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!

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Submitting Resumes, Research, Portfolios, and Non-Academic Recommendations to #UVA

 I'm gotten more emails from people trying to submit extra items this year than ever before. We cover supplements and updates in the application instructions and if you follow me on social media, you have probably watched me beg people to read the instructions over and over again. Let's go over things in a little more detail...

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 do not send updates, supplements, and other application items to admission officers. 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. 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.

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. Non-Academic 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 classroom performance. 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.

7. Art/Music Supplements that Don't Follow the Guidelines

I've gotten several emails and DMs from students who have read the art and music supplement guidelines and want to send portfolios that don't follow them. Do not do this. Consider the message you are sending when you don't follow directions. You will not get a good review from the faculty if you don't give them what they want to review.  

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. 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.

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

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Three Last Minute Essay Reminders for Early #UVA Applicants

We are a few days from the Early Action and Early Decision deadlines and some of you are probably putting the finishing touches on your application essays. I thought I'd share a few last minute tips for you.

1. The Prompts are Deliberately Broad

I get a lot of DMs on Instagram from students asking whether their essay topics are appropriate for a certain prompt. They seem to think there's a right answer, but there really isn't! 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.

One specific tip about the favorite word essay: It's not a literal question. I love the sound of the word pamplemousse, but I would never, ever write an essay about that. Maybe I'd use la investigadora or la chercheuse because I love to research things using or for fun. Then that would lead to talking about a love of language and the importance of the internet in helping us connect to people/places we don't usually. Get it? Don't fixate on the word.

2. There's No Correct Format and We Aren't Counting the Words

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 papers. 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. Stop Getting Advice

At this point, I think you should lock your essays down and stop asking for advice about them. The anxiety of a big deadline sometimes has us consulting too many people on our work. Look your essays over a couple more times. Read the essays out loud to make sure they sound right. Remember that you are an expert on what college-bound students sounds like. Hit submit.

Parents, run interference for your student if there are people who think this is a team activity. They are well-meaning, but this isn't the time for that. The period leading up to submitting an application can be scary for a student and you can be a calm, supportive influence.

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

Friday, October 23, 2020

Course Rigor is Not a Number in the #UVA Admission Process

A student in a social media forum recently (12 hours ago, to be exact) asked for people to guess their chances at admission by listing out the number of advanced courses they took each year. Some people will toss out a number and say "you need x AP courses to be competitive" or they'll express disbelieve that someone with x number of APs was not admitted. Our academic review is far more detailed than just counting courses.

 Adding up your Honors and AP/IB/DE courses is tempting when trying to convey the strength of your curriculum, but let's talk about why that number doesn't tell admission officers the full story.

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. High school is the time to get a broad education and college is the time to specialize (after foundation work). We are 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 and 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 have never taken an advanced class in multiple 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.

*For a longer discussion of the importance of World Languages, watch this Instagram highlight:  check out this highlight from Instagram

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Curve Balls and the Tricky #UVA Application Instructions

I got forwarded an email the other day that contained an independent education consultant's advice for answering the school-specific writing prompt for UVA. It said that our College of Arts and Sciences prompt was actually asking the student to talk about why UVA was the school for them. The tone of the advice was that our essay prompts are tricky and students should approach them as curve balls that mean something other than what they say.

Plenty of schools use a "why us" prompt on their applications. If we wanted you to write that kind of essay, we'd ask for it. We do not want "why UVA" essays. Don't use the limited space you get for your responses to talk about UVA. After all, we know UVA is awesome - we're here! What we don't know yet is how awesome you are. We want to get to know you, not read about why you like us.

Now, let me address the larger point: We strive to be clear and helpful with our instructions and prompts. We WANT to get applications that fulfill our needs, which is why I constantly implore students to read the application instructions on our website before applying. If a third party tells you that we want things that aren't in our instructions, ignore them. If someone says they got into UVA because they submitted something we didn't ask for, they are wrong. They simply made the application more cumbersome for themselves (and for us). 

If you have questions about the application instructions, please reach out to us for clarification. We are happy to help you! When we get lots of questions about the same thing, that helps us update our instructions, too. 

We are here to help, not throw curve balls!

Thursday, October 08, 2020

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

Students and parents often ask for admission rates for our early and regular rounds of admission as they try to decide which application option is most advantageous. While I have shared admission statistics for years on this blog (here are past statistics posts), I am always hesitant to cite them without an explanation of why the admission rate of the different rounds shouldn't drive the decision to submit an application in the fall versus the winter.

We review the applications the exact same way throughout the entire application season. The admission rates are telling you about the strength of the different pools at UVA, not about a different style of application review.

A lot of people also 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, and another one is coming, but our early and regular pools have had pretty similar testing. What can't be conveyed in statistics: strength, consistency, and breadth of work in core subjects, recommendations, and essays. What's more, a good portion of our class won't submit testing this year because we are test optional.

My advice: Submit when you can share your very best application with us. Some students have had time to put together an application they can be proud of in the fall and others will be better off with a little more time.

Golden retriever looking overwhelmed by toys all around him.
Too much on your plate this fall? Don't feel pressured to apply early.