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

There are fifteen 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 over time!

You are welcome to use the comment section anonymously.

Welcome to the blog and thanks for reading!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Virginia Residents: Don't Omit the Residency Questions!

Nothing has really changed in the residency questions of the Common App lately, but we've noticed that many Virginia residents seem to skipping the questions that allow them to be considered in-state applicants. Let's go over the residency section...

As you're filling out the UVA questions on the Common App, you'll encounter a section marked "Residency." If you answer "no" to the question in this section, you'll be evaluated as out-of-state. From there, you'll be asked to affirm that you will comply with our Honor Code and then you can move onto to other parts of the submission process.

If you answer "yes" to that first question, you'll see several questions load relating to you, the applicant. 

Most high school students are going to answer "yes" to the driver's license question and "no" to the rest. That's because their residency is really gained through a parent or guardian.

Here's the important part. Since most applicants get residency status through parents or a guardian, information about one of those people is required. This isn't a UVA thing, it's a Commonwealth of Virginia thing.  If you answered "no" to most of the questions in the first Residency section, you need to fill out the Parent/Legal Guardian Residency section.

This section is going to ask about where a parent/guardian is working and paying taxes. Don't leave this section blank if you are a minor and a Virginia resident.

The criteria for being considered a Virginia resident is dictated by Virginia law. The Office of Virginia Status at UVA is required to collect this information to make a residency determination. Every year, there are students who assume that being born in Virginia and attending a Virginia high school make their residency status obvious, but the government still requires the status office to verify residency by gathering some very specific information.

Regular Decision applicants, please make sure to fill out the Residency sections of the Common App if you believe you should be reviewed as a Virginia resident!

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

New in SIS: Withdrawing an Application to UVA

As soon as other schools start notifying their early applicants of admission decisions, many of our Early Action applicants tend to ask us two questions.

1. When will UVA notify Early Action applicants of decisions?

The official line is that the Early Action process will be complete by the end of January. If we are able to release decisions early, we will. The beauty of online notification is that it's fast. We don't have to wait for letters to be printed and envelopes to be stuffed.

I always post on social media as soon as the Dean declares us ready. I usually start with a blog post, then post on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. We also queue up a mass email to go out to the entire applicant pool. The news tends to travel quickly!

2. How do I withdraw if I was admitted elsewhere through Early Decision?

Withdrawing an application to UVA used to require an email from the student. We recently updated SIS so that you can withdraw through your account page.

When you log in, you'll see something like this:

Clicking on the Withdraw Application link will give you this message:

 Hit the button and the system will ask you to confirm:

Click "yes" and your application status will change immediately. 

Thursday, December 01, 2016

The 16th Annual Lighting of the Lawn is TONIGHT!

When student ask any member of the UVA community about favorite traditions, Lighting of the Lawn (LOTL) inevitably comes up. This tradition started just after 9/11 in 2001 as a way to bring us all together for an uplifting event just before we move into the exam period.

This year's LOTL is especially exciting because the Rotunda is back open after two years of historic restoration. I can't wait to see the performances, hear the annual poem, and see the light show tonight. You can follow along at home by watching the livestream from 7 PM until 10 PM on the Lighting of the Lawn website.

If you want to get an idea of what you're going to see tonight, check out these videos...

2013 (here's a video from the students' perspective if you want to hear their reactions)

2014 (from the students' perspective)


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Three SIS Status Notes

A conversation elsewhere reminded me that there are common questions about SIS status pages that come up at this time of year. Let me address the big three.

1.  What does "initiated" mean?
Initiated is a term the SIS uses when it puts something on your "to do" list.  It means the item has not been filed in our office yet. Keep in mind that we have a deluge of documents to file. Don't worry about a missing credential yet. We'll be in touch by email once everything is filed to let you know if we need something from you.

2. The mid-year report is on my "to do" list, but that's not ready yet. What do I do?
Hooray!  If the mid-year report is the only thing left on your "to do" list, then you're done!  That means an Early Action file is ready for review. We leave that on your list because we need mid-year grades from students who are admitted and deferred. Lots of students don't revisit their status once they are marked complete. If we added the mid-year report later, lots of people probably wouldn't see the addition. 

3. Does "view decision" mean my decision is ready?
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:

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
(any change will be announced on this blog ASAP)

We release all decisions at once. We've been able to release a little early since 2011, but we won't know the release date until we're almost at it.

Back in the paper days, we knew the release date a good week in advance because the last week was used to print letters and get them into envelopes.  We were basically done with the actual reading.

