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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.
Sunday, November 19, 2017
Is Life Coaching the New College Consulting?
Here's how it went a couple decades back when I was applying to colleges. You picked maybe half a dozen, tops. One reach, one safety, and a few in between. The applications were all on paper. Most schools asked for a single short essay. The top-tier private schools may have given you ten lined spaces to answer a question about the world you came from.

Change is, of course, a part of life. No young student is interested in an "in my day" review of how things used to be. But college has become wildly competitive, and technology has transformed expectations surrounding the admissions process. Everywhere you look, someone is selling college consulting services. There are hundreds of books about the process, the essay, and how-to-get-in. In order to distinguish themselves, college preparation businesses need to get creative.

Which is exactly what 22-year-old Chris Rim-a recent Yale graduate-has done. He shoe-horned his way into Yale with a 3.8 GPA and a non-profit he'd built from the ground up. Now, Mr. Rim charges up to $950 an hour to coach college hopefuls, and parents are paying it. What's different? He's not just helping with essays or tutoring-he's teaching students to build their own brand, starting early in high school. He knows that all the top schools turn down thousands of candidates with perfect SAT scores, a 4.0 and a bang-up essay.

Rim is already claiming a 96% success rate, and while critics worry that this kind of coaching simply cheapens the process with artifice, it may well be the wave of the future. Many students (and parents) are still more interested in prestige over "good fit". Rather than reframing the breathless process, they are likely to keep searching for a new edge. Mr. Rim has already found a way.


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Monday, November 13, 2017
The Search for a Reasonable Bar Pass Rate
In 2014, the University of North Texas Dallas College of Law (UNT) opened its doors with a very unique mission statement. Their stated goal was to help at-risk students to gain law licenses. Translated loosely: UNT was willing to admit students with lower admission credentials and help them become attorneys in Texas. The problem? ABA accreditation. This is a blueprint that has been used many times before, to mixed results.

There are roughly 200 law schools in the country accredited by the American Bar Association. ABA approval is the standard stamp of validation that allows students of the various schools to sit the bar exam in their state. Only one state-California-has made a notable break from the system by creating their own accreditation system. Schools approved by the California Bar Association may sit for the California bar exam and become licensed attorneys in California. Those students may not be allowed to sit bar exams or practice in other states.

In 2016, UNT was denied accreditation by the ABA on the grounds that too many of its students had low LSAT scores, making it less probable that they would be able to pass the Texas bar exam. The school appealed the decision and was granted provisional accreditation in June 2017. The first graduating class took the exam this July with a 59% pass rate. Texas’ overall pass rate was 71%.

Whittier College of Law in California posted a pass rate of just 22% in the July 2016 exam; Whittier, an ABA accredited school, is shuttering its doors in 2019. Like UNT, Whittier prided itself on its diversity and commitment to educating non-traditional students.

While relevant, pass rates alone should not be a death sentence. The state average pass rate in California for the July 2016 bar exam was around 60%. Those quick to blame California's non-ABA accredited goals may want to look at the pass rates for many of the state's reputable law schools. Above The Law

In a system propped up on prestige, it is ironic that pass rates at all but the very top schools in the country post somewhat paltry numbers. It is unfortunate that the very schools that aim to diversify the profession are those most often taking a hit because of it.


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Tuesday, November 7, 2017
Are Full-Time MBA Programs Worth It?
For the third year in a row, full-time MBA programs in the U.S. have seen a steady decline. Experts are nonplussed; in a robust economy, fewer professionals are willing to forgo actual income to pursue a graduate degree. The problem, however, may be more complicated than that.

Like many law schools nationwide, most MBA programs come with a steep price tag of over $50,000 a year. That kind of investment is unlikely to lure the ranks of the gainfully employed back to the classroom. Attendance may also be derailed by the abundance of shorter, more affordable specialized degrees in areas like data analytics and accounting. Over the past decade, enrollment in those programs has nearly doubled.

Many business students rely on employers to fund MBA educations, but those are most often part-time or executive MBA programs. Taking two full years out of the work force and dropping six figures in tuition simply isn't prudent.

Another possibility likely to gather steam in the months ahead is socio-political in nature. Foreign students have long made up more than half of students in American MBA programs. The visa restrictions imposed and promised by the Trump administration, as well as the anti-immigration rhetoric, have served as a stark deterrent. This year, more than 75% of programs surveyed by the Graduate Management Admission Council reported enrollment declines for the 2017-2018 academic year.

