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Wednesday, February 28, 2018
The Real Value in a Holistic Education
A quick google search for the words "college admission" this week will likely turn up dozens of stories about the same topic: colleges promising not to punish students who are disciplined for activism. I wrote about it here less than a week ago. And from this mobilization, another important story emerges: one about the ways in which educational environment helped to motivate many of the most articulate and vocal of these student protestors.
In an article for Slate, Dahlia Lithwick poignantly observes that part of the reason that students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have been so successful in raising awareness over the past few weeks, is that their school continues to invest in so-called soft subjects like debate, theater, and journalism. In an era where many teachers are buying their own pencils and hand sanitizer, this high school in an affluent pocket of Parkland, Florida, is cultivating students whose social awareness and poise is not secondary to their academic achievements.
This tragedy has shone a light on the real value of teaching students about civic engagement. It struck me that these Parkland students, through their anger and grief, are displaying precisely the type of poise and independence that colleges are looking for. Not because they now have a traumatic story, but because they have taken incredibly adult actions in order to attack an incredibly adult societal epidemic.
There is no silver lining to what has happened. These students, however, are a testament to many things, not the least of which is the importance of well-rounded education, and an ability to see outside of themselves. They have lifted the veil on who they are, what they will stand for, and what they will not. It is this-not grades, not varsity sports, not volunteer tourism-that will show a college their true potential.
Lithwick's title is a gut-punch: "They Were Trained for This"—but also an important read.
Sunday, February 25, 2018
Colleges Promise Not to Punish Students for Activism
Few places have served as more fertile hotbeds for social and political protest in the United States than university campuses. In the 1960s' and 70's, they were hotbeds of activity, both violent and peaceful. At Kent State University in 1970, the National Guard fired into crowds of unarmed students protesting America's involvement in the Vietnam war, killing four people and wounding more.
In recent years, campuses have grappled with the tension between First Amendment rights to free expression, and safety concerns. The invitation of controversial speakers like Milo Yiannopolous spark outrage, challenging the difficulty of protecting all forms of speech.
It has been just over a week since a gunman murdered seventeen students and teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglass Highschool in Parkland, Florida. In that time, the country has witnessed perhaps the largest mobilization of student protest movements in decades: #NeverAgain. Not everyone is welcoming this crusade, and school district officials across the country have warned potential student protestors that they may be suspended or expelled.
American universities are striking back. At present, close to a hundred colleges and universities across the country have issued formal statements to incoming freshman, assuring them that a protest-related suspension or expulsion from high school will not disqualify them from admission.
Typically, universities reserve the right to rescind admissions offers to students who commit crimes or have other disciplinary violations during the second semester of their senior year. These assurances make a strong statement about the preservation of this freedom of assembly and expression, no matter the political context.
Monday, February 19, 2018
When College Consulting Goes Wrong
The Ivy Coach is a Manhattan-based firm offering boutique education consulting service to the select few who can afford their fees. Ivy Coach recently found itself the plaintiff in a lawsuit against a client who defaulted on her payment plans to the firm. It doesn't sound particularly noteworthy until one looks at the numbers: the client paid just $750,000 of a $1.5 million contract.
College consulting is certainly a burgeoning industry, and it is not cheap. Many charge upwards of several hundreds of dollars per hour, or flat fees of up to $10,000. For this money, most firms promise to walk aspiring college students through the entire process from start to finish. This includes help researching schools, strategizing standardized tests, preparing for interviews, drafting admissions essays and more. It's no secret that the cost of these services prices out families of low to moderate means.
Still, the exorbitant fee being litigated in the Ivy Coach case offers an extreme example of a pendulum that has arguably swung too far in the wrong direction. It underscores the desperation of parents, and the mighty weight of economic privilege. At a deeper level, it challenges notions of what a college education is worth. For families in the top one percent, does an Ivy League pedigree make that much difference in their children's professional prospects?
Private consulting services are not illegal, even though they straddle ethical lines. They are simply the product of a capitalist system that encourages producers to seize upon a legitimate social demand. And while this case is an outlier, it serves as a stark reminder that in many respects, college admissions is not the pure merit-based system which universities would have us believe.
