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he best part of her job, Kathryn Buzzoni said, is seeing people go from applicants, nervous about their chances, to University of Virginia students and graduates, proud of all they have done.
“It is just rewarding to help people reach goals that they might have thought were not attainable for them, helping them see the potential that they might not always see in themselves,” Buzzoni said. “I have had students who have graduated come back to me and say ‘I did things I did not even think I could do. I did a capstone project. I discovered topics I love that I never knew about. I realized I want to go to graduate school.’”
Buzzoni leads pre-admission advising for the Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies, or BIS, program in UVA’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies. The program is designed for adult learners who have already completed 45-60 transferable college credits and are looking for a flexible way to finish their bachelor’s degree online at UVA while balancing work and family life. Students choose a concentration in business, technology, health care management, or in one of several liberal arts options, and complete at least 60 credits at UVA part-time.
Buzzoni and her team offer pre-admission advising, working with applicants to review transcripts, making sure they meet program requirements and put forward the strongest application possible.
“We offer this service to help demystify the process, as going back to school can be a bit overwhelming, particularly for those who may have been away from the classroom for a few years,” she said. “We really put an emphasis on student success as we walk them through the application process, and the program itself offers small class sizes with faculty who really get to know students and help them from start to finish.”
We asked Buzzoni to walk us through the process and share advice for anyone who is interested in the process.
Q. If someone is interested in coming to UVA to complete a degree through the BIS program, where should they start?
A. The first thing I encourage potential applicants to do is visit the BIS website, which gives a good overview of the program, and attend one of our informational webinars. Filling out our contact form prompts a member of our outreach team to follow up with you over email and over the phone. The phone call is really helpful on both sides of the equation, as it is an opportunity to ask questions and for our team to do some active listening and learn more about the applicant’s goals. We care deeply about fit, and we really want to provide prospective students with as much information as possible so that they can make an informed choice.
Q. What happens after that phone call?
A. If they want to take the next step, we ask them to fill out a pre-admission advising request where they can upload copies of their unofficial college transcripts from all institutions they have attended. This is the part of the process where I am most involved, as we complete a detailed and personalized evaluation for each potential applicant. It gives them a snapshot of where they are and helps us to discuss next steps. Some prospects are ready to apply right then. Others might have some gaps that they need to fill in, perhaps by taking courses at a local community college or other regionally accredited school. We encourage those individuals to stay in touch and run potential courses by us to confirm that they will transfer to UVA. We want to help them map out the best timeline to apply and provide ongoing advising for as long as it takes. Even if they don’t end up coming to UVA, we want to help them find the best fit for their needs and goals.
Q. What other factors do you take into consideration?
A. We talk with applicants about degree requirements and about the format of the program, which is flexible and allows students to move at different paces. Many of the courses are synchronous online, meeting in the evening on Eastern time, so we work with applicants to determine if that time works for them, especially if they are in a different time zone. Sometimes we have applicants who are on active military duty, for example, and are concerned about access to reliable internet. We talk about all of those things before they apply.
We also really emphasize “fit.” If applicants like the idea of a smaller, more personalized experience, then they will likely appreciate the BIS program. The most successful students are the ones ready to be engaged, looking for opportunities to be really active learners. Many students also find it comforting that this program was designed specifically for adult students, giving them a peer group that they can relate to. Like them, their classmates are returning to finish a degree after some time away from school, juggling careers and families.
Applicants should also know that our faculty seek out the opportunity to teach in this program – they are excited and deeply committed to working with adult learners. It takes an intentional choice to return to school as an adult, with work and family commitments, and our faculty respect that and love working with our students.
Q. Does your pre-advising team weigh in on admission decisions?
A. No. We operate outside of the admission process, so all of the advice we provide is non-binding and preliminary. We do an initial screening of applicants, just to make sure they meet the minimum requirements for transferable credits, but we do not make admission decisions. However, pre-admission advising can definitely help applicants put their best foot forward.
Q. Are there any misconceptions you would like to clear up?
A. I think that some applicants are nervous about the “UVA brand.” It is a prestigious institution, and returning to school can be intimidating. I want applicants to know that we have a built-in support system throughout SCPS that is designed to build a sense of community and provide plenty of information. We have a new student orientation, a great faculty advising program, a peer mentor program and a writing center, run by [associate professor] Charlotte Matthews, that provides both group and individual writing support.
We deeply care about our students’ success and every element of the program is designed to meet students where they are. As long as they are willing to communicate and reach out when they need help, we will connect them to resources and help them to overcome challenges. There is plenty of help available.
Q. Do you have any advice for students as they fill out the application?
A. It is a fairly simple application process, but it’s important not to wait until the last minute. The essay questions are particularly important, in my opinion, because they really bring an application to life and help the committee understand why the applicant wants to attend UVA and why now. The essays are also used as part of the evaluation process for our Dean’s Scholarship [a one-time scholarship of up to $2,500 for incoming bachelor’s degree students that does not require a separate application].
Q. Any other parting advice?
A. It’s never too early to start a conversation with our pre-advising team. You don’t have to have a certain amount of college credit just to talk to us. We want to meet you where you are, whether you are just starting an associate degree or went to school 20 years ago and don’t know how many credits you have. We will listen and help you figure out a path that makes sense for you.