|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.|
Monday, May 29, 2017
What Students Should Be Looking for in an Admission Essay
In college admissions, there is no topic of discussion as heavily aerated as that of the admission essay. No one really understands what colleges want, and students become paralyzed by soul-searching over a keyboard. Guidance is made more difficult by the fact that adults have a wisdom of perspective that young teenagers simply haven't acquired yet. So when a teacher or college consultant tells a student to "be themselves" in the essay, there's just too much static congesting the conversation.
I'm a person that learns through examples. Even as an adult. And I know I'm not alone. Having someone describe expectations in platitudes just doesn't compute for me. So telling a student to "write from the heart" may be far less effective than showing them essays that "worked". Many universities and news sources annually post the essays of successful candidates. It is important to read these. Not because every high school senior can aspire to being one of the top writers in the country, but because seeing the work of their peers can help dislodge even the worst writer's block.
The excruciating level of competition in college admissions accords too much weight to the essay in the minds of students. Success is a matter of reframing the issue, and creating a good piece of writing for the sake of creating something good, not because it is what students think admissions officers want to hear. It's about trusting that you have an interesting story to tell. A good essay doesn't need to tell the college everything about you, so long as it can tell them something about you.
Rather than seeking to write something perfect, write about something you find interesting. And here's a challenge I'd field to every prospective applicant: write about something that appears nowhere else on your college application. That is how you add depth to your submission.
Like any challenge in life, try to look at the essay as an opportunity instead of a burden. Then take a leap of faith.
Sunday, May 21, 2017
Reframing the Value of the High School Grading System
Any parent who has ever had a child struggle in school understands the inherent fallibility of using grades to measure a child's worth. Intelligence and accomplishment are difficult to quantify using a single digit, and evaluating a student's future potential necessarily requires more than a cursory read through a report card. There is no place this plays out more starkly than through the college admissions process.
University admissions committees are responsible for a truly impossible task-evaluating human beings using a transcript of letters and numbers. Though most colleges claim to view a student's talents holistically, how comprehensive can that review really be in the absence of getting to know the person behind the grades? This vulnerability is the pivot point for endless hand-wringing about the magical formula for college admission.
The Mastery Transcript Consortium (MTC) is a collective of U.S. high schools working to change the way teachers grade their high school students. They see the current grading system as an outmoded one that teaches students "to value extrinsic rather than intrinsic motivation". It sees the segregation of academic disciplines as artificial. The current grading system focuses on "the acquisition of information rather than the making of meaning".
MTC's vision would group metrics differently, allow measurement of performance areas rather than subjects, and assessment of mastery standards on a skill-by-skill basis. It is a beautiful idea that likely faces an uphill battle in implementation in a society where public schools are overburdened already with stretched budgets and overworked teachers (for whom the grading process would become more time-consuming and complex).
That said, a new method could revolutionize the way that colleges evaluate incoming students, fleshing out the souls behind the records. Ironically, MTC's system would most likely work best for higher income students, who are already at a great advantage over their lower income peers. As it stands, MTC's collective is comprised largely of private high schools with smaller student-teacher ratios. These are precisely the institutions with the functional and financial means to execute holistic grading in the first place.
Still, the concept of modifying grading at the high school level could have exceptional long-term benefits on the college admissions process.
Monday, May 15, 2017
Tackling Relevance in Admissions Essays
Each year, the New York Times invites college-bound seniors to submit copies of their admissions essays about money, work and social class. The authors of the top four or five compositions earn a feature in the Times, which also publishes the original work. Each year, the writing is stunning and unspoiled.
These compositions are exquisite in both substance and form. Some are lyrical—short sentences pregnant with meaning, poetry disguised as prose. Others are evocative in their visual imagery. Eighteen-year-old Idalia Felipe, who is headed to Cal State Fullerton in the fall, writes of the "warm touch of a small palm" in her home filled with siblings and tender chaos.
The narratives are flawless, but bear no fingerprints of artifice or professional editing. Caitlin McCormack will start Barnard this year. She grew up padding around the carpets of her parents' bed & breakfast. She writes about the inherent imbalance of power in service professions: "We meet sneers with apologies". Tips become a fertile space for microagressions. And somehow, it is against the texture of this backdrop that she is able to navigate the distinct contours between providing a service and being of service.
