Richmond Scholars FAQ, Part 2

It’s official: all Richmond Scholars semi-finalists have been notified, via e-mail and postal mail. No further semi-finalists will be selected. We selected very close to our target number of 450 this year — fewer than 10% of students who applied by December 1.

To the semi-finalists:  Congratulations! Our faculty committees are already in the process of reviewing your semi-finalist submissions. Finalist notifications typically go out in mid-February; at this stage, all students will be notified, whether or not they advance as a finalist. Around 100 finalists will be invited to interview on campus from March 15-17.

To those who did not advance:  Take a moment to read the rest of this post — especially the last paragraph. You are still in the running for many of our other scholarships, including our $15,000 Presidential Scholarships. The community-service based Bonner Scholars Program has an application deadline tomorrow, so be sure to check it out. Think about it this way: the Richmond Scholars program accounts for about $2 million of the approximately $16 million we give away annually in scholarships and need-based grants to the typical first-year class. $14 million is still up for grabs. Make sure, among other things, that you’re on track to apply for need-based financial aid by February 15 — and if you’re not sure whether it’s worth applying, make sure you read my previous post that mythbusts financial aid.

But before we leave the topic completely, there is one final Richmond Scholars FAQ that we hear a lot every year at this time, so I want to address it here:

I’m the valedictorian of my class with a perfect score on the SAT, and I’m senior class president. Why wasn’t I selected as a semi-finalist? Surely I’m in the top 10% of your applicant pool!

Believe it or not, we have a lot of valedictorians, perfect SAT takers, and senior class presidents who don’t advance in the Richmond Scholars program. This is a point of confusion every year, so let me dwell on it for a few moments. There are two components to Richmond Scholars consideration: (1) academic achievement, and (2) personal achievements/qualities. Extreme strength in both areas is necessary for a student to be selected by our faculty. Many students are extremely high-achieving academically — indeed, among the top students in our pool academically — but don’t demonstrate the type of “above-and-beyond” personal characteristics our faculty are seeking. These students will be strong contenders for our Presidential Scholarships and are students who we would absolutely love to have as a part of our community — but that doesn’t mean they’ll be selected as Richmond Scholars, or even as Richmond Scholars semi-finalists. Academics alone do not advance any student to the semi-finalist round.

Academically, it’s easy to compare yourself to the students around you in your high school, but try not to do this. Keep in mind that our applicant pool is not distributed the way your school is. More than half of our applicants come from the top 10% of their high schools. Last year, our applicant pool included 550 valedictorians and around 2,000 students who ranked in the top 10 in their class (that’s top 10, not top 10%). In other words, we have to pick and choose semi-finalists (fewer than 500) from among very many academically strong applicants. We’re not going to select the valedictorian with a GPA of 4.35 over the 4th-ranked student with a GPA of 4.31 just due to a GPA distinction of .04. From our faculty’s perspective, these two students are virtually identical — “similarly qualified” is the phrase we often use — and are both high-achieving, highly-qualified students.

So how do we choose between them? We look at personal achievements and qualities. It’s difficult to describe what this looks like, because it’s usually a combination of impressive achievements (as found on a resume); incredibly mature, compelling reflection in essays; and (often) confirmation in recommendations that the student is a real mover and shaker, a world-changer, among the best a counselor or teacher has ever encountered. A student may by a leader at the state or national level, but if his essays are duds, it’s not likely he’ll advance. Conversely, a student who is making a huge impact in the local community and writes about this eloquently and compellingly in her essays is someone who may well advance. Again, try not to compare yourself to your high school cohort. Many students can be described as “making an impact” in the local community, and we’d love to have them attend Richmond; few demonstrate the significant type of initiative and leadership required for semi-finalist consideration. Most of our applicants are well-involved students who hold leadership positions in their schools — sports team captains, band section leaders, club presidents, yearbook editors, etc. We see several hundred class presidents every year. This type of involvement and leadership alone is not enough to warrant semi-finalist consideration. It’s the “above-and-beyond” that our faculty are seeking.

