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!

Monday, December 30, 2019

School Selection and Majors in the #UVA Admission Process

The ApplyingToCollege subforum on reddit is the most active forum for college applicants that I've seen in years. I try to stop by every day or so to check for questions related to UVA so I can provide some good information. When I see a certain issue come up multiple times, I know that I need to address it across my social media channels.

One of the things I see mentioned over and over again is a choice of major mentioned with questions about UVA admission. Right now, I'm seeing lots of students saying they applied to specific majors in the College of Arts and Sciences or School of Engineering.

At UVA, the only first-year applicants that are applying directly to a major are the students interested in Kinesiology. Otherwise, students apply to a school or college within UVA and have 1-2 years to declare a major. If this is a surprise to you, please be sure to read the applications instructions since you may have missed important information about applying to UVA.

Many students in those schools don't wind up declaring the major they thought they would anyway. There's no need to rush to declare. UVA students use the first few semesters to take a variety courses which will help them explore their options. After all, the subjects you have access to in college are a bit more numerous than the ones you had in high school.

Friday, December 06, 2019

Let's Talk about #UVA24 Early Decision: Admitted!

Admitted students can use this entry to talk.

I imagine you might also want to join the UVA Class of 2024 Facebook group to chat with your future classmates. There will inevitably be a GroupMe that spins off from that group, too. Please be careful about joining groups that say they are for the incoming class. Remember, that Facebook group is for students.

This was in your letter, but your enrollment deposit should be paid online by January 1st. The Office of Student Financial Services will have aid packages posted next week. Orientation registration will open around April 1st and you'll get more information about that in the future.

Congratulations! We are so lucky to have you joining us!
Image by Jen Fariello Photography

Let's Talk about #UVA24 Early Decision: The Defer

Deferred students can use this post to talk.

Your application hasn't finished it's journey yet.

We know the wait is tough, but we think reviewing your application during Regular Decision could help your case. You must submit the deferral form in your portal if you want to be considered in Regular Decision. Please make sure we get your midyear grades by February 15th.

Hang in there! Review the defer FAQ page for answers the most common questions.

Jack hopes you can find a peaceful place to wait.

Let's Talk about #UVA24 Early Decision: The Deny

Denied students can use this entry to talk.

I know this is hard to handle and some of you might not have gotten a disappointing admission decision yet. I hope you all can look at your options and get excited about your other schools. If your immediate reaction is "I'll transfer", don't let that plan keep you from getting involved in campus life at the school you choose. I think many students come to think of their next choice as "home" and can't imagine leaving it after a little while. Give yourself time to explore your options.

Some students inquire about being moved to the defer group. We do not have an appeal process. This decision will not change.

Please be polite and respectful of others when posting.

BTW, if you signed yourself up to read the blog by email and don't want the messages anymore, there's an unsubscribe link at the bottom of the page. 

Five Notes about the #UVA24 Early Decision Release

Jack's ready!

I've been fielding a lot of questions via DMs in Instagram and reddit, but I really need to read applications right now. I'm going to answer the most frequent questions here.

1. I don't control the release time. Our operations team has to run several processes to make the decisions show up. Please don't open multiple tabs or constantly hit refresh your portal. Set a time tonight when you'll check and do something else until then. We'll send a mass email when the decisions are posted, but news usually spreads quickly on social media when people notice the update happened. 

You don't need to call us to verify that decisions are going up tonight.The receptionists can't tell you an exact time or your decision.

2. I've seen the chatter on reddit that multiple schools are releasing decisions this weekend. This is always an exciting time, but some of you aren't going to get decisions you wanted. I hope you'll focus on the college options you have instead of the ones you don't at the end of the day. I hope those of you who get offers will celebrate your success, but also be gracious around those who might not have gotten good news.

3. I will post blog entries where you can talk about the different decisions. I'll be back to work through any questions that are asked in the comments tomorrow.  I trust you to be respectful of others in the comments. A lot of people on Grounds will be watching #UVA24 on social media so they can welcome our newest Wahoos to the UVA community. We love seeing your reactions when we check that hashtag!

4. Please don't post personal information in the comments (contact info, statistics, etc.). As I discuss often around here, school-specific statistics like GPA and rank are meaningless without context. There have been times when enough information about an applicant has been shared that their classmates could identify them.

5. EcholsRodman, and College Science Scholars will be notified after Regular Decision.

And here's my biannual (now triannual, I guess) thank you/pep talk...

THANK YOU to all of you who have read and commented on the blog and chatted via social media so far this season.

Regardless of what SIS shows you tonight, you are going to attend a great school. You're going to learn from amazing, inspirational professors, administrators, and peers. You're going to meet people with whom you will stay friends for the rest of your lives. You're going to pull all-nighters studying. You're going to pull all-nighters not studying. You're going to have great successes and you're going to fail miserably at some things. What's going to make or break those experiences is your response and what you learn from them, not your location when they happen.

Remember that your decision is not a statement about your value. Most of our applicants are qualified. They are perfectly capable of doing the work at UVA. Our first-year class just isn't large enough to accommodate everyone.

Best wishes to those who won't be back to the blog after this (if you're reading this by email, you can unsubscribe yourself at the bottom of the email). To the rest, I hope you'll continue to comment and stay in touch.

It's a big night and I'll be thinking about you all. Good luck!

Unofficial #UVA24 Early Decision Statistics

The Office of Institutional Assessment is the source of all official statistics about UVA. They take a census to determine the final statistics for the class. You can see official admission data in the data digest part of their website. 

