|Admissions Essays Blog|
|Through our very own editors and guest writers, this blog will discuss the INSIDE scoop on the admissions process of various schools and programs. If you wish to ask a specific question, please write to us, and we will make every attempt to address your questions in our future blog discussions.|
Wednesday, August 16, 2017
The Truth About Legacy Admissions
Even before the tumultuous election year of 2016 churned up the ugly sludge of America's racist history, the broiling issue of affirmative action in college admissions simmered ominously in the background. Last week, the issue was pulled to center stage when it was discovered that the Trump administration intended to investigate affirmative action-in order to make sure that white students weren't being unfairly overlooked.
Setting aside, for the moment, the unassailable fact that white and Asian students comprise the vast majority of all university students, a conversation getting less traction in the media is the one that should be happening, about legacy admits.
It's fairly easy to track the racial make-up of existing students. It's much harder to track statistics on students who applied and did not get in. But various higher education analyses reveal that legacy admits are several times as likely to be admitted than non-legacy applicants. Legacy admits also come overwhelmingly from the upper class-a group of students that already has a thumb on the scale of privilege.
It's worth noting that legacy candidates make up a relatively small percentage of admittees (around 6%), and that legacy advantage seems to be greater at highly selective colleges. Legacy admits are overwhelmingly white and wealthy, and because they are a monetary boon to the universities, the practice is unlikely to be questioned or abolished.
It is, however, another form of the very affirmative action that many raucously oppose. Despite the overwhelming advantages enjoyed by the dominant classes in higher education, there exists a palpable fear that non-white students will somehow be handed something for free. This is the very ideology that underscored the violent events in Charlottesville, Virginia this week.
It's crucial to remember that universities are much more than hallowed institutions of learning. They are big businesses. Legacy admissions are vital to their brand and their bottom line. Strip all that away, however, and you’ll find that they are simply another form of preferential admission. One that hides quietly in the background, largely unchecked.
Monday, August 7, 2017
UCI Under Fire for Rescinding Admissions Offers
In March of each calendar year, the University of California sends out hundreds of thousands of acceptance letter. Acceptance rates vary by campus, but all students typically have just a couple of months to commit to attending. The UC, like any university system, understands that this is a numbers game. Like airlines overbooking seats, the UC sends out more admissions offers than it can actually accommodate. That's because they know that not all students who are admitted will actually attend. Universities, like airlines, don't want to run the risk of having empty seats.
Last week, the University of California at Irvine, drew sharp criticism for rescinding the admissions offers of 499 students. UCI had accidentally overbooked its flight. In order to save face, the university searched for loopholes.
Admission is provisional for all students, contingent upon their academic performance in the second semester of their senior year of high school. This year, because UCI had underestimated the numbers of incoming students, the university was forced to scrutinize those second semester grades and make some pretty brutal cuts.
Still, this was a case of soft administrative fumbles. In some cases, high schools had failed to timely mail the students' grades to UCI. After the rescission letters went out, UCI was unable to keep up with the frenzy of email and telephone queries from shell-shocked students. Because universities don't always get around to looking at post-acceptance grades, the rescission came as a huge surprise to students.
Within a matter of days, UCI Chancellor Howard Gillman issued a public apology and reinstated 290 of the 499 students. Many of the remaining students had grades that had dropped below Cs in their last high school semester. Of those who appealed, just eight have been reinstated.
This is not the first time technical glitches have plagued the UC. In 2009, roughly 28,000 students received acceptances to UC San Diego in error. However, while misfires such as these may draw attention, they are unlikely to dilute student demand. The University of California is the largest university system in the world in terms of economic impact. The system employs tens of thousands of some of the top educators across the globe. Each year, there are more than 250,000 students attending the UC's nine campuses.
Wednesday, August 2, 2017
Trump Takes on Affirmative Action
The Department of Justice announced this week that it intends to conduct an investigation into affirmative action practices at U.S. universities. Its intent is to uncover policies that discriminate against white applicants. The enquiry will be run by members of the DoJ rather than through the non-partisan Educational Opportunities Section, which is typically in charge of such matters.
