|Admissions Essays Blog|
|Through our very own editors and guest writers, this blog will discuss the INSIDE scoop on the admissions process of various schools and programs. If you wish to ask a specific question, please write to us, and we will make every attempt to address your questions in our future blog discussions.|
Sunday, April 1, 2012
Outlook Getting Bleaker for Law Students
More specifically, the outlook is bleaker for law school graduates. The first of a series of class-action suits filed by law school graduates against their former alma maters was dismissed this week by the New York State Supreme Court. While the justice authoring the opinion was not unsympathetic to the plight of law school graduates in a bleak job market, he concluded that law students should be smart enough to know better. Even if schools misrepresented their post-graduate employment data, the average law student should have both the initiative and the intellect to understand that no degree can promise employment.
Lawsuits such as these are drawing attention to a dismal job market for lawyers. The economic downturn has taken a toll on almost everyone, but law students faced with six-figure student loan debt are positively panicked. While prospects for law school graduates may not yet be improving, word of the troubled market has certainly leaked.
This week, the Law School Admission Council reported that the number of LSAT takers has decreased by 25% over the past two years, and by 16% for the 2011-2012 year alone. It appears that hopeful law school students are finally recognizing that a law degree no longer carries the value and prestige of years gone past.
For the eternal optimists out there, this downturn in law school applications could mean one thing for those still choosing to apply to law school. Better odds of admission. Unlike the world of undergraduate admissions, where each year the applicant pools increase by tens of thousands, this decrease in competition could work well for some.
Perhaps the face of the legal profession is experiencing permanent changes. Perhaps hopeful law students simply need to wait awhile for the recession to recede. Whatever the future holds, these are changes of which all law student hopefuls should take heed.
Sunday, March 25, 2012
Law School Rankings 2013
This week, US News & World Report released its 2012 Law School Rankings and the fanfare is rather ambivalent. The top five schools jockeyed for new positions (Stanford scooped up Harvard's #2 spot), but very little changed. Perhaps the most notable slip came for the University of Illinois (down 12 spots from last year's position to #35). This ignominious drop came upon the heels of the revelation that U of I falsified admissions data in an (ultimately ironic) effort to improve its rankings.
While few would argue that U of I's data-tampering is acceptable, its dramatic fall represents one of the biggest quandaries of the entire law school ranking system. Schools are ranked, in part, based upon the quality of their candidates. Candidates, in turn, chose schools based on the quality of their ranking.
Every year, US News & World Report releases information on their rankings methodology, some of which is highly subjective. For example, the report surveys law school faculty, admissions deans, judges and attorneys about the quality of the various campuses. It's hard to believe that even the most qualified respondent would have enough knowledge of the more than 195 schools to give reliable feedback. Peer review is always valuable, but rarely impartial.
Rankings are also based upon more objective data, such as LSATs and GPA, post-graduate hiring statistics, bar passage rates and faculty resources.
However, with tuition price tags starting at $40,000 annually, rankings are arguably as important to the law schools as they are to the students. And while this year's list may be no more than an ego bruise for Harvard, U of I's great topple should be a warning sign to all about the dubious power of rankings.
Labels: Law School Rankings 2013
Sunday, March 11, 2012
Deconstructing the Business School Admission Essay
About a month ago, I wrote about the recipe for the perfect business school essay. Of course, there is no such thing, but there does appear to be an emerging and recognizable desire from business schools for the candidate who can offer "confidence with humility". Many of the top schools around are rummaging for this ideal, which, at the very least, gives business school candidates some parameters as they sit down and being their narrative for the personal statement.
The ideal MBA candidate, it would seem, is one lathered with skills who doesn't like to gloat about them. Arguably, this is a struggle for business school candidates. What entrepreneur ever made it big without a little arrogance? Playing the financial markets?-not for the faint of heart. Yet business schools don't want to hear about what you can or might do, but simply, what you have done. With some modesty, please.
