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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.
Tuesday, May 13, 2014
Looking Forward in Your Obstacle Essay
Introspection is hard. So is selling yourself. At least for most of us. That's why job interviews and first dates are so stressful. How can you sound confident without being boastful? How can you really evaluate your strengths and weaknesses in a way that will make a person like you?

This is why writing an admission essay is so tough. It may also be why so many high school students like to write about the experience of navigating challenges. The problem is that many of them don't do it well.

Remember that your reader has read thousands of these essays. They tend to share a familiar formula. The cycle of life means that many teenagers may have lost a grandparent. They may have seen a parent survive cancer. They may have overcome a learning disability. For better or worse, though, these stories don't necessarily make a student unique.

The key to the obstacle essay is not getting mired in the challenge or tragedy. At their worst, obstacle essays read like excuses for your mistakes. Get too maudlin, they come across as insincere. At best, it might sound like you couldn't come up with a better story.

A successful obstacle essay effectively ties the challenge to your personal growth. It isn't enough to simply be sad at the passing of a grandparent. The experience needs to have somehow reshaped you. It's not enough to say that your mom's cancer made you want to work harder in school. That experience needs to have somehow helped you reevaluate mortality.

Most importantly, your narrative must successfully progress through the challenge. College is a new beginning. You want to share a sense of formidable optimism-the ability to clear a hurdle and keep moving forward.

That's the person your college wants on their team.


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Tuesday, May 13, 2014
The Calm After the Acceptance Letter
So your four years (or more) of hard work have finally paid off. You no longer have to agonize over waning acceptance rates, deadlines, personal statements, or really any other decision-making. You've received the admission offer you wanted and you've accepted. You're thrilled!

Now what?

How long does it take for the afterglow of success to wear off? More importantly, what do you do now? The last couple months of senior year seem positively endless in their arbitrariness.

Some of you may do what I did. Coast through the end of the school year and spend the summer abroad. This wasn't a terrible plan, but I did miss a few opportunities to get acquainted with my new school. So here's my small list of suggestions:

1) Don't let your grades tank. I know you're positively counting the days until graduation, but hang in there. Colleges actually can rescind offers if they see a significant drop-off in your last semester performance.

2) Go to your college orientation. Most schools will offer something this summer. I missed mine. It would have been nice to roam the campus a bit more and say, check out my dorm.

3) Get linked in on social media. You're "in" now. Like your university's Facebook page, follow them on Twitter. If you know your desired major or department, do a little digging for their designated pages, and lock in. You never know what kind of important info they might disseminate before the start of the year.

4) Connect with other students that are going to your school. Like any school experience, you may find that your friends at the start of the year aren't your friends at graduation. But by sharing the journey with friends or classmates, you may be able to take the sting out of the early days of transition.

5) Take a breath. Without getting too sentimental-this is the start of a new chapter. You've probably never lived on your own, with no parents, with no one else to buy your groceries. This sounds liberating to a seventeen-year-old, but it will take some getting used to. Enjoy your last summer at home with familiar friends. This is kind of a big deal.

Above all, congratulations. For most of us, the college years are some of the best of our lives.


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Tuesday, May 6, 2014
Making Law School More Accessible
Last month, I wrote about the diversity problem in law schools. In a statistical nutshell, here's one example of the problem. While Hispanics and African-Americans make up just under 20% of the U.S. population respectively, law school enrollment for each group is around 7%. Not all of those students graduate and go into the profession, where there is an even greater void of minority practitioners.

The Law School Admission council developed the program designed to provide mentors and information to aspiring students of color. But in California, six prominent law schools and 24 community colleges are taking diversity a step further.

Beginning this week, the law schools at UC Davis, UC Irvine, University of San Francisco, Santa Clara, Loyola and the University of Southern California will begin a partnership with two dozen community colleges statewide in order to provide tutoring, mentoring, counseling and networking opportunities for aspiring law students.

The plan, sponsored by the State Bar of California's Council on Access & Fairness opens up opportunities to students at the community college level who often fall outside the privileged class of mainstream law school students. Easier admission requirements and affordable tuition attracts students who are not traditionally on the law school track.

