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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.
Monday, December 31, 2012
Writing an Honest Admission Essay
I've written a lot about what goes into a good admissions essay. So have thousands of other people. The "perfect topic" is like the Holy Grail of college personal statements. It isn't easy to find. People can't agree on what it is. It may signify something different to different people. So,we talk about it. A lot.

There also seem to be some universal truths about the subjects you should avoid. Your substance abuse. Maudlin personal tragedies. Politics. In my experience, most students don't go there. The most common pitfall I see is the essay that simply isn't interesting.

Recently, the UK-based Guardian poked a little fun at the college essay process by tasking several writers with the job of drafting an honest admission essay. These writers are many years past college, with little to lose. Still, their unadulterated honesty was comical and helped illustrate a point.

Students are often so eager to please that they want admissions committees to know EVERYTHING about them. Not enough space for that in 500 words. Others cling to a single topic-their first ballet recital, maybe-only to discover there isn't enough meat in the story to feed 500 hungry words.

Whatever you do, make it interesting. There is no perfect essay. Admissions officers do want to know about you, but they don't need to know everything. Balance the good against the bad.

Let's be honest. People don't really like honesty all that much, unless it's a good story. Honesty is usually uncomfortable and awkward. If you feel like dancing out that limb in your admission essay, I say do it. Better to make your reader cringe than yawn.

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Monday, December 31, 2012
Helicopter Parenting in College Admissions
On the cusp of another New Year, as we collect and tidy all of our ambitious resolutions, it's also important to take stock and survey the landscape of the last year. If the changing of the calendar year marks a period of renewal, it follows that it must include some introspection. And no one needs it more than parents of hopeful college students. Yes, heavily invested parents, I'm talking to you.

Every parent wants the best for their child. In many parts of the world, third level education is seen as a gateway to success. Though no one wants to say it out loud, it is the pedigree that separates the servant class from the ruling class. These days, it isn't uncommon to need several degrees in order to stay competitive in the white collar world. Elitist? Yes. But parents aren't very egalitarian when it comes to the success of their children.

Getting into college isn't the simple process it used to be. Even 20 years ago, it was about filling out an application, submitting test scores and waiting for the results. Now there are workshops, college counselors, full-service websites and other outreach aimed at both parents and children. A cynic might note that the "industry" is playing on that most vulnerable of parental inclinations-hope for their child's success.

Of course, the path to success is paved with good intentions. If ever there is a single benchmark of flying from the family nest, college is it. The process is emotional for parents on many levels. They are no doubt struggling with the idea of setting their nestlings free, but continuing to want control over the shape of their children's future. This is noble. It may, however, end up placing extra pressure on kids.

The hard part? Parents need to trust that the seventeen or so years they've already invested in their child is enough to steer them in the right direction.

For ideas from experts on how to keep a healthy distance from your child's college admission process: NY Times

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Monday, December 24, 2012
Law Schools Approaching Fiscal Cliff?
While the U.S. Congress may still have a few days to settle some serious budgetary issues and avert the so-called fiscal cliff, it may be too late for U.S. law schools. It hasn't been a good few years for them.

For the 2013-2014 school year, the number of applicants to law schools has taken a free fall of around 22%. The number of applications has fallen by about 24%, meaning that fewer students are applying and they are applying to fewer schools.

There are caveats, of course. It is still early in the admissions cycle. The Law School Admission Council (LSAC), which tracks these kinds of stats, does it for American Bar Association accredited schools, meaning that non-accredited or state accredited schools aren't tabulated. The numbers, however, are symbolic. They are also deeply reflective of the blowback from a woeful job market for law school graduates.

Finally, it seems, word has gotten out that digging oneself into six-figure debt for a prestigious education does not always pay off.

Some argue that this reduction in volume of law school applicants could be a welcome change for an over-saturated profession. What remains to be seen is how law schools will adjust for the downturn; spreading their losses may cause law school to become an even more expensive endeavor. However, for those undeterred by all the negative publicity, now might be one of the best times to apply to law schools. Competition is down in both quantity and quality. The LSAC is also seeing a downturn in LSAT scores, with the largest drop-off in the upper tiers. That is, the number of people scoring in the highest range has dropped the most.

Small class sizes at the highest-ranked law schools mean that it's less likely the decline will be felt at those levels. If you never had a chance at getting into Yale law, you probably still don't. Yet the decrease in competition could open doors for many driven and optimistic candidates. And what profession doesn't need more of those?

