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, August 19, 2013
How to Really Get to Know a College Campus
This week HuffPost offered a tip-list for students planning to tour college campuses in preparation for application season.

I liked it, but couldn't help wanting to add a few thoughts of my own.

When I was in college, my school offered something called a Little Siblings Weekend. The name is pretty self-explanatory. Students living in the on-campus dorms could invited their younger siblings to stay with them for a weekend in order to get a flavor of college life. My brother, who is 9 years younger than me, took advantage of the occasion, and loved every minute of it.

When you're 11 years old (and perhaps older), the joy of the dorms is pretty simple. Stay up late. Play video games. Get fruit loops and hot chocolate down in the cafeteria. But truly, there's more. I took my brother with me to my classes. He did get a window into dorm life and life with actual college students. I took him to the sporting venues, the coffee shops, the massive library, the local college village.

Incidentally, he ultimately graduated from the same school as me. I don't attribute this to my skills as a tour guide. I do think that this early visit demystified the experience for him in a very palpable way.

HuffPost offers all the sage advice. Take the campus tour. Take notes. Pay attention to financial aid packages. The thing is, when I was 18, this stuff mattered less to me than the "feel" of a place. Research is important, for sure. But once you've narrowed down your choices using external metrics such as academics/affordability, you should really test-drive it.

Understand that a campus tour may not be enough to help you make that decision. You may not have a sibling to shack up with for the weekend, but get creative. See whether or not you'll be happy spending four years there.


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Monday, August 12, 2013
It's in the Details, Silly
If anyone ever asked me what my most frequent critique is, I would say this. Essays that don't actually say anything. That sounds unkind. What I mean to say is that many students get stuck in what I call the vortex of platitudes. They write an awful lot without saying much at all. This universal weakness makes sense to me. Students applying for an undergraduate degree are young. The college admission essay almost sets students up for failure by asking them to delve deep into a reservoir of life perspective and extricate something meaningful and compelling for show-and-tell.

For this reason, students get caught up in one of two categories. The first: cram-everything-I've-ever-done into 500 words. The second: write about my week at survival camp. Neither are complete recipes for disaster, if done well, but that's a tall order. But for those of you leaning towards option #2-remember this. No one wants to hear how survival camp made you a stronger person/stretched the limits of your perseverance/taught you how to appreciate your life opportunities. It isn't that these things aren't valid. It's just that they are too broad.

What you need to do instead is use them as paragraph starters. Survival camp made me a stronger person. As I grabbed onto the tattered orange rope and stepped onto the bridge, all I could think about were the jagged rocks in the water, 50 feet below.

This works for every subject. Maybe you're writing about your favorite cat Morris. Don't talk about how much he meant to you without also talking about the white goose-down masquerading as fur around his tiny claws.

People are drawn to visual imagery. You don't have to make a sweeping statement about the world around you. If you're stuck, focus on what you know, and how well you know it. You'll be surprised at how well the small things flow from your brain to the keyboard.

While this doesn't mean you should ignore the mechanics of structure and persuasive prose, it should help keep you on track for writing something that your reader will savor and remember.


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Monday, August 5, 2013
Is Getting into College the Hardest Part
A friend of mine is the mother of a 17-year-old high school senior. He's a talented musician. He's already taking college courses at the local community college. What's more, he's polite, driven, and focused on his future. So is she.

She is a single parent of an only child, which carries with it its own dynamic. She's managed to raise a strong, smart, ambitious child without much help from his father. Finances are tight, which is part of the reason she sees academic success as a road out for him. Right now, she's spending a fortune on a college consultant; she insists it's worth every penny.

According to her consultant--getting into college is harder than college itself.

Do some light reading on the college consulting industry and you'll find a million different perspectives. The most vociferous critics call it things like the New Snake Oil Industry. The middle ground says, if it gives you peace of mind, it's worth the money. Others, like my friend, say that advisers are the lifeblood of the process. Without them, you're just not getting in. I always like to think the truth is somewhere in the middle. You can do almost anything in life without a broker, so long as you do the research yourself. That doesn't mean that buying a house isn't easier if you use a real estate agent.

