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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, February 23, 2015
College Admissions: Not as Scary as You Think
As March s l o w l y rolls into April for college hopefuls, I can't help but think two things. First-I'm glad it isn't me. I remember how excruciating the waiting game was. Second-I wonder if, like me, many students will actually be pleasantly surprised with their acceptances. Is college admissions really the nightmare it's made out to be?

It is stressful, for certain. And it is no doubt more competitive than it was when I did it a couple decades ago. However, so many of the "impossible odds" news stories and blogs center around the most elite colleges in the country. Those schools boast admission rates of under 10%, and suddenly, it seems like college is out of reach for everyone.

Actually, the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) reported in 2013 that the mean acceptance rate for four-year universities was 64%. That same report noted that 80% of colleges nationally accept 50% of applicants. Additional surveys have noted that the majority of those applying to college get into their first choice schools.

For those that don't apply to or get accepted to a four-year university, community colleges are always an option, and they shouldn't be viewed as just a fallback. Many community colleges offer outstanding curriculum and faculty. Some argue that community colleges boast a richer learning environment, since they are also filled with older students, those with families, and those who waited longer to pursue third-level education---in other words, people who have an even greater incentive to succeed.

Finally, most students know their limits. Before you ever send an application off to Harvard, you know whether or not it is a reach school or a total impossibility. Sure, Harvard has to turn away some pretty qualified candidates, but those students are highly unlikely to be turned away at every prominent school to which they apply.

The envelope or email should not be a complete surprise. And while college admission in general is not a slam-dunk, it certainly isn't the nightmare you might think.

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Monday, February 23, 2015
Guidance Counselors and College Admission
When I was in high school, I thought guidance counselors were there to steer students through the normal travails of high school. What classes to take. How to navigate social problems. Where to find a tutor. And though I vaguely recall them having college pamphlets on hand, I'm pretty sure college advising was only a small part of their role.

That has changed. And, as a recent NPR article points out, the socioeconomic divide between affluent and underserved schools is often best symbolized by the workload of the guidance counselor.

According to the American School Counselor Association (ASCA), the recommended counselor to student ratio is 1:250. The average public high school guidance counselor oversees 471 students. As NPR notes, this is more than five times the number of students as most private high school guidance counselors.

Why does it matter?

Well, like most aspects of the college application process, the deck is stacked against poor students. They don't have the same financial/geographic access to standardized testing prep, such as SAT workshops and tutoring. They cannot afford private college consultants, or editors for their admissions essays.

Then there are the soft factors often linked with students from underserved populations, such as language barriers and being the first in their families to attend college.

This is where the guidance counselor should be able to step in and help level the playing field. Unfortunately, public schools simply can't afford to hire the number of counselors necessary to give students the kind of attention they need. And then there is the reality of salary to skill ratio. Private schools can afford to pay more, so they attract counselors with a greater skill-set.

Many organizations are trying to step up to support guidance counselors, in the hopes of giving students the preparation advice they need. But money talks, and even well-intended initiatives like the "Reach Higher" program backed by the White House won't level the playing field in a single admissions cycle.

Sadly, the disparity simply magnifies a problem with college admissions. Getting in is hard enough. As it currently stands, poor students are doing it with a hand tied behind their backs.

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Monday, February 23, 2015
Revelations at UT Law School Underscore Legacy Admission Concerns
In a damning 104-page investigative report released last week, it was revealed that University of Texas at Austin President Bill Powers, routinely circumnavigated the admissions system, giving favorable advantage to select students.

The report notes that approximately 73 students with test scores and grades that fell below UT's traditional standards were admitted based upon the "bump" they received from Powers. A handful more of arguably unqualified candidates were admitted at the law school level with his assistance.

More disturbing is the fact that Powers put his thumb on the proverbial scale for several hundred candidates to the undergraduate and law school campuses. That these students ultimately may have been admitted based upon their qualifications alone offers some comfort. But let's be honest. It still isn't fair.

