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, January 8, 2018
College Admissions and Big Data
This Christmas, my husband bought me a Sonos sound system with Alexa built in. Two days in, my kids have learned how to boss Alexa around, and I've discovered that she's already learned my musical tastes based on my amazon library. Smart homes and robots with feelings will be the signposts in my children's youth, in the way that cassette tapes and VCRs marked mine. Perhaps it will make it easier for them to cope with the growing reality of Big Data's influence on our purchasing tastes.

Even the people who share the most casual relationship with social media probably have some sense of algorithms, and the way they are employed to streamline what we see and search for online. In the business world, data mining is now a standard part of marketing strategy. It is cheaper and more accurate than direct marketing, and colleges, like other businesses, are quickly learning to use it effectively.

The purchasing of student information is nothing new. Law schools purchase the names of students with certain LSAT scores from the test's administrator in order to court high-performing students. Universities looking to perfect demographic mosaics can purchase survey information from the College Board and the ACT. But as data mining becomes more sophisticated, its influence on the shaping of student bodies grows stronger.

The tech-savviness of the younger generation could prove a double-edged sword for colleges. On the one hand, high school students have already been warned to curate and sanitize their social media profiles carefully. On the other hand, it's difficult to cover up your digital footprints, and most people make little effort to try. Weighing privacy against convenience is no easy feat.

One thing is certain, data mining is changing the way all businesses operate, and colleges, who have been name-buying for decades, are quickly morphing with the times.


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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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Monday, November 27, 2017
Are Law Schools Seeing a “Trump Bump”?
This question was posed in a Huffington Post editorial this week by Ray Brescia, an Associate Professor of Law at Albany Law School in New York. Brescia built his premise, in part, on an apparent twenty-percent increase in LSAT takers for the December 2017 exam. The spike is notable given that the numbers of students taking the LSAT has been, for several years, in steady decline.

Brescia speculates that Trump's election may have galvanized young people on both sides of the political spectrum to increase their social involvement. Against the backdrop of a highly charged political environment, civic engagement does appear to be on the rise. Lawyers were instrumental in reversing most of the adverse effects of Trump's so-called travel ban last winter. Appellate court judges across the country have neutralized many high profile executive orders issued by Trump over the past twelve months.

If Trump's election has coaxed out social justice warriors, it has also emboldened conservative support for the administration's promise of policy changes. The visible victories of progressive lawyers may have the unintended side effect of inspiring a new wave of conservatives to pursue law degrees in order to fight back.

There are, of course, myriad reasons why LSAT numbers may be up. The country is recovering from the recession that scared so many students away from law school in the first place. This could be a statistical blip. But while Brescia's educated speculation may not unfurl as expected, it is an interesting social enquiry. The U.S. is certainly in unprecedented political territory at present. The current administration has made statements and movements that threaten to topple the constitutional democracy that has underpinned the Republic for 241 years.

If that isn't a good reason to go to law school, I'm not sure what is.


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Monday, November 20, 2017
Diversity in the Legal World
A cursory glance at the American Bar Association's demographic report for 2016 reveals a handful of alarming statistics. Take gender parity, for example. While law school enrollment amongst the sexes is close to equal (52.2% men, 47.8% women), a full 64% of practicing attorneys are men. When it comes to race and ethnicity, however, the inequity is astonishing. Fewer than 5% of practicing attorneys are African-American; only 4% are Hispanic.

Statistics almost always require context, except perhaps, when they are this stark. African-Americans make up roughly 13.3% of the U.S. population, and a staggering 45% of the U.S. prison population. Hispanics account for 16.7% of the U.S. population. Though racial and ethnic classifications carry their own inherent biases, some statistics speak for themselves. The roots of these disparities go far too deep for a short blog, but a few salient points bear discussion.

Income inequality in the U.S. skews along racial lines, meaning that college and law school are out of financial reach for many students of color. Because classes and races are so geographically segregated in American society, people from low income areas also have dramatically reduced access to the many tools that make college feasible-good schools, guidance counselors, and money for college preparation. And those are just the measurable tangibles. The psychology of poverty and oppression is crushing, and defined in stark opposition to the privilege and entitlement afforded to white Americans.

