Admissions Essays
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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, October 27, 2014
Exploring Early to find the Right College
In American culture, college is more than a simple beginning to a new academic venture. It is a spreading of the wings-a symbolic marker of a student's transformation from teenager into independent adult. If you're lucky and can take your pick, this may be your first opportunity to start over far away from home. It's like closing your eyes, tracing your finger on a map and picking a place to go.

Well, not exactly. But it is a lot easier to relocate before you've got a job, mortgage and kids.

For most students, the only real barrier to attending a school far from home is the higher out-of-state tuition. The reality, however, is that most of us stay close to home. It may be the familiarity, but more likely, it's the cost of simply traveling and researching far-away places. Thankfully we now have the internet to thank for virtual tours, but it isn't the same. Seeing and experiencing a place is something that can't be faked.

I'm not one of those people that advocates college prep for kindergartners, but I do think it's a good idea to plan ahead. So when you take a regular family trip with older kids, think about using it as an opportunity to check out a campus. Let your kids get a visceral feel for a place by just wandering the campus. Sometimes just seeing the majesty of a large university is something that sticks in a young person's memory.

Helping your kinds to mentally map out a larger region of possibility is the first step in stretching the limits of their expectations. Done in the right way, this can be a real positive when the college crunch finally comes to pass.

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Thursday, October 23, 2014
Turning Your Admission Essay from Tired to Fresh
As an editor, one of my least favorite essays to read is the cliche essay. It's also one of my least favorites to critique. Correcting grammar? That's the kind of thing that doesn't hurt feelings. Telling a student their camp counseling story just isn't interesting? That's a little more tenuous.

Remember though, that college admissions isn't about feelings. The person reading your essay will likely never meet you face to face. They will never have to even give you feedback. This gives them the privilege of disliking your essay in private, without heed for your ego.

In theory, you, the high school essay composer, should use this as an opportunity. Let's say you pick an experience topic that we will call, erm, familiar. Camp counseling. Sporting triumph. Church volunteer trip. Habitat for Humanity. I'm not suggesting that these life events aren't milestones. They may be cause for epiphanies. But a lot of the time, they are just things-kids-do-to-beef-up-a-college-resume, and your university can see that.

So find your story. Don't just write about how summer camp taught you independence and responsibility. Tell us about the time the power went out and you had to grill food on the campfire. Don't just write about your water polo championship, write about the time your mom's car ran out of gas on the way to the Finals.

Don't make things up. But think of what story you'd tell at a dinner party. The story you'd tell if you wanted to make someone laugh. The story you'd tell if you wanted to commiserate. The story you'd tell if you wanted to help someone through a hard time. These are the good stories.

These stories are fresh, not tired. These are the ones that you would want to read.

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Monday, October 20, 2014
Bad Legal Job Market Worse for Lower-Tier Law Schools
The big news about law school over the past several years has really been its bleak landscape. But how bad is it, really, for the top 20 schools?

Not that bad. In fact, their knees haven't even been grazed by it.

When it comes to Elitism with a capital "e", it is nowhere more alive and well than in the law school realm. The headlines are stark. Last year saw the lowest numbers sitting the LSAT exam, ever. Applicant numbers are at the lowest they've been since the 1970s (when there were fewer law schools). Law schools are laying off faculty, reducing class sizes, eliminating aid packages, and trimming courses.

The tough legal job market means that it is taking graduates longer to get employed and, when they do, they are, on average, earning less. This makes the effort and the price tag for most law schools rather unappealing.

The thing is, all of these factors are disproportionately affecting the lower tier schools. In the competitive legal job market (from clerkships to big firms), school name has always been important. But with fewer jobs available these days, employers are more likely to skim even less cream off the top. The Yale Law grad is very likely to outrank her evenly matched competitor at a less prestigious school.

So as a general rule, top tier schools aren't hurting. Most in the top 14 have classes of fewer than 300 students anyhow meaning that the elite schools don't need many to apply in order to fill seats with highly qualified candidates.

What does this mean to law school hopefuls? Make sure you really want it. Then do your research to see where you're likely to end up. Where you go may be more important than what you do once you get there.