The beneficiaries of Powers' special treatment were not named in the report, but it was suggested that they included children of power players within the state of Texas, including legislators and members of the Texas Board of Regents. The report also illuminated the high volume of requests for preferential treatment made by families within the Texas elite. Such requests are often forwarded directly to the President, giving the impression that he-and not a neutral admission body-holds the final say on admission.

While legacy admissions are well-recognized, they are rarely well-reported. Preference given to elite alumni are deemed to be healthy for a school's bottom line and reputation, but can hardly be regarded as objective or fair to the average qualified candidate.

Whether the report has any long-term effect on Powers' job or UT's admissions policies remains to be seen. But it is an unsavory referendum on the state of admissions, one which may be just the tip of a very large iceberg.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2015
Colleges Trolling for Applicants
Perhaps my headline is a little unfair. We all know that the college admissions game is very much a seller's market. Even the top 5% of applicants aren't guaranteed admission at their dream schools. There are #justtoomanyapplicants. If this hashtag isn't trending yet, it should be.

So why, oh why, are some top colleges extending their application deadlines? Why are they spamming potential applicants with reminder emails, full of saccharine cheerleading and tons of exclamation marks?

A recent Bloomberg Business article took the opportunity to ask. The University of Chicago (acceptance rate: 8%) claimed it extended its application deadline in order to make potential candidates aware of new financial aid initiatives. Ok. The University of Pennsylvania (acceptance rate: 12%) claimed their extension was simply designed to make life a bit easier for applicants. Really?

I'm skeptical. These universities receive tens of thousands of applicants. Each application costs between $35-$75. Lower acceptance rates drive rankings. The truth is, these universities just don't need more students. And frankly, students who have already missed an admission deadline aren't likely to be the caliber of students they were seeking in the first place.

Truthfully, it seems to me like they're peddling false hope for a buck. Sure, in theory, a larger applicant pool increases the overall integrity of the student quality. But when we're talking 30,000 applicants, it's fairly impossible to believe any university would have the time or manpower to adequately vet them. Many admissions officers admit to turning away equally qualified students because they simply don't have the space for them.

To me, this practice underscores the need for students to do their research. Find a university that fits your needs. Assess whether or not your scores and grades make you a likely candidate. Then give the application all the effort you can.

Finally, turn it in on time. Your odds aren't that likely to change in the next five days. So breathe, and move on.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2015
The Waiting Game
Everyone knows, the waiting is the hardest part. Naturally, the twelve years of college prep, the arduous junior year of standardized testing, and the marathon of applying to college-well, yeah, that was tough. But waiting for an answer on your acceptance? Excruciating.

For early action or early decision students, the deferral letter may have already come in the mail. Disappointing as that may be, it does have a silver lining in that the deferral letter itself probably comes with instructions. The school should let you know what (if anything) they'd like you to provide by way of updated materials.

For regular deadline applicants, the waiting can feel just as tough. Some university websites make it easy for you to fill this time. The admission sections of their sites may give you lists of supplemental materials they accept during this period of limbo. Dance programs might invite a video of a choreographed performance. Art schools may invite sample projects.

Then there are the rest. The colleges that don't specify and don't ask you to provide anything further. In the case of large schools, this is likely very deliberate. Some schools are processing 30,000+ applications. They just don't have time to read your last plea.

If you do decide to send a follow up letter or email, my advice is to keep it simple. Start by writing about anything that has changed for the better since your application-grades, awards received, community service projects completed. Then, you might consider giving an update on your grades, bearing in mind that many universities will want your high school to send updated second semester transcripts anyhow.

You may also want to use this time to reach out to current or former students at your desired college. If you have connections to faculty or administrators-tactfully contact them and let them know you are still interested.

Finally, take one last moment to remind X University of why they are atop your list. Check out the activities and events that are happening there RIGHT NOW. Talk about how you might take advantage of those events if you were a student.

Then, unfortunately, you still wait. At least you can do so knowing you've done everything possible to put your best foot forward.

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Thursday, February 12, 2015
Vaccinations to be Mandatory for College Admission?
As I write this blog, the number of reported cases of measles in California has risen to over 100. What began as an isolated outbreak at Disneyland back in December has begun to unfold into a serious public health concern. Measles is airborne and highly contagious, which means that the threat of its spread is a very real possibility.

