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.
Sunday, August 19, 2012
Obama Administration Shows Support for Affirmative Action
As I've written many times before, few topics are more controversial than affirmative action in college admissions. Political middle ground on this issue is almost impossible to find. And while the consideration of race in college admissions is still prohibited in many states, the issue continues to simmer.

This autumn, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in Fisher v. University of Texas, a case filed in 2008 by a white student who was denied admission. Abigail Fisher claims that the university's failure to offer her a spot at the university was a result of discrimination. The University of Texas does consider race as one component in the overall evaluation of student applications.

This week, the Obama Administration weighed in, making perhaps its opinion on affirmative action fairly clear. Historically, the president has suggested that any preferential treatment in college admissions should be skewed along socioeconomic-not racial lines. In a friends of court brief, several departments within the administration stated that racial preference in college admissions is something colleges should consider in an effort to create opportunity for students of color, and diversity to the student body.

Texas is unique in some respects. Its universities automatically offer college admission to the top 10% of high school students statewide. This policy has had the net effect of increasing enrollment for non-white students. Still, Texas universities do consider race in a nod to the value of diversity in the educational environment.

With the presidential election less than 90 days away, this symbolic statement could stir political tensions. However, the Supreme Court's ruling is unlikely to have much effect upon many of the country's largest states. California-which has its own laws on the books preventing consideration of race in college admissions, would be unaffected by the decision.

However, if the US Supreme Court made a grand statement in simply agreeing to hear the case, the Obama Administration followed suit by publicly taking a side. Oral arguments begin in October.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2012
The Art of Writing the Admission Essay
Revision is when you do what you should have done the first time, but didn't.

So says Colson Whitehead in his recent engaging treaty "How to Write" NY Times . While Whitehead's article is addressed to aspiring writers, and not just desperate college hopefuls, his tips are relevant and easy to digest.

Proofreading is just one of his eleven bullet points. He also tells us that writer's block can be a tool and-one of my regular personal favorites "never use three words when one will do". Still, he delivers his counsel with bite. Admission essay how-to guides tend to be scrubbed clean of charisma. There is certainly a formula for a solid admission essay. But for students searching for a bit more inspiration probably need more than ordinary bullet points.

Whitehead advises would-be scribes to get out and live life. After all, the best writing is the fruit of rich life experience. Young students with limited life adventures may have to rely instead on fertile imaginations. I'm not suggesting that students fabricate experiences in their admissions essays. I am suggesting that students exploit their creative sides in order to harvest interesting sprigs of ordinary life.

After all, admissions officers are simply looking for something that humanizes an applicant. They do not need extraordinary. Whitehead doesn't say it in so many words, but revision isn't simply about correcting mistakes. It is about uncovering weaknesses that weren't even visible during the first, second, or fifteenth read. You'd be surprised at what you might find buried within your own words.

And if this is all just literary for you, well-maybe you should sit down and try reading it again.

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Tuesday, August 7, 2012
No Downside in Starting Admissions Essays Early
Just because something is good for us, doesn't mean we are inclined to do it. Going for a run. Putting down that cupcake. Starting to put money in a retirement account. All good ideas. In theory.

Which makes it difficult for me to suggest-again-that students begin to think of starting their college admissions essays now. During the late, hot summer. There is simply no downside to starting early. For most students, admissions deadlines are somewhere between November and January. Starting work in August means students can bank several months of time during which they can revise, proofread, and reconsider what they have written.

Starting early helps to take the pressure off. Students can easily become suffocated by time constraints come autumn. Suddenly they are juggling senior year activities with the pressure of applications, essays, letters of recommendation, and more.

If you are looking for essay feedback, it makes sense to give your editor plenty of time. Cramming it in their in-box a day before it is due does no one any good. Starting earlier means that you have more time to put your admission essay in front of many eyes. Teachers, parents, guidance counselors, or college coaches.

Finally, for students considering applying Early Action or Early Decision, starting the admission essay may be essential. The upside of early entry programs is the increased odds of admissions. One downside is that some essays are due around the start of November.