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Thursday, October 16, 2014
Do not Take that Acceptance for Granted
If you've been keeping up with college admissions, you've no doubt read about the intersection of social media in the process. Blogs and reports everywhere are quick to remind applicants to keep their online profiles scrubbed clean. Colleges do pay attention to Facebook profiles and admissions staff admits that they may be inclined to rescind admissions if they find something unsavory.

But how often do colleges really rescind offers and why?

The number one reason, according to a study by the National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC), is senioritis. In the most recent surveys, colleges reported that 65% of rescinded offers were done so in response to a significant dive in second semester senior year grades.

Second on the list were disciplinary issues. This broad category accounted for roughly 35% of withdrawn offers. Staying out of trouble seems like an obvious admonition to college hopefuls, but clearly, it's an active problem.

Rounding out the top three at 29% was falsification of application information. This also sounds like a no-brainer, but given the highly competitive nature of the process these days, not a surprise.

In short, no acceptance is unconditional. The data should remind students, however, that universities are looking at the whole picture when they take in a candidate. The best test scores, grades and resume in the world won't survive bad choices and questionable behavior.

So clean up that Facebook profile, but by all means, don't stop there.

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Monday, October 6, 2014
Helicopter Parenting and College Admissions
Wondering if you hover too much over your children? Are you reading this blog? Yes? Then you may already have your answer.

Students: let's face it, most teenagers feel their parents are too intrusive. Thought they nagged you a lot about homework? College admissions could make that look like, well, child's play.

The fact is, your hovering parents have probably experienced rejection and regret. They've lost a job or blown an interview or bombed a test. They understand that time doesn't fix the aftermath of all youthful transgressions. So when they see you giving less than 100% to the admissions process, it may feel impossible for them to sit on their hands.

At the undergraduate level, administrators are often quite familiar with the overly involved parent, who may be doing more than simply footing the bill. The thing is, the university is admitting you, the student, and they want to know you'll be able to juggle the demands of college with your own two hands. Having mom call to check in on your admission status? Not a good symbolic gesture.

The solution for parents? Trust that the child-rearing you've done thus far is good enough. Hard as it might be, step back and understand that your almost adult child is going to need to learn about natural consequences.

For students with meddlesome parents? See this as a growth opportunity. Your life will be full of authority figures reminding you how to run your life. Trust that the folks aren't as out of touch as you might think. Know that someday you may find this to be true.

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Monday, September 29, 2014
Finding the Right College On-Line
This week, the internet search behemoth Google (do they need an introduction?) released statistics on the most searched-for universities. Trying to extrapolate much meaning from these statistics may be ill-advised, but it's big news for universities in general who are looking to expand their internet marketing strategies.

A powerful on-line presence is essential for universities in the current market. Though competition is as steep as ever at top colleges, many universities are struggling to fill seats. Nabbing the most valuable prize-international students-requires the kind of outreach that isn't fettered by geographic borders. (Foreign students are generally required to pay higher tuition costs and don't qualify for federal financial aid available to American students).

Still, Google's top 20 list doesn't track traditional "top college" lists steeped in history and prestige. In fact, the college in the top spot is the University of Phoenix-an American-based on-line course provider. Despite its sometimes spotty reputation, the University of Phoenix's model represents a changing trend in third-level education worldwide. In the #3 spot is Open University, one of the top "distance learning" institutions in the United Kingdom.

Wedged in between the two on-line "universities" is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), largely regarded as one of the top (bricks and mortar) learning institutions in the world. So interpreting Google's list is challenging.

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Monday, September 22, 2014
A College Match Made in Heaven
I've squeezed some life out of the love-match metaphor on this blog on more than one occasion. You know, pushing the idea that finding the right college is a lot like finding the right relationship. The person that is appealing to one person would be a complete dud for someone else. The fanciest, most expensive, most prestigious, cheapest, biggest, smallest, most urban, most rural, religious, secular-everyone has different needs.

By reaching only for the colleges that are up on pedestals, we are often setting ourselves up for failure. By the same token, we can't fall in love with a university simply because someone else has done so, or because someone tells us it is what's best for us. Shall I go on?

