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Saturday, April 30, 2016
Curbing Competition in College Admissions
Writers on the topic of college admissions-present company included-give a lot of column space to discussion of how competitive it has become. The conversation typically follows a threadbare path. More applications=more rejections. Then, lots of speculation. Is college more expensive than it used to be? (Yes) Are more people applying to college? (Maybe) Are college degrees more valuable today than they were fifty years ago? (Debatable).
There are a couple of things that are somewhat certain. I'm no economist, but it's pretty easy to rustle up access to endowments for universities all over the country. You might not be shocked to know that big universities are big business. UCLA, a public school in California, has an endowment of nearly $2 billion. Billion. But it's got nothing on Harvard, which, in 2014, had an endowment of $36 billion. That's just staggering.
I'm no financial expert either, and I have no doubt that these universities have massive overhead costs. Harvard's own website discusses a $1.6 billion distribution for the fiscal year ending June 2015, acknowledging that that number represents approximately a third of Harvard's operating costs. I'm no math expert, but that leaves them a tidy sum in their financial portfolios.
I'm no politician, but I can't help but wonder why private institutions like Harvard dooesn't do a more effective job of spreading the wealth. Most public universities were created with the aim of educating the citizens of the states in which they reside. But their budgets are strained, and even public universities remain out of reach for many people.
Private institutions have the money to create scalable options for spreading the educational wealth. Why not offer more MOOCs? Extension programs? Public access to their rich resources? Stanford boasts a 5% acceptance rate, but apparently does nothing to make that rate go up. Why not create more seats for applicants?
I'm just musing here, but in the current admissions climate, a discussion of higher-education profit is one that can't and shouldn't be avoided.
Friday, April 15, 2016
Adding Meaning to Your Law School Personal Statement
One of the first things they teach you in law school is how to outline. You may think you already know how, but law school is full of blind corners, and this is one of them. It turns out, in order to survive law school, you have to read and absorb an obscene volume of material. Without processing it into bite-sized morsels, it will be too much to remember, and regurgitate on an exam.
Some professors will encourage you to spend at least 50% of your exam time simply outlining your answer. With limited time on the clock, this can be excruciating. The temptation to fill the empty blank page is sometimes overwhelming. And yet-stereotypes of bloviating attorneys notwithstanding-professors don't value quantity over quality.
This concept bears consideration for students preparing their law school personal statements. It can't simply be a resume in prose or a bullet-list of achievements in narrative form. It needs a good, strong backbone.
So while I generally view an English degree as a liability in law school, the admissions essay may be the one area in which it would serve you well. Start with a thesis. Can't think of one? Brainstorm. Then brainstorm again. Then-outline.
Your essay needs a heart. It needs a center, to which everything is tied. Reading about your Toastmasters or Debate Club experience just isn't that interesting, unless it's woven into your greater story.
Think of the personal statement as the first in a series of tests of plotting an essay before putting the proverbial pen to paper. By holding back, you'll actually make the overall process of writing more efficient. Moreover, you'll be able to demonstrate your capacity to make an argument and follow it with paragraphs of supporting evidence.
Which, you'll find, is a crucial skill in law school, and beyond.
Thursday, April 14, 2016
Caring Less About Pedigrees in College Admissions
Getting into college may be big business these days, but if you're not a high school student-or a parent of one-you probably don't pay much attention to it. That is, unless, you happen to spend any of your idle hours on the internet. Whether you meant to or not, you might have noticed the occasional headline about the student who got accepted to all the Ivies. I recently blogged about a student who got admitted to a bevy of top schools after writing her admission essay about Costco.
The truth is, these kinds of headlines are click-bait. The vast majority of Americans will never be admitted to an Ivy League university-never mind all of them. And while pedigree is certainly a marker of success, it isn't a guarantee of it.
Which is why it is refreshing to see well-known, powerful employers like Google offering some push-back on the idea of pure-bred scholarship. In a recent interview, Google's Senior Vice President of People Operations, Laszlo Bock, noted that there was little relationship between pedigree and professional performance. Just because someone graduated from Yale doesn't mean they are going to be successful.
This is a powerful statement, particularly in a professional climate that favors prestige. There is a sense that if Stanford only offers spaces to 5% of applicants, there must be something pretty magical waiting behind its doors. A lot of that magic, however, is in the name-recognition, and the networking possibilities. This isn't to say that top academic institutions haven't earned their credibility. It's just that they are not the only manufacturers of professional success.
What of the student who had to work during high school and didn't have the grades to get into a top school? What of the part-time law student who was also raising a family? What of the successful entrepreneurs without a college degree? There are stories to be told, and the media silence about these narratives changes the way in which we-as a society-value success.
