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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, October 26, 2015
Making College Admissions More Accessible
One of the aims of the Obama Administration has been opening up access to third-level education to students from a wider variety of social, economic, and racial backgrounds. The prohibitive costs of college, coupled with the labyrinth of obstacles students must traverse in order to gain admission has historically made college admissions a ticket available largely to the wealthiest American demographic.

Part of the administration's goal was to make it easier for students to ascertain a return on investment from their college education. The theory was that, if students were to sink into enormous debt in order to obtain a degree, they should at least know whether they'd be able to ever feasibly pay it off.

While weighing the value of an education is crucial, it is only a piece of the puzzle. Certainly, access to transparency of costs at the front-end is crucial. But so too, is a logistical introduction into the application process itself. Where do I apply? How do I apply? How early do I start preparing to apply?

To assist students with this component, a growing group of national colleges are banding together. Under the auspices of Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success (http://www.coalitionforcollegeaccess.org/members.html), more than 80 schools have pledged to offer need-based financial aid packages and affordable tuition to in-state students. It is more nuanced than that. These schools are also working to ensure that these students actually graduate (within six years).

The first iteration of the application tools are set to be rolled out in early 2016. They will include free, user-friendly, on-line access to college information and applications for young high school students. The overall goal is theoretical at this stage, but designed to transform the college application process from one that is purely transactional to one that is less intimidating. This is especially crucial to students lacking the socioeconomic reinforcements that traditionally buoy successful college entrants.

The evolution of the college admissions process may be slow, but the gradual commitment to greater inclusion is promising. To everyone involved.

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Monday, October 19, 2015
The Beauty of the Safety School
Years ago, when I was applying to colleges, there was a sort of unspoken routine to the application process. This was before the Common Application and, frankly, the Internet, so we filled our applications out by hand. That, and the cost of each application forced us to rein it in a bit. I only applied to five different schools.

I applied to one college that was out of the solar system for me. I applied to another that was a stretch. My top choice was a maybe. The other two were certainties, and I would have been happy enough to attend either. As it turned out, I got into all but the one out by Pluto. And because I had so many options, I wasn't heartbroken about it.

Forbes has a great list of 107 "Super Safety Schools", many of which also offer big tuition discounts. I love that Forbes does this. Like a moth to a flame, the media is fixated on the tiny handful of exclusive private colleges with the most ridiculously exclusive acceptance rates.

Harvard and Stanford will never be in most students' stratospheres. Which makes me wonder why we spend so much collective time talking about them.

There are over 4,000 public and private universities in the U.S. Many accept at least two-thirds of applicants. There is no reason why most students shouldn't be considering many of them. Pedigree is helpful, but it isn't everything. More importantly, just because a school is name brand, doesn't mean it will be a great fit.

I get it. It's hard not to want the shiny stuff that other people covet. But college is just too important to be looked at that way. Check out Forbes' list, and most of all, keep an open mind.

Forbes

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Monday, October 12, 2015
Personalize Your Admission Essay-By Writing About Someone Else
Arguably, one of the hardest parts of the admissions process is simply digging into the admission essay. Any writer, at almost any level will tell you that the most gut-wrenching stage of authoring is, well, starting. It might go something like this. You open up your computer. Click the Word icon. Stare at the white screen for awhile. Write and re-write a word. Delete it. Check Facebook. Get lost on the Internet. Repeat.

The universities are generally pretty explicit about what they're looking for in an admissions essay. The problem is that their terms are usually far too general. "Tell us about yourself". Most essay prompts are a variation on the same question and talking about yourself is difficult. For a start, the breadth of information you have to draw from is a little too broad.

You probably know a lot about yourself. But which of it is relevant? Or interesting?

By focusing your essay on someone other than you, you can demonstrate your abilities of observation. If you evaluate your subject well, you'll deftly show your reader how skilled you are at being introspective. You may even be able to prove that you can listen, without being burdened by the filter of your own biases. After all, truly understanding someone or something else means stepping outside of our own comfort zones.

Don't believe me? Next time you're stuck, pick a person, animal, place or subject that has some strong moral value for you. Then start writing about it. Anything about it. You may be surprised at where the creative flow leads.

At the very least, you won't be staring at a blank white screen.

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Monday, October 5, 2015
Lowering the Bar on Law School Admission
Nowhere is there a more unabashed elitism than in law school admissions. The highest ranking law schools even have a syrupy nickname ("T14"). Law schools in the U.S. are ruled with an iron fist by the American Bar Association, which is exceedingly choosy about who gets their stamp of approval, and why. And despite the myriad shades of personalities, skills, interests, experiences and intellect required to populate the massive pool of legal practitioners, success is still predicted largely by a single tool: the LSAT.

Research shows a connection between higher LSAT scores and bar passage rates. Students scoring in the highest percentiles can expect the uncoiling of fluffy, red carpets from top schools. I don't have time to unpack all my feelings about standardized tests, but I am not alone. Aptitude tests tend to be obvious markers of success. But the students who do well on them are usually benefitting from a litany of other privileges which are already setting them up to succeed in academics and beyond.

Still, the downturn in the market for law degrees over the past few years (a topic of many of my other posts), has caused some law schools to allegedly ease their admissions requirements. The trend seems to beg an ethical question: do law schools have an obligation to admit only the students with some plausible chance of passing the bar exam?

In some ways, the conundrum is no different from the one happening at the undergraduate level-even the Obama administration has jumped in to encourage universities to be transparent about graduation and post-graduate employment rates. But to what extent is the success of students really the responsibility of the school?

The hand-wringing doesn't seem to be grounded in concerns about student well-being. Law doesn't want to look bad-low bar-pass rates debase the profession at large. At the same time, law schools need to fill seats.

What's happening is an intersection of two dueling problems for the legal education industry: maintaining the requisite prestige while also meeting bottom line fiscal targets. The victor remains to be seen.

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Friday, October 2, 2015
California to Shave a Day off Bar Examination
If you're applying to law school in California, you've probably already heard all the horror stories. The LSAT may have been your first major hurdle, but an even more daunting barrier awaits California law school graduates at the end of their demanding three years of education. The California Bar Exam.

Widely regarding as one of the most difficult (if not the most difficult) in the nation, one thing that sets the California Bar Exam apart from other states is its length. Even the New York and Virginia Bar Exams-also amongst the most challenging in the U.S., require law students to sit through just two days of testing. At 18 hours, the California examination is grueling.

As it currently stands, California law students must complete six hours of written exams on seventeen different subjects. They must also complete six hours of a performance examination, which tests real-world legal skills. The remaining six hours are devoted to 200 multiple-choice questions.

Under the new rules, which take effect in 2017, California would make the biggest cut to the performance exam, which would consist of just ninety minutes. The written subject exams would consume the other five hours of day one. The multiple choice exam—which is a nationally standardized test—would consume day two.

Grading may be as unforgiving as ever. With equal weight given to the two days, students who struggle with multiple choice questions may face an uphill battle. On the other hand, the physically and emotionally demanding exam will be an entire day shorter.

The motivation of the Committee of Bar Examiners is unclear. Cutting a day from the exam would make it more cost-effective for students, and less unwieldy for graders. So while it may translate to one less night in a hotel for law students, it won’t necessarily be easier.

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