Whether this is a precipitous trend or a shorter hiccup remains to be seen.


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Tuesday, November 7, 2017
Rethinking the LSAT in Law School Admissions
When it comes to standardized tests, everyone's got a lot of opinions. For decades, the LSAT has been a prerequisite for entry to law school. In recent years, however, it has-like many other aptitude exams-come under fire for being a less capable predictor of academic success than once thought. Results skew along socioeconomic lines, raising questions about access and diversity in higher education.

Still, when a handful of prominent law schools across the country-among them Harvard and Columbia-recently dropped the LSAT requirement for entering law students, people noticed. Like the SAT for undergraduates, a high LSAT score is a golden ticket to entry. Top scoring students are wooed by the best schools in the country. All things being equal, an LSAT score allows any student to know where they'll land in terms of admission.

Detangling the LSAT from law school admission will be a complicated process, but there are compelling reasons for doing so. Most significantly, numerous studies have indicated that the LSAT is not an accurate predictor of law school GPA or performance on the bar exam. This isn't to say that there isn't correlation in this data points, merely that they are not exhaustively probative.

Accepting the GRE instead, is sending a different message to potential law students. The GRE is the standard-bearer for entry to most graduate programs in the U.S., (aside only from law, business and medical school). Arguably, it is a friendlier test. Because it can be used to access such a broad range of graduate programs, law schools would potentially catch incoming students who might not otherwise have considered law as a field.

The LSAT, of course, also offers measurable structure. It gives students a strong sense of whether or not they are up to the substantial task of law school. But while it's possible that some law schools will follow Harvard's lead in making the LSAT optional, it will likely take years for this testing landscape to see major topographical changes.


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Sunday, October 29, 2017
The Courage of Losing the “I”
There's an old adage about experience being something you got by not having it when you needed it. This is true of wisdom generally; most adults will admit that the more they learn, the more they realize they don't know. A young student might roll their eyes at this existential musing, but they should trust me on one thing: the person reading your admission essay has more experience than you do. Your job isn't to outwit them.

Many students tackling the essay struggle with the overuse of the word "I". Which is paradoxical, given that the admission essay is, by design, autobiographical. The thing is, a good essay shouldn't simply be a list of accomplishments. It shouldn't be a mixing bowl full of adjectives either. If you're a great leader, or altruist or hard worker-don't just say that. Show it. Trust your reader to be able to read between the lines.

The admonition to "show, not tell" is ubiquitous in the world of college counseling, but often falls on deaf ears. Why? In a sense, it's because students don't always trust that their experiences will speak for themselves. They worry that the essay needs to be an exercise in successful self-branding. In another way, students fail to heed this advice because they aren't experienced enough in life to see the essay through adult eyes. And this is something that can't be taught.

Challenging though it may be, students must learn to zoom out when it comes to the essay. Listen to your elders-your guidance counselors, teachers, parents. Trust that writing about that time you fixed a carburetor on your lawn mower can tell your reader more about you than the time you were voted student body president. You need not write passively about principles of leadership if you can instead tell the story of how you used to be in charge of making breakfast for your younger siblings.

Experience teaches us that there is value in the little things. We learn by doing, and by wading through mistakes. Your reader doesn't expect you to know everything at age 17. Your essay should be a prologue, not a final chapter. Have the courage to lose the "I".


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Tuesday, October 24, 2017
The Difference Between Diversity and Equity
Earlier this month, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that his Department of Justice would be conducting an investigation Harvard University's affirmative action policies. The highly political move is seen by critics as an unnecessary assault on students of color, set against a backdrop of increasing public acts of white supremacy, which the Trump administration has repeatedly failed to denounce. Opponents see it as an opportunity to force courts to make clearer rulings with respect to race-based admissions.

Harvard is already embroiled in a class-action lawsuit against over 60 Asian-American organizations claiming that high performing Asian students are being edged out by peers with lower grades and test scores. This lawsuit was spearheaded by Edward Blum, a conservative activist who is not an attorney. Blum also initiated the Fisher v. University of Texas case, in which the plaintiff, Abigail Fisher, argued that white students were harmed by a Texas' admission policy designed to increase racial diversity at its public colleges. Fisher lost in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Many states, however, have already abolished affirmative action. The U.S. Supreme Court has circumvented the heart of the issue by ruling that universities are allowed to make "holistic" assessments of incoming students. The buzzword here is "diversity", and the problem lies in its double-meaning. Activists like Blum argue that it is code for admitting students of color with weaker academic records. Universities claim diversity is not directly related to race, but rather an attempt to cultivate a heterogeneous student body.

