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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, August 29, 2016
Georgetown to Offer Priority Admission to Descendants of Slaves
Established in 1789, Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. is the oldest Catholic and Jesuit institution of learning in the United States. A private research university, it is consistently ranked as one of the top colleges in the country and boasts distinguished alumni like former President Bill Clinton and deceased Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

In 1838, the Jesuits in charge of running the university that would eventually become Georgetown, sold 272 African-American men, women and children to plantation owners in order to finance the school's continuing operation. This fact is not disputed.

For several months, the issue has been under discussion as university officials grappled with a way to effectively issue reparations. This week, it was announced that the school would offer preferential admission to all descendants of those 272 enslaved people-a number estimated to be between 12,000-15,000.

Following recent protests, the school removed plaques with the names of two of the Catholic priests responsible for the sales. The university has also announced plans to build a memorial for the 272 people, create an educational institute on slavery, and name several buildings on campus after African-Americans.

Because the Jesuits formally recorded the names of the 272 people, their descendants have been very traceable. The non-profit Georgetown Memory Project seeks to trace the lineage of the enslaved people in order to honor their "sacrifice and legacy". The project also strives to embed this story into ongoing education about slavery across U.S. history.

According to the New York Times, Georgetown is not the only university in the country to have benefitted financially from the labor and sale of enslaved people, but the well-documented sale of 272 people is unprecedented and undisputed.

Despite annual tuition of close to $50,000, the university has not announced whether financial aid will be part of the deal.

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Monday, August 22, 2016
In Your Admission Essay, Be Willing to Color Outside the Lines
In today's hyper-connected world, there is no shortage of information available to students applying to college. Few aspects of the admission process fill students with more dread than the admission essay. Unlike all of the sharp metrics like grades and scores, the essay is shrouded in mystery.

For better or worse, most students start the essay process by asking a single question: What can I write that will impress these readers? What this immediately does is to shift the focus from a creative-writing venture into an interview on paper. And what is more nerve-wracking than an interview?

Writing advice is hard to give. I might tell a student to "write from the heart", but what does that mean, really? Especially to a student with writer's block?

This recent Washington Post article offers essay advice from a handful of admissions officers. The Washington Post

The main take-aways for me are "beautiful, clear writing" and a willingness to color outside the lines. It takes maturity and experience in writing to trust that simple words are more effective than complicated phrasing. Big words won't make a mediocre essay sound better; it will simply sound clunkier, and harder to follow.

Coloring outside the lines takes courage. It may mean choosing not to write about your Model United Nations experience but about your dog having cancer. It may mean not mentioning a single grade or test score or sport or community service event but instead writing about the creek at your grandparents' cabin in rural Idaho.

Don't ever buy into the idea that 650 words will encapsulate everything about you. It can't. But it is an opportunity to place a magnifying glass over a tiny part of you; that could be the place where your writing finds its magic.

Take a leap. What have you got to lose?

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Monday, August 22, 2016
The Art of Storytelling in the Admission Essay
Ushering students through the sludgy process of writing is difficult at the best of times. Enjoyable narratives aren't always objectively good. Like art, some writing speaks to us, and some does not. When used well, tight grammar and punctuation can pull a narrative into a tidy bundle. But technical accuracy doesn't give writing a soul, and this is particularly relevant to autobiographies.

When it comes to writing, most high school students have limited tools. This isn't to say there aren't many gifted 17-year-old writers out there, but, as with any art, precision and imagination ripen with time. Which is why giving college admissions essay advice can be so difficult.

Young students are often constrained stylistically by their high school training. Standard English classes conform to rote rules of composition, which may leave students feeling uncomfortable being creative when writing personal statements.

I once had a professor who encouraged us to read our work aloud. Her theory was that putting your words out in the air subjected them to a different type of scrutiny. Cadences, pauses, and loose ends that may not have been apparent in written form tend to show themselves when spoken.

In reviewing college admissions essays, I see many of the same pitfalls. Long lists of activities. Written excuses for weaknesses in their academic records. Sob stories. And, sadly, essays that are simply uninteresting. All of these fragilities would become readily apparent if read out loud.

The essay should be a good story. It should not be a grab-bag of student accomplishments. There is room for that list elsewhere on the application. Write something you'd like to read.

Like every good author, students should work diligently to unburden themselves of the need to impress their reader. Counterintuitive in the application process? Sure. But try to remember the role of the admission essay: it is meant to soften out the hard edges of scores and grades. It is meant to be a window with a different view.

