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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, March 31, 2014
A Different Take on Social Media in College Admissions
Last November, I peppered a blog with my opinions about the use of social media in college admissions. The test prep company Kaplan had recently released results of a poll which, loosely speaking, indicated that about a third of college admissions officers had Googled or checked an applicant's Facebook page.

Of course, the news set off a flurry of cautionary articles, encouraging aspiring college students to scrub their social media profiles clean. I noted that drunken party pictures can't possibly help a student through the process. The reality, though, is that colleges don't actually have the resources to do much poking around on the web.

In fact, some universities have policies which explicitly exclude such searches from the vetting process. Lisa Przekop, Director of Admissions at the University of California, Santa Barbara was quoted as saying that, "Our readers here at UC Santa Barbara are told specially do not refer to social media. We don't Google a student. The information that they present in their application is the only information we use in our decision."

The UC Berkeley admissions office has said in the past that "googling" applicants would destroy the integrity of the whole process. The Director of Admissions at the small, elite Harvey Mudd College scoffed at the idea, noting "I could chase my tail for a long number of hours."

For reference, UC Berkeley and UC Santa Barbara combined process upwards of 160,000 student applications a year. Harvey Mudd processes around 3,000. None of them are interested in the extra work of combing applicant Twitter feeds.

Time could change things, of course. But for now, high school students can focus on things like grades and tests-not their Snapchat account.

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Tuesday, March 25, 2014
SAT Backlash
A few weeks back, I wrote about the not insignificant changes on tap for the Scholastic Aptitude Test. The proposed changes are designed to make the test more accessible to a larger number of students. Ideally, the new format means the test will offer a more accurate reflection of the aptitude it is designed to measure.

Many people-myself included-welcomed the changes. Statistically speaking, the best performers on the SAT are in the high income bracket, meaning the test is as much an indicator of wealth as ability. The test is also daunting. It is widely accepted that high school grades are the best indices for future academic performance.

Unlike college courses, the SAT isn't famous for encouraging critical thinking. The best performers are those who learn how to game the test itself. It isn't about substance so much as process---can you be smarter than the test?

But despite the SAT's failings, many are deeply disappointed with the changes. The biggest cry of protest? From those who feel this is an exercise in dumbing-down. The SAT isn't meant to be easy. College admissions are deeply competitive. There has to be a successful way of weeding out the top students from the rest.

These critics acknowledge the short-sighted benefit of things like the arcane vocabulary testing. On the other hand, they note that components like the essay section are vitally important. This essay may be the college's only opportunity to see how a candidate can actually write, off the cuff, without the benefits of editing, proofreading and polishing that are now common with the formal admission essay.

Which brings us back to leveling the playing field. Do you do it by raising up the bottom half, or lowering the top half? It isn't an easy question to answer.

The changes are due to be implemented in Spring of 2016.

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Tuesday, March 18, 2014
Shortening Law School
I suppose if I tried to pitch any law school with the idea that law school should be shorter, the idea wouldn't be warmly embraced. Most law school programs are three years, and that's for a very distinct reason. The American Bar Association (ABA)-behemoth of accrediting bodies-requires three-year-programs for accreditation.

As a general rule, the first two years of law school are devoted almost exclusively to classroom learning. Many of the broadest principles of law---Constitutional, Criminal, Civil Procedure and the like, are taught in the first year. Traditionally, students would seek internships in the summer between their second and third years. The purpose? To give them the practical training that law school lacked.

By the third year, then, students have largely completed the classroom work necessary to pass state bar examinations, and may also have a summer's worth of on-the-job training. The third year is filled with elective courses. Interesting, perhaps, but not essential. Third year-grueling though it may still be-is a bit of a free skate compared to the first two.

By cutting law school to two years, students could save a fortune on tuition-an important concern in today's legal market. They could spend the "third" year apprenticing at an actual firm, getting the experience needed to actually practice law.

The problem here, of course, is the loss to universities. Many have already scrambled to add clinical courses to their curriculum-an ideal way to sweeten the deal for law students worried about job prospects, while hanging on to the third year tuition.

My idea isn't off the wall, or unique. President Obama drew attention last summer for making the very suggestion. It could be a salve for many law schools who are struggling with declining enrollment.

It would take an unlikely alignment of the stars for this to happen, but it's a wave of change that would change the shape of legal study and its job market-two things desperately in need of a structural makeover.

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Monday, March 17, 2014
Three Cheers for Community College!
Twenty years ago, when I was applying to college, the idea of community college was simply not on my radar. That was for two reasons, mainly. First, I was in love with the idea of going to a big name school; I wanted the school sweatshirt, the football games, the "experience". Second, I wanted to get out of town.

While I don't regret going to a big-name, four-year university, I'm not convinced life would have turned out much different if I'd started at a community college. Here's why.

You spend the first couple of years of any bachelor's degree dispensing with general education requirements. Most students don't get into the meat of their degree courses until at least the third year. For me, that's when college started getting interesting.

You can still graduate from a four-year university, even if you start off at a community college. Many students find gratifying and remunerative professions after earning a two-year associates degree. If you want to continue on, you can.

