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Sunday, July 29, 2012
Brevity in your Admission Essay
Any editor will tell you that one of the more difficult parts of their job is omitting without offending. That is, most of us have a tendency to 'overwrite'. This is nowhere truer in a setting like the admission essay. Why?
Overdoing it in your admissions essay is a little like blubbering in an interview. We are nervous. In the process of putting our best foot forward, our thoughts get jumbled and sail out the door-right along with our ability to filter them. Fortunately, admissions essays are on paper. Unlike a live interview, a writer has an infinite number of opportunities to revise and perfect.
The best of authors know this. On brevity, William Faulkner famously said, "In writing, you must kill all of your darlings". Sometimes, that is exactly what it feels like. Take, for instance, writing about a great accomplishment. Quite often students will feel proud, passionate, excited, energized and committed about a certain achievement. They will use each one of these adjectives. Admit it, you already stopped paying attention to that sentence; it had too many commas.
Each of those sentiments is a little different. I appreciate that. But you can still convey your point without expressing every single emotion you feel about something.
When you are writing to impress, it is tempting to overreach when you are trying to make your point. For most students, the admission essay feels like the one chance for a big sell. Just remember the adage "less is more". It works in all kinds of advertising.
And with that, I'll hope that I've made my point.
Labels: Brevity in your Admission Essay
Monday, July 23, 2012
Using Imagination to Pick the Right College
Last month I wrote about the ways in which rankings influence students' decisions about what college to attend. I do buy into the idea that the best fit for a particular student isn't necessarily a big name school. Certainly, for students with very specific professional aspirations, school name may matter more. But this isn't the main reason students gravitate towards big name schools.
I say, the number one reason students pick the wrong schools is lack of imagination. Selecting a college is really just a labor-intense shopping trip. The currency may be test scores and admissions essays, but the process is a lot like any consumer experience. Let's take your iPhone, for example. Is it the best possible smart phone on the market, or is it just the most popular?
Obscure liberal arts colleges in upstate New York just lack the glamorous sizzle of NYU. USC and UCLA look good on sweatshirts. They're also near Hollywood and Beverly Hills. Cool.
At seventeen, it is difficult to know what you want from the future. We're all drawn to the familiar. And if you don't know exactly what you're looking for, it makes sense to turn to the brand that everyone else is buying.
The problem is that there is always a downside to picking a college for the wrong reasons. Big, famous campuses have larger class sizes. It is easy to get lost in the crowd. Applying to the Ivies (with a 6-9% acceptance rate) might prove to be a side-swipe to a young student's confidence.
So sit down and really think about it. Listen to other students on sites like collegeprowler.com. Ask yourself the tough questions. Why is this your dream school? You might find the answer to be surprising.
Monday, July 16, 2012
Breaking the Ice in Your Admission Essay
Want to teach me something new? Don't explain it to me-show me an example. All of us learn in different ways. Some of us are visual. Some cerebral. Some of us need to talk it through. When it comes to advice on drafting admissions essays, I find that most of the information out there is in the nature of explaining. Want an example?
Tip lists. Admissions consultants love their bullet points.
Don't compose a resume in prose.
Don't get too emotional.
Write from the heart.
These are all useful and arguably accurate admonitions about admission essay writing. But if I was an anxious student with writer's block, these platitudes would probably just frustrate me.
There are plenty of sample essays out there on the web, many of them helpful. However, for students who need a little push out of the gate, the first hurdle is that opening sentence.
This article from last year boasts the top 10 opening lines from Stanford University admissions essays. I'm not sure if that is 100% true, but these are some good opening lines.
"I have old hands". "When I was in eighth grade, I couldn't read". Simple. Provocative. Interesting. Most importantly-these statements make your reader want to, well, continue reading. This may be the single most important aspect of your essay. It doesn't have to be Pulitzer-Prize winning literature. It just has to inspire your reader to care.
Perhaps surprisingly, this might just be easier than you think.
Monday, July 9, 2012
The Failure of Law Schools to Deliver
If you're in the mood for a little gloom and doom, try doing a Google search for "law school admission". You'll find that the law job market is bad, admissions are down, and law schools are even reducing enrollment. Then you'll find the opinion pieces. And when it comes to a discussion of the merits of a legal education, bloggers pack no punches. "The First Thing We Should Do Is Kill All the Law Schools" (Huffington Post). Or, "Why Attending Law School is the Worst Decision You Will Ever Make" (Forbes).
If the bloggers seem bitter, the graduates are simply scathing. Though many are unemployed with six-figure debt, it's often hard to know exactly what drives their frustration. A read through any comments section reveals less talk about financial uncertainty, and more talk about feeling let down by the law school structure. Kids from top tier schools are simply supposed to be wooed with fat employment contracts. Now they are working at Starbucks.
The American Bar Association Journal recently tackled what it sees as the issue of pedigree in law schools, deciding that the preoccupation with ranking is "choking the profession". (Want to see some acrimony? Check out the comments section for that article). ABA Journal Many students from lower-tier law schools (and believe me, tiers matter a lot to law students), claim to have educations and careers that are perfectly satisfying. Top tier students simply can't believe that. Recruiters at top firms won't even look at graduates outside the top ten elite law schools.
This level of expectation from law school may be part of what has made the fall from grace so painful. In a system so deeply rooted in status, a dreary job market means more than money worries. It is a failure of a fundamental promise of success.
If there is a silver lining here, it is that the profession-despite obvious setbacks-will go on. Perhaps it is time for law students, graduates, professionals and the people who recruit them to start reframing their perspective on the profession. It may not seem quite as bleak.
Monday, July 2, 2012
Too Many College Applications Diluting the Pool?
It's hard to tell whether or not it is becoming harder to get into college these days. Each year the top schools seem to post lower admission rates, but there is more to the story.
There are more students applying to college, and there are numerous reasons for that. There is a large increase in foreign student applications to American schools. Tools such as the Common Application make applying easier. As the competition increases, so does rejection. Students, in turn, send out more applications, hoping to increase their chances of being accepted somewhere.
Back in the days of paper applications with a per-application fee, the sheer logistics of applying to multiple schools was enough to deter all but the most zealous students from sending out high volumes of applications. These days, students can apply to all ten University of California campuses with the check of a box. The Common Application, with its access to over 450 universities across the country, provides the same function.
The problem is that admissions committees aren't equipped to deal with the increase in number of applications. If a hundred applicants have essentially the same SAT score, the admission committee can focus its time on really assessing the other qualities each of those 100 students offers. If that 100 is now 1000, the review process becomes unmanageable.
Ironically, students themselves are fueling the problem by applying to so many different schools. By increasing the applicant pool, they are forcing admissions committees to spend less time assessing each applicant.
A recent NY Times blog suggests a simple solution. Know what you really want from a college. That way you can avoid sending out applications to universities that really won't suit you (or accept you). This streamlines the process for the individual student and in turn, for the admissions offices.
For students, putting a little more research in at the front end of the application process may make all the difference in the world. And with the odds getting slimmer each year, it is time for a change.
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