Here are some unofficial numbers about the Early Decision process. These numbers were up to date on Friday morning. If you are a reporter, please contact the Office of University Communications for current, official information and all of your reporterly needs. :)

Early Decision Applications

Total number of Early Decision applications: 2,159
Total number of VA apps: 1,165
Total number of OOS apps: 994
We use completed applications in our statistics.

Early Decision Offers

Overall offers: 748
Total VA offers: 466 (40% offer rate)
Total OOS offers: 282 (28% offer rate)
Enrollment Goal: ~3,750
This means 20% of the class will have come from the Early Decision round.

It's misleading to average these offer rates together because residency is a major factor in our review. If you are going to share these numbers, cite BOTH offer rates. 

Early Decision Defers

Overall defers: 570
Total VA defers: 334
Total OOS defers: 236
Deferred students are no long bound by Early Decision agreements. Read more about deferral here (this link is in all defer letters).

A couple notes:

1. I do not have additional statistics. We are already immersed in the Early Action review process and I have to read files!

2. Enrollment deposits are due by January 1st.

3. Admitted students will get a paper copy of the offer letter by mail.

4. The Echols, Rodman, and College Science Scholars program invitations will be extended at the end of  the Regular Decision process. Echols and Rodman also allow self-nomination after your first semester.

The #UVA Class of 2024 Facebook Group

I've had a hands-off approach to Facebook over the years, except when I see companies trying to be part of groups that should be left to students. It seems it's happening again. Thanks to some students on reddit last year, I found out that an adult (initials DP) created Facebook groups and GroupMe chats for applicants to colleges all over the country. Regardless of why an adult is doing this, I don't like it and want to share a new group with you.

Here's a link to a students-only Facebook group for the Class of 2024:
Click the logo to go to the Class of 2024 Facebook group!


Who Is in the Facebook Group?

Obviously, the group will be for future members of the Class of 2024 at this point. Membership will evolve in the next few months as students make their college choices. After regular decision results 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 UVA 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. I am not in the group.

What Happens to the Group in the Future?

When your class elects officers, the admins will hand the group over to your chosen leaders. This has been happening for over a decade and it works pretty well. 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?

Nope. I have absolutely no interest in tracking you or looking at your profiles. 

Can Parents Join?

No. 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 it 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.

What About GroupMe?

I fully support students using whatever channels they feel are most helpful. We don't create or sanction GroupMe chats. I realize that students like GroupMe, but I have seen issues arise on that platform for a few years now.

Please just keep an eye on the admin/mod of groups you join and don't share too much information in groups that may include companies looking for data.

Remember that anyone can slap the word "official" on a group. That doesn't mean the admin is affiliated with UVA. A good hint that they aren't part of our community: they call you freshmen and they talk about campus. Those words aren't in our lingo. 

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Early Decision Notification Coming this Friday for #UVA24!

If you're a regular reader of the blog, participate in my live q&a sessions on Instagram, or see me reply to questions on Twitter/reddit/etc, you've inevitably noticed that we release admission decisions early whenever possible.

The stated times for decisions releases are mid-December for Early Decision, mid-February for Early Action, and April 1 for Regular Decision. I'm so happy to share that we are finishing the Early Decision ahead of schedule and will post results to student portals in a couple days.

Early Decision notification will be the evening of 
Friday, December 6, 2019! 

This is official. Please do not call our office to confirm it. The decisions will go up after hours so most applicants are checking from home instead of school and there are fewer people on the system after the business day is over.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Submitting Resumes, Research, and Writing Supplements to #UVA

As application numbers increase, so do the emails from students who want to submit additional information. We instruct applicants to submit updates through the student portal, but we realize that there are other voices out there telling them to get in touch with admission officers. Please follow the application instructions. We want our staff to be dedicated to application review, not tending to a constant stream of emails. Following directions helps the process move quickly. Not following directions slows us down...and I know you all want us to work efficiently so we can get decisions made!

Remember that the application is enough. The application includes a lot of information: transcripts, two recommendations, three pieces of writing, test scores, and an activity list. We ask for the things we know we need to make our decisions. If someone is telling you that UVA needs things that aren't listed in our application instructions, they are mistaken.
Please don't spend your money on stuff like this.

Here are some of the things people may tell you to submit and why they aren't necessary:

1. Resumes 

The Common App allows each college to turn the resume function of the app on or off. It is OFF for UVA. UVA does not accept resumes. The application presents information in a systematic format, which allows us to zero in on pertinent information quickly. You don't need to make more work for yourself. Follow our instructions and use the application 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 briefly these people have known you and remember that your teachers and counselors have a little more familiarity with you.

The required academic recommendations are perfect! Don't worry about sending extras!

3. Research Abstracts 

It's great to tell us about research, but don't send us an abstract. A line or two in the activity part of the application 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 your application. The application has a long essay and there are 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.

 Again, 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 are specific about what we review for each candidate. We accept 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. You don't need to spend time and money crafting extra items to send us.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

The Role of Demonstrated Interest in the #UVA Admission Process

There's a really cute surprise that you'll see when you finish your Common App. I won't mention it specifically so those who have yet to submit applications get to enjoy it, but if you applied during Early Action or Early Decision, you know what I'm referencing. It's a little "hooray, you did it" moment that I've seen several students mention on reddit, Instagram, and Twitter. That moment means you are done with your part of the application.