A recent interview with the managing director of admissions at Harvard Business School is illuminating in this regard. She notes that the admission essay isn't as important as business candidates might think, but in the same breath, remarks that the admission essay is, in fact, "very, very helpful for the candidate". How can students make the admission essay count? She uses the phrase "dejargonize", and encourages "verbs" (ie...show, don't tell). Candidates with business backgrounds often find it tough to strip their stories of titles and jargon ("analytic metrics", "data-driven", "pricing management and revenue director"); be careful or you might unwittingly lull your reader's mind into thoughts far away from the task at hand. And then there's the bragging.
I suppose the idea is that, if you are fantastic, that fact will be obvious to your reader from your scores and work experience. So while that admission essay is a great branding opportunity, be sure to self-market delicately.
Sunday, March 4, 2012
A Personal Statement from your Biggest Fan
Perhaps the greatest balancing act inherent in the college admissions game is that of weighing objective criteria (ie...grades), against subjective (ie...the personal statement). It's hard to put a spin on a low test score, but easier to sell a winning personality with the written word.
What so many students struggle with most is the process of finding their voice in a personal statement, and writing with genuine insight. This is often the point at which they enlist the adults in their lives-from family to admissions coaches-to help place themselves in an appropriate context. But what if those adults could play an even larger role?
For more than 20 years, Smith College, a small, women's college in Massachusetts, has invited parents of applicants to submit supplementary essays in support of their children's bids for a spot at the university. Smith counselors note that no one knows a child better than their parents, and that input from them helps to "provide texture" to a student's application.
Smith is a small school that has the resources to sift through these additional missives. Some might argue that having parents this involved in the application process is too far-reaching. But the premise is unique, and even provocative.
So for those of you applying to places that don't ask for letters of recommendations from mom and dad, consider this: how about trying to write your personal statement from their perspective? Arguably, no one knows you better. No one is better equipped to evaluate your strengths and weaknesses. No one else, perhaps, knows how badly you want in to the school of your dreams. A long shot? Maybe. But what part of this whole process isn't?
Sunday, February 26, 2012
Think You Can't Qualify for a Scholarship? Think Again.
As if getting into the college of your choice wasn't hard enough, the process of applying seems to get more complicated at every turn. For high school juniors, just juggling the demands of standardized testing with regular homework can seem difficult enough. And while the majority of college students apply for and receive financial aid in the form of grants and loans, many still shy away from scholarships. Why?
Scholarships are surrounded by myths. Many students (and I was one of these) are certain they can't "qualify". While many of the highly coveted scholarships are reserved for the academic elite, others are not. If you've heard of some ridiculous scholarship categories bandied about, you probably heard right. Among the many ridiculous ones, there is a $5,000 prize for designing a prom dress constructed solely with duct tape.
Other students-perhaps the majority-just don't have the time or the inclination to research all that's out there. Most scholarships require a letter of intent or personal statement in order to apply-a real deterrent for students whose time is largely consumed by the personal statements already required by the ordinary college application process.
The thing is, there are tons of scholarships out there that don't require students to be shorter than 4'10" or Rhodes' Scholarship material. The personal statements don't need to be terribly different from the admissions essays submitted in the college application process. The scholarship awarding bodies want to know many of the same things as the colleges to which you are applying-who are you, what do you have to offer, and what do you hope to gain? Scholarship applications really offer all of the reward without any of the risk. If you don't try, you'll never know.
Sunday, February 19, 2012
Cracks in the College Ratings System
The last year has witnessed a massive shake-down in the law school ranking system, with allegations that some schools falsified post-graduate job prospects and test scores. At the University of Illinois, the law admissions dean falsified grade and test score data in an effort to bolster the school's appearance in the U.S News & World Report rankings, which rank schools, in part, based on median LSAT scores. Last month, a similar scandal emerged at the prestigious Claremont McKenna College, where a prominent official was proven to have falsified SAT scores since 2005.
The uncovering of such unabashed fraud at well-known institutions begs the question of whether or not we are merely scratching the surface of systemic dishonesty. At the heart of the problem seems to be a single issue-the purportedly objective rankings system.
The fabled U.S. News & World Report, which ranks institutions' prestige based on test scores, GPA, and admissions percentage is generally the standard-setter. The gist of the rankings formula is somewhat narrowly formulated around the idea that the most coveted universities are the best. (Harvard accepts just 7% of its undergraduate applications, and is currently ranked #1). The ranking system isn't totally flawed, but may serve a limited function for the other 93% of students trying to make the right decision. Moreover, it is a powerful machine that is driving some admissions deans into deeply unethical waters.
