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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.
Friday, December 29, 2017
When The College Admissions Bubble Won't Burst
How many applications is just too many applications? It's not news that technology and platforms like the Common Application have made applying to college easier. That's not a bad thing. Machines can be helpful in processing large amounts of data. Yet there are certain components of college application packages that can't be reviewed electronically. Things like interviews and admissions essays. As colleges become flooded with increasingly huge numbers of applicants, how can they expect to handle the new logistics?

The Washington Post tackled the subject recently, writing specifically of the increased number of applications at so-called flagship universities in each state (typically, the largest public universities). Over the past decade, these numbers have exploded. The statistics are astounding: only two of the fifty states-Alaska and Montana-have seen a downturn in applicants, and the drop was small.

Many other states have seen triple-digit percentage increases in applicants. At the University of Alabama, the numbers are up by 205%. In California, both UCLA and UC Berkeley have been hit with a veritable deluge: UCLA had over 113,000 applications this year, Berkeley, over 80,000.

Every school has different mechanisms for reviewing applications. The University of Florida, for example, promises that each essay will be read at least twice, by different people. The good news for colleges is that they are sure to fill all their empty seats, but at what cost? The processing of tens of thousands of essays requires a labor force; universities will have to pass the cost of that on to someone.

By many accounts, there appears to be no end in sight. As college admissions becomes more competitive, students will continue to cast wider nets, and universities will be forced to keep up. By nature, bubbles eventually burst. We may, however, be in this one for the long haul.


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Friday, December 22, 2017
Early Admission: What to Do if You're Deferred
The first rounds of early admissions result are in, with no great surprises. As expected, admissions rates at this stage are higher than regular admissions. The Ivies, as usual, gain a lot of traction in media reports because their overall acceptance percentages are already so low. Some Ivies reported an increase in early admission applications, which translates seamlessly into even lower early acceptance rates.

If you understood that first paragraph, it's probably because we're speaking the same language. The legendary chaos and competitiveness of college admissions is eclipsed only by its hyperbolic escalation each year. Penn, for instance, just admitted 18.5% of early applicants-a record low. At Stanford, almost as many students were deferred as accepted. So, what to do if you're a student embroiled in an early-onset waiting game?

For a start, don't hold your breath. Get the rest of your regular deadline applications out, and be well invested in them. Find out the university's policy on deferrals-some will accept updated materials, and some prohibit them. Don't alienate admissions officers by bombarding them with new information if it violates their practice. If they welcome updates, be sure you're sending only the most critical ones-changes in test scores, compelling awards, or notable community service.

And though I've mentioned Ivies here, the other golden piece of advice to try and steer clear of the annual hysteria surrounding declining acceptance rates. It's a numbers game, and as more students apply, more necessarily get declined. There are over 4,000 universities and colleges in the U.S. Focusing on the top one percent is a phenomenal waste of energy.

Particularly when you need to invest it in something more important: patience.


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Monday, December 18, 2017
UCLA Again Receives Record Number of Applicants
It's been just a single year since the University of California at Los Angeles became the first university in the U.S. to report a freshman applicant pool of more than six figures-102,177, to be exact. This year, UCLA shattered its own record, with over 113,000 freshman applications, and 24,000 transfer applicants for the 2018-2019 academic year.

On its own website, the university reveled not just in the numbers but in the diversity of the applicants, 71,400 of whom are California residents. According to UCLA, applications from African-American high school students jumped 13%, Chicano/Latino students was up by 10%, and American Indian students saw a 6% increase. The university credited the increases to "robust community engagement".

While this is good news for the university, it may be less so for hopeful students, whose admission odds just got steeper. This is choice marketing material, and arguably a draw for faculty and donors-which is great for the students who do get in. But these monumental jumps are also illustrative of a college admissions process that becomes larger and more unwieldy every year. For a start, how many people does it take to meaningfully comb through 137,000 applications?

The University of California is a public school system, and while tuition may be cheaper than private schools, it still prices out many families. The UC's original policy purpose was to educate residents of the state, by making third-level education affordable. Though these numbers indicate a strong level of in-state enthusiasm, it's difficult to see how they will ultimately increase the accessibility of a public school diploma.


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Monday, December 11, 2017
Race-Based Admissions and the Problem with the Model-Minority
It has been nearly three years since over sixty prominent Asian-American organizations first filed a lawsuit against Harvard University, alleging that the school's admissions policies unfairly discriminate against Asian students. As the case slowly winds its way through the U.S. legal system, the complex social dynamics illuminated by the suit are generating heated discussion.

