|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 2, 2016
When Perfect Is Not Good Enough
Imagine scoring perfect 800s on all three components of the SAT exam. Maybe you've even nailed 800s on the SAT subject exams. You've hit the magic thirties on the ACTs. Unlikely as this is, it still might not guarantee you admission into your dream school.
Harvard's recent manifesto about the damaging tunnel-vision of college admissions has received both praise and criticism. It's easy to get behind its message of encouraging colleges to look at the whole student, rather than a series of scores. But critics malign its message that extracurriculars should matter more than grades, claiming that the premise is simply shifting the stress from one metric to another.
From an outsider's perspective, either approach is discouraging. In real life, it's impossible to be good at all things, all the time. In fact, in the professional world, we aren't expected to be masters of all trades. Real life is about compartmentalizing and specializing. Yet in the game of college admissions, students are expected to have stellar grades and scores while also being perfectly well-rounded.
Why is the application process so out-of-step with reality? Maybe it's because a student with perfect SAT scores might also struggle with the English language. Maybe the dancer who did volunteer work in Haiti didn't always have enough time to study in school. These are real, flawed, and probably talented people. Yet, with a limited number of spaces at some schools, these talented, fallible people don't stand a chance.
Of course, there are plenty of outstanding schools with room for bright, committed students. Still, even for the students who aren't applying to the most competitive universities, high school students are being sent a potentially damaging message about the real definition of success.
Which is why parents and students alike have an important role to play in reframing the process. It's an important moment in life, but not a determinative one, and we must start treating it as such.
Labels: When Perfect Isn't Good Enough
Saturday, April 30, 2016
Curbing Competition in College Admissions
Writers on the topic of college admissions-present company included-give a lot of column space to discussion of how competitive it has become. The conversation typically follows a threadbare path. More applications=more rejections. Then, lots of speculation. Is college more expensive than it used to be? (Yes) Are more people applying to college? (Maybe) Are college degrees more valuable today than they were fifty years ago? (Debatable).
There are a couple of things that are somewhat certain. I'm no economist, but it's pretty easy to rustle up access to endowments for universities all over the country. You might not be shocked to know that big universities are big business. UCLA, a public school in California, has an endowment of nearly $2 billion. Billion. But it's got nothing on Harvard, which, in 2014, had an endowment of $36 billion. That's just staggering.
I'm no financial expert either, and I have no doubt that these universities have massive overhead costs. Harvard's own website discusses a $1.6 billion distribution for the fiscal year ending June 2015, acknowledging that that number represents approximately a third of Harvard's operating costs. I'm no math expert, but that leaves them a tidy sum in their financial portfolios.
I'm no politician, but I can't help but wonder why private institutions like Harvard dooesn't do a more effective job of spreading the wealth. Most public universities were created with the aim of educating the citizens of the states in which they reside. But their budgets are strained, and even public universities remain out of reach for many people.
Private institutions have the money to create scalable options for spreading the educational wealth. Why not offer more MOOCs? Extension programs? Public access to their rich resources? Stanford boasts a 5% acceptance rate, but apparently does nothing to make that rate go up. Why not create more seats for applicants?
I'm just musing here, but in the current admissions climate, a discussion of higher-education profit is one that can't and shouldn't be avoided.
Friday, April 15, 2016
Adding Meaning to Your Law School Personal Statement
One of the first things they teach you in law school is how to outline. You may think you already know how, but law school is full of blind corners, and this is one of them. It turns out, in order to survive law school, you have to read and absorb an obscene volume of material. Without processing it into bite-sized morsels, it will be too much to remember, and regurgitate on an exam.
Some professors will encourage you to spend at least 50% of your exam time simply outlining your answer. With limited time on the clock, this can be excruciating. The temptation to fill the empty blank page is sometimes overwhelming. And yet-stereotypes of bloviating attorneys notwithstanding-professors don't value quantity over quality.
This concept bears consideration for students preparing their law school personal statements. It can't simply be a resume in prose or a bullet-list of achievements in narrative form. It needs a good, strong backbone.
So while I generally view an English degree as a liability in law school, the admissions essay may be the one area in which it would serve you well. Start with a thesis. Can't think of one? Brainstorm. Then brainstorm again. Then-outline.
Your essay needs a heart. It needs a center, to which everything is tied. Reading about your Toastmasters or Debate Club experience just isn't that interesting, unless it's woven into your greater story.
Think of the personal statement as the first in a series of tests of plotting an essay before putting the proverbial pen to paper. By holding back, you'll actually make the overall process of writing more efficient. Moreover, you'll be able to demonstrate your capacity to make an argument and follow it with paragraphs of supporting evidence.
Which, you'll find, is a crucial skill in law school, and beyond.
Thursday, April 14, 2016
Caring Less About Pedigrees in College Admissions
Getting into college may be big business these days, but if you're not a high school student-or a parent of one-you probably don't pay much attention to it. That is, unless, you happen to spend any of your idle hours on the internet. Whether you meant to or not, you might have noticed the occasional headline about the student who got accepted to all the Ivies. I recently blogged about a student who got admitted to a bevy of top schools after writing her admission essay about Costco.
