|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.|
Monday, May 28, 2018
Why Work Experience is Critical for Law School Applicants
Over the past decade, beleaguered law schools and an economically depressed professional environment has caused the study of law to get a disproportionate amount of negative attention. Experts on all sides have floated what-went-wrong theories along side how-to-fix-it speculation. This post doesn't promise to do either. Instead, I'm posing a single question: why don't law schools place a higher premium on incoming students' work experience?
It isn't uncommon for professional degree programs to swoop up brand new college grads. Post-bachelor "gap years" aren't really a thing. Yet law school is one of the only places where students aren't trained in practical skills or encouraged to acquire them before studying the law. Even medical students have required practical training as residents. Business schools welcome professional experience, and executive MBA programs effectively require it.
At the top law schools, securing summer associateships is seen as the fast-track to post-graduate Big Law employment. But for the vast majority of law students, these coveted spots are out of reach. And while law schools steep their students in case law and the Socratic method, they churn out thousands of highly intelligent but completely inexperienced graduates every year. It has long been expected that first-year associates simply learn on the job.
This is an unnecessary waste, but not entirely surprising. After all, many tenured law professors have little to no practice experience and students going on to clerkships don't necessarily need to pass the bar. Yet, legal practice, like any professional realm, needs attorneys who can perform in the courtroom, manage client expectations, and keep pace with procedure as readily as they can with substantive law.
From a public policy perspective, producing better-rounded graduates enriches the entire profession and the people it serves. Law isn't always applied theoretically, and shouldn't always be taught that way.
Monday, May 21, 2018
Too many college applications
In 2016, the number of freshman that applied to more than seven colleges was 35%, a figure that was just 9% back in 1990. The Common Application, and other technology advances have made it far easier for students to apply to more colleges with the click of a button. With this uptick in applications, college acceptance rates have plummeted, creating a cycle of hysteria in what is now a fiercely competitive college admissions climate.
What if colleges began to place a limit on the number of schools to which a student applied? It would certainly solve a lot of problems. Though colleges charging application fees are reaping the rewards of over-application, they are facing costs of processing those applications the back-end. After all, someone has to read and evaluate those admissions essays. Fewer applications would allow colleges to trim the budget for review staff.
Limiting application numbers could offer a morale boost by increasing acceptance rates. It would offer substantial relief to applicants, who in some instances are drafting dozens of supplemental essays to complement their multiple applications. Psychologically, narrowing the field would help hopeful students to work harder to apply only to good-fit colleges. It would also reduce the number of rejections.
Uniform implementation is the problem. Universities are in competition with one another for business, and federal anti-trust laws largely prevent them from working in unison. Restriction on application numbers would have to occur within private groups like the Common Application, who would need to have the financial incentive to do so.
Motivation would be a key factor for the universities themselves, who benefit from low yield numbers and high application figures. Exclusivity is a well-heeled marketing strategy. In filling seats, colleges also benefit from the ability to pick from a larger pool of talent.
Still, with the admissions bubble swelling to bursting point, limiting applicants could be a practical and financially feasible solution.
Labels: Too many college applications
Monday, May 14, 2018
Using Data Analysis to Improve College Success
Georgia State University in downtown Atlanta is the largest research university in Georgia with over 52,000 students. Founded in 1913, GSU was racially segregated until 1962 when Annette Hall, a social studies teacher, became the first African-American admitted as a student. Today, more African-American students have earned bachelor's degrees from GSU than any other nonprofit college in the country.
Given its bleak history of racial oppression, the emergence of GSU as an institution that so successfully supports black students is particularly encouraging. Georgia is home to some of the most well-known HBCUs in the nation, which were formed in response to Georgia's racial segregation in higher education.
GSU has become an interesting case study for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is its use of data analytics to track and help improve student success. Its undergraduate advising program monitors the daily progress of more than 40,000 students deemed to be at risk for not graduating. Anything from a low score on a quiz to absences from school can trigger a call from the student's counselor.
Significantly, the school offers microgrants-small stipends given to students who fall just short of tuition and other school-related costs. In that way, the school effectively serves as the sort of support system which tends to be built into the family structure of wealthier white students.
With big data driving everything from targeted advertising to the reshaping of political campaigns, it is encouraging to see it being used, as the New York Times puts it, as an innovative engine of upward mobility.