This isn't the first time I've suggested making good use of summer and starting those admissions essays. With several weeks left, it may not be the last.

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Sunday, July 29, 2012
Brevity in your Admission Essay
Any editor will tell you that one of the more difficult parts of their job is omitting without offending. That is, most of us have a tendency to 'overwrite'. This is nowhere truer in a setting like the admission essay. Why?

Overdoing it in your admissions essay is a little like blubbering in an interview. We are nervous. In the process of putting our best foot forward, our thoughts get jumbled and sail out the door-right along with our ability to filter them. Fortunately, admissions essays are on paper. Unlike a live interview, a writer has an infinite number of opportunities to revise and perfect.

The best of authors know this. On brevity, William Faulkner famously said, "In writing, you must kill all of your darlings". Sometimes, that is exactly what it feels like. Take, for instance, writing about a great accomplishment. Quite often students will feel proud, passionate, excited, energized and committed about a certain achievement. They will use each one of these adjectives. Admit it, you already stopped paying attention to that sentence; it had too many commas.

Each of those sentiments is a little different. I appreciate that. But you can still convey your point without expressing every single emotion you feel about something.

When you are writing to impress, it is tempting to overreach when you are trying to make your point. For most students, the admission essay feels like the one chance for a big sell. Just remember the adage "less is more". It works in all kinds of advertising.

And with that, I'll hope that I've made my point.

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Monday, July 23, 2012
Using Imagination to Pick the Right College
Last month I wrote about the ways in which rankings influence students' decisions about what college to attend. I do buy into the idea that the best fit for a particular student isn't necessarily a big name school. Certainly, for students with very specific professional aspirations, school name may matter more. But this isn't the main reason students gravitate towards big name schools.

I say, the number one reason students pick the wrong schools is lack of imagination. Selecting a college is really just a labor-intense shopping trip. The currency may be test scores and admissions essays, but the process is a lot like any consumer experience. Let's take your iPhone, for example. Is it the best possible smart phone on the market, or is it just the most popular?

Obscure liberal arts colleges in upstate New York just lack the glamorous sizzle of NYU. USC and UCLA look good on sweatshirts. They're also near Hollywood and Beverly Hills. Cool.

At seventeen, it is difficult to know what you want from the future. We're all drawn to the familiar. And if you don't know exactly what you're looking for, it makes sense to turn to the brand that everyone else is buying.

The problem is that there is always a downside to picking a college for the wrong reasons. Big, famous campuses have larger class sizes. It is easy to get lost in the crowd. Applying to the Ivies (with a 6-9% acceptance rate) might prove to be a side-swipe to a young student's confidence.

So sit down and really think about it. Listen to other students on sites like collegeprowler.com. Ask yourself the tough questions. Why is this your dream school? You might find the answer to be surprising.

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Monday, July 16, 2012
Breaking the Ice in Your Admission Essay
Want to teach me something new? Don't explain it to me-show me an example. All of us learn in different ways. Some of us are visual. Some cerebral. Some of us need to talk it through. When it comes to advice on drafting admissions essays, I find that most of the information out there is in the nature of explaining. Want an example?

Tip lists. Admissions consultants love their bullet points.

Don't compose a resume in prose.

Proofread.

Don't get too emotional.

Edit.

Write from the heart.

These are all useful and arguably accurate admonitions about admission essay writing. But if I was an anxious student with writer's block, these platitudes would probably just frustrate me.

There are plenty of sample essays out there on the web, many of them helpful. However, for students who need a little push out of the gate, the first hurdle is that opening sentence.

This article from last year boasts the top 10 opening lines from Stanford University admissions essays. I'm not sure if that is 100% true, but these are some good opening lines.

"I have old hands". "When I was in eighth grade, I couldn't read". Simple. Provocative. Interesting. Most importantly-these statements make your reader want to, well, continue reading. This may be the single most important aspect of your essay. It doesn't have to be Pulitzer-Prize winning literature. It just has to inspire your reader to care.