Well, like the dating world, the college admissions arena has been irrevocably touched by technology. It is revolutionizing the way people find the right schools. Yes, just like match.com has managed to create some sustained marriages.

At first, internet match-making seems a little hokey, right? It seems like you're skipping all the organic steps of meeting in person, and allowing time and place to shape the budding relationship. But then you remember the double-edged sword of technology. We have greater access to more information, even if it dulls the nostalgic senses of flipping idly through a dictionary or a blind date at a coffee shop.

For a quick round-up of some new and returning "college matchmaking" sites, check out this overview, collected this week at the National Association for College Admission Counseling's annual conference. You never know what you might find.

Washington Post

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Tuesday, September 16, 2014
Do not Miss the Point in Your Admission Essay
Ever tried combing the internet for successful admission essays? No? Perhaps it's an occupational hazard for me, but it's something I'd recommend to any student struggling to put pen to paper. I'm not talking about sample essays. I'm talking about essays written by actual students who were actually admitted to universities. You'd be surprised how many schools and students are willing to share the success stories.

A successful essay says more in 500 words than an instruction book could say in 200 pages. This isn't to say that consultants, websites and other information-gathering tools don't have value. It's just that when you really have writer's block, general advice can just be frustrating or unhelpful. "Write from the heart", "show, don't tell", "offer a window into your personality". These are the platitudes I see and give, and they are all accurate. They just aren't always that instructive.

I see some students falling into one of two traps with their prose alone. It's either way too simplistic, or way too obtuse. By the time you're knocking at college's door, you should be able to craft something more compelling than "dance team was fun". Conversely, a thesaurus isn't a substitute for well-crafted narrative. Bigger words are not necessarily better.

But take this example. An essay describing how the "moon poured creamy beams onto the desert floor". This is just beautiful writing. The essay itself had little to do with the outdoors, but the writer had me at that line. This was a 17-year-old high school student. So it can be done. He or she wrote about a painful life experience without sounding maudlin, or saccharine, or whiny. In fact, the writer did it while taking care to describe the texture, shade and context of moonlight.

Writing, I realize, isn't everyone's strong suit. But as you sit down to start, try not to micro-focus on the wrong ideas. Let your creativity take over. Don't feel like you have to recount every soccer trophy, the sting of every failure, or each hope and dream. There isn't space for all of that. There, is, however, space for something beautiful, and you don't have to be a novelist to create your opus.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2014
Adding LGBTQ Dimension to Admission Essays
According to a recent article in Duke University's own news source, The Chronicle, Duke is amongst just four undergraduate universities in the U.S. to include an LGBTQ question on their supplemental essay portion.

What is the significance to lesbian, gay and non-gender conforming students? Well, for a start, it is a symbolic gesture. While several advocacy organizations such as Campus Pride, already evaluate and rank the LGBTQ-friendliness of college campuses, few universities have taken the step to directly address issues of sexual orientation explicitly in admissions material. Most essay prompts-whether unique to the university or part of the Common Application-invite broad-range topics that would allow any student to discuss the impact of sexuality and sexual orientation on their world. However, the stigmatic nature of the topic may frighten many applicants away from the subject matter.

Certainly, inviting direct discussion won't erase preconceived biases. Changing semantics on an application doesn't necessarily change minds. It is, however, a strong statement from the university itself that this component of a person's personhood is valid, relevant, and protected within that college setting.

Such symbolic gestures may be crucial for universities like Duke, situated in areas of the country where diversity and liberality of social acceptance of non-traditional sexuality is not the historical norm. Whether or not the gesture jives with the reality of campus or surrounding city life remains to be seen. But it is a step.

Duke Chronicle

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Tuesday, September 9, 2014
End of Summer and Time for Action
As you gallop into the early days of your senior year of high school, it may be hard to keep your focus. This strangely transitional year has you celebrating the exhilaration of being a big fish in a little pond, right before you dive back into an enormous ocean of uncertainty. Whether the unknowns of college are exciting or daunting, the changes are coming, and it may finally be time to pay attention.

