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, March 24, 2013
College Admission-A "Referendum on Your Worth"
It is almost April. College decision letters are trickling in. They may land in the actual mailbox. Maybe in your email (did you check the spam folder???). You might be forced to log into several different online portals in order to check your fate. Wherever you have to go to find it, the wait and the final answer itself can be excruciating.

The internet is littered with pep talks designed to guide you through the "process". While most of it is good advice, it won't be much of a salve to a disappointed applicant. At least not right away.

Which is part of the reason I'm thanking buzzfeed for this one: Buzzfeed

It's funny. It projects all eventualities. It recognizes that not getting into the college of your choice is a drag. But it doesn't waste a lot of time trying to remind you that the glass is half full. Except maybe #13: "Keep perspective: college admissions are NOT a referendum on your worth as a human being".

Well, okay. That's technically true. It may take awhile for the life lesson to resonate. Right now, it's just a bummer. You have to touch all the bases before regaining your balance. You should feel mad. You should feel jealous of a friend who did better than you. You should feel discouraged. You should feel as though your worth as a human being has been assaulted. It is OKAY to have all of these feelings, even if you aren't proud of them.

Not attending your dream school is NOT the end of the world. But for many of us, the disappointment isn't about a forced change in plans. It is about the rejection. It's about putting yourself out there and measuring up short.

So go through the motions of disappointment. If you have something to celebrate-do it with sensitivity. Tomorrow is another day. In the meantime, you'll always have bullet lists on buzzfeed.

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Sunday, March 17, 2013
Law School an Even Worse Gamble for Women
Professionally speaking, things are getting better for women. There are more women receiving graduate level education, more women in executive positions in major corporations, more women in high-level politics. But things still aren't equal.

Back in 1977, Dr. Frances K. Conley became only the FIFTH woman in the U.S. to become board certified as a neurologist. I realize neurologists aren't a dime a dozen, but 1977 wasn't that long ago. Women now comprise about 23% of the nation's certified neurologists. Female neurologists also make about 25% less than their male counterparts.

I picked neurologists to make a point. There aren't many professions requiring more knowledge, intelligence and time investment. And still, women are being steamrolled in number and pay.

Law school also requires steep investment. It is one that fewer and fewer people are willing to take. But if the legal job market is bad generally, it's likely even worse for women. In recent years, the scales finally tipped-there were actually more women attending law school than men.

Surprisingly (or not) there were still far fewer women making partner in law firms. The wage gap that exists across the board for women in the U.S. applies equally to female attorneys.

A tight legal job market means greater competition for fewer jobs. Women are more likely to want to work part-time. Child-bearing and rearing are considered professional liabilities---ones that usually fall to mothers (not fathers). If women are potentially working less, earning less, and advancing more slowly-law school seems an even riskier choice.

March is Women's History month. For women in the law and fields beyond-this should be food for thought.

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Monday, March 11, 2013
Battling Senioritis

It's March. Spring is fast approaching. Out West, where I am, it is never cold. This time of year, however, the smell of orange blossoms start to hang in the air. The lawns are still green.

For high school students, the countdown begins. Basketball season wraps in a month or so and then it's Spring Break, and then maybe Prom and then-boom-graduation. School is no longer marked by academic milestones.

The idea that the senior year of high school is really just a transitional year is not a new one. Some education reformers have suggested that at least half the year be scrapped all together. After all, many second semester seniors only have 3-4 hours of school a day. Once college admissions notices come in, there hardly seems to be much reason to show up at all. Some ambitious students will make the most of the time-diving into a new passion, or taking a job. After all, high school marks the symbolic end of adolescence. Senior year is the door through which we pass into proverbial adulthood.

For the rest of the students, there is hope in programs like Wise Individualized Senior Experience (WISE), a non-profit that calls itself a bridge between academia and the real world. Students spend their mornings at regular high school, but fill idle afternoons with internships at financial firms, law offices or courts. In doing so, they get a taste of the real world without all the responsibility.

