August 12, 2010 — When the University of Virginia's admissions staff begins the arduous task of crafting an incoming class, it looks for two things: strength and diversity.
"I believe we succeeded this year," Greg Roberts, U.Va.'s dean of admission, said. "We're seeing and enrolling more top students, and what's more, those students are coming from many different backgrounds."
U.Va. expects to welcome its strongest and most diverse class when approximately 3,246 students move in Aug. 21 – despite a downward national trend in the number of high school graduates. (All numbers referenced are as of Aug. 10; the official fall census will not be recorded until October.)
Their academic credentials are impressive. For the first time, more than 90 percent of the incoming students were ranked in the top 10 percent of their high school graduating classes – 90.2 percent, to be exact, compared to 88.8 percent last year.
They scored an average of 1,993 points on the three parts of the SAT that the University requires (math, writing and critical reading), compared to 1,984 points last year, and the scores of the middle 50 percent ranged from 1,880 to 2,140, with each end of that range 10 points higher than a year ago.
In terms of diversity, more students identified themselves as members of one or more minority groups: 983 this year, or 29.9 percent of the incoming class, compared to last year's 892, or 27.5 percent of the class. The number of African-American, Hispanic and Native American students remained relatively stable, while the number of students from Asian backgrounds increased by about 25 percent, from 439 in last year's entering class to 546 this year.
Since the advent of Access UVa in 2004, the percentage of students from low-income backgrounds has been rising – this year, an impressive 35 percent gain, from 204 in 2009 to 268 this fall.
The Princeton Review earlier this month rated AccessUVa second among financial aid programs. AccessUVa guarantees that it will meet 100 percent of students' demonstrated needs, with the lowest-income students receiving loan-free aid packages and the rest having their loans capped.
"The economy continues to play a factor in families' decisions," Roberts said. "We've spent a considerable amount of time and effort reaching out to families in the rural and urban areas of the country," including annual recruiting tours with admissions representatives from Princeton and Harvard universities. Their message: If you can do the work, you will be able to afford to go.
The in-state portion of the entering class – including transfers – remains constant at 69 percent. Seven percent are international, continuing an upward trend that meets one of the objectives of the 2009 Committee on the Future of the University report, Roberts said.
The gender breakdown remains similar to last year, with women accounting for 55 percent of the class.
In all, U.Va. received a record 22,516 applications and offered admission to 7,224 students. The projected first-year class of 3,246 is almost exactly on the target of 3,240, which Roberts attributes to a good system for predicting how many would accept those offers, as well as judicious use of the waiting list.
The University also expects to enroll about 560 transfer students, including 264 from the Virginia Community College System.
Another trend Roberts sees: "I think families are starting the process earlier. We're seeing more ninth- and 10th-graders on Grounds in the summer visiting.
"I think by and large that's a good thing. It gives them a better understanding of the admissions process," he said – and perhaps spurs them to pursue rigorous high school classes and seek out community service opportunities.