Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about the Echols Scholars Program

What does the Office of Admission look for in selecting an Echols Scholar?

In brief, the Office of Admission looks for academic excellence, intellectual leadership, and evidence of the ability to grapple with complex topics. Unlike other honors programs, the Echols Scholars Program is not governed by strictly "quantitative" measures.  There is no magic combined SAT /ACT score or rank in class that automatically assures admission. This is because the Office of Admission attempts to be as qualitative and holistic in their evaluation of applicants as possible. Every application to the College of Arts & Sciences is given the same comprehensive review and there is no single factor that guarantees a place in the incoming cohort of Echols Scholars.

Students selected for the Echols Scholars Program come from a diversity of ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, urban and rural geographic locations, and public and private schools with various programs and opportunities. Some high schools and preparatory schools weight their grades for certain courses, whereas others do not; some offer AP and/or dual-enrollment courses in virtually every subject while others have few offerings. What matters is that the student has taken the strongest academic program and course of study possible in his or her school and has performed well in it. 

The Office of Admission is also interested in academic leaders and intellectual risk-takers.  These qualities can be demonstrated in activities which include, but are no means limited to, participation in a Governor's School or other magnet school environment, advanced science fair competitions, scientific research and significant internships, music performances, Model UN conferences, Math Olympiad activities, quiz bowl competitions, forensic debate, and any other program that demonstrates substantive intellectual and creative achievement.  Please understand that while these are examples of activities past Echols Scholars have engaged in, participation in these activities does not guarantee admission to the program.  We seek "active and aggressive" learners, and evidence in a student’s record that demonstrates independence, initiative, intellectual versatility, and the ability to thrive in a creative and mentally engaging community.   Prospective students are encouraged to mention significant academic extra-curricular activities in their application and to stress areas of leadership including honors and awards received related to these activities.   Membership in various honor societies is fine but most students of potential Echols caliber enjoy this distinction.  If you are the President of your school's National Honor Society and personally arranged a dozen programs over the year for your group that means more to us than simply listing memberships. We're looking for intellectual entrepreneurs.

A student’s application essays can be of decisive importance in the selection process.  It is crucial that essay responses demonstrate intellectual vigor, clarity, imagination, and argumentation rather than catalogue a resume of courses and activities.  While it is not necessary to offer a dissertation in particle physics, the essay should demonstrate thought and lucidity.  More than one student with a 1500+ SAT and a dozen AP classes has not received Echols because their essays were weak, superficial, perfunctory, or dealt with frivolous topics.  Keep in mind that everything the Office of Admission knows about you comes from the information you provide.  Therefore, structure your essays so that the Admission officer reading your application knows what's in your mind and how your mind works.  The essays should not be a list of honors and achievements, but demonstrations of the applicant's ability to grapple with complex topics and to articulate ideas. Your essays should make the case as to why you are ready for the challenge of self-directing your academic endeavors and why the College of Arts & Sciences should waive all of its area requirements for you.  Applicants are strongly discouraged from writing essays about why they should be invited to the Echols Scholars Program. 

To summarize, selection as an Echols Scholar, is a holistic process that considers three main attributes:  outstanding academic achievement, academic leadership, and felicity of expression.  Excellence in one area alone will not necessarily guarantee selection and our finest students have demonstrated aptitude in all.       We have set a high bar, but offer a wonderful challenge for exceptional students.

Can Transfer students be awarded Echols status?

Yes, but it's very rare.  Since colleges and universities vary widely in their academic expectations it is extremely difficult to determine merit based on external performance. However, in exceptional cases, students with outstanding records transferring to the University from peer institutions have been awarded Echols Scholar status by the Office of Admissions.

Students accepted to the University of Virginia and offered Scholar status either within the College of Arts & Sciences (Echols Scholars) or in the School of Engineering (Rodman Scholars) will on occasion seek transfer between schools. Such intra-University transfers require appropriate applications and are accepted on a deadline basis.

Is there an in- or out-of-state advantage in being selected for Echols admissions?

Absolutely not. Our goal is to attract the most talented students to the University regardless of where they reside nationally or internationally. The current demographics of the Echols Scholars Program bear this out, with the overall ratios of out-of-state students and Virginia residents being just slightly higher than those of the College of Arts & Sciences as a whole, and the percentage of international students being higher than the College norm. Currently over 40 countries are represented in the Echols community.

If I did not receive an invitation to be an Echols Scholar with my admission offer, can I be reconsidered?

The Office of Admission carefully reviews the applications of all admitted students during their selection process for the Echols Scholars Program. We regret that we cannot reconsider applicants as all our decisions are final.