Monday, May 7, 2018
The Cruelty of The Waitlist
According to the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), in 2016, fewer than 23% of waitlisted candidates eventually got into four-year universities. At more selective colleges, that number was around 14%. These percentages don't seem particularly outrageous, until you consider the sheer size of waitlists at some of the country's most prestigious schools. It's a university habit that begs the question: why be so cruel?
A recent Inside Higher Ed piece examines the practicality of waitlists, their effect on hopeful students, and their usage by colleges as a strategic marketing tool. As a matter of practice, all universities admit more students than they have space for. They know not every student offered admission will accept, and their bottom line depends on filling all their seats. So, for example, Brown University's 2017-2018 freshman class had 1,719 students. This year, Brown admitted 2,566 students. So even if a full 847 students decline, they've met their goal. But there's more. They've put an additional 2,724 people on the waitlist. You need not be an actuary to figure out those odds.
The director of undergraduate admission at Boston College says of the waitlist policy, "To some extent, we want to be respectful of how hard [waitlisted students] have worked and how difficult it is to receive an outright rejection". And while this sentiment may come from the right place, isn't it somehow less cruel to just tear off the bandaid? With a waitlist offers coming out as early as March, and some universities not filling their rosters until late summer, doesn't it seem kinder to stop stringing students along?
It isn't just about filling seats, either. It is a premeditated marketing tactic designed to bolster the university's appeal to students and parents alike. A cynic might call it an act of stroking the consumer's ego. And to what end? There is little that waitlisted students can do to improve their odds. Letters of continued interest are a good start, but given the size of some waitlists, such letters may prove weak currency.
As a practical matter, the best course of action for waitlisted students is to accept offers from schools where they've actually been admitted. If, by miracle, they eventually get an acceptance from their waitlist school, they'll just be out the cost of their monetary deposit.
Labels: The Cruelty of The Waitlist
Tuesday, May 1, 2018
Increasing Access to the SAT
At first blush, the cost of taking the Scholastic Aptitude Test doesn't appear exceedingly prohibitive. It's $60 to take it with the essay portion and only $46 without. That's about where the simplicity ends.
Major revisions to the test in 2016 rendered the 50-minute essay portion to be optional. In response, many-but not all-universities followed suit, dropping the essay requirement for admissions. The problem for students is that the essay portion is not offered as a stand-alone option. So if there is any chance a student may try to gain entry to a school requiring the essay, they need to take the $60 version of the exam.
Then there are the add-ons. It costs an additional $15 to register by phone, $30 to change a test date, $12 to order additional score reports, and so on. There is the cost of preparatory workshops, of taking the PSAT, of repeating the SAT for improved scores. These are just some of the reasons why high-income students are at an advantage.
The College Board-the body that administers the exam-does offer benefits for low-income students, including free additional score reports and waivers for college application fees. In about eight states, the SAT is free for all high school juniors. States renegotiate contracts with the College Board annually, so it is important for students to check the status on free or reduced testing costs in their home state.
Obama-era legislation (on the chopping block under the current administration) incentivized accountability testing by offering states federal funding if they participated in standardized testing for high school students. Many states use(d) the SAT as a measurement, which was essentially federally funded, and therefore free to students.
In early 2017, the College Board also began offering testing supports for English Language Learners (ELL). Students taking the SAT at school now have access to testing instructions in at least eight different languages.
Labels: Increasing Access to the SAT
Monday, April 30, 2018
New Orleans Student Gets 80 College Acceptances
While early Spring can be an excruciating time for college hopefuls, it can be a season of triumph. No one understands this better than Darrin Francois, a high school senior at the International School of New Orleans (ISNO). Francois applied to over one hundred colleges. So far, he has received 83 acceptances, and been offered close to $3 million in scholarships.
Francois owes his success to perseverance, hard work and optimism. He earned a 4.24 GPA, was a National Honor Society President and has already taken a number of college courses. He claims to be using his spare time to visit potential colleges and says he is looking for a school with a diverse student body and strong criminal justice program. Francois hopes to become a judge.
ISNO is an open-enrollment charter school in New Orleans, with 565 students. It claims to be the only school in the city to offer an International Baccalaureate Diploma Program (IBDP). The school reports that at least a dozen other students have each received twenty or more college acceptance letters.
