The producer of The School of Limmy, a Korean-American neuroscience major at Duke University, posts short videos about colleges admissions on TikTok, YouTube, and Instagram. One of his schticks is reading the qualifications of student applicants and listing the colleges that accepted and rejected them.
The applicant described in the video above was valedictorian of his class, scored perfectly on the ACT exams and 155o on the SAT, took several AP and Honors courses, had a 4.7755 grade point average, was captain of the lacrosse team, wrestled, ran cross country, was a Boy Scout troop leader, was a youth council leader, served on student council, and belonged to a math club… which he founded.
The applicant was accepted to eight universities, including Princeton and Washington & Lee University (which he ended up attending), but was rejected from several others… including the University of Virginia.
This makes you wonder what UVa is looking for in a student applicant. Obviously, it’s more than SAT scores, the submission of which is now voluntary, and good grades.
Clues in the TikTok video reveal that the student attended “GWHS,” George Washington High School, in Charleston, W.Va. GWHS is rated the No. 1 public high school in West Virginia, and No. 550 nationally. So, being class valedictorian is not a shabby recognition.
The out-of-state acceptance rate for UVa is 24% for out-of-state students (2021-22 academic year). It’s tough getting into UVa, but it’s not Harvard (3% acceptance rate). It seems remarkable that a student with such sterling credentials — even an out-of-state student — didn’t make the cut. After all, the GWHS student scored 1550 in his SAT. The median SAT score for entering 1st years at UVa this year is 1470.
Where did he fall short?
UVa gets more than 30,000 applicants a year, which means it has broad latitude to pick and choose. The university’s admissions criteria are a mystery, however.
Here’s the vague language the university tells prospective students: ” Your academic performance in high school provides helpful information, but we do not make admission decisions based on grades and numbers alone. We strive to build a varied, dynamic class of students who will thrive at UVA, strengthen our community, and change the world for the better.” (Note the words “strengthen our community” and “change the world for the better.”)
By a “varied” class, the university is referring to both geographic and demographic diversity. As a public university supported by Virginia taxpayers, UVa tries to accept students from every city and county across the state. As an institution committed to “equity,” UVa seeks to increase the percentage of non-traditional students, meaning Blacks and Hispanics, who are under-represented compared to the state’s population, as opposed to Asians, who are over-represented. UVa admissions also factors in legacy status, giving preference to children of alumni, which favors Whites, given the reality that until recent years graduates were mainly White. But out-of-state, non-legacy Whites are accepted at the lowest rate of any racial/ethnic group.
Other factors that UVa might consider are student leadership, involvement in non-academic activities, and “grit,” or a demonstrated ability to overcome adversity. UVa applicants also must fill out the “common” application form, which this year required a “diversity” essay, thus creating the possibility that students might be judged based on their worldviews.
UVa does not explicitly list the criteria, much less make public the weights it gives to each. One is left to speculate, based on statistical profiles of the entering class and the rhetoric of the administration — students should “strengthen our community” and “change the world for the better” — what those criteria might be.
In the case of the GWHS student, one might infer based on the social-justice lens that permeates the rhetoric of the UVa administration that his application was deemed deficient for reasons of race, socioeconomic status, gender, religion sexual orientation, or failure to check off some other social-justice preference. In other words, too Asian (or too White), too male, too Christian, not sufficiently committed to wokeness. Although we know nothing about his parents, one is tempted to add: parents are not alumni or rich enough to cultivate as potential donors.
Perhaps those inferences are unfair. If so, the UVa admissions office could set the record straight by being fully transparent about its admissions criteria. Until it does so, one should feel free to make another set of inferences. The admissions office isn’t transparent because it doesn’t want to be, and it doesn’t want to be because it knows that transparency would make people unhappy.