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!

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Welcome to the blog and thanks for reading!

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.