Significantly, community colleges tend to have far greater numbers of working class students and students of colors. Law schools are notoriously thin on these two groups-something which changes the shape of the country's practitioners.

Since community colleges traditionally offer just two-year degrees, the program will necessarily capture students in their early years of college. Planning ahead academically is essential to getting into a good law school.

Arguably, the move is a positive symbolic gesture by the law schools involved. They are recognizing that elite four-year institutions aren't the only viable sources for top law student talent. And that's a good thing for the profession.


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Monday, April 28, 2014
Law School Tuition on Sale
According to the American Bar Association, law school tuition is cheaper now than it has been in a very long time. In 2012, for instance, public law schools dropped their median tuition by a whopping 8%. Private law school tuition was up-but only by 4%-the lowest increase in three decades.

This move is just one of many made by law schools in recent years following dramatic drops in applications as a result of a woeful job market for attorneys. Some schools downsized their classes. Others trimmed salaries, faculty and amenities. All of the belt-tightening prompted national discussion. Even President Obama entered the fray, suggesting that the traditionally three-year law programs be pruned down to two.

A recent Time article notes that several public law schools have recently cut tuition by nearly 20%-and the reductions are paying off. At the University of Iowa Law School, a 16% in 2014 tuition triggered a 70% increase in applications.

In some regards, the dismal job market makes it astonishing that people are still applying to law school at all. This is especially true given law schools' notoriously hefty price tags. Yet most of us find it hard to pass up a good deal.

Time argued that law schools could teach colleges a few things about cutting costs to boost business. The flaw with that logic is that colleges-unlike law schools-aren't suffering a shortage of applicants.

If you're still considering law school, now might ironically be the best time of all to take the leap. After all, law degrees are still a form of currency. Their present value may be low, but there's no telling what the future of the market may hold.

For the Hechinger Report article from Time: Time


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Wednesday, April 23, 2014
Using Your College Debt to Save the World
I write so much about getting into college that it's sometimes easy to forget there's life after admission. Clearly, getting your foot in the university door wouldn't matter so much if the main course wasn't so delicious, right? College is fun. College is, um, important, if you want a professional degree or a job. It's formative, memorable-maybe even life-altering.

It's also expensive.

This means, I also write a good deal about scholarships, and a little about financial aid (which, let's face it-is pretty dry prose). So let's tackle a good story about college and money, shall we?

Enter Basically, this non-profit helps match ambitious, debt-ridden graduates with charity organizations in need of quality volunteers. Then they add the missing piece: donors. Rather than giving money directly to the charities, the donors help pay down the college or graduate school debts of the volunteers.

Students also have the ability to get crafty with the fundraising, using a crowd-sourcing model to invite people to donate to their charity of choice. This part is genius. Asking someone outright for cash to help pay down your loans? Not likely to work. Asking someone to donate to a charity in which you planned to invest some time and energy? That's got a better ring. The end result is the same.

The charity organizations benefit from an educated, motivated volunteer force. The volunteers enjoy the obvious benefit of loan-paydown, but also get a shot at leadership and work experience. This can be particularly vital for new college graduates looking to flesh out a resume.

So while graduation may seem miles away for the class of 2018, it's never too soon to plan ahead.


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Friday, April 18, 2014
Summer Internships for High School Students
It's that time of year again. The weather is starting to warm up. The next class of seniors has one foot out the classroom door. Teenagers across the country are plotting the course of their summer months. Or maybe not. For lots of high school students, summer is still actually a break.

I see it as something different. An opportunity.

Don't get me wrong. I wish life was the way it used to be. When you're in high school, summers should be about long days by the lake or on the beach. You should be hanging out at the mall, or running through sprinklers, making memories. Unless, of course, you're really serious about going to college.

That's the new sad reality.

My last couple posts have been about the woefully declining acceptance rates around the country. If you're not aiming for an Ivy, things may not be all that dire, but there's no question that getting into college has become more competitive than ever.

