Does my child need to be the president of the class, play three varsity sports, walk dogs at the SPCA and spend part of her summer at a leadership conference in Amsterdam to be competitive at UVA?

No. “Quantity does not always mean quality,” says Jack Blackburn, dean of admission. When students spread themselves across too many activities, they can lose the ability to be invested in any organization or club.

Secondly, there is no specific activity, trip or experience the admission counselors are looking for on a college application. “Our advice is to commit yourself to endeavors that are meaningful to you,” he says. “This way you and the people or entity or critters you serve will benefit.”

There is a common misconception that colleges look for students involved in activities that require travel and money. Instead, UVA admission counselors look for students involved in activities that allow them to grow, to be stretched and to serve. These opportunities are just as likely to be available in a student’s community as they are to be offered thousands of miles away. While some will travel to faraway lands to develop leadership, service and responsibility, students can build the same skills while spending a summer working at the local swimming pool.

“First and foremost, participate in activities you find meaningful. Then let the Office of Admission know about them,” Blackburn says. “We look forward to all you can bring to the University, in and outside of the classroom.”