Or, put another way: we’re not talking about the best student in your high school… we’re talking about the best student your high school has seen in ten years. This is my fourth year in admission, and I’ve never seen more than one Richmond Scholar come from a single high school (and I’ve only seen Richmond Scholars from 135 high schools in the entire world). Most students admitted to Richmond are among the best students in their high school, academically and in their involvement; it takes something more than that to advance in the Richmond Scholars process.

So, when all is said and done, will the 9th-ranked student with one or two B’s and a 1390 SAT who won first place in his category at the International Science and Engineering Fair advance as a semi-finalist? Probably, assuming his essays and recommendations are equally compelling. And will the straight-A valedictorian with a 1520 SAT who is vice-president of the Key Club and captain of the field hockey team advance as a semi-finalist? Probably not, unless she’s done some incredibly amazing things typical Key Club leaders and field hockey captains don’t do, and has written about it in a moving way. I know that might sound harsh — and it is a slightly oversimplified example — but the key is that both students are among the top in our pool academically, both students are similarly qualified academically, and while both students are above average in their involvement/achievements, one student is going to stand out to our faculty committees with the qualities they are seeking in a Richmond Scholar.

Lastly, and most importantly, I want to emphasize that just because a student doesn’t advance as a Richmond Scholar semi-finalist does not mean that we don’t consider them among the best students in our applicant pool, whom we would excitedly welcome to our community next year. They may, in fact, be among the strongest students in our pool academically, and have a good shot at a Presidential Scholarship. Richmond Scholars is one particular scholarship program, and our faculty are seeking certain specific qualities in Richmond Scholars. When all is said and done, only 45 first-year students will arrive on campus as Richmond Scholars next fall… but 800 students will arrive whom we as an admission committee consider the strongest (academically) and most interesting (personally) in a pool of more than 9,000 applications.


  1. lew
    Posted February 1, 2011 at 7:06 am | Permalink

    You need to rename the award to something without the word “scholars”. Academic and personal achievement. The examples you use don’t make sense to me. A 4.35 is not virtually identical when comparing two students at different schools. Being top-ranked at a school like New Trier (not our school) is probably more difficult and takes more effort than at a smaller less competitive school. I am biased towards athletics, being a three sport, and going to practice six days a week for several hours, and like my child, getting up for 8:00 saturday practices when they could be sleeping in, or practicing outdoors in the brutal winters that we have here, while doing other activities like being an editor of the school paper or yearbook,which is also everyday after school and before practice, and then achieving in school must be overlooked.
    I’ve also found that most of the students at our high school who achieve success in science/other fairs, usually have parents who are either highly educated, medical or professor types. I realize that there are faults with board exams, but like sports, the ultimate achievement is one that the student is totally responsible for, without help.
    I admire kids who lead food drives, or collect for the less advantaged, we need more kids willing to serve. Why don’t you make that a requirement for students while they attend Univ Richmond. But lets not overlook students who may spend their high school days more conventionally, yet with a high level of involvement in their school as well as in their studies

    • Tom
      Posted February 2, 2011 at 11:25 am | Permalink


      Thanks for your thoughts. When we use the term “scholar,” we mean it in the most holistic sense possible: not only academically brilliant students, but students who have pursued particular areas of passion to an extremely deep and advanced level. I used the examples of science and service (and, indeed, we have particular scholarships designated for both of those areas); however, I could just have easily cited other areas in which Richmond Scholars demonstrate these qualities (debate, theater, music, language, internationalization/cross-cultural focus, academic research in non-scientific areas, founding businesses or non-profits, etc. etc. etc.) While service is not a requirement for Richmond students (nor is it required in our application process, nor for scholarship consideration), more than two thirds of our applicant pool demonstrate a commitment to service in their applications, and more than two thirds of Richmond students will remain active in service every year. For clarification, with the Richmond Scholars program we’re not really talking about the student who led a food drive; we’re talking about the student who led a food drive, noticed a gap in the services being provided, founded a non-profit organization to help fill that gap, acquired funding for the program, and presented the model to the U.S. Congress so it could be replicated elsewhere (that’s a real example from a few years ago). The students you describe, with a high level of involvement in their school as well as their studies, comprise a majority of our applicant pool — thousands of the best, most involved students in their schools — and we could probably fill three or four Richmond-sized first-year classes with them. This is simply the nature of selective college admission. Believe it or not, around 35% of our applicants every year are three-sport athletes (we had 2,900 three-sport athletes in last year’s applicant pool). We have a variety of scholarships that reward students with all different types of skill sets and backgrounds, including athletics; the Richmond Scholars program is focused on finding the very best of the very best.