Education reformers have long been proponents of encouraging students to find the right fit with a given college, rather than universally aspiring to the unattainable. Adjusting our perspective about what makes a quality school may just be the first step in recognizing that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to making the important decision of where to go and why.
Sunday, February 12, 2012
Advice for Foreign Students Tackling the Admission Essay
In this blog and elsewhere on the internet, candid informational tips about essay writing are ubiquitous. Keep it simple. Grab your reader in the opening paragraph. Organize, structure, proofread. Even with this guidance at their fingertips, the admission essay is a monumental challenge for students who are native speakers. What then, must it be like for the mushrooming group of international students who are tackling the same challenge without the advantage of fluency in English?
It's safe to say that if an international student is even entertaining the idea of applying to a U.S. college, they must have a decent command of the English language. But even for foreign students who may have years of academic English to their credit, formal writing is still a struggle. This means that for the international students who are still really grappling with English, the essay may be less of an obstacle and more of a complete roadblock. Plagiarism detection websites, and recent media coverage of alleged widespread cheating amongst the growing numbers of Chinese applicants at U.S. schools threatens to make admissions officers even more vigilant.
The solution for students struggling with English? Know your limits. There is a high concentration of international students in fields like engineering and science, so it may not be essential to have flawless prose in your admission essay. It is, however, important to make sure that your finished product reads like something you could actually write. Certain colloquialisms and tone are distinctive to native speakers, so be careful that your editor's voice doesn't sound stronger than your own.
You should be writing something engaging, but understand that the essay is only one component of your total application. Electing to study outside of one's native country takes courage and ambition. Your reader will know this and appreciate the simplicity of an imperfect essay that sounds sincere. After all, whatever your native language, this is what the personal statement aims to uncover.
Sunday, February 5, 2012
When Saving the World Is Not Enough
In piecing together all aspects of the college admissions portfolio, the job of every student is to buff it to its glossiest sheen. Some sections are hard to polish. Test scores and grades don't lend themselves well to refurbishing, though the personal statement may be the only place to explain away foibles and fallibilities. The essay is also a self-marketing tool and one of the greatest challenges for students is selling themselves with sincerity. The Achilles heel for many students-community service.
Perhaps no aspect of the essay can be more transparently hollow than a loosely cobbled together string of volunteer accomplishments. Community service is important to colleges. Want to help eradicate poverty? Go green? Save the animals? There are many sites that tell you where to go. But they also offer this advice: it isn't hard for colleges to sense it when students are padding a resume.
A recent poll conducted reveals that seventy percent of admissions officers prefer to see students involved consistently in a single issue, rather than a large variety of different causes. A whopping 95.8% of admissions officers placed a high value on students who used a gap year to engage in a service project.
Experiences, insights, hardships, aspirations and community service all have a home in the admission essay. The art of drafting a good one depends on a student's ability to thread these concepts together in a sincere, meaningful way. Just remember, if your public services are just another series of bullet points on your resume, your reader will probably know.
Sunday, January 29, 2012
We Are the 6% - Elitism and College Admissions
As January slowly fades into February, the pulses of high school juniors all over the country begin to quicken. This is it. The year that really matters. Many students will have already taken the PSAT. Maybe more than once. The SAT, ACT and maybe some AP tests loom, and all of this falls on top of regular homework and basketball practice and worrying about that great albatross-the college admission essay. Then, of course, there is the anxiety about whether any of this will actually be enough to get into the college of your dreams.
The elite colleges are never helpful in fostering confidence amongst prospective undergrads. Last year UPenn admitted 12% of its applicants, Stanford 7%, Columbia 6.9%, and Harvard just 6%--prompting a student group to start peddling t-shirts boasting "We Are the 6%". To be sure, the students comprising that tiny syndicate of academic elitism should be congratulated. The other 90-95%, however, should not feel as though their futures are swirling down the drain. In fact, many of these same top colleges have posted downturns in the number of overall applicants over the past few years. Perhaps students are taking more conservative assessments of their odds, but if they're listening to admissions experts, they know that chasing rank is not the only key to a successful future.
