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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, December 24, 2012
Law Schools Approaching Fiscal Cliff?
While the U.S. Congress may still have a few days to settle some serious budgetary issues and avert the so-called fiscal cliff, it may be too late for U.S. law schools. It hasn't been a good few years for them.

For the 2013-2014 school year, the number of applicants to law schools has taken a free fall of around 22%. The number of applications has fallen by about 24%, meaning that fewer students are applying and they are applying to fewer schools.

There are caveats, of course. It is still early in the admissions cycle. The Law School Admission Council (LSAC), which tracks these kinds of stats, does it for American Bar Association accredited schools, meaning that non-accredited or state accredited schools aren't tabulated. The numbers, however, are symbolic. They are also deeply reflective of the blowback from a woeful job market for law school graduates.

Finally, it seems, word has gotten out that digging oneself into six-figure debt for a prestigious education does not always pay off.

Some argue that this reduction in volume of law school applicants could be a welcome change for an over-saturated profession. What remains to be seen is how law schools will adjust for the downturn; spreading their losses may cause law school to become an even more expensive endeavor. However, for those undeterred by all the negative publicity, now might be one of the best times to apply to law schools. Competition is down in both quantity and quality. The LSAC is also seeing a downturn in LSAT scores, with the largest drop-off in the upper tiers. That is, the number of people scoring in the highest range has dropped the most.

Small class sizes at the highest-ranked law schools mean that it's less likely the decline will be felt at those levels. If you never had a chance at getting into Yale law, you probably still don't. Yet the decrease in competition could open doors for many driven and optimistic candidates. And what profession doesn't need more of those?

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Monday, December 17, 2012
Say Goodbye to Standardized Testing?
Are you one of those people that cringes at the sight of a scantron sheet? Do you bristle at the mention of test prep workshops? Hate talk of percentiles? Then this may be welcome news to you.

An increasing number of universities across the country are dispensing with the requirement of the SAT and ACT. I'm not talking about most big-name schools or the Ivies. Most of the institutions with a test-optional admissions policy are small, private colleges. Many of them, however, are amongst the top schools in the country. Think Colby, Bryn Mawr, Bowdoin.

To be fair, these colleges generally have a few things in common. They have small student populations. Bryn Mawr has about 1,700 students-including grad students. By comparison, UCLA has a student population of around 40,000. Smaller colleges have fewer applicants. Many have programs designed around smaller student bodies, with a greater expectation of personal attention and campus community.

Standardized tests certainly weed out the most and least gifted test takers, but fail to highlight the nuanced contours of most students in the middle. Standardized tests have been criticized for undervaluing right-brain strength. Results are often skewed along cultural, racial and gender lines in ways that belie their supposed strength as objective markers of intelligence.

College admissions isn't becoming any less competitive. We are unlikely to see standardized testing disappear any time soon. However, with the list of test-optional schools including more than 850 colleges, the trend can't be ignored. Some are prestigious, some aren't known for rigorous academics. Some offer general liberal arts curricula while others are arts or theater schools. Still, the list serves as a reminder that there is no one-size-fits all solution for every student.

The policy changes are proof that educational standards are fluid. It may be a welcome turn of the tide for many college hopefuls.

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Sunday, December 9, 2012
How Devoted Are You to Your College of Choice?
Apparently, knowing where you want to go to college and why, is pretty important. This is often a standard question on applications, and the one that most often causes students to crash and burn. The university doesn't want you to regurgitate their glossy catalogues. They know you want in, and probably have a general idea of the why. Which is why it's pretty crucial to clue them in on the nuances behind your decision.

I've written in the past about why I chose my undergraduate university. I wanted three things: 1) name recognition, 2) big university atmosphere, and 3) a decent education. Not necessarily in that order. I was going for the right "feel". I saw college as a transformative life experience. I wasn't necessarily concerned with the nuts and bolts of why my desired school was the right fit for me.