In practice, equality and diversity are two distinct concepts. Affirmative action policies aim to address the social, economic and racial factors that continuously give white, wealthy students an edge. Activists like Blum reject that view, claiming that admissions policies should not discriminate against anyone, and that evaluating based on merit alone is the fairest approach.

Harvard accepts around than 5% of applicants-about 2,000 students per year. This begs a very obvious question: why would the DoJ waste resources on an investigation of a private university, the policies of which affect such a small fraction of the country's population? Like Blum, the DoJ is indulging in hyperbolic political theatre. In practice, the desired result will affect very few students. Its symbolism, however, would be thunderous.


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Thursday, October 19, 2017
Streamlining the College Application Process
In the not-so-distant past, applying to college was a rather ordinary venture in risk assessment. Applications were still paper and fee-based, so the practical student narrowed their options from the start. Writing an essay by hand, for instance, was not an unsubstantial investment of time. It made sense to apply to a reach school or two, some probably-within-reach schools, and the reliable safety school. Technology has changed all of that.

The internet and Common Application ignited a revolution that has gradually made the old college admissions systems almost unrecognizable. Students can now apply to dozens of school with a single essay and a few clicks. The end game, however, remains the same.

Fortunately, access to application support is richer than ever. The savvy student can rely on a blend of guidance from school counselors and online resources that help them to find schools that are a true fit. One such program is College Kickstart, a site that relies entirely on quantitative factors to help students narrowly tailor their choices. They promise to teach students how minimize wasted effort, by avoiding schools that are measurably out of reach. At the same time, Kickstart offers rich data on increased statistical odds, through application mechanisms such as early admission/early action.

What sets this one apart is its commitment to avoiding analysis of qualitative elements, such as extracurricular activities and admissions essays. These soft factors are virtually impossible to assess, and Kickstart doesn't want to promise advice that can't stand on its own two feet. The site currently supports data from over 400 schools, so while it is not exhaustive, it does promise to be accurate.

Ideologically, sites like Kickstart reframe the process by identifying the needs of the colleges and encouraging students to capitalize on those needs efficiently. The selection process is, for the most part, shrouded in secrecy. Kickstart is a reminder to focus on the things students do know about a university, and to make application decisions based upon that information, rather than factors such as popularity or ranking.


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Monday, October 16, 2017
What is the Coalition Application?
This relatively new on-line college application program is so callow that it is most often defined in opposition to its far more influential competitor-the Common Application. The Common App has actually been around since 1975, and first went on-line in the late 1990s, but is now accepted by over 730 colleges and universities in the U.S., making it far and away the most utilized college application platform.

It cannot be overstated: the Common App has completely transformed the application system. By making it easier for students to apply to a multitude of colleges with a single click, it has contributed to both the actual increase in competition as well as the perception of increased competition-the more applications a college receives, the more applicants they must deny, lowering their overall acceptance rate which, in turn, makes them seem more exclusive. In 2013, the Common App was shaken by a number of disastrous digital mishaps, which spooked many, and created an opening in the market for viable competition.

Fast-forward to 2015, when a group of 80 colleges announced the formation of the Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success (CAAS), with the aim of increasing access to college admissions. CAAS created a new digital application platform, and required all member colleges to meet certain criteria such as affordable tuition, need-based aid, and high graduation rates.

A primary distinction of the Coalition App is the "virtual locker", a place where students can begin uploading their own work-essays, projects and other materials as early as their first year of high school. CAAS promises to offer online resources such as test-preparation materials and review by admissions consultants and guidance counselors, all of which are often cost prohibitive or otherwise difficult for high-need students to access.

The Coalition App first launched during the 2016-2017 admissions cycle and is currently accepted by roughly 90 colleges, including Stanford and the Ivies. This puts a strain on comparisons to the Common App. However, in a perfect world, the Coalition App has the potential to change the way that student-applicants approach college admissions, creating early conduits to access for students who need it most.

Its ongoing viability will depend upon its ability to step out of the shadow of the Common App. Still, CAAS has successfully put a new twist on college preparation, which may end up revitalizing the pathway in the years to come.


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Monday, October 9, 2017
Perfecting Your Brand for College Admissions
In recent admissions cycles, discussion has swirled about the most effective ways for young students to curate their online presence. Privilege always carries with it the burden of responsibility, and this is a difficult lesson to master. As more and more college admissions officers admit to poking around students' social media profiles, counselors and teachers are getting the message out: keep your digital footprint clean.

