Meet the Admission Committee – Richmond Edition!

For the past few weeks the admission committee, comprising my colleagues and myself (14 of us in total, from admission counselors to the dean), has been in session. Our task has been to create the next class of Richmond Spiders by carefully considering and selecting from among the more than 10,000 applications we received this year.

In recent years, I’ve posted a blog entry around this time that shares some fun (and random) information about the admission committee, the main idea being to break down stereotypes about college admission officers and to help applicants see that we’re a diverse and (relatively) normal group of people. (See previous years’ entries here and here.)

This year, I thought I’d do something a little different. Anyone who’s heard me give an admission presentation knows that I am a HUGE fan of our home city of Richmond. I know many of my colleagues share this love, so I thought this year I’d share some fun facts about the admission committee in the context of sharing some fun facts about Richmond, Virginia, where the 14 of us live and work.

Here we go…

Greater Richmond has a population of more than 1.2 million and is sometimes called a city of “from-heres” and “come-heres.”

3 members of the admission committee are from-heres, born and raised in Richmond. 11 of us are come-heres, hailing from 8 other states.

In 2010, named Richmond America’s healthiest city and one of the best cities for families.

10 of us are married. 5 of us have children. (1 of us is expecting and may be a new parent by the time you read this blog entry!) 1 of us has seen children through the college admission process.

In 2011, named Richmond one of the 20 Happiest Cities for Young Professionals in America, and in 2010 ranked Richmond 25th among Best Cities for New College Grads.

6 of us graduated from college within the past 10 years. 3 of us are proud University of Richmond alumni.

Foodies love Richmond. According to various sources, Richmond ranks among the top 10-15 cities in the country by locally-owned restaurants per capita.

The average member of the admission committee eats at a local restaurant at least once a week; in the past month, we have frequented more than 40 different local restaurants in aggregate.

Some of our favorite Richmond restaurants include Millie’s, Kuba Kuba, Mekong, Acacia, Ginger Thai, Buz and Ned’s, and Edo’s Squid.

With around 40,000 runners, Richmond’s annual Monument Avenue 10k is one of the 10 largest road races in the United States.

5 of us have run in the Monument 10k before, but only 1 of us is registered to run in this year’s, coming up on March 31.

Richmond is the only city in the U.S. with Class IV rapids inside city limits. The James River also gives Richmond its nickname, “The River City.”

4 of us have been down those Class IV rapids on whitewater rafting trips through the heart of the city.

10 of us enjoy spending time on the James, whether sunning, hiking, biking, boating, or otherwise.

Richmond is a city of festivals, with over 40 taking place each year, including the largest Folk Festival and largest French Film Festival in the U.S.

11 of us have been to at least one festival in the past year. Our record-holder has been to 8 festivals this year; the average committee member has been to 3.5 festivals this year. Our favorites include the Greek Festival, the Carytown Watermelon Festival, the Folk Festival, Arts in the Park, Broad Appetit, and Riverrock.

Richmond has a vibrant arts community. The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is considered one of the top comprehensive art museums in the U.S.; last year, the newly-renovated museum was chosen as one of 7 museums worldwide (and the only city on the East Coast) to exhibit 176 Picasso paintings on tour from the Musee Picasso in Paris.

12 of us have been to the renovated VMFA since its opening in 2010. 7 of us saw the Picasso exhibit while it was in town. One of us saw the Picasso exhibit 3 times!

6 of us have attended at least one First Fridays Art Walk in the city’s gallery district. 5 of us have attended other arts events in the past year, including the Richmond Symphony and Richmond Ballet; one of us has performed in more than 15 concerts in the past year. 6 of us have been to concerts at The National, Innsbruck After Hours, or as part of the Friday Cheers series on Brown’s Island.

The Washington Post recently named Richmond “Outdoors Adventure Capital of the East Coast,” while Trail Runner named Richmond one of the nation’s top 7 cities for trail runners and the ACSMAF ranked Richmond the 12th most fit city in the U.S. in 2011.

12 of us enjoy engaging in outdoors activities. The most popular are hiking, biking, and running, but we also have campers, kayakers, and climbers, and many of us take advantage of fitness classes in the Weinstein Center for Recreation and Wellness here on campus.

That said, only 5 of us have managed to work out regularly through the intensity of reading season over the last four months.

Richmond is home to three minor league sports franchises, including Double-A baseball team the Flying Squirrels, now going into their third season.

9 of us went to a Flying Squirrels game at least once during their first two seasons.

Richmond is home to The Martin Agency, one of the nation’s premier marketing groups.