In this year's State of College Admission Report by the National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC), the colleges surveyed cite the following five factors as the most crucial in making acceptance determinations: 1) grades in college prep courses, 2) strength of curriculum, 3) SAT/ACT test scores, 4) GPA and 5) demonstrated interest in attending a college. It's the fifth one that's rather eye-catching.

This means that not only are colleges interested in knowing why you're attracted to them-they give that attraction a lot of weight. So you'd better have a good answer. More than that, you'd better be able to demonstrate it.

How?

Interfacing with admissions officers or other school organizations through social media. Visits to campuses. Personal contacts with counselors, current students and alumni. Go to a football game. Better yet, sit in on a class or two. Be creative. Also be ready to articulate the particular allure of the school to you.

It may not be enough anymore to have a reach school or a fall-back choice. So be careful. Colleges have feelings too, you know.

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Sunday, December 2, 2012
Farewell to the Essay Tweet
It's been just a few admissions cycles since the University of Iowa's Tippie School of Management first introduced the option of tweeting an admission essay, but already, the tweet is being laid to rest.

To be fair, business school candidates were always required to submit a bona fide statement of purpose for admission. It's just that, as an alternative to a supplemental essay, students were invited to craft a 140-character-tweet, based on the parameters that limit postings on the popular social media site, Twitter. Tippie was so confident about the success of this idea that they offered full tuition to the top entry each year.

Since its inception, three students have won the prize. They have something in common. At least two of them linked the tweet to external videos and websites offering further insight to the candidate's accomplishments. Apparently, this was the idea. It was never the intention of the admissions committee to simply reduce word-count limits in an effort to make the process easier for incoming students.

The tweet was meant to be a launching pad. It was meant to spark some creativity, giving students an opportunity to sell themselves in a unique way. Create a power point presentation. Post a YouTube video. Link to your website. The invitation didn't work.

What does this mean for future admissions pilot projects? Students are seemingly well-versed in social media, but not totally comfortable using technology. After all, there's certainly a skill-gap between posting a tweet and building a website.

Still, as competition for MBA programs continues to escalate, admissions offices will need to come up with creative ways to unearth talent from their applicant pool. Students would do well to keep pace with the times.

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Sunday, November 25, 2012
The Most Unnecessary Essay Mistake of All
For every article out promising the top ten most helpful essay tips, there is another one warning students about the most obvious pitfalls. Some-but far from all-include what I think is the most obvious: pay attention to the essay prompt.

Many students approach the essay with preconceived notions of what they plan to say. How playing piano taught me about life. How traveling to an impoverished country taught me about compassion. More often, they aren't too sure, so they throw in the whole kitchen sink-from the 6th grade soccer championship to their job as a camp counselor. All of this is fine, so long as your mini-biography is answering the question posed.

Don't make obvious mistakes. A 1000 word essay is not the same as a 1000 character essay. The University of California often confuses students with their two essay prompts, which are limited to 1000 words total. Students are allowed to portion out the essays however they want (750/250, 500/500), but even this simple math can get overlooked during the stress of the application process.

Part of the problem for some undergraduates is the sheer volume of applications. You may not be able to get away with drafting a single all-purpose essay. So make sure you don't send an essay designated for University X to University Y. Oops.

If the essay has a very specific prompt, don't write your life story. Don't miss the prompt by writing what you think the admissions officer wants to hear. When the University of Chicago asks you "What does Play-Doh have to do with Plato?", that's the prompt you're stuck with. Sixth grade soccer championship may not have a place here, unless you've gotten real creative. Failing to answer the prompt suggests two things about you: 1) you don't follow direction well and 2) you don't pay attention when it counts.

Read the question. Then read it again. Make sure your proofreader reads the question, so they can tell you whether or not you've answered it. Your first test in the application is your ability to follow directions. That should be an easy "A".

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Saturday, November 17, 2012
Social Media Becoming More Damaging for College Students
Back in September, I wrote about the astounding percentages of college admissions officers that use Facebook, Twitter and the like as recruitment tools. Last year, I blogged about the importance of keeping your online profile clean. Apparently, this is now more important than ever before.