Perhaps surprisingly, this might just be easier than you think.

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Monday, July 9, 2012
The Failure of Law Schools to Deliver
If you're in the mood for a little gloom and doom, try doing a Google search for "law school admission". You'll find that the law job market is bad, admissions are down, and law schools are even reducing enrollment. Then you'll find the opinion pieces. And when it comes to a discussion of the merits of a legal education, bloggers pack no punches. "The First Thing We Should Do Is Kill All the Law Schools" (Huffington Post). Or, "Why Attending Law School is the Worst Decision You Will Ever Make" (Forbes).

If the bloggers seem bitter, the graduates are simply scathing. Though many are unemployed with six-figure debt, it's often hard to know exactly what drives their frustration. A read through any comments section reveals less talk about financial uncertainty, and more talk about feeling let down by the law school structure. Kids from top tier schools are simply supposed to be wooed with fat employment contracts. Now they are working at Starbucks.

The American Bar Association Journal recently tackled what it sees as the issue of pedigree in law schools, deciding that the preoccupation with ranking is "choking the profession". (Want to see some acrimony? Check out the comments section for that article). ABA Journal Many students from lower-tier law schools (and believe me, tiers matter a lot to law students), claim to have educations and careers that are perfectly satisfying. Top tier students simply can't believe that. Recruiters at top firms won't even look at graduates outside the top ten elite law schools.

This level of expectation from law school may be part of what has made the fall from grace so painful. In a system so deeply rooted in status, a dreary job market means more than money worries. It is a failure of a fundamental promise of success.

If there is a silver lining here, it is that the profession-despite obvious setbacks-will go on. Perhaps it is time for law students, graduates, professionals and the people who recruit them to start reframing their perspective on the profession. It may not seem quite as bleak.

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Monday, July 2, 2012
Too Many College Applications Diluting the Pool?
It's hard to tell whether or not it is becoming harder to get into college these days. Each year the top schools seem to post lower admission rates, but there is more to the story.

There are more students applying to college, and there are numerous reasons for that. There is a large increase in foreign student applications to American schools. Tools such as the Common Application make applying easier. As the competition increases, so does rejection. Students, in turn, send out more applications, hoping to increase their chances of being accepted somewhere.

Back in the days of paper applications with a per-application fee, the sheer logistics of applying to multiple schools was enough to deter all but the most zealous students from sending out high volumes of applications. These days, students can apply to all ten University of California campuses with the check of a box. The Common Application, with its access to over 450 universities across the country, provides the same function.

The problem is that admissions committees aren't equipped to deal with the increase in number of applications. If a hundred applicants have essentially the same SAT score, the admission committee can focus its time on really assessing the other qualities each of those 100 students offers. If that 100 is now 1000, the review process becomes unmanageable.

Ironically, students themselves are fueling the problem by applying to so many different schools. By increasing the applicant pool, they are forcing admissions committees to spend less time assessing each applicant.

A recent NY Times blog suggests a simple solution. Know what you really want from a college. That way you can avoid sending out applications to universities that really won't suit you (or accept you). This streamlines the process for the individual student and in turn, for the admissions offices.

For students, putting a little more research in at the front end of the application process may make all the difference in the world. And with the odds getting slimmer each year, it is time for a change.

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Sunday, June 24, 2012
Summer as the Last Hurrah
About a month ago, I reminded high school juniors to use this summer wisely. With two full years left before college, they still have ample opportunity to pack their summers with the kind of activities that will flesh out the college portfolio. For high school seniors, time is a little shorter. But this summer still has plenty of it.

On the longest day of the year, with the sun high in the sky, the last thing most budding seniors want to think about are college applications. Hear me out. This summer is NOT your last hurrah. As social experiences go, college (at least for most people), is a blast. So think of this summer as a chance to ease the anxieties that will start to gnaw at you come fall.

Many of you will have jobs or travel scheduled this summer. For student athletes, the commitments of Fall semester may start early, and become an ever bigger drain on your time as the college application deadlines approach in October and November. From an emotional perspective, senior year is a very important life chapter. Adding the stresses of college application to the mental transition can be difficult.