The furor surrounding affirmative action is symbolic of the nation's larger problems with race. The practice was originally intended to aid historically oppressed groups who were (and remain) proportionally underrepresented at U.S. universities. This has always irked the privileged classes, who have poured years of time and money into undermining affirmative action policies.
Though race-based college admissions is now outlawed in many states (even progressive California), universities have since modified policies to give them the flexibility to evaluate incoming students holistically. Beyond grades and test scores, universities have a great deal of latitude in filling up their freshman classes. This gray area infuriates students who don't get in.
In 2016 U.S. Supreme Court upheld race-base admissions policies in the State of Texas by a ruling of 4-3 in Fisher v University of Texas. Abigail Fisher, a white student, brought the suit years ago after failing to be admitted at the university. Similar suits (by white and Asian-American students) have been waiting on the Fisher result before winding their way through appellate courts.
Like many of the Trump administration policy changes, this one is likely to galvanize a conservative base, and it's impossible to know whether or not (or when) the DoJ will take action. Also unclear is what such an investigation is likely to accomplish. Admissions criteria are notoriously opaque, and race is just one of countless demographics colleges may consider in accepting new students. On this and other issues, the long-term effects of the volatile political climate in the U.S. remain incalculable.
Tuesday, July 25, 2017
California Supreme Court to Lower “Cut” Score on State Bar Exam
Today was a big day for thousands of California law students as they sat through day one of the state's biannual bar examination. Tomorrow they sit through six hours more. But this is where this year's exam becomes momentous: there is no longer a third day. California was one of just a handful of three-day bar exams in the country, and is widely regarded as the most difficult in the nation. The pass-rate for first-time takers in 2016 was just 62%.
If lobbing a day off the grueling test wasn't good news enough for law students, there is new cause for celebration. The California Supreme Court has announced its intent to raise the minimum score required for passing. The move comes following years of debate amongst legal professionals and scholars, who claim that the exam's rigor had a chilling effect upon the stream of qualified candidates entering the legal profession.
Last year, just 51% of graduates of Hastings School of Law passed the exam. Earlier this year, Whittier Law School announced that it would close, due in part to poor performance on the exam. While some purists will argue that the exam is a highly functional filter, the reality is that many who don't pass the examination in CA, would easily qualify in other states. In other words, as a screen, the exam is not porous enough.
Of particular note is the retroactivity of the court's order. Students who may not pass the July 2017 exam, may simply need to wait until January 2018, when the court raises the minimum score, at which point, they can be admitted to the bar. Unfortunately, July exam takers will get their regular results in November 2017, so unsuccessful candidates will be subject to several months of nail-biting.
Cynics argue that the move is designed to rescue law schools from hemorrhaging enrollment numbers. Whether CA's legal job market will be able to sustain an influx of additional practitioners is something that remains to be seen.
Monday, July 24, 2017
Keeping Your Eye on the Ball in College Applications
If you missed the baseball metaphor, what I'm suggesting here is that college hopefuls keep their eyes on the prize, tuning out the activity happening elsewhere on the field. In college admissions, there is a single question that plagues every applicant: what are colleges looking for in a student? In endless blogs, books, advice columns and social media forums, students circle the drain in a frenzy, trying to figure out how to make their dream college want them.
I'm suggesting that most of this is a distraction. One of the most hotly debated issues in college admissions is quotas. It is a mysterious gray area, clouded by legal challenges, racial discrimination, unspoken legacy admissions, and financial bottom lines. Challenges to affirmative action have been raised across the country, and even at the federal level and met with a wide swath of different results.
In reality, the cards are stacked against all applicants, to varying degrees. Competition for colleges is fierce. Race, national origin and ability to pay are all very real factors. They are also things that most students can't control. This doesn't mean that conversations about diversity and equity aren't important. It means simply that college hopefuls should narrow their focus: put your best foot forward, and let go of all of the what-ifs. The reality is far more frustrating: thousands of highly qualified students will get turned away.
