context. The profile explains the hierarchy of the curriculum at the school so we can assess how challenging the student's chosen program is. When you have lots of fabulous options, the expectation is obviously that you'll take advantage of them. Every school is different, of course.

If you haven't seen your school's profile, google it. You can usually find them online. If you don't see yours online, your school counselor can show it to you.

Feel free to ask questions in the comments. As always, this is anonymous, but please pick a nickname to use.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Throwing Away the Formula

People cringe when formulas come up in conversations about the college admission process. The idea that there is some rubric into which we plug ratings to get an admission decision makes a lot of people uncomfortable, regardless of whether they're an admission officer, school counselor, student, or parent.

At UVa, we don't use formulas at all. We aren't assigning scores to or rating each component of your application. We aren't plugging data into a form that tells us what to do with an application. Our review is holistic.

However, in many files, there's a formula that has a huge influence on us. It's the formula most students use to write essays.

Many people, myself included, are taught to write essays using a five-paragraph format. It's called different things in different schools. When I was in school, we called it the Three-Five Essay. I've also heard it called One-Three-One. You might have been told a different name for it, but the structure is the same. The teaching is that essays consist of an introduction, three supporting sections, and a conclusion. These essays are great for school assignments and they are perfect for the SAT and ACT folks, who expect you to write an essay in 30 minutes. However, the five-paragraph formula can be horrible for college application essays.

Inserting your thoughts into a preconceived format can strip the best part of the essay away (the personality!). Start with the idea or the story. Free write with that idea in mind and then go back and organize your thoughts so the structure makes sense.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Essay Length and Word Counts

Today I'm going to address Gwen's question from Monday. Specifically, she asked about word counts.

The quick answer is that we don't have time to count words in essays. The word limits are there so you know what kind of essay is appropriate for the prompt given. I also think that being able to express yourself in a clear, concise manner is part of being a good writer. Our "What's your favorite word and why" essay question isn't something that warrants a term paper. Answer the question, share something with us that isn't coming through in other parts of the application, and edit if you wind up writing a page when half of a page is requested.

Keep in mind that we are giving every applicant three places to write (and some use the additional info section to throw in one more essay...totally unnecessary!).  We're looking for personal statements and stories in the form of essays.

By the way, I've addressed supplements in the past and recently wrote about sending resumes, but it's worth revisiting them during essay week. We can't read term papers. We can't read research abstracts. Please do not send them. Use the format presented on the application for your activities. Applications these days are robust. They contain a lot of information and it takes a while to get through them. Please don't stuff your file with items we haven't requested or we'll look like this:

By the way, a few people who actually saw Admission (the Tina Fey movie from which that still was taken) asked me how close it was to reality. There are parts that hit pretty close to home, especially when the main character envisions her applicants as she reads their files.

I don't really imagine an applicant doing a back walk-over across the desk, I promise.

Another realistic aspect of the movie: having a few favorites. There are definitely times when you get attached to an amazing applicant and want to shepherd them through the process. You scribble their names down on a post-it note and vow to check up on them throughout the process. However, there are lines you don't cross and the main character in the movie crossed a line when she changed a student's decision after it was finalized.

Keep the questions coming...and check back if you asked a question in an earlier thread. I've written back to some of you.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Picking the Right Topic for a UVa Application Essay

There's a rule that most admission officers learn during their rookie year. Never, ever tell anyone exactly what you do for a living in a social setting. When I was a new professional, I couldn't fathom why this rule was important, but I learned soon enough. Here is what happens when you tell someone you work in admission at a party, meeting in the community, or on a plane:

There are two common themes in the barrage of questions we get. First, people want to discuss the rumors they've heard about our process. Second, they want to know if we really read the application essays and what topics are the best ones.

That dovetails with Andy's question in the comments on yesterday's post.

The quick answers:
1. How do admission counselors feel about essays with a religion bent? Fine.
2. Are they cliche right from the start? No.
3. Do you get a lot of them? Plenty. (How many would a lot be if the pool is 90,000 essays?)
4. Are you tempted to skip them or give them a skimming over? No.
5. Or is there a negative bias if, say, the school itself is a public or secular institution? No.

The long answer:
I think people "over think" essay topics. They spend a lot of time trying to figure out what the "right" answer is or what answer will be most pleasing to the admission officers. Here's the thing:

The essay topic is a vehicle that you are using to convey something about you, your personality, and/or your voice.