This year's selections all tackle the struggle of balancing their socio-economic identities. Jonathan Ababiy, the son of Moldovan immigrants writes of his mother's job cleaning the house of wealthy professors-a home he calls "a telescope to how…the other half lived". But there is no resentment in his words; his hyper-awareness of the social gap was also a window into his ultimate potential.
Setting aside the sheer beauty of this writing, a critical theme emerges. Each of these authors is able to write artfully about privilege-or the lack of it-without sounding brittle. In sharing soft but acute observations, they transcend the narrative ordinary. They become a person you'd like to get to know better.
Tuesday, May 9, 2017
New Jersey Teen Accepted into All Eight Ivies
This crowning achievement is still relatively rare, and the small handful of students who grab the honor each year tends to get a lot of press. With notoriously brutal acceptance rates ranging from 5-15%, the odds are in almost no one's favor. So the fact that seventeen-year-old Ifeoma White-Thorpe was also accepted into Stanford is extraordinary. For the 2017-2018 admissions cycle, Stanford's admission rate fell to a mind-boggling 4.65%.
Anyone tuned into this blog knows that I've written relentlessly about the problem with reported acceptance rates. It's simple math: technology has made applying easier, so students apply to more colleges. At the same time, universities have around the same number of spaces open in each freshman class. So, proportionally speaking, colleges are admitting a lower percentage of applying students.
Technicalities aside, this kind of admissions sweep is relatively unheard of, and the credit should fall squarely in White-Thorpe's lap. She is student-government president at her school. Though writing is both a skill and a passion, she aspires to study global health and biology. The appeal of the Ivies was not pedigree but the value of their research institutions.
In 2015, she was one of three national finalists in the Selma Speech and Essay Contest, in which students were invited to write about issues of freedom and self-determination. White-Thorpe wrote candidly about racial discrimination, and living with its very raw, and often terrifying weight.
White-Thorpe hasn't yet made a declaration about attendance, but acknowledges that cost will be a factor. Neither Stanford nor the Ivies offer merit-based scholarships and all come with annual price tags of $50,000 and higher. Fortunately, enormous endowments mean that most offer generous need-based financial aid. With any luck, the positive press will be as persuasive to these institutions as Ms. White-Thorpe's own estimable achievements.
Tuesday, May 2, 2017
How to Get Your Application Off the Waitlist
As with anything related to college admissions, there is no sure answer for how to get in—whether you're on the waitlist or not. All colleges evaluate candidates using a variety of different factors. Admissions criteria are often cloaked in secrecy. Above all, there are simply so many applicants these days that there simply is not room for everyone. Still, the waitlist is a particularly precarious stopover, and there are some affirmative actions that waitlisted students can and should take.
1) Figure out the university's policy regarding communications from waitlisted students. Some colleges don't want to hear from waitlisted students at all. Others will invite short, online communications. Others may accept supplemental materials like updated grades and new letters of recommendation. If they do not invite such information, don't send it.
2) Express continuing interest in attending. It sounds almost too obvious. However, universities understand that many waitlisted students won't want to take any chances by waiting around, and will necessarily accept offers at other schools. Let them know you are still interested.
3) Keep them apprised of new information. If you've retaken the SAT or TOEFL and earned a higher score, let them know. Be frugal with your updated statistics. They don't need to know about your last month as a volunteer in the animal shelter. But dramatic improvements in scores or accomplishments can and should be brought to their attention.
4) Put a deposit down elsewhere. There are zero guarantees of admission for waitlisted students. Most students are drawn randomly from the waitlist, only after accepted students have declined offers of entry. Do not put all your eggs in one basket by waiting for the waitlist results, even if it is your top choice. Many waitlisted students won't receive notification until late summer.
5) Get an interview. Very few universities offer interviews for waitlisted students, but if they do, get yourself in there. It's impossible to beat the persuasive effect of a face-to-face interaction.
Above all, try to let go. After you've completed the steps above, it is out of your hands. Consider yourself honored to have been considered, and treat this as a learning experience. It is but a single chapter in a much longer story.
Monday, May 1, 2017
Whittier Law School Shuts its Doors
Last week, the Southern California-based Whittier Law School became the first fully ABA accredited institution in the U.S. to announce its closure. While the downturn in law school enrollment is not new news, the proclamation came as a complete shock to the school's students-one week before final exams.
