Behind the Scenes of HackCville’s Application Process

Our approach to building an inclusive, entrepreneurial community

Applications for HackCville’s programs closed this past Tuesday at 11:59pm. By the time the night had concluded, the HackCville staff had received 379 applications for the seven programs accepting applications this semester. That’s compared to 180 applications this time last year. Our team was humbled and overwhelmed by the response.

It’s exciting to see so much interest and excitement for our programs, but these high numbers also present a significant challenge. With only approximately 120 spots available, we will have to say no to more than 200 applicants. HackCville doesn’t have applications for the sake of being exclusive. Yes, we want to have the most motivated, passionate people in our community, but we also know that there are far more people who apply than we can accept, at least right now.

As our application numbers have grown, we’ve created new systems to try to make this process as consistent and fair as possible. Here’s a behind-the-scenes look on how it’s worked:

1. We blind ourselves to all names, emails and demographic information before we begin reading. 

Almost all of our applications are read and judged by students, with the exception of Daniel and Chip, our two full-time staff members. Because so many of our applicants hear about HackCville through friends and existing members, it is inevitable that members of our team will be reading and judging applications of friends. This is why we blind ourselves of all names and emails before reading begins at all.

While our leadership and broader community is very diverse (50/50 male/female, with a very similar ethnicity-breakdown to UVa) we also are aware of the implicit biases that can arise during application processes such as our’s. So, we also go ethnicity- and gender-blind; the only thing we’re considering is their application.

We want to see if there is anything else we can do here. Our Analytics Team will be spending the next week reviewing our process internally to see if any implicit biases or other errors presented themselves during this process. They’ll be comparing the information of the people we accept to the overall breakdown of all who applied.

2. We use a standardized scoring system across all programs.

Three reviewers were required for every single application. We also judged all applications using the same scoring system detailed below:

  • Has the applicant started something and/or demonstrated resourcefulness? When we say started something, it certainly doesn’t have to be a business. What we’re looking for is a demonstration of grit, hustle, and resilience. Their project or idea didn’t have to be successful, but they needed to have made something from nothing and learned something from it. This score weighed heavily on the application.
  • Does the applicant have a clear purpose and interest in taking that particular program? We want people who are at HackCville to learn, build and become active members of our community. Maybe they want to get their feet wet with web design to see if it’s something they want to pursue further. Maybe they need to learn the entrepreneurial method to get their idea off the ground. Whether it was for exploration or building a skill-set or network, the best applicants had a clear purpose with why they were applying. Similar to the first criteria, this score was also weighted heavily.
  • Does the applicant have that “spark” of potential? You know these people when you meet them – they’ve just got an excited, creative energy about them that inspires. Experience didn’t really matter here. This is certainly a hard thing to quantify, but we gave people we felt had this “spark” a small boost in their scoring.

After three reviewers read each application, the total scores were summed together. We then added on a few extra points based on two criteria:

  • Staff recommendations. HackCville staff could recommend students they felt were great fits for a program. This had a very, very small impact on final scoring, but in some cases it was enough to push one person onto the round of interviews.
  • Age. We gave a little extra weight to first years, second years, community members and grad students. Again, this had a very small (but sometimes decisive) impact on the final score.

At this point we sorted all scores highest to lowest and invited the top applicants to interview with us.

About two dozen members of our team worked from 6pm-12am the day after applications were due until all of the readings and scorings were completed. With three people reading each application, there was a resulting 1,137 “reads” in just six hours.

3. Every interview is held with two HackCville team members.

We then move onto our interview process. Every interview includes two HackCville team members who each score the interviewee. If there is a close relationship with a given student, we do what we can to find another staff member to take their place to make these interviews as unbiased as possible.

These scores are then compared to the application scores, giving the program teams enough data and feedback to work off of in order to make a final decision.

4. We’ve developed a new way for people to get involved in HackCville.

After a quiet beta test last semester, we’re excited to launch Hack Track, our new open-enrollment pre-program. Anyone who is (1) not accepted into a HackCville program or (2) finds out about HackCville after our applications are closed is welcome to participate. No application is required. Here’s what it includes, in brief:

  • 2-3 free optional workshops each week, all led by HackCville members. These are usually exclusive to other members, but we’re opening them up this year to Hack Trackers. They’re designed to be fun and wide-ranging topics that get people excited and connected. Everything from an introduction to web design to cooking classes is included.
  • Mentorship from the HackCville staff. Hack Trackers have access to office hours with our staff members where they can get guidance on dozens of skills and industries.
  • Heavy preference for next semester’s programs. The most active Hack Trackers will be given heavy preference for whatever program they want to participate in next semester.

We’ll let our charismatic Mike Verdicchio, the program lead for Hack Track, explain further:

We’re really excited about Hack Track as it gives us another opportunity to be as inclusive and open to the community as possible.

5. We’re using The Pioneer’s expert producers to make personal videos that welcome accepted students.

In addition to Mike’s video above, we have made short videos to welcome accepted students to their program. Here’s an example:


We’d like to give a big shout-out to all of the program teams who all worked 20, 30, or more hours this week to make all of this all happen. In 24 hours, the HackCville staff completed more than 1,110 reads and scores of applications, and in 54 hours we’ll complete more than 150 interviews. Our Pioneer Director, Catherine Cura, and House Manager, Madison Lewis, have also worked tirelessly to support the media and operational sides of this entire process. To us, it’s a testament to the commitment of our team to build an inclusive and impactful community here at HackCville. Thank you!

We’d also love to hear from you to get your feedback on this process and if there’s anything you think we can do to improve it. Please feel free to email us at hello@hackcville.com with any thoughts you have!

Cheers,

Andy Page & Daniel Willson
Managing Director & Director of Operations
HackCville

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About The Pioneer + HackCville

The Pioneer is the publication of HackCville. All of our producers are either current students or graduates of HackCville’s media education programs.

Our producers develop skills in modern media production through publishing stories about creative, civic, and entrepreneurial innovators in the University of Virginia and greater Charlottesville community. Learn more →

HackCville is a platform for experiential education and career development. We train students in high-demand skills, accelerate their ideas, and connect them to jobs, opportunities, and a tight-knit community.

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