In current politically-charged parlance, most students aren't "the 6%", and being part of the majority doesn't mean they aren't special. Instead, it means they aren't alone. Not by a long shot. And with that in mind, the daunting college application process should be viewed with a little perspective. Scores, admissions statistics, Ivy League pedigree-these things are only stepping-stones towards the future, not permanent, defining characteristics. So go ahead and reach high, but understand that this college admissions game isn't just about winning-it's about just stepping out on the field.
Saturday, January 21, 2012
Problems with Diversity in Law School and Legal Practice
For all of the discourse about affirmative action initiatives at the university and post-graduate level, what's often left out of the discussion are the de facto realities for minority professionals in the white collar world. Whatever your position upon the idea of preferential treatment in college admissions (and even the semantics are politically charged), people of color are still grossly underrepresented in high-salaried, high-powered professions. Are we living in a post-racial society? Probably not.
The National Association for Law Placement (NALP), an association dedicated to career counseling and planning for legal professionals, also tracks the presence of women and minorities within law firms across the country. In November of 2011, the NALP released a significant report noting that women still comprised fewer than 20% of national partnership positions (women account for just over 30% of associate positions). Minorities account for just 6% of partnership positions, with minority women comprising just over 2% of partnership spots. A January 2012 bulletin from the NALP reiterates the fact that, while the numbers of minority and women have been steadily growing over the past few decades, the growth is slow and statistics must be carefully parsed. For instance, many firms have no minority partners at all. Further investigation demonstrates that the growth in minority associates and partners is largely attributable to Asians, who account for nearly half of all associates in the firms polled.
Certainly, this is just one report, but both the American Bar Association (ABA) and the Law School Admission Council (LSAC), recognize the need for encouraging minority enrollment in law schools. Discoverlaw.org is the LSAC's answer to an outreach program introduced at the undergraduate level in order to encourage enrollment. Clearly, there's no quick fix for racial inequity in the legal profession, but keeping an eye on the current reality and trying to shift the current tide is an important first step in the right direction.
Sunday, January 15, 2012
College Admissions Interview-the Icing or the Cake?
I've always wondered about the much hallowed college admission interview. If test scores and GPA are meant to be the objective markers for admission, then the interview-like the admission essay-is that portion of the process that should allow the student to showcase what makes them unique. What could be more subjective than an in-person interview? Yet schools have historically placed an incongruent sense of importance on the interview, if interviews are offered at all. This puzzles me.
Almost across the board, the admission interview is characterized as "supplemental". It is optional and in fact only offered in certain geographical areas. The colleges assure non-interviewing students not to fear-apparently "not having an interview will not be held against you" (this from Penn). Stanford promises that there are no adverse effects for students who don't interview and that their applications will still be considered in their entirety. Why then, does the interview process exist at all?
At most universities, 50-90% of the admissions interviews are conducted by specially trained alumni, and even current students. With many elite graduate programs only employing 6-10 full time admissions officers, this volunteer alumni corps certainly lightens the workload and the payroll, but begs many questions about objectivity. Perhaps objectivity isn't that important given that the interviews don't technically "matter" in the admissions process, but the fact that interviews are an option at all would seem to support the idea that they are not valueless in the admissions process.
At the business school level, Wharton has recently pink-slipped its alumni interviewers, citing a need for "consistency" in the interview process. Such moves further complicate assessment of the value of the interview, but seem to suggest that these in-person dialogues are much more than simple icing on the cake. For the full article: Wall Street Journal
Sunday, January 8, 2012
Reading Your Acceptance Letter-Before it Arrives
Having trouble gauging your chances of getting into your dream school? Already sent out your college admissions applications and looking for something to do while you're waiting? How about taking a sneak-peak into your college future? Parchment.com may be just what you need. It is a website fully dedicated to making the college admissions process more transparent. Specifically, the site allows prospective students to input personalized information-- such as personal interests and SAT scores-- and crunches that data in order to give each student an idea of their chances of admission to a given school.
Powered by data from over half a million actual college applications, the website offers a real-time window into admissions trends, but allows students to dig deeper on college admissions statistics. For instance, most students can figure out that if Harvard has less than an 8% acceptance rate, the odds of admission are stacked against them. What they might want to know more specifically is which schools are accepting students with an arts background, from Oklahoma with a 3.6 GPA and an SAT Critical Reading score of 600.