According to the Los Angeles Times, national law school enrollment is down a full 50% since 2005. Generally speaking, this downturn has had a disproportionate affect on all but the highest-tier law schools, who have accepted students with lower grades and test scores, and who tend to perform less competitively on bar exams. The fizzling job market also means that fewer students are getting the jobs they need to pay down their enormously burdensome debts.
Whittier Law School earned its accreditation in the mid-1970s, and in recent years, gained attention for being one of the most racially diverse law school campuses in the country. The majority of students are non-white and female. Many are full-time working mothers, immigrants, or from low-income families. Whittier had been praised for offering access to the legal profession to students who may not have otherwise had the opportunity to practice law. Many of these students are more likely to go on to provide services in underserved communities.
As one current student put it, the shuttering "depreciates" the value of her degree. Existing students will be allowed to finish out their time at Whittier, but many are resentful of paying back six-figure debts to a school no longer in existence.
In January 2017, the board of trustees sold the campus for $13 million, promising to reinvest the proceeds into the campus. This is just one of many reasons that students are threatening to litigate over the decision to close; faculty has already filed a request to enjoin the trustees from closing the school. Law blogs across the country are weighing in on the politics and implications of the board's decision, and the potential domino effect on other struggling U.S. law schools.
Monday, April 24, 2017
Another Obstacle for Low-Income Students in College Admissions
Diversity may be a fashionable term in modern-day college admissions, but opponents need not shiver at the mention of its name. The reality is that the vast majority of American students at four-year universities are white and middle to upper-middle class.
College is often regarded as the ticket to middle class, but if most of its students are already on that train, how can the working class every hope to ascend?
All too often, discussions about "diversity" in higher education are reduced to partisan squabbles over the merits or faults with affirmative action policies. An emerging reality is that socioeconomic status has an even larger impact than race in terms of collegiate success. The fact that the two factors often exist on parallel tracks makes the discussion even more complex.
A recent study by the Center for the Study of Higher and Post-Secondary Education (CSHPE) at the University of Michigan, found that many students from lower income backgrounds faced an unexpected obstacle: information about the quality of their high schools.
Admissions officers receive data about the high schools of nearly all of their applicants. Some of the more valuable metrics evaluated include 1) quantity of AP courses offered, 2) number of students with limited English proficiency, and 3) average standardized test scores. Since lower income students are more likely to go to underserved high schools, they are also more likely to be regarded less favorably than high-income peers who graduated from more competitive (or better serviced) schools.
In its study, CSHPE found that admissions officers were 13% more likely to admit low-income students from underserved high schools, if they were simply provided more information about the quality of the school. Put another way, students from these schools weren't getting declined simply because they attended a lower-performing school, but because admissions committees simply didn't know enough about their schools.
The study is promising in the sense that it gives universities and high schools a somewhat easier goal to reach for in terms of buoying students from lower-income communities. Socioeconomic equality is a much tougher fix, but airing out these deficiencies in the college admissions process? That's a good baby step in the right direction.
Monday, April 17, 2017
Quadruplets Take Top Colleges by Storm
Taking sibling rivalry to the best possible level, four brothers from Ohio have all been accepted to Harvard and Yale. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. One brother got into Stanford and another was waitlisted there. The list of top colleges goes on and on: UC Berkeley, Vanderbilt, Brown and more.
Like many multiples, Zach, Aaron, Nigel and Nick share relationships that are both synergetic and independent. While all four of them boast outstanding credentials, their interests are varied from music to chemical engineering to foreign diplomacy. One thing is certain-these young men have worked hard, and the payoff has come.
The brothers considered drafting a single, jointly created admission essay, but took a more creative pivot by creating four stand-alone essays which-when read together-formed a complete puzzle. Each wrote of their respective experience as a quad, but told a unique story.
In an interview with the New York Times, the brothers said that they had not yet made decisions about which offers to accept, but that Yale was currently offering the largest financial aid packet-something crucial for a family attempting to put four kids through college simultaneously.
Though the brothers are clearly credentialed, their interests are varied, from music to chemical engineering to foreign diplomacy. For the first time in life, their geographic paths may diverge, but the future is looking bright for this talented unit.