There is no "right" topic for me or my colleagues. There isn't a topic that we see that is instantly pleasing to us. There is a "right" for you to use, though. You need to settle on a topic that lets you be interesting and authentic in your writing. 

One of the fun parts about working for a public school with 14,000 students (and about 30,000 applicants) is that we get to read all sorts of essays. The essays we see cover everything under the sun (and some stuff beyond that, too). The variety makes this process interesting, educational, and, at times, entertaining. 

Oftentimes, we are put on the spot to describe a favorite or great essay. What comes to mind are the outliers. So, we rattle off a few lines from the quirky or strange essay that stuck in our head and I imagine that some think they have to say something shocking or weird to get our attention. That isn't necessarily the case. Most students write about every day things. They talk about an academic area that interests them, an activity, a family member, or an experience that might be somewhat common to teenagers that affected them. What makes those essays successful? They are deeply personal and give us insight into the person behind the application. 

What other topics would you like me to cover? I have a great list of future blog posts going and I'm happy to add to it.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Welcome to Essay Week!

I'm writing this on Sunday morning, two weeks into the Early Action reading season. I've already read a few hundred files, but as I was reading my first file today, I remembered something that had people in a panic a few weeks ago that really wasn't anything about which to worry.

Fonts. I can't tell you how many emails I got about fonts last month. The Common App's essay boxes were doing funky things to text formatting. One of the more common (ha ha) issues was that the font would change when an applicant (at least I hope it was the applicant) used italics or underlining in their essay. 

People were really scared that we would penalize them over fonts or improper italics or underlining. 

If you could see what we look like a couple months into reading season, you would know that we aren't in a position to criticize anyone when it comes to appearance. I'm not interested in how pretty your essays look. I'm interested in the stories they tell. Content wins over appearance every single time. I have never had a colleague say "this essay isn't very deep, but it looks so nice on the screen." 

Little known fact: before we were a Common App school, we had our own UVa-only application. The essays came to us in 6 point font. It was hilariously tiny. We all toggled between magnification strengths on our monitors and squinted our way through the essay section of our application. Can you imagine the eye strain? 

Based on your comments, I'm making this the week of the essay. Ask whatever questions you have about essays in the comments (some have already come in via twitter and comments on past posts) and I'll cover them this week. Maybe I can alleviate some of the stress you've been feeling about this part of the application.

This is how CavDog deals with stress.

Anyone catch that I changed the font of this post from my default one?

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Role of Parents in the Process

Once upon a time, there were just parents. Moms and dads were just moms and dads. Today, we have all these added titles for parents. People use helicopter, black hawk, and snow plow to describe the style of a parent.

In a recent conversation with some friends, the feeling was that there's a period in a childhood when parents are expected to be a constant advocate, intervening and managing all aspects of life. In those early years, if they aren't supervising every play date, soccer game, school assembly, and school project, they are bad parents. There's a point where the whole equation is flipped and if they do any of that stuff, they're smothering helicopter parents who are trying to control everything.

 In the education world, people tell stories about over-the-top parents who blow through boundaries with students, teachers, and counselors. We all have them. There are the calls from parents who say "we are thinking about taking the SAT one more time" (hm...a team-based SAT) or "we're going to be pre-med." I'm usually a little amused. Going away to college is a big transition for parents as well as students.The verbal slips are probably a sign that the parents are still adjusting to the idea of their teenager going away.

In my opinion, most parents are completely appropriate when it comes to their involvement in the process. There are some that go a bit overboard. Here are a few areas where parents might be tempted to overstep:

1. Curating the college list
It's definitely good to have a frank discussion with students about what college options are financially viable and they might not love what they hear. Hopefully, a mutually pleasing list of schools can be compiled. Making a student apply to a school they don't want to attend is probably a mistake. First of all, even if they have the best professor in the world in front of them, if the student isn't happy, they probably won't get the most out of the experience. Second, we might get an essay like this:

This was an actual essay we received.

2. Filling out the application
Most parents who do this will say they are helping because their teen is so busy. I would guess that if I had a look the student's text message archive or Facebook profile (but we aren't digging for that, remember), it would show that they have some time to fill out their own application.

The parents of our applicants don't seem to go to extremes, but we once got an email from a dad asking us to forgive the typos in his daughter's essays because the typos were his.

3. Following up on the application
Once an application is submitted, it's fine if a student wants to submit new information. Advocating for themselves is a good habit for students to learn, so it's always a little interesting when a parent grabs the wheel after the student submits their application. We prefer that the student email us if there is an update. They can email to add a note to their file.

