|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 29, 2014
Finding the Right College On-Line
This week, the internet search behemoth Google (do they need an introduction?) released statistics on the most searched-for universities. Trying to extrapolate much meaning from these statistics may be ill-advised, but it's big news for universities in general who are looking to expand their internet marketing strategies.
A powerful on-line presence is essential for universities in the current market. Though competition is as steep as ever at top colleges, many universities are struggling to fill seats. Nabbing the most valuable prize-international students-requires the kind of outreach that isn't fettered by geographic borders. (Foreign students are generally required to pay higher tuition costs and don't qualify for federal financial aid available to American students).
Still, Google's top 20 list doesn't track traditional "top college" lists steeped in history and prestige. In fact, the college in the top spot is the University of Phoenix-an American-based on-line course provider. Despite its sometimes spotty reputation, the University of Phoenix's model represents a changing trend in third-level education worldwide. In the #3 spot is Open University, one of the top "distance learning" institutions in the United Kingdom.
Wedged in between the two on-line "universities" is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), largely regarded as one of the top (bricks and mortar) learning institutions in the world. So interpreting Google's list is challenging.
Monday, September 22, 2014
A College Match Made in Heaven
I've squeezed some life out of the love-match metaphor on this blog on more than one occasion. You know, pushing the idea that finding the right college is a lot like finding the right relationship. The person that is appealing to one person would be a complete dud for someone else. The fanciest, most expensive, most prestigious, cheapest, biggest, smallest, most urban, most rural, religious, secular-everyone has different needs.
By reaching only for the colleges that are up on pedestals, we are often setting ourselves up for failure. By the same token, we can't fall in love with a university simply because someone else has done so, or because someone tells us it is what's best for us. Shall I go on?
Well, like the dating world, the college admissions arena has been irrevocably touched by technology. It is revolutionizing the way people find the right schools. Yes, just like match.com has managed to create some sustained marriages.
At first, internet match-making seems a little hokey, right? It seems like you're skipping all the organic steps of meeting in person, and allowing time and place to shape the budding relationship. But then you remember the double-edged sword of technology. We have greater access to more information, even if it dulls the nostalgic senses of flipping idly through a dictionary or a blind date at a coffee shop.
For a quick round-up of some new and returning "college matchmaking" sites, check out this overview, collected this week at the National Association for College Admission Counseling's annual conference. You never know what you might find.
Labels: A College Match Made in Heaven
Tuesday, September 16, 2014
Do not Miss the Point in Your Admission Essay
Ever tried combing the internet for successful admission essays? No? Perhaps it's an occupational hazard for me, but it's something I'd recommend to any student struggling to put pen to paper. I'm not talking about sample essays. I'm talking about essays written by actual students who were actually admitted to universities. You'd be surprised how many schools and students are willing to share the success stories.
A successful essay says more in 500 words than an instruction book could say in 200 pages. This isn't to say that consultants, websites and other information-gathering tools don't have value. It's just that when you really have writer's block, general advice can just be frustrating or unhelpful. "Write from the heart", "show, don't tell", "offer a window into your personality". These are the platitudes I see and give, and they are all accurate. They just aren't always that instructive.
I see some students falling into one of two traps with their prose alone. It's either way too simplistic, or way too obtuse. By the time you're knocking at college's door, you should be able to craft something more compelling than "dance team was fun". Conversely, a thesaurus isn't a substitute for well-crafted narrative. Bigger words are not necessarily better.
But take this example. An essay describing how the "moon poured creamy beams onto the desert floor". This is just beautiful writing. The essay itself had little to do with the outdoors, but the writer had me at that line. This was a 17-year-old high school student. So it can be done. He or she wrote about a painful life experience without sounding maudlin, or saccharine, or whiny. In fact, the writer did it while taking care to describe the texture, shade and context of moonlight.
Writing, I realize, isn't everyone's strong suit. But as you sit down to start, try not to micro-focus on the wrong ideas. Let your creativity take over. Don't feel like you have to recount every soccer trophy, the sting of every failure, or each hope and dream. There isn't space for all of that. There, is, however, space for something beautiful, and you don't have to be a novelist to create your opus.