Sunday, April 9, 2017
Five Ways Parents Can Help With College Admissions
With everything tied up in college admissions these days, the lead up to the process can be one of the most trying times in the parent-child relationship. Parents understand the economic and social benefits of college. They also know that this may be one of the last big decisions in their child's life that they will be an integral part of. How to release some of this tension? Here's a helpful (but not exhaustive) list:
1) Start Early. Every kid is different. Some will be more receptive to parental advice than others. The best lead up to the college craziness is to have it be an organic, stress-free part of everyday conversation before deadlines start to heat up. This gives both parent and child time to wrap their heads around it.
2) Try not to "Project". This is a big deal, and you don't want to kick them out of the nest without first teaching them how to fly. But it's their big deal, not yours. Whether parents mean to or not, they tend to expect their children to share the same values and goals that they do. Your kid is an individual, and the best you can do is steer them, not reshape them.
3) Help them develop a plan. Most people do best when following a path they've created for themselves. "Should" can be a toxic word that induces guilt and resentment. Don't draw the blueprint for them.
4) Be Supportive. This is obvious, but see points 1-3 above. The kids need love and encouragement here, not cracking of the whip.
5) Be Available. It may be that the thing they need most is a friendly ear. The more you push, the more they're likely to back away. Take a stab at treating them as an adult. They might just surprise you.
Most parents will agree that one of the toughest parts of being a parent is watching your kid fail. A strong second? Backing off and letting your kid skin her knees anyways.
Sunday, April 2, 2017
Starbucks Goes One Step Further in Supporting College for Employees
In 2014, Starbucks partnered up with Arizona State University (ASU) to create a program offering full tuition coverage to all of their employees. The program, called the College Achievement Plan, was made available to both part-time and full-time Starbucks employees.
Tuition is fully reimbursable by Starbucks, and in turn, ASU provides mentoring and tutorial support across a range of more than 60 undergraduate degrees. The assistance and coursework are available on-line, meaning that geography isn't a barrier to access.
The program is available to Starbucks' more than 15,000 employees, but has turned out to be challenging for students who are not otherwise eligible for college admission. A number of student hopefuls hadn't taken the SAT, didn't have a high enough GPA, or lacked requisite freshman coursework.
Last week, Starbucks and ASU announced an enhanced program, Pathways to Admission, which seeks to help employees overcome ineligibility issues. Under the new program ASU will offer additional tutoring and counseling in order to help employees complete freshman-level courses, as many times as is necessary. Starbucks will foot the bill.
Starbucks' stated goal is to have 25,000 college graduates by 2025. CEO Howard Schultz announced the new program at a recent shareholders' meeting, where he spoke of the company's moral commitment to strive to do more than simply reap profits. Educating its workforce is good for both the company, and the economy.
This is one in a long-line of progressive, employee-centered policies by Starbucks. The company is already renowned for its exemplary management-training program, benefits for part-time employees, as well as a stated commitment to hiring at-risk youth, veterans, refugees and people with disabilities.
Wednesday, March 29, 2017
America's College Drop-out Problem
For most college hopefuls, the most daunting and labor-intensive part of the college process is admission. It is the topic of countless blogs and self-help books. It has spawned an entire industry of admissions counselors, coaches, and mentors, all promising to offer the foolproof formula for getting accepted. What's lost in all of this commotion are statistics far more sobering than single-digit acceptance rates: the number of students who start college but don't finish.
What if the real social problem is not getting in, but staying in?
Drop-out statistics are notoriously hard to collect, but a soft estimate is that a full 25% of thirty-somethings in the U.S. who have attended college, do not have either an associate's degree or a four-year diploma. Why?
The simple answer is: cost.
One way or another, most middle to high-income students will find a way to finish college. And let's not forget-statistically, it was easier for these kids to become students in the first place. They were not the first in the family to attend college, they went to good high schools, their parents could afford SAT prep workshops and so on.
Lower income students are more likely to have to work during college. They are less likely to have financial help from their parents. They are more likely to take time off from college, and pick up again at a stage in their lives where it is even less affordable. Imagine, for a moment, being a 30-year-old father of three with a mortgage to pay, trying to juggle the workload and costs of college.
Getting additional financial aid towards the back-end of college can be challenging, but if colleges are truly concerned with long-term student success, the drop-out problem merits far more attention. When students don't finish college, society loses. College graduates qualify for higher-paying jobs. They are more likely to pay back student loans, and more likely to send their own kids to college.
