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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, January 25, 2016
The Art and Science of College Admission
Hint: I don't have the answer.

A recent NPR broadcast discussed the shroud of mystery that cloaks the college admissions deliberation process. The college consulting industry promises to answer a million different questions. But that isn't one of them, because, no one really knows. Few colleges actually give anyone insight into their bare-bones methods for choosing students.

For a start, it would open a can of worms that could never again be closed. Every rejected candidate would feel unjustly overlooked. Every admissions committee member would be unfairly criticized. The reality, of course, is that most colleges have to turn away the majority of their applicants. That may mean that good students don't get in. It may even mean that they occasionally chose wrong.

On the radio show, NPR looks at a small, Catholic college in Massachusetts, with an entering class of 700. Those applications are vetted by a total of 13 different people, prompting the school's Director of Admissions to call the vetting process "both an art and a science". In other words, objective metrics like grades and test scores are crucial-the science half. But the rest of it-the art part-is more subjective. It comes down to the gut instincts and personal opinions of thirteen different people.

This is just a tiny window into the heart of one institution. For added context, schools like UCLA and the University of Texas have freshman classes in the tens of thousands. UCLA boasted 16,000 admits out of almost 100,000 applications. Framed that way, it's easy to see why the admissions process alone is practically its own institution.

Perhaps the process is just bigger at larger universities. It's easy to see how universities can't promise to spend more than a couple minutes per application-at least on the first read. Which must make prospective students feel rather unsettled. At the same time, the lack of predictability in the process also means it's anybody’s game. Which should give everyone a little hope.

Though it may not help lift the veil.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2016
Is the Law School Admissions Collapse Good for Lower-Ranking Schools?
One of the most interesting sides of the recent downturn in law school admissions has been the discussions it has generated. So many discussions. So much speculation. People are fascinated when high-ranking fields are rankled. They like to ponder all the reasons the mighty have fallen, and whether or not they'll be able to dust off their knees and get up again.

In the world of law school education, rankings are everything. I mean, everything. It's all about numbers and prestige. You can have mediocre undergraduate grades, but if you score high enough on the LSAT list, top schools start sending you personalized postcards. The top 14 schools even have their own nickname (T14), despite the fact that everyone knows how spurious ranking systems can be in the first place.

With the very real downturn in the legal job market, rankings have become more important than ever. Take junior associateships, for instance-these are the pre-graduation internships that serve as the pipeline for post-grad jobs. For students that want a shot at big-firm jobs, the advantages of a T14 school are palpable.

What's interesting is the fall-out. If fewer people are applying to law school, you'd think that would affect law schools at every tier. It isn't that simple. The T14 schools, by and large, have begun to admit fewer students, even if it means a reduction in their bottom line. Why? Because they don't want to skim the cream from the top of the lower tier schools, for fear of pushing down their own rankings. Oh yes, people talk about real-live law students like statistics.

The losses for lower tier schools may not be as distinct. Those schools typically have cheaper tuition, less overhead, and less to lose with a dip in the rankings. Which really begs the important question: has the law school admissions collapse meant that we are producing lower-quality attorneys? Isn't that what should really matter?

Since practicing attorneys all have to pass their own state bar exams, and since those exams have remain largely unchanged by the "collapse", the end result might be simple. Fewer attorneys, but not diminished quality.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2016
The Problem With Law School
At the start of law school, students are fed a ubiquitous truism about the separate phases of their legal education. First, there is law school. Then there is the bar exam. Finally, there is legal practice. The line is fed with a shrug and a smirk. As if to say, only the best of you will be able to conquer all three; mastering one doesn't necessarily mean you'll be able to successfully tackle another.

This promise is only slightly better than the other nugget of wisdom proffered to most 1Ls. "Look at the person sitting next to you. Only one of you will be here next year".

Indeed, law school trades upon the idea that law student occupy a sort of elevated intellectual space which the ordinary population could never possibly visit. The competition encouraged within the walls of law schools was always designed to make students better, smarter, stronger. Perhaps there's nothing wrong with that.

