Impact of College Admissions Policy Changes at UVA and Virginia Tech

What is it with 2019? Just as it seems as if the college admission world is coming to terms with a recent scandal or seismic policy change, something new hits!

This week, everyone is talking about two major pieces of news from public universities in our very own state. These announcements from UVA and Virginia Tech will dramatically impact the admissions process for the state’s residents, especially students in Northern Virginia who generally face more competition in contending for spots at the most selective Virginia schools.

Colleen Ganjian UVA College Admissions Expert.jpg

Here’s a breakdown of each announcement and what it might mean for your kids:


The Announcement:

UVA has added a binding Early Decision (ED) option in addition to their existing Early Action  (EA) option.

The Context:

UVA actually offered a binding ED option for decadesbut removed it in 2006. Their purpose for getting rid of it? Equity. Due to the nature of the binding commitment, ED plans favor students who do not need to rely on merit scholarship funding and who don't need to compare scholarship offers to get the best deal. UVA has been pretty outspoken about this issue since they first removed the option, which makes this announcement even more shocking.

What this Means:

Is this good or bad for students? It depends on the perspective of the student and their goals.

For students who have their hearts set on UVA, this is a very good thing.

Especially for students in our geographic area, applying to the school as ED applicants will enable them to stand out amidst a sea of other applicants with similar demographic profiles. Even better, they will hear back from UVA before the holidays.

Because UVA’s EA notification is so late (end of January), students have not been able to strategize with a combination of an EA application to UVA combined with an ED II application to another school if the UVA application wasn't successful. A lot of families struggled with this decision because holding out for UVA meant substantially limiting a student’s chances at other ED and ED II schools. Now, this will not be a problem for students applying to UVA ED, because they will have time to apply ED II at another school if their UVA decision isn’t favorable.

On the other hand, students whose second choice is UVA are more disadvantaged than before. Historically, UVA admissions decisions been very predictable (I previously blogged about this here) because they haven't taken demonstrated interest into account. A student with straight As, the most challenging course load available to them, and a 34+ ACT from any high school in Northern Virginia should have been admitted provided that they had good essays, activities, and recommendations. Now that demonstrated interest is a factor, this won't necessarily be the case.

UVA, like other schools with ED, will very likely select some slightly less qualified candidates-- students who may not have gotten in when ED wasn’t an option-- because they are willing to make the binding commitment. In turn, this will very likely make getting into UVA by applying EA or regular decision more competitive.

Bottom line: for kids who are hoping for an Ivy (or similarly competitive top-tier private school - Duke, USC, Northwestern, etc.), UVA’s ED option is problematic.

Virginia Tech

The Announcement:

Virginia Tech has over-enrolled their freshman class in a very substantial way, particularly in the following majors:

General engineering (or undecided engineering)

Mechanical engineering

Aerospace engineering

Biomedical engineering


University studies (undeclared)

Exploring technologies (part of university studies)

Students pursuing majors in these subject areas were contacted this past week and offered three options for deferring their admission:

Guaranteed Admissions Program - GAP2020: Take a gap year with guaranteed admission to Virginia Tech in Fall 2020. This option allows you to take a gap year and receive an additional $1,000 scholarship renewable for up to four years. You’ll now have the opportunity to travel, work, engage in a service project, or any other endeavor that is important to you. We will honor your current Virginia Tech scholarships and give you priority for on-campus housing when you enroll at Virginia Tech next year.

Guaranteed Admission Transfer Program GRANT2020: Wait a year to enroll at Virginia Tech while taking classes at your community college. Choose this option and save your first day on campus for fall 2020! You'll still be guaranteed admission and we will honor your current Virginia Tech scholarships and give you priority for on-campus housing when you enroll next year. This option also provides you with a grant equal to the costs you will pay for tuition and fees for attendance at a Virginia Community College System (VCCS) institution during the 2019-2020 academic year. Additionally, you are eligible to apply for a grant of up to $5,000 to support an internship, cooperative learning experience (co-ops), study abroad or other experiential learning opportunities during your enrollment at Virginia Tech. We will provide academic advising support to ensure that your VCCS credits will transfer and count toward your Virginia Tech degree..

Experience 2020: Summer start and summer finish tuition-free, with fall or spring enrollment on campus. Start taking courses at Virginia Tech during our summer session (which begins July 9) with 6 credits (2 courses) tuition-free. Then enroll full-time (15 credits) beginning in either the fall or spring semester. During your term away from Blacksburg, you can choose to enroll at a community college or take a semester off to travel, work, engage in a service project, or any other endeavor that is important to you. Return to campus to finish the academic year in the summer of 2020 with up to 9 credits (3 courses) tuition-free. An additional grant of up to $2,000 will be available to you to support internships, co-ops or other approved experiential learning opportunities during your enrollment at Virginia Tech. Regular tuition and fees apply for fall or spring semesters.

(Source: Virginia Tech Fall 2019 Summer Enrollment Options)

These “opportunities” are purely optional and none of the students are forced to participate.

The Context:

 This past year, Virginia Tech added an EA option to their existing ED offering (essentially the opposite of what UVA will be doing next year). This over-enrollment snafu further highlights the importance of applying ED if Virginia Tech is a student’s first choice, because we will see a major difference in acceptance rates between students applying ED and EA for Fall 2020 admission.

What this Means:

Unlike the situation at UVA, where some stand to benefit, this is not good news for anyone from an admissions perspective.

For the HS Class of 2020, Virginia Tech's over-enrollment will have a trickle-down effect. To make up for the extra 1000 students the school enrolled this spring, they will have to under-admit in the upcoming admission cycle. This will very likely lead to another record-breaking year with the lowest-ever acceptance rate (by quite a large margin). We saw the exact same scenario play out this year at UCLA in the wake of substantial over-enrollment during the 2017-2018 admissions cycle.

 Another interesting part of this announcement to keep in mind is that almost half of the over-admitted students are enrolled in the College of Engineering. And almost half of that particular group are enrolled in just two majors: computer science and computer engineering. Unfortunately, while applicants hoping to pursue these majors will be most substantially impacted, all engineering applicants, and even students pursuing admission in other undergraduate colleges, will face greater admission challenges than previous years. Non-engineering students entering the university with an undeclared major were also heavily impacted, by the way.


Now, before you throw your hands up in exasperation, try to find some peace of mind in knowing that this shouldn’t change the way your child is approaching the admissions process.

 No matter what is happening in the news cycle with regard to college admissions, students need to focus on what they can control: trying their hardest and taking every opportunity available to them while narrowing their strategy and approach to the admissions process. The more work completed in advance in terms of research, school visits, applications, and essays, the easier the process will be.

Struggling with these kinds of decisions? Set up a strategy session today to kick off your college admissions process on the right foot!