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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, November 23, 2015
Selling Yourself Short on Your College Admission Essay
If you're a high school junior with an eye on college, you've probably already started reading all the college counseling advice. There is lots of it. You might have a book. You might have hired a consultant. Your parents may have your ear. And when it comes to writing your admission essay, much of the advice is the same.

Edit, proofread, and edit some more.

Brainstorm. Put all your ideas on paper first-organize later. Edit. Have someone else look it over. Be yourself. Show, don't tell.

All good advice. Unless you're suffering from a severe case of writer's block. Then, and only then, you might want to just throw the book at the wall. Then follow me out onto this limb.

What if-you designated an hour on a Saturday afternoon, and just sat down and wrote. Write about whatever comes to mind. Don't put a ton of thought into it. Write about why it is funny or important to you. Don't overthink it. Most importantly, don't write what you think someone else wants to hear.

Trust me here. I write often. My best ideas usually come to me when I'm busy doing other things. I always wish I could stop in that moment and spill the words onto paper, because by the time I have time, I'm often stumped.

I'm not suggesting that you don't edit your work. I'm not telling you not to put another hour into it. I'm just challenging you to take a risk. Get out of your own head, and into your heart.

So much of the admission essay angst revolves around a single thing-writing what you think your university wants to read. It takes the joy out of the creative process. Students, so preoccupied with "getting in", become paralyzed into drafting something that will make them look good, rather than something they actually enjoy writing.

So, why not try it? After all, it's only an hour.

See what happens.

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Monday, November 16, 2015
How Many College Applications is Too Many?
In conversation with a friend of mine this week, she mentioned that her recently unemployed spouse has sent out 46 job applications over the past few weeks. He's a highly-qualified tech professional living in a competitive market. Forty-six? I couldn't even fathom rejection on that scale. I mean, he can't possibly expect to get all 46 jobs.

In the changing landscape of college admissions, numbers are starting to matter more. On-line platforms like the Common Application have made it easier to apply to a greater number of universities with the single click of a button. Students can conceivably write a single admission essay and forward the same document to dozens of different universities.

So, is there a magic number of colleges to which a student should apply? Is it better to apply to three colleges or 50? Is there a down side to either?

I don't pretend to have all the answers. It depends in part upon the quality of the research and college counseling that students receive. Students with access to top guidance counselors are obviously at an advantage here. Affluent students also have a leg up in the sense that they can afford to do things like visit out of state campuses.

This kind of front-end research allows students to make more measured decisions. Those students may well be able to narrow their field to a handful of colleges in which they are very interested and to which they are well-suited.

For many other students, college choice is greyer. They may be basing decisions on second-hand information or cursory views of a college website. This makes it harder for students to really assess the school which may be best for them. In that case, I say, cast a wide net (assuming it's affordable-each application usually carries a fee).

The flip-side of this conversation is that more applications make it more difficult for colleges to actually review them. Who knows how technology has squeezed that aspect of the admissions process.

Finally, there are the odds. If you're applying to two dozen schools, you're more likely to get in somewhere; you just need to steel yourself for the inevitable rejection, too.

Which is not a bad life lesson, anyhow.

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Monday, November 9, 2015
No, It is Not “Our” Admission Essay
I've read a lot lately about helicopter parenting. As a parent, I have a deeply vested interest in my children's success. I hope I don't hover, but I think that's the problem with over-parenting; you're not likely to realize you're doing it.

On the other side is a different school of thought. Today's interfering parents are creating anxious, co-dependent children who are as bad at tying their own shoes as they are at suffering disappointments.

Like most things, I bet the truth is somewhere in the middle.

The funny thing is, the overbearing parenting isn't happening just to toddlers-it's happening to teenagers. And nowhere is it more obvious than in the college application process.

Teenagers aren't well-known for being impeccably organized. They might even tend to procrastinate, or underestimate the importance of adult things. Like taking the college application seriously. I can see why it would be hard for a parent to take a step-back, watching the proverbial train-wreck with their hands tied behind their back.

