|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.|
Tuesday, October 24, 2017
The Difference Between Diversity and Equity
Earlier this month, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that his Department of Justice would be conducting an investigation Harvard University's affirmative action policies. The highly political move is seen by critics as an unnecessary assault on students of color, set against a backdrop of increasing public acts of white supremacy, which the Trump administration has repeatedly failed to denounce. Opponents see it as an opportunity to force courts to make clearer rulings with respect to race-based admissions.
Harvard is already embroiled in a class-action lawsuit against over 60 Asian-American organizations claiming that high performing Asian students are being edged out by peers with lower grades and test scores. This lawsuit was spearheaded by Edward Blum, a conservative activist who is not an attorney. Blum also initiated the Fisher v. University of Texas case, in which the plaintiff, Abigail Fisher, argued that white students were harmed by a Texas' admission policy designed to increase racial diversity at its public colleges. Fisher lost in the U.S. Supreme Court.
Many states, however, have already abolished affirmative action. The U.S. Supreme Court has circumvented the heart of the issue by ruling that universities are allowed to make "holistic" assessments of incoming students. The buzzword here is "diversity", and the problem lies in its double-meaning. Activists like Blum argue that it is code for admitting students of color with weaker academic records. Universities claim diversity is not directly related to race, but rather an attempt to cultivate a heterogeneous student body.
In practice, equality and diversity are two distinct concepts. Affirmative action policies aim to address the social, economic and racial factors that continuously give white, wealthy students an edge. Activists like Blum reject that view, claiming that admissions policies should not discriminate against anyone, and that evaluating based on merit alone is the fairest approach.
Harvard accepts around than 5% of applicants-about 2,000 students per year. This begs a very obvious question: why would the DoJ waste resources on an investigation of a private university, the policies of which affect such a small fraction of the country's population? Like Blum, the DoJ is indulging in hyperbolic political theatre. In practice, the desired result will affect very few students. Its symbolism, however, would be thunderous.
Thursday, October 19, 2017
Streamlining the College Application Process
In the not-so-distant past, applying to college was a rather ordinary venture in risk assessment. Applications were still paper and fee-based, so the practical student narrowed their options from the start. Writing an essay by hand, for instance, was not an unsubstantial investment of time. It made sense to apply to a reach school or two, some probably-within-reach schools, and the reliable safety school. Technology has changed all of that.
The internet and Common Application ignited a revolution that has gradually made the old college admissions systems almost unrecognizable. Students can now apply to dozens of school with a single essay and a few clicks. The end game, however, remains the same.
Fortunately, access to application support is richer than ever. The savvy student can rely on a blend of guidance from school counselors and online resources that help them to find schools that are a true fit. One such program is College Kickstart, a site that relies entirely on quantitative factors to help students narrowly tailor their choices. They promise to teach students how minimize wasted effort, by avoiding schools that are measurably out of reach. At the same time, Kickstart offers rich data on increased statistical odds, through application mechanisms such as early admission/early action.
What sets this one apart is its commitment to avoiding analysis of qualitative elements, such as extracurricular activities and admissions essays. These soft factors are virtually impossible to assess, and Kickstart doesn't want to promise advice that can't stand on its own two feet. The site currently supports data from over 400 schools, so while it is not exhaustive, it does promise to be accurate.
Ideologically, sites like Kickstart reframe the process by identifying the needs of the colleges and encouraging students to capitalize on those needs efficiently. The selection process is, for the most part, shrouded in secrecy. Kickstart is a reminder to focus on the things students do know about a university, and to make application decisions based upon that information, rather than factors such as popularity or ranking.
Monday, October 16, 2017
What is the Coalition Application?
This relatively new on-line college application program is so callow that it is most often defined in opposition to its far more influential competitor-the Common Application. The Common App has actually been around since 1975, and first went on-line in the late 1990s, but is now accepted by over 730 colleges and universities in the U.S., making it far and away the most utilized college application platform.