If you're a spectacular student, don’t waste your admission essay discussing your grades. If you're a less than spectacular student, don't use the essay to air your regrets. Use it to let the college know who you are, whatever that means to you. Be creative, be forceful, be optimistic. Don't get stuck in the weeds. And while you can't map your way in everywhere, you can be assured that there is a place for you. Your job is to find it.
Monday, July 10, 2017
Do Aptitude Tests Accurately Measure Merit, or Privilege?
It may come as a surprise to you that the Scholastic Aptitude Test was first administered all the way back in 1926. Though it didn't transform into its modern structure until the early 1950s, it was widely utilized as a rudimentary tool of meritocracy measurement. The test administrators gained their biggest client in 1960, when the University of California first made it a requirement to entry. Eventually, virtually all four-year colleges and universities in the U.S. made the SAT mandatory.
There is no small amount of irony in the test's insidiously racist origins. Its creator, Carl C. Brigham, was an accomplished scholar and unabashed white supremacist, who believed that the "Nordic" descendants in America were fundamentally superior. He declared that aptitude testing scientifically proved that "American Negroes, the Italians and the Jews were genetically ineducable". Utilizing aptitude tests, he reasoned, would ensure that the intelligence of the white race would not be diluted by allowing non-whites into the university environment.
Almost a century later, the SAT and related aptitude tests arguably work just as Brigham intended. Good performance on the SAT does correlate with success in college. But it also tracks visibly along socioeconomic and racial lines. Wealthy students are far more likely to attend better high schools, have college educated parents, academic support at home, and-most significantly-the means for SAT preparation workshops and materials. Those students are overwhelmingly white.
The biases inherent in test scores are recognizable enough to modern universities, that close to a thousand colleges in the U.S. are now "test-optional", meaning that the SAT, ACT and related exams are not a requirement for admission. What's problematic is that most of these schools are smaller, with fewer applicants, giving them the time to make a more holistic assessment of a student's potential. Big universities receive so many applications each year that the SAT is a crucial filter for high volume. Because poverty correlates largely with race in the U.S., the test is effectively a barrier to access for students of color, who are already disproportionately under-represented in third-level educational institutions.
Though Brigham later walked back some of his assertions about the science of racism, the damage was already done; he'd lit the firey rage of anti-immigrant sentiment and zeal for eugenics. The country, apparently, has yet to recover.
Monday, July 3, 2017
STEM-Majors Outperform Humanities Students on LSAT
In news that should surprise virtually no one, college graduates with degrees in science, technology, engineering and math generally do better on the LSAT than students of history, English, and sociology. They also account for fewer than 6% of law school applicants-a deficit that many experts claim is diluting the quality of the intelligence pool.
As a first year law student, I attended a massive test-prep workshop in Los Angeles where the animated host devoted a large chunk of time to precisely this subject. I'd always thought that English and Philosophy were the feeder-majors for law school. Here we were being told to approach law school and the bar exam with the minds of scientists. And, while terrifying, it made sense.
As its name professes, the LSAT is an aptitude exam. This means that it tests quantitative and analytic skills. It is largely multiple choice, with a single writing section that is not scored. Critical thinking (questioning absolutes!) is the backbone of humanities study. In practice, law leans heavily upon nuance, theatre, deft debate, and calculated spin. Successful litigation depends as much on toppling notions of existing law as it does in advocating for their stringent administration. The LSAT does not test critical thinking skills, at least in their most classic context.
The LSAT is recognized as an effective predictor of law school and bar exam success. Students with strong quantitative and scientific skills tend to perform better on tests of absolutes. While it is crucial to the integrity of the legal profession to front-load admission with watertight filters, the theory that the profession is suffering from a lack of STEM practitioners isn't exactly science.
The real problem isn't that psychology majors are bad at multiple-choice tests. It's that STEM students don't want to go to law school. This should be the critical discussion point, particularly in a post-graduate field that continues to see declining enrollment and job placement. For better or worse, the LSAT remains the standard-bearer in the adjudication of legal talent.
It's ongoing efficacy as a gatekeeper is a story for another day.