Several years ago, there was a parent whose emails were so numerous that I had to create a sub-folder and rule to funnel the messages away from my inbox. I just remembered the folder and went to look at it. There are over 75 messages in there, all from reading season. It's fine to call the Office of Admission. It's fine to email the Office of Admission. Doing that seventy-five times probably isn't necessary.

By the way, the applicant in that case was awesome and didn't need any special intervention to get our attention. The student was admitted and probably has no idea that that we were in such frequent touch with the parent.

CavDog knows how to advocate for himself  (especially if hotel receptionists have treats!)

One more time, most parents a have a totally appropriate amount of involvement in this process. I think people slap the "helicopter" label on others far more often than it's deserved. Let's stop shaming interested, involved parents with heavy equipment labels. The majority of them are doing just fine.

The parents who go over the top tend to do it in a spectacular way. They should let their students drive and take the role of a very supportive navigator on this journey.

Evidence that Mr. Jefferson was a bulldozer parent?

Feel free to use the comment section for questions about anything or to suggest a future blog topic.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

A Note About Status Pages

Within five business days of applying, students get an email from our Student Information System telling them how to log into their status page. The status page is where you can see a "to do" list for your application. If you apply for financial aid, a separate list will appear for that process.

Many of you got the email and eagerly logged in to see your status. That's when you might have seen items on your to-do list that you thought were already sent to us.

Cue tons of emails asking me if we're going to move an Early Action application over to Regular Decision.

First of all, I've mentioned it before, but your counselors and teachers have a different deadline for submitting their materials. We don't expect everything to be in the office on the deadline day. That would be pretty amazing since those folks are probably filing supporting documents for lots of different students.

Second, we get a veritable deluge of documents right around the deadline. It takes a while to process them all. Back before applications were online, we would get dozens of bins of mail each day. Everyone in the office would be charged with opening mail and even then we wouldn't be able to open everything that came in a day. This is how we (even Jack Blackburn) spent the days following the deadline:

These days, far more counselors and teachers submit online, but some still send things by mail (that's totally fine). We wind up having a lot of paper to scan into our system and link to an application.

We want you to have a complete application. Our staff is processing and filing things as fast as they can.

Please don't panic about your status page yet. When we are done processing, we will start to send emails about missing credentials. Keep in mind that sometimes, things go astray. A missing document might have been sent, but didn't make it to us for some reason. Applicants aren't penalized for this.

Only send duplicate credentials if you have been asked to send them.

Now, if the mid-year report is the only thing left on your to-do list, you're done! The mid-year reports get sent by counselors later in the year (usually in late January or early February). That's after the Early Action notification, but we still need to see those reports.
Questions? Topics you'd like me to cover next time?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

How I Use Social Media, Part 2

Yesterday's blog post was about how I use social media, in general, in my work. The quick summary from the end of that post:

1. I like social media.
2. I don't have time to search for students on the internet.
3. If you include #UVA in a tweet or photo, you're asking our entire community to see it. 

I imagine that some were thinking "Dean J, the New York Times just said 31% of admission officers look students up online. What's that about?" That statistic was generated from a phone survey of 381 admission officers (that's not a huge sample). I'm fairly certain I got the call because I vaguely remember thinking the questions were strangely worded. They didn't ask about how systematic Googling applicant names was. They ask if we had ever done it.

Here are three instances where I might turn to the internet for more information while reading a file and some real examples from my career:

1. There's something really, really cool in a file.
I'm starting with my favorite instance, but this isn't a daily thing. Every now and then, a student talks about something that interests me and I turn to Google to get some more information about it.

Several years ago, when cupcakes were just starting to enjoy a surge in popularity, a student wrote about starting her own cupcake business. She researched best practices for small businesses, analyzed costs, and launched a true business. I was so impressed (and probably hungry) that I searched for the business name to see the fabulous cupcakes about which I had just read.

Now I want a cupcake.

2. I need more information about a school.
This is probably the most common situation for me. Your college counselor submits a high school profile with their part of the application. Profiles explain the hierarchy of the curriculum in place at schools, grading scales, and methodologies for calculating statistics like GPA and rank. I'm sure you're aware that these things vary a lot from school to school. Once in a while, there's something missing from the profile and I usually turn to the web to find the information if it's after hours and I know there isn't going to be a counselor to talk to by phone.