You will save a fortune. Community colleges are exponentially cheaper than four-year universities. If you continue to live at home for two years, you will save even more. Dorm life is fun and formative, but incredibly costly.

You will have a chance to figure out life. Many (most?) high school seniors can't possibly know what they want to do with their future. Shipping off out of town to a high-priced, high-paced university can add heat to that pressure cooker. The stakes are lower at community colleges, largely because the admissions requirements are more lenient and the price tag is less punitive.

If prestige is a concern-consider this. I know several people who attended community college (and performed well, academically) before transferring to auspicious, four-year institutions. They have gone on to graduate with honors and have their pick of graduate programs.

With the stakes in college admissions being so high, it's nice to know you have options. Don't forget to keep your mind open to them.

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Monday, March 10, 2014
SAT Gets a Face-Lift
Love it or hate it, the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT)---which turns 88 this year---has long been a primary fixture in the college admissions process. Originally, the test was designed to objectively measure academic merit. The wide variation of academic standards across the country's high schools meant that colleges needed a more accurate way of assessing talent.

To modern-day proponents, the SAT does just that. To critics, it has simply become a litmus test for affluence. Wealthy students do better for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the cost of test-prep workshops, tutors and materials.

In recent years, the SAT's invincibility has been questioned. Its main rival, and fellow college-readiness-assessment the ACT recently surpassed the SAT in popularity with test-takers. Nearly all colleges accept both. The ACT has a reputation for testing on material more relevant to high school coursework.

By contrast, the SAT has long relied on complex and often arcane methods of "testing" intelligence. The infamous verbal section once had students scrambling to memorize the definitions of words like "abnegation" and "pellucid"-whether or not any of that material was relevant to any of their high school English courses.

The salient changes to the current format include: 1) making the dreaded timed-essay optional, 2) shortening the exam by 45-minutes, 3) ditching the penalty points for wrong answers on the multiple choice section, and 4) banish the obscure vocabulary words.

Perhaps the best part is a commitment to FREE test-preparation on line.

College Board President David Coleman promised that the new test would, "offer worthy challenges, not artificial obstacles." Let's hope this is a worthy step towards a more level playing field.

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Monday, March 3, 2014
Got Time for a Tour?
Spring Break will soon be upon us, and if you are a junior in high school who sees college on the horizon, you may want to consider this a working break. With application deadlines months away, it may be hard to get yourself in the game, but there is no better time to visit college campuses than in Spring. Why?

For a start, there's the weather. If you're considering anywhere East of California, weather may literally make it hard to get around in winter. Yale may be beautiful, but no one wants to walk the campus in a blizzard. Spring is the time of year when you can see the inside and outside of your campus in all its glory.

Second-time is on your side. Starting the visits now gives you an opportunity to mull it over. You're even leaving yourself wiggle room for a second visit down the road. You don't want to be cramming in half a dozen visits this fall, when you'll already be bogged down with the application process itself.

Finally-and most importantly-school is in session! Visiting colleges in the summer time will not give you an accurate sense of the campus energy. Ideally, you should be sitting in on classes, catching a sporting event, checking out the campus coffee shop, and taking in the sights and sounds of a university while it is filled with active students. Summer visits may seem desolate, and will give you little more than a sense of campus geography.

If your school of choice is far away, an actual visit may not be in your budget. Enter the internet. Spending five minutes on sites like You Visit makes me want to go back to college. With everything from slideshows to virtual tours (with human tour guides!), you can get a pretty visceral snapshot of a college from the comfort of your couch.

With many colleges placing great emphasis on your "demonstrated interest" in their campus, tours may even have some impact on your chances of admission. If you live just a few hours from some of your school choices, it may reflect well upon you to make the trek and introduce yourself.

So yours may not be a Spring "break", but it will be time well spen

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Monday, March 3, 2014
The Problem with Need-Blind Admission
For those of you who don't know, the "policy"-affirmed by many universities-professes not to consider the financial status of a candidate in the college admission process. In short-colleges promise to base admission solely on the merits of the student-applicant.

This should be obvious, right?

Well, not exactly. Most people understand that colleges are for-profit ventures. They make money largely from tuition and endowments. Accepting students who can afford to pay tuition is a good business decision. Students who can afford to pay probably come from families who can also afford to donate. And these are good people to have on your university investment team.

On the other hand, promising to be need-blind in your admissions policy sounds a whole lot more morally righteous. College is meant to be about expanding horizons. The holistic educational experience should involve diversity of thought, ethnicity, financial background, and race.

One of the problems with stating such a policy is that it isn't really enforceable. There are plenty of "tells" on the application and in the body of the admission essay that will give the student away, such as their parents' professions, their high schools and even the cities in which they live.

Another glitch? The policy is, by its nature, self-defeating. Subsidizing low-income students is costly. Conversely, wealthy students are the bread and butter of a healthy portfolio. How then, can a college make a decision that may benefit a student but not the university?

College acceptance should be based on academic achievement, but when a college's ability to continue to provide quality education is dependent upon finances, this becomes a tough decision to make.

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