      My GPA example was intended, for simplicity’s sake, to compare two students from the same school. Of course, part of the admission process is comparing students from hundreds of different high schools, and we have a number of measures in place to do just that (high school context is a vital part of our consideration process, not only for the scholars program but for admission in general). Rest assured we give all due consideration to different grading scales, curricular availabilities, weighting systems, and high school calibers.


  2. Joe
    Posted February 3, 2011 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

    As a result of not being chosen many of the students that had perfect SAT scores and perfect GPAs will not attend Richmond. Secondly, not to nitpick but there will probably never be a student that wins semi-finalist at either the Intel or Siemens competition that would then go on to attend a liberal arts (besides the fact that this student would have higher than a 1390 SAT). No offense, but someone that involved in science would not attend a liberal arts school such as Richmond.

    • Tom
      Posted February 3, 2011 at 6:15 pm | Permalink


      You’re correct: many students with perfect SATs/GPAs will enroll elsewhere for scholarships they receive. But some will receive Presidential Scholarships at Richmond and enroll here, and a handful every year will still choose Richmond for other reasons, despite not receiving a merit scholarship. But we recognize that most students admitted to Richmond have a wide variety of college choices — on average, they’re admitted to seven other colleges — so we don’t expect all of them to enroll here.

      And believe it or not, we enroll several Intel and Siemens winners every year (often through the Richmond Scholars program). Richmond has a TON to offer for students who are heavily involved in science — more, in many ways, than research universities do! Keep in mind that we’re twice the size of the typical liberal arts college, so we carry several strong programs that LACs typically don’t (science, performing arts, a top-ranked business school, etc.) Every year we see very strong science students choosing Richmond over top-ranked research institutions (yes, including Ivies) because they know that they’ll get (a) faculty attention and small classes that they’d never find at a bigger school, and (b) the research opportunities (and resources to pursue them) that they wouldn’t find at most liberal arts schools, but that grad students would take at most research universities. As one of our chemistry faculty often puts it: “Go to a big-name research institution for your graduate degree. For your undergrad, come to Richmond, where you’ll actually see the inside of a lab – and maybe even find yourself published!” As a result, our science graduates have an extremely high placement rate into some of the nation’s top graduate programs (for just one example, take biology: shows matriculation over the last five years).

      And regarding science competitions, I’m afraid I simply don’t agree with your conjecture about test scores. Winning at the highest levels in science requires a great deal of time, sweat, and dedication — not necessarily a brilliant IQ. I personally know a student — unrelated to my work in the admission field — who took first place in her category at Intel ISEF who had an 1190 SAT.


    • Posted February 3, 2011 at 9:55 pm | Permalink


      I am a Richmond Scholar who while in high school has won an international award. Eventually I chose to come here instead of going to a top-10 research university that gave me similar funding. The reasons are exactly what Tom said: personalized attention for research experience. I also know another current UR student who has won a similar award to mine.

      Now I am a sophomore and I am looking up to this senior in my research lab who already got into 2 of the top 10 grad schools in the country, when the results usually come only a few weeks from now.

      • Tom
        Posted February 17, 2011 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

        Thanks for backing me up, Ana! 🙂 I know many science students who have shared your reasoning in choosing Richmond.

  3. Megan
    Posted February 7, 2011 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

    I was chosen as a semi-finalist but only received notification by email (and I’m not international). I received my admission’s packet without problem (applied ED). Should I be concerned?