Bright, ambitious high school students are a steal for companies looking for inexpensive help. It's a win-win situation for students who would otherwise lack the professional experience to get hired. Internships and jobs look great on college applications. They can help demonstrate a student's ability to excel outside of the classroom.

So while it may cut into your down time, it is a creative way of getting an edge over the competition while gaining experience with long-term payback. Don't worry too much. The beach isn't going anywhere.


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Monday, March 31, 2014
A Different Take on Social Media in College Admissions
Last November, I peppered a blog with my opinions about the use of social media in college admissions. The test prep company Kaplan had recently released results of a poll which, loosely speaking, indicated that about a third of college admissions officers had Googled or checked an applicant's Facebook page.

Of course, the news set off a flurry of cautionary articles, encouraging aspiring college students to scrub their social media profiles clean. I noted that drunken party pictures can't possibly help a student through the process. The reality, though, is that colleges don't actually have the resources to do much poking around on the web.

In fact, some universities have policies which explicitly exclude such searches from the vetting process. Lisa Przekop, Director of Admissions at the University of California, Santa Barbara was quoted as saying that, "Our readers here at UC Santa Barbara are told specially do not refer to social media. We don't Google a student. The information that they present in their application is the only information we use in our decision."

The UC Berkeley admissions office has said in the past that "googling" applicants would destroy the integrity of the whole process. The Director of Admissions at the small, elite Harvey Mudd College scoffed at the idea, noting "I could chase my tail for a long number of hours."

For reference, UC Berkeley and UC Santa Barbara combined process upwards of 160,000 student applications a year. Harvey Mudd processes around 3,000. None of them are interested in the extra work of combing applicant Twitter feeds.

Time could change things, of course. But for now, high school students can focus on things like grades and tests-not their Snapchat account.


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Tuesday, March 25, 2014
SAT Backlash
A few weeks back, I wrote about the not insignificant changes on tap for the Scholastic Aptitude Test. The proposed changes are designed to make the test more accessible to a larger number of students. Ideally, the new format means the test will offer a more accurate reflection of the aptitude it is designed to measure.

Many people-myself included-welcomed the changes. Statistically speaking, the best performers on the SAT are in the high income bracket, meaning the test is as much an indicator of wealth as ability. The test is also daunting. It is widely accepted that high school grades are the best indices for future academic performance.

Unlike college courses, the SAT isn't famous for encouraging critical thinking. The best performers are those who learn how to game the test itself. It isn't about substance so much as process---can you be smarter than the test?

But despite the SAT's failings, many are deeply disappointed with the changes. The biggest cry of protest? From those who feel this is an exercise in dumbing-down. The SAT isn't meant to be easy. College admissions are deeply competitive. There has to be a successful way of weeding out the top students from the rest.

These critics acknowledge the short-sighted benefit of things like the arcane vocabulary testing. On the other hand, they note that components like the essay section are vitally important. This essay may be the college's only opportunity to see how a candidate can actually write, off the cuff, without the benefits of editing, proofreading and polishing that are now common with the formal admission essay.

Which brings us back to leveling the playing field. Do you do it by raising up the bottom half, or lowering the top half? It isn't an easy question to answer.

The changes are due to be implemented in Spring of 2016.


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Tuesday, March 18, 2014
Shortening Law School
I suppose if I tried to pitch any law school with the idea that law school should be shorter, the idea wouldn't be warmly embraced. Most law school programs are three years, and that's for a very distinct reason. The American Bar Association (ABA)-behemoth of accrediting bodies-requires three-year-programs for accreditation.

As a general rule, the first two years of law school are devoted almost exclusively to classroom learning. Many of the broadest principles of law---Constitutional, Criminal, Civil Procedure and the like, are taught in the first year. Traditionally, students would seek internships in the summer between their second and third years. The purpose? To give them the practical training that law school lacked.

By the third year, then, students have largely completed the classroom work necessary to pass state bar examinations, and may also have a summer's worth of on-the-job training. The third year is filled with elective courses. Interesting, perhaps, but not essential. Third year-grueling though it may still be-is a bit of a free skate compared to the first two.