The results of a study conducted by Kaplan (the test prep behemoth) were released in October of this year. The general trend? Schools are relying more and more on social media as a method of evaluating students. Around 26% of admissions officers surveyed said they use Facebook and Google in order to check students out.

The big change from last year was the way in which online impropriety can negatively impact a student's chance of admission. Back in 2011, 12% of the admissions officers said it mattered-this year that number tripled. That picture of you doing a keg stand? It's really got to go.

It makes sense. You're an admission officer. You've got a pile of essays, letters of recommendation, and applications to sift through. Bo-ring. How is it possible for one not to simply start running into the next? Why wouldn't you flip open the lap top, see what that soccer player from Scranton has up on her Facebook page. Witty links? Photos of her parents? Oh-so that's what she looks like.

Social media has turned us into voyeurs. We have become adept at communicating from behind a screen. We use the internet to create collages of ideological and literal images of ourselves. Many young students have already spent years building up their catalogues. Why wouldn't an admission officer want to look?

So I'll say it again. Make sure the cyberspace portfolio you've created for yourself is one you'd be willing to share with your grandparents. That's a safe place to start. For Kaplan's Press Release: Kaplan

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Sunday, November 11, 2012
Hurricane Sandy Affects College Admissions Deadlines
As portions of the Northeast continue to wade through the treacherous wake left by Hurricane Sandy, it's easy for the rest of the country to forget. After the worst ravages of the storm had subsided, major news outlets seemed to forget about it. Whatever coverage was left was usurped by Election Day. And while thousands of people are left homeless, and others fight for rationed gasoline and electricity, some of the storm's after effects are more subtle. Put into perspective, college applications may seem largely irrelevant to students in the storm's path. However, for students who've been working towards a November 1st deadline for the past four years, life does go on, and college still awaits. Literally.

The National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC) has offered an updated list of more than 200 universities and colleges that have extended their early admissions deadlines in order to accommodate students affected by the storm. From a compassionate standpoint, this may seem like a no-brainer. But college admissions is tied tightly to a system of strict deadlines leaving very little room for movement.

The various forms of early admission application (early decision, early action, etc...) necessarily require an earlier application deadline. Generally speaking, acceptance rates are higher for early admissions applications, but there are drawbacks. Some decisions are binding-in other words, if a student gets accepted there, they commit to attending. Early decision means that students don't get an opportunity to compare financial aid packages from other universities, which can be a deal breaker for students without the means to fund their education.

Fortunately, universities across the country are doing the right thing, and loosening the reins on students in the affected areas of the Northeast. All people are feeling different effects from the storm, but for any anxious high school students in Sandy's path, this should come as some small relief.

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Wednesday, November 7, 2012
Election Day and College Admissions
To be fair, this blog is about college and graduate school admission. I always aim to be non-partisan and try to keep politics out of my observations. However, it is Election Day, so I thought I'd comment briefly on a few hot button issues impacting students. Each of the presidential candidates necessarily has different views on economic policy, which will trickle down to students in different ways.

Since I'm no political expert, I'm borrowing from this bullet list at College Bound and I'll let them explain the "gainful employment rule".

I write a lot about the factors which shape student's college choices-test scores, GPAs, personal statements, letters of recommendation. However, the reality for many students is that their ultimate choice will depend mostly on their ability to afford it. This is where students would be wise to look at the presidential candidates varying approaches to financial aid policies-including both loans and grants.

Affirmative action is always a hot-button issue, and the presidential candidates also differ here. However, given the power of states to regulate affirmative action in their own universities, the candidates may not have much direct or immediate influence. As I've written in previous blogs, the case of Fisher v. University of Texas, which is currently under review by the U.S. Supreme Court, may have a more sweeping effect on ongoing affirmative action policies.

Finally, the presidential candidates differ on their approach to education for illegal immigrants. President Obama has publicly supported policies that would offer "a pathway to citizenship" to young foreign nationals who were brought to the U.S. as children. Governor Romney opposes such policies, arguing that amnesty serves as a validation for illegal activity. Financial aid can be a hurdle for non-citizen students.

