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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.
Sunday, July 31, 2016
College Admissions in an Election Year
If you're like most of the country and even halfway plugged into the media coverage of the 2016 election cycle, you've probably got a few strong opinions. Presidential campaigns have the capacity for exposing both the most honorable and vilest sides of human nature.

Worst of all? Everyone's an expert.

Know where else this happens, all year long? In most discussions about college admissions. Some of them even get traction in mainstream social media outlets. Heard about Guillermo Pomarillo? He's a first-generation Latino student who recently got accepted at Stanford and was belittled for his accomplishment by an apparently classist and racist dentist.

The gist? That the spot wasn't earned, because Pomarillo is Latino. That qualified white students are edged out when universities hand out admissions to under-qualified minorities. Fortunately, Pomarillo's letter, lashing out at the dentist has gone viral with mostly positive support. The entire exchange, however, is reflective of our country's overall conversation about class and race.

There is a sizeable chunk of the population that believes people of color enjoying success haven't actually earned it. That white people have been passed over while progressives trip over themselves to give a hand-up to the undeserving. Speculation is built not upon evidence, but upon complex layers of speculation and misunderstanding.

Don't believe me? Read ANY comments thread on affirmative action in college admissions. I recently scanned an article by a young, white female student writing merely about expectations and disappointment in the college admissions process. The comments section was peppered with suggestions that the schools that did not admit her probably took a less qualified minority student instead.

This idea-that people are cutting in front of us in line-is a crucial motivator for social tensions. These play out in many arenas. Political theater draws them to the forefront. In the sense that a college degree is seen as an escalator towards success, it serves as a microcosm of a much broader social ill.

This year, we have one political candidate promising to work towards affordable and even free college tuition. The other says simply that he wants the federal government to stop profiting from higher education. Sadly, the real ailments of this society may run much deeper than that.

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Tuesday, July 26, 2016
Law School and a College Degree in a Single Bundle?
If someone told you the path to an undergraduate and juris doctorate was only six years long, would you buy a ticket? If you'd just graduated from high school, would you be certain enough that you wanted to practice law? Certain enough that you could handle a rigorous, uninterrupted course load for six long years?

If your answer is "maybe", you may want to read on.

The dual degree program is nothing new. Universities across the prestige spectrum have been offering JD/MBA programs, interdisciplinary double-majors, undergraduate-MBA degrees and more. Students with clear goals from the outset lock into these programs, knowing it will speed their passage to the professional world while giving them the option to coalesce their learning options.

Typically, law degrees involve three years of full-time education. With the downturn in the legal job market over the past decade, law schools have begun to scramble to find new ways to keep students streaming into classrooms.

The so-called 3+3 programs incorporate three years of undergraduate study with the three-year law degree. Some universities with attached law schools will guarantee students entry into the JD program, provided they succeed in the undergraduate program.

Arguably, the legal job market has rebounded-at least in part. But law school admissions numbers and LSAT-takers are still down, making 3+3 programs enticing for universities, law schools, and some hopeful lawyers. Enrollees would also save a year in undergraduate tuition.

Purists will argue that the rigorous JD should be a stand-alone program. Others note that there are a number of undergraduate fields of study, which prepare students well for a legal education. Through that prism of thought, the dual programs may prove to be a more popular choice in the future.

It's a concept that's been slow to blossom, and continues to unfold sluggishly. As it stands, the ABA does not keep record of available dual degree programs in the U.S., but experts put the number around 20.

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Monday, July 18, 2016
Things Still Looking Up for Women in Business School
At least once a year, the blogosphere lights up with the results of new surveys measuring the growth of enrollment of women in the world's business school programs. In June of last year, I wrote about the slumbering enrollment numbers in US MBA programs.

This year, the numbers of women enrolling in graduate business programs here in the U.S. continue their slow growth. By some measures, the numbers in overseas schools are growing more steadily. For women looking to get into business school, the gender gap is (sadly) worth paying attention to. Some schools put more effort into recruiting women than others.

What's most salient, though, isn't that women haven't yet reached the 50% mark in any major business program, but the snail's pace at which women are becoming faculty and board members at business schools both in America and abroad.

This shouldn't be a major surprise in a market where eight (8) of the CEO's in Fortune's Top 100 are women. Eight. Things are more dismal if you zoom out; there are only 22 female CEO's in the Fortune 500. That's 4.4%, for you quant ladies.

Is there a happy bottom line? Maybe. The numbers of women enrolling in professional schools across the board continues its slow upward creep with each passing year. But those numbers-which hover around 40% in the top business schools, bear almost no relation to the numbers of women in management positions at the top of the ladder. The same is true for faculty and board representation.

Like all discussions of women in the work force, the nuances go far beyond enrollment numbers, and meander into more expansive social topography-most notably, work-life balance for professional women who decide to have children.

Still, it's comforting to see the enrollment numbers moving in the right direction. Waiting for those to catch up with workforce numbers may be the slowest climb of all.