It cannot be overstated: the Common App has completely transformed the application system. By making it easier for students to apply to a multitude of colleges with a single click, it has contributed to both the actual increase in competition as well as the perception of increased competition-the more applications a college receives, the more applicants they must deny, lowering their overall acceptance rate which, in turn, makes them seem more exclusive. In 2013, the Common App was shaken by a number of disastrous digital mishaps, which spooked many, and created an opening in the market for viable competition.
Fast-forward to 2015, when a group of 80 colleges announced the formation of the Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success (CAAS), with the aim of increasing access to college admissions. CAAS created a new digital application platform, and required all member colleges to meet certain criteria such as affordable tuition, need-based aid, and high graduation rates.
A primary distinction of the Coalition App is the "virtual locker", a place where students can begin uploading their own work-essays, projects and other materials as early as their first year of high school. CAAS promises to offer online resources such as test-preparation materials and review by admissions consultants and guidance counselors, all of which are often cost prohibitive or otherwise difficult for high-need students to access.
The Coalition App first launched during the 2016-2017 admissions cycle and is currently accepted by roughly 90 colleges, including Stanford and the Ivies. This puts a strain on comparisons to the Common App. However, in a perfect world, the Coalition App has the potential to change the way that student-applicants approach college admissions, creating early conduits to access for students who need it most.
Its ongoing viability will depend upon its ability to step out of the shadow of the Common App. Still, CAAS has successfully put a new twist on college preparation, which may end up revitalizing the pathway in the years to come.
Monday, October 9, 2017
Perfecting Your Brand for College Admissions
In recent admissions cycles, discussion has swirled about the most effective ways for young students to curate their online presence. Privilege always carries with it the burden of responsibility, and this is a difficult lesson to master. As more and more college admissions officers admit to poking around students' social media profiles, counselors and teachers are getting the message out: keep your digital footprint clean.
Harvard's recent rescission of admissions to several students involved in a racist Facebook group made big news, and not only because of the offensive nature of the posts. It highlighted the issue of digital recklessness. That students should strip out pictures of under-aged drinking seems obvious, until one considers the even more profane conversations that often happen in "secret" online forums; except that in the day and age of screenshots, "secret" has become a relative term.
Savvy students should understand that while social media has the power to ruin admission chances, it is also ripe with opportunities at self-marketing. In a sense, all of us have unwittingly become skilled at shaping our online presence. In the virtual world, we can be whoever we want to be.
Think about how many seconds it takes for you to scan a new Instagram account before forming an opinion about the user? Five seconds? Less than that? For college admissions committees who take the time to vet social media accounts, this instant impression could be invaluable.
Many students struggle to express themselves in their admissions essays, but whether they realize it or not, they've already mastered the art of self-expression through their digital presence. It's become almost second nature. Which is why social media is such a powerful tool of persuasion. Used well, it could prove to be the new "it" factor in college admissions.
Monday, October 2, 2017
Could GRE Become the New LSAT?
Beleaguered law schools across the country have spent the past several years brainstorming ways to stay solvent and respectable. The economic hit to the profession has made law school a far riskier investment than it used to be. Intersecting threads of bad news-declining enrollment, declining LSAT scores, declining bar passage rates-have created a complicated web of problems with no easy set of solutions.
Some states have seen the lowest bar passage rates in history-in February 2017, Mississippi's pass rate was 31%, California's was 39%. Though statistics merit contextualization, these scores are low, even for the traditionally paltrier pass-rates on the February exams. But California has already lobbed a day off of its three-day test and is slated to lower the passing score next year. Whittier Law School became the first ABA school to shutter its doors, and several law schools across the nation are currently on academic probation.
Last year, Harvard (which, like many Ivies, is insulated by its prestige from the general downturn), began accepting GRE scores for law school applicants. They are now one of five law schools across the nation to announce the intent to do so. The American Bar Association is currently in the process of determining whether the GRE will be formally sanctioned, a decision which would override the individual policies of the universities themselves. This matters because the GRE is a very different kind of aptitude test. It is offered more times per year than the LSAT and is considered the standard for most graduate programs outside of law, medicine and business (although many MBA programs have also recently begun accepting the GRE). Arguably, accepting GRE scores could help diversify the pool of law school students. But law is a notoriously stubborn discipline, deeply invested in its own status. Any moves to make the filtering system more porous are often met with derision from purists, who believe that law school and the bar exam should be hard in order to ensure the quality of legal practitioners. Whether the GRE will be warmly embraced is something that remains to be seen.
