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Sunday, March 31, 2013
Affirmative Action-Good for Business?
It's been almost six months since the US Supreme Court first heard arguments in the affirmative action challenge against the University of Texas. Though few people expected a decision before this Spring, some were surprised to hear that the Court is ready to dive deeper into the issue.
Just today, the US Supreme Court announced its intention to review a controversial 2006 Michigan ruling which overturned a voter-approved ban on affirmative action. The Texas and Michigan have factually different significance. The cross-over issues, however, are salient enough. The Court isn't willing to make a ruling on one without first considering the other.
What is interesting about the process of Supreme Court review is the volume of material involved. This explains why the court can take many months to render a decision. Non-parties to a case-that is, people or businesses not otherwise involved in the litigation-are often allowed to make arguments in favor or against a case.
Back in October 2012, 57 companies did just that. In a joint brief filed by some big-name corporations-Halliburton, Wal-Mart and Microsoft among them-the companies contended that diversity in college admissions is good for business. In the real world market, they argue, having people from different cultural and racial backgrounds can be a deal-breaker, literally, and in a good way.
The endorsement of affirmative action from "big business" is some evidence that the political lines on the issue aren't as cleanly drawn as it may seem. On the one hand, there is the philosophy that each of us-regardless of race-should be able to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. On the other-there is the philosophy that, without a level playing field, race can be an impossible burden to overcome in the journey to professional success.
Perhaps the reality lies somewhere in the middle. Hopefully, the Court's painstaking review will pave the way for a better ongoing solution.
Sunday, March 24, 2013
College Admission-A "Referendum on Your Worth"
It is almost April. College decision letters are trickling in. They may land in the actual mailbox. Maybe in your email (did you check the spam folder???). You might be forced to log into several different online portals in order to check your fate. Wherever you have to go to find it, the wait and the final answer itself can be excruciating.
The internet is littered with pep talks designed to guide you through the "process". While most of it is good advice, it won't be much of a salve to a disappointed applicant. At least not right away.
Which is part of the reason I'm thanking buzzfeed for this one: Buzzfeed
It's funny. It projects all eventualities. It recognizes that not getting into the college of your choice is a drag. But it doesn't waste a lot of time trying to remind you that the glass is half full. Except maybe #13: "Keep perspective: college admissions are NOT a referendum on your worth as a human being".
Well, okay. That's technically true. It may take awhile for the life lesson to resonate. Right now, it's just a bummer. You have to touch all the bases before regaining your balance. You should feel mad. You should feel jealous of a friend who did better than you. You should feel discouraged. You should feel as though your worth as a human being has been assaulted. It is OKAY to have all of these feelings, even if you aren't proud of them.
Not attending your dream school is NOT the end of the world. But for many of us, the disappointment isn't about a forced change in plans. It is about the rejection. It's about putting yourself out there and measuring up short.
So go through the motions of disappointment. If you have something to celebrate-do it with sensitivity. Tomorrow is another day. In the meantime, you'll always have bullet lists on buzzfeed.
Sunday, March 17, 2013
Law School an Even Worse Gamble for Women
Professionally speaking, things are getting better for women. There are more women receiving graduate level education, more women in executive positions in major corporations, more women in high-level politics. But things still aren't equal.
Back in 1977, Dr. Frances K. Conley became only the FIFTH woman in the U.S. to become board certified as a neurologist. I realize neurologists aren't a dime a dozen, but 1977 wasn't that long ago. Women now comprise about 23% of the nation's certified neurologists. Female neurologists also make about 25% less than their male counterparts.
I picked neurologists to make a point. There aren't many professions requiring more knowledge, intelligence and time investment. And still, women are being steamrolled in number and pay.
Law school also requires steep investment. It is one that fewer and fewer people are willing to take. But if the legal job market is bad generally, it's likely even worse for women. In recent years, the scales finally tipped-there were actually more women attending law school than men.
Surprisingly (or not) there were still far fewer women making partner in law firms. The wage gap that exists across the board for women in the U.S. applies equally to female attorneys.
A tight legal job market means greater competition for fewer jobs. Women are more likely to want to work part-time. Child-bearing and rearing are considered professional liabilities---ones that usually fall to mothers (not fathers). If women are potentially working less, earning less, and advancing more slowly-law school seems an even riskier choice.
March is Women's History month. For women in the law and fields beyond-this should be food for thought.
Monday, March 11, 2013
It's March. Spring is fast approaching. Out West, where I am, it is never cold. This time of year, however, the smell of orange blossoms start to hang in the air. The lawns are still green.
