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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.
Tuesday, May 26, 2015
Time to Scrap the Bar Exam for Law Graduates?
The conversation about the efficacy and continued need for law school bar exams is nothing new. It isn't, however, an easy conversation to have. For decades, the test has been steered largely by the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE), a national organization that devises and administers crucial portions of the bar exams offered in each state. To complicate matters, most states also have additional, state-specific testing requirements which are administered by the state bars of each state.

One of the most common criticisms is the same that is often levied at most standardized tests-it does not adequately measure merit. To be sure, the various iterations of the exam across the states do in fact gauge a student's understanding of the law. Some states also test "state-specific" law, though all states test federal law, which is also a fundamental component of all law school curriculums.

The problem is that the passage rates are often dismal. California, for example, offers the exam twice a year. The overall pass rate for its February exam hovers around 40%. Some would argue that this is precisely why the exam should exist-as a sort of gate-keeper, weeding out unqualified attorneys.

Others, however, note the gap between material tested on bar exams, and the knowledge necessary for legal practice. Most exams test a huge multiplicity of subjects, for example, but most lawyers practice in a single field.

Bar exams are costly, and require an average of two months of full-time preparation. Graduating law students may be sitting on six-figure student debt, but unable to earn an income until they pass.

The wheels of change move slowly. It's unlikely that any modifications will happen soon or dramatically. But the conversation is stirring.

For recent New York Times discussion of the issue: New York Times

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Monday, May 18, 2015
Common App Reveals 2015-2016 Essay Prompts
Almost every year, the Common Application makes some form of revision to their existing essay prompts. This isn't news for all people, but it may matter to the more than 800,000 hopeful students who use the Common App in their college application process. It may also cause a ripple in the water for the more than 500 universities in the U.S. that accept applications through the Common App channel.

This year's changes are minor. The most marked difference is the removal of the prompt asking students to describe the place where they feel most content. The Common Application claims to have surveyed more than 6,000 students about the existing prompts; that prompt was the least favorite. It has been replaced with "Describe a problem you've solved or a problem you'd like to solve…".

To those in the admissions field, this prompt is resonant of many graduate business school prompts, which demonstrate a decided interest in problem-solving. Such a prompt gives a student an opportunity to travel outside the traditional "describe the world you come from", which may be the easiest to answer, but not always fodder for the most compelling read.

Which is why the changes should matter to students. The readers don't care which prompt you answer. The changes aren't monumental. But the tweaks should serve a primary purpose: to inspire students to write more astutely and distinctively.

Regrettably, readers won't spend hours ruminating over your narrative. They don't have that kind of time. What they need is to be instantly gripped-compelled not to simply cast the essay aside thoughtlessly, reaching for the next.

High school juniors, take note-it isn't too early to start ruminating on your essay topic for the Fall.

To see the updated Common Application prompts, click here. Washington Post

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Monday, May 11, 2015
Law School Rankings Released; Sniping Comments Ensue
It's that time of year again. The US News & World Report has released its annual rankings of the top Law Schools in the U.S., and very little has changed. In fact, the top seven schools haven't changed at all. Three schools are tied for #8, in case you cared.

The convoluted metrics employed by the publication remain rather opaque. The fine print is hard to find. But that matters very little. In an age of single-clicks and "top ten" lists, few people are likely to wade past the initial bullet points.

Given the heat that the law profession has taken over the past few years, one would think the rankings might have shifted shape a bit. But the internet discourse is the same. In fact, if you thought comment threads in general existed to deflate your faith in humanity, try reading almost any law blog about school rankings. You'll need a ton of kitten videos to pull you out of your funk. Forget the fact that other viable professions exist. Try and forget the fact that the job market for law school graduates is brutal. Remember that there are other options for graduate education. Still, law schools love their rankings. So do "big firms". Ivy graduates are the trophy-wives of firm letterhead. In a competitive market, pedigree does matter.

But there in the back of the auditorium, if you listen carefully, you can hear it. Tiny voices of reason. People trying to remind you that law schools game the ranking system. That the number of students attending the top ten law schools in the country don't even comprise a tenth of a percent of the U.S. population. We are mostly in a frenzy about a privileged group that most of us will never be part of. And finally-who decides what "best" really means?

See for yourself, but please remember, it's just a list. US News

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Monday, May 11, 2015
Looking for College Admissions Transparency in the Right Places
Back in January, I wrote about Fountain Hopper, a website designed by and for Stanford students to help applicants figure out why they'd been rejected by the colleges to which they'd applied. Under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), all notes associated with the review of admissions applications legally belongs to the applicant. So, suddenly, students could try to piece together the reasons they may have fallen short.

Little has come of this rather dramatic news story since. What of the students who actually used Fountain Hopper to access their records? Were they revelatory? Satisfying? Instructive? I don't know.

This recent article in UCLA's own periodical, the Daily Bruin, sheds some more light on admissions transparency. The UC Information Center has created a new database aimed to make it easier to research the UC's admissions metrics. (The database is in "beta" form, meaning it is essentially a work in progress). Nevertheless, students may access information regarding admissions statistics.

The article notes that a previous program, Statfinder, was a bit of a flop. It also aimed to provide admissions statistics, but the site received very little traffic. As the article notes-these transparency sites are only useful when they are used.

For me, it begs the question of accessibility. There is an entire industry built around the demystification of the admissions process. The industry provides mostly speculation, lots of consulting for a price, and few answers.

Fountain Hopper and databases like this one provided through the University of California begs to differ. Perhaps students have just been looking in the wrong places?

Daily Bruin

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Monday, May 4, 2015
College Rankings: Just Entertainment?
A recent blog post on vox.com says yes. Colleges "decide what they value and then measure it". This article isn't the first to poke holes in the rankings system. Students still rely overwhelmingly on US News & World Report to clue them in on which colleges are best. And while US News has become more transparent with its metrics, it is still far from objective.

One of the major problems with their ranking is the use of acceptance rate as a marker of prestige. The Vox article doesn't levy this criticism but instead asks why other, arguably more important measurements aren't used. For instance-student engagement? What of that?

Forbes, according to the article, structures its own ranking system around student satisfaction and post-graduate earnings. Washington Monthly measures public contributions. US News, it claims, charts prestige.

The various ranking systems will appeal to different people precisely because of their different values. But such nuance is largely lost in most considerations of what constitutes a good college. It's hard for people to get past prestige. Even if prestige doesn't always equal a better education.

As Vox points out, student engagement should really be at the top of the list. After all, students can't learn well if they don't participate. If choosing a college is about finding the right relationship, this particular current is crucial.

Then again, if rankings of all sorts are based on too many metrics to be instructive, perhaps we shouldn't be paying much attention to them at all. Apart from their entertainment value, that is.

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