Any good period of transition involves growth and challenge. For all of the academic slowdown of senior year, it is also a hotbed of opportunity. Don't know what you want to do with your future? Ok. Now's the time to try on a few pairs of shoes and see which ones fit. College graduation will be here before you know it. Then the real world really begins. Why not get a head-start?

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Sunday, March 10, 2013
Owning Your MBA Story
In the world of graduate school admissions, there's no one further ahead of the curve than business schools. Here's why.

From an application standpoint, medical school admission has remained rather static. Entry is so strongly tied to academic and clinical strength that soft factors don't carry as much weight. If you weren't pre-med as an undergrad (and fairly successful at it), the most creative personal statement in history isn't going to patch those holes. Moreover, the medical field is flourishing. The world still needs clinicians and researchers. The average overall acceptance rate to medical school is around 9%. Admissions committees don't really need to be creative. Law schools are not feeling so flush. Their applications are down, and the job market is suffering. There are whispers of cutbacks and closing doors. They are in survival mode. Business school is different. In this economic climate, business degrees have retained their value. For some professionals in this competitive arena, an MBA is the only ticket upwards. Changing technology and growing demand for graduate business education has caused many schools to get creative in admissions. Schools are inviting quirky media additions to personal statements, such as tweets, PowerPoint presentations, video links, and websites. And why not? Anyone competing in today's business milieu must have no fear of technology.

Graduate business programs have long demanded voluminous writing in the application process. Many of the top schools ask for up to half a dozen different written responses-including a personal statement. It follows that they might be eager to consume those responses through a different medium.

Business schools are looking for students to own their stories. They want a great deal of personal information to supplement the quantitative measures like grades and test scores. It makes sense to offer students the opportunity to present themselves in new and innovative ways. And while it may be daunting for student-applicants, it is a refreshing break from application tradition.

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Monday, March 4, 2013
The College Admission Essay - An Exercise in Narcissism
In this blog and beyond, a great deal of web space is crowded with speculation about the real significance of the college admission essay. Students want to understand what colleges want. Colleges want to understand who students are. Parents want to know if their kid is doing it right. Counselors are trying to balance all of these interests.

There's a general feeling that the essay is just the icing. Grades and test scores are the main course. Snacks like extracurriculars count, but not if dinner was a disaster. The essay offers students a way to close the deal. To leave the admissions committee with a good taste in their mouths, a warm feeling in their bellies.

The problem is this. Can a 17-year-old's autobiography feel like dessert? Most essay prompts are designed to elicit self-reflection. In a perfect world, this introspection would be tempered by life experience, critical thinking, and a reverence for perspective. But what often happens is that students feel pressure to make themselves sound good on paper. An autobiography quickly takes on a sycophantic quality.

In the social media generation, self is already at the center. Students are used to tweeting pictures of their breakfast. Validation comes in the form of "likes" on a Facebook page. Students are adept at packaging themselves into a single Instagram frame.

So can these same students craft an essay about the self that isn't tainted by the narcissism of the look-at-me generation? It may be a slippery slope, but navigating it is a surefire way for students to prove to their readers that they can in fact, break the mold.

I'm reminded of the twitter term #humblebrag. Selling oneself while purporting to be humble about it. Perhaps essay prompts are inviting this. Perhaps universities should consider tweaking the questions. I say it's the responsibility of the students to show that they are more than their Twitter handle.

Humblebragging and autobiography aren't the same thing. The social landscape may be evolving, but good writing is timeless. Even if we'll never truly know how much it matters in admissions decisions.

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Sunday, February 24, 2013
Breaking the Bank for College
If you're like many young students, the real costs of college haven't yet entered your head. For the past several years, you've just been focused on trying to get in. Now your head's probably just on the wait.

Soon enough, you'll know. Rejection can be tough to forget. Fortunately, so is the thrill of acceptance. Either way, once you figure out where you're going, the sticker shock sets in.

