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Monday, April 29, 2013
What We Can Learn from This Year's Admissions Essays
As April draws to a close, the writing is on the wall for the 2013-2014 college hopefuls. You're either out of breath from your victory dance, or dusting your knees off and finding a way to stand up, start anew. For this year's crop of students, the "whys" are still hanging heavy in the air.
So-and-so had lower SAT's than me, but got into X University, but I didn't. Was it my grades? Not enough volunteer work? My race, my background, my essay, my AP classes? What?
And here's a good life lesson. You'll probably never know the answer. You've got to move on.
Who can still learn a little from this year's students? Why-college juniors. Some of the early feedback from admissions officers is now surfacing, and it has to do with essays. The consensus? A little boring.
A good editor should be able to tell you this, early in the process. The problem is that if mom or dad, or another trusted adult is helping you, they may not have the nerve to crush you.
I agree, it is hard to strike the right balance. What may sound compelling to a younger writer often comes across as melodramatic to an older reader. Editors advise writers to stay away from inflammatory topics like politics, sex, and drugs, while in the same breath urging them to be creative risk-takers.
A phrase I've heard many times, that resonates with me is "write the way you talk". This is difficult for many high school students, who have been coached to cleave to a certain formality in essay composition.
The admission essay is meant to be a personal statement. The best way to make it read like one is to use your own voice. (I hate writing the "voice" bit as much as you probably hate reading it). It's the truth though. Everyone has something they are passionate about. Whether its mountain climbing or Monday Night Football, there's a story in there somewhere.
So talk about it.
Labels: What We Can Learn from This Year's Admissions Essays
Sunday, April 21, 2013
Dissecting Diversity in College Admissions
Today, someone close to me got a college rejection notice. The disappointment is so new that he's not sure what to make of it. As tonight recedes into tomorrow, he'll start to piece together the emotions in his head. Angry? Sad? Dejected? Unsurprised? Who knows.
Perhaps this is the emotional arc that Suzy Weiss traveled before she sat down to draft the op-ed in the Wall Street Journal that would soon turn into a political hot-potato. After being rejected to several of her top choice schools, she penned this entry "To (All) the Colleges That Rejected Me": Wall Street Journal
The gist of it? The reason she got rejected was because she is white. She skewers the notion that diversity is of any benefit in higher education, claiming that it supplants ordinary, smart, Caucasian kids like her. She offers no evidence that her race was a factor in her rejection. But she doesn't have to. A few unsubtle swipes at "headdresses" and "Kinto", the African orphan, does all the talking for her.
Though she's taken some criticism for appearing entitled, very few in the media have attacked her for writing things that are offensive, culturally insensitive, and outright racist. Her defense? It was "satire". Take it easy, public. This is what you get for wanting diversity in education.
In essence, this young woman wrote what many opponents of affirmative action seem to be afraid to say. Minorities are being given free passes, and qualified whites are being moved to the back of the bus.
Ms. Weiss' top three choices-Yale, Princeton and Penn, accepted between 6-12% of their applicants this year. This means that many, many qualified people who applied didn't get in.
It sort of makes you wonder how many thousands of qualified people try every year to become successful journalists. How many gifted, tireless writers would give anything to have their 600-word op-eds published in the Wall Street Journal. How many of them are poor, Muslim, African, gay, or otherwise historically marginalized?
Just ask Suzy Weiss.
Sunday, April 14, 2013
Getting Sentimental About College Admissions
So I realize my recent posts are huddling around a common theme. I just can't help but recognize what a crucial month April is for college hopefuls. This week finds me again musing on the same topic. With a slightly different spin.
My general take on college admission? It isn't everything. The admissions process has become bloated with a ridiculous amount of self-importance. The self-esteem of countless high school students threatens to collapse under the weight of it.
It is but one tributary on the great river of life. I believe that students navigating rejection need to remember this. Sometimes, though, I spend so much time putting college admission into perspective, that I drain some of the joy from it.
High school graduation is more than a mere celebration of academic accomplishment. It is a milestone. Your doctoral dissertation, acing the MCATs, passing the bar exam-these things won't make you misty-eyed with nostalgia. They just won't.
Finishing high school? That marks the end of an era. It's the coming-of-age climax that punctuates every good teen movie ever made. You're separating from the friends, the family, and every cozy landmark of your childhood.
This isn't to say that college is the cold, hard, real world. For me, it was fantastic (way better than high school). It's just that the transition from one to the other is a big deal.
Anyone who's ever traveled can share war stories. Stuck for a night in an iced-over airport. Squeezed into a train car next to a slimy stranger. Lost passports. Over time, these stories become badges of honor. They become funny. They become memories.
A lot like your April layover. So embrace this month, remembering that June is just around the corner.
Sunday, April 7, 2013
More Thoughts on College Rejection
First, let me say this. I'm really glad I don't have to apply to college again. The waiting is excruciating. Acceptance is thrilling. Rejection-well, it's just more excruciating than the waiting.
I wrote recently that college rejection isn't a referendum on our worth. True, but rather a useless platitude when you're in the throes of feeling rejected. I take a declined credit application as a referendum on my worth. I'm only half kidding.
For real thoughts on the subject, I hit the comments section of the New York Times "The Choice" blog. Outraged parents. Smug alumni. General know-it-alls. Free-range reflections from the middle-aged, reminding you that life is more than your college degree.
"Just remember this: it doesn't matter. Trust me".
I'm not sure this is entirely true, but if I was the one facing rejection, I think I'd adopt this mantra just long enough to navigate the hurt.
I was accepted to all of the colleges I applied to. The thing is, at the last minute, I chickened out of sending applications to my "reach" schools. I've always wondered what might have happened.
Sure, 20 years after graduating from a good college, I still like the fact that I can name drop. But has it really changed the course of my life? I don't think so. If you're one of the top 10% that can boast an Ivy-league alma mater, you may in fact be at an advantage in life. This doesn't mean the other 90% of us are failures.
Academic success is a referendum on our worth, to some degree. Luckily, our worth isn't measured by a single metric.
Sunday, April 7, 2013
Picking the Right College. For Real.
So you've spent the better part of the last decade fantasizing about your dream college. Maybe it's your folks' alma mater. Maybe it's just one of those institutions that invites the kind of dreamy lore we like to hitch our goals on. Maybe you're a bit more ambivalent; just ready to spread your wings and move onto the next chapter.
By now, the acceptance letters have come. So have the rejections. Fantasy and reality are finally in a face-off. The choices you have to make now are real ones. Whether you're settling for a back-up plan or lucky enough to be weighing your top picks, you've got to make a decision. Which school is it gonna be?
It's time to take your relationship with your maybe-college to a new level. Think about what attracted you to it in the first place. Did you visit the campus? Sit in on some classes? Spend a night in the dorms? If you didn't, you should. If you did, you might need to go bad. Or dig a little deeper.
Try not to listen to casual hearsay. Be careful when taking aboard grand dismissals or endorsements of a school. Some alumni can be a little lovesick when it comes to their alma maters. Ever heard a statement that starts something like "you'll never find a job with that school on your resume". Hyperbolic statements generally aren't true.
It's hard to turn off all the outside noise. And I'm not suggesting you should shut down all constructive input. Instead, do what you need to do to figure out what's really going to fit for you. Check out sites like collegeprowler.com, where you can join discussion boards with other existing students.
Go visit on your own. See if you can spend a night, or more. Search out your gut feelings on the atmosphere. If you're the data-driven type, check out sites like collegeboard.com for vital stats.
No decision is permanent, but this is an important one. Chose right, and you're setting the tone for your future.
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