Labels: Could GRE Become the New LSAT?
Monday, September 25, 2017
West Virginia Makes SAT Mandatory
This week, West Virginia's Department of Education announced that it would require all high schools to administer the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) as the standard college entrance exam. Although it is not completely clear how and why this is being implemented, it will be a welcome move for students of moderate means.
The fee for taking the SAT is about $52, but, like shopping for a new car, figuring out the costs of various add-ons is confusing. The College Board, which administers the test, has separate fees for each SAT subject exam, late registration, additional copies of scores, registration by telephone, and so on. Students from low-income families can apply for a fee waiver, which is granted based upon household size and income. Fee waivers aren't available to undocumented students, and the application itself may be off-putting to many parents who are uncomfortable or unfamiliar with the college application process.
In West Virginia, the test will now be mandatory and administered at no cost to all high school juniors. They will be able to take it in their own classrooms. (The SAT is otherwise offered at independent testing centers, usually on the weekends). Exceptions will be granted only to students with cognitive disabilities. Students taking the exam will be able to send it to up to four different colleges, free of charge.
For decades, the SAT has been the standard-bearer in college admissions assessments. Most colleges require it for admission. Since high school educational environments vary wildly across the U.S., the original purpose of the SAT was to level the playing field, allowing colleges an objective metric to evaluate. But critics have found increasingly strong data suggesting that the SAT skews mostly along socioeconomic lines. Preparation workshops can be prohibitively expensive for lower-income families. Students performing well are likely to come from wealthier families where one or both parents are college graduates.
So while equity may have not been the motivation for this change, it will likely be one of its ancillary benefits.
Monday, September 18, 2017
Keeping Your Admission Essay Small
Yes, I meant "small". Not short. Not meaningless, but narrow. I've been working with students on their admissions essays for over 15 years. One of the greatest pitfalls I still see all the time, is the student trying to squeeze their autobiography into a 600-word matchbox.
The first thing to do as you sit down to start brainstorming ideas is this. Grab a post-it and scrawl these words on it: write about yourself, not your activities. Every time you feel yourself reaching back to yearbook club or your National Merit Scholarship, peer up at that note, and start over. I'm not the first or last person who will tell you this.
Colleges often call the essay an "opportunity to get to know you better". When you first meet someone new, do you tell them that you've been in AP English for four years or do you talk about last night's football game? In real life, conversations start small. And you can glean a lot from them. Humans are generally good at reading each other.
This is a great frame for your essay. Start with the presumption that you have no obligation to tell your reader everything about you. Try to avoid broad topics like leadership, compassion, and hardship. Don't be afraid to write 650 words about the thrill of catching a single wave, about learning how to sew, about gardening with your favorite aunt, your favorite smell. I promise you, these are the stories that resonate with readers.
Above all, trust that you have something interesting to share, no matter how small it may seem. It's the details that count the most.
Monday, September 11, 2017
Digital Technology and the Enhanced Art of Cheating
When I sat the California bar exam a decade ago, the use of laptops for taking the test was still a relatively new thing. To this day, I can't imagine writing by hand for six straight hours, three days straight. But the administrators took laptops seriously, and we all had to install lock-down software that prevented us from using the computer for any other purpose during exam time.
Virtually nothing else was allowed into the testing site, and the things that were allowed-highlighters, earplugs, paperclips, diabetes medication (but not food)-had to be carried in a clear Ziploc bag. It all sounds so quaint now.
Enter wearable technology.
Test administrators are getting out in front of the problem. The College Board, which administers the SAT and AP exams prohibits all wearable technology in their testing centers. Students who try to break this rule during the GRE will be kicked out, their test scores forfeited. GMAT takers may not wear any sort of watch-digital or not. Many state bar exams include the same prohibitions.