Just the other day, I was reading an application from a school that gave general information about the curriculum, but didn't list specific courses in each discipline. There was no way for me to know what the top course offered was in each subject area. Google gave me this year's student handbook which included all the courses being offered this year.

3. Something seems too good to be true.
Like my first example, this isn't something that happens often. This is rare, but there are times when something seems off or wrong in a file and I turn to the internet for more information. A call to a high school counselor usually follows.

While reading the file of a student who attended the public high school in my hometown, I saw that she listed herself as the founder of a club you can find at many high schools. I was certain the club existed years ago and Googled the club out of curiosity to see if they had an online presence. The club didn't exist online, but the counselor confirmed that the club was new. Perhaps the organization existed when I was still in town and faded away soon after.

One more example: A colleague read a file in which an applicant said they were in charge of the Parks and Recreation department in their town and managed a budget that was a couple million dollars.

It seemed improbable that a town with a big enough operation to need that kind of budget wouldn't have a full-time director. A quick search revealed that the town did, in fact, have a Parks and Recreation department with a full time staff. A call revealed that the student was on an advisory board.

Please don't think that every admission officer around the country is prowling the web for information about applicants. Applications are pretty robust these days and provide us with the information we need in our review. I'm sure there are exceptions, but here and at many other colleges, the reading load each officer has is substantial. Can you imagine what our reading season would be like if we were Googling 30,000 applicants and combing Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for them, too?

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

How I Use Social Media, Part 1

Almost every year since I started doing work in social media, there have been periods when journalists have gotten really interested in how social media is used in college admission. Sometimes we get painted as creepy folks trolling the internet for dirt about applicants.

One time, a survey asked admission officers if they had a Facebook presence. The results were reported a little differently.

Aaaah! Panic!

Really quickly after the group behind the survey put out a press release, all sorts of papers and news sites picked up on the story. This was on Time Magazine's website a few days later:

OMG, now we're stalkers?

I got a ton of calls and emails from folks asking me to comment, which I happily did. First of all, we don't have time to be digging around for information about our applicants. I don't even have time to eat lunch during reading season. I have files to read. Second of all, I think most teens are perfectly aware of privacy settings and they lock their information down.

A few months after that happened, I wanted to use the press release and resulting stories in a presentation to some new professionals at a conference. When I went to grab screen shots, I found an update from the Kaplan folks, who were behind the original survey. The update was added onto the original story, but I don't remember any media outlet picking up on that.

Doesn't that sound less scary that the original message?

Things have changed a little bit since that all happened. Students found Twitter and Instagram. I joined Twitter a long time ago. In fact, 1.45% of users have been on Twitter longer than I have been. That's a lot of people, but suffice it to say, I've been on Twitter since before most of our applicants knew what it was. Back then, it was really popular with people who worked in academia. It was a great way to keep up with what was happening all around the University.

Many (most?) people who do a lot of work with social media use a client to keep track of their different feeds. It's akin to a stock ticker on your computer screen. Mine has columns for my home feed, private messages, mentions, and my favorite hashtags. All day long, the feeds scroll. I don't watch them all the time, but I glance at them fairly regularly. Twitter is probably the fastest way to get an answer from me if you have a question because I have that client open all day. It gives me a little pop up notification if someone mentions me. 

Here's what my favorite hashtag feed looked like a few minutes ago as I was getting ready to write this post:

I do the same thing with Instagram. I downloaded Instagram when Hipstamatic was THE big photo sharing app. You don't remember that? It wasn't long ago (2010), but you had to pay $1.99 for Hipstamatic. Another blogger told me that Instagram was the free alternative. Well, look at what happened. We're all on Instagram and Hipstamatic isn't dominant anymore.

The UVA hashtag on Instagram is full of gorgeous pictures from around the Grounds (along with some pictures of grapes and grape products, por supuesto). I love checking it and so do many others in the UVa community.

On Twitter and Instagram, I think you need to be careful about your profiles and your use of hashtags. You might forget that a hashtag with a school name in it is probably used by students, faculty, administrators, and people in the community. That's the point of a share something with people interested in the same topic.

The vast, vast majority of my interaction with students online is awesome. That's why I keep writing blog posts, tweeting, and sharing images on Instagram. Once in a blue moon, something comes to my attention that raises an eyebrow. I usually address it. For example, a high school student once tweeted mean comments about the physical appearance of the admission dean giving an information session. He tagged the posts with #UVA. I wrote right back. He apologized. I didn't take a screen shot or try to figure out the student's real name so I could connect the tweets to an application. 