Unfortunately, there are some students who have been advised to start a mail and email campaign in conjunction with applying to UVA. They send us notes with no questions in them (sometimes weekly!). I can't help but feel badly for these students. The senior year of high school is so jam packed and I wish people wouldn't feel pressured to spend time on something that doesn't move the needle in our review process.

When we read applications at UVA, we do not consult attendance lists from high school visits, information sessions and tours, or evening programs. We don't save and file the emails or letters expressing interest that people send us. We are always happy to answer your questions by phone, email, or social media. However, don't feel that you have to spend precious times and energy on making contact to demonstrate interest in UVA.

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

Don't feel pressured to send us letters of interest.

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

The Role of GPA in the #UVA Admission Review

I finished my travel season helping a colleague out at two large college fairs in Northern Virginia. We get asked "what's your average GPA" so many times at those fairs that we made little signs explaining that GPAs aren't standardized, so the average GPA statistic is meaningless.

The GPA could be seen as the schools' way of summarizing the work that's on the transcript. GPA methodologies vary from county to county in Virginia (and this is fine with us...each district uses the method that works for their students). The GPA doesn't tell us the full story, though. We may see classmates with identical GPAs who have very different coursework and grades on their transcripts. What's more, GPAs don't provide the level of detail we need to make a decision. We look at every course and grade, not the GPA, to understand your academic preparation. Resist the urge to fixate on GPA alone and instead think about how we read your transcript.

Some may suggest that high school-specific GPA data is more reliable and use scattergrams to estimate admission chances. The scattergram is a feature of a student information system called Naviance or Family Connections that many high schools use. Scattergrams plot past admission decisions on a chart using just GPA and testing as the variables.

A scattergram I found online. This is NOT for UVA.

If you have access to them, remember that scattergrams are plotting the results of an elaborate application review process on a chart with just two factors. They show how our decisions correlate to those pieces of data, but they don't tell you how admission officers make their decisions. A student whose offer of admission is plotted on a scattergram wasn't admitted because of their GPA and test score, but because the details of the application were compelling.

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

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

The Role of Standardized Testing in the #UVA Admission Process

My information sessions are a bit unconventional. I'm told they are helpful because I'm forthright and talk about how we read files instead of just rattling off statistics. I'm thankful that I work at a school where we haven't been pressured to drive up applications, so information sessions can be about helping families understand what we look for in our process and not coaxing more people to apply.

Every now and then, I'll finish a session where I've talked about how we read a file, with heavy emphasis on core classes and rigor, and every question will be about standardized tests. I don't emphasize testing in my talk, as it's a four-hour component of the application and the other parts of the application represent years of development.

Every component of the application is important, but remember that the 6-7 semesters of work we see in your transcript will take precedence over a couple Saturday mornings taking a standardized test.

Remember that UVA superscores the tests as well. Back in the paper days, we'd circle the top score for each section of the exams. When we went paperless over a decade ago, we taught our system to superscore for us. Our system automatically pulls the best scores from the SAT and ACT for us to review. We explain this in the application instructions.

One tip for ACT takers: Don't calculate a new ACT composite score on your own. Report your scores as they appear on your score report. There's a reason for this...

When to Send Official Scores
You will be required to send official score reports if you are admitted and decide to enroll at UVA. We check each official score report against what was self-reported on the application. The students who calculate new composite ACT scores get flagged in that process as having reported incorrect scores.

What are your questions about how UVA looks at standardized testing?

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Course Rigor and Curriculum Strength Aren't Just Numbers

There are so many strange assumptions out there about how we assess strength of curriculum in the UVA admission process. I thought I'd address some of the most common things I hear in hopes that you'll understand how we approach this part of the review.

1. All of your core classes are important.

A lot of people focus on the core areas that correspond to their current academic interest. I've even had people wave off certain subjects because they aren't interested in them or they don't come "naturally" to them. I wish they'd stop this. High school is the time to get a broad foundation in several areas and college is the time to specialize. We most concerned with a student's work in five core areas (in alpha order, not order of importance): English, Math, Science, Social Science, and World Language. 

At UVA, students don't even declare a major until the end of the second year in the College of Arts and Sciences or the end of the first year in Engineering and Architecture. The Nursing and Kinesiology students are the only ones admitted directly into a program. There's some data that says you are apt to change your mind about your major between senior year of high school and when you declare. This is why we don't want you to get too narrow in your focus in high school. A broad foundation will help in the long run.

2. The number of APs or the IB Diploma don't drive a decision.

Plenty of people want to know how many AP courses a student should take to be competitive in our process. We don't approach applications this way. First of all, not everyone goes to a school with APs as an option. Second, some schools limit how many AP courses a student may take. Third, with the number of AP courses offered these days, you can rack up a lot of APs in just one subject. There could be students with big AP numbers who also haven't take an advanced course in other core areas. 

Similarly, students sometimes assume that full diploma candidates at IB schools (which are pretty common in Virginia) get in and everyone else is denied. If you are working on the full IB diploma, that's fantastic. We will also be very interested in your grades and review which subjects you opted to take as your HLs. The full diploma isn't the only route to an offer, though. There are students who weren't able to get the full diploma done while still having some impressive HL work to show. We can admit them, too!

3. Doubling up in one subject at the expense of the core doesn't "look good."

There are some students who are so excited about a certain subject that they want to double or even triple up on courses in that area. I don't think it's smart to drop core subjects to load up classes in one area. Cover the core and use your electives to explore your interests.