If you are a parent funding a child's education, the reality of the costs may have hit you long ago. You're not alone. In his inaugural address, President Obama referenced the College Scorecard. This website is the government's best effort to offer some transparency in education costs.

Last year, the government invited a small group of colleges to adopt a Financial Aid Shopping Sheet. This is pretty much a spreadsheet of costs (books, tuition, rent) and offsets (grants, scholarship, loans). If all schools actually did this math and posted it publicly, consumers could make more informed decisions.

If you are a young student financing your own education, you should also pay attention. Federal and state loans can make it possible. Student loans generally carry low interest rates and have long repayment terms. Still, most will expect you to start paying within several months of graduation. So remember that your out-of-pocket costs aren't deferred forever.

For the average student, a college education may be their most expensive investment ever-barring perhaps, buying a home. With that in mind, it isn't a transaction that should be entered lightly.

Interested in researching the price tag? Both the College Scorecard and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau have websites designed to help consumers navigate the costs of investment.

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Sunday, February 24, 2013
Common App Mixes Things Up. Again.
The release of essay prompts may not be news to most people. It's probably downright yawn-worthy. But there are a few groups that will/should take notice: college counselors and high school students. Yep, I'm talking to you, juniors and seniors.

It's been just a couple years since the Common Application capped their essay word count limit at 500. This was newsworthy for a few reasons. First, nearly five hundred colleges across the country accept applications routed through the hub of the Common App. Second, the word count reduction left many re-speculating about the significance of the admission essay. The Common Application has just released its essay questions for the 2013-2014 admissions cycle and there are a few surprises. There was some uproar this year when it was announced that they'd be eliminating the Topic of Choice prompt. Some counselors saw it as stifling of student creativity. They worried that the more perfunctory prompts would dull down the quality of writing.

Instead, the Common App shuffled the content of the prompts, softening them, and giving students a big more creative wiggle room than first expected. For example, there is this: Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story. Essentially, this is an invitation to write about almost anything-as long as it's related to you.

They've also expanded the word count to 650. They remind students that 650 isn't the "goal", but that it is the limit. If you've ever tried to write or edit a 500 word biographical essay, you might welcome these extra 150 words rather enthusiastically.

So while you will no longer be able to submit an essay to the Common App about your favorite flavor of mustard, you still have some creative latitude. And a few extra words to throw in the batter.

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Sunday, February 17, 2013
High School Classes that Matter
For years, the gap between many state education requirements and the entrance requirements of many colleges has been a wide one. For example, a high school may require just two years of a foreign language, but a student's top college choice may not even look at an application unless a student has studied that foreign language for all four years.

Shouldn't I focus on classes targeted towards my desired college major?

Typically, at the top universities in the country, the best candidates will all have four years of English, Math, History, Science and a foreign language. This expectation is generally the same no matter what major you chose. Don't assume that by applying as an English major, the college will overlook a gap in your math and science courses in high school.

What about electives?

Many experts say that colleges really don't care. I think the better answer is that electives are really just icing. If you don't have the right amount of core classes and a rigorous curriculum, what you take as an elective doesn't matter. Having said that, colleges are looking for bright, creative students with initiative. So while one art class may not matter, four years of theater may say a lot about a student's character and potential.

How about AP classes?

Like anything else in your preparation for college-don't overdo it. There's no point in collapsing under the weight off too many AP classes. On the other hand, if you're skating through some of your core courses, you may want to consider advanced placement. A better solution is taking AP classes only in the subjects in which you excel.

Recent polls have suggested that grades and strength of high school curriculum are amongst the most heavily weighted factors in college admissions. So students need to be making these choices as high school freshman. It may not be fair, but it certainly matters.

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Monday, February 11, 2013
Law Schools Searching for Opportunity in Crisis
I've been writing for some time now about the spectacular downfall of the law schools in the U.S. in recent years. As the months roll on and new admissions data is released, the picture continues to get bleaker.