In addition to providing highly tailored results, the site serves as a community forum where students can share and receive peer feedback on their college admissions essays and ask and answer questions like "What are my chances for getting into Notre Dame?" If the college admissions process is indeed a numbers game (and an emotionally taxing one at that!), it may be nice for anxious students to have a place where they can go to see just where they fit in to the bigger picture. Even if the answer isn't the one they are hoping for, it is nice to know they are not alone in their musings.
Sunday, January 1, 2012
Changing Face of Admissions Applications
Electronic media means that the times are rapidly a-changing, and these days the college applications process is no exception. For some time now, companies like the Common Application have streamlined admissions by not only offering students a central hub for multiple applications, but making that hub available on-line. Today's college students think nothing of submitting entirely paperless applications-something almost unheard of just a decade ago. A new company, Matchbox, is attempting to nudge the admissions process into an even faster lane, providing, in its own words, "jet fuel for university admissions". Matchbox has created an iPad application that allows universities to essentially process admissions applications without a sheet of paper. A candidate's entire application is stored electronically-which creates an obvious ease of accessibility, and Matchbox's software further allows for the information to be categorized, organized and interpreted in a more streamlined manner. Matchbox claims that the admissions officers spend a majority of their time simply sifting and organizing a massive volume of information. If the app works as intended, admissions officers can instead devote their time to real analysis and review of the candidate's qualities.
From a practical standpoint, having all of the admissions data at their fingertips means that admissions officers can review applications anywhere, freeing them from the burden of being tied to physical stacks of information in a single office space. It is too early to say whether or not the new method of processing admissions data will improve the way a student's information is considered. From a perspective of convenience, it certainly makes sense.
It's still a little early to assess the efficacy of Matchbox's app, but they're pushing out of the gate with a couple of good endorsements. Just last week, MIT's Sloan School of Management and UCLA's Andersen School of Management announced that they would be utilizing the app for the bulk of their MBA program applications.
Sunday, December 25, 2011
Word Counts in Admissions Essays: Quality over Quantity
Much ado has been made about word-limits in admissions essays over this last admissions cycle. Earlier this year, the Common Application re-instated a 500-word limit on their admission essay. A handful of universities have inspired water-cooler chats by hacking their word-limits down as small as 140 characters. The changes have raised questions about whether or not shorter word-counts have the effect of strangling the personality out of a composition designed to be the student's only real outlet for self-expression.
Here's the thing. Admissions officers have a really good idea of just how long it takes to offer a meaningful self-portrait in words. Few universities will discard an essay simply because it goes a few words over or under the prescribed limit. Yet students persist in over-analyzing just how much wiggle room they have (10% over? 5% under?). I recently came across an article in which an admissions expert noted the following: if you are wasting all of your energy trying to decide whether your essay should be 520 words or 545 words, you are missing the point. I have to agree. As an editor, I have had countless students ask me to help them trim as few as twenty words from an essay. I am a strong proponent of proofreading, and I think placing extra pairs of eyes on admissions essays is essential. What isn't helpful is funneling energy into the addition or subtraction of a handful of words. At some point, you're more worried about extricating "the's" and "because's", and you've stopped paying attention to the overall quality of your essay. It's a little like taking a pair of scissors to the hem of a dress which really needs to be taken in at the waist. So, hard as it may be, students must learn to keep the word-count in mind, without making it the central focus of their essay. Believe me, that's exactly what the reader will be doing.
Sunday, December 18, 2011
So You Want to be a Lawyer
These days, the web is filled with advice about writing admissions essays; much of it sounds the same-just delivered in different packages. The other day, I came across yet another list-of-pitfalls-to-avoid-in-essay writing; this particular blogger reserved his ire for narratives about study abroad experiences (not helpful, by the way), and I must say, it made me giggle. Having reviewed thousands of law school admissions essays over the past decade, I realized I had some pet peeves of my own to share, all in the spirit of constructive criticism, naturally.