Monday, February 12, 2018
College Admissions and the Idea of “Deservingness”
In a thought-provoking article in Pacific Standard, former admissions counselor Nadirah Farah Foley challenges third-level educational institutions to reframe their standards, shifting their self-definition from one in which they are "producers of value, not arbiters of merit".
Foley's article is centered in part upon the idea that having more diversity amongst admissions officers is a giant step towards having meaningful diversity within student populations. She notes that people tend to self-select, or be more likely to admit students with whom they can relate based on shared experience. It's a habit that is steeped in racism and classism which may be so deeply embedded as to be invisible to the admissions officer themselves. Put another way, accidental prejudice.
Privilege is generational. Over the past century, America attempted to distinguish itself from societies with monarchies, and explicit class systems. The capitalistic meritocracy was a captivating concept: to go from being a nobody to being a somebody required nothing more than hard work, rather than accident of birth. Yet time has proven this concept to be myth, and it is reflected nowhere more clearly than in the college admissions system.
While colleges like to think of themselves as producers of value, the barriers to entry have caused them to evolve into arbiters of merit. Arguments about affirmative action and legacy admissions are grounded in a fundamental conflict about how to define merit. Or, as Foley posits, a rudimentary struggle about how to evaluate a student's "deservingness".
She acknowledges the inherent challenge in systemic change, particularly in a space where access is caught the tight-fisted clutch of money, power, race, class and politics. Still, she has solutions. First, diversity needs to become a priority in the hiring of faculty, not just in the courting of students. Second, stop treating merit as a static characteristic, and recognize it as something that can be found in anyone.
That's as good a place to start as any.
Thursday, February 8, 2018
Language Barriers in College Admissions
It has been widely estimated that the number of international students studying at U.S. universities has surpassed the million mark in recent years. These numbers have been on a steady rise over the past several decades, with the overwhelming majority of students coming from China and India.
Most universities welcome international students with open arms. Having students from different countries and cultures enriches the learning environment. Foreign students are required to pay higher, non-resident tuition-a fiscal win for the colleges.
One obvious problem makes this transition difficult for foreign students to navigate: the language barrier. The TOEFL exam helps to set minimum standards for entry to U.S. universities, but even students with a decent grasp of the English language may struggle to perform at the collegiate level.
The University of Oregon in Eugene has an alternative. It is a program called "conditional admission", wherein students are offered "bridge" classes designed to raise their English language proficiency. The offering is available to students who otherwise qualify for admission. Through the courses, foreign students are able to ease their way into the curriculum, while also enjoying a gentler cultural transition.
Though programs such as these are unlikely to appear at top-tier universities, they are becoming increasingly common as a method of courting international students while also ensuring their academic success.
Monday, February 5, 2018
Advanced Placement Courses: How Much is Too Much?
Scott White has been a New Jersey high school guidance counselor for over thirty-five years. During that time, he's witnessed a dramatic evolution in the college admissions process. In the early 1980s, he notes, it was as "routine as getting a driver's license", and something people rarely talked much about.
Mr. White is also a member of the National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC), an association of over 16,000 professionals which aims to guide students through the process of college selection and admissions. Last week, he wrote and circulated a short essay amongst other guidance counselors, encouraging them to stop pushing high school students to take so many AP courses.
His concerns are critical. He sees students crushed under the pressure to take too many high-level courses. They struggle with self-harm, self-medication, eating disorders and even suicide. The competitive trend, he warns, has got to stop.
The essay has earned praise from fellow guidance counselors, but has yet to draw a response from college admissions counselors.
It's easy to write dispassionately about admissions trends. Over 113,000 people applied to get into UCLA this year; 16,500 were admitted. These numbers are staggering, but they also represent 96,500 students who didn’t get in. Tens of thousands of students who no doubt took armfuls of AP courses, to the exclusion of normal teenage experiences. What of them?
There's no easy answer here. Some students can manage ridiculously challenging course loads. Some may want to. Colleges are unlikely to discourage it. But for the teachers and buy viagra from uk counselors who work with high school students, something's got to give. The mental and physical health of these young people is literally depending upon it.
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