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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.
Monday, September 28, 2015
Overstating Charity in Admissions Essays
Every time this comes up, I cringe a little. Then I pad lightly around my critique, taking great care not to be outright cruel. It's hard to hand a 17-year-old student a hard dose of reality. Especially when the college admissions process is already so stressful. By the time students are tackling the admission essay, they're nearly tapped out.

Still, I feel the need to warn them. I'll state it here, to no one in particular. You did not actually save the world. The children living in the impoverished [insert name of poor foreign country] where you spent a week as a volunteer are not permanently moved by your charity. You don't need to promise to make the world a better place.

Does it sound a little mean?

Obviously, I soften it. But here's why sincerity matters. First of all, your reader can recognize when you're trying to pad your application. Secondly, the real point of the admissions essay is introspection. If you aren't able to really place your volunteer work in context, you may not have learned that much from the experience.

Did the poor children you worked with benefit from your involvement? Perhaps. Was your impact upon their lives far-reaching? Maybe. Yet the real life lesson here was probably your own. Most likely, working with "disadvantaged" people of any sort forced you to check your own privilege. Maybe that felt uncomfortable. Maybe it was easier to cast yourself as a hero.

A truly reflective essay shares the experience, but doesn't overstate its importance. I get it-some students aren't necessarily boasting. They really feel that they've done some good for the world, and for that, they should be commended. They just need to be careful that their altruism doesn't come across as self-aggrandizement.

So I promise to keep coming up with nice ways of telling writers to reevaluate the impact of their charity work. So long as writers promise to be more self-aware.

Your reader will notice.

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Wednesday, September 23, 2015
More U.S. Students Going Overseas for MBA Degrees
So many of the stories about the college admissions landscape revolve around the growing number of foreign students in American undergraduate and graduate schools. As economies boom overseas, countries like China and India are sending students to the U.S. in record amounts. The dissolution of borders in the business world makes this academic globalization incredibly valuable.

This is perhaps nowhere more relevant than in the context of graduate business degrees. At Stanford's graduate school of business, a full 44% of the student body is from abroad; at Harvard, that figure is 34%. Overall, the undergraduate institutions in the U.S. with the highest numbers of international students run at around 30%.

Some publications point out that it isn't necessarily surprising that the world's most populous nations are sending many young people abroad for education. Others note that the numbers of Chinese and Indian students educated in the U.S. represent only a fraction of those country's respective populations. Still the changes mark an evolution in the topography of the American educational map.

Despite these increases, there is another noteworthy trend in play-American students are seeking MBA degrees overseas in record numbers. Graduate business schools such as the University of Oxford's Saȉd School of Business and France's prestigious Insead School, are reporting a small, but not insignificant jump in enrollment of students from the U.S.

What's significant is the overall demographic at top European institutions such as these, where as many as 95% of the student body comes from different nations. In the race to globalize the students of graduate business schools, Europe currently seems to have the edge. Also appealing to many U.S. students is the one-year program available at many European schools, which is half the length of the traditionally two-year degrees here in the U.S.

So while borders continue to be barriers amongst nations, education is allowing people to traverse them in record numbers. Which promises nuanced and remarkable changes for the future.

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Monday, September 21, 2015
Conveying a Love of Learning in Your Admission Essay
So much of the college application process these days involves a sense of gaming the system. It's virtually impossible to know what each university really wants in its students. Admissions isn't a science, but that doesn't stop students from trying to measure their odds with methodical precision.

College consultants find themselves fielding the same questions with regularity. Students want to know if they should take the harder class and risk the lower grade, or take the easier class and bolster their GPA. ACT vs SAT? Which AP exams to take? Should they do community service locally or abroad? Are internships important? How many sports should they take?

These questions are all valid, but they kind of miss the mark. I'll be honest, as an adult, I find it hard to pursue knowledge for the sake of it. Life's immediacies like taking care of family and paying rent always push themselves to the front of the line. But if there's any philosophical advice that I wish students would truly take on board, it is that. Learn for the sake of knowing more. Follow your interests.

If you volunteer at the Boys' and Girls' Club in order to check some sort of proverbial box, it will be obvious. If you flunk Physics because you are terrible at science, maybe taking your beloved Humanities course just makes more sense.

I don't mean that we must always eschew the things that feel intellectually laborious to us. I do mean that the pursuit of things that are both challenging and interesting is more gratifying. And when we are satisfied, we tend to be more successful.

