The Rare Public Ivy with Early Decision:The University of Virginia (Tips!)

A photo to accompany expert independent college advisor South Florida at International College Counselors offers University of Virginia tips for admissions.

In this week’s blog, Nancy Rones Zolotorofe, a Director of College Counseling at ICC, shares information and insights, including University of Virginia tips, gained from her recent visit to UVA in Charlottesville, about two hours from DC, as well as her years guiding students in applying to this selective institution. 

Walking past University of Virginia’s stately 200-year-old buildings, hidden walled gardens, and brick alleyways, I had to keep reminding myself that I was not visiting a restored historic village meant for tourists, nor should I expect to see costumed interpreters (though I do admittedly appreciate all that, and UVA does offer historic tours).

Founded in 1819 by Thomas Jefferson, UVA, yes, is in part a historic outdoor museum, one that I gleaned is admirably taking steps to confront its previous role with slavery and that relies on an energized, engaged study body to define new traditions. Visiting just before finals, I was prepared for the possibility of a quiet campus, with students hunkered down in the library. While I’m sure every one of the approximately 17,000 academically-driven undergrads spent plenty of time studying, I still saw students out and about, tabling for their clubs and social causes; throwing a frisbee and lounging on the lawn; lunching outside in the college town known as “The Corner;” and socializing with their fellow fraternity members on an athletic field. Going against my own college essay advice, I’ll risk a cliché: This is a place for passionate students who work hard and play hard. During my tour, it became obvious that UVA’s culture recognizes individual achievement (explained more below), and I get the sense this acknowledgment motivates the next student, and so on, in a way that helps build leaders community-wide.

First-year applicants to UVA will notice another unique aspect about this research (R1) university: UVA offers a binding Early Decision application option, something that’s almost unheard of for a flagship public university.

Early Decision (ED): Apply by Nov. 1 to be notified by Dec. 15. If accepted, you are obligated to attend and expected to immediately withdraw your other applications. Unlike many other universities, if your decision is not “admit” in this round, your application will not be deferred (in other words, it will not be considered again in the Regular Decision cycle). Your application will either be denied or waitlisted.

Early Action (EA): Apply by Nov. 1 to be notified by Feb. 15, with no obligation to attend. Senior grades won’t be part of your application evaluation for EA or ED.

Regular Decision (RD): Apply by January 5 to be notified by April 1. First semester senior grades will be considered.

Like most public universities with admissions policies that favor in-state students, UVA’s commitment to filling two-thirds of each class with students from Virginia can make the school’s already selective admissions even more selective for out-of-state students.

This “favoritism” is reflected in this small snapshot of the 23-24 admission statistics*—a cycle that received about 59,000 applications in total.

Total acceptance rate: VA students: 25.5% vs Out of State Students (OOS): 13%

ED: VA students: 30% vs. OOS: 18.5%

EA: VA students: 28% vs. OOS: 13%

RD: VA students: 15% vs. OOS: 11%

Given the substantially smaller number of applications that are typically received during ED versus EA, and the higher acceptance rates during ED, those students who consider UVA their first choice may want to strongly consider applying ED, unless comparing financial aid and scholarships factors into your college decision. If you feel your first-semester senior year grades will markedly strengthen your application, you may want to apply in the RD round.

*unofficial statistics from UVA’s admissions blog

When applying to UVA, you are applying to a specific UVA school, except for nursing and kinesiology, which are direct entry programs from high school.

First Year Applicants Apply to one of the following:

  1. The College of Arts & Sciences (UVA’s largest school)
  2. School of Architecture
  3. School of Engineering and Applied Science
  4. School of Nursing
  5. Kinesiology (in the School of Education and Human Development)

UVA students starting in the first three schools above enter as undeclared within those schools and declare their major by sophomore year.

Once certain prerequisites are completed, students can apply to the following upper-division schools in their first or second year, depending on the school (for the schools below, first-years typically start in Arts and Sciences):

  • Batten School for Leadership and Public Policy
  • McIntire School of Commerce** (the undergraduate business school)
  • School of Data Science
  • School of Education and Human Development

**Starting in the 2024-25 school year, first-year students interested in McIntire will apply at the end of their spring semester for a new three-year curriculum. Previously, second-year students applied to McIntire with different prerequisites and a two-year curriculum.

Surprisingly, more than 80% of first year classes at UVA have fewer than 50 students, and the ratio of undergrad (17,000) to grad students (6,000) creates more opportunities for undergrad research—2/3 of undergrads are doing research. The medical centers adjacent to the university provide clinical opportunities to pre-health students.

Like many universities, UVA practices holistic admissions. This means the admissions committee is looking at all components of submitted applications, but with greatest focus on the rigor of your courses and the grades you earn in them. During a presentation this spring, an admissions staff member indicated UVA looks at what each student has done to take advantage of the academic opportunities at their school.

That said, UVA is clear that it would like students to maintain a broad foundation of knowledge-seeking throughout high school and would therefore like to see students pursue core classes (English, math, social science, science, and yes, world language) for all four years. This doesn’t mean you will be denied if your transcript does not reflect this—it’s just a plus.

The university is test optional for Fall 2025 entry and will consider your ACT or SAT scores if you submit them. UVA’s test-optional status for future cycles is undecided.

The supplemental essay prompt for the upcoming cycle has not yet been announced. Last year, applicants answered one short essay prompt, except for nursing applicants who answered two. Historically, communications from the UVA admissions office have implored applicants to truly answer the question that is being asked versus straying into why applicants love UVA and what UVA offers. They already know why UVA is fantastic!

UVA requires one letter of recommendation, ideally from an academic teacher who can speak to your performance in the classroom. If submitting the additional optional recommendation, the preference again would be from an academic teacher who knows you from class, according to UVA’s admissions blog.

Note: Demonstrated interest is not tracked by admissions. Admissions isn’t checking a box if you visit, attend a virtual info session, or introduce yourself to a regional representative via email. Even so, you should still research schools of interest to get a feel for fit. If possible, taking an in-person tour in Charlottesville is the best way to get a feel for the school and to decide if this is an Early Decision choice.

UVA uniquely strives to be a community governed by students (or “Hoos,” as they call themselves). Hoos are busy working toward making positive change as student body leaders, honor committee members, or as part of the 1,000+ student organizations, diving passionately into academic interests and social action issues. Recognition of student leaders is ubiquitous with UVA tradition, including granting stand-out seniors special housing off the Lawn (the main thoroughfare) and inviting some students to join secret societies (markings for these mysterious societies, such as “IMP” and “Z” are emblazoned on many buildings on and off grounds—hard to find information about these, but I suppose that’s the point!)

Participation in intramurals and club sports is big, as is attendance at D1 sporting events. One in three students is involved in some form of Greek life.

The general picture: UVA is flush with different paths of opportunities. Students seem to be driven by academic endeavors but pursue plenty of outside passions while still finding time to kick back and socialize in a lively college town. 

Increase your student’s chance of securing a spot at their top-choice institutions. Contact us at International College Counselors or call 1-954-414-9986 for personalized assistance in navigating the complexities of the college admission process.