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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.
Sunday, April 21, 2013
Dissecting Diversity in College Admissions
Today, someone close to me got a college rejection notice. The disappointment is so new that he's not sure what to make of it. As tonight recedes into tomorrow, he'll start to piece together the emotions in his head. Angry? Sad? Dejected? Unsurprised? Who knows.

Perhaps this is the emotional arc that Suzy Weiss traveled before she sat down to draft the op-ed in the Wall Street Journal that would soon turn into a political hot-potato. After being rejected to several of her top choice schools, she penned this entry "To (All) the Colleges That Rejected Me": Wall Street Journal

The gist of it? The reason she got rejected was because she is white. She skewers the notion that diversity is of any benefit in higher education, claiming that it supplants ordinary, smart, Caucasian kids like her. She offers no evidence that her race was a factor in her rejection. But she doesn't have to. A few unsubtle swipes at "headdresses" and "Kinto", the African orphan, does all the talking for her.

Though she's taken some criticism for appearing entitled, very few in the media have attacked her for writing things that are offensive, culturally insensitive, and outright racist. Her defense? It was "satire". Take it easy, public. This is what you get for wanting diversity in education.

In essence, this young woman wrote what many opponents of affirmative action seem to be afraid to say. Minorities are being given free passes, and qualified whites are being moved to the back of the bus.

Ms. Weiss' top three choices-Yale, Princeton and Penn, accepted between 6-12% of their applicants this year. This means that many, many qualified people who applied didn't get in.

It sort of makes you wonder how many thousands of qualified people try every year to become successful journalists. How many gifted, tireless writers would give anything to have their 600-word op-eds published in the Wall Street Journal. How many of them are poor, Muslim, African, gay, or otherwise historically marginalized?

Just ask Suzy Weiss.

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Sunday, April 14, 2013
Getting Sentimental About College Admissions
So I realize my recent posts are huddling around a common theme. I just can't help but recognize what a crucial month April is for college hopefuls. This week finds me again musing on the same topic. With a slightly different spin.

My general take on college admission? It isn't everything. The admissions process has become bloated with a ridiculous amount of self-importance. The self-esteem of countless high school students threatens to collapse under the weight of it.

It is but one tributary on the great river of life. I believe that students navigating rejection need to remember this. Sometimes, though, I spend so much time putting college admission into perspective, that I drain some of the joy from it.

High school graduation is more than a mere celebration of academic accomplishment. It is a milestone. Your doctoral dissertation, acing the MCATs, passing the bar exam-these things won't make you misty-eyed with nostalgia. They just won't.

Finishing high school? That marks the end of an era. It's the coming-of-age climax that punctuates every good teen movie ever made. You're separating from the friends, the family, and every cozy landmark of your childhood.

This isn't to say that college is the cold, hard, real world. For me, it was fantastic (way better than high school). It's just that the transition from one to the other is a big deal.

Anyone who's ever traveled can share war stories. Stuck for a night in an iced-over airport. Squeezed into a train car next to a slimy stranger. Lost passports. Over time, these stories become badges of honor. They become funny. They become memories.

A lot like your April layover. So embrace this month, remembering that June is just around the corner.

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Sunday, April 7, 2013
More Thoughts on College Rejection
First, let me say this. I'm really glad I don't have to apply to college again. The waiting is excruciating. Acceptance is thrilling. Rejection-well, it's just more excruciating than the waiting.

I wrote recently that college rejection isn't a referendum on our worth. True, but rather a useless platitude when you're in the throes of feeling rejected. I take a declined credit application as a referendum on my worth. I'm only half kidding.

For real thoughts on the subject, I hit the comments section of the New York Times "The Choice" blog. Outraged parents. Smug alumni. General know-it-alls. Free-range reflections from the middle-aged, reminding you that life is more than your college degree.

"Just remember this: it doesn't matter. Trust me".

I'm not sure this is entirely true, but if I was the one facing rejection, I think I'd adopt this mantra just long enough to navigate the hurt.

I was accepted to all of the colleges I applied to. The thing is, at the last minute, I chickened out of sending applications to my "reach" schools. I've always wondered what might have happened.

