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Dean J
Updated: 33 min 18 sec ago

Admission Travel Season Begins

September 19, 2016
I recently got an email from the parent of a middle school child who thought it would be a good time to set up an appointment since this is the "break time" in the admission calendar.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Much Time Do You Spend on Testing?

August 24, 2016
"Here we go."

We were only a couple minutes into an "ask the deans" panel at a high school's college planning program and the first testing question was asked. We all knew from experience that once the first testing question is asked, we don't get away from testing questions without some sort of intervention from the counseling staff in the room.

The crowd probably has lots of questions about other topics, but once testing comes up, they skip down the list to the testing stuff. And so we dwell. And the admission officers are a little perplexed that all the time is being spent on testing when there are other things they could discuss.


This is going to be an interesting year because of the changes made to the tests and how they are scored. Rest assured, we've been through things like this before (recentering in 1994/5, the move of the Writing test in 2005) and we will all get through the changes together. I actually like years like this because they often force students to look at the more substantial parts of their application. Remember that four years of development get much more of our time than the four hours spent taking one test.

Students, as you start this year, I want you to pay attention to how much time admission officers at schools with holistic processes spend talking about testing. I assure you that the time spent talking about the SAT and ACT will be dwarfed by the time spent talking about programs, grades, recommendations, and essays. I'm not saying testing doesn't matter. If a schools asks for something, it matters. Testing is definitely an interesting piece of data. However, we don't have minimums or cut offs in our process. We read the entire file and render a decision based on the whole package. That's what holistic admission means.

Testing doesn't warrant getting half the time during a panel program and it doesn't warrant getting the majority of your head space as you are juggling the academic load and responsibilities that come with being a junior or senior in high school.

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

Happy #UVAMoveIn Day!

August 19, 2016

This is one of my favorite weekends of the whole year. The first-year move-in has begun, with half of the class arriving today and the other half arriving tomorrow. We can't help but feel proud as we see the students we got to know on paper (okay, on computer screen) making their way around the UVA Grounds.

Congratulations, new Hoos! You're always welcome in Peabody Hall and we hope to see you as ambassadors, guides, or DOTL volunteers in the future!

Counselor and Teacher Recommendation Requirements for UVA

August 18, 2016
Before I get into UVA's recommendation letter requirements, I'd like to share an observation:

Some people seem to think that application requirements are for average applicants and if they want to show a school they are especially worthy, they have to go above and beyond those stated requirements. I promise you that colleges ask for the items they want to review. There is no hidden message that we really want something else.

Today, I thought I would share my thoughts about recommendation letters. Hopefully, you'll understand what we are looking for as we work through this part of your file and you'll realize that for the vast majority of applicants, the two required recommendations fulfill our needs. Sending a bunch of repetitive recommendations doesn't help us in our review. If someone tells you that UVA wants a bunch of extra recommendations, show them this blog post.

We require a counselor's recommendation and a teacher's recommendation. These can be submitted however the counselor/teacher wants to get them to us. Some schools have systems that facilitate submission, some counselors/teachers will use Common App's online system, some will email us (application documents go to, and some will drop them in the mail. Any method of submission is fine with us. Everything meets up in the applicant's file.

The Counselor RecommendationYour counselor will send us your high school profile, transcript, a school form with some basic information on it, and their recommendation. The recommendation can take any form. Many counselors write a letter, some bullet out a few statements about their student, and some schools have a form that that prompts their counselors to cover different topics. It all works for us. A school in one of my territories has a large senior class and 100% of the class typically goes on to a two or four year college. As you can imagine, those counselors are BUSY. When they created a form with areas to address different topics (academics, extracurricular, character, outside issues that may have impacted the student), it was a great move for both "sides" of the desk.

What would happen if a counselor didn't know a student well? Those counselors will sometimes share what they have learned from the student's file or from conversations with the students' teachers. There is also a way for counselors to let us know if the constraints of their job prevent them from writing a recommendation. In those cases, the school form is sufficient.

The Teacher RecommendationWe require one teacher recommendation here, but we don't specify the grade level or subject area for that teacher. We want you to pick the teacher who you think has the best insight into your classroom performance and style. Who might talk about your role in class discussion or your style when working on a group project? Who might have a story about you working really hard to get through a particularly different concept? That's the teacher you should ask!

These recommendations aren't about summarizing information we will learn from other parts of the application, so I don't recommend giving your teacher your activity list. You could remind them about the project you did that impressed them or about the time they asked to hold onto something you did so they could use it as an example. Those little anecdotes bring the data that we get in the rest of the application to life.

If you feel like your style is dramatically different in different classrooms, it might make sense to send an extra teacher recommendation.

"Other" RecommendationsWhen it comes to recommendations from folks who don't know you in the classroom, I think you have to be careful. Recommendations in the working world have a different purpose than academic recommendations. Academic recommendations supplement the data. Recommendations from outside academia are usually simple endorsements that restate the facts. Having a supervisor at work or where you participate in an activity certify that you do, in fact, work at that place does not provide us with new information. You've probably told us about this in the activity section of the application.

We turned the "other" recommendation feature off in the Common App. Stick with recommendations from people who know you through school.

Do you have any questions about recommendations? Feel free to post them in the comments.