If I decide to attend UVa but was not initially selected for the Echols Scholars Program, can I still become a member?

We recognize that no selection process is perfect. Outstanding students who were not chosen for the Echols Scholars Program before matriculation at the University of Virginia, and who are in the College of Arts & Sciences may apply for admission to the program during their second semester at the University.

Criteria for selection include having taken a challenging selection of coursework each semester and demonstration of academic exploration and curiosity in and outside of the classroom. As with the initial selection to the program, there is no fixed number of first year acceptances. Students invited to join the Echols Scholars Program at the end of their first year are given the same privileges as students selected out of secondary school. 

The deadline for application by first year students in the College seeking admission into the Echols Scholars Program is generally on or about April 1 each year. Updated information regarding application procedures and the required application forms can be found at the following link [Echols First Year Admissions].

What is the relationship between the Jefferson Scholars Program and the Echols Scholars Program?

There is no formal relationship between the Jefferson Scholars Program and the Echols Scholars Program. The Jefferson Scholars Program is under the auspices of the Jefferson Scholars Foundation.   Jefferson Scholarships are awarded solely on the basis of merit and are granted to candidates who have undergone a rigorous selection process that is based on exceptional performance in the areas of leadership, scholarship and citizenship. Jefferson Scholarship recipients may matriculate in any of the schools within the University including Architecture, Commerce, Engineering, and Nursing as well the College of Arts & Sciences. The Echols Scholars Program is limited to and administered by the College of Arts & Sciences. 

Recipients of the Jefferson Scholarship who matriculate in the College of Arts & Sciences are awarded Echols Scholar status.

What are the obligations of an Echols Scholar?

Echols Scholars are bound by all the rules of the College of Arts & Sciences as outlined in the Undergraduate Record, with the exception of completion of the area and competency requirements. While a general exemption exists, Echols Scholars must still meet any Departmental requirements prior to declaring a major or a minor, since Echols Scholar status does not exempt them from these major or minor requirements. Completion of area and competency requirements may be required for admission to programs outside the College of Arts & Sciences (e.g., admission to McIntire School of Commerce, Batten School for Leadership and Public Policy), and, therefore, Echols Scholars seeking admission to these programs are encouraged to understand these requirements in constructing their academic plan.

Echols Scholars, like all other undergraduates in the College of Arts & Sciences, are required to earn 120 credits for graduation with at least a 2.000 ( C ) GPA. These 120 credits may include credits transferred from other institutions or credits earned by advanced placement examinations. Most Echols Scholars graduate with significantly more than 120 credits.

NOTE: As of August 2006, students attending Virginia Public Colleges and Universities who have established Virginia Domicile and eligibility for in-state tuition are subject to a surcharge if they exceed 125% of the credits required to complete a degree. There are certain exceptions to this rule, which can be found at SCHEV's web site (www.schev.edu). More details and the administrative regulations are available on the University's Financial Aid web site at www.virginia.edu/financialaid.

The benefits of the Echols Scholars Program and the academic freedom and flexibility provided by exemption from various requirements, come with the obligation that Scholars use these advantages wisely during their academic journey through the College and University. Scholars are expected to use their access and freedom to the fullest by undertaking challenging classes, making a strong effort in these classes, designing and executing a coherent academic program and, in general, making the most of their four years at the University. Echols Scholars are expected to carry 15 credits per semester. We recognize that the nature and difficulty of a student’s coursework may on occasion preclude carrying such a course load. Students should consult with their Faculty Advisors and the Echols Association Dean before making this decision. Similarly, students who wish to take a higher course (18 or more credits in a semester) will need the permission of the Echols Association Dean. A Scholar’s fulfillment of these obligations is not formally monitored, but may find it to be a topic of conversation with their Faculty Advisers and with the Echols Association Dean if they consistently drop below 15 credits per semester.

To continue receiving the privileges provided by membership in the Program, Echols Scholars are expected to maintain a 3.000 or higher cumulative GPA, at the end of their first year and every semester thereafter. Scholars whose cumulative GPA falls below a 3.000 will lose their priority registration times and the option of declaring the Echols Interdisciplinary Major. With the re-establishment of a 3.000 or higher GPA, these privileges will be restored. Students falling below the 3.000 GPA cut-off still maintain their status as an Echols Scholar and will not have to fulfill area requirements, but are strongly encouraged to visit the Dean and Director for additional academic advising and support.

Echols Scholars also have an obligation to use their talents in service to the University, their fellow students, and the community. There are countless avenues for service, and each year Echols Scholars are liberally represented in student leadership positions and in volunteer activities.

 How does one use their Echols Scholar status to make the most of their University experience?