Open-admission is a big deal. It means that students seeking to attend need not test in. Schools with frontloaded filters tend to concentrate students from privileged backgrounds. ISNO is able to offer its students many of the advantages of private school education-things like smaller class sizes, better student-teacher ratios, and more stringent oversight from guidance counselors during the college application process.
The International Baccalaureate is an educational program created in Switzerland in the 1960s. It has grown in popularity and now offered in close to 2,000 schools worldwide. IBDP programs require students to learn a foreign language, and typically include interdisciplinary instruction. Though access was historically skewed to private institutions, more than 90% of the IBDP programs in the U.S. are available at public schools.
Francois has until May 1st to make his decision.
Wednesday, April 18, 2018
In College Admissions, Courting Counts
Almost all of the college admissions consulting advice hinges on a single assumption: though colleges get to make the final call, it is students who actively make the choice of where to apply. Yet a deeper look at the recruitment agendas of the nation's colleges and universities tells a very different story, one in which it is the colleges who decide which students to court and why.
A recent NY Times op-ed by two education academics presents alarming (if not unsurprising) data showing that colleges spend more time, money and effort on recruiting students from wealthier, whiter high schools. It certainly isn't news that income and race create an instant advantage in college admissions. Yet data showing the disparity in recruitment techniques is disheartening.
Students may not understand the depth of information mined by universities each year. Testing bodies sell scores and high schools provide them. When universities come to call, they do so with comprehensive knowledge of the target demographic. But it isn't just about wooing the students who are most likely to get in; it's about wooing the students whose families are most likely to be able to pay for it.
Despite all of the collegiate bluster about building diverse classes, the recruitment practices tell a very different story. This shouldn't come as a huge surprise since colleges are, above all, businesses. It makes sense to center resources upon the demographics that can best help a college's bottom line.
Sadly, this contradiction between the promise of diversity and the need to buoy endowments is likely to make it increasingly difficult for colleges to cultivate classes that cut across racial, social and economic lines.
Wednesday, April 11, 2018
Why College Seems So Out of Reach
If you're in the waning years of your high school career, I've got one piece of useful advice for you: stop looking at admissions statistics. Any scientist will remind you that correlation does not imply causation. So while colleges are in fact admitting fewer students, it isn't just because the competition is stiffer.
Here are four things to consider:
1) The Common Application: Feel free to blame most of your college admissions woes on this effective electronic platform. Gone are the days of filling out separate applications by hand. Now you can apply to an unlimited number of schools with the click of the button. What have you got to lose?
2) More High School Graduates: There isn't much you can do about a growing population. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the number of students expecting to attend university has quadrupled since the year 2000.
3) Students Take Longer to Graduate: Did you know that students are now taking an average of five years to complete an undergraduate degree? Educational costs often drive students to work in order to fund their degrees. Ironically, this means they're taking fewer units over a longer period of time. The slower turnover means fewer empty chairs at the start of a new admissions cycle.
4) Competition is Fierce in Elite Colleges: Ivy League and other elite schools are now boasting of single digit acceptance rates. The best solution for this hurdle? Stop paying attention to them. The US has close to 8,000 colleges and universities. We are a nation of 325 million people. You do the math. Check the ivies off your list and move on.
Any living society learns to bend to the will of change. College admissions may look very different than it did twenty years ago, but so do a lot of things. This does not mean that we aren't progressing as a social collective.
The best way to tackle change is to embrace it. Now's as good a time as any.
Tuesday, April 10, 2018
When Admissions Tests Get You Down
The polarization of opinion regarding the merits of standardized testing is well-acknowledged in the world of higher education. At base, aptitude tests are used to measure an applicant's ability to do well in an academic setting. These tests are designed to be the great equalizer-the scientific method that ascends the myriad soft variables that otherwise differentiate students. Yet, like every great idea, standardized tests often work better in theory than in practice.
The debate has again surfaced in the context of law school admission. In an effort to widen a shrinking applicant pool, some law schools have begun dispensing with the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) requirement, replacing it in some instances with the Graduate Records Examination (GRE). Some 600,000 aspiring graduate students take the GRE each year, compared with around 125,000 LSAT takers. This makes sense, since the LSAT is largely useless unless you are applying to law school.
But what does a standardized test really measure? A student's ability to take a test? Academic confidence? Quick mental processing skills? Socioeconomic background? Since no one can scientifically argue that a test can fully measure intellect, schools couch it in softer language. High LSAT scores tend to be good "predictors" of law school and bar exam performance. Proponents of the exam argue that schools would be doing a disservice to students who perform poorly on the test by leading them to believe they have a bright future in the legal profession.