Is getting in the hardest part for the student or the parent? Is it intellectually challenging, or just a cruel battering of your nerves? Is it a non-issue if you can't afford it? I'm not sure there's a single answer for anyone. If it works for you, great. The fact is, admissions has become more challenging. There are people with varying degrees of knowledge of the process. If you chose your help wisely, the "getting in" part shouldn't be nearly as hard as being a college student.


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Monday, July 29, 2013
Unveiling of the Essay Topics
Forget the Royal Baby Watch. If you're a high school senior, summer is ready to come to a screeching halt in just a few short days.

Ok, not exactly. But it may be time to get your head back in the game. Kate and William will release the little prince's name, and your life will go on as normal. Then reality kicks in. School starts again in a month or so, but this year-your senior year-you have a few extra things on your plate.

Like your college applications.

They aren't due, of course, until Fall, which may feel light-years away. But the Common Application and many universities have their eyes squarely on the deadline. On August 1st, the Common App releases its essay questions for the 2014-2015 admissions cycle. Essay prompts from high profile colleges have begun to trickle out.

Bear in mind that even if your schools of choice use the Common App, they may also require the submission of supplemental essays. So even if you have no intention of hitting the keyboard until October, you should pay careful attention to what is required of you.

While some schools have attracted recent press for scaling back the essay requirements (Harvard eliminated it, Georgetown's MBA program is inviting a tweet alternative), the vast majority of them still want a good old-fashioned admission essay. Not many schools will ask you to spill 500 words about your favorite kind of mustard.

You're more likely to get a standard like this one from the UC: "Describe the world you come from -- for example, your family, community or school -- and tell us how your world has shaped your dreams and aspirations."

It doesn't exactly get the creative juices flowing. And yet, in a few months' time, you need a good response. Starting early may not sound good, but it's a whole lot better than finishing late.

Just because it's summer, doesn't mean you shouldn't keep your eye on the ball.


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Monday, July 22, 2013
Your Admissions Essay-an Exercise in Teaching?
They say the best way to learn is to teach. Most educators will tell you that they often learn as much from their students as their students do from them. Put simply, it's virtually impossible to really understand a concept if you can't explain it to someone else. Ever been asked to "define irony"? Explain why the sun sets every day?

Sure. I know what you mean. I just can't. Quite. Explain it.

No one wants to read an essay like that. And I've read many. Multitudes of essays written by students who are obviously trying really hard trying to write something catchy, anecdotal, even allegorical. Quite often, it's just boring.

Any college English professor will tell you that if you don't have a solid thesis, your writing will meander. To me, meandering is the single biggest offense I see in admissions essay writing. It's what makes essays uninteresting or hard to follow. You must have a point, and you must defend that point persuasively.

And let's face it, defending a point persuasively is precisely what a good educator does. If your math teacher can't find a way to convince you that 2+2 is 4, then he's not doing his job.

So as an exercise, pretend that your essay is an instruction guide of sorts. You are teaching your reader about you or something important to you. Don't confuse this with what you think your reader might want to hear. No teacher would be successful at her job if she were simply pandering to her students.

If you're going to define irony, do it well.


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Wednesday, July 17, 2013
What Does #YOLO Mean to You?
Tufts University in Massachusetts wants to know. The internet is positively alight with the headline. Who knew? Who cares? What does YOLO even mean?

Let's backtrack. Let's assume hash tags and millennial acronyms aren't your thing. "You only live once" is not a new turn of phrase (isn't it an old Bond movie?), but it was recently repackaged (YOLO) by the rapper Drake in his 2011 hit "The Motto".

Condensing the carpe-diem-esque concept into a four character soundbyte helped it take flight in the social media realm. You've not really arrived until you've been hash-tagged, after all. Even if you're a dog-eared platitude.

