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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, January 31, 2017
Moving Through Rejection
A few weeks back, I spoke with a close friend who is in the process of applying for positions as an adjunct professor of psychology. This woman has spent many years in school. She finished her dissertation just months after having her second child. She was elated when she finished and successfully defended it. Knowing that the job market in her desired area was tough, she sent out fifteen applications for professorships in the first month after earning her degree.

Every single one of them turned her down.

She told me she planned to send out the second round within the next month. Was she disappointed? Sure. Did her confidence take a hit? Yeah. Did she wonder if she'd picked the right field? A little. Was she going to keep searching? Absolutely.

I'll be honest. I couldn't imagine having skin that thick. She took it in stride. "They just weren't the right fit".

Thick skin and quiet introspection are things that take years to cultivate. It seems crazy to ask seventeen-year-olds to "relax" about college admission. Disappointment, however, is part of life. And failing to get into a dream college is a pretty benign and high-quality disappointment. (#firstworldproblems)

This doesn't make it any easier to take, but it should serve as a reminder to high school students about the relative importance of a specific college. I'm not suggesting that students lower the bar, merely that they be pragmatic. With acceptance rates at the top universities hovering in the single digits, the odds are you won't be part of that world, and that's okay.

Most of us will never be astronauts either.

If you're grappling with success at the collegiate level, you've already got a foot firmly on the ladder. The ascent may take on many forms, and that's okay too.

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Tuesday, January 17, 2017
Making Sense of Your College Financial Aid Package
Big changes this year to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) have meant that students can apply for aid three full months earlier than they had in past years. This means that they will receive notice of their aid packages earlier-in many cases before getting acceptance letters from universities.

The cost of college is often a deciding factor for students in selecting a university. The gap between the college acceptance notifications and the financial aid package notifications has long made this a difficult conundrum for college hopefuls. What good is a Stanford acceptance if your family can't afford to send you there?

Yet even beyond these positive changes in application timing, understanding a financial aid package can be confusing. Often, students are awarded aid in several forms-loans, grants and even scholarships. Deciphering which is which is crucial. Additionally, different universities itemize costs in different ways; for example, it may be that they build cost of living and tuition into their estimated costs, but neglect to factor in books or other required fees.

Consumer Reports recently advised students to take initiative with universities regarding ongoing aid. Colleges sometimes offer generous packages for the first year in order to entice students to attend, but those packages may be quietly contingent upon things such as GPA. Additionally, since FAFSA asks students to update income sources each year, the stream of aid is not always guaranteed.

Financial aid is a confusing but critical factor that most students will have to negotiate as they make their decision.

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Monday, January 16, 2017
LSAT Discrimination Case Reaches U.S. Supreme Court
It has been over five years since Angelo Binno, a prospective law school student from Michigan, first filed his discrimination lawsuit against the American Bar Association (ABA). Binno, who is blind, claimed that a particular written portion of the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT), could not feasibly be completed by an applicant who could not see. Because the LSAT is (essentially) a requirement for admission to any accredited law school in America, Binno asserted that the exam's failure to provide adequate accommodations for students with disabilities rendered it discriminatory.

Since 2011, Binno's claims have been repeatedly rejected as his case winds its way through the lower courts. Several courts have ruled for the ABA because it does not actually administer the test. This is where the context is complex. The ABA is empowered in part by the U.S. Department of Education as the primary regulating body for U.S. law schools. In recent years, the ABA has been criticized by the USDoE for getting too lax in admissions standards. In turn, the ABA has put the screws to several lower-performing law schools, putting them on probation and threatening to pull their accreditation.

In the past, the ABA granted LSAT waivers to students with disabilities, a policy that has since been abolished. Binno's attorneys argue that the ABA's failure to grant waivers to students like him is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The U.S. Supreme Court has yet to grant Binno review of the matter. If they do not, it will prove the end of the line for Binno's suit against the ABA.