As always, I'm happy to answer questions about rigor of curriculum or course selection in the comments.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

The Four Biggest Questions about #UVA Early Decision Deadline Day

I'm still trying to decide what my reading season soundtrack* will be, but here we are on a decision day. There are several recent posts about Early Decision, but there's always room for one more, right? There are four big questions I get a lot about Early Decision.

1. Will Early Decision Be Easier?

I wrote a whole blog post about this. Some people seem to have read this or the articles I reference in the post that contain quotes from Dean Reports. They still think there's got to be a different answer. Bottom line: there's no "easier" time to apply to UVA. There's definitely a better time for you to give us an application, though. You need to submit when you can present your best application.

2. How Many People will be Admitted?

We have no way to predict the number of students we'll admit during Early Decision since we have no data about the applicant pool. It's been over a decade since we had an ED process. We got about 2,400 applications during the last ED round. The deadline was November 1st and we released decisions on December 1st. There were 16,000 total applications that year. With over 40,000 applications coming to us these days, it's safe to say we'll get a few more ED apps than we did back in 2006, but we won't know how many more until our processing team ushers your applications to "complete" status.

3. When is the Actual Deadline

You have all day on October 15th to submit an application. I always caution students about waitin until the last minute, though. The Common App has people up into the wee hours to provide support, but you have to imagine that there will be a jump in requests for support as the deadline approaches and their response time might increase. Submit early so you have time to get help if something goes wrong.

4. What Results are Possible During Early Decision?

 During Early Decision (and Early Action, for that matter), we may admit, deny, or defer an applicant. Deferral means the file is moved to the Regular Decision round and we revisit it once the mid-year report arrives from the school counselor. Some students have asked if we will defer Early Decision applications to the Early Action process, but that wouldn't happen. There wouldn't be any new information to consider since those processes overlap.

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

*I once had a roommate who listened to Dave Matthews & Tim Reynolds playing The Christmas Song on repeat the entire time she wrote her doctoral thesis. It was not the holiday season. Needless to say, that song is not in any playlist of mine.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Self-Reporting Test Scores Before AND After Deadlines for #UVA

This is a special Friday edition of the blog because we are being inundated with questions about submitting standardized test scores after application deadlines. Our instructions for reporting scores haven't really changed, but there seems to be more confusion about them this year than last. What's more, I'm starting to worry that many people aren't even reading the instructions. If the screen shot doesn't look familiar, please make sure you go over the application instructions on our website if you're applying to UVA.

I've gone over the instructions for submitting test scores in every live Q&A I've done on Instagram this fall and even created a highlight about submission (if you aren't familiar with Instagram, the highlights are the circles between the bio and the photos). I've tweeted. I've gone over it in every school visit. I haven't gone over it on the blog, so here we go...

Self-Report Some Test Scores on the Common App

We switched to using self-reported test scores last year and it worked beautifully. Students no longer need to pay ETS to send score reports (which are expensive and sometimes take weeks to arrive). All you have to do is report your SAT or ACT score on the Common App.

Submit Scores After Deadlines via the Student Portal

Once we get your application from the Common App and move it into our system at UVA, you will get an email with login credentials for your personalized student portal. The portal is where you can monitor the status of your application. You can also verify your decision plan, term, and residency status once the Office of Virginia Status determines it based on your answers to the residency questions on the Common App.

Scroll down a bit in your portal and you'll see the required components of the application that we've received, a link to the withdraw form, the uploader for sending us updates, the test scores we have on file, and a form for adding new test scores to your file.

Our System Automatically Superscores

We taught our system to superscore for us. When I open a file, I don't see all the scores a student has submitted. Our system just pulls the best sections for us to review. It will update what we see if you submit a score after deadline that contains a section with a higher score than what was previously reported.

The number of times you take a test isn't a factor. If I wanted to, I could dig around and find all of your scores, but we don't really have the time or interest in that. The system shows us the best sections, we take note of them, and we move on with the reading.

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

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

Four Tips for Writing the UVA Application Essays

There are so, so many people who have essay advice for you. I just googled "college essay advice" and the top returns had titles like "9 Essay Writing Tips to 'Wow' Admission Officers," "35+ Best Essay Tips from College Application Experts," and "8 Tips for Crafting Your Best College Essay." Did someone really come up with over 35 distinct tips for essay writing? Hat tip to that because I don't think I could come up with that many. Do you all even have time to read all that? I have four tips. Let's get on with it...

1. The Topic Should Fit YOU

I see a lot of students on Reddit asking about whether their essay topics are appropriate for a certain school and I think that's approaching this exercise in the wrong manner. We wrote the UVA essay prompts in hopes of inspiring you to share something about yourself that we wouldn't otherwise know from your application. Ideally, your topic will be a vehicle for sharing your voice and style. It'll let you be authentic in your writing. It will give us insight into who you are and what things interest you.

By the way, I received an email over the summer from a student who was upset that our essay prompts didn't allow her to convey how strong her interest in UVA was. She was seeking permission to write an extra essay just about how much she loved our school. I gently, but firmly, explained that the extra essay wasn't necessary. Your application makes it clear that you like UVA. We know UVA already. We don't know you yet and that's what your essays are for!

2. There is No Correct Format

Many students assume there are "correct" answers for certain parts of the application and essay formatting seems to be one of them. They ask about word counts, whether it's okay to rhyme or be funny, and if they use a certain tense or point of view in their writing. If you see general language (like when we say the essay should be "half a page or roughly 250 words"), that is permission to be in the ballpark.