This socioeconomic problem looms far more heavily than issues like affirmative action and getting into an Ivy. But it isn't one that too may people are yet having, and that's a whopping loss for everyone.
Wednesday, March 22, 2017
Harvard Law School to Begin Accepting GRE
The Law School Admissions Test has long been a requirement for all applicants to ABA-accredited law schools in the United States. High LSAT scores are the golden ticket for law school hopefuls. So when the University of Arizona School of Law announced last May that they would accept both the LSAT and the Graduate Records Examination (GRE) for its 2016-2017 applicants, legal pundits quickly began sparring.
Why? The short, editorialized answer is this: the LSAT is a more rigorous test, and lawyers traffic in prestige. The LSAT applies only for law school admission; the GRE for virtually all other graduate programs.
Far more people take the GRE-somewhere from five to eight times more. The GRE is offered on-line, on a rolling basis throughout the year. The LSAT is a written, in-person exam, presented just four times a year.
Both exams appear to be effective predictors of academic performance, but that isn't the primary reason that the University of Arizona and now Harvard are opening their doors to GRE takers. These institutions want to increase the diversity of their applicant pool.
Diversity is a loaded word in academia, but in practice, casting a wider net will allow law schools to consider more international students, and those from a broader range of academic disciplines. If the change sticks, it may loosen the stranglehold of the LSAT as a metric, and could open up the field of law to competent students who might not otherwise have considered law school.
No word yet on whether Harvard's move has people clucking, or whether this is a foreshadowing of a longer-term shift in law school admissions. Still, a space worth watching.
Monday, March 13, 2017
California Proposes Most Generous College Aid Plan in Nation
With college costs and student loan debts mounting nationwide, legislators in California have crafted an economically ambitious plan. The complex proposal aims to reduce or eliminate the need for student loans for the more than 450,000 students attending Cal State and University of California institutions.
The average annual cost at one of the 23 Cal State campuses is $21,000; at the nine UC campuses, that cost is $33,000. This proposal promises to cover those costs, while continuing to supplement them with federal and state grant programs currently in place. Recipients would additionally be required to work part-time jobs year round, and families earning more than $60,000 annually would receive only partial subsidies.
With more than $2.1 billion in aid offered each year, California is already one of the most generous states in the country. Cost of living in California, however, tends to severely offset these benefits. Several of the UC campuses are located in some of the most expensive cities in the U.S. The state estimates that UC aid recipients currently spend some 60% of their aid packages on housing costs alone.
At the cheaper Cal State institutions, costs of living is also a serious issue. In June of 2016, a Los Angeles Times article reported that one in ten Cal State students was homeless.
Despite the tremendous need and California's robust budget, the proposal faces enormouse barriers. Governor Brown has been cautious in the management of the state budget, even in cash-heavy years. Politically, college affordability faces staunch opposition, particularly given the need for expenditures in other areas such as transportation.
If the proposal leaves the tarmac, however, it could set the stage for similar progressive reforms across the country. With a presidential administration committed to reducing federal student aid, these statewide economic shifts are the ones to watch.
Friday, March 10, 2017
Politics and Teachable Moments for MBA Students
Following President Trump's January 2017 Executive Order temporarily banning immigration from six Muslim-majority countries, a furor erupted across America. The backlash was not purely political. Some of the loudest voices came from the halls of academia, where immigrants comprise a substantial portion of the student and faculty population. A recent GMAC survey found that 56% of two-year MBA applications are from non-citizens.
This week, the Trump administration issued a new, narrower ban. While it has sparked slightly less outrage, at least some in academia are viewing the ban through a different lens: a learning opportunity.
Bill Boulding, dean of Duke University's Fuqua School of Business, considers both of the executive orders to be teachable moments. Business schools are amongst the most geographically diverse of post-graduate institutions, largely because the world of business is now largely global. Students stand to learn more about context when exposed to cross-cultural models.
Boulding understands the need for delicate handling of a political hot-topic, but his approach is pragmatic. The practical effects of the ban are yet unknown, but it is likely to either prevent or discourage foreign talent from pursuing education in the U.S. In that regard, it may become a forecast of real-world trends under increasingly isolationist U.S. policies.
MBA programs in particular are built upon the backs of case studies. Factoring in global economic shifts and sociopolitical trends is essential in creating hypotheticals that mimic reality. For now, that reality is changing at a dynamic gallop, forcing business schools to square off with a very different academic landscape.