So while professional test administrators have figured out the ease with which technology can be used to game an exam, oversight may be more difficult for, say, your average high school teacher. Add to this the contrast in digital confidence between millenials and their elders, and you've got a legitimate problem.
Just this week, the Boston Red Sox became embroiled in a cheating scandal involving a coach with an Apple watch. YouTube is rife with tutorials on how to use digital watches to cheat on exams. The Internet is unabashed with sites devoted to the topic (hint: you can whisper "derivative" to Siri and a list of mathematical formulas appear on your watch).
That technology is a double-edged sword is not a revelation. That students will continue to devise creative ways to cheat is a certainty. The biggest truth of all: keeping up with those changes will be critical.
Wednesday, September 6, 2017
Spelman College to Start Admitting Transgender Students
In a letter sent out to students last week, Spelman College President Mary Schmidt Campbell announced that the all-women's college will begin accepting transgender students, commencing with the 2018-2019 academic year. Spelman is one of just over a hundred Historically Black Colleges or Universities (HBCUs) in the U.S., and has a student population of about 2,200.
Since 2014, at least nine women's colleges have formally changed their admissions criteria to allow trans-women to attend. Among those, Mills College in Oakland, California was the first, followed by Wellesley, Smith, Bryn Mawr, Mount Holyoke and Scripps. Spelman becomes the first HBCU to do so.
Many of the country's women's colleges were founded in the early twentieth century in an effort to give women opportunities in higher education that had previously been reserved entirely for men. As society moves very slowly towards an understanding of gender as a spectrum, institutions are forced to administratively adjust to a non-binary application of gender. The subject is delicate and polarizing; one need only look at the corrosive national dialogue over public toilets. Same-sex women's colleges have quickly found themselves at the center of a discussion of what it means to be female, and how that should align with admission policies.
HBCUs have a depth of history, rooted in the post-Civil War years, when black Americans were barred from entry to higher education institutions. In response to legislation guaranteeing education rights to black Americans, many of the southern states created segregated colleges. Even as desegregation became the law, many states were slow to implement the policies, continuing to drive black students to HBCUs. In a post-secondary education climate that is still dominated by white students, these HBCUs are critical for providing the education, networking and support for black students that is still lacking at many universities across the nation.
Through these new policies, Spelman makes a strong statement for transgender women of color, and signals an ongoing progressive shift towards greater inclusion in college admissions.
Monday, September 4, 2017
Trump Promises to Eliminate DACA
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, better known as DACA, is an immigration policy created in 2012 under President Obama. Under the act, undocumented residents who arrived in the U.S. before age 16, can be granted a work permit and a two-year reprieve from deportation. One of President Trump's early campaign promises was to eliminate the program. Today he did just that. What's surprising about the move is not that Trump did it, but that he is facing opposition from so many different corners.
DACA's predecessor, the Dream Act (which failed to pass in the Senate) was legislation that attempted to provide amnesty to the thousands of children brought illegally into the U.S. by their parents. In 2015, it was estimated that more than 65,000 undocumented students graduate from U.S. high schools every year.
When Trump made the repeal of DACA a centerpiece of his agenda, the blowback was loud and swift. In November 2016, more than 600 university and college presidents across the country signed off on a letter calling for DACA's preservation. Four days ago, hundreds of the top CEO's and business leaders in the country, including Warren Buffet and Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg issued a similar letter to the White House and Congress.
More than 800,000 undocumented workers are benefitting from DACA, meaning that a dismantling would likely wreak havoc on the U.S. and global economy. Even Speaker Paul Ryan and other Republican members of Congress oppose the repeal. Roughly 10,000 undocumented immigrants matriculate from U.S. universities each year. It is estimated that close to 2.1 million people may be currently eligible for DACA.
Many opponents of DACA, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions, believe the program is an illegal overreach; some even claim it is being used as an unlawful pathway to permanent residency. Politics aside, its elimination would have palpable effects on the economy and educational institutions of America.
The White House is delaying the repeal of DACA for six months, during which time Congress-if they so choose-have the power to block the elimination of the program.