Just a few of the striking statistics from a recent New York Times article:

- Law School applications for the 2013-2014 academic year are down 20% from last year, and nearly 40% from 2010;

- Since 2004, the number of applicants has dropped by nearly half;

- The number of graduating students at the end of this year is expected to be about 38,000-the lowest since 1977, when there were a dozen fewer schools.

Some schools have already begun layoffs and cutbacks. Experts predict that as many as ten major schools may simply close over the coming decade.

The primary reason for the downturn is job prospects. In 2011, just 55% of law school graduates had found work (requiring passage of a bar exam) within nine months of graduation. A close second is the spiraling costs of tuition, which easily hits six figures at some of the private institutions. If debt payoff was onerous in the past, it is literally impossible for an un or under-employed law graduate.

The fracturing of the system has forced schools to start asking some of the important questions. How can they continue to attract students? How can they provide educations that are more aligned with real-world practice? How can they foster respect for the many strata of graduates, from those who aspire to Supreme Court clerkships to those who may become small market solo practitioners?

Certainly, the silver lining to the alarming numbers is the soul searching. Until it was broken, no one bothered trying to fix it. Now law schools- and the profession at large-have no other choice.

For a comprehensive look at the reasons behind the fall: NY Times

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Monday, February 4, 2013
Doping in College Admissions
Well, ok, I'm speaking metaphorically.

Over the past several years, law schools have taken a lot of heat for falsifying student records in an effort to bolster their rankings. Unfortunately, the rankings-fraud trend (if we must give it a name), has been rapidly leaking into other arenas of higher education.

Last year, Claremont McKenna College, Emory University and George Washington University all admitted to submitting falsified student data to the US News & World Report-the publication considered to be the preeminent source for relevant ranking information. These are all undergraduate institutions. They are (or were, in the case of GWU, ranked somewhere in the top 20 nationally).

This month, Bucknell, a private liberal arts college in Pennsylvania, ranked in the top 35, has also admitted to falsifying data.

Experts are crying out for a revamping of the rankings system. It is based in large part upon selectivity. The lower the acceptance rate, the higher the ranking. Naturally, acceptance rate doesn't tell the whole story. For students looking to find the right fit, it isn't a very scientific approach.

If we continue to insist on selecting colleges based on rankings, then we must start fleshing out the manner in which rankings are determined. At present, a single publication pretty much has a monopoly on rankings. Though US News tries to base rankings on a broad range of data, they are still merely pollsters. Factors like student satisfaction and quality of the college environment cannot be mathematically quantified.

If all universities are falsifying data in order to keep pace with the rankings of their competition, does that make it ok? Of course not. Just ask Lance Armstrong how it worked out for him. The other shoe is eventually going to drop.

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Sunday, January 27, 2013
State of College Admissions 2012
Just last month, the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) released their annual State of College Admissions report, which includes data for the Fall 2011 admissions cycle. Are you yawning yet? If you're a high school student, I probably lost you at NACAC. Parents, however, might be interested.

This exhaustive report analyzes everything from high school guidance counselor availability to college admissions metrics. Translation? In case you're curious, the report notes that high school guidance counselors spend about 23% of their time advising students on college admissions. In private schools, the number is 54%. The problem? Budgets are tight. Schools can't afford guidance counselors, so those that remain are overburdened with other tasks.

The college admissions statistics may be of greater interest to parents, and hopefully to aspiring students. Once again, the most important measure of a student's chances of getting into a good college are grades. Specifically, grades in college preparatory courses. The universities surveyed attributing "considerable importance" to this factor was a whopping 84%.

Other admissions factors? The difficulty of a student's curriculum and test scores filled the number two and three spots. So, it isn't enough to get good grades in easy high school classes. Standardized testing also matters.

Of notable importance was the weight given to the sample essay, and recommendations from guidance counselors.