These days, there is no lag time between the end of the review and the release.  When we're done, we can release.  We don't have to wait for letters to be printed. 

Friday, November 18, 2016

Heads up: Thanksgiving Break is Coming!

Happy Friday!

Just a reminder that next week will be short week at UVA. Offices will be closed Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday for Thanksgiving. No information session or tours will be offered during the break or the Saturday and Sunday afterwards. Safe travels if you'll be on the road next week!

Dressed for dinner!

Monday, November 14, 2016

Early Action Status Page Notes

The day after the Early Action deadline is always an interesting one. We look at the numbers, but know that the final application number won't be known for a few weeks. We only count completed applications in our statistics, so though we have a total number of applications right now, it's just the submitted number and we won't have an official count until all the credentials that have been sent by counselors and teachers are logged into the system. Our EA numbers higher than last year at this point, perhaps some haven't read/heard our information about deciding between EA and RD at UVA.

Let's talk about some of the topics that always come up after deadlines:

1. Teacher and Counselor Submissions are still being processed.

Early Action applicants had a November 1st deadline. We give their school counselors and teachers a grace period for submitting documents. Do not worry if your counselor or a teacher is still working to get all of those credentials out.

2. The first time you log into SIS, your file will probably be incomplete.

As I hope you read in the "After You Submit" part of the application instructions, a few days after we download your application and get it into our system, you'll get an email about logging into SIS. SIS is where you will monitor your application status for both admission and financial aid. On notification day, you'll also check your decision in SIS.

At this point, most applications are incomplete. Please do not worry! As long as you submitted your application in time, everything will be okay.

3. Mid-Year reports stay on the SIS to-do list.

This is also covered in the application instructions. If you receive an offer of admission or a deferral, we require that you send us your mid-year grades. We leave the mid-year report on the SIS to-do list for EA applicants so everyone is aware of this. If you get to a point when the only thing on your to-do list is the mid-year report, you are done for now!

As a reminder, here are posts about:
-sending supplements and resumes to UVA
-admission quotas
-the Class of 2021 Facebook group (students only)

As always, you can ask questions anonymously (but please pick a name!) in the comments.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Things You Want to Send (But Shouldn't): Resumes, Research, and Writing Portfolios

When you hit submit on your Common App, I think you should feel some relief. You've done the bulk of your job for the application and now you have to wait for the rest of the pieces to fall into place*. Unfortunately, there are students who seem to see the Common App as the first of many submissions they'll make to our office. Below, I'll go over the things people try to send us and why we don't want them.

1. Resumes

So many students email us asking if they can send a resume in addition to their Common App. UVA does not accept resumes. The Common App presents information in a systematic format, which allows us to zero in on pertinent information quickly.I know that some really, really want us to see a resume or another activity chart, but please respect our process and use the Common App to share information in a concise way.

2. Outside Recommendations

We require one recommendation from your counselor and one from a teacher of your choice. We are looking for insight into your style in the academic environment. People who have never taught you can't speak to your learning style or how you work in a classroom situation. Also, those people tend to think they need to summarize facts (hours worked, tasks performed). Repetitive information isn't helpful.

Some people want to send recs from faculty they met at conferences or special programs. Consider how long these people have known you. I recently saw a recommendation letter that started by saying the writer knew the students for nine days. Your teachers and counselors have a little more familiarity with you. Stick to the required recommendations.

3. Research Abstracts

It's great to tell us about research, but don't send us an abstract. A line or two summarizing what you did is great. A paper is over the top and not useful. In fact, if you send us a paper full of jargon, you're increasing the chances that the gist of the work won't be clear.

4. Writing Portfolios

We get three pieces of polished writing in the application. The Common App has a long essay and the UVA screen/tab has two short-answer prompts. That's plenty of writing for us. We don't accept portfolios.

5. Copies of Certificates

You sign off on our Honor Code when you apply and promise that the information in your application is accurate. We don't need a copy of a certificate to believe that you are a member of a certain organization or received an award for something. Leave those papers in the baby book or that folder where you stick important stuff.

6. Newspaper Clippings or Pictures of You Doing Something

Anyone who was on the staff of a literary magazine, newspaper, or yearbook is proud of their work. It's best to keep copies for yourself and your family. The same goes with photos (even the adorable baby-on-the-UVA-Lawn photos). They belong in a safe place at home, not in a college application.