Tuesday, September 16, 2014
Adding LGBTQ Dimension to Admission Essays
According to a recent article in Duke University's own news source, The Chronicle, Duke is amongst just four undergraduate universities in the U.S. to include an LGBTQ question on their supplemental essay portion.
What is the significance to lesbian, gay and non-gender conforming students? Well, for a start, it is a symbolic gesture. While several advocacy organizations such as Campus Pride, already evaluate and rank the LGBTQ-friendliness of college campuses, few universities have taken the step to directly address issues of sexual orientation explicitly in admissions material. Most essay prompts-whether unique to the university or part of the Common Application-invite broad-range topics that would allow any student to discuss the impact of sexuality and sexual orientation on their world. However, the stigmatic nature of the topic may frighten many applicants away from the subject matter.
Certainly, inviting direct discussion won't erase preconceived biases. Changing semantics on an application doesn't necessarily change minds. It is, however, a strong statement from the university itself that this component of a person's personhood is valid, relevant, and protected within that college setting.
Such symbolic gestures may be crucial for universities like Duke, situated in areas of the country where diversity and liberality of social acceptance of non-traditional sexuality is not the historical norm. Whether or not the gesture jives with the reality of campus or surrounding city life remains to be seen. But it is a step.
Tuesday, September 9, 2014
End of Summer and Time for Action
As you gallop into the early days of your senior year of high school, it may be hard to keep your focus. This strangely transitional year has you celebrating the exhilaration of being a big fish in a little pond, right before you dive back into an enormous ocean of uncertainty. Whether the unknowns of college are exciting or daunting, the changes are coming, and it may finally be time to pay attention.
For students applying Early Decision or Early Action, the actual application deadlines are just weeks away. If this is your route, you've likely already taken the SAT and ACT, although you have one last chance in October, if you like living on the edge. Summer would have been the optimal time to prepare, but if that ship has sailed, take solace in the fact that it's early in the senior semester, and you'll have time to play catch up.
Hopefully you've already visited some select campuses, but if not, these last few weeks of summer can be an ideal time. Many campuses have already started classes so you'll get the opportunity to see what your college looks like when it's alive with students. If you're searching in intemperate climates, you'll also get the chance to hit the pavement before it's covered in snow or otherwise impassable.
If you're applying to quarter-system (or three-trimester) universities, school may not yet be in session, but activities may already be bubbling. You can still take the opportunity to tour somewhat empty campuses while catching a glimpse of summer sports practice and the early rumblings of campus activity. Some administrators and professors may already be around and available for touring or consultation.
One last thing to remember? Enjoying these last months of high school. You'll forgive me and all the other adults from getting a little nostalgic about this shift. It's your last hurrah before heading off to grown-up life. And whether or not that's exciting or daunting, it's certainly imminent.
Tuesday, September 2, 2014
Law School Admissions: Accomplishment, not just Promise
I've spent the bulk of my time over the past couple years, blogging about the woes of the American law school landscape and the bleak legal job market that's been dotting it. Things haven't really turned around yet, but people are still going to law school, and still working as attorneys.
Which means that, even if the number of LSAT takers is down, and even if some law schools are rolling back scholarship money and faculty-the beat still goes on. The Ivies and other top tier schools have been largely unaffected by the downturn. The cream on the top of all the student bodies continues to take elite jobs with elite firms and high courts.
So how then, should applicants be approaching the application process? Well, pretty much the same as before. Your LSAT score is your ticket. For better or worse, scores above 170 are going to land you some pretty elusive invites. Scores under 140 funnel you into a different tier. Either way, you're still going to need to flesh out your application with other information about who you are. Including a rich personal statement.
Unlike undergraduate admissions, your application reader doesn't want to hear a lot about your potential. At least not unless it is built on the back of some real experience. All too often, I see law school personal statements laden with platitudes about how the applicant wants to "help others" or "make change in the world". That's all well and good, but by the time you're applying to law school, you should already have done that.
This isn't to say you should keep directing your reader to your goals in law. Just make sure they have a solid foundation. Law school is hard. And if it's a tough job market you're facing, you need to be committed to the challenges. Wanting to be accomplished isn't the same as showing up at the table with a real-life CV.
So take it seriously. Know what you want and why you deserve it. It's still your job to make the tough sell.
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