Labels: Trump Promises to Eliminate DACA
Tuesday, August 29, 2017
Navigating Your Way to the Right College
Ever had a ton of questions about a college that you didn't want to ask? Is it a party school? Does it have a big sports program? How much will it really cost? What is its home city really like?
High school students and their parents may have entirely different sets of standards when it comes to selecting a college. Parents may zone in on things like cost, retention rate, and transparency of post-graduate employment—the sort of things that cause young students' eyes to glaze over. I remember applying to a couple of schools because a friend told me to. Back in those days, there was no internet to give us the real scoop.
This is why sites like the National Center for Education Statistics' "College Navigator" are so fantastic. (Don't let the source or dry title fool you). Their website allows students to easily search colleges by geographic location, and multiple filters—private vs. public, four-year vs. two-year, tuition and fees, mean SAT scores and more. Within those parameters, students (or parents) can put each of these schools under a microscope. The NCES is also an objective resource-something that is often difficult to find in the college admissions process.
In addition to general information about costs and majors, College Navigate allows users to research crime statistics, veteran/active service member benefits, and even the default rate of student borrowers. In short, it offers answers to questions you may not have even thought to ask.
In an era of pricey college consulting and ever-increasing competition, websites like these can be invaluable. For a start, it's completely free. Students who've already vetted their desired college can use this to refine their search. For those who don’t even know where to start, it is the perfect preamble.
Tuesday, August 22, 2017
Oregon to Lower Minimum Passing Score on Bar Examination
The Oregon Supreme Court has officially ruled that bar examination takers in the state will be held to a new, lower minimum pass rate. Oregon had the third highest score requirement in the nation, behind Delaware and California. In February of 2017, just 67% of exam takers passed the state's bar examination.
Critics worry that lowering the passage standard will flood the market with sub-par attorneys. Others feel that the problem isn't the difficulty of the examination itself but rather inadequate preparation of students by the law schools themselves. For their part, however, the deans of Oregon's three law schools argued that the bar exam is only one of several filters that serves to preserve the talent of practicing attorneys.
Pinning down factors for failing scores is tricky. The LSAT, which serves as the front-end filter for law students, is often an adequate predictor of law schools success. LSAT scores at all three of Oregon's law schools have declined in the past five years.
In neighboring California, home of the most difficult bar exam in the country, the Supreme Court is currently reviewing this exact issue. In February of 2017, only 34.5% of exam takers in California earned a passing score. The Court has already promised to lower California's pass rate, but is awaiting feedback from the committee of bar examiners. A determination will be made before December 1, 2017. Their decision could retroactively affect students who took the July 2016 exam.
Ideologically, it's hard to assess whether or not lowering pass scores will be a net success to society. Proponents argue that the legal market is in need of more practitioners, but poor job prospects over the past decade have caused an overall decline in law school enrollment.
It's easy to presume that making the exam easier will alter the quality of legal practitioners, but examinations alone aren't always a sufficient gauge of talent. What's certain is that the landscape of law schools and the legal profession is in dynamic flux.
Wednesday, August 16, 2017
The Truth About Legacy Admissions
Even before the tumultuous election year of 2016 churned up the ugly sludge of America's racist history, the broiling issue of affirmative action in college admissions simmered ominously in the background. Last week, the issue was pulled to center stage when it was discovered that the Trump administration intended to investigate affirmative action-in order to make sure that white students weren't being unfairly overlooked.
Setting aside, for the moment, the unassailable fact that white and Asian students comprise the vast majority of all university students, a conversation getting less traction in the media is the one that should be happening, about legacy admits.
It's fairly easy to track the racial make-up of existing students. It's much harder to track statistics on students who applied and did not get in. But various higher education analyses reveal that legacy admits are several times as likely to be admitted than non-legacy applicants. Legacy admits also come overwhelmingly from the upper class-a group of students that already has a thumb on the scale of privilege.
It's worth noting that legacy candidates make up a relatively small percentage of admittees (around 6%), and that legacy advantage seems to be greater at highly selective colleges. Legacy admits are overwhelmingly white and wealthy, and because they are a monetary boon to the universities, the practice is unlikely to be questioned or abolished.