When it comes to the specific format of the essay, you have my permission (and encouragement!) to deviate from the more traditional style of writing essays that you use for class. The five-paragraph essay is great for school and for timed testing situations, but your application essays aren't academic exercises. I'd much rather read a personal story about how your topic affected you or why it's important to you than a report about why it's important/interesting to all people who have experienced it. I think the academic essay format leads you to write the later kind of essay. I don't need a stale run down of why a piece of music is technically sound or considered important by critics. I want to read about what that piece of music(*) means to you. How does it make you feel? Where does it take you? How has its message impacted you? Use the format that lets you do that.

*This applies to any topic, whether it's a book, academic interest, activity, etc.

3. Get Some Advice, but Not ALL the Advice

One of my pet peeves is an essay written by a committee. You know there's a student in those lines somewhere, but their voice has be stretched and diluted by others during the editing process. For some reason, people forget that we work with college-bound students for a living. Some of us are parents to students in this group. Some of us are just a few years removed from this group. When I come across the essays that don't sound anything like college-bound students, I feel badly for the student. I imagine them getting more anxious as the deadlines approach, convinced that they aren't talented enough to write these essays (even though their teachers probably have them churning out essays regularly!).

It's okay to get advice. However, I think you need to own your essay and exercise veto power when advice is pouring in. If you find someone's feedback to be helpful, make it your own so it fits your voice and writing style. If the feedback your getting is frustrating and doesn't feel right, toss it. Remember that you are the expert on what a college-bound students sounds like.

Parents, empower your students to say no to some of the well-meaning people who will come out of the woodwork when your student is filling out applications. This is not a team activity. Support is great, but they should have final say in what goes into their essays.

4. Don't Be Intimidated by Essays that Worked

When I google "college essays that worked," I am completely overwhelmed. My gosh, the returns go on for pages. Start clicking and you'll read one witty essay after another. Or, if you choose to head to your local book seller and look in the college admission session (not sure what it's called today, but you know the section - full of advice and prep books), you'll find books full of gorgeous essays. Do not get intimidated by the essays that worked.

Essays that get published are not normal. They are not the bar by which your essays are judged.

Let me know if you have any questions in the comments.

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

There's Something You're Overlooking in the UVA Rank Statistics

There are certain statistics that are commonly used when people talk about the strength of a group of students. They talk about average GPAs, testing, and rank. The data about those things is always interesting, but I like to caution people about leaning on those numbers too heavily. I've written about my reasons for this dozens of times over the 14 years that this blog has been around. Today, I'd like to revisit the discussion about rank.

First of all, I want to acknowledge that I have some personal baggage around rank. I went to high school at a time when reporting rank was the norm. Our exact rank was printed on our report cards back then and I remember my mother pulling out a calculator to figure out my rank percentage every time the report card arrived in the mail to figure out if I was doing well instead of looking at my grades. Ugh.

I now realize that rank provides some context to the grades on the transcript. I've written about this before and I trust that you'll click through on the "class rank" tag below and read past posts so I don't have to make this one any longer!

There is one detail about our rank statistics that people seem to be missing: the majority of our students attended high schools that don't report rank to colleges. We provide the percentage of students who were unranked right next to the ranking stats. Click on the third tab on that page to see the academic profile of the first-year class and scroll down to the bottom of the page.

You can toggle between looking at the entire class and a specific school/college at UVA. In every case except the School of Nursing, the majority of the students were unranked. There were 70 Nursing students in last year's entering class and 47% were unranked. Keep in mind that the vast majority of UVA students (3,000 of the 3,822 in the class) are in the College of Arts and Sciences.

If you asked me how strong our track team was an I said "well, I'll tell you about 43% of them," you wouldn't consider that information all that informative, right? Context matters when you're looking at statistics.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Will Early Decision be the Easier Route to UVA?

My last post about seeking out primary sources for admission information might be a good post to read before this one.

One of the most common assumptions we have encountered since the announcement was made that UVA was adding an Early Decision (ED) process this year was that ED must be the easiest path to getting an admission offer. It's natural to strategize around this since some school are a little more lenient during their Early Decision round. That being said, I need to remind you of what Greg Roberts, the Dean of Admission, said about ED being an easier way to be admitted to UVA:

“We will review applicants in the same manner and will hold students to the same admission standards regardless of which application plan they chose.”

You can also read the article about Early Decision in UVA Today for more information. Just to drive the point home, there's also this bit from an interview with our local newspaper, The Daily Progress:

If necessary to maintain a socioeconomically diverse class, he said, UVa might limit the number of spots it offers early decision students. All applications, though, will still be evaluated by the same criteria, regardless of when a student applies. “It we took half our class through ED, that would be counter to the argument I just made [about students’ needs,]” he said. “We plan to make all of our decisions the exact same way.”

Between my posts about admission statistics, mid-year reports, and primary sources, I hope you feel confident about making a decision about the best time to submit your application.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Primary Sources for UVA Admission Advice

If you've written a research paper or thesis, you probably know the difference between a primary and secondary source. A primary source is the most direct source you can have. It's a first-hand account of an event or topic or an original written piece about that subject. Secondary sources are people writing/talking about that subject. They're at a distance. They weren't in the room where it happens, to borrow a line from Hamilton.

There are lots of primary sources for admission advice and social media makes it pretty easy to find them. Admission officers give interviews, write blogs, tweet, and post on Instagram. We reply to questions via email, DM, and some of us do q&a sessions on Instagram stories. Our Institutional Assessment office provides a huge variety of admission data that you can manipulate for your needs using Tableau. Getting admission information from a primary source, an admission officer, is easier than ever before at most schools. 