By cutting law school to two years, students could save a fortune on tuition-an important concern in today's legal market. They could spend the "third" year apprenticing at an actual firm, getting the experience needed to actually practice law.

The problem here, of course, is the loss to universities. Many have already scrambled to add clinical courses to their curriculum-an ideal way to sweeten the deal for law students worried about job prospects, while hanging on to the third year tuition.

My idea isn't off the wall, or unique. President Obama drew attention last summer for making the very suggestion. It could be a salve for many law schools who are struggling with declining enrollment.

It would take an unlikely alignment of the stars for this to happen, but it's a wave of change that would change the shape of legal study and its job market-two things desperately in need of a structural makeover.


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Monday, March 17, 2014
Three Cheers for Community College!
Twenty years ago, when I was applying to college, the idea of community college was simply not on my radar. That was for two reasons, mainly. First, I was in love with the idea of going to a big name school; I wanted the school sweatshirt, the football games, the "experience". Second, I wanted to get out of town.

While I don't regret going to a big-name, four-year university, I'm not convinced life would have turned out much different if I'd started at a community college. Here's why.

You spend the first couple of years of any bachelor's degree dispensing with general education requirements. Most students don't get into the meat of their degree courses until at least the third year. For me, that's when college started getting interesting.

You can still graduate from a four-year university, even if you start off at a community college. Many students find gratifying and remunerative professions after earning a two-year associates degree. If you want to continue on, you can.

You will save a fortune. Community colleges are exponentially cheaper than four-year universities. If you continue to live at home for two years, you will save even more. Dorm life is fun and formative, but incredibly costly.

You will have a chance to figure out life. Many (most?) high school seniors can't possibly know what they want to do with their future. Shipping off out of town to a high-priced, high-paced university can add heat to that pressure cooker. The stakes are lower at community colleges, largely because the admissions requirements are more lenient and the price tag is less punitive.

If prestige is a concern-consider this. I know several people who attended community college (and performed well, academically) before transferring to auspicious, four-year institutions. They have gone on to graduate with honors and have their pick of graduate programs.

With the stakes in college admissions being so high, it's nice to know you have options. Don't forget to keep your mind open to them.


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Monday, March 10, 2014
SAT Gets a Face-Lift
Love it or hate it, the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT)---which turns 88 this year---has long been a primary fixture in the college admissions process. Originally, the test was designed to objectively measure academic merit. The wide variation of academic standards across the country's high schools meant that colleges needed a more accurate way of assessing talent.

To modern-day proponents, the SAT does just that. To critics, it has simply become a litmus test for affluence. Wealthy students do better for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the cost of test-prep workshops, tutors and materials.

In recent years, the SAT's invincibility has been questioned. Its main rival, and fellow college-readiness-assessment the ACT recently surpassed the SAT in popularity with test-takers. Nearly all colleges accept both. The ACT has a reputation for testing on material more relevant to high school coursework.

By contrast, the SAT has long relied on complex and often arcane methods of "testing" intelligence. The infamous verbal section once had students scrambling to memorize the definitions of words like "abnegation" and "pellucid"-whether or not any of that material was relevant to any of their high school English courses.

The salient changes to the current format include: 1) making the dreaded timed-essay optional, 2) shortening the exam by 45-minutes, 3) ditching the penalty points for wrong answers on the multiple choice section, and 4) banish the obscure vocabulary words.

Perhaps the best part is a commitment to FREE test-preparation on line.

College Board President David Coleman promised that the new test would, "offer worthy challenges, not artificial obstacles." Let's hope this is a worthy step towards a more level playing field.


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Monday, March 3, 2014
Got Time for a Tour?
Spring Break will soon be upon us, and if you are a junior in high school who sees college on the horizon, you may want to consider this a working break. With application deadlines months away, it may be hard to get yourself in the game, but there is no better time to visit college campuses than in Spring. Why?

For a start, there's the weather. If you're considering anywhere East of California, weather may literally make it hard to get around in winter. Yale may be beautiful, but no one wants to walk the campus in a blizzard. Spring is the time of year when you can see the inside and outside of your campus in all its glory.