Finally, students may want to take note of the importance of demonstrated interest in a specific college. Since applying to college has become cheaper and easier, the same pool of students are applying to more schools. This is why it is more important than ever for schools to assess whether a given candidate is likely to actually attend their institution.

Are any of you likely to read the report? Probably not. It costs $25 to download, and college counselors will do a good job of offering abbreviated reviews. However, since it is one of the more scientific evaluations of the college admissions process, it may be more valuable than you think.

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Monday, January 21, 2013
Picking the Right Law School
When it comes to picking an undergraduate program, the number of guidance resources are virtually endless. College admissions counseling has become a cottage industry, offering books, mentors, spreadsheets, checklists and web advice. If you want to casually research schools on your own, the internet is rife with resources. You can find out everything from a university's average SAT scores to the quality of pizza at the student union.

For aspiring law students, the decision process is more complicated. While all undergraduate institutions are reduced to nation-wide rankings, that list is nowhere more gravely worshipped than in the law school arena. The top fourteen in the national rankings even come with their own nickname (T14) and an aura of awe and sanctity.

The problem is that law schools have taken a notable fall from grace over the past few years. Scandals have rocked big institutions that have been caught falsifying test scores and other data in an effort to boost their rankings. Perhaps more significantly, law graduates are not getting jobs. A woeful market has led to a major decline in applications.

The silver lining here has been the push for transparency from law schools. If we can agree that the T14 have been largely unscathed by the scandal and bad job market, then how can the rest of the aspiring law student pool hope to pick the right school?

Law School Transparency, a nonprofit legal education group with a self-explanatory name, aims to help. Their website offers statistical overviews of the country's law schools, including crucial regional data and employment stats relevant to students doing some school shopping. The site offers info about the nature and extent of post-graduate employment, as well as overall costs. There certainly isn't as much hand-holding in the law school admission process, but sites like this may be the first step towards a trend in the right direction.

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Sunday, January 13, 2013
Common Cure for Senioritis
Back when I was applying to college, there was a well-known understanding about the second half of your high school senior year. All you really had to do was show up to class and keep your eyes open. Once you'd been admitted to your dream college, your only remaining duty was to warm a chair.

Even in those days, universities threatened to rescind offers of admission from students whose academics fell apart during the second half of their senior year. But that seemed like folklore. The reality was that, if you were a strong enough student to get into a good university, you probably weren't the type to suddenly flunk out of school-senioritis or not. Like most things having to do with college admission, things have changed. Universities are now keeping a keen eye on the second half of the school year. One of the many components of the Common Application is the Mid-Year Report, which must be filled out and submitted by a student's high school guidance counselor.

Obviously, the Mid-Year Report is looking for precipitous drops in GPA. They want to hear about any new disciplinary or criminal actions involving the student-applicant. However, what may be surprising to an outsider is just how much emphasis is placed upon comparing students to their classmates. The report is meticulous in its efforts to measure a student's class ranking against their peers.

This is fair, really. It's a bit like grading on a curve. If you are one of many academically strong students, your ranking may not matter as much. Conversely, if your school doesn't have a terribly rigorous curriculum, your 4.0 doesn't carry as much weight. These things are all major considerations in the initial admissions evaluation. The Mid-Year Report serves as a reminder of just how much they count during that last semester.

So as you seniors head into the downhill slope of your high school career this January, don't take your eyes off the road. Not just yet.

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Sunday, January 6, 2013
The Waiting is the Hardest Part
I once had a wise friend teach me something about acceptance. "I love it when someone tells me yes", she chirped. "I can handle it when someone tells me no. What I can't stand-" she paused, "is when someone tells me to wait".

It's that time of year for many early decision/early action applicants. They're devoted to their school of choice. They've put many hours into researching and picking. They were ahead of the rest of the pack-planning, writing, applying and organizing weeks and months earlier than other college applicants. Early decision students have committed not to go to school anywhere but their first choice college. Their reward? A deferral notice.