For students applying Early Decision or Early Action, the actual application deadlines are just weeks away. If this is your route, you've likely already taken the SAT and ACT, although you have one last chance in October, if you like living on the edge. Summer would have been the optimal time to prepare, but if that ship has sailed, take solace in the fact that it's early in the senior semester, and you'll have time to play catch up.

Hopefully you've already visited some select campuses, but if not, these last few weeks of summer can be an ideal time. Many campuses have already started classes so you'll get the opportunity to see what your college looks like when it's alive with students. If you're searching in intemperate climates, you'll also get the chance to hit the pavement before it's covered in snow or otherwise impassable.

If you're applying to quarter-system (or three-trimester) universities, school may not yet be in session, but activities may already be bubbling. You can still take the opportunity to tour somewhat empty campuses while catching a glimpse of summer sports practice and the early rumblings of campus activity. Some administrators and professors may already be around and available for touring or consultation.

One last thing to remember? Enjoying these last months of high school. You'll forgive me and all the other adults from getting a little nostalgic about this shift. It's your last hurrah before heading off to grown-up life. And whether or not that's exciting or daunting, it's certainly imminent.

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Tuesday, September 2, 2014
Law School Admissions: Accomplishment, not just Promise
I've spent the bulk of my time over the past couple years, blogging about the woes of the American law school landscape and the bleak legal job market that's been dotting it. Things haven't really turned around yet, but people are still going to law school, and still working as attorneys.

Which means that, even if the number of LSAT takers is down, and even if some law schools are rolling back scholarship money and faculty-the beat still goes on. The Ivies and other top tier schools have been largely unaffected by the downturn. The cream on the top of all the student bodies continues to take elite jobs with elite firms and high courts.

So how then, should applicants be approaching the application process? Well, pretty much the same as before. Your LSAT score is your ticket. For better or worse, scores above 170 are going to land you some pretty elusive invites. Scores under 140 funnel you into a different tier. Either way, you're still going to need to flesh out your application with other information about who you are. Including a rich personal statement.

Unlike undergraduate admissions, your application reader doesn't want to hear a lot about your potential. At least not unless it is built on the back of some real experience. All too often, I see law school personal statements laden with platitudes about how the applicant wants to "help others" or "make change in the world". That's all well and good, but by the time you're applying to law school, you should already have done that.

This isn't to say you should keep directing your reader to your goals in law. Just make sure they have a solid foundation. Law school is hard. And if it's a tough job market you're facing, you need to be committed to the challenges. Wanting to be accomplished isn't the same as showing up at the table with a real-life CV.

So take it seriously. Know what you want and why you deserve it. It's still your job to make the tough sell.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2014
Financial Resources for Undocumented Students
Tracking the number of undocumented children in the U.S. is no easy feat. It is complicated by issues surrounding U.S. immigration policies, as well as the simple logistics of tracking human statistics-many of whom may be trying to live off the grid. But when the Obama administration recently instituted the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, the Migration Policy Institute estimated that more than 1.9 million young people could qualify for relief under the program's terms.

Among the criteria that must be met by those seeking relief under the DACA program is the requirement that they be a full-time student-elementary, high school or college. Qualifying residents are granted legal residency status and the opportunity to work. For graduated high school students, this opportunity can also present problems. How to afford college tuition.

If you must "stay in school" in order to maintain your legal status, getting into-and paying for-college becomes a rather pressing endeavor, at least where money is an issue. Since most undocumented children also have undocumented parents, they are overwhelmingly poor.

Given their legal status, undocumented students cannot qualify for federal financial aid-an enormous resource for the vast majority of financial aid recipients. Fortunately, eighteen states in the U.S. allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at local universities. Considering the price-hikes for out-of-state tuition, this price difference could be a deal-breaker for many students.