Monday, March 6, 2017
The Importance of Courting the Right College
As this season's high school juniors slowly slide into the college application season, they may find that things are finally getting real. Having your wheels clicked into the college track is one thing. Picking a university and a major are entirely different affairs.
The majority of high school students don't have concrete long-term plans. There are exceptions, of course, and most have at least a sense of their general interests. It is okay not to know, but students shouldn't be afraid to do some exploring.
This is the time to reach out to professors. These are the people who aren't typically on the front lines of college admissions. Those jobs are reserved for the marketing department. Getting to know faculty will help students to distinguish between schools that look good and schools that are a good fit for their specific needs.
Professors are likely to be impressed by high school students who are doing their homework on the university. Email them. Ask to sit in on a class. Ask questions about course content. Tell them you're not sure what you want to do. If you reach the interview stage, you'll be able to say that you've taken the initiative to get to know a little about the school and its instructors-stuff you can't necessarily find on the brochure.
It's okay to sit in your uncertainty. Indecision need not be paralytic. College application season is intense but short. Like every transition in life, it will fortify the texture of your experience. Any good professor knows all of this. And they don't have to be your teacher to give you some really important guidance.
As a prospective student, you really have nothing to lose.
Monday, February 27, 2017
LSAT and the Problem with Merit-Based Scholarships
For roughly 27 years, the current form of the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) has worked as the primary arbiter of law school admissions. The test, which has existed in various forms since the late 1940s, was originally administered as a measure of the capacity of prospective law students that would allow assessment outside of GPA. Like the SAT for undergraduates, the test has been mandatory for decades.
Like the SAT, the LSAT appears to be a good quantitative measure of student success. Students with higher LSAT scores are more likely to do well in law school and are more likely to pass the bar exam. They are also far more likely to receive merit-based scholarships. All of this sounds pretty standard-fair even-until one reads between the lines.
A recent report by LSSSE, indicates that just 20% of law school scholarship money is need-based. LSAT scores skew along racial lines, meaning that white students are receiving the majority of the merit-based scholarships. This means that race is not only a barrier to access, it can be a barrier to financial aid, and a factor that contributes to adverse levels of financial an emotional stress for students of color.
Because the LSAT is bound so tightly to rankings, law schools are further incentivized to tie scholarship money to students with higher scores. And while there is nothing wrong with merit-based scholarships, one of the effects of the real-world trends, according to LSSSE, is that students of color are effectively subsidizing the education costs of their wealthier, white counterparts.
In a profession where prestige is the primary capital, precise academic measurement tools like the LSAT have a multitude of purposes. It does have the effect of separating the better performing students from their peers. It is an effective indicator of bar passage—a metric vital to law school rankings. Unfortunately, it remains a marker of the ongoing inequity that has also become a long-term fixture in the world of legal education and beyond.
Monday, February 20, 2017
When Social Media Can Help on Your College Application
There has been much ado about the ways in which social media can ruin a first impression. Job-seekers and college applicants would do well to remember to scrub their profiles before putting their best foot forward. Let's be honest, who hasn't stalked someone's Facebook profile? Or even judged a profile picture? There's a lot to be learned about a person's politics, interests, humor and dislikes.
But shouldn't that cut both ways? Social media can also be a window into someone's positive passions. It can illuminate the ways in which a person is engaged in their community. It can be an outlet for their creativity, and a way to read between the lines about who they really are.
Which is why some colleges are paying attention to the good stuff. Students generally pack applications with all the things they think colleges want to know. Social media profiles can give colleges access to the things they'd like to know about their prospective students. This is the part of their persona that isn't scripted.
Certain colleges-graduate business schools, in particular-are very responsive to LinkedIn profiles. The professional focus of LinkedIn gives students an opportunity to learn how to package and brand themselves. It can offer admissions committees insight into a student’s practical acumen.
It's worth bearing mention that social media-like the interview and the essay-takes a back seat to metrics like GPA and standardized test scores. It is still a soft factor. Yet, in a tremendously competitive arena, there's little harm in polishing every corner of the snapshot. You never know who might be giving it a hard second look.
