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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.
Sunday, October 29, 2017
The Courage of Losing the “I”
There's an old adage about experience being something you got by not having it when you needed it. This is true of wisdom generally; most adults will admit that the more they learn, the more they realize they don't know. A young student might roll their eyes at this existential musing, but they should trust me on one thing: the person reading your admission essay has more experience than you do. Your job isn't to outwit them.

Many students tackling the essay struggle with the overuse of the word "I". Which is paradoxical, given that the admission essay is, by design, autobiographical. The thing is, a good essay shouldn't simply be a list of accomplishments. It shouldn't be a mixing bowl full of adjectives either. If you're a great leader, or altruist or hard worker-don't just say that. Show it. Trust your reader to be able to read between the lines.

The admonition to "show, not tell" is ubiquitous in the world of college counseling, but often falls on deaf ears. Why? In a sense, it's because students don't always trust that their experiences will speak for themselves. They worry that the essay needs to be an exercise in successful self-branding. In another way, students fail to heed this advice because they aren't experienced enough in life to see the essay through adult eyes. And this is something that can't be taught.

Challenging though it may be, students must learn to zoom out when it comes to the essay. Listen to your elders-your guidance counselors, teachers, parents. Trust that writing about that time you fixed a carburetor on your lawn mower can tell your reader more about you than the time you were voted student body president. You need not write passively about principles of leadership if you can instead tell the story of how you used to be in charge of making breakfast for your younger siblings.

Experience teaches us that there is value in the little things. We learn by doing, and by wading through mistakes. Your reader doesn't expect you to know everything at age 17. Your essay should be a prologue, not a final chapter. Have the courage to lose the "I".

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Tuesday, October 24, 2017
The Difference Between Diversity and Equity
Earlier this month, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that his Department of Justice would be conducting an investigation Harvard University's affirmative action policies. The highly political move is seen by critics as an unnecessary assault on students of color, set against a backdrop of increasing public acts of white supremacy, which the Trump administration has repeatedly failed to denounce. Opponents see it as an opportunity to force courts to make clearer rulings with respect to race-based admissions.

Harvard is already embroiled in a class-action lawsuit against over 60 Asian-American organizations claiming that high performing Asian students are being edged out by peers with lower grades and test scores. This lawsuit was spearheaded by Edward Blum, a conservative activist who is not an attorney. Blum also initiated the Fisher v. University of Texas case, in which the plaintiff, Abigail Fisher, argued that white students were harmed by a Texas' admission policy designed to increase racial diversity at its public colleges. Fisher lost in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Many states, however, have already abolished affirmative action. The U.S. Supreme Court has circumvented the heart of the issue by ruling that universities are allowed to make "holistic" assessments of incoming students. The buzzword here is "diversity", and the problem lies in its double-meaning. Activists like Blum argue that it is code for admitting students of color with weaker academic records. Universities claim diversity is not directly related to race, but rather an attempt to cultivate a heterogeneous student body.

In practice, equality and diversity are two distinct concepts. Affirmative action policies aim to address the social, economic and racial factors that continuously give white, wealthy students an edge. Activists like Blum reject that view, claiming that admissions policies should not discriminate against anyone, and that evaluating based on merit alone is the fairest approach.

Harvard accepts around than 5% of applicants-about 2,000 students per year. This begs a very obvious question: why would the DoJ waste resources on an investigation of a private university, the policies of which affect such a small fraction of the country's population? Like Blum, the DoJ is indulging in hyperbolic political theatre. In practice, the desired result will affect very few students. Its symbolism, however, would be thunderous.

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Thursday, October 19, 2017
Streamlining the College Application Process
In the not-so-distant past, applying to college was a rather ordinary venture in risk assessment. Applications were still paper and fee-based, so the practical student narrowed their options from the start. Writing an essay by hand, for instance, was not an unsubstantial investment of time. It made sense to apply to a reach school or two, some probably-within-reach schools, and the reliable safety school. Technology has changed all of that.

The internet and Common Application ignited a revolution that has gradually made the old college admissions systems almost unrecognizable. Students can now apply to dozens of school with a single essay and a few clicks. The end game, however, remains the same.

Fortunately, access to application support is richer than ever. The savvy student can rely on a blend of guidance from school counselors and online resources that help them to find schools that are a true fit. One such program is College Kickstart, a site that relies entirely on quantitative factors to help students narrowly tailor their choices. They promise to teach students how minimize wasted effort, by avoiding schools that are measurably out of reach. At the same time, Kickstart offers rich data on increased statistical odds, through application mechanisms such as early admission/early action.

What sets this one apart is its commitment to avoiding analysis of qualitative elements, such as extracurricular activities and admissions essays. These soft factors are virtually impossible to assess, and Kickstart doesn't want to promise advice that can't stand on its own two feet. The site currently supports data from over 400 schools, so while it is not exhaustive, it does promise to be accurate.