So for those of you still searching for the right college, it may be time to take a leaf out of Google's handbook. Pay less attention to the name, and more attention to the story.
Monday, April 11, 2016
When Writing About Costco Gets You Into Five Ivies
In an era where many of us get almost all of our information in digital form, marketers understand the importance of sticky click-bait. I won't spend a lot of time lamenting the shrinking of our collective attention-span, because you might not stick around for it.
This week, several news outlets posted articles about an undergraduate applicant, Brittany Stinson, who was accepted to Stanford and five Ivy League colleges. It turns out, her personal statement used her trips to Costco as a child as a metaphor for many of her life lessons. It's a charming, clever essay. But it probably isn't the reason she was accepted to at least half a dozen of the top schools in the country.
We don't know what her grades or test scores were, and statistically-those metrics were probably far more persuasive. The picture of Stinson in front of a Costco warehouse with her pedigreed acceptance packages is eye-catching, and perhaps an untapped marketing opportunity for Costco.
But it is the advice from an admissions officer, which Stinson is quoted as sharing, that really gets to the heart of things. "[I]f your essay is on the ground and there is no name on it and one of your friends picks it up, they should know that you wrote it...". I like this. I won't pretend that this is the magic code for the ideal essay, but it is helpful advice.
It's a good reminder to students that your essay need not be regal. It doesn't even need to be that formal. When getting creative, you don't want to get "too cute". Stinson's success doesn't mean everyone should start writing quippy dispatches about Costco's pretzel samples. At the same time, Stinson wrote about what she knew-not what she thought the admissions committee wanted to see.
If there is any take-away from this fleeting story, it should be that.
Friday, April 8, 2016
Evaluating the Gender Gap in College Admissions
In a country where women continue to make 77 cents on a man's dollar, it probably surprises no one that inequity exists in our university systems. Would you even shrug if I told you that some colleges admit more male students than female ones? Would your brow furrow if I told you that some colleges admit more female students than male students? Are you really just thinking-so what?
A recent Washington Post article analyzed federal admissions data for 200 colleges and universities that appear on US News & World Report's top 100 list. Like any data, it's important to understand its limitations, and not connect too many dots between correlation and causation.
Still, the report generated a detailed list of the percentage points separating the two genders in admissions at a number of American colleges. Pretty dull stuff, unless you're applying to college and (over)analyzing every possible metric that could work in your favor.
Take Vassar, for instance, which was founded as an women's college in 1861, but been co-educational since 1969. It's still widely (mis)understood to be an all-women's college. In 2014, Vassar had a full 15-point differential in their admissions-favoring men. If you're a male student looking for a top-notch liberal arts education, perhaps you should take notice.
The general explanation for the gap can be explained by the universities' preference for creating a fully homogeneous student body. Like affirmative action, colleges must weigh the balance between gender equity and overall merit.
Gender has been a big issue for several well-known colleges across the country in recent years because of a growing acceptance of gender fluidity. At some point, the gender gap may become too amorphous to define. Until then, it's a reality in college admissions; for better or worse, it may be one worth considering as students evaluate their college options.
Monday, April 4, 2016
The Ridiculousness of College Admissions
They say that sarcasm is the lowest form of wit (I disagree). Satire is sarcasm's intellectual counterpart-the constructive use of derision to illustrate a point, if you will.
You know things are bad when you have to turn to satire. This year's presidential campaign comes to mind, although satire has been used for centuries to skewer politicians.
This week, the New York Times' contributor Frank Bruni-a regular critic of the cut-throat college admissions system-turned to satire to remind us just how sad the current state of affairs is.
Colleges have long clamored for the top spot in the rankings. They understand the capriciousness of branding. People will want the things they cannot have. It's a bit like preschool squabbles. The red train only gains value once the other kid starts playing with it.
This absurd quirk of human nature has turned college rankings into a clown show. The inverse relationship between rankings and acceptance rates has to hit a mathematical roadblock at some point. And Bruni pokes fun at this notion. What if Stanford's acceptance rate really hit zero? Would it have finally reached the apex of prestige? Would people keep applying?
What will it take to get students to set realistic goals for college admissions? And at what point do we come to the collective realization that the ranking system is the emperor with no clothes?
I'm not going to suggest that pedigree isn't capital in the professional world. Yet, like Bruni, I believe the system is corrupted by bloated notions of prestige in a climate where there simply isn't enough room at the fabled apex. There are many different roads to success; Stanford's 5% aren't the only ones on that journey. NY Times >
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