To summarize:

1. I like social media.

2. I don't have time to search for students on the internet.
3. If you include #UVA in a tweet or photo, you're asking our entire community to see it. 

Next time, I'll talk about how we use social media during the reading process.

Update: Here's How I Use Social Media, Part 2.

Monday, November 11, 2013

How UVa Looks at Test Scores (or When Super Scoring isn't Exactly Super Scoring)

I wrote a very long post in early October about the timing of SAT score reporting. At the end, I promised to talk about SAT super scoring at UVa.

Just to recap, that earlier post covered three topics:
  1.  How we receive your SAT scores. This includes to answer to the common question about whether we will "accept" scores.
  2. The timing of SAT score reporting. More students than ever are waiting until the last minute to send scores and that's not good!
  3. What happens if you send scores after deadlines. This is probably the most common testing question we get.
So now I need to talk about how we look at the scores when we open an admission file. Let's define super scoring first. Generally, super scoring the SAT means the best section scores from multiple sittings are used to create a new composite score.

At UVa, we look at each section of the SAT. We don't talk about totals too much. If someone asked me for the score of the applicant in front of me, I would say three, three digit numbers. I would not cite a total. This isn't how all admission offices work, so check with your other schools about practices if you are curious.

Our application system pulls the best score from each section if a student has taken a test multiple times. We do not create new totals. That's why this isn't exactly super scoring. Here are rough examples (as in, I've made these up) for both the SAT and ACT:

This is not exact. I have made edits.

See how there are a mix of test dates shown? The dates honestly don't factor into our review. When I read, I'm looking at the two or three digit scores. I don't see how many times an applicant took the tests and I don't see all of their scores. The application system shows me the right mix of scores to get the best possible combination.

This is why we always tell students to just send their scores without delay. Use the free score reports knowing that our computer system is only going to show us the best ones when we open your file.

 What questions do you have about super scoring and how we look at testing when we read?

*Again, those scores weren't lifted directly out of a student's file.*

Friday, November 08, 2013

Virginia Residency and Your Application

This morning, I have some information from the Office of Virginia Status at UVa. The folks in this office make residency determinations for the entire university, from undergraduate admission to the graduate schools. They're involved in every admission process we have here. Clearly, undergraduate admission season is a busy time in their office.

Here are some things to know about the process of being deemed a Virginia resident:

1. The Common App asks most of the questions.
For many of you, the residency questions on the Common App provide the information needed to deem you domiciled in Virginia. Do not fill out the Application for Virginia Status that's on the OVS website. That's not for you! The Common App is exactly what they need in many cases.

2. A few of you need to provide documentation.
There are a few cases where you might have to provide some documentation to support your case. Two common cases (and what to do if one applies to you):
a. Military families - fax one parent's active duty orders, Leave and Earnings Statement, or proof of separation.

b. Permanent residents, visa holders, asylees, or those with immigrations statuses pending - fax documentation for you and a parent
Outside of those situations, you will get an email asking for documents if your case needs supporting documentation.

3. The Office of Virginia Status prefers faxed documents over email.
They communicate with applicants via email, but like documents to come via fax. Their fax number is 434-982-2663.

4. The Office of Virginia Status doesn't confirmation receipt of documents.
The volume of items coming into the OVS is too great for them to respond to every fax, but you will be emailed repeatedly if the documents they requested haven't arrived. Check your email. This is really important for the admission process and for your tuition bill!

Now, here's the tricky part. I can't really answer questions about Virginia Status. I can, of course, reiterate that being a Virginia resident is a big advantage in our process, point you to past admission statistics to show this, and promise you that within Virginia there are no quotas.

So I fear to ask...what are your questions?

Virginia Gentleman

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Double Check Your Common App!

For the last week, we've been emailing people who didn't submit all parts of their Common App to give them a chance (or several last chances) to hit submit on what was missing. Would you believe that 23 people paid a fee and told Common App they were applying during the Early Action period, but never submitted the actual application?

So one last email went out yesterday. We are about to shut things down and move forward with processing all those fabulous transcripts and recommendations that are rolling in. I should have some preliminary numbers for you soon. Keep in mind that our official stats use completed application numbers, so you will see these numbers go down in time.