Tuesday, June 27, 2017
On Pizza, College Admissions and Yale
About a month ago, a tiny corner of the internet was abuzz about a 196-word admission essay that landed 18-year-old Carolina Williams an acceptance to Yale University. The content? A paean to her favorite pizza joint, Papa Johns. Apparently, the Yale admissions committee thought it was hilarious. Williams tweeted the story to Papa Johns. The pizza chain, no doubt sensing a ripe marketing opportunity, offered free pizzas and an internship to Williams. Her local paper took up the story, and the story went viral from there.
Last year, a young student was admitted to a handful of Ivies with her essay about Costco. This admissions season, Ziad Ahmed was accepted to Stanford with an essay that repeated the phrase “Black Lives Matter” a hundred times. These news stories are catchy. These students are brave and creative. But the media does a routine disservice to readers by suggesting that any of these essays on their own got these students into elite universities.
That's because real college admissions metrics make for pretty boring copy.
At its core, a viral internet sensation is the act of comments threads wagging the dog. This story is charming, but hardly an instructive anecdote. Williams also happened to be one of the top students in her class. Two hundred quirky words aren't alone what wooed Yale. But those words gave comments trolls a few things to consider-namely, whether Williams was an accomplished writer and whether or not she had good taste in pizza.
One thing's for sure-Williams didn't want Yale as badly as they wanted her. She declined their admission offer in favor of Auburn University in Alabama, which she described as a "better fit".
If anything beyond entertainment emerges from stories like these, it is that everyone likes a whimsical story. Even admissions officers.
Monday, June 26, 2017
In Your Law School Admission Essay, Say Something-Not Everything
Ever been on the receiving end of a monologue disguised as a conversation? How long did it take you to tune out? How did you feel when you walked away? If you're like most people, you don't like getting talked at. Particularly if it is long and meandering.
Still, many law school personal statements read just like that. As an editor, I've come across hundreds of these essays, where only one issue is clear: the writer doesn't have any idea why they really want to go to law school. Remember, your reader has heard the phrases "serve justice" and "help people" more times than they'd care to count. However well-intended these goals may be, they aren't a sturdy enough hook to bear the weight of ill-defined ambitions.
The most effective law school personal statements are clear and concise. They don't start with a cliché or platitude. If you want to study law, know why, and tell your reader. Right away.
Remember that this is graduate school. You're approaching this juncture with some academic and professional experience. Talk about it. Don't simply state your interest in law-explain it. It's okay if you don't know what area you hope to specialize in, but you should have some sense of what a J.D. is going to do to enhance your potential.
Stringing many long words together is no substitute for pith. Know what you want, and be able to articulate it. If you can't assemble a persuasive argument in a law school essay, you're unlikely to be able to do it in practice. And that's what this written audition is really about.
Monday, June 19, 2017
Maelstrom Follows Harvard's Decision to Rescind Admissions Offers
It's been less than a month since Harvard very publicly revoked admissions offers to ten students over offensive memes shared in a private Facebook group. At first blush, the rescission was a deeply satisfying form of schadenfreude-the jokes ranged from the Holocaust to child abuse. Still, it took little time for legal scholars and education experts to weigh in with admonitions about the chilling of free speech.
From a legal perspective, Harvard has done nothing wrong. The First Amendment protects the rights of private citizens against any restrictions on free expression by the government. Harvard is a private institution. In fact, the university has clear rules of their own, reserving the discretionary right to accept or deny admission to any student for any reason.
Still, horrifying as the memes were, legal scholars warn that punishing even this sort of highly offensive speech poses a threat to the policing of all speech. These warnings are coming from some of the most well-known, politically progressive legal minds in the country. Harvard Law School professor emeritus Alan Dershowitz called Harvard's decision "a serious mistake". Constitutional law scholar Erwin Chemerinsky, a Harvard alumnus and the incoming dean at the UC Berkeley School of Law, wrote an opinion piece criticizing Harvard's actions, stating that "speech should not be punished by a campus just because it is offensive, even deeply offensive".