For African-American students looking to study law in cultural and social comfort, the offerings are meager; only six HBCU law schools are accredited by the American Bar Association. Not one of those is in California, the most populous U.S. state, by a long shot. Texas, with a population of close to 28 million, is home to one.

Access to justice is a fundamental marker of success and power. Prestige is a hallmark of the legal profession. Until people of color are adequately represented in the legal realm, law will remain a microcosm of society’s larger issues with racism, sexism and privilege.


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Sunday, November 19, 2017
Is Life Coaching the New College Consulting?
Here's how it went a couple decades back when I was applying to colleges. You picked maybe half a dozen, tops. One reach, one safety, and a few in between. The applications were all on paper. Most schools asked for a single short essay. The top-tier private schools may have given you ten lined spaces to answer a question about the world you came from.

Change is, of course, a part of life. No young student is interested in an "in my day" review of how things used to be. But college has become wildly competitive, and technology has transformed expectations surrounding the admissions process. Everywhere you look, someone is selling college consulting services. There are hundreds of books about the process, the essay, and how-to-get-in. In order to distinguish themselves, college preparation businesses need to get creative.

Which is exactly what 22-year-old Chris Rim-a recent Yale graduate-has done. He shoe-horned his way into Yale with a 3.8 GPA and a non-profit he'd built from the ground up. Now, Mr. Rim charges up to $950 an hour to coach college hopefuls, and parents are paying it. What's different? He's not just helping with essays or tutoring-he's teaching students to build their own brand, starting early in high school. He knows that all the top schools turn down thousands of candidates with perfect SAT scores, a 4.0 and a bang-up essay.

Rim is already claiming a 96% success rate, and while critics worry that this kind of coaching simply cheapens the process with artifice, it may well be the wave of the future. Many students (and parents) are still more interested in prestige over "good fit". Rather than reframing the breathless process, they are likely to keep searching for a new edge. Mr. Rim has already found a way.


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Monday, November 13, 2017
The Search for a Reasonable Bar Pass Rate
In 2014, the University of North Texas Dallas College of Law (UNT) opened its doors with a very unique mission statement. Their stated goal was to help at-risk students to gain law licenses. Translated loosely: UNT was willing to admit students with lower admission credentials and help them become attorneys in Texas. The problem? ABA accreditation. This is a blueprint that has been used many times before, to mixed results.

There are roughly 200 law schools in the country accredited by the American Bar Association. ABA approval is the standard stamp of validation that allows students of the various schools to sit the bar exam in their state. Only one state-California-has made a notable break from the system by creating their own accreditation system. Schools approved by the California Bar Association may sit for the California bar exam and become licensed attorneys in California. Those students may not be allowed to sit bar exams or practice in other states.

In 2016, UNT was denied accreditation by the ABA on the grounds that too many of its students had low LSAT scores, making it less probable that they would be able to pass the Texas bar exam. The school appealed the decision and was granted provisional accreditation in June 2017. The first graduating class took the exam this July with a 59% pass rate. Texas’ overall pass rate was 71%.

Whittier College of Law in California posted a pass rate of just 22% in the July 2016 exam; Whittier, an ABA accredited school, is shuttering its doors in 2019. Like UNT, Whittier prided itself on its diversity and commitment to educating non-traditional students.

While relevant, pass rates alone should not be a death sentence. The state average pass rate in California for the July 2016 bar exam was around 60%. Those quick to blame California's non-ABA accredited goals may want to look at the pass rates for many of the state's reputable law schools. Above The Law

In a system propped up on prestige, it is ironic that pass rates at all but the very top schools in the country post somewhat paltry numbers. It is unfortunate that the very schools that aim to diversify the profession are those most often taking a hit because of it.


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Tuesday, November 7, 2017
Are Full-Time MBA Programs Worth It?
For the third year in a row, full-time MBA programs in the U.S. have seen a steady decline. Experts are nonplussed; in a robust economy, fewer professionals are willing to forgo actual income to pursue a graduate degree. The problem, however, may be more complicated than that.