    • Tom
      Posted February 17, 2011 at 4:50 pm | Permalink


      Nope, no need to be concerned. As long as you received e-mail notification, you’re good to go. There may just have been a processing error on our end, perhaps because we had already sent your admission packet. There was no additional information in the print mailing that was not included in the e-mail or website.


  4. Laura
    Posted February 15, 2011 at 12:53 am | Permalink

    Do you know when finalists will begin to be notified? My D is so anxious!

    • Tom
      Posted February 17, 2011 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

      Soon. 🙂 Sorry I can’t say more.

  5. Greg
    Posted February 18, 2011 at 10:59 pm | Permalink

    Heard that the finalists were notified today/tonight! Is this true? And have all of them been notified yet? 😦

    • Tom
      Posted February 21, 2011 at 10:15 am | Permalink


      Many finalists were notified on Friday. Not all have been notified yet, however. Everyone — those who advance and those who do not — will hear from us by the end of this week.


  6. Katie
    Posted February 21, 2011 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

    Are the semifinalists notified in a certain order? Are finalists contacted before those who did not advance, or is it done alphabetically?

    • Tom
      Posted February 22, 2011 at 12:08 pm | Permalink


      There is no particular order to the notification. With faculty committees for each designation meeting on different schedules (and most students being considered for more than one designation), it’s a complicated selection and notification process. That’s why all I can say is that everybody should hear from us by the end of the week.

      To all semi-finalists:

      I know there are a lot of anxious students out there. I fear that, for all the benefits of digital connectivity and social media, college admission is an area where these phenomena only serve to increase stress and anxiety. Before Facebook and College Confidential (e.g. when I applied to college in 2003 – not that long ago!) students had only one option: simply to wait until they heard back from colleges, perhaps comparing notes with friends at school. Now students (and parents) are so easily connected to everyone else who is applying to the same school and scholarships that there’s this new element of trying to figure out what’s going on behind the scenes and know everything as immediately as possible. This does not mesh well with the complex, often opaque, and without question time-consuming processes that are selective college admission and scholarship consideration. Our holistic, personal, high-touch, context-conscious review of applications simply can’t keep pace with the instantaneous nature of Web 2.0. I know it’s hard, but the best thing you can do is wait as patiently as possible.

      I absolutely adore this blog post that W&M admission dean Henry Broaddus wrote for the Washington Post last year. I encourage anybody who’s feeling on edge to spend a few moments and reading it and taking a deep breath.


  7. Bob
    Posted February 23, 2011 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    A suggestion for notification of finalists for future years – send all announcements on the same day. The wait for notification is already stressful and reading about the all the students who have received their letters while we sit and wait makes it even more painful. As a parent obsessed with technology it seems like a fairly simple change to implement and one that will make the candidates and their parents feel better about the selection process. Meanwhile I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

    • Tom
      Posted February 24, 2011 at 12:19 pm | Permalink


      Thanks for your feedback. I hear you, and I fully understand the stress that this process can induce. In our ideal world, we would absolutely notify all finalists on the same date (believe me — I push for it every year). But implementing this change is not as simple as it might seem on the surface. In short, we have two competing priorities: (1) for our faculty committees to take the time needed for a full, thorough, contextual, personalized review and discussion of each individual semi-finalist; and (2) to notify finalists as early as possible so that travel arrangements can be made for their March visit to campus (particularly difficult for international students, many of whom need to obtain visas, etc.) In an ideal world, the faculty would have until April to review semi-finalists; in an ideal world, we’d notify finalists on January 15 for a two-month window to plan travel. Unfortunately those ideal worlds don’t intersect, so we have to find a balance. If we notified everyone last Friday, some semi-finalists would not get a full and thorough hearing with the committees; if we notified everyone this Friday, we would not logistically be able to coordinate the March visit. I know it sounds extreme, but we’re working with a very complex process and a very tight time frame. Add to this the complexities of different faculty committees for each designation meeting on different schedules, and many students being reviewed by more than one committee; add to it also the fact that we generally extend official offers of admission to all semi-finalists, whether or not they advance (which requires that we have mid-year grades from each of their schools prior to our sending notification).

