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Richmond Scholars Semi-Finalists

By Tom Nicholas

January 17, 2017

It's official: all Richmond Scholars semi-finalists have been notified. Approximately 6% of students who applied by December 5 advanced in the process.

To the semi-finalists: Congratulations! Our faculty committees are already in the process of reviewing your semi-finalist submissions. Finalist notifications typically take place in mid-February; at this stage, all students will be notified, whether or not you advance as a finalist. Finalists will be interviewed via Skype (or, in the case of Artist Scholar finalists, will audition on campus).

To those who did not advance:  Take a moment to read the rest of this post — especially the last paragraph. You are still in the running for many of our other scholarships, including our Presidential Scholarships. In fact, the majority of our scholarship and financial aid money is still up for grabs. Make sure, among other things, that you're on track to apply for need-based financial aid by February 1 — and if you're not sure whether it's worth applying, use our Net Price Calculator to get an estimate of how you'd qualify.

But before we leave the topic completely, I want to address one of the questions we're asked most frequently around now. It usually runs something like this: "I'm the valedictorian of my class with a perfect score on the SAT, and I'm senior class president. Why wasn't I selected as a Richmond Scholars semi-finalist? Surely I'm in the top 6% of your applicant pool!"

Believe it or not, we have a lot of valedictorians, perfect SAT takers, and senior class presidents who don't advance in the Richmond Scholars program. This is a point of confusion every year, so let me dwell on it for a few moments. There are two components to Richmond Scholars consideration: (1) academic achievement, and (2) personal achievements/qualities. Extreme strength in both areas is necessary for a student to be selected by our faculty. Many students are extremely high-achieving academically — indeed, among the top students in our pool academically — but don't demonstrate the type of "above-and-beyond" personal characteristics our faculty are seeking. These students will be strong contenders for our Presidential Scholarships and are students who we would absolutely love to have as a part of our community — but that doesn't mean they'll be selected as Richmond Scholars, or even as Richmond Scholars semi-finalists. Academics alone do not advance any student to the semi-finalist round.

Academically, it's easy to compare yourself to the students around you in your high school, but try not to do this. Keep in mind that our applicant pool is not distributed the way your school is. More than half of our applicants come from the top 10% of their high schools. Last year, our applicant pool included 551 valedictorians and around 2,700 students who ranked in the top 10 in their class (that's top 10, not top 10%). In other words, we have to pick and choose semi-finalists (around 350) from among very many academically strong applicants. We're not going to select the valedictorian over the 3rd-ranked student because of a minor difference in GPA. From our faculty's perspective, these two students are virtually identical — "similarly qualified" is the phrase we often use — and are both high-achieving, highly-qualified students.

So how do we choose between them? We look at personal achievements and qualities. It's difficult to describe what this looks like, because it's usually a combination of impressive achievements (as found on a resume); incredibly mature, compelling reflection in essays; and (often) confirmation in recommendations that the student is a real mover and shaker, a world-changer, among the best a counselor or teacher has ever encountered. A student may by a leader at the state or national level, but if his essays are duds, it's not likely he'll advance. Conversely, a student who is making an unusually large impact in the local community and writes about this eloquently and compellingly in her essays is someone who may well advance. Again, try not to compare yourself to your high school cohort. Many students can be described as "making an impact" in the local community, and we'd love to have them attend Richmond; few demonstrate the significant type of initiative and leadership required for semi-finalist consideration. Most of our applicants are well-involved students who hold leadership positions in their schools — sports team captains, band section leaders, club presidents, yearbook editors, etc. We see several hundred class presidents every year. This type of involvement and leadership alone is not enough to warrant semi-finalist consideration. It's the "above-and-beyond" that our faculty are seeking.

Or, put another way: we're not talking about the best student in your high school... we're talking about the best student your high school has seen in ten years. This is my tenth year in the Office of Admission, and I've rarely seen more than one Richmond Scholar come from the same high school. Most students admitted to Richmond are among the best students in their high school, academically and in their involvement; it takes something more than that to advance in the Richmond Scholars process.

So, when all is said and done, will the 7th-ranked student with one or two B's and a 1470 SAT who won first place in her category at the International Science and Engineering Fair, or published a historical fiction novel, or founded a statewide program advancing the arts in elementary schools, advance as a semi-finalist? Probably, assuming her essays and recommendations are equally compelling. And will the straight-A valedictorian with a 1560 SAT who is vice-president of the Key Club and editor of the yearbook advance as a semi-finalist? Probably not, unless he's done some incredibly amazing things typical Key Club leaders and yearbook editors don't do, and has written about it in a moving way. I know that might sound harsh — and it is an oversimplified example — but the point is that both students are among the top in our pool academically, both students are similarly qualified academically, and while both students are above average in their involvement/achievements, one student is going to stand out to our faculty committees with the qualities they are seeking in a Richmond Scholar.

Lastly, and most importantly, I want to emphasize that just because a student doesn't advance as a Richmond Scholar semi-finalist does not mean that we don't consider them among the best students in our applicant pool, whom we would excitedly welcome to our community next year. They may, in fact, be among the strongest students in our pool academically, and have a good shot at a Presidential Scholarship. Richmond Scholars is one particular scholarship program, and our faculty are seeking certain specific qualities in Richmond Scholars. When all is said and done, only 45 first-year students will arrive on campus as Richmond Scholars next fall... but 800 students will arrive whom we as an admission committee consider the strongest (academically) and most interesting (personally) in a pool of around 10,000 applications.

Tags: Application Process Financial Aid/Scholarships Inside the Admission Office

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Tom NicholasTom Nicholas
Senior Assistant Director of Admission 


A Richmond alumnus (Class of 2007), Tom has been working and blogging for the Office of Admission since he graduated. He loves his alma mater and the city that shares its name.

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Beth Anne SpachtBeth Anne Spacht
Assistant Director of Admission


Beth Anne was a double major at Richmond (English and Latin American & Iberian Studies) and now enjoys helping prospective students discover the best of her alma mater.

Learn more about Beth Anne

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