Sure, 20 years after graduating from a good college, I still like the fact that I can name drop. But has it really changed the course of my life? I don't think so. If you're one of the top 10% that can boast an Ivy-league alma mater, you may in fact be at an advantage in life. This doesn't mean the other 90% of us are failures.

Academic success is a referendum on our worth, to some degree. Luckily, our worth isn't measured by a single metric.

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Sunday, April 7, 2013
Picking the Right College. For Real.
So you've spent the better part of the last decade fantasizing about your dream college. Maybe it's your folks' alma mater. Maybe it's just one of those institutions that invites the kind of dreamy lore we like to hitch our goals on. Maybe you're a bit more ambivalent; just ready to spread your wings and move onto the next chapter.

By now, the acceptance letters have come. So have the rejections. Fantasy and reality are finally in a face-off. The choices you have to make now are real ones. Whether you're settling for a back-up plan or lucky enough to be weighing your top picks, you've got to make a decision. Which school is it gonna be?

It's time to take your relationship with your maybe-college to a new level. Think about what attracted you to it in the first place. Did you visit the campus? Sit in on some classes? Spend a night in the dorms? If you didn't, you should. If you did, you might need to go bad. Or dig a little deeper.

Try not to listen to casual hearsay. Be careful when taking aboard grand dismissals or endorsements of a school. Some alumni can be a little lovesick when it comes to their alma maters. Ever heard a statement that starts something like "you'll never find a job with that school on your resume". Hyperbolic statements generally aren't true.

It's hard to turn off all the outside noise. And I'm not suggesting you should shut down all constructive input. Instead, do what you need to do to figure out what's really going to fit for you. Check out sites like collegeprowler.com, where you can join discussion boards with other existing students.

Go visit on your own. See if you can spend a night, or more. Search out your gut feelings on the atmosphere. If you're the data-driven type, check out sites like collegeboard.com for vital stats.

No decision is permanent, but this is an important one. Chose right, and you're setting the tone for your future.

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Sunday, March 31, 2013
Affirmative Action-Good for Business?
It's been almost six months since the US Supreme Court first heard arguments in the affirmative action challenge against the University of Texas. Though few people expected a decision before this Spring, some were surprised to hear that the Court is ready to dive deeper into the issue.

Just today, the US Supreme Court announced its intention to review a controversial 2006 Michigan ruling which overturned a voter-approved ban on affirmative action. The Texas and Michigan have factually different significance. The cross-over issues, however, are salient enough. The Court isn't willing to make a ruling on one without first considering the other.

What is interesting about the process of Supreme Court review is the volume of material involved. This explains why the court can take many months to render a decision. Non-parties to a case-that is, people or businesses not otherwise involved in the litigation-are often allowed to make arguments in favor or against a case.

Back in October 2012, 57 companies did just that. In a joint brief filed by some big-name corporations-Halliburton, Wal-Mart and Microsoft among them-the companies contended that diversity in college admissions is good for business. In the real world market, they argue, having people from different cultural and racial backgrounds can be a deal-breaker, literally, and in a good way.

The endorsement of affirmative action from "big business" is some evidence that the political lines on the issue aren't as cleanly drawn as it may seem. On the one hand, there is the philosophy that each of us-regardless of race-should be able to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. On the other-there is the philosophy that, without a level playing field, race can be an impossible burden to overcome in the journey to professional success.

Perhaps the reality lies somewhere in the middle. Hopefully, the Court's painstaking review will pave the way for a better ongoing solution.

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Sunday, March 24, 2013
College Admission-A "Referendum on Your Worth"
It is almost April. College decision letters are trickling in. They may land in the actual mailbox. Maybe in your email (did you check the spam folder???). You might be forced to log into several different online portals in order to check your fate. Wherever you have to go to find it, the wait and the final answer itself can be excruciating.

The internet is littered with pep talks designed to guide you through the "process". While most of it is good advice, it won't be much of a salve to a disappointed applicant. At least not right away.

Which is part of the reason I'm thanking buzzfeed for this one: Buzzfeed

It's funny. It projects all eventualities. It recognizes that not getting into the college of your choice is a drag. But it doesn't waste a lot of time trying to remind you that the glass is half full. Except maybe #13: "Keep perspective: college admissions are NOT a referendum on your worth as a human being".

