by Ryan Hargraves
Senior Associate Dean of Undergraduate Admissions
This fall, an old (well, oldish) dean tried something new. Late this summer, I was fortunate to meet German Professor, Bill McDonald (aka Herr Mac), who described to me his new teaching method designed to maximize participant engagement. With rusty German language chops and Herr Mac’s encouragement, I have observed and participated in his Conversation and Composition course several times this semester, thereby, seeing him and current students in action. I have not been disappointed. The students participate fully and connect with him and each other en route to learning German stylistics based on the thoughtful use of small groups, full-class discussions and technology. The students are graced with McDonalds’ charming sense of humor and a brief text break to help them avoid the shakes. Herr Mac is gifted – one of countless, über-talented professionals educating U.Va. students.
Observing and chatting with faculty members around Grounds has been truly valuable for me as an admission dean. I consider faculty authentic partners in the mission to build a class. Having heard them speak on countless panels about memorable students, I gather that the unifying theme among their best pupils is a desire for engagement. History professor Claudrena Harold describes the young woman who made a presentation in her class, despite not being on the course roster; colleague John Mason elaborates about another who elected his course and the experience ultimately led to her post-graduation research. The faculty possess tremendous insight. And on the occasion they want to shed light or provide input, I listen.
In May 2010, I received a call from a professor advocating for the consideration of a waitlisted student. He thought U.Va. would be a “good fit for this young man” based on interactions with those who knew him well. He passionately believed the student would add a great deal to the community. Fortunately, we had space to add a few students to the 2014 class. Upon review of the committee, it was determined that this young man, Nick, would be offered admission. The professor was correct; Nick was outstanding. Among other things, without any prior formal singing experience (besides a few fun shower tunes, perhaps), Nick joined the Hullabahoos and became a Lawnie.
With 16,000 early first-year applications this season, I am optimistic a handful of Nicks will emerge. (Compare: U.Va. received roughly 14,000 total applications for Fall 2000.) The expanding application pool is a reality faced by many highly-selective institutions. According to National Association of College Admission Counselors data, approximately 33% of students applied to seven or more colleges in 2011 as compared to only 9% in 2000. The rise in applications per student along with the increase in the number of students applying to college has resulted in a record number of applications at many U.S. colleges and universities. Our job is quite difficult. Certainly raw academic credentials matter. Nonetheless, the pool dictates that academic achievement is merely the ground floor of a competitive, if not, compelling application. Admitted student applicants are loved by their communities and are thoughtfully engaged in their areas of passion. They facilitate urban farming. They are fascinated by Fibonacci, and are wise and fervent foodies.
While there is no template for the perfect student, we are seeking those who will add a dimension to a shapely class. The student organizations and faculty members depend on us to fill their rosters with quality folks ready to advance their missions and take classroom discussions to the next level. As the committee, we toil to ensure each applicant is evaluated, thoroughly and thoughtfully, to make the decisions that will ultimately yield the incoming class. Though the decisions are often difficult, I find it a privilege to take part in this mission. In part, with the guidance of faculty members’ perspectives, I hope I will play a small role in matriculating the next ready-to-be-engaged student leaders.
Alas, it’s Monday night and football game viewing has been sidelined for the current batch of application files. Maybe I’ll wrap up soon, but if not, perhaps just in the Nick of time.