By the way, official statistics about everything at UVa come from the Office of Institutional Assessment and Studies. You can see all kinds of admission statistics on their website. Most schools have an office like this. The name often has a name like institutional research or assessment.

Now, because I've given you lots of screen shots lately, here's a picture of CavDog in one of the UVa gardens.

Happy day!

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Sending Resumes to UVa

Common App has a great upload feature for resumes. They also have a great feature that lets colleges turn that function off if they don't need applicants to upload resumes.

UVa turned the feature off. We don't need resumes.

Here's the thing: we have a pretty large applicant pool (just over 29,000 people applied last year). It's helpful when information is presented in a consistent format. We really like how activities are organized in the Common App. We know where to look for the facts and we don't spend time sifting through extra information to get to the good stuff. Resumes tend to restate a lot of information that is presented elsewhere in the application. Repetition is totally unnecessary in this process. What's more, I think students divert a lot of time and energy to crafting a resume when they could be working on school work or putting the finishing touches on their essays.

Here's an early draft of what the activity section looks like on my side of the Common App. This was a test application from a few months ago. There have been a few changes, but you can get the idea...
An early draft of the activity page on the Common App

We also like that there are ten spaces for activities on the Common App. So many people think this part is about documenting every step you've taken over the last four years when we are really interested in seeing where you have your deepest involvement. We don't need intense detail about your activities. Short summaries are perfect.

There's a school out there that only has five spaces for activities and I think that's a great idea. It coveys the message that this isn't about having a long list, it's about sharing your favorite ways to spend your time when you aren't involved in classwork.

Students have taken to emailing resumes because we don't offer the upload function. I got one the other day that was four pages long and the first two pages listed details about the same activity. It was as if the student whose activity sheet is above listed statistics about every game in which he had played. The detail provided (three years on varsity, elected caption) helps me understand the involvement far better than knowing a batting average does.

Keep it simple. Remember that schools ask for the things they need and they usually tell you the format they prefer. Use the activity section of the Common App and don't email a resume. If we wanted resumes, we would have allowed them to be uploaded in the Common App.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

After Your Hit Submit

We are still processing everything that was submitted over the weekend, but I thought I'd remind you of the "After you submit" section of our application instructions.

Once you submit your application, the Common App holds onto it until a designated time when we pull the day's submitted applications. If you submit after the day's pull, we might not get your file until the next day. That's totally fine.

Our system has to move the information from your file into our databases. Around deadline time, it can take a while for all of this processing to happen. Once your application has be set up in our system, an email will be sent to the email address you submitted. The email will give you login instructions for our Student Information System (SIS). It can take up to five business days for these emails to go out. It all depends on volume.

The first time you log into SIS, you might see several things on your "to do" list. For now, you should not be worrying about missing credentials that are being submitted by your counselors and teachers. I will let you know when it's time to worry about that. The system has to look through credentials that have already arrived to match up documents that are for the same applicant. This can take a little while.

If the only thing on your "to do" list is the mid-year report, your file is complete for now and ready to read! Hooray! Mid-year reports come in late January or early February.

One your file moves into our reading process, you'll see a "view decision" box pop up. It's built into SIS and we can't change it. It does not mean we have a decision for you. Decisions won't be final until some time in January. I'll post as soon as we are done to let you know about the release of decisions. 

By the way, if you file financial aid documents, a second "to do" list will appear for that process. Be sure to log in regularly.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Common Worries Around Deadline Time

The Early Action deadline was Friday night and it seems like more students than in the past decided that they wanted to submit an application to UVa early. I'll have some unofficial numbers to share in a few days. Today, I wanted to address a few of the things that keep coming up calls, emails, and blog comments.

1. Admission officers have ALWAYS been flexible around deadlines.
There's a story that goes with this. 

Back when I was a college student, I gave a tour to someone who is a bit of a legend in the college admission field. He wound up pushing me to think about working in this world. I went to the admission office at my Alma Mater and begged for a job. After promising to stay at school and work for them over holidays and spring break, they let me join their staff. 

On my very first day in the office, probably within the first hour I was in the office, I took a call from someone who had been prevented from applying (I can't remember the reason) and wanted an application sent out. (This was in the dark ages, when we had to mail applications.) The call came after the deadline, so you can imagine my total shock when my supervisor told me to stamp "Late Application" on the packet and mail it out. 

Looking back, I have never worked for a school that refused applications after 11:59 PM on deadline night. Even the school I know that is very strict about their application process being followed precisely has a very loose deadline. When something beyond your control affects your ability to submit, we are understanding. 