Many students feel the university made the right choice in taking an intrepid stand against hate speech. (One of the students whose admission was revoked is reportedly the daughter of a major donor). The move goes a long way in assuring students that bigotry and violent rhetoric won't be tolerated on campus. But Dershowitz and others say that the end simply doesn't justify the means. Punishing speech of any kind sets a perilous precedent.
At worst, Harvard's decision may represent a threat to free speech on university campuses, a right that Harvard itself has defended vigorously. At best, the very public rescission should serve as a cautionary tale to all students: be mindful of what you post on social media. It is never, ever truly private.
Monday, June 19, 2017
In India, Numbers of Women in Business School Rising
Each year The Economist compiles a list of the top 100 business schools in the world. The U.S. typically dominates in the rankings, while other countries, like Africa and the Republic of Korea, often don't feature at all. In India, just one institution regularly makes the list; the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad (IIMA) is widely regarded as the top business school in the country. And it has one glaring quality in common with U.S. business schools: a notable lack of female students.
There is, however, some good news. A few years ago, just 14% of IIMA's entering class was comprised of women. Last cycle, that number had grown to 21%; this year, enrollment was bumped again to 28%. There are litanies of social reasons for this. The job market is still highly divided by gender. Legal inheritance rights favor men, placing women at a disadvantage financially in terms of capital investment for start-ups. The shortage of female role models in the professional sector makes it difficult to attract girls and young women into business.
A recent economic census by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO), revealed that just 14% of India's entrepreneurs were women, many of them running smaller, rural businesses. A 2017 survey by the accounting and consulting firm Grant Thornton found that India ranks third lowest in the world for employing women in senior management positions (17%), and only 7% in CEO/ management positions. These statistics aligns with the business school enrollment figures, so the fact that India's most prominent b-school is making gains in female enrollment gives good reason for some optimism.
While IIMA does not reserve specific space for female candidates, it is putting forth increasing efforts to recruit women from discipline diverse backgrounds. This is a strategic move that's already been employed by a number of U.S. business schools, who recognize the ways in which female professionals tend to enhance performance and growth in the active sector.
As with most steps towards progress, these are small and slow-moving, but important to watch.
Tuesday, June 13, 2017
The Growing Trend of Free College Tuition
In late 2015, the state of Tennessee became the first in the nation to offer free community college tuition for graduating high school seniors. In return, recipients were required to do 8 hours of community service, maintain a 2.0 GPA, meet with a mentor and apply for all available state and federal aid. Tennessee would cover the rest.
Over the past couple of years, others have followed suit. In fall of 2016, Oregon introduced a similar plan. In February 2017, the city of San Francisco announced their intention to fund free college tuition for students in the city, using levies on the sale of properties sold for more than $5 million. In April of this year, New York became the first state in the nation to offer free tuition at both two-year and four-year institutions. This week, Tennessee upped the ante by expanding their free tuition to all adults.
The "Tennessee Promise" program is reporting good results, with both an increase in applicants in year one, and about an 80% retention rate in year two. Retaining students is critical; nationally, only about a third of community college students go on to receive a four-year degree. By extending their program to include all adults, the state is hoping to improve graduation rates. For many students, life gets in the way of going back to college-people start families, take jobs or otherwise lose the ability to feasibly prioritize higher education.
None of the free tuition programs are without flaws. In Tennessee and Oregon, the programs only kick in once students have exhausted state and federal aid programs. The criticism is that the assistance has the most positive effect on middle-income families, and that low-income students aren't receiving the greatest benefit.
However, in the face of a presidential administration that promises sweeping cuts to federal student aid, state-led programs like these are likely to become more common, and critical to accessible higher education.
Tuesday, June 6, 2017
Harvard Rescinds 10 Admissions Offers in Response to Offensive Social Media Posts
It's been analyzed, documented and shared, thousands of times over. These days, many admissions officers are paying attention to the social media accounts of college applicants. In some circumstances-particularly at the graduate school level-a positive social media presence can help augment an application. There are, however, situations where bad behavior on social media can cause admission to be completely revoked. This is precisely what happened to ten Harvard admittees this week.