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Monday, July 11, 2016
Choosing Words Wisely in Admissions Essays
In my many years of editing admissions essays, I have seen and read a lot. I've helped students from a wide variety of backgrounds, with expansive and sometimes unique sets of experiences. I have also learned how to read between the lines. While each student's history may be distinctive, their admissions essays often aren't. The flood of similarities can get cringe-worthy—mostly because I know that students are generally trying their best.

As a seasoned reader, I can sense when a narrative is becoming rote and-hard as I may try-that's generally when my shoulders begin to slump.

I believe admissions officers feel the same.

Trust me when I say that I'm not unsympathetic to students. It's hard to write well when the stakes feel so high. The crux of the problem is twofold. First, students want badly to sound "interesting" to their reader. This desperation doesn't always lend itself to quality writing. Second, students are so caught up in needing to impress, that they want to write about everything.

Remember-your grades and test scores are listed elsewhere on your application. There should be almost no reason to discuss them in your essay. Period.

Tread lightly on the community service work. For the vast majority of students, this isn't central to their identity. Completing a CPR course or finishing a 5K cancer run doesn't tell your reader a lot about you. Volunteering four summers in a row at the local hospital probably does.

If you're a middle class student who traveled to Kenya to help build a school, spare your reader overly reflective observations about disparity of global wealth. If the trip truly changed you, it will be evident in the life you've lived since.

There are topics that most consultants will tell you to simply avoid: sex, drugs, crime, and politics. Write at your own peril. Be careful discussing death of loved ones; it is difficult not to sound as though you are exploiting grief in order to earn your reader's approval.

Above all, don't feel as though you need to be everything to everyone. Your reader knows you are human. Write like one. Don't overcomplicate things. Write something you’d like to read. You’ll be surprised at how far that will carry you.

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Thursday, July 7, 2016
Community Service With a Pricetag
As an editor and consultant, I have read thousands of admissions essays over the past few decades. I'm appreciative of students' various limitations, and try to always read with a clean pair of eyes. Still, I'm human, and can't avoid getting snagged on threadbare irritants. These are the narrative missteps that well-intentioned students make time and again. It's my job to learn how to critique gently and constructively.

Apart from bad grammar and maudlin hyperbole, one of the most frustrating mistakes I see many students make is to spend too much time writing about their community service. While I realize there are a handful of students whose experience is meticulously shaped by their volunteer-work, they are the exception. Resume-padding can be pretty transparent. It's nowhere more obvious than in the pricey hobby of volunteer tourism.

College admissions is already skewed towards wealthy students. In the bid to sound more exotic to admissions officers, more and more students have taken to volunteering overseas. There are an abundance of programs offering organized trips to "underdeveloped" regions for a price. For parents, there is comfort in knowing your teenager isn't wandering foreign lands on their own. For students, an opportunity to travel, help, and create fodder for an engaging essay.

I hate sounding so cynical. I have no doubt that seeing the slums of Mumbai or Guatemala leaves an eye-opening impression on a young, wealthy, western student. And still, it's difficult to write about these experiences without sounding like a cliché.

Admissions officers waffle about the importance of these trips. While they certainly offer points of reflection for young students, they aren't likely to tip the scales in a student's favor, and they don't always make for a readable essay. Instead, they often serve as markers of a student's wealth, and underscore a lack of introspection that is a very real part of being a young teenager.

Like everything else in the college admissions game, these trips-and the subsequent tale of the journey-can have limited value in terms of "getting in", despite their actual cost.

A successful writer will do well to not hang their hat exclusively on this hook.

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Monday, July 4, 2016
The Real Value of Law School Rankings
Every year, the Law School Admissions Council offers up a tally of the top law schools in the U.S. and the GPAs and LSAT scores it took to get admitted. This chart immediately evolves into a point of worship for certain law school hopefuls. I know students who picked their school exclusively based on the number of junior associateships offered by BIGLAW for each university.

Jobs at top firms all look pretty similar. Big paychecks, prestige, relentless billable requirements, unforgiving social commitments and quick burnout. Which is exactly what some law students are looking for. If you scope the internet, law school begins and ends with the Top 14, despite the fact that fewer than 10% of all law students will land at these behemoths.

In the real world, there is a need for lawyers that is far more expansive than the insular world of big law. For a start, there are over 200 law schools across the United States. For every professional athlete or multinational corporation that hires a Big Firm, there are countless ordinary citizens who need a lawyer to help them file for divorce or write a will. That just doesn't make for interesting internet fodder.

The biggest elephant in the room for anyone that's graduated from law school and practiced law is the enormous skills gap between the two. Law schools-even (and perhaps especially) the top ones- are notorious for the total absence of practical training within curriculums.

Which doesn't mean that a Yale grad isn't likely to succeed. What it does mean is that many lawyers don't become good at what they do until they’ve practiced for awhile and earned a reputation. At that point, almost no one will care what your LSAT score was.

I'm not discounting the incredible value of prestige. What I do wish was that the discourse surrounding law school admission could free itself from the constraints of percentiles and US News & World Report rankings. These tokens represent a symbolically important aspect of law school admission, but barely scratch the surface of at-large legal practice.

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