Can a single test possibly measure all the potential of a future lawyer? Are there no other factors in play when it comes to success?
Currently, more than 20 of the nation's 205 ABA-accredited law schools do not require the LSAT. This includes heavy hitters such as Harvard. Arguably, some schools don't need the LSAT, because they're already privy to an elite applicant pool. For others, the LSAT may be filtering out qualified students with great potential to serve their communities in legal practice. Whether a standardized test is a good measure of a person's ability to contribute to society is another matter altogether.
Tuesday, April 3, 2018
Universities Formally Tackle Trump’s Travel Ban
Executive Order #13769, ominously titled "Protecting the Nation From Terrorist Entry into the United States", was an executive order issued by President Trump in within days of his inauguration in January 2017. It quickly became known colloquially as the "Travel Ban", or even more accurately, the "Muslim Ban". The bill was tackled quickly in the courts, many of whom blocked its enforcement immediately. Less than two months later, the order was superseded by marginally less restrictive legislation. A third iteration followed.
The orders were immediately and roundly criticized for being too broad, and for targeting people based upon their race, national origin, and-most notably-their religion. Airports became scenes of chaos, with agencies unsure of the current state of the law, and unwitting travelers being sent back, detained or denied entry to the U.S.
In the intervening months, the voices of opposition grew louder and more auspicious. Hundreds of academics, CEOs, Nobel laureates, Jewish organizations, Catholic bishops, diplomats and members of Congress signed on to letters condemning the ban.
As the third order languishes before the United States Supreme Court, a group of over thirty universities has submitted an amicus brief in opposition to the ban. In it, they argue that the loss of international students created by the ban, will cause irreparable harm to the American educational environment, one which thrives with the cultural and intellectual contributions of students from all over the world.
The brief cited surveys in which admissions officers noted more than a fifty percent decline in applications from graduate students from the Middle East and North Africa; overall international applicants were down by 46%. With the uncertainty of the ban's future up in the air, and a clear isolationist message from the Trump administration, students simply don't want to take a chance on an education in America.
Monday, March 26, 2018
The Advantage of the California Community College
This week, University of California President Janet Napolitano threw down the gauntlet to the UC system by suggesting that it guarantee admission to all qualified transfer students. The idea is not a new one, but the call to open all UC campuses to such a program would be a first.
Guaranteed transfer agreements are a common practice at at least six of the nine UC campuses; Santa Barbara, Davis, Santa Cruz, Merced, Irvine and Riverside offer admission to California community college students who need to maintain relatively moderate grade point averages. At both Pasadena City College and Santa Barbara City College, for example, the required GPA for transfer students is between 2.8-3.4. By way of comparison, UC Merced, one of the campuses with a relatively generous admit rate of around 70%, admits students with an average GPA of between 3.40-3.91.
Notably absent from the list are UCLA and UC Berkeley-generally regarded as the most prestigious in the UC system, with staggering application numbers (108,000 for Berkeley and 113,000 for UCLA for the 2018-2019 academic year).
This is what makes Napolitano's proposition so astounding. The Los Angeles Times noted that the UC system is "widely regarded as the nation's top public research university system, with 270,000 students at 10 campuses, five medical centers and three national laboratories". Easing access for transfer students would arguably enrich California's population by creating more well educated, employable graduates.
There are myriad advantages to community college. It is exponentially more affordable. Admissions requirements are far less stringent. Two-year colleges tend to attract a more economically and racially diverse student body-something lacking at most of the UC campuses. Opening up this pipeline would quite literally open doors of opportunity to tens of thousands of California students. While the likelihood of all nine campuses heeding Napolitano's call is slim, her words are important, and may shape the state's approach to higher education in the years to come.
Wednesday, March 21, 2018
What Happened to the Four-Year College Degree?
Did you know that just around forty-one percent of students enrolled at U.S. colleges and universities will graduate in four-years? The other fifty-nine percent of students take a full six years to earn their undergraduate degrees. In an era where college tuition and costs of living are skyrocketing, this is a really big deal.