Harvard's recent rescission of admissions to several students involved in a racist Facebook group made big news, and not only because of the offensive nature of the posts. It highlighted the issue of digital recklessness. That students should strip out pictures of under-aged drinking seems obvious, until one considers the even more profane conversations that often happen in "secret" online forums; except that in the day and age of screenshots, "secret" has become a relative term.

Savvy students should understand that while social media has the power to ruin admission chances, it is also ripe with opportunities at self-marketing. In a sense, all of us have unwittingly become skilled at shaping our online presence. In the virtual world, we can be whoever we want to be.

Think about how many seconds it takes for you to scan a new Instagram account before forming an opinion about the user? Five seconds? Less than that? For college admissions committees who take the time to vet social media accounts, this instant impression could be invaluable.

Many students struggle to express themselves in their admissions essays, but whether they realize it or not, they've already mastered the art of self-expression through their digital presence. It's become almost second nature. Which is why social media is such a powerful tool of persuasion. Used well, it could prove to be the new "it" factor in college admissions.


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Monday, October 2, 2017
Could GRE Become the New LSAT?
Beleaguered law schools across the country have spent the past several years brainstorming ways to stay solvent and respectable. The economic hit to the profession has made law school a far riskier investment than it used to be. Intersecting threads of bad news-declining enrollment, declining LSAT scores, declining bar passage rates-have created a complicated web of problems with no easy set of solutions.

Some states have seen the lowest bar passage rates in history-in February 2017, Mississippi's pass rate was 31%, California's was 39%. Though statistics merit contextualization, these scores are low, even for the traditionally paltrier pass-rates on the February exams. But California has already lobbed a day off of its three-day test and is slated to lower the passing score next year. Whittier Law School became the first ABA school to shutter its doors, and several law schools across the nation are currently on academic probation.

Last year, Harvard (which, like many Ivies, is insulated by its prestige from the general downturn), began accepting GRE scores for law school applicants. They are now one of five law schools across the nation to announce the intent to do so. The American Bar Association is currently in the process of determining whether the GRE will be formally sanctioned, a decision which would override the individual policies of the universities themselves. This matters because the GRE is a very different kind of aptitude test. It is offered more times per year than the LSAT and is considered the standard for most graduate programs outside of law, medicine and business (although many MBA programs have also recently begun accepting the GRE). Arguably, accepting GRE scores could help diversify the pool of law school students. But law is a notoriously stubborn discipline, deeply invested in its own status. Any moves to make the filtering system more porous are often met with derision from purists, who believe that law school and the bar exam should be hard in order to ensure the quality of legal practitioners. Whether the GRE will be warmly embraced is something that remains to be seen.


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Monday, September 25, 2017
West Virginia Makes SAT Mandatory
This week, West Virginia's Department of Education announced that it would require all high schools to administer the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) as the standard college entrance exam. Although it is not completely clear how and why this is being implemented, it will be a welcome move for students of moderate means.

The fee for taking the SAT is about $52, but, like shopping for a new car, figuring out the costs of various add-ons is confusing. The College Board, which administers the test, has separate fees for each SAT subject exam, late registration, additional copies of scores, registration by telephone, and so on. Students from low-income families can apply for a fee waiver, which is granted based upon household size and income. Fee waivers aren't available to undocumented students, and the application itself may be off-putting to many parents who are uncomfortable or unfamiliar with the college application process.

In West Virginia, the test will now be mandatory and administered at no cost to all high school juniors. They will be able to take it in their own classrooms. (The SAT is otherwise offered at independent testing centers, usually on the weekends). Exceptions will be granted only to students with cognitive disabilities. Students taking the exam will be able to send it to up to four different colleges, free of charge.

For decades, the SAT has been the standard-bearer in college admissions assessments. Most colleges require it for admission. Since high school educational environments vary wildly across the U.S., the original purpose of the SAT was to level the playing field, allowing colleges an objective metric to evaluate. But critics have found increasingly strong data suggesting that the SAT skews mostly along socioeconomic lines. Preparation workshops can be prohibitively expensive for lower-income families. Students performing well are likely to come from wealthier families where one or both parents are college graduates.

So while equity may have not been the motivation for this change, it will likely be one of its ancillary benefits.


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Monday, September 18, 2017
Keeping Your Admission Essay Small
Yes, I meant "small". Not short. Not meaningless, but narrow. I've been working with students on their admissions essays for over 15 years. One of the greatest pitfalls I still see all the time, is the student trying to squeeze their autobiography into a 600-word matchbox.