Please, please, please spare everyone the platitudes about wanting to change the world. A tiny sliver of law students will get to work for a human rights organization or draft revolutionary legislative policy. Many more will have the chance to work at the local legal aid clinic, but the latter isn't going to put much of a dent into that six-figure student loan debt. If you are going to follow this angle, please avoid ambling into hypothetical fantasy territory and bind your dreams together with some pragmatism.
If you have a particular specialty in mind, mention it. If not, don't waste too much time on speculation. Many firms are happy to take on bright-eyed associates and let them grow into a specialty, but most admissions officers would welcome a student with sharply honed direction. If you intend to use your J.D. for something other than practice, talk about that.
Answer the obvious question: "why do you want to go to law school?" You'd be surprised how many people skip that part. Watching lots of Law & Order, serving on a jury or successfully fighting a parking ticket is just not enough. Sure, we all like the idea of crusading for justice, but if you're invested enough to consider three grueling years of law school, you need the school to know that you're aware of what you're in for.
No one wants to admit that they are pursuing a law degree to make lots of money and/or because they are bad at math and science, but don't assume that your reader won't read between the lines figure this out anyways. Your job is to make them think more of you and of your legal aspirations. In a profession built upon the art of persuasion, consider the law school admission essay your very first test.
Labels: So You Want to be a Lawyer
Sunday, December 11, 2011
Starting Your Admission Essay In the Middle of Things
For admissions experts, coming up with ideas on how to help students improve their personal statements is relatively easy. Articulating those tips in an effective, succinct manner is much harder. In this way, the process of dispensing admission essay advice to students is in some way as difficult for the experts as writing the admission essay itself is for the student. This is one of many reasons why I regularly comb the internet for new and inventive admission essay writing tips. There is a lot of superfluous garbage on the digital heap, but careful mining always turns up a few treasures.
A few weeks ago, I harvested a quote about essay writing, where an expert advised students to write not about the "whole classroom" but about the leg of a single desk. Yesterday, I happened upon one of the best admission essay advice columns I'd seen in awhile, and amongst all of his advice, one particular tidbit stood out. With the 500-word-count limit becoming the standard in the world of admission essay, there's really no space for impotent words. (Like "really", for instance). You don't have time to start your story at the beginning. You don't have time to build up to your "point". Instead, it is your job to snatch your reader by the arm and haul them into your story in the middle of the scene.
Looking at the admission essay through the prism of these two crystals of advice allows you, the writer, to understand how to do two things-narrow your focus and understand where, in terms of a moment in time, that you are starting your essay. To see how well good advice can be bundled in a small package, check out this superb blog entry by Alan Gelb: NY times
I couldn't have said it better myself.
Sunday, December 4, 2011
Race, Again, in College Admissions
In this blog and elsewhere, the subject of race in college admissions is simply unavoidable. Few topics galvanize simmering emotions like this one. Ambivalence seems to have no place in this discussion of whether or not race should be a factor in college admissions. Why are we so sensitive? Perhaps it is simply because college admissions have become so fiercely competitive. It is a sad vulnerability of human nature to covet the unattainable. It is perhaps more pitiful to consider the lengths people will go to fight for the objects of their desire (picture the 4am shopper's tents in front of Wal-Mart on Black Friday). Quips aside, of course, the squabbling over race in college admissions is simply symbolic of American culture's deep unease with its own racism.
Though most universities don't or can't officially consider race in making admissions decisions, many college applications have a "check-box for" race. Most universities want "diverse" student bodies-a vague, amorphous aim that leaves many nervous students wondering what that means, and how to attain it. A recent Huffington post article explores the reasons why some Asian students are now declining to mark the "Asian" box, out of fear that doing so will cause them to be held to higher standards. Huffington Post
Even if college admission was based on pure meritocracy, those who didn't make the cut would continue their hand-wringing over why they weren't chosen for the team. If the best colleges are really about diverse student bodies, what about using socioeconomics as a consideration in college admissions-even if that meant universities took a financial hit? Race, diversity, and the highly elusive game of college admissions are three tightly interwoven topics, unlikely to unravel any time soon. But it is an uncomfortable and complex conversation that we should all be having.
Sunday, November 27, 2011
Should Sexual Orientation and College Admissions Mix?