It is, however, another form of the very affirmative action that many raucously oppose. Despite the overwhelming advantages enjoyed by the dominant classes in higher education, there exists a palpable fear that non-white students will somehow be handed something for free. This is the very ideology that underscored the violent events in Charlottesville, Virginia this week.
It's crucial to remember that universities are much more than hallowed institutions of learning. They are big businesses. Legacy admissions are vital to their brand and their bottom line. Strip all that away, however, and you’ll find that they are simply another form of preferential admission. One that hides quietly in the background, largely unchecked.
Monday, August 7, 2017
UCI Under Fire for Rescinding Admissions Offers
In March of each calendar year, the University of California sends out hundreds of thousands of acceptance letter. Acceptance rates vary by campus, but all students typically have just a couple of months to commit to attending. The UC, like any university system, understands that this is a numbers game. Like airlines overbooking seats, the UC sends out more admissions offers than it can actually accommodate. That's because they know that not all students who are admitted will actually attend. Universities, like airlines, don't want to run the risk of having empty seats.
Last week, the University of California at Irvine, drew sharp criticism for rescinding the admissions offers of 499 students. UCI had accidentally overbooked its flight. In order to save face, the university searched for loopholes.
Admission is provisional for all students, contingent upon their academic performance in the second semester of their senior year of high school. This year, because UCI had underestimated the numbers of incoming students, the university was forced to scrutinize those second semester grades and make some pretty brutal cuts.
Still, this was a case of soft administrative fumbles. In some cases, high schools had failed to timely mail the students' grades to UCI. After the rescission letters went out, UCI was unable to keep up with the frenzy of email and telephone queries from shell-shocked students. Because universities don't always get around to looking at post-acceptance grades, the rescission came as a huge surprise to students.
Within a matter of days, UCI Chancellor Howard Gillman issued a public apology and reinstated 290 of the 499 students. Many of the remaining students had grades that had dropped below Cs in their last high school semester. Of those who appealed, just eight have been reinstated.
This is not the first time technical glitches have plagued the UC. In 2009, roughly 28,000 students received acceptances to UC San Diego in error. However, while misfires such as these may draw attention, they are unlikely to dilute student demand. The University of California is the largest university system in the world in terms of economic impact. The system employs tens of thousands of some of the top educators across the globe. Each year, there are more than 250,000 students attending the UC's nine campuses.
Wednesday, August 2, 2017
Trump Takes on Affirmative Action
The Department of Justice announced this week that it intends to conduct an investigation into affirmative action practices at U.S. universities. Its intent is to uncover policies that discriminate against white applicants. The enquiry will be run by members of the DoJ rather than through the non-partisan Educational Opportunities Section, which is typically in charge of such matters.
The furor surrounding affirmative action is symbolic of the nation's larger problems with race. The practice was originally intended to aid historically oppressed groups who were (and remain) proportionally underrepresented at U.S. universities. This has always irked the privileged classes, who have poured years of time and money into undermining affirmative action policies.
Though race-based college admissions is now outlawed in many states (even progressive California), universities have since modified policies to give them the flexibility to evaluate incoming students holistically. Beyond grades and test scores, universities have a great deal of latitude in filling up their freshman classes. This gray area infuriates students who don't get in.
In 2016 U.S. Supreme Court upheld race-base admissions policies in the State of Texas by a ruling of 4-3 in Fisher v University of Texas. Abigail Fisher, a white student, brought the suit years ago after failing to be admitted at the university. Similar suits (by white and Asian-American students) have been waiting on the Fisher result before winding their way through appellate courts.
Like many of the Trump administration policy changes, this one is likely to galvanize a conservative base, and it's impossible to know whether or not (or when) the DoJ will take action. Also unclear is what such an investigation is likely to accomplish. Admissions criteria are notoriously opaque, and race is just one of countless demographics colleges may consider in accepting new students. On this and other issues, the long-term effects of the volatile political climate in the U.S. remain incalculable.
