How we review skills course applications at HackCville

And how we’re changing it this semester to respond to feedback

We get a lot of questions about our application process at HackCville. We wanted to share some candid thoughts from our team about our process, its goals, how it’s changed this semester, 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 3 semesters 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 294 applicants for roughly 105 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. This is why we’ve changed the second stage of our application process this year, and why we’ve made some changes so that Hustle and The Pioneer, two of our best semester programs, can be available to all.


Our new second stage to our application process

Over the last year, we’ve consistently heard two pieces of feedback that led us to rethink the second stage of our application process:

  1. Accepted students sometimes drop a program because they discover a few weeks in that it’s not the right fit for them.
  2. Interviews with applicants don’t always bring in the most self-motivated, passionate students. Sometimes they bring in people who are simply great at interviewing and not as committed to the course.

This feedback is why we’re changing the second stage of our application process this year. Here’s how it will work.

After written applications are reviewed, many students are invited to attend their course’s first two workshops. (Those who aren’t are welcome and encouraged to participate in Hustle or The Pioneer, instead.) During the first workshop students can expect to:

  1. get an introduction to the skill,
  2. hear from an experienced practitioner, and
  3. be assigned a mini-project to complete over the next week.

Here’s how this will work for Vector, our graphic design program, for example. During the first workshop students will get an interactive introduction to basic design principles. After that, they’ll hear from a local graphic designer to understand more about what careers in design can look like. Finally, students will be assigned a mini design project based on what they learned. No experience is required to complete the project.

These workshops are an opportunity for students to learn a little and see if this course is the right fit for them. The mini-project is a chance for students to try out using the new skill and better understand if they want to continue. There’s no requirement to continue if the workshop or the project isn’t the right fit for the student.

We believe these first two workshops and mini-project will help us identify the students who are hungriest to learn and the best fit for HackCville’s community.

We don’t expect this to happen for most courses — but if after this stage there are still too many people who want to take the course, then our program leads will select the students for their course. They will have a good sampling of their dedication and potential based off of their attendance to the workshops and the completed mini-project.

Throughout this stage of the application process, some students may discover that there are other ways to be involved at HackCville that fit their interests and learning style better. Here are a few options for how else students can be involved:

Our team is incredibly excited to welcome 105 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 welcome feedback, thoughts, and concerns — send them our way at We will try to read and respond to every single one.

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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 develops the skills, networks, and entrepreneurial ability of talented U.Va. students. We accelerate our students’ ideas, projects, and startups through our experiential programs and tight-knit community. More about us →

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