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, 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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Wednesday, June 25, 2014
Improving your Writing by Being Active and Involved
They say advice is what you ask for when you already know the answer but wish you didn't. I think this must feel especially true when you're a teenager. Particularly during the run-up to college.

The market is saturated with college counselors, editors, and how-to books on writing good personal statements. Like the diet industry, most students would rather take a pill than actually exercise and eat nutritious meals. It's human nature.

Unfortunately, when it comes to writing a good personal statement, no amount of editing, structuring, brainstorming, or proofreading is going to help you turn out a top-notch composition if you don't have the substance to back it up. Simply put-you need to have some experiences in order to write about them.

So the best advice I have for the high school freshman with their eyes on a good university is to be active and involved. I don't mean signing up for every club on the menu just to pad your resume. If you're ambivalent about yearbook committee, it isn't going to enrich your high school experience, and isn't going to become fertile narrative ground for an admission essay.

I'm suggesting you find something meaningful that you like to do. You cannot cobble together a good "experience" essay using handfuls of disconnected pieces. Those five times you spent an hour at the local nursing home are going to ring pretty hollow if you were just punching a clock, so to speak.

If you've truly experienced something that has changed you, it will be easy to write about it. You will have the ability to reflect, introspect and share in a way that is also meaningful to your reader. Just remember, experience can't be built overnight. So start today by opening your eyes and ears, and taking a real look around you.


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Monday, June 16, 2014
Testing Accommodations for Law School Candidates
Last month, the Law School Admission Council (LSAC), the organization responsible for administering the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), settled a disability claim lawsuit to the tune of $7.73 million.

A class action suit was filed in 2012 on behalf of LSAT test takers, alleging that the LSAC routinely denied student requests for testing accommodations. Many students with chronicled medical histories of physical and other learning disabilities were among the plaintiffs. The suit argued that even candidates who had applied for and received testing accommodations in the past were turned down by the LSAC.

The LSAC's failure to offer things like extra time to students in the administration of the LSAT was deemed a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prevents discrimination against persons with disabilities.

Another key provision of the settlement is the agreement by the LSAC that they will no longer "flag" scores of test-takers who do receive accommodations. Doing so was deemed a sort of asterisk on a student's LSAT score, alerting the law school that the applicant had a disability.

With more than 6,000 plaintiffs in the lawsuit, the multimillion dollar settlement will ultimately be spread thin. For their part, the LSAC is not offering any admission of guilt-just stating that settlement is the best way to put this all behind them.

The settlement is also good news for future test takers with a variety of disabilities. Though some argue that the LSAT is not an accurate indicator of law school success, it is still given a tremendous amount of weight in the admissions process. A few points can make a huge difference.

Which means that extra minutes for a student that needs it, could make all the difference in the world.


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Monday, June 9, 2014
How to Choose a College Major
I'll be honest. My memories of filling out my college application have grown rather patchy over the years. We did it on paper, and had to do separate applications for most colleges. At least some of them required us to list a major. At seventeen, I knew everything about the world and basically nothing about it. So when I had to select a major from the university's list, I picked something practical.

Business Economics.

I knew business was about making money. I'd taken one Economics class in high school and never really warmed to Econ's tireless allegiance to the theoretical. Still, it seemed sensible. Right? Yeah, I really had no idea.

I dropped Macroeconomics just a few weeks into the first quarter of my freshman year. It was a proverbial "weeder" course, and I'd been successfully weeded.

I switched my major a few more times for spurious reasons. I had a real predisposition for being practical, but that meant very little to me since I truly had no idea what I wanted to do for a living. Worse still, I was bouncing ideas off other kids my age. Apart from the engineers, no one else had a clue either.

As it turns out, my college degree never really served as a professional pivot-point. I believe this is true for many students, excepting the select few who already have their eyes on doctoral work in a specific field, or a career in medicine.

I wish I could tell today's students that it's okay not to have your future mapped out at seventeen. That it's okay to flounder through the general education courses and settle on a college degree in a field that invigorates. That there is no "right" major. That experience is the greatest teacher of all.

Or you could just check the practical box, and let the chips fall where they may.