Undeterred, Tufts-a small, private, liberal arts institution in an area of the country brimming with such places-is trying to set themselves apart by being faux-cool. Like many universities have in recent years, Tufts is making a show of breaking the stuffy aesthetic of admission essay prompts.

To be precise-the question itself doesn't really break any new ground; it's the way they're asking it: "Have you ever seized the day? Lived like there was no tomorrow? Or perhaps you plan to shout YOLO while jumping into something in the future. What does #YOLO mean to you?"

The web is abuzz with discussion, which seems slightly misplaced since Tufts has a history of offering unusual prompts ("Discuss your nerdy side"). They've touched a nerve with some who feel the nod to an African-American rapper is an exploitative attempt at relevance by a historically white institution.

Which is precisely all that any university can hope for. With a 2012 acceptance rate of under 19%, Tufts is not starving for applicants. But in a competitive environment in which all universities must meet their financial bottom lines, relevance is key. #goodmarketing


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Monday, July 15, 2013
Your Admission Essay-A Summer Blockbuster?
You know the saying, there's more than one way to skin a cat. I've always found it a rather grotesque reference. If English isn't your first language, it may just sound gross and nonsensical. Still, the phrase sticks with you. There's more than one way to peel a banana or tie your shoe, but those phrases don't exactly stop you in your tracks. You might be wondering where this plot is going...

If you're a student and you're finding it hard to strike literary gold with your personal statement, you're not alone. For every hundred of you, there is a college coach/guidance counselor/tutor or other concerned adult trying to bottle some sage advice to guide you. Write from the heart. Show, don't tell. Keep it simple. (I've offered all these nuggets myself). I recently came across an article promoting the idea that the best essay should read like-you guessed it-a Hollywood blockbuster. Or, maybe you didn't see that one coming. The college coach pushing this idea is a former screenwriter, and while my gut said "tacky", he has a point. Above all, your admission essay has to be interesting. If it's not, your reader will tune out by paragraph two.

There is, of course, more than one way to approach an essay. Educators are likely to guide you more gently towards compelling prose, but there is more than one way to get there. Writing a gripping essay isn't easy. Even young students who aren't writing a screenplay tend to overshoot the dramatic mark.

However, in the same way that a good trial lawyer has to put on a show in order to woo her jury, a student-writer cannot expect to persuade her audience without crafting something creative and engaging. Hollywood certainly has that formula down.

This recipe may not be for everyone. But if it helps you get your essay off the ground...why not?


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Monday, July 8, 2013
Supreme Court Rules on Affirmative Action
Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its ruling in the college affirmative action case, side-stepping an all-out ban on the use of race consideration in college admissions. What the court did do was to make the use of race in college admissions considerably more difficult.

Universities will now be subjected to the highest level of legal scrutiny when making admissions decisions based solely on the race of a candidate. This decision did not come as a huge surprise. Proponents of affirmative action say that the ruling will make it effectively impossible to allow race as a factor. Opponents of the policy claim that the ruling did not go far enough.

However, the net effect of the ruling is essentially the same. Because it will now be so much more difficult for universities to consider race in their admissions policies, schools will have to get creative in finding new ways to maintain a racially diverse student body. This would have been the case if the court had, in fact, decided to abolish affirmative action in its entirety.

As expected, schools in Texas (and elsewhere), will likely turn their focus to "class" in order to add dimension to their graduating classes. For better or worse, race and socioeconomics track together in the US, with people of color falling disproportionately occupying the lower income brackets. By targeting socioeconomics, schools may be able to achieve the same end.

The idea of artificially creating diversity in third-level education may be a partisan issue, but it also has many practical proponents. In friends-of-the-court briefs, several large corporations supported the idea, citing the importance of a diverse workforce in today's global economy. The Obama administration proffered a similar argument, noting the need for racial diversity in the nation's military officer corps.

Achieving this diversity may have just become a little bit more challenging. But not impossible.


