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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.
Tuesday, September 27, 2016
Are There Any Downsides to the Common Application?
If college is anywhere on your horizon, you've probably heard of the Common Application. It is an undergraduate admission application that allows students to apply to multiple colleges using a single application. Here are some things you may not know.

The Common Application has actually been around since 1975. It became available online for the first time in 1998. At its inception, it was used by about 15 colleges. Today, more than 700 colleges and universities worldwide subscribe to it; just over 500 of those are located in the United States. The application is free to use for students but universities pay for the privilege of membership.

From an application standpoint, there are few drawbacks. The Common App has streamlined the college application process like no other. It enables students to submit a single admission essay to an unlimited number of colleges. Grades and test scores can also be uploaded, saving students the time consuming effort of applying multiple times to numerous institutions.

The downsides are bigger picture. The ease of applying means that application numbers have gone up, meaning that more students are necessarily rejected. This makes colleges appear more competitive, which works for them in terms of rankings.

The ease of application may also cause students to apply to schools in which they aren't particularly interested. It creates more administrative work for colleges, and may seem unfair that of two students competing for a university spot, only one really wants to be there.

Whether the Common App can be tweaked in order to reverse some of these problematic trends is another question all together. For now, the ubiquity and convenience of the Common App mean that it is likely to be around for years to come.

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Monday, September 26, 2016
What to Make of Yale’s New Admission Essay Questions
In a rather scathing presidential election campaign year and against the backdrop of some of the most severe-or at least visible-racial tensions the U.S. has experienced in years, words matter. In a world where media both defines and reshapes the things we talk about, imagery is important.

There's scarcely a surface in this country that hasn't been scuffed by the dysfunctional race relationships driving discourse in America today. If you think college admissions is spared from the fray, you'd be sorely mistaken.

In the U.S. Supreme Court this year, affirmative action was challenged again. A coalition of Asian students brought a class action suit against dozens of U.S. universities claiming reverse discrimination. Last year at Harvard University School of Law, photographs of black professors were defaced with black tape. University of Missouri and Yale University struggled publicly against massive protests regarding systemic racial policies.

Which is just part of the reason why Yale's revised admission essay prompts are so pregnant with meaning. Among them "What is a community to which you belong? Reflect on the footprint that you have left."

These words don't matter because lots of people will be applying to Yale-roughly 2,000 of 30,000 applicants were admitted last year. They matter because, for better or worse, people pay attention to Ivy League universities and their policies.

Is a wave of change likely to flow from ivory towers down to the shores of the rest of the nation? Probably not. But the contours of college admissions continue to reveal themselves as a metaphor for society at large. At the very least, it's worth paying attention.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2016
The Key in College Admissions? Grades, grades, grades
Every autumn, the National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC) releases its State of College Admission report. And every year, it reaches a similar conclusion: the single most influential aspect of a student's college admission application is their grades.

This should come as a relief for most students. It also makes logical sense. Grades demonstrate a student's interests and strengths over a broad period of time. According to NACAC, colleges place greater weight on college preparatory courses, but also emphasizes the importance of grades in all courses. Strength of curriculum is also important; a reminder to students considering whether to tackle AP classes or not.

Test scores were a close second, according to NACAC. This is noteworthy, given the considerable criticism about the reliability of test scores as an evaluation method. On the one hand, tests are the great equalizer in a country with an enormous spectrum of curriculum quality. On the other hand, test scores consistently correlate with wealth, making them an unreliable metric for many students who may otherwise be very academically capable.

The report should also ease some of the pressure surrounding the admission essay. While a powerful essay may help students "on the bubble", it is unlikely to buoy a candidate with weaker grades and test scores.

NACAC's report should be most useful as a tool for students to honestly evaluate their admissions options. Quality college education and successful futures are not tied inextricably to college ranking. The best college for a particular student is the one that is most appropriately tailored to their strengths and weaknesses.

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Monday, September 12, 2016
Capturing a Moment in Your Admission Essay
Know the quickest way to drive an admission essay into the ground? Nope, it's not grammar (although there's no quicker way to demonstrate laziness). It's trying to squeeze too much into too tight a space.

Let me explain.

I see a lot of college admissions essays about leadership. They might start with a tacit, general observation on the subject. Then students dig in. They talk about being team captain. ASB president. Math-club founder. None of this is inherently bad. It just doesn't make for an interesting read. More than that, it's just too much information to distill into 500-650 words.

If you just list the leadership positions you've held, you haven't really crafted an essay-you've made a bullet list, without the bullets. If you write one great example of leadership within each role, you run the risk of two missteps: 1) making the essay too long, or 2) making it too boring.

A better essay would zoom in on any one of those experiences and build a leadership essay around it. It sounds rote, but the essay is the admission's committee's window into your soul. Gracing a litany of subjects with a cursory sentence about each isn't going to give them any insight into who you are; it will merely tell them what you do.

The admissions committee has access to your grades, clubs, test scores and other activities. Don't waste essay space on them! Just don't. If you have a perfect SAT math score, write an essay about anything but math. Don't feel the need to compress four years of high school into two pages. Capture a moment, and move on.

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Monday, September 5, 2016
The Interesting Case of a Texas Law School
The University of North Texas at Dallas College of Law first opened its doors in 2014, with an unusual stated mission. The school sought to afford reasonable tuition and encouraged applications from "non-traditional" law school applicants. In law school parlance, this meant students with a variety of life, work, and service experiences who did not necessarily possess the academic credentials required at the more "competitive" law schools.

Two years after its inception, it was delivered a crushing blow. The national accrediting body for all U.S. law schools-the American Bar Association (ABA) has recommended against accreditation for the school. In Texas, only law students from ABA-accredited schools can sit the Texas bar exam.

The ABA is stuck between a proverbial rock and a hard place. If it isn't strict enough in its accreditation, law schools may churn out students unprepared for the rigors of the bar exam. On the other hand, if it is too strict, qualified candidates that might not otherwise make the cut in law school will never get the chance to become attorneys.

Certainly, accreditation is vital to a profession that depends on the skills and competence of its practitioners. And there are links between high LSAT scores and bar passage. But relying on the current elite model means that law practice will always be populated by the privileged.

UNT offered an alternative. It encouraged ex-military, mature students, and other students who hadn't taken the direct route to apply. It recognized that there are many low-income populations requiring service of legal practitioners and that students graduating with six-figure debt aren't likely to take low paying legal-aid jobs.

The ABA's announcement threatens UNT and affordable schools like it across the country. For now, the nation's law school system continues to be riddled with struggles and lacks clear, positive solutions.

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