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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, September 30, 2013
Making Your Essay Dramatic
I still remember being seventeen. Well, pretty much. I loved to write, and back then, applying to college wasn't the Everest climb that it is these days. For a start, I only had to write one for most of the schools I applied to. Only the Stanfords were requiring supplementals, which now are standard.

In the intervening years, I've read and edited hundreds, if not thousands of essays. Most high school kids struggle with the same problem; they don't have anything dramatic to write about. I'll go out on a limb here to add that many (most?) kids applying to college are coming from pretty stable homes. So fortunately, their lives have been pretty bereft of extreme highs and lows.

To remedy this, many of these students dig into the well of accomplishments for essay fodder. So we read about winning the swim meet, volunteering in Venezuela, working as a camp counselor. And there's nothing inherently wrong with that, except that most of those experiences will be listed elsewhere on the application.

If you run cross-country, you might not actually want to write about it. Doing so is a missed opportunity to reveal something else about your personality. Something that can't be distilled into one-word on the application packet.

Don't underestimate the power of simple observation. Think small. Write about a smile from a stranger on a crowded bus. Or the stifling heat in the kitchen at last year's Thanksgiving dinner. Why you hate sharing a room with your little sister. Nothing is uninteresting if it's helped you to notice something about yourself or your world.

Done well, an anecdote about a bratty sister will tell your reader a lot more about you than a rehash of your triumph at the spelling bee. It might also take some of the pressure off. You don't need to be the best at anything to get into college.

So trust that who you are and what you observe is enough. There's no need for drama.


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Monday, September 23, 2013
It's Time for Rankings, Again
The first week of September has zoomed past us and with it, a new set of rankings from the hallowed periodical, US News & World Report. It's the kind of news that tends to keep zooming past most of us. Fortunately, my alma mater gives me Facebook updates. And guess what? They're tied for #2 in some illustrious category.

So for a quick second, I feel a surge of pride. It may have been a couple of decades, but, dang, my school is IMPORTANT. It made me feel a little important. I kind of wanted it to be known that I was an alum. I almost even "liked" the picture on Facebook. Then reason brought me to a screeching halt.

The rankings are stacked on a house of cards! They are constructed from subjective data by a single magazine that has somehow picked up steam as the Most.Reliable.Source.Ever. (Too much Facebooking for me?)

Rankings are a cash cow for the universities. It is a marketing tool. It is not a set of objective metrics upon which hopeful students should base a significant life decision. My own alma mater managed to suck me into the vortex using a simple marketing strategy.

Over the past several years, colleges have proven that they will massage almost any data into something that will boost their rankings. They get it. Selecting a college is a tough decision. If you're doing it right, it involves a lot of research, campus visiting and soul-searching. If you're not up for all that, you just lean on the rankings. Colleges know that.

David Hawkins, Director of the National Association for College Admissions Counseling, offered this (fantastic) quip: "Using "input" variables, like SAT/ACT scores, to assess a college's quality is like judging a person's character by the wealth of the people they associate with". See his entire op-ed here: US News

I agree, take a breath. Log out of Facebook, close the rankings page, and start looking for the college that's truly your match. That's where the hard work begins.


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Monday, September 16, 2013
Law Schools Accepting Fewer Students
The down turn in the legal job market, and its ripple effect on law school enrollment is not a new story. For the past several years, schools have watched helplessly as the number of LSAT takers and law school applicants have steadily declined.

Not surprisingly, law schools are responding by accepting fewer students. But why? What difference does it make to schools if their graduates can't find jobs? After all, law school is a business venture, and the greater the number of tuition checks, the better the bottom line.

A recent LA Times article quotes Dean Victor Gold of the Loyola School of Law in Southwestern Los Angeles. He refers to the school's "moral obligation" not to knowingly drain tuition money from law students in a bleak job market. But even Gold acknowledges that his school's decision to accept 5% fewer students in the 2013-2014 academic year also had to do with keeping up appearances.

Law students pick their schools based largely on national rank. A major metric considered by the ranking system is the number of graduates who are actually employed following graduation.

So it becomes a cost-benefit analysis for the law schools. Do you lose the tuition check today by turning away students, or do you lose it in the long run when your school drops in the rankings? At Loyola, the drop in enrollment of 20 students equals a loss of approximately $1 million. But last year, the school also dropped 17 places in the US News & World Report's rankings (from 51 to 68).

The net effect for law students is greater competition. Not only are there fewer available spaces, but there is also a greater incentive for law schools to matriculate students who are more likely to find work after graduation. Good for the overall market, but a tough pill to swallow for hopeful lawyers.


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Monday, September 9, 2013
Deciphering the Admissions Process
Let me deflate the balloon at the outset here-I don't have the answer. If this weren't such a loaded enigma, there would be no college consulting industry.

So for a hot second, I was intrigued to come across this from Yale University's Dean of Admissions, Asha Rangappa. Slate

In an apparent act of helpful humility, she notes that it's up to the admissions officers to "lift the veil" on the process. Super. Please do. But she doesn't, or can't. Yes, I understand that each application is so case-specific and subjective that there is no appropriate catch-all advice. Yes, she thinks college consulting is an overpriced scam. She offers a few tips, but nothing that isn't available from, ahem, a good college consultant.

She's read through more than 25,000 applications, so there's no question she has insight to offer. But she doesn't, or can't, or won't.

I've always wondered how the process really works, from start to finish. I don't mean platitudes like "we evaluate each application objectively and holistically". I mean, really, if a university gets tens of thousands of applicants, who sits down and reads all those essays? Grad students getting paid $10 an hour? Is there a round-table discussion of the good essays? Is there a trash-heap for bad essays? Is there a special trash-heap for bad essays written by students with perfect SAT scores?

Rangappa scoffs at the "rabid" competition, and snipes at the racket of college consulting, but what does she expect? The Ivies have admissions rates of around 6% and no one really knows why anyone actually makes the cut. Of course students are rabidly competitive. You think universities like Yale don't benefit from this desperation?

So the search for transparency continues. In the mean time students, be yourselves, be honest, and do whatever you need to do to feel empowered in this overwhelming process.


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Tuesday, September 3, 2013
A Message for Parents of College Hopefuls
This is the sentence that first hooked me: "At the very moment when teenagers are invited to offer what they've learned and who they've become, their voices are hijacked by well-meaning adults who think kids can't possibly be allowed to risk answering these questions on their own".

This writer is a college consultant, and her entire article can be found here: Wall Street Journal

What a divine point. You've been preparing to go to college for years. You've invested time into school, sports, art, service, travel and living life. You've thought about where you want to go, and why. Now you're sitting down to chisel out a personal statement.

It may be one of the most important essays you ever write. And your parents don't want you to do it alone.

That might be wise. The stakes are much higher these days, and the coveted number of spots is fewer. But there's something to be said for the idea of hijacking a young voice. There's an innocence, a rawness, and an authenticity that a seventeen-year-old possesses, which most forty-year-olds no longer have.

How then, can an adult impose the filter of their own experiences on those of someone half their age? They can't, and letting go involves a certain leap of faith. I'm not sure I'll be able to do it by the time my kids apply.

Yet it's the risk itself that makes applying to (and attending) college such a pivotal experience. Perhaps the essay should reflect that. Which is to say, you can offer to help polish it, but the words-imperfect as they may be-need to come from your teenager's heart. The colleges can take it or leave it.


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