August 17, 2011 — The students come flocking back to the University of Virginia beginning Friday, including the largest and most academically qualified first-year class in University history.
It's an annual migration that reminds local residents of the swallows returning to Capistrano. But this year's return of the students to Charlottesville will be a little different: First-year move-in has been divided into two days, Friday and Saturday, instead of the usual one day because of construction in the Alderman Road housing precinct.
A lawn near the Observatory Hill Dining Hall, in past years a prime parking spot for move-in, is now a construction site for new student housing. To ease the parking crunch, move-in will occur from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday and from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.
About 1,200 first-year students are designated to move into the Gooch/Dillard complex and some Alderman Road residence halls Friday, with an additional 2,200 first-year students – and about 3,000 upperclassmen – moving in Saturday.
While housing officials hope the two-day arrangement will ease the crush, motorists should expect traffic congestion Friday on and near Alderman Road, and Saturday along Alderman and McCormick roads, as well as on any road with student housing surrounding the Grounds. Members of the University Police Department and the Department of Parking and Transportation will direct traffic on those days.
In addition to their dorm refrigerators, suitcases and treasured knick-knacks from home, the entering class, unofficially numbering 3,450 – the official census is taken in October – will collectively pack the most impressive academic credentials in University history.
Ninety-one percent of entering students finished in the top 10 percent of their graduating classes, and their average combined math and verbal scores on the SAT was 1,339 points, up eight points from the scores posted by last year's entering class. Four entering students achieved perfect scores on all three portions of the SAT – math, verbal and writing – and 22 posted perfect scores on the math and verbal sections.
This comes while welcoming about 100 students more than last year's class, part of the University's plan to increase enrollment by about 1,500 students in the next five years above already-planned-for growth.
In response to the call from Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell and the General Assembly to increase the number of degrees awarded in STEM fields – science, technology, engineering and math – the class entering U.Va.'s School of Engineering and Applied Science is growing by 12.5 percent, from 585 students last year to a projected 658 this year.
The first-year engineering students have an average combined SAT score of 1,386, about 50 points higher than that of students entering any other school at U.Va. Ninety-six percent were in the top 10 percent of their graduating classes.
Greg Roberts, U.Va.'s dean of admission, said his office and the Engineering School collaborated to increase their recruiting efforts, communicating more frequently with prospective students and improving the open house program.
"It's a super-strong class, and it's diverse," Roberts said. The Engineering School's class includes more students from Hispanic and Asian backgrounds, as well as more students describing themselves as multi-racial. The number of African-American students held steady.
Beyond education in traditional engineering fields, the Engineering School offers a business minor, and students frequently add second majors from the College of Arts & Sciences. It's a potent educational brew of technical competence and leadership, Engineering School Dean James Aylor said, and it has been a powerful lure for prospective students.
"Over the past five years we've grown 25 percent, really without sacrificing quality and increasing diversity," he said. ""There's no question that the STEM fields are very attractive. There are jobs out there in that arena."
Aylor noted that the school's recent entering classes have been about 31 percent female – well above the national average of about 18 percent.
More demographics for U.Va.'s class of 2015:
• The overall class is 55 percent female and 45 percent male.
• Among those designating a race, 7.9 percent of students are African-American, 16.8 percent Asian-American, 6 percent Hispanic-American, 0.9 percent Native American and 68.4 percent white. Another 4.5 percent of entering students checked more than one box, and 2.2 percent declined to designate their race.
• About 7 percent are international students.
• Preliminary numbers show that 1,125 entering students (32 percent) will benefit from AccessUVa, the University's comprehensive financial aid program, including 239 (6.9 percent) who qualify for full scholarship support.
• The University will also welcome 600 transfer students, including 325 from the Virginia Community College System.
• Two-thirds of the entering first-year students are Virginians; the other third hails from 41 states, the District of Columbia and 77 countries around the world. (Combined with the entering transfer students, who are more heavily in-state, the University will maintain its traditional 70 percent in-state undergraduate enrollment.)
The large entering class requires some unusual accommodations. The University opens two new, six-story residence halls, Balz-Dobie and Watson-Webb, this weekend. But it razed four smaller ones over the summer – Tuttle, Lyle, Maupin and Webb – leaving a net loss of 12 beds until the completion of three new houses scheduled to open in 2013.
To get everyone under a roof, the Alderman Road residence area will have 95 triple-occupancy rooms and Gooch-Dillard five. Additional first-years have been assigned to residential colleges, said Patricia Romer, acting chief housing officer.
Meanwhile, the University improved some upper-class housing, she noted. Six buildings in the Lambeth Field apartments were renovated in just over two months, including new kitchen cabinets and appliances, flooring, baths and paint.
Upper-class housing officially opens Saturday, but between 1,500 and 1,700 students received permission to move in early, Romer said.
After the first-year students move in, they face a busy schedule, even before classes begin Tuesday. Among the events:
• Friday night features a "Welcome Back" concert sponsored by WTJU (91.1 FM) at 8 p.m. in the Chapel, followed by a "Welcome to U.Va. Carnival," from 9:30 to midnight in the McIntire Amphitheatre.
• U.Va. President Teresa A. Sullivan will give a welcome address Saturday at 1 p.m. in Old Cabell Hall Auditorium, followed by several events hosted by individual schools.
• On Saturday at 9 p.m., John Paul Jones Arena will host a "Welcome Week Concert Featuring We Three Kings."
• Sunday brings dorm meetings, followed by an Opening Convocation and Honor Induction at 6 p.m. on the Lawn and the President's Reception at Carr's Hill.
• Sunday night includes "The Crawl," billed as "a night of fun, games, entertainment and free food" for first-years at Slaughter Recreation Center.
• On Monday at 3:30 p.m., the annual "Grounds for Discussion" presentation will be held at John Paul Jones Arena, with follow-up discussions in the residence halls. Both events are mandatory for first-years.
• The week concludes Aug. 27 with Project SERVE, a day of public service that introduces students to service opportunities and agencies in the local community.
A complete schedule of first-week student activities can be found here.