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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.
Tuesday, December 23, 2014
Does Your Admission Essay Really Matter
Newsflash: I can't really give you that answer. But in the media's ongoing mission to make the college-admission industrial complex a bit of salacious spice, Time magazine is here to tell you it doesn't. Well, sort of. Because all good articles promise answers in the title that rarely follow.

The gist of Time's abbreviated musing is this: the best essay in the world won't dig you out of a pit of bad grades and mediocre test scores BUT a terrible essay can easily become the final nail in your coffin.

The problem with this and every line of enquiry about the mysteries of college admissions is that the vetting process is inherently opaque. It isn't a science, no matter how much data is squeezed from it. There are a million variables at play depending on the school and its individual admissions system, the applicants, the admission cycle, and the other unknowns.

Every affirmative action lawsuit is steeped in our inherent belief that it is possible to quantify a person's worth based on a litany of extrinsic qualities. If we had a perfect GPA and played water polo but didn't get in, it must have been because we were X race. Because we have to find a way to explain it.

So deciding that a personal statement is or isn't a deal breaker seems virtually impossible. Even Time's article notes that some people think it matters and others don't. Helpful? Nope. But so long as the college industry continues to plug along, one thing is for sure-if you don't try hard, you probably won't get in. So until then, pick up your laptop, and start putting your heart into that essay. You truly don't know how much it may count.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2014
Rethinking Gender in College Admissions
Though women's colleges have been around in the U.S. for close to a hundred years, it was not until the 1960s that their function began to evolve. The earliest women's' colleges, established in the mid-19th century, were designed to simply give women access to education in a world that still believed a woman's place was in the home. Many universities would not admit women. It was well-accepted that the rigors of education was literally bad for women's health.

By the mid-twentieth century, there were over 200 women's colleges in the U.S. The sociopolitical upheaval of the 1960s ushered in by the peace and civil rights movement also moved feminism center stage. Women's colleges thus became hotbeds of political activism as the country pushed for equal rights for women.

Federal law allows universities to discriminate on the base of sex. This is how women's colleges have been able to historically decline admission to men. However, a growing societal awareness of nonconforming gender identities is calling some of these policies into question. The women's colleges (which have dwindled to around 40 in number) are at the forefront of this examination.

Some colleges are considering admission to students who self-identify as female, even if they are biologically male. Others, such as Scripps in Southern California, have begun admitting all candidates who are female on their birth certificates, even if they later transition into transgender males.

The changes are raising a different kind of issue regarding transgender students who already suffer grave discrimination at co-ed colleges. It is forcing a discussion of sex versus gender. Whether or not a person is born female, if she chooses to identify as such, she continues to face discrimination in a modern-day patriarchal society. This is a tough pill to swallow, especially at the same colleges that were designed to create outposts for female empowerment.

One thing is for certain-the fact that the discussion is even occurring is a reflection of society's progress in evaluating gender identity. The road may still be long, but once again, the women's colleges are leading the charge.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2014
Business Schools Continue to Nail the Personal Statement
For over a decade, I have guided students through the stormy waters of their admissions essays. I have read essay prompts from hundreds of schools, for hundreds of different programs. I have gleaned at least one certainty from this process: no one writes better essay prompts than business schools.

I have no idea why. Surely it's important for lawyers and doctors and biologists and English majors to write engaging admissions essays. But time and again, the majority of students are up against yawn-inspiring directives like "Submit your academic statement of purpose", or "tell us about the world you come from".

The best writers can churn a mean lemonade from these lemons. That's tough though, especially for undergraduate applicants with limited life and professional experiences.

A fun essay though? Try the Fuqua School of Business at Duke on for size. They ask for 25 random facts about you. Awesome! I like cinnamon on my hot chocolate. I once had a poodle named Cooter. Next!

There are prompts about who you'd invite to your dream dinner party, what you'd do with a few minutes of "found" time, and what the phrase YOLO means to you. Provocative enough prompts to grease the wheels of even the most stubborn writer's block.

But for some reason, it's business schools who are willing to get cute. With the exception of the University of Chicago's undergraduate essay requirements ("what is so odd about odd numbers?"), the best invitations come from business programs.

Is this reason enough to apply to business school? Probably not. Do creative essays make getting in easier? Doubtful. Could other academic programs take a leaf out of the b-school admission playbook? Absolutely.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2014
Does Law School Offer Everything Promised on the Package
I'm inspired here by a recent Kaplan (yep, the test prep folks) survey which highlights the gap between what law students want and what law schools offer. Kaplan notes that the survey included just under 700 LSAT takers who had also used Kaplan's test prep services. Kaplan also surveyed 126 of over 400 ABA accredited law schools. For purposes of discussion, we'll call it a representative sample.

Despite the lore of hyper-competitive law students secretly tearing pages out of one another's textbooks, apparently the majority of law school students hope to learn in a collaborative environment. Most law schools say they offer that.

In contrast to their commitment to collaboration, the majority of students surveyed claim to want schools to place a greater emphasis on individualistic accomplishment. Only about 30% of the schools surveyed promise this approach.

Why the tension here? Litigation involves advocacy, which means that individualist competition is often the key to success. Students pursuing law degrees often enter the field knowing they have the kind of thick skin needed to work in an often-antagonistic profession.

But this may be at odds with the gentle contours of academia. Learning shouldn't be competitive, necessarily. Students are far more likely to gain a well-rounded education with the support of their peers.

Significantly, students want a law education that helps prepare them for practice and the majority of the schools say they offer that. This isn't consistent with the reality of history. Most law schools are heavy on theory, don't teach to a subspecialty, and leave most of the practical training to the firms that hire their graduates.

It's just a survey, but it is certainly food for thought if you're considering law school, particularly in today's very tough legal job market.

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Wednesday, December 3, 2014
Can College Marketing Be Too Promiscuous
In his November 22, 2014 NY Times column, Frank Bruni muses about the dating metaphor that is now college admissions. I've quipped about this myself, writing of the ways in which the search for the right "fit" is much like our quest for finding the right partner in life. Bruni's take is a bit darker.

He claims that colleges have rigged the system to lure students in, only to reject them at the gate. The reason is simple, and well-documented: by increasing the number of applicants without actually being able to offer more spots on the roster, they are making themselves look more selective. The lower the acceptance rate at the college, the higher they shoot up in the rankings. It's kind of like the college version of playing hard to get.

Technology has made this game easier for the universities. The Common Application allows students to submit the same essay to dozens of colleges all at once. And why not cast a wide net? Admission is so competitive, there may seem to be no other choice. But Bruni points out the darker side of the college marketing scheme. Emails that literally lure students into thinking they have a fast track into admission.

"Candidate's Choice Application". "VIP" applications. These are the types of headings being spammed to college hopefuls. Reminds me a little of the old sweepstakes mailings that promise "you may already be a winner", when the reality couldn't be further from the truth.

So yes, college marketing can be too promiscuous. It should serve as a reminder to students to trust their instincts, like they would with any relationship. If the fit just isn't right, don't push it. You probably already know your limits and your needs, and aiming too high or too low won't do anyone any favors. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Move on.

For Bruni's full blog post: Ny Times

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