The "Model Minority" concept, which first fluttered onto the American social science radar in the 1960s, refers to demographic groups who tend to enjoy above-average success, intellectually, financially and socially. In the U.S. the stereotype is overwhelmingly imparted to Asian-Americans who comprise the majority of non-white students in American colleges and universities.

The premise of the Harvard lawsuit is that Asian-American students are actually held to higher standards of admission, simply because of a perception that they are smarter. This notion is pervasive in the college admissions industry, where many consultants coach Asian students on how to appear less typically Asian on their applications (hint: stop spending so much time on calculus and piano).

In a deeply personal piece for Slate, recent Yale University graduate, Aaron Mak, wrote of his regrets about scrubbing his race from his college application, out of fear that it would be a liability. Mak, who is Chinese-American, made no reference to his race or heritage in his application, and now wrestles with two demons-regret at having concealed his identity, and concern that, had he been honest, he might not have been admitted.

Mak tackles the complexity of the so-called "Asian penalty", including the racism at its heart. Asian students may be held to a higher standard because of the perception that they are, as a class, smarter. But the real problem is that white society has decided that Asian students are a monolith-some faceless class of submissive math geeks who fail to "stand out" in the college admissions process. As Mak ponders-don't all those blonde lacrosse players all look the same too?

Edward Blum, the Jewish conservative activist who has thrown significant weight and financing into the Harvard lawsuit is unabashed about his goal, which is not advancing the cause of Asian-American students but abolishing affirmative action-a policy that has produced mixed results for Asian students. As Mak concludes, perhaps it is possible to be Asian and support affirmative action, while also opposing a system that may stack its cards against them.


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Wednesday, December 6, 2017
What the GOP Tax Plan Means for Graduate Students
Though a nuanced discussion of tax code and potential implication for billion-dollar, private university endowments would have no space to breathe in a short blog post, I'd like to briefly tackle the issue of what this tax code overhaul could mean for higher education here in the United States.

Currently, somewhere around 150,000 graduate students in the U.S. receive so-called tuition waivers. Their tuition is paid by the universities where they study, so long as they as they are teaching or researching. The new tax plan will treat that tuition payment as income, meaning that students will have to pay tax on the money.

This is problematic in practice for a number of reasons. Graduate students typically don't earn much money, particularly if they work almost full time on research and teaching. They would now be required to pay significantly higher taxes on cash that they do not get to use for living expenses. Some estimates have noted that graduate students will see a 400% increase in their tax liability because the bill will cause their taxable income to triple.

The GOP is selling the bill in effect as a stimulus package, and many economists claim that the overall tax cuts embedded in the bill will cause a short-term bump. But for an industrialized country that lags behind the rest of the world in education, the act of discouraging people from pursuing advanced degrees makes little socioeconomic sense. Why, some wonder, would we discourage scientists from researching cancer cures?

The tax bill consequences fan the flames of an ongoing discussion of the problems with privilege in higher education. It comes in the wake of a partisan split over the inherent value of college-an increasing number of Republicans feel that third level education is not the ticket to upward mobility that it once was, but rather a vehicle for the inculcation of liberal views.

Though the House and the Senate still have to reconcile their two different versions of the bill, graduate students don't fare well in either draft. One thing is certain-if graduate school becomes entirely out of reach for all but the wealthiest students, the health of the entire country suffers.


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Friday, December 1, 2017
Leveraging Military Experience in Graduate Admission Essays
Since its passage in 1944, the GI Bill has offered financial support to U.S. military members in their pursuit of higher education. In the years since, nearly every state has created tuition incentives in some form, which allow for whole or partial coverage of college and graduate school expenses for current and former service members. Despite these financial advantages, students with military backgrounds must play the admission game just as shrewdly as their competition. Which is why writing candidly about their service can help breathe critical life into their personal statements.

Military service has the potential to give applicants a vital edge in the application process. Values like discipline, responsibility and team unity are some of the philosophical cornerstones of the U.S. armed forces. Most service members join as teenagers so that, by the time they are applying to graduate school, they have garnered a richer and more diverse set of life experiences than their collegiate competition.

There are many reasons why a veteran may not want to write about their service. For some, it is too raw and personal. Others may be wary about broaching topics that could be deemed political in nature. And while a quality essay will avoid excessive military acronyms or unnecessary drama, it has the potential to be deeply persuasive. Whether a reader has military experience or not, the essay is likely to stand out. As with any essay, the most effective work will be that which is reasoned and sincere.

Though statistics on military service are notoriously difficult to pin down, it is estimated that less than one percent of the U.S. population is actively serving. Though the number of veterans is higher, it remains statistically distinctive, and small within the general population.

What gives most student-applicants the greatest anxiety is wondering how to best make themselves stand out in an application essay. For military members, this part of the battle is already won.


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