When Ryan Hargraves meets with prospective students, he wants to hear how they can contribute to the greater good.
Hargraves, Executive Director of Undergraduate Admissions at UVM, isn’t just interested in a student’s grades or test scores. He also wants to know what issues students are passionate about and how they’re engaged in their community.
“At UVM, since the beginning in 1791, we’ve been intent on elevating humanity. The notion of elevating humanity is a powerful mantra,” says Hargraves. “So I ask them, ‘What are you going to do or continue to do to impact others?’”
The Virginia native, who joined the UVM Admissions Office in 2017, leads a team of 50 staff members. His job includes traveling around the country and abroad to recruit students for UVM’s incoming class.
“We want to know more about students than their GPA, test scores, and coursework,” he says. “The qualities we want in students—grit, leadership, cultural fluency, creativity—are things that often can’t be measured directly. But when you have students that bring those things to the table, it can really positively influence the experience on campus.”
Hargraves’ role is to build a diverse and dynamic incoming, transfer, and first-year undergraduate class, which includes about 2,600 students—of which 73 percent are from out-of-state. He mainly travels to places like California, Virginia, Massachusetts, and communities around Vermont to meet with high school students to raise awareness about UVM.
“I’m a bit of a utility player. I travel to places to basically be an evangelist for UVM,” he says. “I tell students about academics, extracurricular activities, the social experience, as well as the opportunity to really engage in what UVM offers. When it comes to a prospective UVM student, there’s no one-size-fits-all template.”
From Virginia to Vermont
Hargraves served as the Senior Associate Dean of admissions at UVA before coming to UVM. Prior taking the top undergraduate admissions job at UVM, he admits he wasn’t actively looking to leave UVA. But after a national search firm recruiter (who turned out to be a UVM grad) contacted him and suggested that he look into UVM, everything changed.
“I wasn’t pressed to leave UVA, but I was looking to expand my horizons. A phone call and an open mind are what brought me here,” he says. “So when I flew up to Burlington for my first interview, I looked out the window and saw trees, the mountains, and the lake. I got upset. I didn’t want to like another place because I really loved UVA. But it was really about being open-minded about a place I didn’t know anything about. I didn’t even know what a Catamount was as we didn’t have any (to my knowledge) in Virginia.”
Hargraves describes UVM as a unique place that is mindful of its impact on both local and state levels. The Admissions Office strives to enroll as many talented Vermonters as possible, and he points out that UVM has a dynamic demographic that is broader than other state flagship universities.
“You can come to UVM and meet students from California, New Jersey, and all over the globe—there’s a real dynamic international experience here,” he says. “What’s also unique is the scale of Vermont. Because of the population here, and the presence and stature of UVM, students have access to communities, non-profit entities, and great companies like Seventh Generation, Ben & Jerry’s, and Dealer.com. Many of our students have done internships or otherwise engaged our local and state political leaders.”
While UVM and UVA are different in many ways, Hargraves also finds similarities—especially when it comes to the student body.
“UVM students have the same work-hard-play-hard-give-hard philosophy as UVA students,” he says. “UVM students are also working to be great scholars. They’re passionate about extra-curricular pursuits and involved in community activities. I know that kind of student, and I can recruit that kind of student to UVM.”
A Robust Academic Experience at UVM
What students are looking for in a university is different than 10 or 20 years ago, Hargraves says. For one, the use of technology has impacted how students think and increased their interconnectivity. Students are more concerned about the well-being of others and mindful of their impact.
“Today’s student wants to ensure that good is being done as greatness is sought,” he says. “From the moment someone steps on campus here, they understand what UVM is all about. They see things like a desire to be inclusive and an effort to be green. And Burlington is one of the great college towns in all of America.”
Under Hargraves’ leadership, UVM continues to work to attract undergraduate students who are engaged. He explains that if students are involved in their communities early on, then college retention rates are higher, GPAs are higher, and students are overall happier.
Ultimately, with UVM’s breadth and wealth of scholarship, Hargraves wants students to know they can find a high-end academic experience here that can involve substantial research opportunities, study abroad, and other types of engagement.
“I was tremendously excited to hear President Garimella’s announcement of the tuition freeze back in the fall. It shows a great commitment to affordability. This powerful move will help ensure access to the rich experience UVM offers for students across the socioeconomic spectrum,” he says.
More than anything, Hargraves wants his work to make a difference.
“I tell my team that we can be great in our work and also do good,” he says. “If I had to distill what I love most about my job to just one thing, it’s that every day I have the opportunity to be inspired by people and impact others.”
-The “UVM Is” series celebrates University faculty, educators, staff, and the campus community.