The University of Virginia is always striving to open new pathways to higher education for students of different backgrounds. For the past seven years, U.Va. has been part of a program to bring the Virginia Community College System’s best and brightest to Grounds.
Through the guaranteed admission agreement, students who graduate from a Virginia community college with an associate’s degree and a specific grade-point average in appropriate courses are guaranteed admission to participating colleges and universities in the state. Students transferring to U.Va. must earn at least a 3.4 grade-point average to be eligible.
“For us, it solidified a great relationship with U.Va. that had existed sort of informally before,” John Donnelly, Piedmont Virginia Community College’s vice president for instruction and student services, said. He recently wrote about the important role of community colleges in the nationwide college “completion agenda” for the U.Va. Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service's Virginia News Letter.
An average of about 80 students per year from across Virginia have been admitted to U.Va. through this program, including 88 welcomed to Grounds this fall. In total, 324 of the 638 students who transferred to U.Va. this semester came from the Virginia Community College System.
“All of our community college transfers are non-traditional in some sense, and they bring a wonderful depth of experience to our student body,” Doug Hartog, senior associate dean of undergraduate admissions, said.
While some students go straight from high school to community college and then U.Va., the guaranteed admission option is also very appealing to military veterans and students who have taken time off to raise families or join the workforce, Hartog said.
Fourth-year student Xavier Roberts saw the program as an opportunity to gain valuable life experience before continuing his education. Roberts, now a global studies major in the College of Arts & Sciences, was home-schooled all his life and earned his associate’s degree by age 18.
“I graduated from Piedmont Virginia Community College in the fall of 2012, but I took a little time off before I transferred here because I had just turned 18 and I didn’t want to be that young as a third-year,” Roberts said. “I wanted to get out into the world a little bit first.”
He decided to start by spending time serving others through AmeriCorps’ City Year program. For 11 months, Roberts worked with underserved students in a public school in Washington, D.C., providing individual attention for tutoring and daily encouragement to learn.
“City Year really showed me what development was and made me interested in it. I’m bringing a lot of what I learned there into my research now,” he said.
Roberts’ final adventure before arriving at U.Va., was a six-month spiritual journey through India with his family. Now he’s bringing his experiences with Eastern philosophies into global development studies, and sharing his newfound passion for yoga by teaching it to his fellow students.
Other guaranteed admissions transfers are drawn to the program by the leg up it gives them in preparing for graduation.
“Earning that associate’s degree and coming in with 60 credits under their belts favors them in graduating with their bachelor’s on time over those students who transfer with less,” Donnelly said.
That aspect certainly appealed to third-year student Dilasa Yahya, who transferred from Northern Virginia Community College this fall. Yahya is a careful planner and she wasn’t certain she wanted to go straight to a larger four-year institution right after high school. She opted for the guaranteed admission program because she saw it as a good transition toward her goal of finding a career in business.
“That way I had a set guideline. I knew exactly what I needed to do to get in,” she said.
With all the credits she needed to hit the ground running, Yahya has already mapped out her plan to graduate in the next two years and begin a career or graduate program in business.
“That’s another great aspect of this program,” Hartog said. “Most transfer students have already put a lot of thought into the area requirements or just had a little more life experience, so they come in with a strong sense of what they want to get out their education.”
That focus has already made third-year engineering student Andrew Norton an asset to the University. Norton, a computer science major, first became interested in attending U.Va. after twice participating in a programming competition here as a high school student.
“That was the thing that really made me start looking at U.Va.,” he said. “I got to talk with computer science professors and students and when I transferred here, I still knew some people who were students when I first started competing.”
Like Roberts, Norton first began taking classes at Virginia Western Community College to supplement his home-school education and eventually went on to earn his associate’s degree.
Now a highly involved member of U.Va.’s computer science department, Norton has stepped up to organize the high-school competition two years in a row. He enjoys teaching others and each event gives him a chance to introduce a new group of students to computer science at U.Va.
One day, he may even teach a new generation of U.Va. students. “I would really like to be a computer science professor at a research university, so I’m looking at getting involved with undergraduate research now to get into a good grad program,” he said.
Hartog and his colleagues in the Office of Admission work closely with community colleges around the state to ensure that more students like Roberts, Yahya and Norton are aware of the guaranteed admissions option and the opportunities waiting for them at U.Va.
“We have a great deal of respect for the accomplishments of these students and the many ways they enrich the University community,” Hartog said.