Entering Class Shapes Up as U.Va.'s Most Diverse and Best Qualified

July 21, 2009 — Since the death of University of Virginia admissions dean John A. "Jack" Blackburn in January, there have been many remembrances – an overflowing memorial service, a scholarship fund for low-income students, a Board of Visitors resolution, a memorial tree planted on the Lawn – and a tree planted in his honor by an alumnus in Brazil.

Perhaps the most fitting tribute, however, is the final entering class that he helped shape. This year's incoming first-year students have raised the bar in terms of both their academic qualifications and the diversity within their ranks, said Blackburn's successor, Gregory Roberts.

"It's a fitting end to a tough year," Roberts said in his Peabody Hall office. "He's always on our minds, and we wanted to bring in a class that reflects his legacy.

"It was an emotional, but rewarding year. We're very proud."

It was a year of great transition for the office. Besides the change in leadership, this marked the first year that U.Va. participated in the Common Application and went to an all-online reading process.

Last week, the Office of Admission notified students on the waiting list for first-year and transfer applicants that the class is full.

Some numbers, as of July 14:

  • The applicant pool increased by more than 3,000, to 21,839. The University made offers to 6,775 students – about 31 percent.
  • Nearly half of those offered – 49 percent, or 3,308 students – notified the University that they accepted their admission offers. Roberts anticipates that "about 60" students will drop out of the class before the official census in October, bringing the total very close to the target enrollment of 3,240.
  • The academic qualifications are impressive; 88.5 percent ranked in the top 10 percent of their high school classes, up from 87.6 percent last year, and SAT scores were up by about 10 points from a year ago. The median score on the verbal and math portions rose to 1350, and the middle 50 percent of the entering class scored between 1250 and 1430.
  • Sixty-seven percent of entering first-year students are Virginians. Add in transfer students, and 69 percent of those entering are in-state students.
  • Economic diversity is also rising. Thus far, an estimated 205 students have qualified for full need-based, all-grant packages under the University's AccessUVA financial aid program, up from 170 last year.
  • Many more of the incoming students identified themselves as coming from minority populations. There are 443 Asian Pacific-Americans (up from 374 last year), 303 African-Americans (up from 280), 203 Hispanics (up from 125), 212 foreign nationals (up from 189), and 27 Native Americans (up from seven).

Comparing the numbers of minorities from last year to this year is not an exact art, Roberts explained. This is the first year that students could choose more than one ethnic origin on their applications, so the same student may be counted in more than one category.

However, 907 applicants checked at least one minority category this year, while 770 members of last year's entering class had minority status, according to figures compiled by U.Va.'s Office of Institutional Assessment and Studies.

Under the leadership of Blackburn and U.Va. President John T. Casteen III, the University has made extensive outreach efforts to add diversity to the student body. Blackburn and U.Va. admissions officers have traveled extensively in the state, region, country and world – including joint tours with counterparts from Harvard and Princeton universities in 2007 and 2008 – to tout the opportunities that U.Va. offers academically qualified students.

The Class of 2013 will also include the first Jack Blackburn Scholar, incoming first-year student Ladi Smith of Charlottesville. Her education will be funded through donations to the AccessUVA financial aid program in Blackburn's name.

Overall, the recession made little impact on the admission process, Roberts said. Admissions officers had anticipated that more in-state students and fewer non-Virginians would accept admission offers.

"We saw a little of that, but overall the numbers were almost identical to last year," he said.

"More families are concerned about how to pay for college," he added. "But in the decision to come, the recession didn't affect this class as much as we thought it would."

Roberts has noted a trend: Many students who were initially accepted into the College of Arts & Sciences asked if they could switch to the School of Engineering and Applied Science.

"It seems like there has been a renewed interest in engineering," Roberts said. "Sometimes we can accommodate those requests, and sometimes we can't. This year we were able to accommodate most."

Roberts said he is looking forward to the class' arrival. Move-in day is Aug. 22.

"This is an interesting group of students who we think will make very fine contributions to U.Va.," he said.

-- Dan Heuchert