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Monday, July 1, 2013
Is the Admission Essay Going Out of Style?
I'll admit, it's hard to keep up. One of my cars has an audio cassette player. The newer one has an iPod doc. My young kids don't know what CDs are used for. They've been to a library, but they'd rather have me download books for them. Now. As an adult, it's always hard to see the relics of your past become obsolete. It's a referendum on your own mortality, maybe. But life goes on. And the world of college admissions is no different.

Already, most colleges accept applications on line. There is noise about taking standardized testing off Scantron sheets and onto iPads. Nearly every college now has an interactive social media "presence", and most of us know what that means.

The Tippie School of Management at the University of Iowa turned heads a few years back when it replaced one of its traditional personal statement options with a Tweet. (In fact, they offered a full ride scholarship to the candidate with the best 140-character quip). They quickly pulled that option, but not before other business schools-Georgetown among them-began to offer the Tweet as an essay alternative.

This year, Tippie applicants have the option of replacing two admissions essays with a SlideShare presentation. The schools are grasping for a more relevant window into the applicant's experience using a new blueprint for communication. So many of the words we read no longer appear on paper. We now expect them to hang against the backdrop of hyperlinks, pictures, videos, and portals into other options.

Changing the application medium hopefully means that admissions officers get a visual, conceptual offering from applicants that is both more interesting and more illustrative than an essay on paper. For applicants, it opens up creative possibilities.

It's a safe bet that the majority of applicants and universities don't yet have the technology skills or assets to pull the plug on the traditional application essay. What these business schools are showing, however, is that the college application process is not immune to progress.

Watch this space. And keep an open mind.


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Monday, June 24, 2013
What Will Race-Blind Admissions Really Look Like?
If it seems like I've blogged a lot about affirmative action over the past year or so, it's because I see it as a topic that is central to college admissions, both literally and symbolically. It also happens to be "on trial", so to speak, in the US Supreme Court. A significant decision is due from the court any day now.

While systematic racism plays a role in the furor over affirmative action, I believe it's the sheer anxiety of "getting in", that makes it such a hot button issue. As a general rule, people don't really care about stuff unless 1) it's relevant to them and 2) it's their stuff and someone is trying to take it away.

Which is why its particularly interesting that both opponents and proponents of affirmative action are, in some circles, finding common ground in the area of socioeconomics.

It is commonly reported that poor or disadvantaged students comprise infinitesimally small proportions of the student bodies at selective universities. These students are more likely to go to community colleges or less selective universities, where graduation rates are significantly smaller. This is true even amongst the top academic performers.

There are eight states in the U.S. with affirmative action bans currently in place. In the wake of these bans, several of the states, including California, have implemented programs aimed at courting lower-income applicants.

Many have argued that, if diversity in education is the goal, race-based affirmative action isn't the only answer. Luring disadvantaged students into the privileged world of selective universities isn't a one-stage process, and it may kick into a higher gear if affirmative action is effectively outlawed.

For anyone with an eye on the college admissions process, these unfolding stories may turn out to be game changers.

For a breadth of opinions on the subject: NY Times


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Monday, June 17, 2013
Stripping Down Barriers to Business School Admission
As the Wall Street Journal puts it in a headline this week "Applying to Harvard Business School Gets Easier". The article goes on to remind us that of over 9,000 applicants, Harvard accepts around 1,000. I suppose easy is relative.

What is happening--for the second year in a row-is that Harvard is shaving off some additional essay requirements. Business schools are famous for mandating a litany of personal statements, with often highly specific prompts.

Last year, Harvard cut the number of essays required from four to two. They added a "reflection" statement, but only for students who made it past the first round of interviews. This year, they are eliminating a recommendation letter requirement and chopping the essays down to a single one. There's some sense that the single essay won't actually be a requirement.

Business schools have been at the forefront in embracing new technology. Over the past few years, MBA programs have begun accepting tweets, videos and websites in lieu of essays.

The personal statement is designed to help the university get to know its prospective student. Using other mediums to make that introduction may be changing the face of the personal statement as we know it.