Monday, February 13, 2017
With College Admissions, There’s No Easy Formula
As someone who regularly blogs on the topic of college admissions, I'm always on the hunt for good insights. Though many people try, few can honestly tell students precisely what colleges are looking for, or what qualities they'll need in order to get admitted. The truth is almost always nuanced, and college admissions is no exception.
Of course, there is no shortage of data-collection on the topic. People who analyze these metrics consistently return the same "answers"; grades continue to matter most in an evaluation of a student's prospects. Test scores are a close second. The quality of a student's high school is also critical. Still, much of the buzz surrounding college admissions focuses on other areas: the essay, volunteer work, race, sex, nationality, legacy admissions, and so on.
All of those factors matter, of course, but they aren't as measurable. Because people can't put a finger on their persuasiveness, they become fertile topics for discussion. In social media parlance, they are "click bait".
Imagine you are in the driver's seat on an admissions board, deciding a student's fate. Would you pick the B-student who'd traveled to rural China to tutor impoverished children for a summer, or the straight-A student with two years of high school tennis? Is it an easy answer? Not likely.
The cautious evaluation simply makes more sense. A student who attends a challenging school and has earned solid grades over the course of four years has already shown a degree of commitment and consistency that would otherwise be difficult to appraise. It just doesn't make for an interesting sound byte.
As always, there will be exceptions. Grades do not define a student, and the social playing field is not level-which means that ongoing discourse about admission metrics is important. We just can't always expect it to be entertaining.
Monday, February 6, 2017
Advantages of the Gap Year for Med School Students
As someone who never moved much past high school biology, I've long regarded medical students as a different breed. They understand organic chemistry and blood doesn't make them squeamish. They also go to school for a really, really long time. Which is why I was a little bemused to discover that the medical school gap year is actually a thing.
In weighing the gap year option, there appears to be a couple of camps. The first school of thought sees the gap year as an opportunity to erase an applicant's weaknesses. The second sees the gap year as a chance to broaden an applicant's life experiences.
The gap year is a potential antidote for a poor undergraduate GPA or low MCAT score, allowing students to offset anemic transcripts with valuable clinical experience. The year presents opportunity for tackling additional academic courses, retaking the MCAT, or developing working relationships that will lead to stronger recommendation letters.
On the flipside, the gap year is fertile ground for bolstering life experience. Pre-med students can take on research positions or volunteer posts in the medical field, which can be useful in helping students hone in on a specialty. There are domestic options like Americorps, and international aid organizations offering invaluable practical experience to would-be medical professionals.
Taking the year out to work is a great way to set aside financial reserves to pay for medical school. Soul-searching has the potential to spice up med-school interviews. Clinical experience is invaluable. Maturity is a good thing when you're managing people's health and well being.
Whether they'll get rusty in chemistry is another thing.
Friday, February 3, 2017
When College Application Information Gets Too Personal
Over the past several years, American universities have begun creating space for something new on their entrance applications: gender identity. The space takes different forms. Duke University earned recognition for offering an optional essay prompt inviting students to discuss things such as gender identity and cultural influences, on the premise that students may want to share other dimensions of their self-identification.
Last Spring, the Common Application-used by over 400 universities and colleges-announced that it would be introducing an optional essay question that would allow students to discuss their gender identity. They even begun to include a drop-down menu option (also optional), where students could enter their "sex assigned at birth".
Dozens of universities have followed suit across the nation. In California, all community colleges and California State University campuses invite student-applicants to designate one of several gender and sex identities.
For LGTBIA students and their allies, these options create a safe space and an invitation to discuss the ways in which being gender non-conforming affects their approach to their worlds.
But the news hasn't been universally welcome. College admissions is competitive, and some critics see these new identity options as a threat to the neutrality of the system. They worry that gender non-conforming students may be given preference in admissions. They fear that gender identity-like race-could be used by colleges to populate a diverse student body.
By most external metrics, colleges rely most heavily on grades and test scores in making admissions decisions; essays can tip the scale for students on the bubble. Beyond that is anyone's guess.
College admissions is still inherently opaque. No one knows exactly why some students are admitted and others aren't. It isn't and cannot be a scientific process. So people speculate, and worry that someone will be given an unfair advantage.
This is the nature of the competitive game, and it isn't always pretty.
|Affiliate Program | Free Admission Essays | Writing Tips | Newsletter | Links | Success Stories | Contact Us|
|Admission Essay | Personal Statement | Letter of Recommendation | Scholarship Essay|