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, 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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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, 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 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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