What better way to make it so than by telling a story well?

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Monday, August 15, 2016
When the College Pre-Gaming Starts Too Early
Taking summer school classes to get ahead is nothing new. When I was in high school a couple decades ago, there were two groups of kids you'd find there: kids who were retaking flunked classes, and students who wanted to clear general education requirements off their plates in order to make room for more AP classes during the regular school year.

Fortunately, I went to public school, where summer school classes were free. In 2016, the college admissions landscape is no longer so simple. For handfuls of cash, high school students can take on-line courses at Ivy Leagues or attend week-long "camps" at universities. I'm not talking YMCA camp on a lake-I'm talking intensive Physics at Stanford.

And while excoriating the competitiveness of admissions has become something of a pastime for me and other critics, I can't miss another opportunity. Just last week, I read about $5,000 pre-kindergarten courses being offered in Los Angeles, California. Not preschool. Not pre-k. Actual classes designed to prepare 5-year-olds to better tackle the challenges of kindergarten. The PSAT of elementary school.

In a world where preschool is no longer the sole launch-pad for kindergarten, high school no longer seems to be sufficient preparation for college. There are a million reasons why this feels so wrong, but one is more important than the rest: access.

This is just another blatant example of privilege cutting the proverbial queue. Even if the excessive preparation doesn't actually increase admissions odds, it has the practical effect of producing privileged kids who are even better prepared for college. It also affirms the ideal of success-at-any-cost. What is the psychological effect of putting this kind of competitive pressure on a 16-year-old? On a five-year-old?

The answer doesn't matter. Until college actually becomes more accessible, admission acrobatics will get increasingly complex. It’s the kind of bubble that seems ripe to burst.

NY Times

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Monday, August 8, 2016
Saving Money on Your College Application
Technology. It's always a double-edged sword, and its evolving role in college admissions is no different. The Internet has made it easier for students to apply to college. The Common Application has made it possible for students to send applications to a dozen universities with a single click.

More applications for the same number of spaces equal lower admission rates, which drives up competition. From a business perspective, it's a boon for universities. Especially because students are far more likely to apply to submit a greater number of applications than they used to.

The University of California has nine campuses. Students can apply to all nine using a single application, but must pay $70 per campus. The charge isn't new, but the increased competition and ease of applying on line has arguably made students more likely to apply to more campuses in the hopes of getting admitted somewhere.

A practical way to save money when applying is to not treat the process as a numbers game. If your dream university has an acceptance rate of 6%, you might want to consider looking elsewhere. Being pragmatic doesn't mean you are lowering the bar. Just because it's easy to send in an application, doesn't mean it's worth the $80 you'll pay for the privilege.

A better way to tackle the heightened competitiveness is to be willing to search off the beaten path. Find the school that is the right fit-not just the right name. Admissions will always be a gamble, but your fee should be a good investment rather than a desperate bet.

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Monday, August 1, 2016
Broadening Your College Search
Perhaps it is news to only some of the students in search of their ideal college fit that there is more to an education than top rankings. As with any competition, so much effort is spent clamoring for the top spot that people often forget there isn't space up there for everyone. One can still be a successful runner without making it to the Olympic trials.

Still, this is one of life's tough lessons, and it's a hard sell to a young teenager. It's human nature to gravitate towards popularity. With all of the branding tied up in college admissions, it's virtually impossible to avoid being sucked into the cult of elitism.

One of the messages sent by US News & World Report and the colleges themselves is that, by expanding the scope of their college searches, some students are lowering the bar on expectations and potential success. When students hear that nearly 100,000 kids applied to UCLA last year, they want a piece of that pie. If they don't apply, it's nearly like, quitting before you even start the game.

On the other hand, students could save themselves time and heartache by reshaping their expectations. What is the real value of a pedigree? What are your long-term goals? Does a big-name school automatically equal a higher-quality education? Are you worried about getting lost in the crowd?

This Forbes article reframes the issue as a wise business decision-put your money in lower-risk investments with greater long-term potential.

Forbes

Another practical benefit? Smaller, newer and growing schools often have more space for progressive thought in their leadership. Without the burden of monumental endowments and powerful boards, they can make the kinds of sweeping decisions that keep education new and invigorating. Cutting-edge isn't reserved for the historic behemoths. Their bottom line depends on people's willingness to look down their noses at universities with higher acceptance rates.

When it comes to college applications, don't write your essay about "thinking outside the box"-do it yourself. You may be surprised at what you find.

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