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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, May 29, 2017
What Students Should Be Looking for in an Admission Essay
In college admissions, there is no topic of discussion as heavily aerated as that of the admission essay. No one really understands what colleges want, and students become paralyzed by soul-searching over a keyboard. Guidance is made more difficult by the fact that adults have a wisdom of perspective that young teenagers simply haven't acquired yet. So when a teacher or college consultant tells a student to "be themselves" in the essay, there's just too much static congesting the conversation.

I'm a person that learns through examples. Even as an adult. And I know I'm not alone. Having someone describe expectations in platitudes just doesn't compute for me. So telling a student to "write from the heart" may be far less effective than showing them essays that "worked". Many universities and news sources annually post the essays of successful candidates. It is important to read these. Not because every high school senior can aspire to being one of the top writers in the country, but because seeing the work of their peers can help dislodge even the worst writer's block.

The excruciating level of competition in college admissions accords too much weight to the essay in the minds of students. Success is a matter of reframing the issue, and creating a good piece of writing for the sake of creating something good, not because it is what students think admissions officers want to hear. It's about trusting that you have an interesting story to tell. A good essay doesn't need to tell the college everything about you, so long as it can tell them something about you.

Rather than seeking to write something perfect, write about something you find interesting. And here's a challenge I'd field to every prospective applicant: write about something that appears nowhere else on your college application. That is how you add depth to your submission.

Like any challenge in life, try to look at the essay as an opportunity instead of a burden. Then take a leap of faith.

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Sunday, May 21, 2017
Reframing the Value of the High School Grading System
Any parent who has ever had a child struggle in school understands the inherent fallibility of using grades to measure a child's worth. Intelligence and accomplishment are difficult to quantify using a single digit, and evaluating a student's future potential necessarily requires more than a cursory read through a report card. There is no place this plays out more starkly than through the college admissions process.

University admissions committees are responsible for a truly impossible task-evaluating human beings using a transcript of letters and numbers. Though most colleges claim to view a student's talents holistically, how comprehensive can that review really be in the absence of getting to know the person behind the grades? This vulnerability is the pivot point for endless hand-wringing about the magical formula for college admission.

The Mastery Transcript Consortium (MTC) is a collective of U.S. high schools working to change the way teachers grade their high school students. They see the current grading system as an outmoded one that teaches students "to value extrinsic rather than intrinsic motivation". It sees the segregation of academic disciplines as artificial. The current grading system focuses on "the acquisition of information rather than the making of meaning".

MTC's vision would group metrics differently, allow measurement of performance areas rather than subjects, and assessment of mastery standards on a skill-by-skill basis. It is a beautiful idea that likely faces an uphill battle in implementation in a society where public schools are overburdened already with stretched budgets and overworked teachers (for whom the grading process would become more time-consuming and complex).

That said, a new method could revolutionize the way that colleges evaluate incoming students, fleshing out the souls behind the records. Ironically, MTC's system would most likely work best for higher income students, who are already at a great advantage over their lower income peers. As it stands, MTC's collective is comprised largely of private high schools with smaller student-teacher ratios. These are precisely the institutions with the functional and financial means to execute holistic grading in the first place.

Still, the concept of modifying grading at the high school level could have exceptional long-term benefits on the college admissions process.

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Monday, May 15, 2017
Tackling Relevance in Admissions Essays
Each year, the New York Times invites college-bound seniors to submit copies of their admissions essays about money, work and social class. The authors of the top four or five compositions earn a feature in the Times, which also publishes the original work. Each year, the writing is stunning and unspoiled.

These compositions are exquisite in both substance and form. Some are lyrical—short sentences pregnant with meaning, poetry disguised as prose. Others are evocative in their visual imagery. Eighteen-year-old Idalia Felipe, who is headed to Cal State Fullerton in the fall, writes of the "warm touch of a small palm" in her home filled with siblings and tender chaos.

The narratives are flawless, but bear no fingerprints of artifice or professional editing. Caitlin McCormack will start Barnard this year. She grew up padding around the carpets of her parents' bed & breakfast. She writes about the inherent imbalance of power in service professions: "We meet sneers with apologies". Tips become a fertile space for microagressions. And somehow, it is against the texture of this backdrop that she is able to navigate the distinct contours between providing a service and being of service.