After all that effort, they are suddenly relegated to the regular decision pool. Really? On the upside, it isn't a rejection. However, for many early applicant students the greatest frustration lies in their newfound ability to do nothing about it. There is a sense of control in applying to college. There is even a sense of comfort in the finality of rejection. Waiting is another thing all together.

The New York Times college blog, "The Choice" recently offered some proactive ideas for deferred students. Their general suggestion is this-if the school hasn't specifically warned you against contacting them, by all means, keep making your case for admission. No one wants a pest, but there are dignified and effective ways to keep your application on the school's radar. NY Times

The waiting is always the hardest part of college admissions-whether you apply early or not. Yet there is a sense, with deferred students, of a continued need to perform for the admissions committee. What you've submitted wasn't enough to make the first cut, but also not deficient enough to equal rejection.

Now might be a bad time to point it out, but this admissions process is simply a tiny metaphor for my friend's lesson on life. It won't be the first time you have to simply wait. It will be hard, but that yes or no answer will come in the end. And there is always peace in every final decision.

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Monday, December 31, 2012
Writing an Honest Admission Essay
I've written a lot about what goes into a good admissions essay. So have thousands of other people. The "perfect topic" is like the Holy Grail of college personal statements. It isn't easy to find. People can't agree on what it is. It may signify something different to different people. So,we talk about it. A lot.

There also seem to be some universal truths about the subjects you should avoid. Your substance abuse. Maudlin personal tragedies. Politics. In my experience, most students don't go there. The most common pitfall I see is the essay that simply isn't interesting.

Recently, the UK-based Guardian poked a little fun at the college essay process by tasking several writers with the job of drafting an honest admission essay. These writers are many years past college, with little to lose. Still, their unadulterated honesty was comical and helped illustrate a point.

Students are often so eager to please that they want admissions committees to know EVERYTHING about them. Not enough space for that in 500 words. Others cling to a single topic-their first ballet recital, maybe-only to discover there isn't enough meat in the story to feed 500 hungry words.

Whatever you do, make it interesting. There is no perfect essay. Admissions officers do want to know about you, but they don't need to know everything. Balance the good against the bad.

Let's be honest. People don't really like honesty all that much, unless it's a good story. Honesty is usually uncomfortable and awkward. If you feel like dancing out that limb in your admission essay, I say do it. Better to make your reader cringe than yawn.

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Monday, December 31, 2012
Helicopter Parenting in College Admissions
On the cusp of another New Year, as we collect and tidy all of our ambitious resolutions, it's also important to take stock and survey the landscape of the last year. If the changing of the calendar year marks a period of renewal, it follows that it must include some introspection. And no one needs it more than parents of hopeful college students. Yes, heavily invested parents, I'm talking to you.

Every parent wants the best for their child. In many parts of the world, third level education is seen as a gateway to success. Though no one wants to say it out loud, it is the pedigree that separates the servant class from the ruling class. These days, it isn't uncommon to need several degrees in order to stay competitive in the white collar world. Elitist? Yes. But parents aren't very egalitarian when it comes to the success of their children.

Getting into college isn't the simple process it used to be. Even 20 years ago, it was about filling out an application, submitting test scores and waiting for the results. Now there are workshops, college counselors, full-service websites and other outreach aimed at both parents and children. A cynic might note that the "industry" is playing on that most vulnerable of parental inclinations-hope for their child's success.

Of course, the path to success is paved with good intentions. If ever there is a single benchmark of flying from the family nest, college is it. The process is emotional for parents on many levels. They are no doubt struggling with the idea of setting their nestlings free, but continuing to want control over the shape of their children's future. This is noble. It may, however, end up placing extra pressure on kids.

The hard part? Parents need to trust that the seventeen or so years they've already invested in their child is enough to steer them in the right direction.

For ideas from experts on how to keep a healthy distance from your child's college admission process: NY Times

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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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