In just five states-California, Texas, New Mexico, Minnesota and Washington, undocumented students can actually qualify for state-based financial aid packages. The problem, of course, is access to information. In an effort to make the process more transparent, the College Board has published a fairly comprehensive resource list for students seeking guidance.

https://professionals.collegeboard.com/profdownload/Repository-Resources-Undocumented-Students_2012.pdf

Changes to immigration policy are constant and quick, but guides such as these are a good start. The College Board also offers links to resources assisting students in keeping up with current legislation:

https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/get-started/for-undocumented-students/6-things-undocumented-students-need-to-know-about-college

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Monday, August 18, 2014
B-School Admissions: Not Just a Writing Contest
Standardized tests are not my favorite thing. Nothing sets of a reflexive eye-roll and shudder like the words "multiple choice". I'm not alone, of course. I suppose that's why I cherish the gradual turning-tide in college admissions regarding optional testing. (See my blog from earlier this week).

As a writer, however, I've always been partial to the personal statement. Sure, it gives young writers wide berth to showcase mediocrity. It also invites hyperbole, platitudes, and melodrama. At its best, the personal statement is in fact a window into the writer's soul. The reader gets a glimpse of vulnerability or startling insight that helps the student's name jump off the piece of paper.

Business schools, however, seem to be growing less optimistic about the power of the written word. On its own, at least. (Note that the vast majority of business schools require multiple personal statements of varying lengths). Instead, graduate MBA programs are asking their candidates to use technology and creativity to create a performance to remember.

Unprepared video responses and team exercises are amongst the improvisations invited by several prominent business schools. As in any interview or public setting, students are forced to think quickly on their feet, speak articulately and, in some cases, work efficiently in a team setting-right before the eyes of interested b-school admission officers.

In the business school context, this evaluation of non-written skills makes a great deal of sense. This isn't to say that the quantitative and analytic skills assessed by the GMAT have no value. It isn't to say that the ability to cobble together coherent prose isn't an important skill. It's just that even those two pieced together don't flesh out the entire picture.

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Monday, August 11, 2014
College Admissions Help for International Students
Try for a minute to imagine what the college application process must be like for students without home-court advantage. I mean, sure, we now have the internet. Anyone with a computer and a command of basic English can Google the University of Texas and click on the "admissions" tab. Then follow the instructions.

But how, as a foreign student, do you really know anything about UT or Texas or Harvard or anywhere else without the benefit of actual cultural insight? When I was in high school, there was an unspoken sense of who could get into the Ivies, who was going to community college, and who wasn't. The anecdotes from teachers, parents, or friends-of-friends who'd already had those experiences-that was what we built our understanding of college upon.

At the very least, an American student can ask their guidance counselor for some direction. So what does a Chinese or Croatian student do? In countries like China, which has seen a dramatic increase in emigrating students over the past decade, there has been a boon in the college consulting industry. The problem there, and in other countries with even less access to information, is the overall knowledge of foreign consultants. After all, who knows the American system better than, well, insiders?

Enter start-ups like College Node, an internet-based company designed to work as a medium between international students and crucial contacts here in the U.S. College Node helps to connect foreign students with American students, college consultants and even teachers. Like any consulting agency, it's a for-profit venture, and it is still in its infancy. Still, it is a viable option for foreign students looking to lift the veil on the process.

While there is no substitute for strong academic performance, navigating the system and process of U.S. college admissions is no easy task. Let's hope technology continues to help foreign students bridge the knowledge gap.

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Sunday, August 3, 2014
Picking the Right College
Think Princeton Review is more than just a test preparation service? Think again. While they are a one-stop-shop for everything from practice PSAT tutorials to on-line LSAT courses, they go an extra step once a year with their Best 379 Colleges guidebook. If 379 wasn't a random enough number for you, just consider the 62 categories across which those colleges are ranked.

Want a sampling of the 2014 winners? Syracuse is the top party school. Mormon Brigham Young University is the top "stone-cold sober" school. Sarah Lawrence has the "most liberal students". Vanderbilt's are the happiest.

Scientific? Well, they have surveyed roughly 130,000 college students overall-an average of about 340 students per school. I'm not sure whether a student who has only ever attended one school really has the capacity to put their school's strengths and weaknesses into perspective. But I'm pretty certain few students take a very scientific approach to selecting colleges in the first place.

I've written a great deal about the importance of selecting the college that is the right fit. Not all students have the capacity to get accepted at their top choice. Not all of them are actually suited for their top choice. The Princeton Review has tapped into this ambivalence with its rankings, which quantify a wide range of collegiate qualities.