For any of you using the Common Application and thinking about getting a head start on your college admission essay, keep in mind that the Common App simply shuts down for several weeks next month.

So as we sit on the very cusp of the summer season, think about getting a head start. Maybe it's as simple as whittling down your university choices and pulling all the requisite applications. Perhaps you are way ahead of the game and start drafts of your college admission essay. Maybe you take the time to visit a few campuses.

Checking off even a few tasks from your college to-do list can help lift an enormous psychological burden come fall semester. And do it now. So you can enjoy the rest of your summer.

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Sunday, June 17, 2012
Law Schools Respond to Bleak Market
It has been a bad year for law schools and a worse year for many law school graduates. This week the National Association for Law Placement (NALP) released its annual report. Just 85% of new law school grads can expect to find work-the lowest this figure has been since 1994. A full three-quarters of that 85% were working in non-legal and/or part-time positions.

As a talking point, the rupture of the legal profession makes for good discussion. (For some particularly lively vitriol, visit the Facebook page "Don't Go to Law School"). Although the national unemployment rate has been alarming for the past several years, people seem especially affronted at the prospect that a law degree has lost its traditional value. For new grads, the panic and anger is simpler than that-many are saddled with six-figure debt.

Some law schools are finally responding. Roughly ten of the country's 200 ABA accredited schools have plans to marginally decrease enrollment over the next several years. Some schools are cutting their class sizes by as few as 20, but with tuition at law schools averaging between $20K and $40K a year, these cuts are not insignificant reductions to law school revenue.

At a theoretical level, the cuts make sense. A bleak job market, oversaturated with law grads will gradually improve as fewer people emerge with law degrees. Simple supply and demand. Even U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia remarked recently that the country might be better off sending some of its brightest minds into other fields--like science and engineering--where they are needed most.

This decision does not fix the problem for current law school graduates, but may start to set a new tone in a field that is rapidly losing the gloss of high expectation that has historically made it so appealing.

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Sunday, June 10, 2012
Yes, College Rankings Do Matter. Maybe.
Advice regarding college admissions tends to cycle through differing philosophies. Historically, rankings have been crucial. Students (and parents, and maybe employers) wait with bated breath each year as the US News & World Report churns out its annual number crunching about college rankings.

Lately, college consultants have been fighting back. Part of the reason? High profile schools have been caught in flat-out lies about their own stats . The other reason is cuddlier. Consultants and experts claim that the goal for students in finding the"right" college should be the right fit, not the highest ranking.

I like the sound of this, but, there is always a "but". The "right fit" assumes that a student is attending college to learn. If that is true, I agree that the student should place a greater emphasis on things like class size, campus location and faculty. If a student is going to college in order to get a job, I think ignoring the pedigree of a brand name school could be a liability.

Frankly, in a depressed job market, the best way to get ahead is to get a graduate degree. I'd like to believe that graduate institutions care more about undergraduate performance than where a student went to college. I wouldn't trust recruiters in the professional realm to be as reasonable.

It comes down to what a student wants. If it is a clerkship with the US Supreme Court, that undergraduate better pay very close attention to their college brand. If it is the rite-of-passage that is the "college experience", I think it makes more sense to look for a school that will make you happy.

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Sunday, June 3, 2012
STEM or Liberal Arts-That is the Question
Actually, for most students, there isn't much up for discussion. Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) are scary subjects for many students. The prospect of a Liberal Arts education may sound more realistic and less confining. The abundance of small, liberal arts colleges across the country may be appealing for students looking for a more academically intimate, congenial setting in which to get their college education.

With so many college graduates facing flattened job prospects, the question of what to major in is suddenly more relevant. Ten or twenty years ago, a college degree from a decent school may have been enough. That is no longer the professional climate in which we live.

Payscale.com recently released a report of the top ten majors leading to the highest salaries. Two were science, one math; the other seven were in the field of engineering. For women, engineering offers potentially even better prospects. The dearth of women in the profession means that universities actively court qualified female engineering students; some experts claim that the demand for female students means that universities will quietly reserve spaces for women with lower grades and test scores than their male counterparts.