Whatever your personal politics as a student, it is always a good idea to stay informed. Your future may depend upon it!

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Monday, November 5, 2012
Things NOT to Put Into Your Admission Essay, Part Two
Back in July of this year, I shared another "Not-To-Do" list of things you probably shouldn't say in your college admissions essay. Since so much essay writing advice consists of generalizations, I love it when I find articles that get specific about things you should avoid. November is essay-writing season for college applicants. In celebration, I offer some more admonitions about essay-writing.

To be fair, I've found another list, but wanted to expand on some of their recommendations. CBS News

I'm a big supporter of eliminating platitudes (#9), like "I want to make the world a better place". I'm pretty sure many admissions officers would share my distaste for sentimentality (#4). I'm always impressed when students tackle personal pain in their writing (death, substance abuse, disabilities), but never impressed when it seems like they're using obstacles as a proverbial violin.

When I'm editing, the first place I start word-hacking is the opening sentence (see #1). The short word-limits on most admissions essays mean that you don't have time to meander towards your point. Think of your reader as impatient.

Finally-and this applies disproportionately to high school students-you really shouldn't use long words when simple ones will do the trick (#7). Anyone can log into a thesaurus. Remember, your reader is looking at her watch. She does not remember reading Gulliver's Travels in high school, so don't say "Brobdingnagian" instead of "big" to be cute. Sound harsh? Better you hear it from me than your college of choice.

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Sunday, October 28, 2012
Never Underestimate the Letter of Recommendation
In a recent interview with four business school admissions "experts", the Wall Street Journal asked whether applicants were spending (or wasting) too much time focusing on a single aspect of their applications. The answers went down an unexpected path towards a discussion of letters of recommendation.

The overall consensus on such letters? Students aren't always picking the right recommenders. When they do, they aren't spending enough time with them. At least two on the interview panel suggested taking the recommender out to lunch. Some of the suggestions were even more obvious. Make sure your recommender knows why you want to go to business school.

While the recommendation letter isn't the deciding factor in admissions decisions, it does offer a unique perspective. Grades and test scores are generally objective markers of success. The application essay offers window into the applicant's character, but it is necessarily colored by the student's own spin. Everyone wants to use the essay to make themselves sound more appealing.

A letter of recommendation is thus the only component of the application that allows the subjective views of a third party to influence the admissions decision. However, students should take care to invest some time in their recommenders. They shouldn't assume that the highest-profile recommender will necessarily offer the best recommendation.

These experts want to hear from someone who really knows the candidate, and understands their strengths and weaknesses. An endorsement from a virtual stranger may come across as detached and unhelpful. A certain level of familiarity is essential if any letter is going to truly have impact. And how hard could it be to take someone to lunch?

For the full interview, click here: Wall Street Journal

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Monday, October 22, 2012
Harvard Law School to Conduct Video-Conferencing Interviews
Up until a few years ago, the idea of talking to someone live through a video-feed on a computer seemed positively futuristic. Then, along came Skype and suddenly the world seemed smaller. There is something more tangible and personal about seeing a person's face while you're talking to them.

It isn't a perfect medium just yet-patchy internet connections and geographical distance can cause video transmissions to be inconsistent. But even the echo and occasional frozen screen of a video call doesn't take away from its value as a communication tool.

Apparently, Harvard shares this view. Like many law schools, Harvard uses the personal interview as a tool in its admissions application process. Unfortunately, for students living far away, the interview poses some logistical issues. With the hopes of expanding the interview option to more students, Harvard Law is shifting to video-conferencing.

Telephone interviews will become a thing of the past for the university, something that should come as welcome news to students who would not otherwise be able to make it to an in-person interview.

Harvard taps the shift as another move towards its goal of offering a more "practical-based" law school education. Already, the university has made reforms to its curriculum, including the addition of clinical courses, in order to encourage better practical training for its law students. Law school education is notoriously theoretical; some critiques charge that newly minted law students know the law well, but know little about its real-world application.