Second-time is on your side. Starting the visits now gives you an opportunity to mull it over. You're even leaving yourself wiggle room for a second visit down the road. You don't want to be cramming in half a dozen visits this fall, when you'll already be bogged down with the application process itself.

Finally-and most importantly-school is in session! Visiting colleges in the summer time will not give you an accurate sense of the campus energy. Ideally, you should be sitting in on classes, catching a sporting event, checking out the campus coffee shop, and taking in the sights and sounds of a university while it is filled with active students. Summer visits may seem desolate, and will give you little more than a sense of campus geography.

If your school of choice is far away, an actual visit may not be in your budget. Enter the internet. Spending five minutes on sites like You Visit makes me want to go back to college. With everything from slideshows to virtual tours (with human tour guides!), you can get a pretty visceral snapshot of a college from the comfort of your couch.

With many colleges placing great emphasis on your "demonstrated interest" in their campus, tours may even have some impact on your chances of admission. If you live just a few hours from some of your school choices, it may reflect well upon you to make the trek and introduce yourself.

So yours may not be a Spring "break", but it will be time well spen


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Monday, March 3, 2014
The Problem with Need-Blind Admission
For those of you who don't know, the "policy"-affirmed by many universities-professes not to consider the financial status of a candidate in the college admission process. In short-colleges promise to base admission solely on the merits of the student-applicant.

This should be obvious, right?

Well, not exactly. Most people understand that colleges are for-profit ventures. They make money largely from tuition and endowments. Accepting students who can afford to pay tuition is a good business decision. Students who can afford to pay probably come from families who can also afford to donate. And these are good people to have on your university investment team.

On the other hand, promising to be need-blind in your admissions policy sounds a whole lot more morally righteous. College is meant to be about expanding horizons. The holistic educational experience should involve diversity of thought, ethnicity, financial background, and race.

One of the problems with stating such a policy is that it isn't really enforceable. There are plenty of "tells" on the application and in the body of the admission essay that will give the student away, such as their parents' professions, their high schools and even the cities in which they live.

Another glitch? The policy is, by its nature, self-defeating. Subsidizing low-income students is costly. Conversely, wealthy students are the bread and butter of a healthy portfolio. How then, can a college make a decision that may benefit a student but not the university?

College acceptance should be based on academic achievement, but when a college's ability to continue to provide quality education is dependent upon finances, this becomes a tough decision to make.


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Monday, February 24, 2014
Getting Started in the College Selection Process
For younger high school students, the process of college discovery is more of a marathon than a sprint. Sure, a few of you may have parents who are alums at X University, and that may be the only destination on your map. But for most of you, deciding where to go to college and why is not something you can expect to figure out overnight.

The "right" college for you is going to be the sum of an equation of many things. Do you want to stay close to home? Is out-of-state tuition in your (or your family's) budget? How do your grades match up with your college choices? Are there good community colleges in your area?

If you've been able to answer some of those questions, you may be able to dig deeper. What are your professional goals? Your collegiate academic goals? What is your learning style? Are you likely to succeed in a small educational environment, or are you open to the idea of a densely populated campus?

Most of all, how do you start answering these questions?

Last week, I wrote about the importance of college tours. If it's in your budget and you have the means of transportation, you should make tracks to universities that may be of interest to you. Getting a tangible feeling for their atmospheres can be a good start in the selection process. If touring isn't a possibility right now, start browsing colleges on line.

Another great option is a college fair. Almost every high school guidance counselor knows where to find one. This can be your opportunity to collect some brochures and speak to college reps face to face. Even the process of approaching strangers with proactive questions about your future is an important experience.

Fairs and tours are a great way to simply warm your mind up to the college search process. Each gives you the chance to test the waters during those early days of discovery. Keep an open mind and let the adventure begin!


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Monday, February 17, 2014
The Hardest Part
As we amble into the second week of February, college hopefuls may start to again feel a restless twitching in their feet. October deadlines, Thanksgiving and Winter Break are just a blur now, but it's really been just a few months since the utter chaos of the application season.