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Monday, June 2, 2014
Stepping Back from your Personal Statement
Have you ever looked back at something you wrote last month, or last year, and struggled to recognize it? Wondered who came up with those thoughts? Or why you kept using the same ridiculous phrase? Ever felt embarrassed to re-read something you once soulfully poured onto paper? (Like the time I found my teenage journal and dug into some of my old boyfriend angst. Cringe-worthy stuff.)

If the answer is no, don't worry too much. Writing consumes much of my professional life, so forgetting what I wrote last week can be an occupational hazard. There is, however, something to be said for taking a step back from any composition. Especially one that is deeply personal.

Your college admission essay is just that. Only it isn't stream-of-consciousness drivel, destined only to die a lonely death on the pages of your diary or at the foot of your Facebook feed. Instead, it's something that someone else is going to read. Something someone else is supposed to read. It's also supposed to make you look good.

As an editor, I can safely say that it's obvious to me when a college admission essay has been written last minute. It isn't just the grammatical mistakes and lazy structure. It's the obvious lack of intimacy that the writer has with their subject matter. They seem rushed and disconnected.

I have a feeling they too could see those deficiencies, if only they took a moment to step back. When you slow down a bit, you pick up on a lot of missed details.

So while I know school just got out this week, and you've pretty much packed away your pencils 'til September, consider this advice. Start writing now. It doesn't matter if it's bad, or disorganized or off topic. It's a starting point. And when you read it again in a month, or three, you'll be surprised at how easy it is to fix it.

I promise you, when you're struggling with writer's block-something old, awkward or poorly written is always a better place to start than a blank piece of paper.


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Monday, May 26, 2014
Not Too Late for 2014-2015 College Admission
Though the acceptance deadline for many U.S. universities has now come and gone, not all students may have found a university to call home. Not getting into your first or even second choice can be disheartening. But what about the student with no (viable) acceptance letters in their mailbox? What's next?

As it turns out, there are still options. The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) maintains a rolling list of universities that have openings for freshman or transfer students. The current list has over 400 U.S. universities and a handful of international colleges. Most of those are in English-speaking countries.

The colleges on the list voluntarily update their status with NACAC, presumably in an attempt to fill as many vacant seats as possible. NACAC's site offers links to the individual institutions, which have different application requirements and deadlines.

This approach to college application had never really occurred to me. It isn't easy to find blogs, or articles or other accessible anecdotes about students who don't or can't attend the schools to which they applied. No doubt many take a year out to contemplate. Others may hop on the professional track. This idea, though, of simply widening the playing field makes a lot of sense.

Rejection takes some of the pain of decision-making out of the process. NACAC's list offers colleges in many of the 50 states, meaning that if your metrics match up with one of the campuses with spaces, your second-chance story may just write itself.


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Monday, May 19, 2014
College: Just a Reward for the Best Self-Branders?
In an incisive article for The Atlantic, author Rob Goodman boldly proposes a rather preposterous hypothetical. Make college admissions a true lottery. Throw out meritocratic system and base admissions purely on chance. Like pulling names out of a hat.

Clearly Goodman isn't being literal but rather building a discussion on the back of an outrageous proposition. Following his logic takes the reader to a rather eye-opening place of clarity.

The most "prestigious" institutions in the country are now accepting fewer than ten percent of applicants. This year Stanford took in just five percent. This doesn't mean that only five percent of the US population is qualified enough to get into Stanford. It merely means that Stanford received so many applications, the university could only give seats to five percent of applicants.

As Goodman points out, the internet and the ease of actually applying to universities has caused exponential growth in the number of college applications. So while this pool may contain many students who really aren't qualified to get into Stanford, it also means that many students who are have no chance of getting in. Goodman suggests throwing all qualified candidates' names into the hat, then drawing out the number that Stanford is able to admit.

The article highlights one of the great conflicts inherent in the selection process-the idea that colleges are looking for diversity and intellectual curiosity, when in fact, they end up simply admitting the students with the best self-marketing skills. As Goodman puts it: "Can you build a robust intellectual community only made up of self-salespeople?"

On the other hand, "self-salespeople" are the ones leading the pack in real life, even if they aren't the most interesting or the most deserving. Why should college-the first step up that ladder-be any different?

For the full article: The Atlantic


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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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