A 2016-2017 survey conducted by the College Board found that the average annual cost of tuition and fees was $34,740 at private universities, $9,970 for in-state residents at public universities, and $25,620 for non-resident tuition at public universities. While instructive, these averages may mean little for students living in urban centers or states with higher costs of living. Annual tuition at the University of California, for example, is over $13,000. At the University of Pittsburgh, the annual tuition (for 2015-2016) was more than $18,000.
Taking an extra two years to finish college comes at a steep cost, both financially and in terms of time investment. That's two fewer years in the job market. Adding tens of thousands of dollars to your student loan debt means you could be paying loans off for decades.
So why is it taking students longer to finish degrees? Finance is a huge one. The cost of college these days means that more students have to work. They are more likely to take fewer units over a longer period of time. In other cases, students aren't actually aware of the number of units necessary for graduation, or elect to change majors mid-way. Many community college units don't transfer to "four-year" universities, requiring students to take longer to graduate (with surplus units, to boot).
At most colleges, 15 units per term is the magic number for a four-year finish. An awareness campaign called "15 to finish" was introduced by the University of Hawaii in 2012 and has become a new standard in several other states since. While universities are the ones who benefit from the six-year degree, they also have reputations to consider. Funneling students quickly through college and into the workforce does wonders for a university's post-graduate placement rate.
Whether the four-year degree becomes a thing of the past is a trend that remains to be seen, but for now, its outlook is a little bleak.
Monday, March 19, 2018
Setting Reasonable Expectations for College Admission
Figuring out "what colleges really want" is really the Holy Grail of the research and application process. Usually, students set their sights on a university, then take to trimming and tailoring their appearance to impress their suitor. The experience can be exhaustive, and students end up spending months, hoping beyond all hope, that they're a match.
Consultants and counselors have been reminding students for years that the most effective college search is one that focuses on the best fit. The top universities in the country get a lot of air time for their single-digit acceptance rates. Let's stop bemoaning the exclusivity and move on. There's another home for the 95% of the students in the country who won't get into an Ivy.
Some consultants call the essay a deal-breaker for borderline students; others say it's all in the grades and test scores. Some suggest that successful students will have a better grasp on big-picture ambitions. The last one is tough for a seventeen-year-old. Not many of us had it all figured out before setting foot on a college campus.
Which is why the best approach is to let go of the notion that there's an easy answer. Colleges are looking for all sorts of different things in a candidate. Their decisions aren't always going to be fair and admissions isn't a scientific process.
Students that don't get in where they want are going to want to find scapegoats, and this is a wasted effort. I'm not discouraging students from reaching for the stars; merely reminding them that ambition and disappointment often go hand-in-hand.
Setting reasonable expectations at the outset can have the long-term effect of taking anxiety out of the process. College is important, but pedigree isn't determinative-that's what hard work is for.
So broaden your college outlook and take a step back. You won't regret it.
Monday, March 12, 2018
Demanding Transparency in Legacy Admissions
Though the debate surrounding the fairness of legacy admissions policies is not new, it garnered some fresh attention this week. Student groups at thirteen top universities made a formal announcement of their intent to mobilize against legacy admission-a policy they recognize as a form of affirmative action for family members of wealthy alumni.
Their first goal is transparency. While many top universities don't deny the existence of legacy policies, they are much quieter about the actual admission metrics. Some try and cover the policy with a veneer of equity, claiming that, when faced with two equally qualified students, there is nothing wrong in selecting the student with stronger familial ties to the university. The problem with that argument, naturally, is that there is no way of proving that legacy admits are in fact as qualified as the students denied admission because of their lack of family connections.
A longer-term aim of these student groups is to scrap this patently prejudicial policy, which they see as a barrier to upward social mobility for all but the white, wealthy and connected.
Of particular importance is a debunking of the notion that legacy admissions benefit scholarship students. They argue that there is little evidence that legacy preferences increase donations. Wealthy alumni may just as inclined to donate to their alma maters whether or not they were able to purchase an admission spot for their own child.
They will, of course, face an uphill battle. The legacy admissions model has quietly served elite families (and university endowments) for decades. It is unlikely that they will loosen their grip on that expedited access without a fight.
Friday, March 9, 2018
Tracking Women’s Presence in Higher Education
In honor of International Women's Day 2018, I’m devoting today's blog to a cursory look at the state of affairs for women in higher education. In the interest of brevity, I'm focusing exclusively on American colleges and universities.