Tuesday, July 25, 2017
California Supreme Court to Lower “Cut” Score on State Bar Exam
Today was a big day for thousands of California law students as they sat through day one of the state's biannual bar examination. Tomorrow they sit through six hours more. But this is where this year's exam becomes momentous: there is no longer a third day. California was one of just a handful of three-day bar exams in the country, and is widely regarded as the most difficult in the nation. The pass-rate for first-time takers in 2016 was just 62%.
If lobbing a day off the grueling test wasn't good news enough for law students, there is new cause for celebration. The California Supreme Court has announced its intent to raise the minimum score required for passing. The move comes following years of debate amongst legal professionals and scholars, who claim that the exam's rigor had a chilling effect upon the stream of qualified candidates entering the legal profession.
Last year, just 51% of graduates of Hastings School of Law passed the exam. Earlier this year, Whittier Law School announced that it would close, due in part to poor performance on the exam. While some purists will argue that the exam is a highly functional filter, the reality is that many who don't pass the examination in CA, would easily qualify in other states. In other words, as a screen, the exam is not porous enough.
Of particular note is the retroactivity of the court's order. Students who may not pass the July 2017 exam, may simply need to wait until January 2018, when the court raises the minimum score, at which point, they can be admitted to the bar. Unfortunately, July exam takers will get their regular results in November 2017, so unsuccessful candidates will be subject to several months of nail-biting.
Cynics argue that the move is designed to rescue law schools from hemorrhaging enrollment numbers. Whether CA's legal job market will be able to sustain an influx of additional practitioners is something that remains to be seen.
Monday, July 24, 2017
Keeping Your Eye on the Ball in College Applications
If you missed the baseball metaphor, what I'm suggesting here is that college hopefuls keep their eyes on the prize, tuning out the activity happening elsewhere on the field. In college admissions, there is a single question that plagues every applicant: what are colleges looking for in a student? In endless blogs, books, advice columns and social media forums, students circle the drain in a frenzy, trying to figure out how to make their dream college want them.
I'm suggesting that most of this is a distraction. One of the most hotly debated issues in college admissions is quotas. It is a mysterious gray area, clouded by legal challenges, racial discrimination, unspoken legacy admissions, and financial bottom lines. Challenges to affirmative action have been raised across the country, and even at the federal level and met with a wide swath of different results.
In reality, the cards are stacked against all applicants, to varying degrees. Competition for colleges is fierce. Race, national origin and ability to pay are all very real factors. They are also things that most students can't control. This doesn't mean that conversations about diversity and equity aren't important. It means simply that college hopefuls should narrow their focus: put your best foot forward, and let go of all of the what-ifs. The reality is far more frustrating: thousands of highly qualified students will get turned away.
If you're a spectacular student, don’t waste your admission essay discussing your grades. If you're a less than spectacular student, don't use the essay to air your regrets. Use it to let the college know who you are, whatever that means to you. Be creative, be forceful, be optimistic. Don't get stuck in the weeds. And while you can't map your way in everywhere, you can be assured that there is a place for you. Your job is to find it.
Monday, July 24, 2017
Louisiana Passes Law to “Ban the Box” from College Applications
In the spring of 2016, the U.S. Department of Education issued a sweeping call to colleges and universities across the nation, urging them to remove application questions regarding students' criminal histories. Such inquiries, they argued, tended to discourage otherwise qualified candidates from applying. Perhaps surprisingly, people listened.
In a report entitled "Ban the Box", the Department of Education outlined the many reasons why criminal history questions on college applications serve as a barrier to access. Between 70 and 100 million Americans have criminal records. Higher education is key to long-term rehabilitation, and some studies have shown that disclosures of criminal history have done relatively little to improve campus safety.
Last week, in a unanimous vote on the House floor, Louisiana State banned such questions on all state university applications. The bill received enthusiastic bipartisan support from lawmakers who appreciate the importance of higher education in long-term success and rehabilitation. Louisiana has one of the highest incarceration rates in the country. The prohibition is not extended to private institutions.
This practice is nothing new to the University of California, which has never required students to list criminal history on their initial applications. New York State's public school system does not require such disclosure, and other private universities, such as NYU, have followed suit. In 2016, the Common Application removed a question regarding past crimes.
