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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, February 22, 2016
In the Legal Education Crisis, Who Really Gets Hurt?
While not compelling conversation at most dinner tables, those in the know about the "law school crisis" of the past several years can truly talk the topic to death. The discourse is propped up by some un-refuted facts which have played out within the past decade:

1) Most law schools have seen a downturn in application and enrollment;

2) The legal job market is not as good as it used to be;

3) The number of LSAT takers has decreased;

4) The number of high-scoring LSAT takers has diminished.

There is a proven correlation between LSAT scores and bar passage rates. So while universities do pay attention to undergraduate performance, there is a still a high premium attached to high scores.

Top tier schools have their eyes fixed on the preservation of two primary concepts: 1) rankings, 2) economic bottom line. In other words, how do schools preserve their prestige, while still earning money. It's a chicken-egg problem, too. Higher rankings make schools more desirable, attracting more applications. If you let in more of the riff-raff, you may be cashing tuition checks, while slowly degrading the prestige that gives your school its value.

And this is at the heart of most discussions about this "crisis". Which leads me to wonder-who is really getting hurt? It's hard for me to muster sympathy for the likes of Yale law school; pricetag of annual tuition (exclusive of books and fees): $55,800. Sure, it's a fiscal crisis for the institutions, but how does this trickle down to society at large.

It may be time to reshape the discussion. How does the downturn in applicants affect the academic future of law schools? What is the effect upon society of fewer, or less competent legal practitioners? Is this a blip, or an educational evolution?

Wake me when those conversations begin.

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Monday, February 22, 2016
Mandatory National Service before College?
A recent report by Harvard's Graduate School of Education has taken the college admissions world by storm. In essence, the report bemoans the overemphasis on test scores, and calls for an admissions process that better assesses the potential contributions of the "whole student".

Full disclosure: I'm totally on board with this. I can see, however, how difficult it would be to implement. I'm also skeptical that the higher education structure would ever dispense with the metrics of grades and test scores.

In his Forbes op-ed, Steve Cohen pokes holes in Harvard's report, or more accurately, fills in perceived blanks in their plan. I don't have space here to address more than one: his suggestion that the US government institute a mandatory national service.

His plan would make a military component voluntary-so we aren't talking a national draft. However, it would force all people of a certain age to become engaged in public service of some sort. In his estimation, it would level the socioeconomic playing field for those who eventually want to go to college.

Colleges want community service, but the current reality is that service is a luxury largely confined to the wealthy classes. Poor students may actually have to work paying jobs. They may not have the wealth to engage in volunteer tourism. So even if colleges did refocus their interest on the so-called "soft factors" of a student's experience, poorer students would still come up short.

Cohen raises an interesting point, although the likelihood of a mandatory national service is about as feasible as Stanford eliminating the SAT requirement. Still, the conversation once again raises important issues about access to higher education, and the values we prioritize in looking for top students.

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Monday, February 15, 2016
Parents and College Admissions: Recipe for Disaster?
Being a parent means being part of a club with its own set of secret understandings. There are just certain things that no non-parent can truly comprehend. Wanting the best of everything for your kid is something that simply comes with the territory. And it isn't until you become a parent that you realize how many mountains you'd be willing to move for your offspring.

As an adult, you understand things that kids inherently don't. If you've ever parented a teenager, you know that knowledge gap will always be vigorously tested.

And if you thought helping your kid with homework was an exercise in tearing your hair out, you probably haven't yet tackled the college application process. Will college help your child's prospects of long-term success? Almost certainly. Will college be a positively transformative life experience? Most likely. Will your child trust you when you tell them that? Maybe.

Here are a couple of things you can do (and I'll bullet-point it, because I know your time is valuable):

• Don't plan vacations in the August before senior year. The Common Application is open for business starting August 1st. While many deadlines come much later in the year, your child can never spend too much time drafting, re-drafting and proofreading their admissions essay;

• Consider hiring a college counselor. Cost can be prohibitive, and they may not always be necessary. But any parent who has ever been locked in a battle of wills with their child knows that children often take direction much better from an objective adult.

• Back off. Yeah, I know, right? Like homework, the more you push, the more they may resist. Try some reverse psychology. Empower them to make the right choices. Give them the information they need, and back out the bedroom door.

• Breathe. Remember that this is an incredibly stressful time for your kid, too. They don't need your anxiety compounding theirs.

Also remember, like every other challenge of parenting, this is a phase. It too shall pass.

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Monday, February 8, 2016
The Real Agony of the College Admissions Essay
Let me start out by saying that I am guilty. I have done this thing a thousand times. I sit smugly at my keyboard, pouring many decades of writing and life experience into short, admonitory blogs to teenagers. I close the laptop feeling satisfied.

Relax, kids. It's just an essay.

So today, as I read this beautifully crafted article by a young woman less than half my age-I had to really find a way to turn the mirror on myself. When I applied to college over 20 years ago, everything was done on paper. But that wasn't the biggest difference. I really only had to write a single essay. Sure, some of the private elite schools required a second or third question, but the stakes seemed different.

They'd leave five empty lines on a paper application and ask something like "tell us something you're particularly proud of". You wouldn't feel compelled to write earth-shattering prose. It felt more like filling out an intake form at your doctor's office.

But now. Now, it is so competitive. Students wanting to get in anywhere simply must cast a wider net. Sure, they can reuse and recycle some of their own work, but that's only half the battle. Most schools require at least two or three essays, and some want upwards of five. There can't be substantive overlap.

And while 250 words may not sound like much, it's oftentimes the hardest essay of all. Imagine being told you had to write down everything you loved about doughnuts. On a piece of paper the size of a dime.

It's not just an essay. It's a massive writing assignment, and good writing isn't something that most of us can just phone in. Neither is life experience-the lifeblood of most rich prose.

So I promise-from now on, when I lecture teenagers in cyberspace, I will be more empathetic.

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Monday, February 1, 2016
Is It Possible to “Turn the Tide” on College Admissions?
Answer: probably not. But a new report, co-signed by over 50 college admissions deans and educators, gives a number of suggestions about how to do so.

The concept of the report sounds good: stop sending high school kids the message that individual success is more valuable than the common good. The purpose of the report, which is the collaborative undertaking by the Harvard Graduate School of Education, certainly has its heart in the right place. And it is taking its message to an important place-college admissions offices.

The hope is, by having so many deans sign off on the idea, the report can help reshape the value set placed on incoming college students. If colleges begin to place greater emphasis on community service than test scores, some of the success pressure might be lifted off the shoulders of young high school students.

Will the theory translate into practice? Well, so far, it's an academic report, so whether its traction will trickle down is questionable. It's utopian emphasis on student engagement in community is highly attractive, but shifting a decades-old value system is an uphill battle.

Colleges have to employ a system of metrics in order to vet candidates. Should an engaged, compassionate student with mediocre grades be invited into an institution where they might be destined to fail academically? By the same token, should a top student with few extracurriculars be given the same consideration?

At the same time, third-level institutions are somewhat responsible for preparing young people to become contributing members of society. Is training an investment banker as important as training a social worker? More importantly, how would such a shift in values affect the financial bottom line?

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