For high school students, the countdown begins. Basketball season wraps in a month or so and then it's Spring Break, and then maybe Prom and then-boom-graduation. School is no longer marked by academic milestones.
The idea that the senior year of high school is really just a transitional year is not a new one. Some education reformers have suggested that at least half the year be scrapped all together. After all, many second semester seniors only have 3-4 hours of school a day. Once college admissions notices come in, there hardly seems to be much reason to show up at all. Some ambitious students will make the most of the time-diving into a new passion, or taking a job. After all, high school marks the symbolic end of adolescence. Senior year is the door through which we pass into proverbial adulthood.
For the rest of the students, there is hope in programs like Wise Individualized Senior Experience (WISE), a non-profit that calls itself a bridge between academia and the real world. Students spend their mornings at regular high school, but fill idle afternoons with internships at financial firms, law offices or courts. In doing so, they get a taste of the real world without all the responsibility.
Any good period of transition involves growth and challenge. For all of the academic slowdown of senior year, it is also a hotbed of opportunity. Don't know what you want to do with your future? Ok. Now's the time to try on a few pairs of shoes and see which ones fit. College graduation will be here before you know it. Then the real world really begins. Why not get a head-start?
Labels: Battling Senioritis
Sunday, March 10, 2013
Owning Your MBA Story
In the world of graduate school admissions, there's no one further ahead of the curve than business schools. Here's why.
From an application standpoint, medical school admission has remained rather static. Entry is so strongly tied to academic and clinical strength that soft factors don't carry as much weight. If you weren't pre-med as an undergrad (and fairly successful at it), the most creative personal statement in history isn't going to patch those holes. Moreover, the medical field is flourishing. The world still needs clinicians and researchers. The average overall acceptance rate to medical school is around 9%. Admissions committees don't really need to be creative. Law schools are not feeling so flush. Their applications are down, and the job market is suffering. There are whispers of cutbacks and closing doors. They are in survival mode. Business school is different. In this economic climate, business degrees have retained their value. For some professionals in this competitive arena, an MBA is the only ticket upwards. Changing technology and growing demand for graduate business education has caused many schools to get creative in admissions. Schools are inviting quirky media additions to personal statements, such as tweets, PowerPoint presentations, video links, and websites. And why not? Anyone competing in today's business milieu must have no fear of technology.
Graduate business programs have long demanded voluminous writing in the application process. Many of the top schools ask for up to half a dozen different written responses-including a personal statement. It follows that they might be eager to consume those responses through a different medium.
Business schools are looking for students to own their stories. They want a great deal of personal information to supplement the quantitative measures like grades and test scores. It makes sense to offer students the opportunity to present themselves in new and innovative ways. And while it may be daunting for student-applicants, it is a refreshing break from application tradition.
Labels: Owning Your MBA Story
Monday, March 4, 2013
The College Admission Essay - An Exercise in Narcissism
In this blog and beyond, a great deal of web space is crowded with speculation about the real significance of the college admission essay. Students want to understand what colleges want. Colleges want to understand who students are. Parents want to know if their kid is doing it right. Counselors are trying to balance all of these interests.
There's a general feeling that the essay is just the icing. Grades and test scores are the main course. Snacks like extracurriculars count, but not if dinner was a disaster. The essay offers students a way to close the deal. To leave the admissions committee with a good taste in their mouths, a warm feeling in their bellies.
The problem is this. Can a 17-year-old's autobiography feel like dessert? Most essay prompts are designed to elicit self-reflection. In a perfect world, this introspection would be tempered by life experience, critical thinking, and a reverence for perspective. But what often happens is that students feel pressure to make themselves sound good on paper. An autobiography quickly takes on a sycophantic quality.
In the social media generation, self is already at the center. Students are used to tweeting pictures of their breakfast. Validation comes in the form of "likes" on a Facebook page. Students are adept at packaging themselves into a single Instagram frame.
So can these same students craft an essay about the self that isn't tainted by the narcissism of the look-at-me generation? It may be a slippery slope, but navigating it is a surefire way for students to prove to their readers that they can in fact, break the mold.
I'm reminded of the twitter term #humblebrag. Selling oneself while purporting to be humble about it. Perhaps essay prompts are inviting this. Perhaps universities should consider tweaking the questions. I say it's the responsibility of the students to show that they are more than their Twitter handle.
Humblebragging and autobiography aren't the same thing. The social landscape may be evolving, but good writing is timeless. Even if we'll never truly know how much it matters in admissions decisions.
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