The outbreak has seen the long-simmering vaccine debate explode to the surface. Parents of young children are most concerned since the measles vaccine is not administered until age one, with a booster again around age four. It makes sense that schools and daycares are petri dishes for the sharing and spread of illness. Apparently, college campuses are not far behind.

Since vaccinations are not mandatory in California and many other states, and since there is no easy way to track vaccination records for foreign students, the University of California is considering making measles vaccinations mandatory. College campuses, dorms and their surrounding environs harbor large numbers of young students living in close proximity to one another. Diseases thrive in these environments.

Scientists and medical professionals agree that vaccines are effective. For students that may not have received the vaccine or its booster (possibly at the election of their parents), this requirement at the college level could be a reasonable way to prevent the spread of the disease.

To get an idea of scope, the University of California, Los Angeles, is the largest of the UC campuses, with a combined undergraduate/graduate population of over 40,000 students. UC Berkeley isn't far behind, with approximately 37,000 students. This means that the vaccine requirement could have fast and far-reaching effectiveness.

The new rule would become effective for the entering class of 2017.

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Monday, February 9, 2015
Law School Standards Slipping? Part Two
The last blog scratched the surface of the changing shape of the law school climate. I poked fun at the snobbery of law school hierarchies. And while I may personally find them distasteful, they are alive and well.

Put simply, it still does make sense to try and get into a T14 school. First of all, they are good schools. Second of all, you're more likely to get a job in an incredibly competitive market. This is a pretty big deal breaker when you're graduating with six-figure debt.

There has been a great deal of discussion about declining applicants and deteriorating LSAT scores. People worry that the quantity and quality of law school applicants is tanking. They then worry about what this means for the profession. There are no actual answers.

There is this. The top schools have been largely unaffected by the downturns. Getting in remains competitive. Graduates get good jobs. Their median LSAT scores aren't going down. The shifts are more apparent at the lower-tiered law schools.

This makes sense. There was always going to be a place for the most competitive students. Big firms still need junior associates and Supreme Courts still need law clerks. They will continue to skim from the top cream.

Whether the changing face of the profession is significant remains to be seen. Students still have to sit state bar exams-the standards of which have not changed. The public will still demand high-quality representation. A more competitive market arguably forces improved quality of practitioners.

The boring truth may be simpler. Fewer people are going to law school, some LSAT scores may have declined, and some law schools may have to re-budget in order to preserve their bottom line. The bigger question for aspiring students is whether or not there is a job waiting for them at the end of the journey.

That's a question mark that punctuates any graduate degree.

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Monday, February 2, 2015
Law School Standards Slipping? Part One
Let me start by saying that my title is a bit misleading. In fact, it's become a familiar hook-line for half the internet blogs about the "state of affairs" in law school admission over the past few years.

A few things are actual facts: 1) the legal job market is tough right now, 2) the number of law school applicants is down, 3) some law schools have been making cutbacks. Cue the speculation about what this means for the future of the profession.

This isn't surprising, given the vice-grip within which law students hold the importance of ranking. More than most professions, this is one where pedigree matters a lot. There are well-known tiers of law schools. The bottom doesn't mingle with the top. Federal clerkships don't go to students at mid or low-tier schools. LSAT scores matter more than intelligence.

Am I speaking broadly? A bit, perhaps. But score a 170 or higher on your LSAT and you can pretty much count on an acceptance from a top-20 school. This is law school, of course, so we actually have the Top 14 (which also have their own moniker- "T14"), so named because their graduates are the crop from whom most of the "big" firms harvest their wet-eared associates.

Somewhere in all of this hierarchy, there is possibly space for intellect, innovative thought, perseverance, and good will. You won't find it on internet comment threads. Now more than ever, the law crowd seeks to protect the veneer of its prestige. Blogs hand-wring about the decline in quality of candidates why the profession is in trouble.

The truth-as it usually is-probably lies somewhere in the middle. Is the "profession" struggling? In some ways, yes. Are the top schools suffering? Probably not. Is the legal system likely to come crumbling down? No. But speculation makes for meaty-blogging.

More next week.

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