By their own account, all of the colleges on the list are "good schools". They just have different attributes. So if "Best Campus Food" is a deal-breaker for you, then you need look no further than Virginia Tech.

Or maybe, just maybe, you can see the Best 379 Colleges for what it really is-a catalogue allowing students to arm themselves with a bit more information. In a way, the book plays into the truth of the selection process for many students-that it can be arbitrary, emotional, and not at all scientific. And I think that's okay.

You can be amongst the first to order your copy here: Amazon

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Monday, July 28, 2014
Colleges and the Holistic Review Process
I feel the need to issue a disclaimer right out of the gate. The reference article I'm using for this post is the musings of a single application reader, employed for a single application cycle at one university. I'm not pretending to offer insight into the global admissions process. I'm not promising the answer to the million-dollar question: "what are colleges looking for in a candidate?"

I'm merely drawing attention to the murkiness of the whole process.

Ruth Starkman's year-old article recounts her struggle with the subjectively objective process of ranking candidates using the University of California, Berkeley's "holistic" review process of college applicants. While one would hope that all colleges take a holistic approach to evaluations, the term has become ever more important since California's 1996 passage of Proposition 209-the law making it illegal to consider race, ethnicity and gender in college admissions.

Starkman struggles with the university's acrobatic attempts to completely avoid the conversation of race, ethnicity and gender in college admissions. It's one thing for the law to say none of those things can even be considered. It's another for application evaluators to pretend race/ethnicity and gender don't exist. Particularly when charged with making a "holistic" review of an application.

College applicants may find some consolation in the rigors of the process. People like Starkman, who is a writing professor, are classed as "external readers". They spend an average of eight minutes per application, give the student a rank, and then pass the application on, where it is vetted by a more experienced reader before being passed off to an "inner committee" of admissions officers.

Still, how is this scientific? Who is the best candidate? What makes them the best? Should the student who had to work harder to succeed get extra points for perseverance? Should the student without the funds to compete with their more privileged peers be penalized for being poor? These kinds of considerations make it impossible to call the process objective.

I wish I had an answer, and so do people like Starkman, who are far more qualified than me to provide one.

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Monday, July 21, 2014
Texas, Race, and College Admissions
In June of 2013, in a 7-1 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court punted the hot-button issue of affirmative action back to the appellate courts. Fisher v University of Texas was a 2008 case brought by Abigail Fisher, a white student who claims she was unfairly denied admission to the university on the basis of her race. The Supreme Court refused to issue a ruling banning the use of race in college admissions, instead requiring universities to use stricter standards in the consideration of race.

The case was remanded back down the chain to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans where, last week, Fisher's case was dismissed. That's the shorthand version of the ruling. Essentially, the Supreme Court said that race can be considered in college admissions, but only if there are no reasonable "race-neutral" mechanisms that would produce the benefits of diversity. Got that?

The Fifth Circuit found that UT's use of race in its admissions policies was acceptable, and not a constitutional violation for a student like Abigail Fisher. Texas' "Top Ten Percent Plan" automatically grants college admission to the top ten percent of all high school graduates. Because Texas' schools are largely segregated, this has the net effect of adding a great deal of diversity to college university bodies.

UT also uses a "holistic" review process, wherein race is one factor for consideration. However, far more minority students are admitted through the Top Ten Percent Plan.

Splitting legal hairs is what helps cases like Fisher to languish in various stages of the appellate process for years or more. Fisher's attorneys have already announced their intent to appeal once again. She has long since graduated from another university, and experts have noted that her GPA and test scores meant that admission for her in 2004 was unlikely, regardless of her race.

For now, a victory for proponents of affirmative action. Watch this space, as the long battle rages slowly on.

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Monday, July 14, 2014
Is College Getting Cheaper
Let me start off with a disclaimer. I'm not an economist. I also can't possibly tackle this question in less than 300 words. But I will open a discussion that raises some interesting issues.

The National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO, and probably an organization you'll never think about again), recently released a report stating, in essence, that universities are doling out more financial aid today than ever before. They refer to it as an increase in "tuition discount rate".