For law school graduates, who are facing one of the worst job markets in recent history, STEM backgrounds may be the necessary edge. Traditionally, law was seen as a haven for ambitious students with a fear of math and science. Today, the growth of the technology sector has created a need for experts with knowledge of both STEM subjects and the law. (Payscale.com places patent attorneys at a starting salary of $115,000. The American Intellectual Property Law Association places that figure closer to $180K).

All students have their own interests. Few students can will themselves to do well in Organic Chemistry if science isn't a strength. For now, however, it appears that your college major really does matter.

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Sunday, May 27, 2012
The Simmering Potential of Summer Break
Though high school can be an amazing time of growth and exploration for most of us, we don't appreciate it until the time has long passed. This is a normal part of life. The problem is that high school is such a monumental turning point for most young people. If college is on the agenda, those four years are crucial.

With summer fast approaching, droves of high school students will start shaking out their beach towels and settling themselves down for a much-deserved break. Mediocre idea. Summer is the season of promise. It is the proverbial blank canvas onto which high school students have the opportunity to paint a veritable rainbow of life experiences. This is important when you are seventeen and dreaming of going to college. (Trust me, college is full of fun summers). It's only when you sit down to begin writing your college admission essay that you'll realize just how short you are on "experiences". The time invested in school and academics sometimes absorbs the more colorful parts of a student's personality. Hobbies and passions get pushed to the backburner. You will miss them most when trying to come up with a clever hook for your personal statement.

Enter summer. You don't have to log fourteen hour days at half a dozen charities. You don't have to build houses in underdeveloped nations. It's ok to think smaller, so long as you're thinking creatively. Albert Einstein once quipped that he had no special talents-he was merely "passionately curious". Build on this idea.

Relax. You do not need to be the best at everything. But you should get up off that beach towel.

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Sunday, May 20, 2012
Looking to be an Admissions Stand-Out? Find a College Rep
In the strategy of college admissions, there are really only two things that matter. Being smarter and being different. Naturally, the reality isn't that simple. But much of the sweeping competition can be distilled down into these simple categories. Students must have the grades and scores to get them over the hurdle at their desired schools. They must also possess the elusive "it" factor.

There's lots of talk about colleges looking for a "diverse" student body, and students who are the "right fit" for the university. Ok, I get that. It's kind of like searching for the right relationship. Hard to put into words. So in the absence of knowing precisely what colleges are looking for, students really have to stage a performance where merit and uniqueness have starring roles.

There isn't much students can do to glam up grades and scores. The admissions essay is the primary getting-to-know-you vehicle, and even at that, the 500-word limit on most means pretty limited stage time.

Enter College Representatives. Virtually every university in the country has a representative assigned to every high school. Other reps simply hit the pavement every year meeting with students at different schools in order to share information (and market) their respective colleges. Students should not simply grab a brochure and move onto the next table. Instead, view any conversation with a college representative as an opportunity. In today's electronic media world, the value of a face-to-face meeting has never been greater. Take their business card, have a conversation. Then bookmark it. You just made an actual human contact at the school(s) of your choice.

Obviously, this isn't a ticket in, but it does help to personalize you. This college representative may even be involved in the review of your admissions application. Every little bit of familiarity helps.

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Sunday, May 13, 2012
Adding Value to your Admission Essay
Lots of fuss has been made, in this blog and elsewhere, about the high premium placed on third-level education in this country. The increasing competition at the top institutions has created a massive market for college admission prep, and a culture of anxiety surrounding the college admissions process. Most people view college admission as the ticket to success in life, but most young students don't fully appreciate its value.

Kicking in for tuition teaches young adults key life skills and makes them appreciate what they're getting for their money.

Let's take a look at this idea in the context of the admission essay. Most students look at the essay as an obstacle, rather than a ticket in. Like standardized testing and form applications, it is just another aggravating factor in the college admissions drudgery. But let's imagine for a minute that the student composing the essay knew that, wherever they got in, they'd be paying all or some of their tuition.