In a move that is generating lively discussion in the blogosphere and beyond, Harvard University announced this week that it was considering amending its application to include a space that would allow prospective students to identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual or Transgendered. Given the current socio-political climate of discussion on LGBT rights, such a move was bound to open the floodgates for vociferous responses.
The loudest opponents argue that, since sexual orientation has no bearing on college admission, a check-box is unnecessary. Others fear that, since the application review process is conducted by fallible human beings, knowledge of an applicant's sexual orientation may ultimately work for or against the applicant-an offense against impartiality that has no place in the college application process.
More than anything, the conversation is charged with the kind simmering ire that colors most discussions about affirmative action. That is, should college applicants be assessed according to anything other than wholly objective considerations? Is that even possible? Harvard's Dean of Admissions claims that the proposed addition has nothing to do with admissions criteria and everything to do with sending a message to LGBT students that they are both welcome and recognized.
If nothing else, Harvard's decision-implementation of which is still hedging around the highly sensitive discussion of phrasing-may encourage other universities to take similar measures. Such a chain reaction is sure to energize an already polarized conversation. Ironically (maybe?), such discourse is what higher education is really all about.
Sunday, November 20, 2011
Chinese are Fastest Growing Foreign Students at U.S. Universities
The Institute of International Education's Open Doors Report released this week reports that the number of Chinese students enrolling in American universities jumped by 43% percent this year. Of the roughly 723,000 foreign students enrolled in U.S. colleges, 22% are Chinese. This sharp increase over a relatively short period of time has opened the floodgate of discussions about whether U.S. campuses are logistically, socially and culturally equipped to deal with such an influx of students from a single region. Such conversations are difficult to engage in since it is impossible to disentangle delicate racial and societal connotations from the dialogue.
The growth in number of Chinese students is attributed largely to China's burgeoning middle-class, as well as to its one-child policy, which means that parents tend to funnel all their energy and financial support into a single child. In China, the U.S. has a reputation for offering stellar third-level education, and the competitive global economy means that Chinese students stand to benefit from improving their mastery of English language and American culture. American universities also win in this scenario; in addition to adding greater cultural dimension to their student bodies, they also enjoy the benefit of China's rigorous secondary-education system, which churns out top-notch students. Another benefit for U.S. colleges?-fewer than 30% of Chinese students seek out any financial aid.
Other teething problems with this cultural exchange are making headlines. Most notably, problems with cheating and plagiarism for Chinese students who may have the grades to get into U.S. colleges, but not the mastery of English. There are also problems with assimilation for the Chinese students, and tolerance from their American counterparts. American recruiting within China's borders has raised ethical concerns. Professors struggle to tailor curriculum and class atmosphere to two very different cultures. Most experts see the obstacles as surmountable over time. For a wonderfully detailed discussion: The Chronicle
Sunday, November 13, 2011
Deciphering "Early Decision" College Admissions
With all of the stress surrounding college admissions, it is hard to believe that some students would actually choose to accelerate the selection and application process, but this is precisely the aim of applying for early admission. The option-which isn't available at all universities-may be a perfect fit for some students, but should be taken only after careful consideration. The greatest advantage to applying early is the acceptance rates, which are almost universally higher for students applying early. For students who are absolutely certain about their top-choice school, early admissions makes sense. However, there are a few catches. There is a difference between Early Decision (ED) applications and Early Action (EA) applications. Early Decision is an incredibly restrictive option, since it requires a student applicant to promise that they will attend the school they've applied to once accepted. They are even required to withdraw any applications to other universities. There is no backing out. Early Action does not force students to commit to a single school. This is important for several reasons. First, students have the opportunity to shop for other campuses that might be a better fit. EA allows students to have a fall-back position if they don't make it into their top choice. One of the most significant barriers of ED is the fact that it precludes any negotiation of financial aid packages, and again, EA allows students to freely search for the best deal around.
Early admission has historically been a boon for colleges since the bulk of students applying can afford tuition and tend to have higher grades and scores. Strangely, the struggling economy hasn't put much of a strain on early admission numbers. Just this year, Princeton reinstated its early admission option, after having abandoned it just four years ago. Despite the extra pressure placed on admissions officers, the early application process is alive and well.
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