Colleges ask for the things they need to make their decisions. If we don't ask for it, we don't want you to spend time (or money) on it. Further, to make this process fair, we have specific parameters of what we will review. We accept the Common App and supplements that fit the criteria for arts and architecture supplements. That's it. So when you hit submit, it's time to move on to monitoring your status, not time to craft extra items to send us.

Please don't spend your money on stuff like this.

*No one seems to read the "After You Submit" part of the instructions, but that's where we explain that it can take several weeks for all the components of your application to meet up in our system, so don't panic if there are items on your "to do" list initially.

Monday, October 31, 2016

What Does a November 1 Deadline Mean?

There are two schools of thought when it comes to application deadlines. There are the people who think you have to submit before the deadline day hits and the people who think you can submit at any point on deadline day. The good news is that you can follow either way of thinking and have your application submitted on time for UVA. You have until 11:59 PM on the deadline day, November 1, to submit your application.

In our minds, we are talking about 11:59 PM at UVA, which means the Eastern time zone. The Common App accounts for the time zone of all applicants, so those of you out West won't see the app shut down at 8:59 PM in your time zone.

We DO NOT recommend waiting until the last few hours to submit your application. The Common App team stays up all night on deadline nights, but you can't expect instant help if something goes wrong with submission since there are apt to be scores of students submitting requests for help.

Good luck to those putting the finishing touches on an application!

Thursday, October 27, 2016

UVA Class of 2021 Facebook Group (Students Only!)

The Class of 2021 is applying so it's time to share a link to the class Facebook group! Click the logo:
Click the logo to go to the Class of 2021 Facebook group!


Who Is in the Facebook Group?

Obviously, the group will be for students who hope they'll be members of the Class of 2021 at this point. Membership will evolve as decisions are released and students start committing to colleges. After decisions come out, the students in these groups often create questionnaires to facilitate roommate matches. I'm told that the questionnaires the students create are more detailed than any being used by a housing office or roommate matching service. Student self-governance works again!

Who Is Moderating the Facebook Group?

There are a few current students who keep an eye on the group. They are not paid to promote a business or product. They are students who know the ins and outs of UVA and have offered to field questions without an agenda. You'll notice that we don't really sell UVA. We present UVA to you and let you decide if the University has the things you need to be happy and challenged. Their answers to your questions will be honest and straightforward.

What Happens to the Group in the Future?

When your class elects officers, the current admins will hand the group over to your chosen leaders. We've been doing this for about six years and it works beautifully. For now, the admins are fine with answering questions, but they usually sit back and let you chat.  Nothing in these groups will be saved or connected to your applications.

Is Facebook Activity Used for Admission Purposes?

I am not in the Facebook group. I have absolutely no interest in tracking you or looking at your profiles.  If you have questions and want to ask them on Facebook, you can use the Office of Admission page.

Can Parents Join?

No. if you are looking to check in with parents of UVA students, check out the UVA Parents page. Every so often, I hear about a parent requesting to join the student group. Please let the students have their space to talk.

Why Does UVA Create the Group?

We didn't always create a Facebook group for the classes. I used to talk about how Facebook was the students' domain (it was back when you had to have a .edu email address to get an account!) and groups should grow organically. I changed my mind in 2008 when a company started creating groups with school names on them. Content in the group we created won't include advertisements from third parties and your information won't be mined.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Early Action vs Regular Decision at UVA

With the Early Action deadline around the corner, we're getting more calls and emails than ever about the "right" time to submit an application to UVA. It seems there are some rumors out there about how this all works, so let me go over a few things...

1. Early Action isn't "easier" at UVA.

Our review is the same no matter when you apply. We aren't lenient on one group and hard on another. If you feel your academic program is strong right now, you can feel good about an Early Action application. If you're rebounded from something, see #3 below.

2. We don't fill the class during Early Action.

For the last few years, our applicant pool (the people who applied, not the people who were admitted) has been split pretty evenly between the Early Action and Regular Decision pools. We did not fill our classes during the EA round.

Apparently, there is a gem of a rumor being passed around at one high school (direct quote from a student's email):

"Do you think this year will be like last year where most kids apply Early Action and those who apply Regular Decision receive a denial or waitlist?"

The data doesn't support this. Last year, we made about 5,000 Early Action offers and over 9,400 offers overall to get a class of about 3,700. Please don't think that you must apply early to be admitted to UVA. It's simply not the case. In fact...