First of all, it might help take some of the sheen off of the elite institutions. Want to go to Yale? Got $40K for the first year? Secondly, it reminds students that attending college is as much of a privilege as getting in. The road doesn't stop at the admissions letter. Neither do life lessons of budgeting, time management, and following through on commitments end with college graduation.

So while college is a reward for a student's efforts, treating it as gift can undermine its real value. The admissions essay is just a tiny piece of a tiny era in a student's life. It is not a long-term responsibility.

Teaching young students how to apportion worth to every component of their college education is a vital lesson that will help them through the admissions process and well into their future.

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Sunday, May 6, 2012
Be Passionate, Not Just Busy
And the College Admissions Cycle Churns On.

Like any part of life, the college admissions cycle isn't a linear story. It may seem like it to every college hopeful--especially this time of year when students find out their fate. A decade of academic preparation all teetering on the weight and breadth of an envelope. And yet, by late spring, most of this year's college freshman have either happily plucked the first- choice bud from the bouquet of acceptance letters, or dusted the sting of rejection off their knees, and moved on. As they do, the cycle marches on.

A sift through the blogs shows that the focus has shifted from "how to deal with rejection", and moved on to the proverbial lists of how to get into "the right college for you".

Debunked myths are always helpful to anxious students new to navigating the tempestuous process of college admissions. I like this one. It's full of common sense, but common sense always sounds better coming from someone with apparent admissions credentials: Forbes

He remarks that, "Schools love passionate students, not just busy ones". Having read and edited thousands of essays myself, I would certainly second this. Honestly, long lists of accolades not only bore me but also convince me of a student's complete insincerity. Almost none of us has the time or capacity to be completely committed to and passionate about, well, everything. When someone tries to convince me otherwise, I just don't believe them. Why should admissions officers be any different?

This is another good time to remember the constant circulation of the college admissions cycle. For a student, it may come down to several profound months, but for the folks on the other side of the college application, this is just another year. So once, again, keep your heads down and your chins up, and try to keep it all in perspective.

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Sunday, April 29, 2012
University of California Circumvent Affirmative Action Ban
It has been over fifteen years since California passed the controversial Proposition 209, which placed a ban on the consideration of race in college admissions. Last month, the legislation was upheld once again after the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected another legal challenge to its validity.

In the year after the enactment of the ban, the number of Black, Latino and Native American students dropped by nearly half at the UC's two most prestigious campuses in Los Angeles and Berkeley. A recent Washington Post report notes that while more than half of the K-12 students in California are Latino, only 15% of the student body at Berkeley identifies as Latino. Ever since the ban-which still faces stark opposition, but led the way for similar bans on the use of race in college admissions in several other states-the University of California has tried to devise clever ways to add racial diversity to the student bodies.

The UC has increased outreach in underprivileged communities and attempted to take a more holistic look at college applications, but the highly competitive admissions standards make it all but impossible for all but the top tier students to gain admission. Since socioeconomics and race generally track so closely together, the spots go to the more academically polished students from affluent, white communities.

The Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley has recently instituted a new recruiting program that targets undergraduate freshman at historically black colleges. A small number of spots in a summer internship program are reserved for a specific swath of students, with the hope that Haas can increase the number of African-American students in its MBA program, without violating the affirmative action ban.

So far, the UC's attempts to circumvent the ban have not met with any formal opposition, though the equalization of diversity on school campuses still has a long way to go.

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Sunday, April 22, 2012
Too Dumb for Law School?
Here are just three of the internet headlines I stumbled upon this week: "Are Smartest People Avoiding Law School? Stats Show Bigger Drop in High LSAT Applicants" (ABA Journal), "Caliber of Law School Applicants Drops" (Miami Daily Business Journal) which is more scathing than its title may indicate, and the least diplomatic-"The Wrong People Have Stopped Applying to Law School" (The Atlantic). So how do these bloggers really feel?