The truth is, these kinds of headlines are click-bait. The vast majority of Americans will never be admitted to an Ivy League university-never mind all of them. And while pedigree is certainly a marker of success, it isn't a guarantee of it.
Which is why it is refreshing to see well-known, powerful employers like Google offering some push-back on the idea of pure-bred scholarship. In a recent interview, Google's Senior Vice President of People Operations, Laszlo Bock, noted that there was little relationship between pedigree and professional performance. Just because someone graduated from Yale doesn't mean they are going to be successful.
This is a powerful statement, particularly in a professional climate that favors prestige. There is a sense that if Stanford only offers spaces to 5% of applicants, there must be something pretty magical waiting behind its doors. A lot of that magic, however, is in the name-recognition, and the networking possibilities. This isn't to say that top academic institutions haven't earned their credibility. It's just that they are not the only manufacturers of professional success.
What of the student who had to work during high school and didn't have the grades to get into a top school? What of the part-time law student who was also raising a family? What of the successful entrepreneurs without a college degree? There are stories to be told, and the media silence about these narratives changes the way in which we-as a society-value success.
So for those of you still searching for the right college, it may be time to take a leaf out of Google's handbook. Pay less attention to the name, and more attention to the story.
Monday, April 11, 2016
When Writing About Costco Gets You Into Five Ivies
In an era where many of us get almost all of our information in digital form, marketers understand the importance of sticky click-bait. I won't spend a lot of time lamenting the shrinking of our collective attention-span, because you might not stick around for it.
This week, several news outlets posted articles about an undergraduate applicant, Brittany Stinson, who was accepted to Stanford and five Ivy League colleges. It turns out, her personal statement used her trips to Costco as a child as a metaphor for many of her life lessons. It's a charming, clever essay. But it probably isn't the reason she was accepted to at least half a dozen of the top schools in the country.
We don't know what her grades or test scores were, and statistically-those metrics were probably far more persuasive. The picture of Stinson in front of a Costco warehouse with her pedigreed acceptance packages is eye-catching, and perhaps an untapped marketing opportunity for Costco.
But it is the advice from an admissions officer, which Stinson is quoted as sharing, that really gets to the heart of things. "[I]f your essay is on the ground and there is no name on it and one of your friends picks it up, they should know that you wrote it...". I like this. I won't pretend that this is the magic code for the ideal essay, but it is helpful advice.
It's a good reminder to students that your essay need not be regal. It doesn't even need to be that formal. When getting creative, you don't want to get "too cute". Stinson's success doesn't mean everyone should start writing quippy dispatches about Costco's pretzel samples. At the same time, Stinson wrote about what she knew-not what she thought the admissions committee wanted to see.
If there is any take-away from this fleeting story, it should be that.
Friday, April 8, 2016
Evaluating the Gender Gap in College Admissions
In a country where women continue to make 77 cents on a man's dollar, it probably surprises no one that inequity exists in our university systems. Would you even shrug if I told you that some colleges admit more male students than female ones? Would your brow furrow if I told you that some colleges admit more female students than male students? Are you really just thinking-so what?
A recent Washington Post article analyzed federal admissions data for 200 colleges and universities that appear on US News & World Report's top 100 list. Like any data, it's important to understand its limitations, and not connect too many dots between correlation and causation.
Still, the report generated a detailed list of the percentage points separating the two genders in admissions at a number of American colleges. Pretty dull stuff, unless you're applying to college and (over)analyzing every possible metric that could work in your favor.
Take Vassar, for instance, which was founded as an women's college in 1861, but been co-educational since 1969. It's still widely (mis)understood to be an all-women's college. In 2014, Vassar had a full 15-point differential in their admissions-favoring men. If you're a male student looking for a top-notch liberal arts education, perhaps you should take notice.
The general explanation for the gap can be explained by the universities' preference for creating a fully homogeneous student body. Like affirmative action, colleges must weigh the balance between gender equity and overall merit.
Gender has been a big issue for several well-known colleges across the country in recent years because of a growing acceptance of gender fluidity. At some point, the gender gap may become too amorphous to define. Until then, it's a reality in college admissions; for better or worse, it may be one worth considering as students evaluate their college options.
Monday, April 4, 2016
The Ridiculousness of College Admissions
They say that sarcasm is the lowest form of wit (I disagree). Satire is sarcasm's intellectual counterpart-the constructive use of derision to illustrate a point, if you will.
You know things are bad when you have to turn to satire. This year's presidential campaign comes to mind, although satire has been used for centuries to skewer politicians.
This week, the New York Times' contributor Frank Bruni-a regular critic of the cut-throat college admissions system-turned to satire to remind us just how sad the current state of affairs is.
Colleges have long clamored for the top spot in the rankings. They understand the capriciousness of branding. People will want the things they cannot have. It's a bit like preschool squabbles. The red train only gains value once the other kid starts playing with it.