There are so many secondary sources for UVA admission advice, but I hope you'll remember that primary sources are the best sources. I see being accessible and clear with information as part of our mission to serve the common good.  If a secondary source isn't clear or is increasing your anxiety about this process, please reach out to us. Here's how you can get in touch with us:

Phone - There is an admission officer on call each workday to answer questions during business hours. Our front desk team also has the answers to all the typical questions (and atypical ones...they've heard it all!). Our number is 434-982-3200.

Email - There are a couple staff members who answer questions recieved via emails to When needed, they forward emails along to admission officers.

Blog Comments - You can ask questions right here on the blog. You can be anonymous - just make up a name.

Social Media - Feel free to message or DM us on Twitter or Instagram. There are two of us on those platforms. I'm @UVADeanJ on Twitter and IG. My colleague Rachel Schlachter is @UVAAdmission on Twitter and IG. Keep an eye out for those q&a sessions on Instagram, too!

Facebook isn't super popular for us, but we're still there. I'm doing a Facebook Live q&a Next month on the main UVA page and I hope you’ll be able to watch.

In Person - We hold information sessions and tours almost every weekday and on many weekends. You might also find us in your area holding an information session. You can see all the opportunities to meet us in person on the Visit page of our website.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

The Biggest Factor in the Decision to Apply Early or Regular at UVA

I've previously written about how the strength of the applicant pool isn't conveyed in the statistics that are published for Early Action and Regular Decision (we have no stats about Early least ones that are from the last decade). A lot of people want to use admission rates or testing data to determine when they'll submit their application, but they aren't considering what I think should be the biggest factor in that decision.

The Mid-Year Report

Let me explain. For some students, the mid-year report will be a huge boost to their application. Senior year is traditionally when you'd be taking on the most advanced coursework of your high school career. Showing excellent grades at the midpoint of the year could be hugely beneficial to some students.

Instead of thinking about admission rates when deciding between early and regular, think about what your application will look like in the fall and what it might look like in the winter. Find your final report card from each year of high school and line them up (or get an unofficial copy of your transcript, if that's an easy task at your school). Does your program build nicely across your core subjects? Are your grades consistent? If you can answer "yes" to those questions and you have time to put together a solid application, one of the early options might be for you. If there's a dip in your grades or you haven't had an opportunity to take advanced courses (whatever your school offers) until senior year, the regular round might make more since since your mid-year report will be part of the review.

Submit when you can present your strongest application to UVA. For some students, one more semester of work on the transcript will put them in that position.

Friday, September 06, 2019

Why Early Admission Statistics Shouldn't Determine When You Apply to UVA

Note: This isn't a post about Early Action and Early Decision. That's coming!

I'm often asked for admission rates for our early and regular rounds of admission by students and parents trying to decide which application option is most advantageous. While I have shared Early Action admission statistics for years on this blog (here's the post from last year), I am always hesitant to cite them without an explanation of why, at UVA, the admission rate of the early group shouldn't drive the decision to submit an application in the fall versus the winter.

Admission rates for the different rounds of review don't tell you much about the strength of the applicant pool. Historically, the Early Action pool at UVA has a higher admission rate than the overall pool, especially for Virginia residents. Someone may see a 43% offer rate for VA residents during Early Action, compare that with the post that shows an overall VA resident admission rate of 36% and assume that we were a little more lenient in our review during the early around. What's missing is information about the strength of the applicant pool.

A lot of people look to test scores to tell them about the competitiveness of the admission process (I've written so many posts about testing over the years that helps explain why that's not the best idea, but another one is coming), but our early and regular pools have pretty similar testing. What can't be conveyed in statistics: strength, consistency, and breadth of work in core subjects, recommendations, and essays.

Here's what I'm trying to say: Don't use admission rates to determine when you're going to submit your application to UVA. Those rates alone don't tell you about the pool. I can tell you that the early pool is traditionally quite strong. Only put your application in when it's in it's strongest position.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Fourth Myths about UVA Admission Officers

Every now and then I get pulled into a corner of the internet where I am dumbfounded by the information I read about college admission or admission to UVA. Today is one of those days. I received a link to an anonymous message board where someone is dolling out incorrect information about how UVA admission works. Instead of jumping into the fray, I thought I'd lay out the correct information here.

Myth #1: Our job is to get as many people as possible to apply.

In my 14 years at UVA, I have never felt any pressure to increase the number of applicants. My time on the road isn't spent trying to convince students to apply (students and counselors who attend my talks at the Fairfax schools know this). The talks I give are about the academic options and what we look for as we read applications. 

There have been times when someone has asked me to "sell" UVA to them, but we don't do that here. We will explain the opportunities UVA presents and let the student decide if they line up with their needs. 

Because some conflate application numbers and our success, we joke that our ideal application number is one more than last year's total. 

Myth #2: We only read your application if you have over a certain GPA/test score.

We read every single file that comes in, front to back. There is no culling of the applications using GPAs (which everyone knows aren't standardized) or test scores. GPAs don't provide the amount of detail we need in our reviews. Students with identical GPAs at the same high school can have very different coursework and grades. The applications on the two ends of the spectrum (ones that are clearly offers and clearly denies) are faster to read, but there is no automation that puts files into categories based on GPA or testing. 