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Monday, December 17, 2012
Say Goodbye to Standardized Testing?
Are you one of those people that cringes at the sight of a scantron sheet? Do you bristle at the mention of test prep workshops? Hate talk of percentiles? Then this may be welcome news to you.

An increasing number of universities across the country are dispensing with the requirement of the SAT and ACT. I'm not talking about most big-name schools or the Ivies. Most of the institutions with a test-optional admissions policy are small, private colleges. Many of them, however, are amongst the top schools in the country. Think Colby, Bryn Mawr, Bowdoin.

To be fair, these colleges generally have a few things in common. They have small student populations. Bryn Mawr has about 1,700 students-including grad students. By comparison, UCLA has a student population of around 40,000. Smaller colleges have fewer applicants. Many have programs designed around smaller student bodies, with a greater expectation of personal attention and campus community.

Standardized tests certainly weed out the most and least gifted test takers, but fail to highlight the nuanced contours of most students in the middle. Standardized tests have been criticized for undervaluing right-brain strength. Results are often skewed along cultural, racial and gender lines in ways that belie their supposed strength as objective markers of intelligence.

College admissions isn't becoming any less competitive. We are unlikely to see standardized testing disappear any time soon. However, with the list of test-optional schools including more than 850 colleges, the trend can't be ignored. Some are prestigious, some aren't known for rigorous academics. Some offer general liberal arts curricula while others are arts or theater schools. Still, the list serves as a reminder that there is no one-size-fits all solution for every student.

The policy changes are proof that educational standards are fluid. It may be a welcome turn of the tide for many college hopefuls.

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Sunday, December 9, 2012
How Devoted Are You to Your College of Choice?
Apparently, knowing where you want to go to college and why, is pretty important. This is often a standard question on applications, and the one that most often causes students to crash and burn. The university doesn't want you to regurgitate their glossy catalogues. They know you want in, and probably have a general idea of the why. Which is why it's pretty crucial to clue them in on the nuances behind your decision.

I've written in the past about why I chose my undergraduate university. I wanted three things: 1) name recognition, 2) big university atmosphere, and 3) a decent education. Not necessarily in that order. I was going for the right "feel". I saw college as a transformative life experience. I wasn't necessarily concerned with the nuts and bolts of why my desired school was the right fit for me.

In this year's State of College Admission Report by the National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC), the colleges surveyed cite the following five factors as the most crucial in making acceptance determinations: 1) grades in college prep courses, 2) strength of curriculum, 3) SAT/ACT test scores, 4) GPA and 5) demonstrated interest in attending a college. It's the fifth one that's rather eye-catching.

This means that not only are colleges interested in knowing why you're attracted to them-they give that attraction a lot of weight. So you'd better have a good answer. More than that, you'd better be able to demonstrate it.

How?

Interfacing with admissions officers or other school organizations through social media. Visits to campuses. Personal contacts with counselors, current students and alumni. Go to a football game. Better yet, sit in on a class or two. Be creative. Also be ready to articulate the particular allure of the school to you.

It may not be enough anymore to have a reach school or a fall-back choice. So be careful. Colleges have feelings too, you know.

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Sunday, December 2, 2012
Farewell to the Essay Tweet
It's been just a few admissions cycles since the University of Iowa's Tippie School of Management first introduced the option of tweeting an admission essay, but already, the tweet is being laid to rest.

To be fair, business school candidates were always required to submit a bona fide statement of purpose for admission. It's just that, as an alternative to a supplemental essay, students were invited to craft a 140-character-tweet, based on the parameters that limit postings on the popular social media site, Twitter. Tippie was so confident about the success of this idea that they offered full tuition to the top entry each year.

Since its inception, three students have won the prize. They have something in common. At least two of them linked the tweet to external videos and websites offering further insight to the candidate's accomplishments. Apparently, this was the idea. It was never the intention of the admissions committee to simply reduce word-count limits in an effort to make the process easier for incoming students.

The tweet was meant to be a launching pad. It was meant to spark some creativity, giving students an opportunity to sell themselves in a unique way. Create a power point presentation. Post a YouTube video. Link to your website. The invitation didn't work.

What does this mean for future admissions pilot projects? Students are seemingly well-versed in social media, but not totally comfortable using technology. After all, there's certainly a skill-gap between posting a tweet and building a website.

Still, as competition for MBA programs continues to escalate, admissions offices will need to come up with creative ways to unearth talent from their applicant pool. Students would do well to keep pace with the times.

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