This is probably why the majority of colleges didn't feel the need to make a big statement about extending the application deadline in the wake of reports of Common App glitches. We always leave the application open for a little while after the deadline. This is pretty standard in college admission.

2. Applications are transferred electronically once each day.
There were several comments and emails over the weekend about the date "stamp" you are seeing on your application when you log into your Common App account. There could be lots of reasons why your account says you submitted a day after you did, but the bottom line is that if there's something there, your application was submitted to us.

Common App has a scheduled delivery once per day for us. Be aware that if you hit submit after the day's transfer, we'll be getting it the next day. This isn't anything to worry about.

3. Counselors and teachers have a different deadline.
I was a little surprised that I got a slew of emails from people panicking about teachers not submitting recommendations by November 1st. November 1 is your deadline. Teachers and counselors have so much going on and it seems like more and more students are leaving the recommendation assignment to the last minute (back in my day, you were expected to give forms to your teachers/counselors about a month before deadline). No one is in trouble if the recommendations come in after deadline.

4. Application components accumulate in your file.
More than ever, people seem very worried about the different components of an application getting matched up in the admission office. With a few exceptions, the different components of applications have always arrived separately and get reunited in the student's file.

Back in the day, there were schools that wanted to applicant to send everything in one envelope, but plenty had a stack of envelopes in the application that students would distribute to their counselors and teachers so credentials could be mailed separately.

These days, things are much faster. Everything that is submitted electronically through the Common App is already tagged with your basic information. Our system knows how to file everything that comes in electronically. Everything that comes by mail is scanned into the system and then filed.

The process is much faster than it was in the paper days! Back then, this is where we put items send for students who hadn't applied:

This is what about 16,000 applications looks like. Imagine how much more space we'd need for the 30,000 applications we'll get this year!

Friday, November 01, 2013

Early Action Deadline Day!

Happy Deadine Day! To those who are still putting the finishing touches on applications, please submit early. So many colleges have November 1 deadlines that the Common App servers (and help team) are apt to be extremely busy tonight. Do not wait until 11:59 PM.

There are three things you should double check to make sure your application is coming to us as an Early Action application.

1. Check that you designated that you are a first year student. Even if you have a boatload of AP, IB, or Dual-Enrollment classes, you're applying for a first year if you didn't finish high school and then get 24 college credits after your high school diploma was granted.

2. Make sure you selected Fall 2014 as a term. If you did #1 properly, the only option you had was to apply for the Fall of 2014, but it's worth mentioning.

3. Verify that you selected the Early Action plan. You'd be surprised by how many students call us after we release EA decisions wondering why they didn't get a decision. Inevitably, they indicated that they were applying under Regular Decision, so we didn't touch their file during the EA review.

You can double check all of this on the very first screen of the section of your application dedicated to UVa's application questions.

I'm the "Dean of the Day" today, so I'm going to spend much of the day giving information sessions and talking to visitors. Please understand that my response to comments might be a little delayed!

Good luck, EA students!

Happy Deadline Day!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The EA Deadline is Approaching!

I've been getting so much email from worried students in the last few days that I think I need to draw attention to some things that have been covered on the blog this season. Feel free to use the comment section on this post to ask a question about anything application related.
How we are dealing with Common App issues
Hints for those submitting art or architecture supplements
Logistics of submitting SAT and SAT Subject Test scores
How applying for aid affects your application
Sending extra supplements
Demonstrated interest as a factor in our review
Quotas for densely populated areas like Northern Virginia
Every year, I implore students not to procrastinate when it comes to submitting applications. You can imagine that the support team at Common App is already inundated with requests and the volume of help requests is apt to increase dramatically as deadlines approach. Submit well before deadline in case there's a problem on your side or on the Common App's.

 The EA deadline is coming!

Monday, October 28, 2013

One UVa Student's Thoughts on AP Courses

This morning's Cavalier Daily has an opinion piece about Advanced Placement and how it prepared the author for the academic challenges of UVa. I'm not going to summarize the author's thoughts because I think you should read her entire piece.

After you read it, I'd love to hear your opinion. I will come back and edit this post to add my thoughts later.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Notes from the Road

My last week on the road for the 2013 travel season is coming to an end. This week has been full of college fairs in Northern Virginia. Some of these events have been huge and I'm so thankful that our alumni have come out to help answer questions and talk about life at UVa.