Well, okay. That's technically true. It may take awhile for the life lesson to resonate. Right now, it's just a bummer. You have to touch all the bases before regaining your balance. You should feel mad. You should feel jealous of a friend who did better than you. You should feel discouraged. You should feel as though your worth as a human being has been assaulted. It is OKAY to have all of these feelings, even if you aren't proud of them.

Not attending your dream school is NOT the end of the world. But for many of us, the disappointment isn't about a forced change in plans. It is about the rejection. It's about putting yourself out there and measuring up short.

So go through the motions of disappointment. If you have something to celebrate-do it with sensitivity. Tomorrow is another day. In the meantime, you'll always have bullet lists on buzzfeed.

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Sunday, March 17, 2013
Law School an Even Worse Gamble for Women
Professionally speaking, things are getting better for women. There are more women receiving graduate level education, more women in executive positions in major corporations, more women in high-level politics. But things still aren't equal.

Back in 1977, Dr. Frances K. Conley became only the FIFTH woman in the U.S. to become board certified as a neurologist. I realize neurologists aren't a dime a dozen, but 1977 wasn't that long ago. Women now comprise about 23% of the nation's certified neurologists. Female neurologists also make about 25% less than their male counterparts.

I picked neurologists to make a point. There aren't many professions requiring more knowledge, intelligence and time investment. And still, women are being steamrolled in number and pay.

Law school also requires steep investment. It is one that fewer and fewer people are willing to take. But if the legal job market is bad generally, it's likely even worse for women. In recent years, the scales finally tipped-there were actually more women attending law school than men.

Surprisingly (or not) there were still far fewer women making partner in law firms. The wage gap that exists across the board for women in the U.S. applies equally to female attorneys.

A tight legal job market means greater competition for fewer jobs. Women are more likely to want to work part-time. Child-bearing and rearing are considered professional liabilities---ones that usually fall to mothers (not fathers). If women are potentially working less, earning less, and advancing more slowly-law school seems an even riskier choice.

March is Women's History month. For women in the law and fields beyond-this should be food for thought.

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Monday, March 11, 2013
Battling Senioritis

It's March. Spring is fast approaching. Out West, where I am, it is never cold. This time of year, however, the smell of orange blossoms start to hang in the air. The lawns are still green.

For high school students, the countdown begins. Basketball season wraps in a month or so and then it's Spring Break, and then maybe Prom and then-boom-graduation. School is no longer marked by academic milestones.

The idea that the senior year of high school is really just a transitional year is not a new one. Some education reformers have suggested that at least half the year be scrapped all together. After all, many second semester seniors only have 3-4 hours of school a day. Once college admissions notices come in, there hardly seems to be much reason to show up at all. Some ambitious students will make the most of the time-diving into a new passion, or taking a job. After all, high school marks the symbolic end of adolescence. Senior year is the door through which we pass into proverbial adulthood.

For the rest of the students, there is hope in programs like Wise Individualized Senior Experience (WISE), a non-profit that calls itself a bridge between academia and the real world. Students spend their mornings at regular high school, but fill idle afternoons with internships at financial firms, law offices or courts. In doing so, they get a taste of the real world without all the responsibility.

Any good period of transition involves growth and challenge. For all of the academic slowdown of senior year, it is also a hotbed of opportunity. Don't know what you want to do with your future? Ok. Now's the time to try on a few pairs of shoes and see which ones fit. College graduation will be here before you know it. Then the real world really begins. Why not get a head-start?

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Sunday, March 10, 2013
Owning Your MBA Story
In the world of graduate school admissions, there's no one further ahead of the curve than business schools. Here's why.

From an application standpoint, medical school admission has remained rather static. Entry is so strongly tied to academic and clinical strength that soft factors don't carry as much weight. If you weren't pre-med as an undergrad (and fairly successful at it), the most creative personal statement in history isn't going to patch those holes. Moreover, the medical field is flourishing. The world still needs clinicians and researchers. The average overall acceptance rate to medical school is around 9%. Admissions committees don't really need to be creative. Law schools are not feeling so flush. Their applications are down, and the job market is suffering. There are whispers of cutbacks and closing doors. They are in survival mode. Business school is different. In this economic climate, business degrees have retained their value. For some professionals in this competitive arena, an MBA is the only ticket upwards. Changing technology and growing demand for graduate business education has caused many schools to get creative in admissions. Schools are inviting quirky media additions to personal statements, such as tweets, PowerPoint presentations, video links, and websites. And why not? Anyone competing in today's business milieu must have no fear of technology.

