We get a lot of questions about our application process at HackCville. Lately we’ve received more questions and concerns about our low acceptance rate. We wanted to share some candid thoughts from our team about our process, its goals, and what we’re working on for the future.
How our process works
Each semester we tweak our process to try to create the fairest, most equitable review process possible. Our internal data science team has run tests that show no statistically significant biases on any metric (gender, ethnicity, major, etc) for the past year in how we select applicants. We’re proud of that but we always want to work to be better.
All applications are reviewed completely blind: no name, ethnicity, year, major, etc are even visible to the staff that will review each application. The only thing that is visible is the answer to each individual question.
Two staff members review each application. We have strict policies for staff to recuse themselves if they are able to recognize someone based off of the answers to a question. Scores are then averaged and sorted to decide who is invited back for an interview.
Whenever possible, we will invite people who applied to HackCville a second or third time in for an interview to ensure they get the extra consideration they deserve. This will not be possible with everyone because of the sheer number of applicants. But we are going to do what we can.
Why we have a process
This semester we received 391 applicants for roughly 130 spots. We already know that this means we will have to deny people that are passionate, qualified, and excited. We really, really hate this part. Being as open and inclusive as possible is one of our most important values, and so it just sucks that we have to say no to so many people. We take no pride in being exclusive.
Why do we have to have an application at all? There are some practical reasons why: space and class size. We know from student feedback and from internal data analysis that 15 people is the optimal size of a program to balance size, program lead to student ratio, and community development. This also is the maximum number of people some of our spaces can comfortably fit.
We also know that each of you will get more out of HackCville if you can learn amongst a group of equally-super-motivated peers. We know the magic that can happen when we do that right, and we know we’d lose that magic if we accepted people that weren’t the right cultural fit.
All that being said — our process is not perfect. We recognize that our process has become more and more competitive over the last 2 years. That has not been our goal.
Some thoughts on the future
I helped jumpstart HackCville in 2014 with the first student staff. It was our mission and goal to include and serve as many people as possible. It still is today.
Back then Hustle was the only program, and we had a 60% acceptance rate. We already know this week’s acceptance rate will be roughly 33%. We now serve more people than ever before — it’ll be around 500 this year — but we also deny more people than ever before. That hurts. I’m not proud of that and I know our team isn’t either.
We know our application process as-is will not work forever. So how do we grow and change with the incredible demand without losing the tight-knit community, magic, and value of what we do? This is hard question, and it’ll take us some time to get it right. We have some ideas already in the works that we’re trialling this year that we hope to implement by next fall.
Programs were never supposed to be seen as the only way to be involved in HackCville. That was true in 2014 and that remains true today. We know we can do a better job of surfacing these other opportunities that we offer UVA and Charlottesville, and that’s something we will work on. Here are few things you might not know about:
- New this semester — we’ll be hosting a few Open Program Sessions where anyone from the public can audit Wireframe, Hustle, Exposure, and others. We want to help everyone get a taste of what they can learn.
- We’ll continue to host 1-3 public events each and every week. Tonight Microsoft is visiting HackCville at 6pm — you can details on all of that here. Next Thursday we’re teaming up with the Career Center to host a giant startup career fair. All of these are open to the public. Over 1,000 people come to events like these each year.
- More startup trips! We’re hosting a Richmond Startup Trip for the first time since 2014. We’re going back to San Francisco for the first time since 2016. And we’re preparing our team internally to offer even more trips next school year. These remain open to anyone, not just existing HackCville members.
Our team is incredibly excited to welcome 130 new people to our community later this week. And we’re even more excited to trial and build new programs and initiatives to serve even more of you.
Our hope is that this post provides some clarity into who we are and what we’re about. We always welcomes feedback, thoughts, and concerns — send them our way at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will try to read and respond to every single one.