The first thing to note is this: women have made up the majority of college student populations since the late 1970s. Over the past four decades, their numbers have continued on an upward trend. Some of the most recent federal data calculates that women accounted for 55% of undergraduates matriculating from U.S. universities.
These numbers generally ring true at the graduate and professional school level as well. In late 2017, the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) released its annual report for 2016, noting that women earned the majority of doctoral degrees for the eighth straight year, outnumbering men in graduate school by 135 to 100. In 2017, the Association of American Medical Colleges reported that-for the first time ever-more women than men were enrolled in U.S. medical schools. In 2016, the number of women enrolled in U.S. law schools exceeded men, for the very first time.
In fact, the only notable lack of representation for women is in graduate business programs, where women make up just 37% of student enrollment. The good news is that many MBA programs have gotten savvier and more assertive in their efforts to encourage women to apply, and that there are individual schools across the country where women's enrollment exceeds that of their male counterparts.
The flipside of all of this good news is simple: after graduation, women's representation takes a cognizable nosedive. There are just 32 female CEOs in the Fortune 500 (.06%). There are just 106 female members of U.S. Congress (19.8%). Just thirty percent of college presidents are women. Three out of nine U.S. Supreme Court Justices are women. The U.S. has never had a female president or vice-president. The misalignment between women in management and women in school is staggering.
It's a stark reminder that progress doesn't have legs of its own and that, if the future is indeed female, we've got a lot of work to do.
Monday, March 5, 2018
The End of Student Loan Forgiveness
The Public Service Loan Forgiveness program (PSLF), is a federal plan created in 2007 by the Bush administration, designed to encourage graduates to pursue work as teachers, social workers, public defenders and other public service positions. Students who work for ten years in the non-profit or public sector, and who make at least 120 payments towards their loan debt, can qualify to have their remaining balances forgiven. Under the Trump administration, this program is now on the chopping block.
At the graduate and professional school level, PSLF is critical for allowing and encouraging students to work in lower income professions. For example, many law students graduate with six-figure student loan debt, but jobs as public defenders and legal aid practitioners often pay between $40,000 and $60,000 a year. The same hurdles are true for medical school graduates who pursue work at low-income clinics and community medical centers. PSLF was designed to coax quality professionals into service-based careers.
According to US News & World Report, more than half a million borrowers have utilized PSLF in the past ten years. Critics of the program argue that PSLF's solvency hasn't yet been tested, because 2017 was the first year in which the earliest recipients could have their loans forgiven.
In December 2017, the House GOP introduced a bill called the PROSPER Act, designed to reform federal student aid legislation that has been in place since 1965. The bill would eliminate PSLF entirely, as well as placing a cap on federal graduate student loan borrowing. Such an action would likely have two primary effects: 1) forcing students to take on more private loans and 2) discouraging students from pursuing graduate education in the first place.
The Trump Administration's proposed 2019 Budget calls for the termination of the program. It is believed that the elimination would not apply retroactively.
Wednesday, February 28, 2018
The Real Value in a Holistic Education
A quick google search for the words "college admission" this week will likely turn up dozens of stories about the same topic: colleges promising not to punish students who are disciplined for activism. I wrote about it here less than a week ago. And from this mobilization, another important story emerges: one about the ways in which educational environment helped to motivate many of the most articulate and vocal of these student protestors.
In an article for Slate, Dahlia Lithwick poignantly observes that part of the reason that students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have been so successful in raising awareness over the past few weeks, is that their school continues to invest in so-called soft subjects like debate, theater, and journalism. In an era where many teachers are buying their own pencils and hand sanitizer, this high school in an affluent pocket of Parkland, Florida, is cultivating students whose social awareness and poise is not secondary to their academic achievements.
This tragedy has shone a light on the real value of teaching students about civic engagement. It struck me that these Parkland students, through their anger and grief, are displaying precisely the type of poise and independence that colleges are looking for. Not because they now have a traumatic story, but because they have taken incredibly adult actions in order to attack an incredibly adult societal epidemic.
There is no silver lining to what has happened. These students, however, are a testament to many things, not the least of which is the importance of well-rounded education, and an ability to see outside of themselves. They have lifted the veil on who they are, what they will stand for, and what they will not. It is this-not grades, not varsity sports, not volunteer tourism-that will show a college their true potential.
Lithwick's title is a gut-punch: "They Were Trained for This"—but also an important read.