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Monday, January 9, 2017
Edit Edit Edit
The famously shrewd wit Mark Twain once advised writers to "Substitute 'damn' every time you're inclined to write 'very;' your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be." To be fair, many students writing at the high school level may not yet have a healthy fear of adverbs. But in college essays, there is no single act as crucial as excising needless words.

At the practical level, students need to learn how to keep it simple. It's rare to find a university that accepts an undergraduate essay of longer than 650 words. Many universities require pesky supplements-often as short as 150 words. Brevity is an effective straight jacket.

Still, what I see in many student essays are hundreds of itinerant words in search of a purpose. Often, teenage writers get mired in the challenge of picking a topic. They understand the weight of import of the admission essay. So they tie themselves in knots trying to brainstorm the perfect story, where no such thing exists.

There are stories lurking in every corner. It may be about that patchwork quilt on your bed that your grandmother stitched for you. It could be that time you got your remote-control drone caught in your neighbor's tree. What it shouldn't be is 500 meandering words bookended by lots of "verys".

Twain's admonition to strip words had to do with the very character of the narrative. For college hopefuls, shedding needless adjectives will help force them to get to the heart of the story. It will necessarily suffocate platitudes, forcing the writer to say something of true import.

And if none of this made any sense-my take-away is simple. Edit, edit, edit. Sleep on it. Pass your essay around to friends, family, teachers; I promise they will see things that you cannot. But remember not to lose your voice. It isn't necessarily what you write about, but how passionately you write about it. "Very" is not a passionate word. Get rid of it, and move on.

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Saturday, January 7, 2017
Keeping Parents Calm During College Admissions Season
For most students, the applications have already been done. Even the latest admissions deadlines passed around the first of the year. Now, the hardest part of the process begins. The wait.

It will be another couple of months before decisions start rolling in. And the people most worried of all might not be the students themselves, but their parents.

Sure, college-bound kids these days are more stressed than ever about "getting in". The admission rates are down, the market is competitive, and only the wealthiest of students can afford consultants. It's no longer a simple game of grades and a top-notch personal statement.

Still, parents are viewing the process through both the reasoned lens of experience, and the totally irrational lens of a parent wanting the best for their children. Parents understand that leveraging a quality education is increasingly crucial to stay competitive in the job market. Parents who have gone to college may understand how vital the college years were to their own emotional development. Parents who haven't gone to college may be desperate to see their kids enjoy greater successes than they did.

Like any season of parenting, the hardest and most profound act a parent may take is surrendering. Control is an illusion. The admission or rejection will come in its own time, and the parent's job will be the same as always: helping your child navigate their new reality with love and support.

After all, by the time your children are headed off to college, most of the good parenting work has already been done. Breathe, and let them go.

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Monday, January 2, 2017
Do Colleges Really Care About Community Service
Most parents of teenagers will tell you that even the brightest and most driven of their offspring still neglect to pick their wet towels up off the bathroom floor. So when it comes to encouraging high school students to engage in community service, is there a way to ensure that the volunteering is being done for the right reasons?

The community service essay is a thing. It usually morphs into some version of "I gained far more from them than they did from me". Student travels to a developing nation or a local soup kitchen, experiences sharp social awakening, and returns home with new sense of perspective and gratitude.

It's unfortunate that this trope has become so trite. Because there are absolutely students who volunteer for the right reasons, and cathartically emerge from the experience with unclouded eyes. The problem is, the admissions game has gotten so competitive, it's near impossible to separate the mockups from the genuine articles. Students understand that universities are looking for well-rounded candidates, and that, where all else is equal (grades/test scores) the soft factors may be the deciding factors.

What it comes down to is a student's ability to show, not tell. If the soup kitchen truly changed the way a student viewed their world, it is likely to reveal itself through their other chosen experiences. Their passion will surface through their words; laundry lists of charity 5Ks won't fool anyone.

Above all, colleges do care about these kinds of experiences, but they are only a small piece of the whole student.

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