The reason why? College is getting more expensive, and students are getting priced out of it. If universities want to make any money from tuition, they have to find a way to make it accessible.

A recent NPR article attempts to dissect the new trend, likening discounted private colleges to "cheap sushi". From a marketing perspective, no one likes the idea of getting something cheap. What they do like, is not having to pay full price for it. There is a difference, and colleges know it, which is why they characterize grants and scholarships as "merit-based stipends" and talk in terms of "need-blind admissions".

The problem is that there are still many students who will be scared away by sticker price. They may be the ones who are most likely to benefit from the discount. For most applicants, it's impossible to tell just how much college is going to cost until every last financial aid and scholarship form has been signed and submitted. Without a guaranteed price tag, it may be mostly middle and upper class students applying to the $40,000 a year colleges. That is true even if those same students ultimately qualify for a 40% discount. Low-income students may simply miss out by figuring they can't even play the game.

The lack of transparency is unfortunate. But this study and other analyses like it are a reminder not to take private, non-profit colleges off your list based on price alone.

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Monday, July 7, 2014
A Second Shot at a Good GMAT Score
If you're applying to Business School, chances are, you've got to tackle the GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test). For the past several decades, it has been the standard fare for entrance exams to most MBA programs. In recent years, its close cousin, the GRE (Graduate Record Examination), has become a second option, though the GRE is more widely used for admittance to non-MBA graduate programs.

A new feature of the GMAT testing option will now allow test-takers to cancel their score shortly after receiving it. Let me rewind. The GMAT is "computer-adaptive", meaning that it can be taken on a computer, and results will be delivered electronically. Historically, a candidate checks their score on line, and if they take no action, that score is delivered automatically to whichever business schools they have applied to.

This new feature gives students the opportunity to discard a bad score before the university ever sees it. The problem with the system is two-fold. First of all, students have just two minutes to decide whether or not to cancel or forward their scores to their schools of choice. There is no opportunity for measured consideration.

Second, the business schools may not see the discarded score, but they will be able to see that a candidate has cancelled a score. This is true for every cancelled score. This may cause schools to begin to read between the lines if a student has a slew of cancelled scores. It's like alerting the university to your tendency to favor "do-overs".

In the past, schools could monitor a student's previous scores, often looking for an upward trajectory pattern. With the cancelled, anonymous scores, those schools won't be able to detect an aptitude baseline for a given student.

On the other hand, it allows students to better filter the information that is being passed on to their desired business school. Schools will never know how low a cancelled score was, so the weight they may give to such scores is still debatable.

The new test feature is "live" as of June 2014.

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Monday, June 30, 2014
The Over-Processed Admission Essay
I've been editing admissions essays for well over a decade now. I also come from a big extended family. Lots of them have applied for and been accepted to various colleges over the years. Nearly every one of them has asked me to take a look at their essays.

Well, not them, exactly. Their parents have.

Their parents have also been good about coercing the kids into taking my advice. Or at least writing me a thank you note. I don't mind. I figure if even one small slice of my advice leaks through, I've been helpful.

This last year, I was asked again by earnest relatives to look over their daughter's essay. I did, and it was pretty good. Nevertheless, it looked like a lot of the high school student essays I read that are written by bright, accomplished kids who are totally bored with the essay-writing process. It seemed bored, scattered, lacking in structure. So I sent my feedback and scarcely gave it another thought.

Months later, I spoke with her mom. With apologetic embarrassment she told me her daughter had refused to accept any of my changes. In fact, the daughter hadn't even shared her final product with her parents. She ended up getting into one of the colleges of her choice, and she's happy with the result.

She didn't want my advice because she hadn't solicited it. She also didn't want it, because she wanted to take ownership of her work. She didn't want polish, and she didn't want it in someone else's voice. Her mom thought it was reckless. I found it brave.

I still think every written work-whether in the college application genre or the real world-benefits from a second set of eyes. The computer can't fix your structure. Still, an essay crafted from your experience will have your fingerprints all over it-warts and all.

And while we'll never know what admissions officers are truly looking for, you can't go wrong with being a little brave.

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