Last night's table team at the Ballston Commons Mall

College fairs are always interesting. While we get the same questions over and over again, we also get insight into what rumors are floating around about admission to UVa this year. Some of the more interesting ones I've heard:

Rumor #1 
Only 2,000 students from Northern Virginia are allowed at UVa.
I've been answering the quota question for years (we don't have them), but I'm surprised that someone attached an actual number to that rumor. The number makes no sense. There are about 14,600 undergraduates at UVa. Using a pretty strict definition of "Northern Virginia," I counted well over 4,000 students from the region when I added up headcount totals.

Many students in densely populated areas worry about restrictions or quotas affecting them when it comes to the college admission process. I assure you that we don't have them for areas within Virginia.

Rumor #2
Having a Virginia529 college savings plan affects admission to UVa.
When someone told me this, I asked them for clarification. They said that some believe we are easier on applicants with Virginia529 plans because "UVa gets more money from them."

First of all, I don't know how the Office of Admission would even know that a family had set up a 529 plan for an applicant. The group that oversees that plan in Virginia is an independent state agency. They aren't part of University of Virginia.

In addition, our application review system has no financial data in it. That information is between you and Student Financial Services. When I review a file, I don't know if you applied for aid or if you have a college savings plan. My job does not include guessing about how you'll be paying your tuition bill.

Rumor #3
We don't recognize International Baccalaureate programs.
This one really surprised me. IB programs are extremely common in Virginia and have been for years. From the

"The states with the largest number of IB World Schools are California (120), Florida (114), Texas (102), Colorado (79), Virginia (73), New York (63), Georgia (57) and North Carolina (55). 

More than 55% of all U.S. IB World Schools are located in these eight states. California has the largest number of DP, while Virginia has the most MYP and Texas has the most PYP."
We also offer credit to students to score well on their higher level IB exams. This isn't new. I've been referencing the chart on that webpage for years.

Something else to consider, from an IBO report:

If you have a rumor you'd like to check out, feel free to post it in the comments.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

A Note about Common App Difficulties

Our Spring transfer application deadline has come and gone. While some of our staff is still on the road for evening programs and high school visits, some of us are already entrenched in the transfer review process. The new version of the Common App is getting positive reviews by those reading files, but we know the system is giving many of you trouble.

The Spring transfer population is pretty small compared to the one that is applying for our next deadline. The Early Action group will be quite a bit larger. Rest assured that we're monitoring what's going on via Common App's known issues page, Facebook, and Twitter. If the problems they are having aren't resolved by the next deadline, you'll see an announcement here and in your email inbox (if you have an application started) about next steps. Submitted applications and credentials are coming to us just fine at this point.

We are still two weeks from deadline. There is time to get things submitted. We have always been understanding when things outside applicants' control have affected their ability to apply. In just the last couple years, Hurricane Sandy and a freak snowstorm on Halloween prompted us to extend our deadline for students in certain regions.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

When an Honor isn't an Honor

It's the time of year when letters start arriving in mailboxes with news that students have been nominated to join fabulous, exclusive organizations. The arrival of the letters coincides with filling out applications, which isn't a huge surprise. Some students may be looking at the honors or activities sections of their applications thinking that an extra item or two might make their list look nice. Or, the anxiety of applying to colleges might make the student susceptible to the flattery that comes from some impressive sounding groups.

Many of these groups solicit "nominations" from your peers or teachers. For some high school students, the nomination is often related to having taken the SAT, which sells mailing lists of student names to colleges and others. If you were somehow able to sign your baby sister up for the SAT, you might be able to get her into one of these things, too.

Even I have gotten the letters. This one came back in 2011 and I shared it on the blog then, but plenty have come since then...

Are these organizations legitimate? Yes, insofar that they exist and have members who pay fees for programs and conferences. However, admission folks aren't really impressed by expensive certificates or conferences. No one has ever excited told me "and they're part of the International Consortium of Future Publicists!" when they've been telling me about an applicant.

If you thinking about paying for one of those honors, don't do it because you think it will look good on an application. If you think the experience will be beneficial to you in another way, go for it. Just don't do it thinking it will have an effect on your application.

By the way, I just checked up on the organization that sent me the above letter. The website from the letter is dead, but they are still around. I don't think I'll be joining, though.

I dug that picture from 2011 up because someone recently shared a link to an old New York Times article about expensive leadership conferences. It's worth a read.