But even if the cutthroat competition of law school and its tributaries isn't distasteful to you, the idea that school doesn't prepare students for the bar exam or even legal practice is problematic. Isn't school supposed to prepare students for success?

All the recent talk about the cultural downfall of law schools has centered around different problems-economic cycles, fraud scandals, tough job markets. Blogs abound about declining application numbers, and lower LSAT scores. But perhaps the conundrum is more multifaceted. Is law school simply too elite for its own good?

Shouldn't law school prepare students for the bar exam? And shouldn't both endeavors help steer students deftly into the rigors of legal practice? The sink or swim mentality may force only the toughest cream to the top, but is that really the best thing for the legal profession?

Perhaps the world of Law should consider worrying less about appearances, and more about substance. If winning is measured by the presence of an empty seat at your side, the entire moral compass of the profession has a lot to answer for.

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Wednesday, January 13, 2016
Stepping Away from Google for your College Search
The New Year may mean many things to many different students. Some graduate schools have end-of-January deadlines for the 2016 admissions cycle. Many undergraduates are still waiting on responses to their Fall 2015 applications. Still other high school juniors or gap-year undergrads may just be starting the admissions journey. Whatever lily pad you're sitting on, I'd like to offer a morsel of unsolicited, and unsubstantiated advice:

Step away from your computer.

Don't get me wrong. The internet can be a bottomless treasure chest. With the utmost respect to old-fashioned encyclopedias, the internet has revolutionized our ability to access information, almost effortlessly. At the same time, it's full of some things that are literally impossible to regulate. The worst offender?

Opinions. Yes, I see the irony here.

The thing is, it's easy for opinions to be spun into facts. The internet is the Petri dish for that kind of viral growth. It's like an old-fashioned game of "telephone" on a global scale. Which isn't to say that sites like College Prowler and Rate my Professor don't have some anecdotal value. It's just that, when making the decision about which college to attend and why, students can't slip down the rabbit hole of water-cooler chat.

The most vocal reporters are usually the unhappy ones-just ask any business with a Yelp page. So if you're hearing negative vibes about your college of choice, or being swept up in broad myths about who gets admitted and for what reasons-you may want to just step back. For a start, no one ever fully understands why some students get admitted and others don't. That kind of speculation will just lead to a frustrating loop of answerless musing that is only going to add to what is already a high-anxiety process.

So take a break from Google, or at least consider the sources of your information. Go straight to the college websites. Talk to your school counselor. Hit up some alumni. Read a book.

Let this be your resolution. At least for a few weeks.

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Wednesday, January 13, 2016
The Community College Problem
I live in a moderately-sized town that has one of the top universities in the country and a community college that claims to be number one in the nation. That means that the community college attracts some quality faculty. We're also in a desirable geographic location, which doesn't hurt. There is a guaranteed transfer program which promises community college students a spot at the local university so long as they meet some fairly minimal admissions requirements.

It sounds like the best of all worlds. Some students elect to attend the community college for two years and live by the university-saving money while living in the same neighborhood. The required transfer GPA is as low as 2.4, depending on desired degree program at the university. Over a third of transfer students at the four-year university come from the local community college. Sounds great, right?

Why then is the college transfer pathway so porous? A recent Huffpost blog by Dr. Brian Mitchell, explores the problems with what he calls a "badly broken pathway" between 2-year and 4-year institutions in the U.S. He notes that factors such as the low GPA requirement for transfer students actually leave some community college students ill-prepared for the rigors of 4-year universities.

The problem is that a proportionally small number of community college students actually graduate from 4-year universities. Given the relatively low professional value of a 2-year degree, this begs the question of the overall efficacy of community college education.

It is designed to be an alternate pathway. For high school grads who couldn't get into the university of their choice. For students who can't afford four years of university tuition. For older students who need to work or raise families part-time. Community college was supposed to be the great equalizer.

Unfortunately, it's just underscored the overarching problem with third-level education-it's largely become the private province of the affluent. It turns out that the back-door to 4-year college isn't so easily opened.

There are a great many things in the higher education that need to be fixed. This one is crucial if we are to promise equal footing to tomorrow's professionals.

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