      Just a few years ago this wasn’t even an issue: there was no way for anybody to read about other students receiving letters, because the technology for that didn’t exist. For better or for worse (and I think it’s a little bit of both), the time-tested processes of holistic admission and scholarship consideration take longer to adapt than the speed with which Facebook and College Confidential pop onto the scene. It used to be that we notified finalists over a period of a month, beginning in late January; largely in response to social media, we’ve tightened that up to a week, and are doing everything we can to make it a smaller window.

      I know this doesn’t do anything to alleviate the stress of the wait, and your point is very well taken. But I hope that it at least clarifies a little more why we do what we do — and that we truly do our best to keep the process as stress-free as possible. Best of luck to your student!


  8. Nick
    Posted February 23, 2011 at 11:04 pm | Permalink

    Is the 9,000 applications a record for UR? Do you think this means acceptance rate will be down this year?

    • Tom
      Posted February 24, 2011 at 12:43 pm | Permalink


      Yes, this year’s application total of around 9,400 is a record (making it the second record year in a row, and the fourth in the last five years). You’ll hear from a lot of schools that they’ve experienced record years, as application numbers continue to go up steadily nationwide; Richmond’s percentage growth is leaps and bounds ahead of the national averages: 8.5% growth over last year’s application total of 8,660; an average annual growth of 12% for the last five years; and a total growth of 73% over our applicant pool five years ago. Richmond is a school that’s just coming into its own, where the national reputation is finally starting to catch up to the reality, and the number of students applying reflects that!

      In answer to your second question, yes, this means our acceptance rate will likely go down this year. We do plan to enroll a slightly smaller class than last year, but the bigger factor affecting acceptance rate is simply the growth in applications — even if we admit exactly the same number of students as last year, that will still be a smaller percentage of the applicant pool. Admission this year will be at its most competitive ever.

  9. Tiffany
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 2:01 am | Permalink

    From the blog post, I understand that finalist notifications typically go out in mid-February…should I be concerned if I haven’t received notification yet? I did receive an email for the semi-finalist round.

    Thanks! 🙂

    • Tom
      Posted February 24, 2011 at 12:44 pm | Permalink


      You’re correct. See the other comments on this post for more discussion. All semi-finalists should hear from us by the end of the week, whether they advance or not.


      • Allison
        Posted February 24, 2011 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

        While the waiting admittedly has been difficult, reality hit me today and I thought I would share.
        What a blessing and a privilege to have a chance for the amazing opportunities that the Richmond Scholars designations offer. UR captured my son’s heart many months ago and is obviously special to many students as evidenced by the many parents and students who are holding their breath hoping for good news.
        We are thankful these scholarships are available and grateful to all of you in admissions and also the faculty committees for already investing so much in our students.

      • Tom
        Posted February 24, 2011 at 5:47 pm | Permalink


        Thanks so much for your kind words. It’s a stressful time of year for us, too — we know what’s riding on our decisions. But we also appreciate the anxiety on students’ and parents’ end (all of us have been through the college admission process, some fairly recently, and some of my colleagues have kids of their own!) I hope that UR will be a strong candidate for your son, whatever the Richmond Scholars outcome. Best of luck to him!


  10. Allyson
    Posted February 24, 2011 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

    You mentioned in a previous post that the school needs midyear reports from all of the semi-finalists before you can notify them. My midyear grades were sent in by my school guidance office, but their reception is not indicated anywhere on my bannerweb. Would the school have notified me if this information was missing? I just want to ensure that some fluke in the mailing system does not hurt my chances.

    • Tom
      Posted February 24, 2011 at 5:50 pm | Permalink


      If we were missing your mid-year grades, you would have received an e-mail from us two to three weeks ago letting you know about that. However, you needn’t worry; for Richmond Scholars semi-finalists, we contact your school directly to obtain the grades if we don’t have them.

      Best of luck!


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