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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, February 27, 2017
LSAT and the Problem with Merit-Based Scholarships
For roughly 27 years, the current form of the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) has worked as the primary arbiter of law school admissions. The test, which has existed in various forms since the late 1940s, was originally administered as a measure of the capacity of prospective law students that would allow assessment outside of GPA. Like the SAT for undergraduates, the test has been mandatory for decades.

Like the SAT, the LSAT appears to be a good quantitative measure of student success. Students with higher LSAT scores are more likely to do well in law school and are more likely to pass the bar exam. They are also far more likely to receive merit-based scholarships. All of this sounds pretty standard-fair even-until one reads between the lines.

A recent report by LSSSE, indicates that just 20% of law school scholarship money is need-based. LSAT scores skew along racial lines, meaning that white students are receiving the majority of the merit-based scholarships. This means that race is not only a barrier to access, it can be a barrier to financial aid, and a factor that contributes to adverse levels of financial an emotional stress for students of color.

Because the LSAT is bound so tightly to rankings, law schools are further incentivized to tie scholarship money to students with higher scores. And while there is nothing wrong with merit-based scholarships, one of the effects of the real-world trends, according to LSSSE, is that students of color are effectively subsidizing the education costs of their wealthier, white counterparts.

In a profession where prestige is the primary capital, precise academic measurement tools like the LSAT have a multitude of purposes. It does have the effect of separating the better performing students from their peers. It is an effective indicator of bar passage—a metric vital to law school rankings. Unfortunately, it remains a marker of the ongoing inequity that has also become a long-term fixture in the world of legal education and beyond.

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Monday, February 20, 2017
When Social Media Can Help on Your College Application
There has been much ado about the ways in which social media can ruin a first impression. Job-seekers and college applicants would do well to remember to scrub their profiles before putting their best foot forward. Let's be honest, who hasn't stalked someone's Facebook profile? Or even judged a profile picture? There's a lot to be learned about a person's politics, interests, humor and dislikes.

But shouldn't that cut both ways? Social media can also be a window into someone's positive passions. It can illuminate the ways in which a person is engaged in their community. It can be an outlet for their creativity, and a way to read between the lines about who they really are.

Which is why some colleges are paying attention to the good stuff. Students generally pack applications with all the things they think colleges want to know. Social media profiles can give colleges access to the things they'd like to know about their prospective students. This is the part of their persona that isn't scripted.

Certain colleges-graduate business schools, in particular-are very responsive to LinkedIn profiles. The professional focus of LinkedIn gives students an opportunity to learn how to package and brand themselves. It can offer admissions committees insight into a student’s practical acumen.

It's worth bearing mention that social media-like the interview and the essay-takes a back seat to metrics like GPA and standardized test scores. It is still a soft factor. Yet, in a tremendously competitive arena, there's little harm in polishing every corner of the snapshot. You never know who might be giving it a hard second look.

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Monday, February 13, 2017
With College Admissions, There’s No Easy Formula
As someone who regularly blogs on the topic of college admissions, I'm always on the hunt for good insights. Though many people try, few can honestly tell students precisely what colleges are looking for, or what qualities they'll need in order to get admitted. The truth is almost always nuanced, and college admissions is no exception.

Of course, there is no shortage of data-collection on the topic. People who analyze these metrics consistently return the same "answers"; grades continue to matter most in an evaluation of a student's prospects. Test scores are a close second. The quality of a student's high school is also critical. Still, much of the buzz surrounding college admissions focuses on other areas: the essay, volunteer work, race, sex, nationality, legacy admissions, and so on.

All of those factors matter, of course, but they aren't as measurable. Because people can't put a finger on their persuasiveness, they become fertile topics for discussion. In social media parlance, they are "click bait".

Imagine you are in the driver's seat on an admissions board, deciding a student's fate. Would you pick the B-student who'd traveled to rural China to tutor impoverished children for a summer, or the straight-A student with two years of high school tennis? Is it an easy answer? Not likely.

The cautious evaluation simply makes more sense. A student who attends a challenging school and has earned solid grades over the course of four years has already shown a degree of commitment and consistency that would otherwise be difficult to appraise. It just doesn't make for an interesting sound byte.

As always, there will be exceptions. Grades do not define a student, and the social playing field is not level-which means that ongoing discourse about admission metrics is important. We just can't always expect it to be entertaining.

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Monday, February 6, 2017
Advantages of the Gap Year for Med School Students
As someone who never moved much past high school biology, I've long regarded medical students as a different breed. They understand organic chemistry and blood doesn't make them squeamish. They also go to school for a really, really long time. Which is why I was a little bemused to discover that the medical school gap year is actually a thing.

In weighing the gap year option, there appears to be a couple of camps. The first school of thought sees the gap year as an opportunity to erase an applicant's weaknesses. The second sees the gap year as a chance to broaden an applicant's life experiences.

The gap year is a potential antidote for a poor undergraduate GPA or low MCAT score, allowing students to offset anemic transcripts with valuable clinical experience. The year presents opportunity for tackling additional academic courses, retaking the MCAT, or developing working relationships that will lead to stronger recommendation letters.

On the flipside, the gap year is fertile ground for bolstering life experience. Pre-med students can take on research positions or volunteer posts in the medical field, which can be useful in helping students hone in on a specialty. There are domestic options like Americorps, and international aid organizations offering invaluable practical experience to would-be medical professionals.

Taking the year out to work is a great way to set aside financial reserves to pay for medical school. Soul-searching has the potential to spice up med-school interviews. Clinical experience is invaluable. Maturity is a good thing when you're managing people's health and well being.

Whether they'll get rusty in chemistry is another thing.

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Friday, February 3, 2017
When College Application Information Gets Too Personal
Over the past several years, American universities have begun creating space for something new on their entrance applications: gender identity. The space takes different forms. Duke University earned recognition for offering an optional essay prompt inviting students to discuss things such as gender identity and cultural influences, on the premise that students may want to share other dimensions of their self-identification.

Last Spring, the Common Application-used by over 400 universities and colleges-announced that it would be introducing an optional essay question that would allow students to discuss their gender identity. They even begun to include a drop-down menu option (also optional), where students could enter their "sex assigned at birth".

Dozens of universities have followed suit across the nation. In California, all community colleges and California State University campuses invite student-applicants to designate one of several gender and sex identities.

For LGTBIA students and their allies, these options create a safe space and an invitation to discuss the ways in which being gender non-conforming affects their approach to their worlds.

But the news hasn't been universally welcome. College admissions is competitive, and some critics see these new identity options as a threat to the neutrality of the system. They worry that gender non-conforming students may be given preference in admissions. They fear that gender identity-like race-could be used by colleges to populate a diverse student body.

By most external metrics, colleges rely most heavily on grades and test scores in making admissions decisions; essays can tip the scale for students on the bubble. Beyond that is anyone's guess.

College admissions is still inherently opaque. No one knows exactly why some students are admitted and others aren't. It isn't and cannot be a scientific process. So people speculate, and worry that someone will be given an unfair advantage.

This is the nature of the competitive game, and it isn't always pretty.

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