These changes tend to trickle down from schools like Harvard-ones that have the reputation and the wealth to shape new approaches to admissions. Ultimately, fewer essays may be a money and time saver for universities, but the elimination of essays may open up doors to more innovative mechanisms for weeding through applicants.

So is it actually any easier to get in? Probably not. But there may be less writing involved.


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Monday, June 17, 2013
The Best Way to Get into Your College of Choice
You're hoping for an easy answer, right? Like a magical diet pill or an allergy cure.

Actually, there is one. It just won't make much of a difference to most of us. Two words. Legacy admission.

Sure, it's easy to sneer at privileged rich kids. Especially if you didn't make the cut at your college of choice. (Or even if you did-but had to work really hard to claw your way in). Even legacy admits with good academic credentials won't be able to shed the stigma of being handed an education on a silver platter.

The thing is, the stories are really true. By its own reports, Harvard admits around 30% of the legacy admission applicants. By comparison, the university's overall acceptance rate is under 6%. Yale claims to admit 20-25% of their legacy applicants, compared to a 6.7% overall admission rate.

Certainly, the problem is more prominent at selective private schools. This means that both the benefits and the inequities created by legacy admissions are unlikely to affect most students. Still, it perpetuates a system of class elitism that continues to be tightly threaded into the fabric of society. It is a system not based on merit but on money.

And it is really that simple. Alumni are more likely to continue making contributions to their alma maters if their children and their children are students there. Those alumni are more likely to have the resources to pay cash for tuition. And I'll go out on a limb here. People who spend their money generously are more likely to expect something in return.

Arguably, the third-level education system in America is already skewed towards the white and wealthy. A cursory glance at diversity statistics make that abundantly clear. (The litany of reasons why won't fit into this post). So while legacy admissions feed the hungry appetites of university coffers, they may not offer much to society.


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Tuesday, June 11, 2013
Taking your Education Overseas
I've written a lot about re-routing your college dreams. I have a strong opinion about the importance of life experience, and this is just my opinion. There are a hundred others who would say education is everything. I feel like the truth is somewhere in the middle.

I feel like travel is the lifeblood of experience. If you can afford it, you should do it. If you can do a semester abroad---super. But don't stop there.

The flow of American students in and out international universities is larger than you might think. Many students are going beyond the (highly structured) semesters abroad and taking the business of their college education across the pond.

This might mean having roommates that aren't also American. This might mean learning to drive on the other side of the road and eating ketchup that doesn't taste like our ketchup.

Because of the language and the relatively similar cultures, study-abroad programs in countries like Australia and the UK are highly appealing to U.S. students. Another bonus? Easier admission for American students.

There's been a lot of talk about the zealousness of American universities in courting foreign students, largely because international students are required to pay full whack for tuition. The reverse is also true.

Some colleges in the UK, for instance, have a number of admissions spaces reserved specifically for foreign students. (Because tertiary education is largely state subsidized there, a special incentive exists for getting full-paying students on the books).

It's potentially a win-win, since tuition at some of these foreign colleges is still cheaper than tuition at many private American universities. And then there's a third win: life experience. You come home with a whole different kind of education under your belt.

You get a quality college education. You get to travel without being a tourist. And that's something money can't buy.


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Monday, June 3, 2013
Buying the Best College Brand
I'm no MBA graduate but I've always been fascinated by branding. How do we decide what is cool? How do marketing and ad executives preempt-or indeed drive-that decision? How much of it is pure luck?

There was a time, for instance, when all portable listening devices were attached to black headphone cords. When Apple introduced the iPod, they made the ingenious decision to sell it with white headphone cords. Never mind my clunky Discman, I wanted white ear buds.

Even if you're too young to appreciate life before the iWorld, you catch my drift. Is Apple really better?

The analogy doesn't travel seamlessly to college, of course. Much fun as it is to sneeze at the snobbery of the Ivies, those schools do have world-class facilities, celebrated faculty, and high-quality education. Still, that doesn't mean that other colleges don't serve as perfectly good conduits to a successful future.