Last month, the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC) released official numbers regarding the dramatic decline in applications to American Bar Association (ABA) accredited law schools in the U.S. in 2011. This week, the LSAC released more specific information regarding the demographics of the decline in applications.

It turns out that the largest drop in law school applicants has been amongst those with the highest LSAT scores. The obvious explanation, according to some bloggers? The smart people are no longer applying to law school.

In the real world, standardized test scores and paramount intellect aren't always wed, but in the arena of elite-law, LSATs are the defining characteristic. Super high LSATs are the entry ticket to the most elite schools, which are, in turn, the only stages from which top firms pluck their talent.

A few bloggers rationalize that the shift may be a good thing. Students with mid to low-level LSAT scores can only expect to emerge as mid to low-level legal practitioners, who clearly have lower career expectations, which will make them more than happy to practice in small towns or public sector jobs. (Someone's got to clean the toilets, right?)

The acidic response to these findings may just be white noise, but it is proof once again that when it comes to the law school bubble-burst, emotions continue to run high.

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Sunday, April 15, 2012
Prowling for the Right College
Want to know how to pick the college that's really best suited to your needs? Tired of relying on stacks of promotional materials and rankings lists to help you make that decision? Perhaps it's time to rely on the experts. Other students.

Most college bound students begin contemplating the decision of where to go sometime during their second or third year of high school. They may tour campuses, read brochures, listen to their parent's war stories. A select few may know what they want to major in, and why. Prospective student athletes may have a good sense of where they can hope to get some actual game time. But for most students, the reasons why they might choose one school over another are pretty tenuous. After all, what are teenagers really looking for in a college, and why? College Prowler is a site designed "By students. For students." It boasts data compiled from the input of over 200,000 actual college students. The site allows prospective students to compare colleges, search scholarships and read reviews about what campus life is really like. What's best is the criteria.

The site uses letter grades to rank almost every aspect of a university from "campus dining" to "nightlife" to "drug safety". Most important? The site catalogues one consideration that is on every student's mind but in none of the college brochures--the "quality" of the co-eds (including the guy to girl ratios).

The site editors do a sparkling job of filtering the student reviews, which range from critical to complimentary, but rarely veer into the arena of the bitter and (ultimately unhelpful) tirade.

Sound silly? Maybe. On the other hand, it may be one of the few guidance websites that is truly asking the right questions, and providing the pertinent answers.

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Sunday, April 8, 2012
How to Beat Falling College Admissions Numbers
Everyone loves a statistic. No matter how little bearing it has on reality. It is hard to get numbers out of our head-especially if we're already filled with anxiety on the topic. This year, some of the Ivies posted the lowest college admissions rates, ever. Harvard accepted fewer than 6% of its applicants; Yale, 6.8%. Who cares? Why is this important?

Probably because it is human nature to want things that are just out of our reach. Colleges-like any other marketing institution-know this. Never mind that the Common Application has increased the sheer volume of applications to all universities. If more people apply for the same number of spaces, admissions numbers (as a percentage) will be down. Never mind that there are nearly 4,000 colleges and universities in this country; the Ivies comprise a sum total of eight of those. Never mind that increasing competition from foreign students has changed the landscape of college admissions.

Spring is the time of year when high school seniors wrestle with rejection. Like any other Big Life Decision, college admission is an event that can help teach a student how to reevaluate want they want from their future. It is easy to get stuck on a single track ("I will die if I don't get into Georgetown"), and be stymied if that train doesn't leave the station.

Enter the growing market for Gap Year adventures. Let's face it, most high school seniors haven't had much of an opportunity for adventures. I have seen more than one student try to spin a two-week European holiday into an intense cross-cultural experience and it doesn't really work. But how about taking an entire year off to go live and experience something truly different?

For students at an impasse following college rejection, taking a year off may sound crazy, but why not? If admissions odds are down, it may just be time to change your game plan. Even preparing for something other than the fast track to college can help students place the race to college in better perspective.

After all, nothing in life can really be reduced to a statistic.

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