3. Regular Decision is the best route for many students.

The big difference between Early Action and Regular Decision is what we know about senior year when we are making a decision. For EA students, we see the courses in which a student is enrolled as a senior, but no grades. For RD students, we get mid-year grades in February, so we also see how well a student is doing in their senior courses. If your grades dipped at some point or you had a slow start, Regular Decision would be the best route for you because you would have one more semester of work to show that you have rebounded.

Which pool is right for you?

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Yes, We Really Read All the Files

It's always a head-scratcher when someone asks me whether admission officers really read all of the applications students submit. For admission officers (and for our families), there are two main times of year: reading season and not reading season. The "not reading season" is broken down into smaller bits (travel and yield seasons, for example), but reading season is the main event.

Thanksgiving Day, 2015

There are many different ways to organize your staff and the applications you have to read. Most admission offices split the files up by regions so the admission officers who know the area best can read the files from there. At UVA, we work in teams to make sure each file is read multiple times during the application season. How many times a file is read can vary, but the first two times the file is reviewed, the application is read in its entirety, front to back. There are no "minimum" GPAs or test scores used to reduce our reading load. We read everything.

My colleagues and I are in the last couple weeks of our travel season, when we visit high schools. When we get home, we'll be moving into reading season (though some already started with spring transfer applications earlier this month). We won't emerge until late March (at which point we'll move to reading fall transfers). 

Good luck to those who are putting the finishing touches on Early Action applications. We're looking forward to learning more about you!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

UVA Admission Quotas for Northern Virginia

"Beyond our in-state to out-of-state ratio (2/3 of our students are Virginia residents), there are no restrictions, targets, or quotas regarding how many students we may take from a high school, town, county, or region."

I say this sentence during every information session, evening program, and high school visit. I've been at UVA for 11 years, so you can imagine how many times those words have come out of my mouth!

Rumors of regional quotas are pretty prevalent in my territory in Northern Virginia. My students in Fairfax, Arlington, and the continuous cities (cities are separate from counties in Virginia) are convinced that we have to balance out the class between the 95 counties and 38 independent cities in Virginia and that means it's easier to be admitted from the counties with smaller populations. Let's look at some of the most common things I hear and some data...

1. Only __ people are admitted from my high school each year.

Many conversations I see about admission quotas cite enrolled student numbers that have been confused with admission numbers. This is probably because many schools publish lists of college destinations for the graduating class and people count up the number of times a certain school is listed. What's missing is a discussion of yield. Yield is the percentage of admitted students who decide to matriculate at a school.

At UVA, we break down our admission and yield stats by residency. About 60% of the Virginians who get offers of admission wind up enrolling at UVA. When you see a certain number of seniors headed to Charlottesville, remember that there were probably some more who were offered the option, but turned it down to attend another school.

2. The students from my area are more qualified than students from other places.

The notion of "qualified" applicants is a little bit funny to me. Students have access to so much admission information between their counselors, data that we put out, and data that high schools collect that most of the people apply because they know they are qualified. 

In a selective admission process, academically qualified students get denied because the vast majority of the applicant pool is qualified. Those students aren't denied to make room for students who can't do the work. The applicant pool is full of people who are prepared and ready for UVA.

3. UVA doesn't like my school because last year's seniors didn't attend in high numbers.

This is a relatively new rumor and I hear it in different iterations. One student told me that someone  said that her brother turning down his offer from UVA and attending another school a few years ago was going to be held against her.

We don't hold grudges. Students say no to us every year. That's how this process works. Our feelings aren't hurt.

Okay, now let's look at some maps!

UVA Magazine published an awesome article about the Class of 2020 that includes a lot of admission data. My favorite part is the map area, where you can hover over a county (or state or country) and see how many students in the first-year class are from a particular area. If you hold the shift key and click on multiple areas, you can get a summary. 

Above, we saw that 3,720 students are in the Class of 2020. If I add up the counties/cities in Northern Virginia, I can see that 1,130 students are from the area. So, four counties and four cities are pretty well-represented in the class. So 2,590 students are from the other 91 counties and 34 cities that make up the Commonwealth.

Side note: Back in the day, I'd set aside a day or two for Loudoun County visits. These days, one of my colleagues covers Loudoun while I cover Fairfax, Arlington, and Alexandria. The number of Loudoun high schools has increased as the area has been developed!

You can see how the numbers increased in our student body on the map:

Keep in mind that when you see charts with admission data on them, you are seeing the results of an elaborate review process plotted using just a couple variables. Things like scattergrams don't tell you how we make decisions. 