Louisiana's new legislation makes it the first state to institute such a ban at a governmental level. University presidents reportedly requested exceptions for students with a history of stalking or sexual assault. FAFSA and other aid applications, as well as housing associations, may still be able to ask questions about an applicant's criminal history after a student has been accepted.
Monday, July 10, 2017
Do Aptitude Tests Accurately Measure Merit, or Privilege?
It may come as a surprise to you that the Scholastic Aptitude Test was first administered all the way back in 1926. Though it didn't transform into its modern structure until the early 1950s, it was widely utilized as a rudimentary tool of meritocracy measurement. The test administrators gained their biggest client in 1960, when the University of California first made it a requirement to entry. Eventually, virtually all four-year colleges and universities in the U.S. made the SAT mandatory.
There is no small amount of irony in the test's insidiously racist origins. Its creator, Carl C. Brigham, was an accomplished scholar and unabashed white supremacist, who believed that the "Nordic" descendants in America were fundamentally superior. He declared that aptitude testing scientifically proved that "American Negroes, the Italians and the Jews were genetically ineducable". Utilizing aptitude tests, he reasoned, would ensure that the intelligence of the white race would not be diluted by allowing non-whites into the university environment.
Almost a century later, the SAT and related aptitude tests arguably work just as Brigham intended. Good performance on the SAT does correlate with success in college. But it also tracks visibly along socioeconomic and racial lines. Wealthy students are far more likely to attend better high schools, have college educated parents, academic support at home, and-most significantly-the means for SAT preparation workshops and materials. Those students are overwhelmingly white.
The biases inherent in test scores are recognizable enough to modern universities, that close to a thousand colleges in the U.S. are now "test-optional", meaning that the SAT, ACT and related exams are not a requirement for admission. What's problematic is that most of these schools are smaller, with fewer applicants, giving them the time to make a more holistic assessment of a student's potential. Big universities receive so many applications each year that the SAT is a crucial filter for high volume. Because poverty correlates largely with race in the U.S., the test is effectively a barrier to access for students of color, who are already disproportionately under-represented in third-level educational institutions.
Though Brigham later walked back some of his assertions about the science of racism, the damage was already done; he'd lit the firey rage of anti-immigrant sentiment and zeal for eugenics. The country, apparently, has yet to recover.
Monday, July 3, 2017
STEM-Majors Outperform Humanities Students on LSAT
In news that should surprise virtually no one, college graduates with degrees in science, technology, engineering and math generally do better on the LSAT than students of history, English, and sociology. They also account for fewer than 6% of law school applicants-a deficit that many experts claim is diluting the quality of the intelligence pool.
As a first year law student, I attended a massive test-prep workshop in Los Angeles where the animated host devoted a large chunk of time to precisely this subject. I'd always thought that English and Philosophy were the feeder-majors for law school. Here we were being told to approach law school and the bar exam with the minds of scientists. And, while terrifying, it made sense.
As its name professes, the LSAT is an aptitude exam. This means that it tests quantitative and analytic skills. It is largely multiple choice, with a single writing section that is not scored. Critical thinking (questioning absolutes!) is the backbone of humanities study. In practice, law leans heavily upon nuance, theatre, deft debate, and calculated spin. Successful litigation depends as much on toppling notions of existing law as it does in advocating for their stringent administration. The LSAT does not test critical thinking skills, at least in their most classic context.
The LSAT is recognized as an effective predictor of law school and bar exam success. Students with strong quantitative and scientific skills tend to perform better on tests of absolutes. While it is crucial to the integrity of the legal profession to front-load admission with watertight filters, the theory that the profession is suffering from a lack of STEM practitioners isn't exactly science.
The real problem isn't that psychology majors are bad at multiple-choice tests. It's that STEM students don't want to go to law school. This should be the critical discussion point, particularly in a post-graduate field that continues to see declining enrollment and job placement. For better or worse, the LSAT remains the standard-bearer in the adjudication of legal talent.
It's ongoing efficacy as a gatekeeper is a story for another day.
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