Ideologically, sites like Kickstart reframe the process by identifying the needs of the colleges and encouraging students to capitalize on those needs efficiently. The selection process is, for the most part, shrouded in secrecy. Kickstart is a reminder to focus on the things students do know about a university, and to make application decisions based upon that information, rather than factors such as popularity or ranking.

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Monday, October 16, 2017
What is the Coalition Application?
This relatively new on-line college application program is so callow that it is most often defined in opposition to its far more influential competitor-the Common Application. The Common App has actually been around since 1975, and first went on-line in the late 1990s, but is now accepted by over 730 colleges and universities in the U.S., making it far and away the most utilized college application platform.

It cannot be overstated: the Common App has completely transformed the application system. By making it easier for students to apply to a multitude of colleges with a single click, it has contributed to both the actual increase in competition as well as the perception of increased competition-the more applications a college receives, the more applicants they must deny, lowering their overall acceptance rate which, in turn, makes them seem more exclusive. In 2013, the Common App was shaken by a number of disastrous digital mishaps, which spooked many, and created an opening in the market for viable competition.

Fast-forward to 2015, when a group of 80 colleges announced the formation of the Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success (CAAS), with the aim of increasing access to college admissions. CAAS created a new digital application platform, and required all member colleges to meet certain criteria such as affordable tuition, need-based aid, and high graduation rates.

A primary distinction of the Coalition App is the "virtual locker", a place where students can begin uploading their own work-essays, projects and other materials as early as their first year of high school. CAAS promises to offer online resources such as test-preparation materials and review by admissions consultants and guidance counselors, all of which are often cost prohibitive or otherwise difficult for high-need students to access.

The Coalition App first launched during the 2016-2017 admissions cycle and is currently accepted by roughly 90 colleges, including Stanford and the Ivies. This puts a strain on comparisons to the Common App. However, in a perfect world, the Coalition App has the potential to change the way that student-applicants approach college admissions, creating early conduits to access for students who need it most.

Its ongoing viability will depend upon its ability to step out of the shadow of the Common App. Still, CAAS has successfully put a new twist on college preparation, which may end up revitalizing the pathway in the years to come.

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Monday, October 9, 2017
Perfecting Your Brand for College Admissions
In recent admissions cycles, discussion has swirled about the most effective ways for young students to curate their online presence. Privilege always carries with it the burden of responsibility, and this is a difficult lesson to master. As more and more college admissions officers admit to poking around students' social media profiles, counselors and teachers are getting the message out: keep your digital footprint clean.

Harvard's recent rescission of admissions to several students involved in a racist Facebook group made big news, and not only because of the offensive nature of the posts. It highlighted the issue of digital recklessness. That students should strip out pictures of under-aged drinking seems obvious, until one considers the even more profane conversations that often happen in "secret" online forums; except that in the day and age of screenshots, "secret" has become a relative term.

Savvy students should understand that while social media has the power to ruin admission chances, it is also ripe with opportunities at self-marketing. In a sense, all of us have unwittingly become skilled at shaping our online presence. In the virtual world, we can be whoever we want to be.

Think about how many seconds it takes for you to scan a new Instagram account before forming an opinion about the user? Five seconds? Less than that? For college admissions committees who take the time to vet social media accounts, this instant impression could be invaluable.

Many students struggle to express themselves in their admissions essays, but whether they realize it or not, they've already mastered the art of self-expression through their digital presence. It's become almost second nature. Which is why social media is such a powerful tool of persuasion. Used well, it could prove to be the new "it" factor in college admissions.

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Monday, October 2, 2017
Could GRE Become the New LSAT?
Beleaguered law schools across the country have spent the past several years brainstorming ways to stay solvent and respectable. The economic hit to the profession has made law school a far riskier investment than it used to be. Intersecting threads of bad news-declining enrollment, declining LSAT scores, declining bar passage rates-have created a complicated web of problems with no easy set of solutions.

Some states have seen the lowest bar passage rates in history-in February 2017, Mississippi's pass rate was 31%, California's was 39%. Though statistics merit contextualization, these scores are low, even for the traditionally paltrier pass-rates on the February exams. But California has already lobbed a day off of its three-day test and is slated to lower the passing score next year. Whittier Law School became the first ABA school to shutter its doors, and several law schools across the nation are currently on academic probation.

Last year, Harvard (which, like many Ivies, is insulated by its prestige from the general downturn), began accepting GRE scores for law school applicants. They are now one of five law schools across the nation to announce the intent to do so. The American Bar Association is currently in the process of determining whether the GRE will be formally sanctioned, a decision which would override the individual policies of the universities themselves. This matters because the GRE is a very different kind of aptitude test. It is offered more times per year than the LSAT and is considered the standard for most graduate programs outside of law, medicine and business (although many MBA programs have also recently begun accepting the GRE). Arguably, accepting GRE scores could help diversify the pool of law school students. But law is a notoriously stubborn discipline, deeply invested in its own status. Any moves to make the filtering system more porous are often met with derision from purists, who believe that law school and the bar exam should be hard in order to ensure the quality of legal practitioners. Whether the GRE will be warmly embraced is something that remains to be seen.

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