By now, you've recovered from the shock of clicking "send" on that application. The no-turning-back-now sense of dread has now receded a bit. Maybe you've even spent the last month or so focusing on high school, instead of college. Funny how that happens.

Just waiting for the blow of big life changes is impossibly hard. The lack of certainty is tough. Especially since you spent the better part of last year laying the foundations for your college future. It's hard not knowing where the chips may fall.

The thing I've learned is that waiting doesn't seem to get any easier with age. It won't always be college admissions, but it will be something else. Waiting to see if escrow closes on your first house. Insurance applications, medical test results.

In that way, getting the envelope should be a relief-either way. Most adults will tell you that, while college was important, it wasn't everything. I got into my top college and enjoyed it, but as an adult, I often wonder if somewhere else would've been a better fit. Either way, life turned out okay.

None of this is easy to hear when you really want something, but it is the truth of life. Waiting is the worst. What you do when you get your answer-that's the satisfying part. So take heart. It will be okay. For the next few weeks, try to remember that today's moments are tomorrow's memories. Keep your eyes peeled for those.


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Monday, February 10, 2014
Apologies for Sexism in Business School-All Talk?
This week something rather significant came out of the mouth of the Dean at Harvard Business School (HBS). While speaking at an event entitled "50 Years of Women at HBS", Nitin Nohria was quoted as saying to the women in the audience "I'm sorry on behalf of the business school. The school owed you better, and I promise it will be better".

A discussion of the under representation of women in business school is nothing new. None of the top campuses in the U.S. have gender parity in enrollment. The numbers are getting better-even at Harvard, women now make up around 41% of the student body. The problem is that the slight improvement in numbers isn't playing out in the real world. At least not yet.

According to, the percentage of female CEOs in Fortune 500 and Fortune 1000 companies in 2013 was 4.6%. That is woeful. Nationally, the number of female CEOs in all companies is around 20%. This is true even though women comprise over 56% of the labor force.

Naturally, there are a variety of reasons for some of the numbers, not the least of which is having children. Women are far more likely than men to leave the workforce-temporarily or permanently-in order to raise families. They thus fall off the promotion treadmill and find it difficult or impossible to catch up.

Still, with women comprising around 50% of students in undergraduate education, professional schools still have a great deal to answer for. At HBS, Nohria promised some practical changes, such as adding more women to case studies. Many business schools also offer mentoring and networking support for women.

Whether or not Nohria's words will have any weight, remains to be seen. Most change moves at a snail's pace, but at least he's saying the right thing to the right crowd.


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Monday, February 3, 2014
State of College Admissions
The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) released it's annual "State of College Admissions" report last week, with welcome news for students who cringe at standardized tests. (Perhaps I'm exaggerating a bit). High school grades are the most important factor in college admissions.

This should come as a welcome reminder to students who have performed consistently well in school over time. The NACAC report notes that colleges also place great emphasis on the rigor of the academic courses at a given school. They also tend to devalue things like class rank, since the difficulty of courses can vary so widely in schools in different regions.

For students shy of standardized testing, it may also come as a bit of a relief. Certainly, at the high levels of competition, test scores matter. A lot. That's mostly because many colleges receive such qualified candidates that they have to find a place to draw the line.

However, the emphasis on grades shows that most colleges are looking at the academic level students can sustain over time. Grades demonstrate a student's ability to perform across a broad arena of subjects, over time, in different settings, with different instructors and different examination methods. So if you're one who suffers from test anxiety, or simply doesn't excel in the multiple-choice, genre, this is good news.

This isn't new news, but it is valuable for students to remember. It is definitely a far more reliable objective measure of academic strength.

The people at NACAC should know. They represent an association of over 10,000 high school counselors, college admissions officials, financial aid officers and other independent college counselors. Their general goal is to help students in the process of transitioning from high school to college.


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Monday, January 27, 2014
Where Are All the Women in Science?
This is a question plaguing Eileen Pollack, one of the first two women to graduate from Yale with a degree in Physics. In 1978. She went on to earn an MFA in Creative Writing and has since become a published writer. She may know a thing or two about what scares women away from the so-called STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). Her recent NY Times article explores the question in greater depth.