Like many law schools nationwide, most MBA programs come with a steep price tag of over $50,000 a year. That kind of investment is unlikely to lure the ranks of the gainfully employed back to the classroom. Attendance may also be derailed by the abundance of shorter, more affordable specialized degrees in areas like data analytics and accounting. Over the past decade, enrollment in those programs has nearly doubled.

Many business students rely on employers to fund MBA educations, but those are most often part-time or executive MBA programs. Taking two full years out of the work force and dropping six figures in tuition simply isn't prudent.

Another possibility likely to gather steam in the months ahead is socio-political in nature. Foreign students have long made up more than half of students in American MBA programs. The visa restrictions imposed and promised by the Trump administration, as well as the anti-immigration rhetoric, have served as a stark deterrent. This year, more than 75% of programs surveyed by the Graduate Management Admission Council reported enrollment declines for the 2017-2018 academic year.

Whether this is a precipitous trend or a shorter hiccup remains to be seen.


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Tuesday, November 7, 2017
Rethinking the LSAT in Law School Admissions
When it comes to standardized tests, everyone's got a lot of opinions. For decades, the LSAT has been a prerequisite for entry to law school. In recent years, however, it has-like many other aptitude exams-come under fire for being a less capable predictor of academic success than once thought. Results skew along socioeconomic lines, raising questions about access and diversity in higher education.

Still, when a handful of prominent law schools across the country-among them Harvard and Columbia-recently dropped the LSAT requirement for entering law students, people noticed. Like the SAT for undergraduates, a high LSAT score is a golden ticket to entry. Top scoring students are wooed by the best schools in the country. All things being equal, an LSAT score allows any student to know where they'll land in terms of admission.

Detangling the LSAT from law school admission will be a complicated process, but there are compelling reasons for doing so. Most significantly, numerous studies have indicated that the LSAT is not an accurate predictor of law school GPA or performance on the bar exam. This isn't to say that there isn't correlation in this data points, merely that they are not exhaustively probative.

Accepting the GRE instead, is sending a different message to potential law students. The GRE is the standard-bearer for entry to most graduate programs in the U.S., (aside only from law, business and medical school). Arguably, it is a friendlier test. Because it can be used to access such a broad range of graduate programs, law schools would potentially catch incoming students who might not otherwise have considered law as a field.

The LSAT, of course, also offers measurable structure. It gives students a strong sense of whether or not they are up to the substantial task of law school. But while it's possible that some law schools will follow Harvard's lead in making the LSAT optional, it will likely take years for this testing landscape to see major topographical changes.


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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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Monday, September 25, 2017
West Virginia Makes SAT Mandatory
This week, West Virginia's Department of Education announced that it would require all high schools to administer the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) as the standard college entrance exam. Although it is not completely clear how and why this is being implemented, it will be a welcome move for students of moderate means.

The fee for taking the SAT is about $52, but, like shopping for a new car, figuring out the costs of various add-ons is confusing. The College Board, which administers the test, has separate fees for each SAT subject exam, late registration, additional copies of scores, registration by telephone, and so on. Students from low-income families can apply for a fee waiver, which is granted based upon household size and income. Fee waivers aren't available to undocumented students, and the application itself may be off-putting to many parents who are uncomfortable or unfamiliar with the college application process.

In West Virginia, the test will now be mandatory and administered at no cost to all high school juniors. They will be able to take it in their own classrooms. (The SAT is otherwise offered at independent testing centers, usually on the weekends). Exceptions will be granted only to students with cognitive disabilities. Students taking the exam will be able to send it to up to four different colleges, free of charge.

For decades, the SAT has been the standard-bearer in college admissions assessments. Most colleges require it for admission. Since high school educational environments vary wildly across the U.S., the original purpose of the SAT was to level the playing field, allowing colleges an objective metric to evaluate. But critics have found increasingly strong data suggesting that the SAT skews mostly along socioeconomic lines. Preparation workshops can be prohibitively expensive for lower-income families. Students performing well are likely to come from wealthier families where one or both parents are college graduates.

So while equity may have not been the motivation for this change, it will likely be one of its ancillary benefits.


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