This year, Harvard offered admission to 2,056 of close to 40,000 applicants-an acceptance rate of just over 5%. Of those, 84% accepted the offers. These ten students were members of this highly select group before the Harvard pulled the rug out.
According to Harvard's own newspaper, The Crimson, the students were part of an online messaging group that the Class of 2021 set up in December of last year in order to "share memes about popular culture". At some point, the group evolved from lighthearted into one that hazed members by encouraging them to post more provocative memes. The R-rated memes granted them access to a splinter group with a much darker underbelly.
Among the topics "joked" about in the split-off group—child abuse and the Holocaust. On Harvard's official Facebook page for the class of 2021, students are warned that the university may rescind or deny offers on the basis of morally questionable behavior. Even appalling speech is constitutionally protected, but college admission is not a right.
These ten students just learned that the hard way.
Monday, May 29, 2017
What Students Should Be Looking for in an Admission Essay
In college admissions, there is no topic of discussion as heavily aerated as that of the admission essay. No one really understands what colleges want, and students become paralyzed by soul-searching over a keyboard. Guidance is made more difficult by the fact that adults have a wisdom of perspective that young teenagers simply haven't acquired yet. So when a teacher or college consultant tells a student to "be themselves" in the essay, there's just too much static congesting the conversation.
I'm a person that learns through examples. Even as an adult. And I know I'm not alone. Having someone describe expectations in platitudes just doesn't compute for me. So telling a student to "write from the heart" may be far less effective than showing them essays that "worked". Many universities and news sources annually post the essays of successful candidates. It is important to read these. Not because every high school senior can aspire to being one of the top writers in the country, but because seeing the work of their peers can help dislodge even the worst writer's block.
The excruciating level of competition in college admissions accords too much weight to the essay in the minds of students. Success is a matter of reframing the issue, and creating a good piece of writing for the sake of creating something good, not because it is what students think admissions officers want to hear. It's about trusting that you have an interesting story to tell. A good essay doesn't need to tell the college everything about you, so long as it can tell them something about you.
Rather than seeking to write something perfect, write about something you find interesting. And here's a challenge I'd field to every prospective applicant: write about something that appears nowhere else on your college application. That is how you add depth to your submission.
Like any challenge in life, try to look at the essay as an opportunity instead of a burden. Then take a leap of faith.
Sunday, May 21, 2017
Reframing the Value of the High School Grading System
Any parent who has ever had a child struggle in school understands the inherent fallibility of using grades to measure a child's worth. Intelligence and accomplishment are difficult to quantify using a single digit, and evaluating a student's future potential necessarily requires more than a cursory read through a report card. There is no place this plays out more starkly than through the college admissions process.
University admissions committees are responsible for a truly impossible task-evaluating human beings using a transcript of letters and numbers. Though most colleges claim to view a student's talents holistically, how comprehensive can that review really be in the absence of getting to know the person behind the grades? This vulnerability is the pivot point for endless hand-wringing about the magical formula for college admission.
The Mastery Transcript Consortium (MTC) is a collective of U.S. high schools working to change the way teachers grade their high school students. They see the current grading system as an outmoded one that teaches students "to value extrinsic rather than intrinsic motivation". It sees the segregation of academic disciplines as artificial. The current grading system focuses on "the acquisition of information rather than the making of meaning".
MTC's vision would group metrics differently, allow measurement of performance areas rather than subjects, and assessment of mastery standards on a skill-by-skill basis. It is a beautiful idea that likely faces an uphill battle in implementation in a society where public schools are overburdened already with stretched budgets and overworked teachers (for whom the grading process would become more time-consuming and complex).
That said, a new method could revolutionize the way that colleges evaluate incoming students, fleshing out the souls behind the records. Ironically, MTC's system would most likely work best for higher income students, who are already at a great advantage over their lower income peers. As it stands, MTC's collective is comprised largely of private high schools with smaller student-teacher ratios. These are precisely the institutions with the functional and financial means to execute holistic grading in the first place.