The first thing to do as you sit down to start brainstorming ideas is this. Grab a post-it and scrawl these words on it: write about yourself, not your activities. Every time you feel yourself reaching back to yearbook club or your National Merit Scholarship, peer up at that note, and start over. I'm not the first or last person who will tell you this.

Colleges often call the essay an "opportunity to get to know you better". When you first meet someone new, do you tell them that you've been in AP English for four years or do you talk about last night's football game? In real life, conversations start small. And you can glean a lot from them. Humans are generally good at reading each other.

This is a great frame for your essay. Start with the presumption that you have no obligation to tell your reader everything about you. Try to avoid broad topics like leadership, compassion, and hardship. Don't be afraid to write 650 words about the thrill of catching a single wave, about learning how to sew, about gardening with your favorite aunt, your favorite smell. I promise you, these are the stories that resonate with readers.

Above all, trust that you have something interesting to share, no matter how small it may seem. It's the details that count the most.


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Monday, September 11, 2017
Digital Technology and the Enhanced Art of Cheating
When I sat the California bar exam a decade ago, the use of laptops for taking the test was still a relatively new thing. To this day, I can't imagine writing by hand for six straight hours, three days straight. But the administrators took laptops seriously, and we all had to install lock-down software that prevented us from using the computer for any other purpose during exam time.

Virtually nothing else was allowed into the testing site, and the things that were allowed-highlighters, earplugs, paperclips, diabetes medication (but not food)-had to be carried in a clear Ziploc bag. It all sounds so quaint now.

Enter wearable technology.

Test administrators are getting out in front of the problem. The College Board, which administers the SAT and AP exams prohibits all wearable technology in their testing centers. Students who try to break this rule during the GRE will be kicked out, their test scores forfeited. GMAT takers may not wear any sort of watch-digital or not. Many state bar exams include the same prohibitions.

So while professional test administrators have figured out the ease with which technology can be used to game an exam, oversight may be more difficult for, say, your average high school teacher. Add to this the contrast in digital confidence between millenials and their elders, and you've got a legitimate problem.

Just this week, the Boston Red Sox became embroiled in a cheating scandal involving a coach with an Apple watch. YouTube is rife with tutorials on how to use digital watches to cheat on exams. The Internet is unabashed with sites devoted to the topic (hint: you can whisper "derivative" to Siri and a list of mathematical formulas appear on your watch).

That technology is a double-edged sword is not a revelation. That students will continue to devise creative ways to cheat is a certainty. The biggest truth of all: keeping up with those changes will be critical.


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Wednesday, September 6, 2017
Spelman College to Start Admitting Transgender Students
In a letter sent out to students last week, Spelman College President Mary Schmidt Campbell announced that the all-women's college will begin accepting transgender students, commencing with the 2018-2019 academic year. Spelman is one of just over a hundred Historically Black Colleges or Universities (HBCUs) in the U.S., and has a student population of about 2,200.

Since 2014, at least nine women's colleges have formally changed their admissions criteria to allow trans-women to attend. Among those, Mills College in Oakland, California was the first, followed by Wellesley, Smith, Bryn Mawr, Mount Holyoke and Scripps. Spelman becomes the first HBCU to do so.

Many of the country's women's colleges were founded in the early twentieth century in an effort to give women opportunities in higher education that had previously been reserved entirely for men. As society moves very slowly towards an understanding of gender as a spectrum, institutions are forced to administratively adjust to a non-binary application of gender. The subject is delicate and polarizing; one need only look at the corrosive national dialogue over public toilets. Same-sex women's colleges have quickly found themselves at the center of a discussion of what it means to be female, and how that should align with admission policies.

HBCUs have a depth of history, rooted in the post-Civil War years, when black Americans were barred from entry to higher education institutions. In response to legislation guaranteeing education rights to black Americans, many of the southern states created segregated colleges. Even as desegregation became the law, many states were slow to implement the policies, continuing to drive black students to HBCUs. In a post-secondary education climate that is still dominated by white students, these HBCUs are critical for providing the education, networking and support for black students that is still lacking at many universities across the nation.

Through these new policies, Spelman makes a strong statement for transgender women of color, and signals an ongoing progressive shift towards greater inclusion in college admissions.