Graduate business programs have long demanded voluminous writing in the application process. Many of the top schools ask for up to half a dozen different written responses-including a personal statement. It follows that they might be eager to consume those responses through a different medium.

Business schools are looking for students to own their stories. They want a great deal of personal information to supplement the quantitative measures like grades and test scores. It makes sense to offer students the opportunity to present themselves in new and innovative ways. And while it may be daunting for student-applicants, it is a refreshing break from application tradition.

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Monday, March 4, 2013
The College Admission Essay - An Exercise in Narcissism
In this blog and beyond, a great deal of web space is crowded with speculation about the real significance of the college admission essay. Students want to understand what colleges want. Colleges want to understand who students are. Parents want to know if their kid is doing it right. Counselors are trying to balance all of these interests.

There's a general feeling that the essay is just the icing. Grades and test scores are the main course. Snacks like extracurriculars count, but not if dinner was a disaster. The essay offers students a way to close the deal. To leave the admissions committee with a good taste in their mouths, a warm feeling in their bellies.

The problem is this. Can a 17-year-old's autobiography feel like dessert? Most essay prompts are designed to elicit self-reflection. In a perfect world, this introspection would be tempered by life experience, critical thinking, and a reverence for perspective. But what often happens is that students feel pressure to make themselves sound good on paper. An autobiography quickly takes on a sycophantic quality.

In the social media generation, self is already at the center. Students are used to tweeting pictures of their breakfast. Validation comes in the form of "likes" on a Facebook page. Students are adept at packaging themselves into a single Instagram frame.

So can these same students craft an essay about the self that isn't tainted by the narcissism of the look-at-me generation? It may be a slippery slope, but navigating it is a surefire way for students to prove to their readers that they can in fact, break the mold.

I'm reminded of the twitter term #humblebrag. Selling oneself while purporting to be humble about it. Perhaps essay prompts are inviting this. Perhaps universities should consider tweaking the questions. I say it's the responsibility of the students to show that they are more than their Twitter handle.

Humblebragging and autobiography aren't the same thing. The social landscape may be evolving, but good writing is timeless. Even if we'll never truly know how much it matters in admissions decisions.

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Sunday, February 24, 2013
Breaking the Bank for College
If you're like many young students, the real costs of college haven't yet entered your head. For the past several years, you've just been focused on trying to get in. Now your head's probably just on the wait.

Soon enough, you'll know. Rejection can be tough to forget. Fortunately, so is the thrill of acceptance. Either way, once you figure out where you're going, the sticker shock sets in.

If you are a parent funding a child's education, the reality of the costs may have hit you long ago. You're not alone. In his inaugural address, President Obama referenced the College Scorecard. This website is the government's best effort to offer some transparency in education costs.

Last year, the government invited a small group of colleges to adopt a Financial Aid Shopping Sheet. This is pretty much a spreadsheet of costs (books, tuition, rent) and offsets (grants, scholarship, loans). If all schools actually did this math and posted it publicly, consumers could make more informed decisions.

If you are a young student financing your own education, you should also pay attention. Federal and state loans can make it possible. Student loans generally carry low interest rates and have long repayment terms. Still, most will expect you to start paying within several months of graduation. So remember that your out-of-pocket costs aren't deferred forever.

For the average student, a college education may be their most expensive investment ever-barring perhaps, buying a home. With that in mind, it isn't a transaction that should be entered lightly.

Interested in researching the price tag? Both the College Scorecard and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau have websites designed to help consumers navigate the costs of investment.

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Sunday, February 24, 2013
Common App Mixes Things Up. Again.
The release of essay prompts may not be news to most people. It's probably downright yawn-worthy. But there are a few groups that will/should take notice: college counselors and high school students. Yep, I'm talking to you, juniors and seniors.