 As always, I'm happy to chat with you via the comments!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Notes from Northern Virginia

It's day three of my first week in my Virginia territory (I cover part of Northern Virginia) and I've had some great high school visits. Even after a few visits, you can start to see trends on topics that are on students' minds this year.

1. Study Abroad, Study Abroad, Study Abroad!
I love talking about study abroad options at UVA and it seems like more students want to talk about those options than ever before. When I was in school, the options were pretty limited - humanities majors studied abroad, usually in the spring of junior year. There are so many programs at UVA that any student can find a way to study abroad, regardless of their major. What's more, there are semester, summer, and January Term programs.

If you want to explore the programs we offer, check out this UVA study abroad search engine. You can search for programs based on time of year, region, language of instruction, housing style, academic discipline (some programs are tailored for a particular major), and other criteria.

2. Concerns about extra application components
I've gotten several questions about sending writing portfolios, research papers, non-academic recommendations, and resumes after submitting an application. The Common App is pretty thorough and provides us with a lot of great information. We don't encourage extra submissions outside of the optional art and architecture supplements.

What's more, the consistent format of the activity section in the Common App allows us to zero in on the pertinent data quickly. This lets us read efficiently.

3. Rumors
Some of the rumors students share with me make a little mad. We all know that students are anxious about the application process and it doesn't seem fair that some people are dialing things up with their made up stories about how our office works.

One student said that someone told her that her brother denying his offer of admission to UVA years ago would hurt her chances of being admitted this year. Thousands of students decline offers of admission every year. We don't hold a grudge! We hope all of our applicants choose the college they feel is the best match for their needs.

If you want to follow along as I make my visits, follow me on Instagram (@UVADeanJ). I try to post from each stop I make, bouncing between posting regular picture and using Instagram Stories. 

Monday, September 19, 2016

Admission Travel Season Begins

I recently got an email from the parent of a middle school child who thought it would be a good time to set up an appointment since this is the "break time" in the admission calendar.

There are three issues with this. First, we don't really want middle school students to be actively involved in a college search (they should be focused on just doing well in school). Second, our staff isn't large enough to meet with every prospective student. Third, it's travel season!

Travel season, which is predicated by planning travel season, is when an admission officer hits the road to spread the word about the school in his or her territory. For us, there are five types of events: college fairs, evening programs, high school visits, high school college nights, and counselor breakfasts. Here are some thoughts from the admission side of things to help you understand what events might be of interest to you.

College Fairs

You know what a college fair is, right? In Virginia, we have what we call The Virginia Tour, which has admission officers running all over the state for college fairs. Each week is in a different region, so UVA admission officers trade off on weeks (the person who does week 1 usually is the person who covers that territory). In my time at UVA, I've covered weeks that had me in Northern Virginia, Shenandoah Valley, Central Virginia, and the Northern Neck. I learned a lot about the state while racing around on the Virginia Tour in those earlier years.

These days, I go to the big Northern Virginia fairs as a "second" to one of my colleagues. The big fairs there are at the Fair Oaks Mall (so big that you can feel the mall moving if you are set up on the second floor), Hayfield Secondary, and Washington-Lee High School. I tend to have a lot of fun because there is so much energy at these events, but it can be overwhelming, too.

Who would enjoy this event: Anyone just starting the college search who wants to get a lot of reading material at once. Big fairs aren't always the place to have an extended conversation with an admission officer due to the crowds, though.

My advice: If you're going to a big fair, wear comfortable shoes and dress in layers (it can get hot with all those people walking around!). If the fair gives you a bar code, consider printing it out because sometimes the scanners they give admission officers don't work well with cell phones.

Evening Programs

Have you gotten an invitation to attend a college presentation at night? Our office does two kinds of evening programs: consortium travel or "UVA only" nights. Consortium travel means a group of schools (usually 3-5) have teamed up and are planning programs together. UVA only programs are when we are solo, though our alumni often step in to help us with these events.

Having done both kinds of programs, I like both for different reasons. Traveling with a group is wonderful because our work is often a bit lonely. It's also great to learn about what is happening at peer schools and get outside perspectives on our presentations. I look forward to my New England group trip every year because of this. You can imagine, though, that presentation time is shorter at a group program. We usually get about 10 minutes to talk.

At a UVA-only program, I enjoy going into more depth, often showing a video and longer slideshow than at a group program. I often spent a little time reading excerpts from essays, which I think is really helpful for seniors.

Who would enjoy these events: Evening programs have something for everyone. The benefit of a consortium is that you might learn about schools that weren't on your radar. There is also usually some time for Q&A afterwards. UVA programs are great for people who can't make it to Charlottesville during the college search.