The video-conference makes sense. It challenges students' technological savvy, their ability to perform under pressure, and their oral skills of persuasion. A good move in the right direction.

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Monday, October 15, 2012
Bringing the Admissions Decision Closer to Home
Applying to college is a process rife with unknowns. You don't really know much about your competition. You don't know who will be reviewing your application. You don't know what they'll be like. And while you may know generally what colleges are looking for in an ideal candidate, you're not really sure what it will be that will set you apart.

Wouldn't it be great to know the person deciding your fate?

A small, liberal arts college in New England is trying that idea on for size. At Southern Vermont College (SVC), a 550-student institution with a commitment to helping "at-risk" students, admissions officers are enlisting high school counselors to help them make admissions decisions. The hope is that the counselors--who are closer and more invested in the students-- are better situated to recognize talented students whose admissions metrics don't immediately jump off the page.

The college application is an instrument designed to introduce a student to a stranger. An admissions officer is required to make an objective decision based what is often highly subjective information. The transaction is stripped of the personal contact that informs and enriches most of our social relationships.

SVC recognizes that high school guidance counselors are often in a unique position to evaluate and recommend students. Exceptional candidates might rank highly in other aspects visible only to someone who has had the opportunity to really observe or interact with them.

Even at SVC, the final decision rests with their admissions officers. Arguably, the project would be unwieldy at a large university in a bustling metropolis. The idea, however, is novel and thought-provoking. What if, just what if, a person involved in one of your greatest life decisions actually knew a little bit about you?

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Sunday, October 7, 2012
Why Business School? Why Now?
This may be my favorite quote of the week (courtesy, MBA Admissions Expert, Stacy Blackman): "When it comes to your essays, I can't tell you how many first drafts I've read that cite the 'unmatched student body, world-class faculty, and committed alumni network' as the reasons the applicant has chosen a certain MBA program. This person has said nothing".

For college admissions counselors who edit admissions essays for their client, there is a great need for balancing diplomacy and constructive criticism. Often times, when reviewing an essay, I find myself at a loss for both. A student may write a perfectly well-structured, acceptable essay. The problem? It says nothing. It's worse than boring. It's just pointless.

For undergrads, platitudes and regurgitations of university mission statements become crutches, of sorts. The well of life experience is rather unfilled for teenage students. At this point, you're going to college because a) you don't know what else to do at this juncture or b) you know you need that B.A./B.S. even if you don't yet know why. For business students, the expectation is higher.

By the time you're applying to B-School, you've finished college. You may have worked for a few years. You're going to business school for a reason. It's probably pretty specific. If so, your essay should write itself.

Maybe you see an MBA as a tool for increasing your professional worth. If that's the case, be prepared to talk about the "how" and the "why".

Just remember, business schools don't need you to rewrite their brochure or loot it for inspiration. If the school asks you to get specific, then by all means, do.

For Blackman's full article: US News

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Sunday, September 30, 2012
Essay Food for Thought
If there are a million different ways to write an admission essay, there must be at least as many ways to give advice about how to write one. This time of year, counselors, blogs, websites and college fairs are ripe with ideas.

As a writer, I often find that relentless focus is often anathema to the creative writing process. Everyone's heard of writer's block. I'm convinced it gets worse, the harder we try to, well, write. It is usually the simplest thing that triggers an idea. Something I saw on tv. Something someone posted on Facebook. Something totally unrelated to the thing I was trying to write about in the first place.

Almost any student sitting down in front of a blank screen knows what it feels like to be totally stumped. Especially when writing an admissions essay.

This is why I really appreciate the universities that come up with whacky essay prompts. The University of Pennsylvania, authors of the tantalizing "write page 217 of your 300-page autobiography" essay prompt, are introducing a new one this year. Based on a quote from Benjamin Franklin, the admissions committee asks the following:

"All mankind is divided into three classes: those that are immovable, those that are movable, and those that move. Which are you?"