We put it to a vote, and our favorite Martin Agency ad campaigns are the UPS Whiteboard commercials (4 votes), the song (3 votes), the Geico Cavemen (3 votes), Hanes’ Michael Jordan/Charlie Sheen/Cuba Gooding, Jr. commercials (2 votes); and Geico’s “Could switching to Geico really save you hundreds…?” commercials (1 vote). No one voted for WalMart’s “Save Money, Live Better” commercials, but we’re sure the Martin Agency is making lots of money off them anyway.

Steven Spielberg’s upcoming film Lincoln, starring Daniel Day Lewis, Sally Field, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Tommy Lee Jones, was filmed principally in Richmond in the fall of 2011.

11 of us plan to see Lincoln when it comes out later this year.

Other movies filmed primarily in Richmond that we’ve seen include Hannibal (8 of us), Evan Almighty (6 of us), The Contender (3 of us), and Cry Wolf (a teen thriller featuring Jon Bon Jovi that was filmed primarily on the University of Richmond’s campus in 2005, seen by 3 of us).

Richmond has some of the oldest (and newest!) neighborhoods in the nation. In addition to strong neighborhood affiliations, Richmonders often identify by the quadrant of the metro area they hail from (the West End, the East End, the North Side, or the South Side).

3 members of the admission committee identify as South Siders; 4 identify as West Enders; 1 identifies as an East Ender; and 1 identifies as a North Sider.

8 of us live in the City of Richmond proper. 6 of us live in one of the surrounding counties (Henrico, Hanover, and Chesterfield are all represented on our staff).

We represent 10 different neighborhoods, including antebellum Church Hill, the Victoria-era Fan, and the turn-of-the-century Museum District.

Richmond is one of the oldest cities in the country, with a rich history dating to the pre-colonial period.

History is all around us in Richmond. Sites that admission committee members live near and drive past on a daily basis include St. John’s Church (“Give me liberty or give me death!”), Monument Avenue (the only street in the U.S. designated a National Historic Landmark), the Virginia State Capitol (designed by Thomas Jefferson and prototype for the White House), Hollywood Cemetery (burial place of either two or three Presidents, depending whom you ask) and The Byrd Movie Palace (a 1920s-era cinema and National Historic Site that still features a Wurlitzer Organ performance before Saturday evening showings).

Richmond is the 3rd most tattooed city in the United States.

Yes, you read that correctly. TODAY Style ranked cities based on tattoo parlors per capita, and Richmond came in third. TODAY called Richmond “most surprising on our list” and attributed it to a “big arts and college community.” In my mind, it encapsulates just how delightfully surprising Richmond can be as a city.

And for those who’re wondering, 2 members of the admission committee are inked.

Richmond Scholars Process Update

Knowing that there are a number of anxious Richmond Scholars semi-finalists waiting to hear from us, I wanted to provide a brief update on where we are in the process and on a few changes that we’re implementing this year.

The faculty committees are still in the process of making finalist decisions, and we’ll begin to send notifications soon. All semi-finalists – whether they advance or not – will hear from us by the end of February. Keep an eye on both e-mail and snail mail.

This year, more semi-finalists will advance to the finalist stage than in previous years; the faculty committees have determined, based on the quality of the semi-finalist pool, that they want to interview a larger group of candidates than in the past. As a result, most finalist interviews in March will take place remotely rather than on campus. As much as possible, the committees will interview candidates via Skype; if Skype is not a viable option, we’ll arrange a telephone interview. (Note that we’ve already been conducting a handful of remote interviews each year for students who could not make the campus interviews, so this is not new to the Richmond Scholars process.) The one exception here is for Artist Scholar finalists, who – for obvious reasons – need to visit campus in order to audition and showcase their talents. Artist Scholar finalists will receive separate information about visiting campus for an interview.

From this larger swath of interviews, the committees will then make their final decisions. Richmond Scholars recipients will receive an all-expense-paid, two-night visit to campus, which will take place in early April (excepting Artist Scholars, who will have already visited campus by that time).

If you’re curious as to why we’re interviewing a larger number of finalists, it’s something that’s been in the works for a while – primarily due to the rapid growth in our applicant pool in recent years. This has resulted in an increasingly larger number of candidates each year who demonstrate the scholarly qualities we’re looking for in Richmond Scholars, and thus an increasing number of students our faculty would like to interview. Ultimately, there’s no real change in the outcome: we will still award around 45 full-tuition scholarships to the most outstanding applicants in our pool, students whom we believe will be movers and shakers not only for four years on our campus, but across the nation and the globe for decades to come.

Mythbusters: Affordability and Socioeconomic Diversity

February 15 is the deadline for this year’s applicants to apply for financial aid at Richmond. Parents, make sure you’re on track to get the proper paperwork filled out – just follow the steps on our financial aid application timeline.