Still, the concept of modifying grading at the high school level could have exceptional long-term benefits on the college admissions process.
Monday, May 15, 2017
Tackling Relevance in Admissions Essays
Each year, the New York Times invites college-bound seniors to submit copies of their admissions essays about money, work and social class. The authors of the top four or five compositions earn a feature in the Times, which also publishes the original work. Each year, the writing is stunning and unspoiled.
These compositions are exquisite in both substance and form. Some are lyrical—short sentences pregnant with meaning, poetry disguised as prose. Others are evocative in their visual imagery. Eighteen-year-old Idalia Felipe, who is headed to Cal State Fullerton in the fall, writes of the "warm touch of a small palm" in her home filled with siblings and tender chaos.
The narratives are flawless, but bear no fingerprints of artifice or professional editing. Caitlin McCormack will start Barnard this year. She grew up padding around the carpets of her parents' bed & breakfast. She writes about the inherent imbalance of power in service professions: "We meet sneers with apologies". Tips become a fertile space for microagressions. And somehow, it is against the texture of this backdrop that she is able to navigate the distinct contours between providing a service and being of service.
This year's selections all tackle the struggle of balancing their socio-economic identities. Jonathan Ababiy, the son of Moldovan immigrants writes of his mother's job cleaning the house of wealthy professors-a home he calls "a telescope to how…the other half lived". But there is no resentment in his words; his hyper-awareness of the social gap was also a window into his ultimate potential.
Setting aside the sheer beauty of this writing, a critical theme emerges. Each of these authors is able to write artfully about privilege-or the lack of it-without sounding brittle. In sharing soft but acute observations, they transcend the narrative ordinary. They become a person you'd like to get to know better.
Tuesday, May 9, 2017
New Jersey Teen Accepted into All Eight Ivies
This crowning achievement is still relatively rare, and the small handful of students who grab the honor each year tends to get a lot of press. With notoriously brutal acceptance rates ranging from 5-15%, the odds are in almost no one's favor. So the fact that seventeen-year-old Ifeoma White-Thorpe was also accepted into Stanford is extraordinary. For the 2017-2018 admissions cycle, Stanford's admission rate fell to a mind-boggling 4.65%.
Anyone tuned into this blog knows that I've written relentlessly about the problem with reported acceptance rates. It's simple math: technology has made applying easier, so students apply to more colleges. At the same time, universities have around the same number of spaces open in each freshman class. So, proportionally speaking, colleges are admitting a lower percentage of applying students.
Technicalities aside, this kind of admissions sweep is relatively unheard of, and the credit should fall squarely in White-Thorpe's lap. She is student-government president at her school. Though writing is both a skill and a passion, she aspires to study global health and biology. The appeal of the Ivies was not pedigree but the value of their research institutions.
In 2015, she was one of three national finalists in the Selma Speech and Essay Contest, in which students were invited to write about issues of freedom and self-determination. White-Thorpe wrote candidly about racial discrimination, and living with its very raw, and often terrifying weight.
White-Thorpe hasn't yet made a declaration about attendance, but acknowledges that cost will be a factor. Neither Stanford nor the Ivies offer merit-based scholarships and all come with annual price tags of $50,000 and higher. Fortunately, enormous endowments mean that most offer generous need-based financial aid. With any luck, the positive press will be as persuasive to these institutions as Ms. White-Thorpe's own estimable achievements.
Tuesday, May 2, 2017
How to Get Your Application Off the Waitlist
As with anything related to college admissions, there is no sure answer for how to get in—whether you're on the waitlist or not. All colleges evaluate candidates using a variety of different factors. Admissions criteria are often cloaked in secrecy. Above all, there are simply so many applicants these days that there simply is not room for everyone. Still, the waitlist is a particularly precarious stopover, and there are some affirmative actions that waitlisted students can and should take.
1) Figure out the university's policy regarding communications from waitlisted students. Some colleges don't want to hear from waitlisted students at all. Others will invite short, online communications. Others may accept supplemental materials like updated grades and new letters of recommendation. If they do not invite such information, don't send it.