A recent NY Times Blog article does a nice job of illustrating the challenge of choice for parents and students. Do you follow the scholarship, the experience, or the name? NY Times Blog

I'm not sure what the answer is. I know people who have turned down full scholarships to lower-tier schools (and I don't like that term) in favor of paying the full costs of a more prestigious school. I went to a well-known college, and I like to think I got a good education. Did going to a brand name school permanently change the trajectory of my life? I don't think so.

A friend of mine recently joked that if the CIA ever needed help locating someone, they should enlist the help of her university's alumni association. I tend to agree. My alma mater just called me on my cell phone - an unlisted number I didn't even get until 15 years after I graduated. (They're looking for donations, of course).

It's a tough decision. Whatever you do, make sure you're buying the brand for the right reasons.


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Monday, May 27, 2013
Write like You've Got Nothing to Lose
As I swirled this blog idea around in my mug, I wondered whether this was actually sage advice. When settling into drafting that admission essay, should students really throw caution to the wind? Is there no topic, no tone, no attitude that should be off limits in this genre?

Of course not.

What I'm thinking is this. From a percentage perspective, acceptance rates are getting lower. More students are applying to college. The highly competitive schools are becoming more competitive. What got a student into Yale 20 years ago, won't even get them an interview today.

So, for those of you who are floating up there with the cream at the top of the milk, the essay should be an opportunity-not a burden. If your scores are through the roof and you're aiming high, you're in good company. Perfect ACTs? Solid 4.0. Super. You're gong to college. It's just that someone else with perfect ACTs and a 4.0, might be taking your top spot.

Your job? Don't get complacent. Good scores won't hoist you out of a hole dug by a bad essay. Don't assume that being smart is enough. Also, don't play it safe. Your essay shouldn't say the same things about you as your scores. Let each component speak for itself.

My conclusion-write like you've got nothing to lose. If you truly are a stand-out student, you're going to get in somewhere. You will wonder why your academic doppelganger got into Cornell and you didn't, but there's virtually nothing you can do about it.

You will get lots of advice about writing admissions essays. "Speak from the heart". "Think outside the box". "Show, don't tell". Well, I say, add another to your repertoire: "Write with abandon". What have you got to lose?


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Sunday, May 12, 2013
Standardized Tests to go Digital?
It's hard to imagine a world without No.2 pencils and fill-in-the-bubble Scantron sheets, but that day may soon be upon us.

The Associated Press reports that the ACT has announced its intention to begin administering the test on iPads as early as 2015. Functionally speaking, it should be easier to take a test using a touchscreen. Additionally, use of iPads would allow for interactive features making the test-taking process more visually interactive.

The greatest advantage, according to the test-makers? Students won't need to wait as long to receive their scores.

As with any transition, this change is bound to be fraught with hiccups. Computers are expensive. Security breaches (ie...cheating) would be more difficult to monitor. People aren't likely to steal test-sheets; iPads are a lot more appealing. Most of all, not all students will be comfortable using a tablet.

Because of these access and comfort issues, the ACT plans to continue offering the test in written form, raising questions of how to grade digital/written tests equitably.

I see yet another socioeconomic issue arising. Middle to upper class students already have advantages when it comes to standardized testing. Their parents can afford test workshops. Their high schools are more likely to have the resources to focus on college prep. These are the same students who may already have iPads at home.

This isn't to say that digital progress is a bad thing. Let's just hope the ACT--and the testing agencies that may follow in their footsteps-do everything they can to keep the playing field level.


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Monday, May 6, 2013
Buying a Law School Education in a Down Market
The last several years haven't been kind to the U.S. economy. There aren't enough jobs. There isn't enough money. People have lost their homes. The housing market, in particular, has become emblematic of the corruption and loss that has marred the economic climate in recent years.

And while there is no way to take the sting out of loss, there is, the oft-quoted idea that, where there is crisis, there is also opportunity.