It's been just a couple years since the Common Application capped their essay word count limit at 500. This was newsworthy for a few reasons. First, nearly five hundred colleges across the country accept applications routed through the hub of the Common App. Second, the word count reduction left many re-speculating about the significance of the admission essay. The Common Application has just released its essay questions for the 2013-2014 admissions cycle and there are a few surprises. There was some uproar this year when it was announced that they'd be eliminating the Topic of Choice prompt. Some counselors saw it as stifling of student creativity. They worried that the more perfunctory prompts would dull down the quality of writing.

Instead, the Common App shuffled the content of the prompts, softening them, and giving students a big more creative wiggle room than first expected. For example, there is this: Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story. Essentially, this is an invitation to write about almost anything-as long as it's related to you.

They've also expanded the word count to 650. They remind students that 650 isn't the "goal", but that it is the limit. If you've ever tried to write or edit a 500 word biographical essay, you might welcome these extra 150 words rather enthusiastically.

So while you will no longer be able to submit an essay to the Common App about your favorite flavor of mustard, you still have some creative latitude. And a few extra words to throw in the batter.

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Sunday, February 17, 2013
High School Classes that Matter
For years, the gap between many state education requirements and the entrance requirements of many colleges has been a wide one. For example, a high school may require just two years of a foreign language, but a student's top college choice may not even look at an application unless a student has studied that foreign language for all four years.

Shouldn't I focus on classes targeted towards my desired college major?

Typically, at the top universities in the country, the best candidates will all have four years of English, Math, History, Science and a foreign language. This expectation is generally the same no matter what major you chose. Don't assume that by applying as an English major, the college will overlook a gap in your math and science courses in high school.

What about electives?

Many experts say that colleges really don't care. I think the better answer is that electives are really just icing. If you don't have the right amount of core classes and a rigorous curriculum, what you take as an elective doesn't matter. Having said that, colleges are looking for bright, creative students with initiative. So while one art class may not matter, four years of theater may say a lot about a student's character and potential.

How about AP classes?

Like anything else in your preparation for college-don't overdo it. There's no point in collapsing under the weight off too many AP classes. On the other hand, if you're skating through some of your core courses, you may want to consider advanced placement. A better solution is taking AP classes only in the subjects in which you excel.

Recent polls have suggested that grades and strength of high school curriculum are amongst the most heavily weighted factors in college admissions. So students need to be making these choices as high school freshman. It may not be fair, but it certainly matters.

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Monday, February 11, 2013
Law Schools Searching for Opportunity in Crisis
I've been writing for some time now about the spectacular downfall of the law schools in the U.S. in recent years. As the months roll on and new admissions data is released, the picture continues to get bleaker.

Just a few of the striking statistics from a recent New York Times article:

- Law School applications for the 2013-2014 academic year are down 20% from last year, and nearly 40% from 2010;

- Since 2004, the number of applicants has dropped by nearly half;

- The number of graduating students at the end of this year is expected to be about 38,000-the lowest since 1977, when there were a dozen fewer schools.

Some schools have already begun layoffs and cutbacks. Experts predict that as many as ten major schools may simply close over the coming decade.

The primary reason for the downturn is job prospects. In 2011, just 55% of law school graduates had found work (requiring passage of a bar exam) within nine months of graduation. A close second is the spiraling costs of tuition, which easily hits six figures at some of the private institutions. If debt payoff was onerous in the past, it is literally impossible for an un or under-employed law graduate.

The fracturing of the system has forced schools to start asking some of the important questions. How can they continue to attract students? How can they provide educations that are more aligned with real-world practice? How can they foster respect for the many strata of graduates, from those who aspire to Supreme Court clerkships to those who may become small market solo practitioners?

Certainly, the silver lining to the alarming numbers is the soul searching. Until it was broken, no one bothered trying to fix it. Now law schools- and the profession at large-have no other choice.

For a comprehensive look at the reasons behind the fall: NY Times

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Monday, February 4, 2013
Doping in College Admissions
Well, ok, I'm speaking metaphorically.

Over the past several years, law schools have taken a lot of heat for falsifying student records in an effort to bolster their rankings. Unfortunately, the rankings-fraud trend (if we must give it a name), has been rapidly leaking into other arenas of higher education.

