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Thursday, August 20, 2015
ABA Reverses Decision on LSAT Exemption
It's been just over a year since the primary governing body of America's accredited law schools decided to dispense with the ubiquitous LSAT requirement. The standardized test has long been a staple of law school admission. Exceptional LSAT scores can help tip the scales for students with on-the-fence grades. A poor performance can be the kiss of death.
Like most standardized tests in higher education, the LSAT was designed as a leveler of the playing field. With law students coming from a wide variety of undergraduate backgrounds, the test was a helpful weeding tool.
Last year, the American Bar Association (ABA), surprised many when it introduced an exemption option for the LSAT. Up to ten percent of a school's annual admittees could include students that had not taken the LSAT.
The premise may have been simple, but the execution was not.
As in other areas of tertiary education, the LSAT had become a litmus test of privilege. The hope was that, by eliminating the requirement-at least in part-law schools could cast a wider net. Diversity was the buzzword, but it was more nuanced than that. Law schools would be opening their doors to qualified candidates who may have excelled in areas other than standardized test taking. Shutting the doors on poorer LSAT performers may have also been screening out valuable talent.
The ABA has said little about the reversal. It was not a referendum on diversity as much as a salve for a confusing rule. Or so they say. It is a curt reversal, and some law schools are disappointed that the ABA changed course without allowing the initial dust to settle.
For now, at least, the LSAT remains one of the greatest obstacles to law school admission. Which, it seems, is precisely how the ABA wants it.
Wednesday, August 5, 2015
Why Law School Could be the Perfect Place for STEM Students
Many years ago, I sat at a writing seminar for law students. It was at a big hotel in Los Angeles, and attended by hundreds. The speaker was dynamic. One of the points that resonated for me was his comment about undergraduate backgrounds of law students. He polled the audience regarding their fields of study. Predictably, most of us had degrees in the humanities.
He told us we had picked the wrong majors.
Clearly, this was for effect. His point, however, was not lost on us. He was trying to teach us how to better respond to law school examination questions, which are largely essay-based. Being able to write well, he suggested, was of little use to us. Instead, he noted, that math, engineering and science majors tend to think differently. They are more linear. They think in bullet points.
This is a valuable tool in legal analysis. Most exams, including the bar, demand that students process a large amount of information quickly, then distill it into a concise, cohesive argument. Law students must also support argument with law. This process may align with traditional essay composition. But it is more easily paralleled with the explanation process of, say, a scientific experiment.
And the law profession needs patent lawyers. They need scientists in environmental law. They need intellectual property lawyers who understand technology. These are non-traditional qualities essential to the competency of the legal profession.
So for the STEM students that hadn't before considered it, law has the potential to be an surprisingly good fit. What may make them stand out could also cause them to excel in unexpected ways.
Tuesday, August 4, 2015
GWU Drops Test-Score Requirement
With more than 25,000 students-10,000 of them undergraduates, George Washington University in the District of Columbia just became the largest U.S. school to drop the SAT and ACT testing requirements. GWU joins more than 125 private universities on US News & World Report's ranked list to dispense with the mandatory tests.
GWU's official statement on the issue sound promising. The university claims that it didn't want to discourage otherwise accomplished students, who may have had mediocre test scores, from applying. For years, discussion has swirled about the utility of standardized test scores. By and large, the scores skew along socioeconomic and racial lines, causing some to question them as an objective metric of academic skill.
Ironically, standardized tests were first introduced as a great equalizer. Since the rigor of high school curricula varies wildly across the country, an "A" from one school does not always carry the weight of an "A" from another. Standardized tests were designed to make it easier for admissions committees to measure students' aptitude.
Although high SAT and ACT test scores do correlate with long-term college success, the data is misleading when taken out of context. Wealthier students from superior high schools tend to perform better on the tests. These are the same students more likely to enjoy a long-term trajectory of success.
By making the tests optional, GWU and its counterparts are attempting to take a more holistic view of potential students. Their vetting process will refocus on high school grades and extracurriculars, taking into account a student's sustained performance over the course of several years, rather than several hours of test-taking.
With over 4,000 universities in the U.S., the test-optional schools still represent a tiny fraction of the nation's schools. Still, their novel approach to evaluating student candidates should serve as food for thought for the majority.
Labels: GWU Drops Test-Score Requirement
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