There's a reason I sometimes tweet in the wee hours of the night and on weekends. We pull some pretty ridiculous hours to get all of the files read. This is also why I can't pinpoint the date when we'll release decisions early on in the reading season. We read our files at UVA. 

Myth #3: We get "signals" from counselors at the "appropriate" students for UVA.

Counselors recommendations are very helpful in our review process. Most counselors write one recommendation for each of their students. I don't expect to see UVA-specific recommendations. I think counselors have too much on their plates to handle writing a different letter for each school on every senior's list. 

Myth #4:  We don't use interest because we can't keep track of visitors.

We do track our visitors here as anyone who has registered for an information session and tour knows. Visitor data helps us reserve the appropriate space for an event and tell the University Guide Service about higher-then-usual group numbers that might require extra tours. 

Like many schools, we can also see when our emails are opened or when students log into our student information system. This helps us assess our communication efforts. When you see that a certain email isn't getting opened, you might reconsider the time it's sent or the subject line you use. 

As we've always said, none of this activity influences our admission decisions. When we read a file, we are not consulting the reservation system to see if an applicant has interacted with us before. 

If you've come across any rumors you'd like me to address, feel free to post them in the comments. 

Friday, July 05, 2019

Answering YOUR #UVA Application Essay Questions, #UVA24!

After I wrote my usual summer blog post with essay advice in it, I decided to let students submit questions about essay writing on Instagram. My advice from last year still stands, but I thought it best to reply to what students have on their minds right now. These questions are straight from my DMs and InstaStories. If you aren't following me on Instagram, you're missing almost daily content, especially during application reading season.

What is the first step to writing these essays?
Free writing! I think that if you sit down in front of a blank screen and think "now, I shall write a college essay," you're going to write something pretty contrived. I would look at the essay prompts and so a free writing exercise. Maybe you let your self write whatever comes to find for five minutes. Or, you write one line answers for one question for a few minutes. When you're done, see if something you've written feels interesting enough that it could become a larger piece of writing.

What are you looking for? Character? Organization?
Obviously, you want your writing to be technically correct and you'll edit your essays to make sure you've avoided spelling and grammar errors. Content wise, you want your essays to share things that aren't coming through in the rest of the application. We're interested in knowing a little more about the person behind the forms and letters that have been submitted. This is the place where we get to hear directly from you.

Remember that with an incoming class with 3,800 students in it, we don't have to engineer variety. Feel free to share who you area knowing that we aren't searching for a specific student to check a certain characteristic off on a list. That means that you should write about the topic that you feel is the best vehicle for you to be authentic in your writing. It's not about picking a topic that admission officers would pick themselves.

What is the best structure?
Whatever structure works for the story/message you're conveying works for us. You are not beholden to the academic, five-paragraph format. That's great for class or for a timed exam, but not necessary for personal essays.

What is the preferred average word count for the essays?
I covered this one in the last post.

How much detail should there be?
I don't think you should be vague, if that makes sense. If you can't be thorough in a half-page essay, your topic might be too broad. We've been using most of our essay prompts for years and it shouldn't be hard to answer them in the space allotted.

Is it okay to be funny?
If you're funny, go for it. If you aren't funny, don't force it. I think some people think they need to be super clever or make witty observations in their essays when that's not natural to them.

I know we are suppose to put our best foot forward, but at what point does it appear obnoxious?
What an interesting question! There are definitely times when people try to be more sophisticated than they are and it comes off as a bit forced. We often suggest imagining your close friends coming across your essays and thinking about how they'd react to reading them. Would they know they were yours or would they wonder who wrote them? If it doesn't sound like you, it might be best to do some editing.

Remember that admission officers work primarily with teenagers. When we get an essay that doesn't sound like one, we wonder about how many people were involved in writing it. That's not to say you can't get advice - I also wrote about that in the last blog post.

What are your thought on the way students write about their own privilege?
I *think* this question was asking if it's okay to write about topics that convey wealth - the student who talks about travels abroad or participating in some other expensive activity. I think that's okay, but I think you have to be careful about putting yourself in the territory I mentioned in the last answer.

Of course, it's refreshing when a young person acknowledges their privilege, but some students won't learn about that until they get to college and are exposed to a more diverse environment.

Can we submit a picture with our essay?
I don't think the Common App allows it and I don't think it's necessary. Describe the image, but use the bulk of your essay to talk about why it's important to you or how it affected you. If something write about a painting or photo with which I'm not familiar, I'll often google it.

What is the best way to grab the reader's attention about a topic others may write about?
What are some tips for making an essay stand out?

What's the most important thing to do for a student to stand out and show interest?\
I bundled these three questions together because they are essentially asking the same thing. I wish whoever is telling students they have to be completely unique in their essays or that their application has to "stand out" would take it down a notch. Most students write about normal things like their family, an academic interest, an activity, a piece of literature/music/art that influenced them. You can write about the same book that a dozen other people do and what will make your essay different is that your reaction to the story will be yours alone.

Regarding "showing interest," the only thing you need to do to show interest in UVA is apply. Do not write your essays about UVA. We already know the University quite well and we don't need something to tell us about it. We don't know you yet, though!

I hope that was helpful! I usually do Q&A sessions exclusively on Instagram Stories, but I'll try to do a few more cross-overs in the future! Feel free to ask questions in the comments or DM me on Instagram.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Five Tips for Writing the #UVA Application Essays

I just updated my Twitter client (a dashboard social media managers use to monitor multiple feeds at once) from following #UVA23 to #UVA24. Our information sessions and tours are getting larger. The questions have picked up on Instagram DM. It's time to start looking to the next application cycle.

