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Thursday, June 25, 2015
Dropping the LSAT in Law School Admission
The dreaded aptitude test has been a prominent feature of third-level and post-graduate topography for years. Originally designed to serve as an objective metric for student ability, exams like the SAT, the GMAT, the GRE, the MCAT and the LSAT have become part of higher education lexicon. Why then, have the tests become increasingly controversial?
Perhaps that isn't the best way to characterize them, and perhaps they shouldn't be lumped together in one category. Yet some research has shown that while tests like the SAT do tend to predict collegiate success, the causal factors may be suspect. Students with the financial, social and educational support to prepare well for the SAT would likely be more successful in college anyhow.
To some extent, the same may be true of the Law School Admission Test-an intensive measurer of verbal reasoning and analytic skills which is required by the vast majority of American Bar Association (ABA)- approved law schools in the U.S. Top scorers often receive invitations to apply from some of the top-tier schools.
Yet, in response to declining law school enrollment, some schools are deciding to drop the LSAT requirement in the hopes of attracting more students. Last summer, the ABA amended their admission rules, allowing law schools to fill up to ten percent of their classes with high-performing students who have not taken the LSAT.
Some schools see this as an opportunity to open up the pool of applicants, by making it slightly easier (or at least more appealing) to get in. Talk of dropping the SAT requirement for undergraduates has been brewing for some time now. Law schools, deeply wed to notions of prestige and competition, may have a tougher time shedding this skin.
Monday, June 15, 2015
Big Business of College Consulting
If you are a college-hopeful at a relatively standard American high school, you might want to consider yourself rather lucky. I'm not even talking about the quality of your AP courses or the availability of Pre-SAT workshops (although this is important). I'm talking about your access to information about colleges.
It turns out that when it comes to picking the right college, Google isn't your only friend. If you are exceptionally fortunate, you might attend a private or small public high school where the guidance counselor to student ratio is relatively low. These people know a lot about college admissions. Talk to them.
Still, the competitive nature of college admissions has led many students (or their parents) to turn to college consultants. This cottage industry has exploded in the last decade and a half. The degree of hand-holding is often proportional to the fee charged. So ubiquitous are these private consulting services that navigating them has become almost as difficult as searching colleges.
The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) is a somewhat neutral body that offers guidance to students about consulting services. NACAC is a good starting source for students looking to navigate the process of admissions and admissions consulting.
Resources such as NACAC and Education USA (a service of the U.S. Department of Education) are especially important for foreign students, for whom the U.S. application process may seem particularly confusing. In some countries, the consulting industry is peppered with "agents", or consultants who arguably have their gaze honed on commissions rather than the best interests of their students.
When it comes to "getting in", choosing the right consultant can be as crucial as choosing the right college. In both cases, choosing wisely is the only road to success.
Tuesday, June 9, 2015
A “Rich-Kid” Problem at the College Level
I wrote earlier this week about our expectations of justice in college admissions. A cursory glance at the current state of affairs underscores the utter lack of egalitarianism at the nation's universities. As I posited earlier, it isn't fair, and colleges have little incentive to make it so.
A recent report from the Century Foundation notes that, amongst America's most selective schools, a full 70% of students come from the wealthiest quarter of American families. Let that marinate for a minute. Nearly three-quarters of the student body comes from the top-quarter of the country's ruling classes.
At the same time, colleges claim to be assembling their student populations based upon holistic diversity.
Race aside, the study indicates that there is little to no economic diversity at the top colleges. And while this may come as little surprise, it remains a disappointment. It isn't that lower income students can't make the grade. On the contrary, take Ronald Nelson, a high school student from Tennessee who was recently accepted to all eight Ivy League schools. Nelson, who hopes to one day attend medical school, turned all eight Ivies down in favor of the University of Alabama. The reason? The Ivies offered paltry partial scholarships. University of Alabama offered him a full ride.
Lest you scoff that Nelson is an outlier, some economic reports have noted that 39% of the highest achieving high school students come from the nation's poorest 50%; many of these students never even bother applying to top schools because of prohibitive costs.
This is a great loss to these top institutions, but one which clearly takes a back seat to their economic bottom line.
Monday, June 8, 2015
College Applications and Long Summer Days
This may be the only thing I have in common with the average seventeen-year-old.
What most teenagers have that few adults do is free time. Trust me on that one. Something else that has changed since my college days is the race to the application deadline. Students are applying to more colleges, and colleges are asking for more material. Many students will finish the application process having written more than a dozen admissions essays.
The Common Application begins accepting college applications on August 1st. Many students will not yet have sat for their standardized tests at that stage. Still, there is no disadvantage to starting early. For high school seniors, the first semester of that final year is one of the busiest of their school careers. Trying to search out colleges, sit the SAT, write admissions essays and juggle a normal class load can be crippling.
And while I concede that summer is sacred, I can promise that it will remain so for at least another four years. You aren't sacrificing all your free time. You're merely tackling some of the unwieldy task of college applications before time becomes far scarcer.
Is it hard to plan ahead? Difficult to generate your best work absent high pressure? Sure. But college is pretty important, and ten weeks of summer will pass in a blink. And like so much in life, you may find yourself wishing you could have that time back.
Think of it as the first of many adult decisions you'll be making over the next few decades. This one may just have a delicious reward at the end.
Monday, June 1, 2015
Is it Fair to Expect Fairness in College Admissions?
I'm not the only one perplexed by the concept of justice in college admissions. It is a concept about which exhaustive speculation exists. Affirmative action cases languish for years in the highest judicial systems. Race, class, gender and privilege all incite vigorous-often aggressive conflicts in discussions about college admissions.
Which leads me to wonder aimlessly-who said college admissions should be fair?
In a recent NPR interview, former president of the National Association of College Admissions Counseling (NACAC), Jim Jump, noted that, "uniqueness is kind of the hidden currency of college admissions".
In the race to be the best of the best, many students lose sight of the notion that colleges may not always be looking for the same "best". In their bid to create a diverse student body, universities aren't likely to simply be searching for a bunch of high test scores. When dealing with thousands of equally qualified candidates, colleges have the option of picking the most interesting of the cream at the top.
Jump refers to this notion as "building a class full of differences, rather than admitting a bunch of individuals". This subtle distinction may be a tough sell for students trying to figure out "what it takes" to get in, and for the college preparatory services promising to give them that answer.
Universities are there to provide a service, and students are expected to pay for it. Universities generally have the discretion to select who they want to be a part of their institution-much like an employer gets to choose who it employs. Why then, the assumption that the process should be fair?
If we see college as the gateway to success in society, it would feel good to believe that it isn't restricted to a privileged few. But the reality is that colleges owe nothing to society. The concept that admissions should be fair is one resting on a moral imperative, not a practical one.
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