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Undergraduate applications break records for a second consecutive year

Old Cabell Hall as seen from the Lawn at dusk
Sanjay Suchak

Undergraduate applications to UVA soared to another record-breaking year in 2021 with 50,800 prospective ’Hoos applying for admission—up 6 percent from 2020 when numbers surged 17 percent. 

It’s the sixth biggest year-over-year jump in total applications to UVA since 1991; last year ranks No. 1. 

“What that means is we have more great students to choose from,'' said Greg Roberts (Darden ’17), UVA’s dean of admission. “And while that’s awesome, that also means more people are going to be disappointed, and that’s tough. That’s really hard for families. That’s not lost on us. We’re sympathetic.” 

UVA’s decision to not require standardized test scores because of students’ difficulty in accessing the tests during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is likely one reason for the continued growth, Roberts said. UVA announced in January 2021 that it would remain test optional through 2023. Of all applicants this year, 42 percent did not submit test scores, roughly the same proportion as last year’s 43 percent. Other competitive colleges and universities, including Duke University, Harvard University and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, also remained test optional this year.

The relaunch of in-person admission tours on Grounds in June, sooner than many colleges and universities, may also have prompted more students to apply, Roberts said. UVA admissions staff members also were able to travel to Virginia high schools to connect with students for the first time in two years. 

Efforts to reach underrepresented students are also paying off, with more applications from low-income students, up 29 percent, and those who are first in their family to attend college, up 22 percent.

Admissions officials held open houses for Black, Hispanic, and first-generation students and continued its partnership with the Virginia College Advising Corps, which is composed of UVA alumni who work as counselors in high schools in low-income communities, among other activities.

More than 1,100 applicants have already accepted admission through UVA’s early decision application cycle in December. This year, some 3,500 students applied through the early decision pathway, which requires students to accept an offer of admittance.

Early decision applicants include 132 first-generation college students, up from 76 in 2020, and 241 children of UVA alumni, up from 220. That mix matters as admission officials assemble a class of students representing diverse backgrounds and a broad range of perspectives, Roberts said. 

“That’s what makes UVA,” he said. “And that wouldn’t be complete without children of alumni and that wouldn’t be complete without students who are first in their family who attended college. Both make significant impacts on the University community.”