Last year, Claremont McKenna College, Emory University and George Washington University all admitted to submitting falsified student data to the US News & World Report-the publication considered to be the preeminent source for relevant ranking information. These are all undergraduate institutions. They are (or were, in the case of GWU, ranked somewhere in the top 20 nationally).

This month, Bucknell, a private liberal arts college in Pennsylvania, ranked in the top 35, has also admitted to falsifying data.

Experts are crying out for a revamping of the rankings system. It is based in large part upon selectivity. The lower the acceptance rate, the higher the ranking. Naturally, acceptance rate doesn't tell the whole story. For students looking to find the right fit, it isn't a very scientific approach.

If we continue to insist on selecting colleges based on rankings, then we must start fleshing out the manner in which rankings are determined. At present, a single publication pretty much has a monopoly on rankings. Though US News tries to base rankings on a broad range of data, they are still merely pollsters. Factors like student satisfaction and quality of the college environment cannot be mathematically quantified.

If all universities are falsifying data in order to keep pace with the rankings of their competition, does that make it ok? Of course not. Just ask Lance Armstrong how it worked out for him. The other shoe is eventually going to drop.

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Sunday, January 27, 2013
State of College Admissions 2012
Just last month, the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) released their annual State of College Admissions report, which includes data for the Fall 2011 admissions cycle. Are you yawning yet? If you're a high school student, I probably lost you at NACAC. Parents, however, might be interested.

This exhaustive report analyzes everything from high school guidance counselor availability to college admissions metrics. Translation? In case you're curious, the report notes that high school guidance counselors spend about 23% of their time advising students on college admissions. In private schools, the number is 54%. The problem? Budgets are tight. Schools can't afford guidance counselors, so those that remain are overburdened with other tasks.

The college admissions statistics may be of greater interest to parents, and hopefully to aspiring students. Once again, the most important measure of a student's chances of getting into a good college are grades. Specifically, grades in college preparatory courses. The universities surveyed attributing "considerable importance" to this factor was a whopping 84%.

Other admissions factors? The difficulty of a student's curriculum and test scores filled the number two and three spots. So, it isn't enough to get good grades in easy high school classes. Standardized testing also matters.

Of notable importance was the weight given to the sample essay, and recommendations from guidance counselors.

Finally, students may want to take note of the importance of demonstrated interest in a specific college. Since applying to college has become cheaper and easier, the same pool of students are applying to more schools. This is why it is more important than ever for schools to assess whether a given candidate is likely to actually attend their institution.

Are any of you likely to read the report? Probably not. It costs $25 to download, and college counselors will do a good job of offering abbreviated reviews. However, since it is one of the more scientific evaluations of the college admissions process, it may be more valuable than you think.

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Monday, January 21, 2013
Picking the Right Law School
When it comes to picking an undergraduate program, the number of guidance resources are virtually endless. College admissions counseling has become a cottage industry, offering books, mentors, spreadsheets, checklists and web advice. If you want to casually research schools on your own, the internet is rife with resources. You can find out everything from a university's average SAT scores to the quality of pizza at the student union.

For aspiring law students, the decision process is more complicated. While all undergraduate institutions are reduced to nation-wide rankings, that list is nowhere more gravely worshipped than in the law school arena. The top fourteen in the national rankings even come with their own nickname (T14) and an aura of awe and sanctity.

The problem is that law schools have taken a notable fall from grace over the past few years. Scandals have rocked big institutions that have been caught falsifying test scores and other data in an effort to boost their rankings. Perhaps more significantly, law graduates are not getting jobs. A woeful market has led to a major decline in applications.

The silver lining here has been the push for transparency from law schools. If we can agree that the T14 have been largely unscathed by the scandal and bad job market, then how can the rest of the aspiring law student pool hope to pick the right school?

Law School Transparency, a nonprofit legal education group with a self-explanatory name, aims to help. Their website offers statistical overviews of the country's law schools, including crucial regional data and employment stats relevant to students doing some school shopping. The site offers info about the nature and extent of post-graduate employment, as well as overall costs. There certainly isn't as much hand-holding in the law school admission process, but sites like this may be the first step towards a trend in the right direction.

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Sunday, January 13, 2013
Common Cure for Senioritis
Back when I was applying to college, there was a well-known understanding about the second half of your high school senior year. All you really had to do was show up to class and keep your eyes open. Once you'd been admitted to your dream college, your only remaining duty was to warm a chair.