This isn't a parenting blog, so I've got no advice there. What I can say is this-your seventeen-year-old shouldn't write as well as a fifty-year-old. Their essay won't be perfect. It can only be as good as they make it. If that's enough to get them into their dream school-great. If not? They've been handed a tough life lesson: we can't always get what we want.

Should they revise their essay? Of course. Have an adult read it and offer feedback? Absolutely. But the admission essay should never be a collaborative effort. It is your child's essay. There is no "we", in the process.

Unless that includes you cheering them on from the sidelines. Which may be one of the easiest and the hardest things for any parent to do.

Then find a way to let them go.

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Monday, November 9, 2015
Can You Spin Your Way Into College?
Hard work is the key to success, right? I mean, you go to school, study hard, do well on your tests, and you get into a good college. Then you pave the pavement, get a good starter job, and spend your career climbing the ladder. You make no excuses, and carry a strong moral compass. Victory is yours.

Or is it?

When it comes to giving advice about college admissions, most counselors tow this line. Be yourself in your admission essay. Engage in meaningful extracurriculars. Don't let your parents fill out your application. And while I want all of this to be true, I can't help but wonder if it really is.

In real life, hard work matters. So do things like, say, money. If you're batting from a higher socioeconomic class from the start, you're already a rung up from students without your advantages. In the professional world, attitude matters. I see it in my field all the time. The smartest people and the most charismatic people aren't always one and the same. And trust me, you can balance a lot on the back of charisma.

So when applying to college, how important is sincerity, really? So, your parents paid for your volunteer tourism trip to Guatemala-is it going to carry less weight on your application? Let's say mom hired your college counselor and filled out most of your applications. It may not be the best way to foster your independence, but will it help or hinder your chances of getting into college?

I hate to write this, but putting the right spin on your college application might just be the push every student needs. Certainly, personality isn't going to carry you if your grades and scores are weighing you down-but it could get you pretty far. Is that such a bad thing?

There are at least half a dozen question marks in this short entry; my skepticism about this approach is thinly veiled. Still, as the process has become more competitive, it's not difficult to see how students' collective approach to admissions has calcified into something much more calculated than the counseling advice that promises to help them.

Or perhaps hard work will get them there in the end.

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Monday, November 2, 2015
The Back-Side of Competitive College Admissions
As every admissions cycle closes its lap around the track, we hear the same, familiar refrain. The low admissions rates. Hand-wringing ensues. How can Stanford accept fewer than seven percent of applying students? How can anyone be expected to succeed?

UCLA's 2015 acceptance rate was around 17%, which sounds far better than 7%, until you consider the fact that UCLA received a record number of applications for that cycle-112,000. The odds are not good.

Yet, from the perspective of the universities, the view is very different. They are, in fact, having a tough time filling seats.

In its annual Survey of College and University Admission Directors, Inside Higher Education (IHE) reported that more than half of the 264 admission directors polled, responded that they had not met their enrollment targets. More than 75% of the respondents blamed these falling numbers on increasingly crippling student debt.

The survey raises some interesting questions about recruitment techniques. Most colleges seem to be averse to the idea of loosening admission requirements. Put simply, colleges continue to feel most comfortable relying on traditional metrics of achievements, such as test scores and grades. Coming up with unconventional evaluative methodology in order to cast a wider net of potential students was not a popular option-even set against the backdrop of empty seats.

Like most businesses, the surveyed directors favored an approach focused on the bottom line. Recruiting out-of-state and foreign students who are required to pay higher tuition. Sweetening the deal for those students offers promise for the universities' financial health, without sacrificing 'reputation'.

The prospect isn't promising for all but the top-performing local students seeking admissions to universities close to home. It is complicated by a competitive job market, and students graduating with crippling student loan debt.

Only time will tell whether long-term reform is in the cards.

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