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Monday, September 4, 2017
Trump Promises to Eliminate DACA
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, better known as DACA, is an immigration policy created in 2012 under President Obama. Under the act, undocumented residents who arrived in the U.S. before age 16, can be granted a work permit and a two-year reprieve from deportation. One of President Trump's early campaign promises was to eliminate the program. Today he did just that. What's surprising about the move is not that Trump did it, but that he is facing opposition from so many different corners.

DACA's predecessor, the Dream Act (which failed to pass in the Senate) was legislation that attempted to provide amnesty to the thousands of children brought illegally into the U.S. by their parents. In 2015, it was estimated that more than 65,000 undocumented students graduate from U.S. high schools every year.

When Trump made the repeal of DACA a centerpiece of his agenda, the blowback was loud and swift. In November 2016, more than 600 university and college presidents across the country signed off on a letter calling for DACA's preservation. Four days ago, hundreds of the top CEO's and business leaders in the country, including Warren Buffet and Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg issued a similar letter to the White House and Congress.

More than 800,000 undocumented workers are benefitting from DACA, meaning that a dismantling would likely wreak havoc on the U.S. and global economy. Even Speaker Paul Ryan and other Republican members of Congress oppose the repeal. Roughly 10,000 undocumented immigrants matriculate from U.S. universities each year. It is estimated that close to 2.1 million people may be currently eligible for DACA.

Many opponents of DACA, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions, believe the program is an illegal overreach; some even claim it is being used as an unlawful pathway to permanent residency. Politics aside, its elimination would have palpable effects on the economy and educational institutions of America.

The White House is delaying the repeal of DACA for six months, during which time Congress-if they so choose-have the power to block the elimination of the program.


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Tuesday, August 29, 2017
Navigating Your Way to the Right College
Ever had a ton of questions about a college that you didn't want to ask? Is it a party school? Does it have a big sports program? How much will it really cost? What is its home city really like?

High school students and their parents may have entirely different sets of standards when it comes to selecting a college. Parents may zone in on things like cost, retention rate, and transparency of post-graduate employment—the sort of things that cause young students' eyes to glaze over. I remember applying to a couple of schools because a friend told me to. Back in those days, there was no internet to give us the real scoop.

This is why sites like the National Center for Education Statistics' "College Navigator" are so fantastic. (Don't let the source or dry title fool you). Their website allows students to easily search colleges by geographic location, and multiple filters—private vs. public, four-year vs. two-year, tuition and fees, mean SAT scores and more. Within those parameters, students (or parents) can put each of these schools under a microscope. The NCES is also an objective resource-something that is often difficult to find in the college admissions process.

In addition to general information about costs and majors, College Navigate allows users to research crime statistics, veteran/active service member benefits, and even the default rate of student borrowers. In short, it offers answers to questions you may not have even thought to ask.

In an era of pricey college consulting and ever-increasing competition, websites like these can be invaluable. For a start, it's completely free. Students who've already vetted their desired college can use this to refine their search. For those who don’t even know where to start, it is the perfect preamble.


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Tuesday, August 22, 2017
Oregon to Lower Minimum Passing Score on Bar Examination
The Oregon Supreme Court has officially ruled that bar examination takers in the state will be held to a new, lower minimum pass rate. Oregon had the third highest score requirement in the nation, behind Delaware and California. In February of 2017, just 67% of exam takers passed the state's bar examination.

Critics worry that lowering the passage standard will flood the market with sub-par attorneys. Others feel that the problem isn't the difficulty of the examination itself but rather inadequate preparation of students by the law schools themselves. For their part, however, the deans of Oregon's three law schools argued that the bar exam is only one of several filters that serves to preserve the talent of practicing attorneys.

Pinning down factors for failing scores is tricky. The LSAT, which serves as the front-end filter for law students, is often an adequate predictor of law schools success. LSAT scores at all three of Oregon's law schools have declined in the past five years.

In neighboring California, home of the most difficult bar exam in the country, the Supreme Court is currently reviewing this exact issue. In February of 2017, only 34.5% of exam takers in California earned a passing score. The Court has already promised to lower California's pass rate, but is awaiting feedback from the committee of bar examiners. A determination will be made before December 1, 2017. Their decision could retroactively affect students who took the July 2016 exam.

Ideologically, it's hard to assess whether or not lowering pass scores will be a net success to society. Proponents argue that the legal market is in need of more practitioners, but poor job prospects over the past decade have caused an overall decline in law school enrollment.

It's easy to presume that making the exam easier will alter the quality of legal practitioners, but examinations alone aren't always a sufficient gauge of talent. What's certain is that the landscape of law schools and the legal profession is in dynamic flux.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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