Even in those days, universities threatened to rescind offers of admission from students whose academics fell apart during the second half of their senior year. But that seemed like folklore. The reality was that, if you were a strong enough student to get into a good university, you probably weren't the type to suddenly flunk out of school-senioritis or not. Like most things having to do with college admission, things have changed. Universities are now keeping a keen eye on the second half of the school year. One of the many components of the Common Application is the Mid-Year Report, which must be filled out and submitted by a student's high school guidance counselor.

Obviously, the Mid-Year Report is looking for precipitous drops in GPA. They want to hear about any new disciplinary or criminal actions involving the student-applicant. However, what may be surprising to an outsider is just how much emphasis is placed upon comparing students to their classmates. The report is meticulous in its efforts to measure a student's class ranking against their peers.

This is fair, really. It's a bit like grading on a curve. If you are one of many academically strong students, your ranking may not matter as much. Conversely, if your school doesn't have a terribly rigorous curriculum, your 4.0 doesn't carry as much weight. These things are all major considerations in the initial admissions evaluation. The Mid-Year Report serves as a reminder of just how much they count during that last semester.

So as you seniors head into the downhill slope of your high school career this January, don't take your eyes off the road. Not just yet.

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Sunday, January 6, 2013
The Waiting is the Hardest Part
I once had a wise friend teach me something about acceptance. "I love it when someone tells me yes", she chirped. "I can handle it when someone tells me no. What I can't stand-" she paused, "is when someone tells me to wait".

It's that time of year for many early decision/early action applicants. They're devoted to their school of choice. They've put many hours into researching and picking. They were ahead of the rest of the pack-planning, writing, applying and organizing weeks and months earlier than other college applicants. Early decision students have committed not to go to school anywhere but their first choice college. Their reward? A deferral notice.

After all that effort, they are suddenly relegated to the regular decision pool. Really? On the upside, it isn't a rejection. However, for many early applicant students the greatest frustration lies in their newfound ability to do nothing about it. There is a sense of control in applying to college. There is even a sense of comfort in the finality of rejection. Waiting is another thing all together.

The New York Times college blog, "The Choice" recently offered some proactive ideas for deferred students. Their general suggestion is this-if the school hasn't specifically warned you against contacting them, by all means, keep making your case for admission. No one wants a pest, but there are dignified and effective ways to keep your application on the school's radar. NY Times

The waiting is always the hardest part of college admissions-whether you apply early or not. Yet there is a sense, with deferred students, of a continued need to perform for the admissions committee. What you've submitted wasn't enough to make the first cut, but also not deficient enough to equal rejection.

Now might be a bad time to point it out, but this admissions process is simply a tiny metaphor for my friend's lesson on life. It won't be the first time you have to simply wait. It will be hard, but that yes or no answer will come in the end. And there is always peace in every final decision.

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Monday, December 31, 2012
Writing an Honest Admission Essay
I've written a lot about what goes into a good admissions essay. So have thousands of other people. The "perfect topic" is like the Holy Grail of college personal statements. It isn't easy to find. People can't agree on what it is. It may signify something different to different people. So,we talk about it. A lot.

There also seem to be some universal truths about the subjects you should avoid. Your substance abuse. Maudlin personal tragedies. Politics. In my experience, most students don't go there. The most common pitfall I see is the essay that simply isn't interesting.

Recently, the UK-based Guardian poked a little fun at the college essay process by tasking several writers with the job of drafting an honest admission essay. These writers are many years past college, with little to lose. Still, their unadulterated honesty was comical and helped illustrate a point.

Students are often so eager to please that they want admissions committees to know EVERYTHING about them. Not enough space for that in 500 words. Others cling to a single topic-their first ballet recital, maybe-only to discover there isn't enough meat in the story to feed 500 hungry words.

Whatever you do, make it interesting. There is no perfect essay. Admissions officers do want to know about you, but they don't need to know everything. Balance the good against the bad.

Let's be honest. People don't really like honesty all that much, unless it's a good story. Honesty is usually uncomfortable and awkward. If you feel like dancing out that limb in your admission essay, I say do it. Better to make your reader cringe than yawn.

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