But the financial aid deadline also provides me a great opportunity to speak to everyone – seniors, juniors, sophomores, parents, et al. – about financial aid and socioeconomic diversity at Richmond. This is an area where the reputation of the University lags (by decades) behind the reality. Put simply, longstanding stereotypes tend to paint Richmond as a wealthy, upper-class university for the rich – or, just as bad, “one of the most expensive colleges in the nation.” But these stereotypes could not be further from the truth.

Think Richmond isn’t an affordable college? Or that it isn’t a socioeconomically diverse place? Think again. 70% of our students receive financial aid. Around 2,000 students (about 2/3 of our student body) hold jobs on campus each year (some via federal work-study, others of their own accord). 1 out of every 6 students at Richmond qualifies for federal Pell funding; we’re matching the $2 million we’re getting from the federal government this year with nearly $20 million of our own funding. In total, we’re spending about $65 million this year, from our own resources, on financial aid for a student body of just over 3,000. And the average need-based aid package this year is $40,200. (Yes, you read that number correctly. For students receiving need-based aid at Richmond, the average out-of-pocket cost this year is $12,220 for tuition, room and board. That’s not marketing gimmickry; it’s simple math. And it’s a hard price to beat these days, even at a public university. See this recent article and the linked College Cost Chart, which calculates that for a family with $75,000 in income, Richmond’s actual price is the second-lowest in Virginia, lower than every public university on the list.)

If that’s not putting your money where your mouth is, I’m not sure what is.

There are two big guarantees we make that help ensure an affordable private education and a socioeconomically diverse student body. The first guarantee is that we are need-blind in admission. This term confuses a lot of people, because it sounds negative – but it’s not. It means, quite simply, that we don’t consider your or your family’s finances when making admission decisions. (Another way of putting it would be to say that we are income-blind or wealth-blind in admission.) The second guarantee is that we will meet 100% of demonstrated need for every student who enrolls. Your demonstrated need is calculated via the FAFSA and PROFILE forms, which are used by colleges across the nation to assess how much you and your family can afford to pay; however, only a small percentage of colleges (fewer than 70, at last count) guarantee that they’ll actually fund the remainder of the cost. Richmond is one of these. When you pare the list to colleges that are also need-blind in admission, the number drops to below 35 and represents less than 1% of colleges nationwide.

Our president often says that the University of Richmond is a private university for the public good. In an era when government funding is shrinking and the quality of education at even the best public institutions is in jeopardy, Richmond is using its substantial financial resources to make a high-quality, private, liberal arts education affordable for students of all socioeconomic backgrounds. The stereotypes just don’t hold; our student body is highly diverse, increasingly so each year.

The bottom line? Only 45% of students in Richmond’s Class of 2011 graduated with college loan debt. And the average debt for these students was $22,500, well below the national average.

Not bad for “one of the most expensive colleges in the nation.”

For Those on the Fence

At this point in time, there’s probably not much more I can say here to convince you to apply to Richmond. You’ve likely decided one way or the other already – though, if you’re a high school senior visiting our site right now, perhaps you’re not quite decided yet. I’m guessing you’ve received lots of brochures and e-mails from us – along with those from dozens of other colleges – and, while I’m proud of the fact that we don’t have to exaggerate in any of those communications to tell you how amazing Richmond is, I know that there are a lot of great colleges out there with a lot of great things to say. You’ve heard it all, from a lot of different places.

So all I’m going to do right now is something I don’t often do: step outside of the admission profession and write to you briefly as a University of Richmond alumnus.

I’ve spent the last four and a half years of my life trying to convince high school students to apply to Richmond and to enroll at Richmond. I haven’t been doing this for the money – there’s not much to be had in college admission, though a stable job in this economy isn’t to be laughed at either – nor, when I’m honest with myself, have I been doing this because of a deep passion for the college admission profession itself (though many of my colleagues have that passion, and I admire them for it). My greatest satisfaction in this job, and my greatest motivation, is simply that I love my alma mater. In short, I want you to apply to Richmond because it’s an amazing place, and I know that firsthand.

I had an incredible undergraduate experience here. For a kid who hadn’t ever heard of the University of Richmond when he started his college search, I found in Richmond every bit of the academic, intellectual, and residential community I was seeking in a college. I made fast friends, the kind who sit in the dining hall for hours on a Friday afternoon talking world politics, literary analysis, or scientific ethics (but can be found a little later playing intramural soccer, playing Xbox, or sledding down the Boatwright Lawn on the trays that recently carried their meals). Professors transcended the categories of teacher and mentor and became friends – and the time spent in their offices conversing one-on-one was just as much a part of the learning process as the time spent in the classroom. I helped create two independent studies, and when it came time to study abroad, I was able to do so with very little red tape and a great deal of financial support from the University. I think, as a student here, you just get used to the vast resources available to you; it’s only when you talk to friends at other colleges that you remember how unique it is to have such breadth of opportunities combined with such personal attention (I’m thinking especially, from my own experience, of study abroad, research with faculty, career services, well-funded student organizations, and the sincere, holistic concern for students’ well-being and growth in all aspects of their lives that permeates University staff and administrators).