Now that our application essay prompts are up, I think it's time to share a little advice for writing your responses. There are certain questions and concerns that come up every year that I should address. As always, I'm happy to answer questions I'm not covering if you would like to submit them through the comment section below. If you are reading this on a mobile device, you may have to switch the full site mode to see the comment box. It doesn't always show up when the site is optimized for mobile.

1. There's no correct answer.

We have essay prompts that are deliberate broad. We are hoping that they let students take their essay in whatever direction feels right for them. Your topic shouldn't be something you think the admission committee would pick, it should be a topic that lets your be interesting and authentic in your writing. Admission officers want to learn something about you that isn't coming through in the rest of the application. They want to get a sense of your voice and personality. Using a topic that makes your writing feel forced probably won't do that.

2. You aren't beholden to the academic format or style of writing.

I distinctly remember when I started attempted my first college application essay. I was laying on the sage green carpet in my room with a spiral notebook turned to a fresh sheet of paper and my favorite pen in front of me. I stared at that page for a long time, not really sure about how to start. Eventually, I did what most students do when charged with writing an essay - I used the standard format I had learned in school. At the time, it was called a 3-5 essay and it had an introduction, three supporting sections, and a conclusion (five paragraphs total). A lot of essays we see tend to adhere to this format, which is fine, but I want you to know that it's okay to free write and then cobble together a format that works for the story/message you want to convey.

3. Be careful about over-editing

It's always smart to have a fresh set of eyes review an important piece of writing. However, I think you have to be careful about letting a helpful editor or two change the voice that's in your essay. Remember the old saying that "two many cooks in the kitchen spoils the broth."

Keep in mind that admission officers work with college-bound students for a living. We aren't expecting a graduate level thesis. You are the expect on what a college-bound student sounds like. When a helpful friend or adult offers suggestions for your essays, don't throw them in without really thinking about whether they work for your voice and the message you want to share.

4. Don't be intimidated by "essays that worked."

Most of us turn to google when we have to do something for the first time. It's natural that you'll look for inspiration online when you start writing your essays. Keep in mind that the essays that get published on websites and in books aren't normal. They are extraordinary. Don't be intimidated by essays describing special talents or experiences that you don't have. Most essays are about pretty normal topics - academic interests, family, or activities. You don't have to have a spectacular story to write an essay that leaves the reader impressed and interested in you. What will make your essay interesting is that we'll learn something new about you.

5. We Aren't Counting the Words.

I can't tell you have many DMs and emails I get from students who are worried about their essays being a few words over or under the length we state. There are also students who notice that the Common App essay box lets you paste in a little bit more text and they want to know exactly how many words we expect.

We don't spend time to count the words in essays. We are more interested in reading them! We provide some direction because we don't want anyone to write a term paper. Your responses to the UVA-specific prompts should be about half a page. If you are over or under by a little bit, we aren't going to notice.

Feel free to ask questions below in the comments.

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

2019-2020 First Year Application Essay Prompts

The incoming class is now working with the Office of Orientation and New Student Programs, so it's time to shift to working with high school juniors who will be applying to UVA next year.

There are three required pieces of writing on our application: the Common App essay and two shorter responses that are specific to UVA. The Common App released the general essay prompts they'll be using back in January. Our prompts are below.

Our prompts aren't changing too much. Our staff is really happy with the essays we've been getting and the student feedback we've gotten has been positive. As a follow up post, I'll give some tips for approaching these and cover some of the common questions I get about essay writing. For now, feel free to ask questions in the comments.

2019-2020 First-Year Application Essay Questions 

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

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

2. Answer one of the following questions in a half page or roughly 250 words.

  • What’s your favorite word and why?
  • We are a community with quirks, both in language and in traditions. Describe one of your quirks and why it is part of who you are.
  • Student self-governance, which encourages student investment and initiative, is a hallmark of the UVA culture. In her fourth year at UVA, Laura Nelson was inspired to create Flash Seminars, one-time classes which facilitate high-energy discussion about thought-provoking topics outside of traditional coursework. If you created a Flash Seminar, what idea would you explore and why?
  • UVA students paint messages on Beta Bridge when they want to share information with our community. What would you paint on Beta Bridge and why is this your message
  • UVA students are charged with living honorably and upholding a Community of Trust. Give us an example of a community that is important to you and how you worked to strengthen that community.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Updates for the #UVA Class of 2023 and Prospective Class of 2024 Students

I debated posting two separate posts within hours of each other, but figured it would be okay to shares these two updates in the same post.

First, we emailed the handful of students who were on the waiting list for the Architecture, Nursing, and Kinesiology last night to let them know that we are releasing the waiting list. No further offers will be made and the class of 2023 is complete.

Second, UVA is adding the option of applying Early Decision for next year's class. Next year's applicants can choose to apply under Early Decision, Early Action, or Regular Decision.

You can see the timeline for all three plans on the application instructions page of our website, but let me point out that we will release the results of the Early Decision review in December. We haven't been able to do that in about a decade. The application numbers are a bit higher than back then, so the deadline for that first group is moving up to October 15th.

Our review will be consistent throughout the season, as was the case when we just had two options, so there isn't a time when it's harder to be admitted. You'll have to think about the strength of your application and whether you want to commit to UVA up front when deciding on the plan that is best for you.

As always, I'll be posting our essay prompts in June for those who want to spend some time thinking about their essays over the summer.