Naturally, she isn't the first to wonder. The White House is on board. The Office of Science and Technology Policy collaborates with the White House Council on Women and Girls to try and encourage more women in the profession. Million Women Mentors ( is an awareness-raising organization that attempts to increase the interest of girls and women in STEM study and careers.

Such organizations recognize the fact that, over the last decade, job growth in the STEM-sector has tripled in comparison to non-STEM jobs. Eighty percent of the fastest growing occupations in the US are in the STEM sector. Unfortunately, women comprise just 24% of STEM professionals. Pollack notes that the numbers are notably paltry in academia, particularly in faculty positions.

Pollack and many of the engagement programs agree-part of the problem is that girls and women aren't welcomed into the field. From a very early age, girls are discouraged from even exploring interests that lead to proficiencies in the fields.

Goldieblox, a toy manufacturer, has created a line of building and invention toys targeted for girls. Their goal is to encourage girls to engage in the kind of play-based engineering historically reserved for boys.

Female professionals across the board earn less than their male counterparts. Finding parity in some of the most lucrative professions of all is an important step in closing that gap. If awareness is a key step, then we are already well on our way.


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Tuesday, January 21, 2014
Women Closing the Gap in Test Scores
The good news first. Women are doing better overall on the Graduate Management Admission Test than they were ten years ago. The GMAT is a standard requirement for the vast majority of business schools. Though the majority of B-Schools now also accept the Graduate Records Examination (GRE), the GMAT is still the standard-bearer.

The bad news? Women are still lagging behind men on test scores for both examinations. In the 2002-2003 admissions cycle, women were scoring-on average-40 points below the men on the GMAT. For 2011-2012, that number has dipped to 20 points. The GRE disparity was more nuanced, with women outperforming men in analytical writing, matching the men on verbal reasoning, but underperforming against the men in quantitative reasoning.

The GMAT tends to be heavy on graduate business subjects like economics, accounting, and chart interpretation. Conversely, the GRE, which is generally required for graduate degrees of all types, has a humanities base, with focus on grammar, literature and logic.

Applying statistical data to social trends is fraught with complications. Still, with women continuing to comprise less than 50% of student populations in business schools, an examination needs to be made. Why do women underperform men in quantitative reasoning tests? Why is this a distinctly American trend? (In China, women actually outperform men on the GMAT).

Fewer women still apply to business school, which may be an indicator of interest. That is, if men are generally more invested in the idea of business school, they may be better-prepared test takers. So long as the profession itself still lags itself in gender-equity, it may just not be as appealing to women. Why go for the MBA if your long-term prospects already have a lower ceiling?

There's no right answer here. For now, the hope is that women aspiring towards an MBA just keep moving the same direction.


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Monday, January 13, 2014
Does College Produce Engaged Citizens?
Probably not, says Robert J. Sternberg, in his book "Successful Intelligence". Sternberg was a Yale professor for three decades before becoming a Dean, Provost and then President at three subsequent universities. So he has some perspective on the subject.

Sternberg's question is not necessarily unique. In a merit-based system which relies heavily on objective, quantitative data like grades and test scores, how is it possible to get the best student? More importantly, how do we define "best"?

Affluent children tend to be taught to focus on analytical and critical thinking skills. Children from lower socioeconomic classes tend to be raised with greater emphasis on resilience and problem-solving. Standardized tests like the SAT and ACT favor the wealthy, largely because they test analytical thinking.

But in the real world, resilience, creative thinking, problem-solving and confidence are the markers of success. The gap between street-smart and book-learned is often far and wide, but both skills are necessary to real life.

So how can we make the ivory towers a place where students can be taught to think as well as cope? What good is a university education if graduates fail to invest their knowledge adequately in the society around them? Is it possible to do so in a structure that still allows student performance to be adequately measured?

Sternberg says yes to this one, but notes that colleges first need to change their standards and curriculum. Some universities are edging in that direction-accepting videos and self-made websites as part of the admissions process, and embracing social media as a form of self-expression. But change is a slow traveler. Only time will tell if we as a society can redefine academic success.


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