In writing any college admissions essay, the guiding piece of advice is "show, don't tell". If you're writing about something you love, it will be obvious. It will be sincere.

And your reader will know it.

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Saturday, September 12, 2015
College Visits: Good for the Soul
College is way in the distance in my rearview mirror. The game has changed considerably since then. But fundamentally, that transition is very much the same. Students looking to go away to university are largely facing one of the first big Changes in their lives. Most of that, it turns out, has very little to do with college.

My family has recently began reconsidering a move out of state. It is a big psychological burden. The logistics are almost too heavy to carry. We've combed the internet, surveyed friends, bought books, and even stuck pins in maps. We're still not much closer to a decision. The next step is obvious. We have to hit the pavement.

Which is precisely what this years' high school seniors need to be doing. The stakes may be different, but I'm pretty certain our emotions are very much the same.

The internet is a blessing and a curse. Information is good. Lots of information is, well, kind of stressful. There is peace in every decision. The internet almost offers too many options.

I'm a big believer in getting a feel for the place. You can search the web for tips on touring college campuses. That's not where I'm going with this. I say, pick a handful of places that suit you from a practical perspective-cost, location, fields of study, size. Then go see them. Do sit in on classes. Have a meal in the student common. Take pictures. Check out the surrounding neighborhood.

Can you picture yourself there? It's an important question to ask. There's a lot of value in gut instincts.

And remember this. It's easy to make a bad decision, but it's hard to make a wrong one. Life isn't always predictable, but with some well reasoned choices, it's okay to take the leap. The net will appear.

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Saturday, September 12, 2015
What's in the Winning College Admissions Essays
This is the million-dollar question, of course. The admission essay is a centerpiece of the college consulting industry, primarily because it is such an enigma. Test scores and grades-those are measurable. We know what good and bad ones look like, and colleges can be explicit in their expectations.

The essay is much mushier. This blog and countless others have devoted thousands of words to describing the perfect one. Still, students struggle to find out what colleges are looking for.

Admit See is a start-up with a simple model: invite verified high school students to share their college application materials, and pay them for it. Students have an incentive to share, and Admit See suddenly has valuable goods for future students. See what the successful essays actually look like.

In just the year since its inception, Admit See boasts a catalogue of over 15,000 essays, many from successful admits to top schools. The information they share is broad and of varying degrees of utlity.

For example, successful Harvard admits tended to address their parents as "mother" and "father"; at Stanford, it was "mom" and "dad". Harvard essays contained more words related to hardship ("cancer", "difficult"), while Stanford essays were more optimistic ("happy", "passion"). And while these minutiae may or may not actually improve one’s odds, other observations might.

Risk-taking apparently pays off. The more uniquely structured (well-executed) narratives drew the attention of admissions committees. Even taboo subject matter seemed to poll well with readers.

Companies like Admit See cleverly prey upon students' anxiety surrounding the mysterious essay. But you never know-they may just be on to something.

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Tuesday, September 1, 2015
What Does it Mean to be a First Generation College Student?
It's one of those old pieces of college lore. Those afflictions you secretly want to have in order to improve your chances of getting in. You know, the soft factors that generate the most heat in debates about college admissions. Race. Gender. Class. National origin. Hardship.

It's uncomfortable to talk about. Because it involves privilege. All the marginalities that make life hard for people in real society can somehow be an asset in the admissions game. When colleges say they want a diverse student body, people don't fully understand what it means.

So they write their own stories. I shouldn't check the Asian box. I should tell them I'm gay. They should know my parents are African, even if I was raised in Topeka.

I see the way people talk about the difficulty of being the first in their family to go to college. It's one of those things that the rest of us can't really understand. All the adults in my family went to college. That I would go too was never a question. There was virtually zero mystery to the experience. A handful of my relatives had even gone to my university.

Yet, we never really see this discussed. Which is why I found this recent NY Times article so moving. The author talks about her experience as a first-generation college student. Not in terms of its value as an admissions metric. But in terms of the way it played out for her in real life.

It's the kind of story that should remind people that there is a difference between hardship and sob stories. That everyone doesn't arrive to the ivory towers on the same bus. That adversity isn't a free pass but rather a thing that contextualizes the journey, imbuing it with meaning.

Because while college is a new page for every freshman, all prologues are not created equal.

New York Times

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