This year's selections all tackle the struggle of balancing their socio-economic identities. Jonathan Ababiy, the son of Moldovan immigrants writes of his mother's job cleaning the house of wealthy professors-a home he calls "a telescope to how…the other half lived". But there is no resentment in his words; his hyper-awareness of the social gap was also a window into his ultimate potential.

Setting aside the sheer beauty of this writing, a critical theme emerges. Each of these authors is able to write artfully about privilege-or the lack of it-without sounding brittle. In sharing soft but acute observations, they transcend the narrative ordinary. They become a person you'd like to get to know better.

NY Times

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Tuesday, May 9, 2017
New Jersey Teen Accepted into All Eight Ivies
This crowning achievement is still relatively rare, and the small handful of students who grab the honor each year tends to get a lot of press. With notoriously brutal acceptance rates ranging from 5-15%, the odds are in almost no one's favor. So the fact that seventeen-year-old Ifeoma White-Thorpe was also accepted into Stanford is extraordinary. For the 2017-2018 admissions cycle, Stanford's admission rate fell to a mind-boggling 4.65%.

Anyone tuned into this blog knows that I've written relentlessly about the problem with reported acceptance rates. It's simple math: technology has made applying easier, so students apply to more colleges. At the same time, universities have around the same number of spaces open in each freshman class. So, proportionally speaking, colleges are admitting a lower percentage of applying students.

Technicalities aside, this kind of admissions sweep is relatively unheard of, and the credit should fall squarely in White-Thorpe's lap. She is student-government president at her school. Though writing is both a skill and a passion, she aspires to study global health and biology. The appeal of the Ivies was not pedigree but the value of their research institutions.

In 2015, she was one of three national finalists in the Selma Speech and Essay Contest, in which students were invited to write about issues of freedom and self-determination. White-Thorpe wrote candidly about racial discrimination, and living with its very raw, and often terrifying weight.

White-Thorpe hasn't yet made a declaration about attendance, but acknowledges that cost will be a factor. Neither Stanford nor the Ivies offer merit-based scholarships and all come with annual price tags of $50,000 and higher. Fortunately, enormous endowments mean that most offer generous need-based financial aid. With any luck, the positive press will be as persuasive to these institutions as Ms. White-Thorpe's own estimable achievements.

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Tuesday, May 2, 2017
How to Get Your Application Off the Waitlist
As with anything related to college admissions, there is no sure answer for how to get in—whether you're on the waitlist or not. All colleges evaluate candidates using a variety of different factors. Admissions criteria are often cloaked in secrecy. Above all, there are simply so many applicants these days that there simply is not room for everyone. Still, the waitlist is a particularly precarious stopover, and there are some affirmative actions that waitlisted students can and should take.

1) Figure out the university's policy regarding communications from waitlisted students. Some colleges don't want to hear from waitlisted students at all. Others will invite short, online communications. Others may accept supplemental materials like updated grades and new letters of recommendation. If they do not invite such information, don't send it.

2) Express continuing interest in attending. It sounds almost too obvious. However, universities understand that many waitlisted students won't want to take any chances by waiting around, and will necessarily accept offers at other schools. Let them know you are still interested.

3) Keep them apprised of new information. If you've retaken the SAT or TOEFL and earned a higher score, let them know. Be frugal with your updated statistics. They don't need to know about your last month as a volunteer in the animal shelter. But dramatic improvements in scores or accomplishments can and should be brought to their attention.

4) Put a deposit down elsewhere. There are zero guarantees of admission for waitlisted students. Most students are drawn randomly from the waitlist, only after accepted students have declined offers of entry. Do not put all your eggs in one basket by waiting for the waitlist results, even if it is your top choice. Many waitlisted students won't receive notification until late summer.

5) Get an interview. Very few universities offer interviews for waitlisted students, but if they do, get yourself in there. It's impossible to beat the persuasive effect of a face-to-face interaction.

Above all, try to let go. After you've completed the steps above, it is out of your hands. Consider yourself honored to have been considered, and treat this as a learning experience. It is but a single chapter in a much longer story.

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