|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 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.
Sunday, November 6, 2011
Business Schools Streamline Admissions
Anyone applying to business school is likely already well-versed in the variants of programs available at most graduate business schools, but for those new to or just dipping their toes in the waters of the process, here's a breakdown: The traditional MBA program at most U.S. business schools is a full-time, two-year course, regarded as the best all-around pedigree for graduate students looking for versatile job opportunities. The Executive MBA (EMBA) is designed for students in mid-career, looking to retool their professional skills while still working full time. Part-time MBA programs are a viable option for students who cannot afford to engage in a full time program.
Post-graduate education in the U.S. is still about prestige, and full-time business MBA programs remain the most exalted and offer the broadest professional options. EMBA programs are often subsidized by the student's current employer, meaning that the skills earned will often be tailored to aid the student's advance only within their current position or industry. Part-time MBA programs, for better or worse, still lack some of the prestige of their cousins.
One advantage to business school candidates is the recent decision by several business schools to streamline the admissions process, so that students applying to any one of the three types of MBA programs can submit a single application. For instance, if a student's GMAT scores aren't high enough for Columbia's full-time MBA program, but that same student has career clout that would add to the environment of Columbia's EMBA program, the student may be accepted into the latter without needing to apply for both. The centralized processing takes some of the mystery out of the odds/options game for business students and gives the schools a more varied pool from which to draw applicants. For the full story, see: Financial Times
Sunday, October 30, 2011
Law School Applicants: Beware of Your Digital Trail
Law school these days has become a bit of a hot potato. Admissions are down. The legal job market is the worst in recent history. A smattering of big-name schools have been exposed for the filthy habit of pumping up test score data in order to make themselves look pretty. Even the American Bar Association has stepped in with a preemptive slap on the wrist to law schools-forcing them to provide real statistics on job prospects for graduates. And while all potential college and graduate students should know by now that tidying up their social media profile is somewhere around step-one in the college application process, on-line discretion is, apparently, paramount for law school applicants. It turns out they have the most to lose.
The snide public scorn reserved for lawyers may be occasionally well-deserved, but the reality is that attorneys are, by law, held to extraordinarily high ethical standards. Most states require attorneys to submit to a rigorous background check before allowing them to practice law. All lawyers are subject to penalties-including disbarment-if they are found to be in breach of statutory ethical guidelines. Perhaps this is just one consideration causing law school admissions officers to place on-line personas of their applicants under a high-powered microscope.
A recent Kaplan survey revealed that 41% of law school admissions officers admitted to Googling applicants or otherwise checking out their online presence. Even more damning was the fact that more than a third of officers who researched an applicant online uncovered information which was potentially damaging to their admissions prospects. These numbers were monumentally higher than those for undergraduate or business school applicants. The moral of the story here-the ethical scrutiny starts early for law school candidates. So be ready and beware.
Sunday, October 23, 2011
Business School Admissions A Matchmaking Game
For better or for worse, we live in a culture that idealizes love and regards marriage as the end goal of the dating process. If you've already excused my first pun, you'll perhaps forgive me for using the search for love as a metaphor for the graduate admissions process. Really. Once you've decided on, say, business school, and once you've earmarked acceptance as the only true measure of your success, the process of finding a union with the right school becomes your singular ambition. You try on the idea of a handful of schools, weighing the practicality of which ones might actually accept you and which ones might be out of your league. You see where I'm going with this.
If this kind of desperate need for acceptance and validation were not part of the college and graduate admissions process, the "process" itself would not have become such big business. Each year, thousands of anxious, ready-to-please students descend upon this conglomerate of admissions whizzes the way that lovelorn hopefuls flock to match.com. There is a real sense that who you are as an individual is not enough. You need someone to match you to the school that is the right fit. Moreover, you need someone to look you squarely in the eye and talk odds. If the search for a soul mate and the hunt for an alma mater weren't so complicated, there wouldn't be an army of experts out there, promising to help us find the One we were destined to be with.
Take this recent interview with Derrick Bolton--assistant dean and director of M.B.A. admissions at Stanford University's Graduate School of Business. The interviewer rummages for the answer to every hopeful student's ultimate question: "what IS it that admissions committees are looking for?". Bolton's answer is disappointing in the sense that it apparently isn't really within our control. (In an infuriating it's-not-you-its-me sort of way). As Bolton dryly reveals, it isn't about how great you are as an individual, but about what kind of spice you will add to the pot of stew he is trying to create. So basically, you better hope you aren't just one of ten thousand other carrots if he's looking for potatoes. Like life, you have to simply be the best you can, and hope that there's someone out there looking for someone just like you.
Wall Street Journal
Sunday, October 16, 2011
Changing the Essay Question
They say if you don't like what is being said, change the conversation. It works in advertising and politics, so why not in academia? It seems admissions committees agree and are doing just that by changing the question. The University of Iowa's Trippie School of Business recently caught headlines by offering a full scholarship to the business school candidate with the catchiest Twitter-length 'personal statement'. This week, Columbia Business School announced a 200-character cap on responses to the broad question "What is your post-MBA professional goal?" (By the way, 200 characters is roughly 35 words, which is about twice the length of this sentence).
It isn't just the length of responses that is changing, but also the scope of the question. Harvard Business School candidates are now being asked to "Answer a question you wished we'd asked". It's not ground-breaking stuff, but slightly less dry than "describe a setback and how you handled it".
It makes sense to me to start spicing up the questions. As an editor, one of the single most common pitfalls I see students make in their admissions essays is trying to tailor the essay to be what they think the admissions committee wants to read. This means they're churning out cookie-cutter resumes-in-prose that are neither catchy nor unique. Admissions committees are already busy. They don't need to read the same essay from a thousand different candidates. The admissions committees are now speaking. And though no candidate will ever really know exactly what they are looking for, it's clear the universities and their admissions gatekeepers are ready for a change.
Labels: changing the essay question
Sunday, October 9, 2011
How to Master the MBA Setback Essay
I didn't see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life. - Steve Jobs
In this excerpt from his now-famous Stanford Commencement Address, Jobs dispenses more than simple advice on life. He gives prospective MBA candidates a stellar example of how to tackle the classic 'setback' admission essay, so prevalent on business school applications. You know the one. The admission essay that asks students to evaluate a hardship or failure and discuss what they've learned from it. Students have a terrible time with this admission essay for several reasons. First, who wants to talk about failures when they're trying so desperately to prove how wonderful they are? Second, many young business school candidates simply don't have broad enough catalogue of experiences to draw from. So in a week where much of the world has paused to remember the poignant wisdom of this cultural icon, I ask you to consider this passage from Jobs for guidance on how to truly evaluate a setback, and how to write about it masterfully in your admission essay. Acknowledge the obstacle or failure. Don't dwell on it. Don't be melodramatic about it. Don't make light of it. It happened to you, and you dealt with it. Period.
What the setback admission essay measures is not your fallibility but your maturity and your level of self-reflection. A younger business school candidate may struggle to unearth something tumultuous enough to rank as a setback, but they shouldn't agonize over the rating of their obstacle. Instead, evaluate it as you would any other significant occurrence in life, and write about how it changed you. It sounds nice if--as Jobs notes-- it changes you for the better, but it needn't come with a silver lining. It must simply be what any good admission essay should be-illustrative and honest.
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