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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, 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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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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