January 19, 2012 — Early Friday evening, 3,187 high school seniors who applied for admission to the University of Virginia will have a burden of uncertainty replaced with the security of having a college destination come August.
Promptly at 5 p.m., all 11,753 "early action" applicants will be able to log in to a password-protected website and learn whether or not they gained admission as part of U.Va.'s first early action admissions class.
While those offered admission are feeling relief, they should also feel some pride, said Gregory W. Roberts, U.Va.'s dean of admission, who described the group as exceptionally well-qualified. One measure: The average SAT score of those who received offers was 1,413 on a 1,600-point scale, and 2,119 on a 2,400-point scale – compared to 1,380 and 2,066, respectively, for those offered admission to U.Va. last year.
"We're pleased with the diversity, and we're excited about the quality of the class," Roberts said. "This is clearly a distinguished group of scholars."
Those who receive admission offers will have until May 1 to submit their admission deposit to secure their place in the first-year class.
In the meantime, admissions officials will be evaluating the applications of students who applied by the "regular" January 1 deadline. Together with early applicants, the total application pool stood at a record 28,239 as of Thursday – a whopping 18 percent increase over last year's pool, even as some elite universities were reporting fewer applicants.
"We expected an increase, but the size was a surprise to us," Roberts said. He attributed the application boom to strong recruitment efforts, the availability of the new early action plan and an ongoing national trend of individual students applying to more colleges.
The University inaugurated its nonbinding early action program in the fall. Students who applied by Nov. 1 were assured that their applications would either be accepted, deferred to the regular application pool or declined by the end of January. Those accepted would then have until the regular-cycle notification deadline of May 1 to make their decisions.
Until 2006, U.Va. offered a binding "early decision" program, in which students who applied early and were admitted were obligated to accept their offers. However, that program was abolished amid concerns that only wealthier students could afford to commit to a school before comparing financial aid packages, thus skewing the diversity of the applicant pool.
U.Va.'s new early action program does not require accepted students to commit to attending and gives them time to compare financial aid packages, which Roberts hopes will continue the trend toward socioeconomic diversity among U.Va.'s undergraduates. While that will not be confirmed until after the financial aid deadlines, he was encouraged to see an early applicant pool that was "far more racially diverse" than the previous early decision pools
Roberts also put to rest a perception held by some that early applicants stand a greater chance of being accepted than those who apply in the regular cycle. This year, early applicants made up approximately 41 percent of the total applicant pool, and will receive about 41 percent of the total admissions offers, he said.
Of those early applicants who will not receive admissions offers on Friday, 3,150 had their applications deferred to the regular application cycle. "They're all strong candidates for admission," Roberts said. "We want to see their mid-year grades and how they fare when compared to the regular application pool."
Another 4,909 applications were declined. While it would have been easy to defer them into the regular admission pool, Roberts said the University did not want to string along applicants if they stood little chance of admission.
"We have always been very honest with applicants, even though there is bound to be some disappointment," he said. "If you talk to parents and guidance counselors, they prefer letting students know earlier so they can move on."
The record number of total applicants – 4,250 more than last year – suggests that the overall quality of the entering class likely will be high, Roberts said; indeed, the mean SAT score of all applicants increased from 1,310 to 1,326.
Applicants to U.Va.'s School of Engineering and Applied Science led the overall increase, with 4,530 students applying for admission, a 23 percent jump over a year ago. The Curry School of Education's newly revamped four-year kinesiology major was also popular, attracting 474 applications for 26 spaces in the class.
Demographically, the greatest increase among applicants was from international students, whose numbers increased by 23 percent over last year.
The admissions decisions for those who applied during the regular admission cycle will be released in late March, Roberts said.
Overall, the target enrollment for the Class of 2016 is 3,360 students. With this being the University's first experience with an early action plan, Roberts admitted a certain amount of uncertainty about how many students will accept admissions offers.
"We have had conversations with high school guidance counselors and with peer institutions that offer similar early plans," he said. "With that said, without any reliable institutional data from previous years to guide us, making projections on the appropriate number of offers to make to enroll the class is challenging, to say the least."