Some of my fondest memories, if I may wax nostalgic for a moment (feel free to skip this paragraph), include that first summer phone call with my freshman roommate (awkward for the first two minutes until we realized that we’d get along famously; now one of my best friends, he’s coming to visit in a few weeks before heading to the Ukraine to serve with the Peace Corps and finish his Master’s in International Affairs); meeting with three other students and a professor at 7 a.m. on Monday mornings for an independent, self-created study of Anglo-Saxon and Beowulf (not because we were morning people, but because that’s the only time we could all meet and we were just that passionate about the subject); participating in all-night marathon reading of Paradise Lost organized by our Milton professor (he brought the caffeine, we brought the food); spending a deeply immersed semester abroad at the Universität Münster in Germany (during the 2006 World Cup!) and visiting Richmond friends in Stockholm, London, Paris, and Edinburgh; spending Saturday afternoons in quirky coffee shops downtown or relaxing on the James (and realizing, sometime during my senior year, that I loved the city and wanted to stay in Richmond after graduating); staying awake for nearly 72 hours straight in seclusion with my senior year roommate completing our theses (mine a comparative analysis of British and German fairy tales, Cornelia Funke, and Harry Potter, his a historiographical study of the Opium Wars that went on to win the American Historical Association’s top prize for undergraduate writing); gathering with fellow alumni to watch the Spiders win a national championship in football just a year and a half after we graduated (and losing my voice in the process); watching with pride (and some surprise) as both of my younger sisters became Spiders themselves (one a biochemistry major now doing AIDS research in a top graduate program, the other a classical civilization/studio art double-major now working as a graphic designer); and, most personally and recently, marrying a close friend from college (who has since graduation become my best friend; our wedding party was composed almost entirely of Richmond alumni).

Rankings and reputation and success stories and accolades aside, the University of Richmond is an incredibly special place and an incredibly special community. I didn’t necessarily know that when I applied – but I’m so very, very glad that I chose to apply. And the fact that I’m still here, nine years after applying, is in part my own testament to just how special this place is.

So apply. If you end up here, you won’t regret it.

Richmond Scholars Semi-Finalists, and Happy Holidays!

For all students who applied by December 1 for Richmond Scholars consideration, following is an update on the process and where we go from here. But first, I want to wish everyone happy holidays on behalf of Richmond’s Office of Admission! The University will be closing this afternoon at 5:00 and will reopen at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday, January 3. If you have any urgent admission questions, we’ll be ready to answer them first thing when we return; for now, we need to rest up for the marathon that awaits us when we return: selecting a class. Be sure to read the Don’t Freak Out post if you’re worried about the completeness of your application.

As in past years, we’re planning to select between 400 and 500 semi-finalists for the Richmond Scholars program; we received upwards of 5400 applications by the December 1 deadline, so, as always, there will be many difficult decisions for the admission and faculty committees to make. Please, as always, keep in mind that our applicant pool is not distributed the way your high school is; the vast majority of our applicants come from the top 20% of their high school class, have excellent standardized testing scores, and are leaders in their school communities. Our faculty are looking for the best among these best – the students who go way above and beyond this baseline, academically and personally – and no student advances based solely on strong academics.

As for the process, we notify semi-finalists in batches, via the e-mail address provided on your application, from mid-December through mid- to late January. Some of you may have already received notification, as our first batch went out last week. Each batch is given a unique deadline by which to submit additional semi-finalist materials – generally about 2 or 3 weeks’ time. If you’re wondering why we do this whole process in such a segmented way, it’s because Richmond Scholars consideration is intensive and takes a lot of time. We won’t be able to review all December 1 applicants until near the end of January, but the committees need to begin reviewing semi-finalists at the beginning of January in order to stay on pace, so we notify semi-finalists as we go along. The order in which your application is read and/or moves on to the semi-finalist stage has no bearing on its consideration; this order is also pretty random, so don’t try to extrapolate too much based on dates.

We only notify semi-finalists, so students who do not advance will not be notified but will continue to be considered for admission, a process that occurs primarily in February and March along with all January 15 Regular Decision applicants. If you don’t hear from us by the end of January, it’s safe to assume you have not advanced in the Richmond Scholars process. Keep in mind, though, that there are a variety of other scholarships (not to mention need-based aid) still up for grabs; Richmond Scholars is only one program among many we offer.