Hmm. Even if it makes you scratch your head, it isn't a conversation-stopper. Consider this, from the Common Application:

"Evaluate a significant experience, achievement, risk you have taken, or ethical dilemma you have faced and its impact on you".

Every time I see a creative prompt like Penn's, I see an opportunity for students to move outside the standard essay fair. If nothing else, sharing these prompts is a good way to provoke discussion. And like I said, the strangest flecks of inspiration can be found in even the most mundane of conversations.

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Monday, September 24, 2012
Social Media and College Admissions
It's that time of year again. Application season is gearing up, and the hand-wringing has begun for high school juniors and seniors all over the country. What better time to check in on the general state of affairs in social media?

As Facebook and Twitter's influence on the social landscape begins to take deeper root, the college admissions machine continues to take note. After all, the client base in higher education is youth. Young people are comfortable with technology. It isn't simply about knowing how to re-boot and text-it's about relying on technology as a new medium of communication. The flip-phone has already gone the way of the rotary phone and made way for the smart phone--a computer that keeps us a flick-of-a-switch away from just about everyone and everything we know. For colleges and potential students alike, reaching out through the World Wide Web is no longer cutting edge. It's just the way it is. In 2010, 80% of college admissions received Facebook friend requests from potential students. Recent surveys indicate that 85% of colleges use Facebook as a recruitment tool; a full 66% use Youtube.

Whether or not social media has adept match-making skills for students and colleges, it is clearly a communication channel that cannot be ignored. So the usual admonitions apply. If you've got a dream school in mind, take down the drunken pictures, and maybe the radical political posts. Utilize the discussion forums on colleges Facebook and Twitter pages. Get your name out there; make your own "page" appealing. Check out your competition.

While you're at it, check out the latest stat-graphics on the subject. Youtube is clearly no longer just a safe space for Jackass wannabes and giggling babies.

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Sunday, September 16, 2012
The Psychology of Writing the Admission Essay
In a recent New York times blog, the Dean of Admissions at a small, liberal arts college in California declared that the admission essay is "the one component of your application where you have full control over the outcome". Hmm. Seems to me that really, intelligence and hard work can also earn us a perfect SAT score or at least a 4.0 GPA, but his point is well taken. By the time you've reached the admission essay portion of the application process, it is too late to change your grades and scores. Whatever leverage you have left lies with the admission essay. For most students, that prospect is overwhelming. From this Dean's perspective, however, the admission essay is a student's most powerful ammunition.

Electing to look at the admission essay as an effective tool rather than a crushing burden may not be easy, but could be a highly effective psychological shift. As a general rule, stress is caused by our very human fear of losing control over life situations. Inherent in the college admissions process is an almost total lack of control (and a lot of waiting). We can prepare for years, but for most of us, there is always that one failing grade-- that one botched test-- that we cannot erase from our record. We thus arrive at the door of university admission forced to hand over a slightly less perfect version of ourselves than we'd hoped.

And then there's this shot at an admission essay. Here we are, in the eleventh hour, offered a small but potent little chance to realign our fates. Maybe. Why not take control here? We cannot guarantee that our reader will love what we write about, love what we do, or care about our passions. What we can do is write something memorable, and do it well. I think this is true whether the author is 17 or 34. It isn't about having scaled Mount Everest, it's about exploring the way we feel about something-anything. And if we approach it feeling like we have control over its outcome, we might have just that.

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Monday, September 10, 2012
Technology and the College Application
I'll admit, it's been a long time since I applied to college. Back in those days, we still did everything on paper. We even wrote things by hand. I had to send a check in with each application in order to cover the required fee. The biggest panic-besides the deadline-was making sure the inkjet printer didn't need a new cartridge. I did type my admission essay.

Today, technology and the Common Application have completely transformed the college application process. Students can apply to a greater number of colleges with considerable ease. The Common Application has even dispensed with the old-fashioned idea of tailoring essays and applications to each individual college. The one-size-fits-all approach means that students are improving their odds by casting a wider net.