Sunday, February 25, 2018
Colleges Promise Not to Punish Students for Activism
Few places have served as more fertile hotbeds for social and political protest in the United States than university campuses. In the 1960s' and 70's, they were hotbeds of activity, both violent and peaceful. At Kent State University in 1970, the National Guard fired into crowds of unarmed students protesting America's involvement in the Vietnam war, killing four people and wounding more.
In recent years, campuses have grappled with the tension between First Amendment rights to free expression, and safety concerns. The invitation of controversial speakers like Milo Yiannopolous spark outrage, challenging the difficulty of protecting all forms of speech.
It has been just over a week since a gunman murdered seventeen students and teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglass Highschool in Parkland, Florida. In that time, the country has witnessed perhaps the largest mobilization of student protest movements in decades: #NeverAgain. Not everyone is welcoming this crusade, and school district officials across the country have warned potential student protestors that they may be suspended or expelled.
American universities are striking back. At present, close to a hundred colleges and universities across the country have issued formal statements to incoming freshman, assuring them that a protest-related suspension or expulsion from high school will not disqualify them from admission.
Typically, universities reserve the right to rescind admissions offers to students who commit crimes or have other disciplinary violations during the second semester of their senior year. These assurances make a strong statement about the preservation of this freedom of assembly and expression, no matter the political context.
Monday, February 19, 2018
When College Consulting Goes Wrong
The Ivy Coach is a Manhattan-based firm offering boutique education consulting service to the select few who can afford their fees. Ivy Coach recently found itself the plaintiff in a lawsuit against a client who defaulted on her payment plans to the firm. It doesn't sound particularly noteworthy until one looks at the numbers: the client paid just $750,000 of a $1.5 million contract.
College consulting is certainly a burgeoning industry, and it is not cheap. Many charge upwards of several hundreds of dollars per hour, or flat fees of up to $10,000. For this money, most firms promise to walk aspiring college students through the entire process from start to finish. This includes help researching schools, strategizing standardized tests, preparing for interviews, drafting admissions essays and more. It's no secret that the cost of these services prices out families of low to moderate means.
Still, the exorbitant fee being litigated in the Ivy Coach case offers an extreme example of a pendulum that has arguably swung too far in the wrong direction. It underscores the desperation of parents, and the mighty weight of economic privilege. At a deeper level, it challenges notions of what a college education is worth. For families in the top one percent, does an Ivy League pedigree make that much difference in their children's professional prospects?
Private consulting services are not illegal, even though they straddle ethical lines. They are simply the product of a capitalist system that encourages producers to seize upon a legitimate social demand. And while this case is an outlier, it serves as a stark reminder that in many respects, college admissions is not the pure merit-based system which universities would have us believe.
Monday, February 12, 2018
College Admissions and the Idea of “Deservingness”
In a thought-provoking article in Pacific Standard, former admissions counselor Nadirah Farah Foley challenges third-level educational institutions to reframe their standards, shifting their self-definition from one in which they are "producers of value, not arbiters of merit".
Foley's article is centered in part upon the idea that having more diversity amongst admissions officers is a giant step towards having meaningful diversity within student populations. She notes that people tend to self-select, or be more likely to admit students with whom they can relate based on shared experience. It's a habit that is steeped in racism and classism which may be so deeply embedded as to be invisible to the admissions officer themselves. Put another way, accidental prejudice.
Privilege is generational. Over the past century, America attempted to distinguish itself from societies with monarchies, and explicit class systems. The capitalistic meritocracy was a captivating concept: to go from being a nobody to being a somebody required nothing more than hard work, rather than accident of birth. Yet time has proven this concept to be myth, and it is reflected nowhere more clearly than in the college admissions system.
While colleges like to think of themselves as producers of value, the barriers to entry have caused them to evolve into arbiters of merit. Arguments about affirmative action and legacy admissions are grounded in a fundamental conflict about how to define merit. Or, as Foley posits, a rudimentary struggle about how to evaluate a student's "deservingness".
She acknowledges the inherent challenge in systemic change, particularly in a space where access is caught the tight-fisted clutch of money, power, race, class and politics. Still, she has solutions. First, diversity needs to become a priority in the hiring of faculty, not just in the courting of students. Second, stop treating merit as a static characteristic, and recognize it as something that can be found in anyone.
That's as good a place to start as any.
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