My advice: If you have already visited a school, you probably got more information than you would at a group event (remember, we each get around 10 minutes to talk!), so don't feel pressured to come to these programs, especially since we don't use demonstrated interest in our process.

High School Visits

Almost every day in the fall, you'll find admission officers visiting the high schools in their territories. We often get 30-45 minutes to present to prospective students and answer their questions. Interested students often sign up in advance to leave class for the visit. When we're done, we race to another school to do it all over again.

In my territory (Fairfax and Arlington counties, plus Fairfax City, Falls Church, and Alexandria), I try to visit 4-5 schools each day. If you know Northern Virginia, you can imagine that the traffic sometimes makes an ambitious schedule difficult!

Who would enjoy these events: High school visits are generally geared towards juniors and seniors, but your school might restrict attendance to seniors at certain times of the year. These are a great way to get some information about a school if you won't be able to visit the campus in person for an information session. I don't think anything substitutes for a tour, though!

My advice: Don't leave a really important class for a college's visit if you have already visited the school. Just as with evening programs, you probably got a lot more information during the visit.

High School College Nights

I love college nights (sometimes called Senior Night, Junior Night, or Parent Night). These events are organized by the counseling staff at the high school and are meant to introduce families to the application process and procedures of the high school. I've seen many colleagues on the high school side walk families through transcript and recommendation requests, explain financial aid forms, and demonstrate online resources available to families during the college search.

Admission officers are sometimes asked to attend these programs to sit on a panel about the college search. We definitely field questions specific to our schools, but often give advice about the college search overall. The panels are often fun because we get to be a little less formal than we are at evening programs or high school visits.

Who would enjoy these events: Parents and students who are starting or engaged in the college search. Many don't realize that their school counselors have some pretty great tools to assist them with the search for a college. What's more, the financial aid process can be confusing, so it's nice to have some help navigating the forms and documents.

My advice: Go to your school's college night. Do it!

Counselor Breakfasts

I wasn't going to mention these events, but the fact that a parent found out about one last month and brought her son makes me think people misinterpret to whom these programs are geared. (Side note: The student was lovely and a colleague from another school chatted with him outside.)

Counselor breakfasts are put on by a school or consortium of schools. All of the school counselors in the area are invited to breakfast at a hotel or local restaurant before school starts. The admission officer(s) give updates about the college and high school counselors can ask questions or discuss issues that are specific to the area. During consortium travel, we often have evening programs at night, a counselor breakfast in the morning, and then spend the day traveling to the next city. We do the same two events in 5 cities in a week.

Who would enjoy these events: High school counselors. I'm guessing that the "counselor" part of the name made that student think of college admission counselors and not school counselors.

My advice: Don't worry about counselor breakfasts just yet!

Maybe you'll see UVA admission officers at some of these events in your area this fall!

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, 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.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Essay Advice for UVA School of Engineering Applicants

My serious of posts with essay advice for the specific colleges at UVA continues. Last time, I covered the College of Arts and Sciences. Today, I'm addressing the essay for the 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 do?

Here are three pieces of advice for those who are going to be responding to this prompt.

1. Small is a key word.
Years ago, this question took on a different form and this question asked students to describe a project they'd do with a "limited budget." The enthusiasm in the essays was fantastic, but the projects were a little over the top. Solar panels for everyone! Purify all the water!

It's great to aspire to use engineering to solve big problems, but for this essay, we'd like you to look for an everyday problem that needs a solution that can be found through engineering.

2. Think outside your box.
Many students seem interested in addressing their own time management issues or sleep deprivation in their essays. Reminder apps or alarm clocks that turn on the shower for you have been popular ideas (don't use those...they've been done!). We'd like to see you turn outward with your problem solving. We added the "friend or family member" part to the question this year to help make that happen.

3. Be creative!
I can't tell you how many essays I've read about things that already exist while reviewing engineering applications (iRobot created the Roomba almost 15 years ago, so no more robot vacuums, please).  I've also read about using the funding to pay other people to do something. Show us that you have that innovative streak and have an eye for problem solving in your essay!

One more thing I have to say: don't be intimidated. We aren't expecting anyone to actually know how they would prototype, build, or finance their idea.

Good luck, future engineers! These are my favorite essays to read and I hope the information above makes writing them a little less scary. As always, feel free to ask questions in the comments.

In honor of Orientation Season, here are some 2015 OLs with CavDog and Jack. :)