Like any progress, this comes with obvious pitfalls. Just like the olden days, it is the simplest foreseeable mistakes that usually catch us in their webs. (For example, the printer running out of ink in the hour before the application was due in the mailbox). Computers can be finicky, and so can on-line applications. If your computer is on the blink, make sure there is a back-up machine where you can save your work. Oh, and save your work. You don't have to fill out the application all at once, but you also don't want to have to start from scratch when you go back to it. Expect the worst and hope for the best. Don't rule out power outages, internet problems or wireless failures.

When it comes to college applications, the march of time doesn't change the rule of thumb: don't leave everything until the last minute. Technology is faster until it isn't. Stay one step ahead of it.

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Monday, September 3, 2012
The Art of Bragging
If you're a student currently embroiled in the admission-essay writing process, then you'll appreciate this missive from Paula Marantz Cohen-an English professor at Drexel University: "Why I Hate the College Application Essay: Should Bragging be a Prerequisite for College?". Students feeling disgruntled will find some vindication in her theory that the college admission essay is a complete waste of time.

And yet--for college hopefuls-avoiding the admission essay or protesting is not an option. Yes, like filing income taxes and waiting in line at the DMV, students must roll up their sleeves and attack the essay like the chore it is.

Cohen is right on about the tediousness of the standard essay. When colleges ask students to describe themselves, they can hardly expect a writer to lay bare their fallibilities. Honesty may be what colleges are asking for, but it isn't what they are going to get. Who's ever fully sincere at a job interview?

Most seventeen-year-olds haven't experienced much. It's just the nature of life. So they are forced to exaggerate mundane experiences or milk the life out of unfortunate ones. Every editor has read an essay that is either too arrogant or too maudlin. At seventeen, these things are hard to calibrate. But what do the admissions committees expect? As a general rule, most middle class American kids don't have a lot of compelling stories. So the two-week volunteer post in Nicaragua is central to their college resume.

Colleges could turn the tide in one sweeping gesture by changing the question. The more bizarre the better (If you could be any kind of tree, what kind would you be and why?). Force students to circumvent what has become an incredibly formulaic genre. Avoid making self-puffery an art form and allow them, as Cohen suggests, to evaluate the world around them.

After all, it is when we look outside of ourselves that we gain real perspective on the world. This is precisely what colleges are truly looking for.

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Monday, August 27, 2012
The Real Effects of Diversity
How do we measure the benefits of diversity in the classroom? Affirmative action in higher education is a hot-button political topic. From a philosophical standpoint, each side has valid arguments. But what about the real effects of affirmative action policies? How do we evaluate them?

Generally, the abolition of affirmative action policies at the university level is followed by a quantifiable drop in student admission among certain racial groups, most notably African-American and Latino students. The reasons behind the declining numbers are always up for divisive political discussion, but the statistics themselves are clear.

For proponents of affirmative action, trends such as these are cause for concern. What are the unintended downsides to a lack of racial diversity in the educational environment? Do all non-white students need to be evaluated according to their race, as well as their scholastic aptitude? Why are students of color disproportionately affected by the absence of affirmative action policies?

If these statistics are food for thought, they certainly only paint half the picture. Sure, affirmative action appears to give a leg up to many non-white students. But how does the prohibition of affirmative negatively impact all students. A recent study may shed some light.

Over the past decade, several university professors have been collecting empirical data from over 6,500 students at 50 different law schools. The survey attacks two primary questions: 1) do students differ by race upon entering law school and 2) do any differences "contribute educational benefits to students, institutions, or society?" The answer, according to this study, is a resounding "yes".

The surveyed students reported that diversity in the classroom contributed to an overall broader world-view. The presence of students from a wide spectrum of social and cultural experiences forced all students to better evaluate people, situations and problems from different perspectives.

Even empirical studies are subject to criticism, but evaluations such as these may prove critical in enhancing a very divisive discussion on race and higher education. For an abbreviated article in the National Law Journal and link to the original study, click here: The National Law Journal .

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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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