People know this and act on it. Always wanted to buy a home? The last few years have been a buyer's market. There's no better time to buy then when a market has tanked. But therein lies the irony. Most people in a tanking economy don't have money to buy things, even if they are cheaper than normal.

Is it tactless to stretch this metaphor into the law school downturn? Perhaps, but there are some similarities.

Law schools are experiencing the lowest applicant pool in over thirty years. (Even that statistic doesn't bear out because thirty years ago there were fewer law schools).

The job market for lawyers is dismal. Generally speaking. There will always be some need for lawyers. It's just that the market became saturated. So people have finally stopped looking at law school as an option.

Bad news? Maybe not, if you still want to be a lawyer. Maybe you're passionate about it. Maybe you're optimistic that there's a job out there with your name on it. Whatever your motivation-there's no time like the present.

As the applicant pool shrinks, the opportunity for acceptance increases. Some law schools are getting creative in a bid to woo students. Some are changing curriculum, adding clinical courses in an effort to better prepare students for the actual practice of law. Scholarship opportunities may be improving.

Whatever the downside, there may also be a silver lining, that might actually be worth the risk.


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Monday, May 6, 2013
Time to Talk Gap Year
It's May. Colleges have made their admissions decisions. Many students have made theirs. For students who didn't get into their school of choice, the soul searching may be a little more gut-wrenching. It's hard to get derailed from the path you'd already inside your head.

If your heart's still set on your dream school, try aiming for it from a different angle.

The gap year, once more commonly known outside of the US, can be a tremendously enriching option for many students. If the gap year was a term paper, it would be an exercise in creative writing.

Some students get a job. They use the year to work, save for college, and collect some life experience. Others take internships in an effort to test professional waters. Still others travel. There are gap year companies, and gap year fairs to help you organize your gap year. (Some argue that paying someone to organize your gap year defeats the purpose of self-directed exploration. I say it's a great solution for young adults who may still need structure in order to stay on track).

I can't see a downside in a gap year, so long as it is well structured. Few times in life are more fertile in terms of emotional and intellectual growth. Colleges are looking for students with rich academic and personal experiences. The gap year can help flesh out the latter.

You might worry about losing academic momentum, but truthfully, this is a risk even for the average college freshman.

At this transitional stage of early adulthood, students are planting all sorts of seeds of future accomplishments. The tilling doesn't have to take place within the walls of a classroom. So think about it. College isn't going anywhere. But you could be.


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Monday, April 29, 2013
What We Can Learn from This Year's Admissions Essays
As April draws to a close, the writing is on the wall for the 2013-2014 college hopefuls. You're either out of breath from your victory dance, or dusting your knees off and finding a way to stand up, start anew. For this year's crop of students, the "whys" are still hanging heavy in the air.

So-and-so had lower SAT's than me, but got into X University, but I didn't. Was it my grades? Not enough volunteer work? My race, my background, my essay, my AP classes? What?

And here's a good life lesson. You'll probably never know the answer. You've got to move on.

Who can still learn a little from this year's students? Why-college juniors. Some of the early feedback from admissions officers is now surfacing, and it has to do with essays. The consensus? A little boring.

A good editor should be able to tell you this, early in the process. The problem is that if mom or dad, or another trusted adult is helping you, they may not have the nerve to crush you.

I agree, it is hard to strike the right balance. What may sound compelling to a younger writer often comes across as melodramatic to an older reader. Editors advise writers to stay away from inflammatory topics like politics, sex, and drugs, while in the same breath urging them to be creative risk-takers.

A phrase I've heard many times, that resonates with me is "write the way you talk". This is difficult for many high school students, who have been coached to cleave to a certain formality in essay composition.

The admission essay is meant to be a personal statement. The best way to make it read like one is to use your own voice. (I hate writing the "voice" bit as much as you probably hate reading it). It's the truth though. Everyone has something they are passionate about. Whether its mountain climbing or Monday Night Football, there's a story in there somewhere.

So talk about it.


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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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