2) Express continuing interest in attending. It sounds almost too obvious. However, universities understand that many waitlisted students won't want to take any chances by waiting around, and will necessarily accept offers at other schools. Let them know you are still interested.
3) Keep them apprised of new information. If you've retaken the SAT or TOEFL and earned a higher score, let them know. Be frugal with your updated statistics. They don't need to know about your last month as a volunteer in the animal shelter. But dramatic improvements in scores or accomplishments can and should be brought to their attention.
4) Put a deposit down elsewhere. There are zero guarantees of admission for waitlisted students. Most students are drawn randomly from the waitlist, only after accepted students have declined offers of entry. Do not put all your eggs in one basket by waiting for the waitlist results, even if it is your top choice. Many waitlisted students won't receive notification until late summer.
5) Get an interview. Very few universities offer interviews for waitlisted students, but if they do, get yourself in there. It's impossible to beat the persuasive effect of a face-to-face interaction.
Above all, try to let go. After you've completed the steps above, it is out of your hands. Consider yourself honored to have been considered, and treat this as a learning experience. It is but a single chapter in a much longer story.
Monday, April 24, 2017
Another Obstacle for Low-Income Students in College Admissions
Diversity may be a fashionable term in modern-day college admissions, but opponents need not shiver at the mention of its name. The reality is that the vast majority of American students at four-year universities are white and middle to upper-middle class.
College is often regarded as the ticket to middle class, but if most of its students are already on that train, how can the working class every hope to ascend?
All too often, discussions about "diversity" in higher education are reduced to partisan squabbles over the merits or faults with affirmative action policies. An emerging reality is that socioeconomic status has an even larger impact than race in terms of collegiate success. The fact that the two factors often exist on parallel tracks makes the discussion even more complex.
A recent study by the Center for the Study of Higher and Post-Secondary Education (CSHPE) at the University of Michigan, found that many students from lower income backgrounds faced an unexpected obstacle: information about the quality of their high schools.
Admissions officers receive data about the high schools of nearly all of their applicants. Some of the more valuable metrics evaluated include 1) quantity of AP courses offered, 2) number of students with limited English proficiency, and 3) average standardized test scores. Since lower income students are more likely to go to underserved high schools, they are also more likely to be regarded less favorably than high-income peers who graduated from more competitive (or better serviced) schools.
In its study, CSHPE found that admissions officers were 13% more likely to admit low-income students from underserved high schools, if they were simply provided more information about the quality of the school. Put another way, students from these schools weren't getting declined simply because they attended a lower-performing school, but because admissions committees simply didn't know enough about their schools.
The study is promising in the sense that it gives universities and high schools a somewhat easier goal to reach for in terms of buoying students from lower-income communities. Socioeconomic equality is a much tougher fix, but airing out these deficiencies in the college admissions process? That's a good baby step in the right direction.
Monday, April 17, 2017
Quadruplets Take Top Colleges by Storm
Taking sibling rivalry to the best possible level, four brothers from Ohio have all been accepted to Harvard and Yale. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. One brother got into Stanford and another was waitlisted there. The list of top colleges goes on and on: UC Berkeley, Vanderbilt, Brown and more.
Like many multiples, Zach, Aaron, Nigel and Nick share relationships that are both synergetic and independent. While all four of them boast outstanding credentials, their interests are varied from music to chemical engineering to foreign diplomacy. One thing is certain-these young men have worked hard, and the payoff has come.
The brothers considered drafting a single, jointly created admission essay, but took a more creative pivot by creating four stand-alone essays which-when read together-formed a complete puzzle. Each wrote of their respective experience as a quad, but told a unique story.
In an interview with the New York Times, the brothers said that they had not yet made decisions about which offers to accept, but that Yale was currently offering the largest financial aid packet-something crucial for a family attempting to put four kids through college simultaneously.
Though the brothers are clearly credentialed, their interests are varied, from music to chemical engineering to foreign diplomacy. For the first time in life, their geographic paths may diverge, but the future is looking bright for this talented unit.
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