“Making the most” of U.Va. means early and sustained contact with faculty distinguished for their research and teaching as well as active membership in the University community. It isn’t that professors want to turn all students into professors; what we mean is that professors are engaged in their own discoveries, new ideas, and contacts with other scholars across the globe. This activity keeps them excited and energetic, and this enthusiasm gets transmitted to students. Faculty are eager to inform students about new developments — and new questions — in their fields. U.Va. undergraduates often remark, without prompting, that the University is large enough to sustain a full array of course offers, while small enough so that students don’t get lost. It’s true that students need to take some initiative — visit professors in their office hours and ask them questions. Not to do so is to miss out on part of what one comes for, and merely to go through college without delving into the full potential of a major university.

“Making the most” of U.Va. also means early and sustained contact with those fellow students who seem most intellectually accomplished and eager to learn. U.Va. is one of the most selective public universities, and take advantage of this. To live in the Echols dorms is to be in daily proximity with students who have more than the usual interest in seizing the cultural and intellectual resources the University provides.

This process means giving as well as taking: participating and taking leadership roles in service activities, developing personal talents and performing in public arts such as music and theater, working in a lab with a research team, helping recruit able students, and creating new student organizations when the interest arises. Echols Scholars are as a group exceptionally active at U.Va. outside of class through their work with organizations and efforts that contribute to the quality of life of fellow students, the University, and the community. In addition to these activities, Echols Scholars often have special contributions to make to the student newspapers, literary publications, lecture programs, academically based clubs and organizations and, more generally, to the intellectual life of the University. There are a host of organizations and ways that Echols Scholars can simultaneously enrich their lives and fulfill their obligation to contribute to the University and Charlottesville communities.

Unlike small colleges and regional universities, a nationally ranked research university such as Virginia offers a full range of graduate courses in most fields of study. An undergraduate at U.Va. will never exhaust the course offerings in a field, even when entering that field at an advanced level. It is natural to proceed directly into graduate courses when ready, without special application. Occasionally an Echols Scholar seeks a graduate degree, not just a course or two, and applies to the Graduate School for concurrent registration. A small number of Echols Scholars have completed both the B.A. and M.A. in four years.

 What is the Echols Interdisciplinary Major?

All students within the College, including Echols Scholars, are required to declare a major by the start of the fifth semester. Since the Echols Scholars Program is founded upon the principle of academic motivation and intellectual creativity, students in the program have the opportunity to define a course of study that will permit attainment of academic and career goals that fall outside existing majors or interdisciplinary programs within the college.

The principle underlying the Echols Interdisciplinary Major is that no existing major, or combination of majors, fully satisfies a student’s broader interests.  Students declaring the Echols Interdisciplinary Major do so with the provision that it will be their sole major.

Detailed information on the Echols Interdisciplinary Major, its requirements, and the process for declaring the major can be found at the following link [The Echols Interdisciplinary Major].

What the Echols Scholars Program is NOT:

  • not a University-wide program. It applies only to the College of Arts and Sciences and does not apply to the Schools of Architecture, Nursing, Engineering, or Commerce.
  • not a "college within a college'. The Echols Program does not offer a special curriculum with certain core courses or special sections of courses. It does not require a thesis or capstone project. We do not wish to segregate Echols Scholars from other students in the College or to fit all Echols Scholars into the same academic mold. Rather than placing Scholars into a common introductory course (the "college within a college" model) we wish to accelerate their progress into upper-level courses and individual areas of interest.
  • not a series of special courses or seminars restricted to a special group of students. There are no Echols' classes at the University. Echols Scholars take the same courses open to all students. We are not an “elitist” program that seeks to create special classes or faculty for its participants.
  • not intended to provide a well-rounded education. Though its students often accomplish this, the aim of the Echols Program is to keep students excited about learning rather than specifying a sequence of learning experiences that every student should follow. Echols Scholars enter the University with strong academic records from their secondary schools, and often have many AP, dual-enrollment, or IB courses which contribute to a “broad-based” education. Some choose to continue to pursue a variety of courses either because they are still in search of what really interests them or because they see the inherent value in a broadly structured undergraduate program. Other scholars have already clearly defined a specific area of interest and want to pursue that to its limits. The Echols Scholars Program is designed to happily accommodate both types of students.
  • not a stipend or merit scholarship program. The Echols Scholars Program is purely academic and has no financial component. There are 3 small scholarships available to Echols Scholars which are administered through the Center for Undergraduate Excellence. The Ingrassia Family Echols Scholars Research Fund provides financial support for student research associated with completing a Distinguished Major thesis. The Office of Financial Aid does not give special consideration to Echols Scholars when aid packages are being determined.