This absurd quirk of human nature has turned college rankings into a clown show. The inverse relationship between rankings and acceptance rates has to hit a mathematical roadblock at some point. And Bruni pokes fun at this notion. What if Stanford's acceptance rate really hit zero? Would it have finally reached the apex of prestige? Would people keep applying?
What will it take to get students to set realistic goals for college admissions? And at what point do we come to the collective realization that the ranking system is the emperor with no clothes?
I'm not going to suggest that pedigree isn't capital in the professional world. Yet, like Bruni, I believe the system is corrupted by bloated notions of prestige in a climate where there simply isn't enough room at the fabled apex. There are many different roads to success; Stanford's 5% aren't the only ones on that journey. NY Times >
Monday, March 28, 2016
The Downside of Early Decision in College Admissions
When I first started blogging about college admissions, I had to practically create a flow-chart to tease apart the differences between "early decision", "early action", and, well, "regular decision".
Put simply? Early decision students apply to college early-usually in October or November of the admissions cycle-and they get a decision on acceptance typically in December. ED students are only allowed to apply "ED" to one school, and are obliged to accept the admission, if it is forthcoming.
Early action students follow a similar pattern, although admissions notifications usually come in January or February. EA students are not restricted to applying for a single school. This means that EA students can apply early to several schools, and pick their favorite-much like regular decision.
The between the lines difference is a pretty big one: cost. If you're throwing all your eggs into one basket—ED-you need to be pretty certain that you can commit to that college. The reality is that most students applying ED know they (or their parents) can afford to send them there.
Because EA isn't as stark or binding, it's a better road for students who may need the ability to shop around for the best price.
At base, all candidates are still evaluated on their merits. But the cards are already stacked in favor of wealthier students, and ED is just another mechanism to catapult rich families to the front of the line.
The thing is-applying ED and EA is popular because the acceptance rates amongst these early applicants are exponentially higher than the overall regular decision acceptance rates. It's a good business decision for the colleges-grab all the best students you can at the outset, make them commit to your school, and be assured that you'll get paid.
Monday, March 21, 2016
Note to College Hopefuls: Use Spring Break Wisely
By the time you're a grown-up, you'll forget that Spring Break was ever a thing. Until you have kids, and have to figure out childcare. Trust me on this: like velcro shoes and rent-free living, Spring Break is a part of your youth that you'll never get back.
Which is why it might sound strange when I suggest that you give up junior year Spring Break. Stay with me.
For high school juniors, Spring Break is the last feasible vacation time to squeeze in some college campus visits. By summer's end, you'll already be knee-deep in college applications. You may be able to take a weekend off for visits in Fall, but by then, application deadlines are looming. You may be putting yourself under unnecessary pressure to make a quick decision.
By getting your visits in on the early side, you are in a better position to narrow your field. You might hit one campus that just doesn't feel right. Another might feel like a perfect fit. Depending on the Spring Break schedule of the college itself, you may be able to sit in on some classes-an option less likely during the summers. Being on campus when classes are actually in session will give you a far better feel for the rhythm of the place.
Doing a Spring Break visit might also offer some psychological relief. It's one more thing checked off a list that will become more and more daunting as the year wears on. Think of it as paying in a bit time at the front-end that will allow you to enjoy the back-end of your high school years.
If you're feeling ripped off at the thought of it, remember this: you still have at least five Spring Breaks left before hitting the real world.
Monday, March 14, 2016
College Scholarships: Getting Weirder?
The first time I did a story on odd college scholarships, I was flabbergasted. I always thought scholarships were reserved for very specific pockets, based on merit, race, sex, or field of interest. But duct tape? Naaah.
It turns out that Duck Tape (the popular brand of duct tape) is pretty charitably minded-or at least marketing savvy. For years, the brand has offered scholarship money to the high school students that craft the winning prom outfits out of duct tape. No, seriously. Historically, they've offered $10,000 each to the top winners.
If you're not into duct tape clothing, there are still other options. Niche.com offers a no-essay scholarship of $2,000. There are scholarships for tall people, vegetarians, twins, and even clowns. No, I'm not making this stuff up.
Even the incentives behind some of these scholarships are a mystery, their existence is real. It doesn't cost anything to apply, and most scholarships ask only for a brief essay. The quirkier the scholarship, the better the creative writing opportunity. Even if writing isn't your thing, you're virtually guaranteed to find something suited to you.
Of course, the searching process requires a level of independent resourcefulness that students haven't always needed to have. It may mean extending the runway to your college lift-off. Applying for things is always tedious, as is rejection. But college tuition these days runs nearly $50,000-even in public schools. Scholarships have the potential for filling shortfalls that grants and loans cannot.
Tuesday, March 8, 2016
Micro-Scholarships: Solution to the Financial Squeeze of College?
Scholarships are one of the great untapped resources of college financing. There are lots of them. Even better-we now have the internet-so it's far easier to find them. (My next post is going to include a list of the quirkiest scholarships available-you'd be surprised). Still, many students don't consider pursuing scholarships until junior year or later. And, of course, most students don't even know what their budget will be until they've received their acceptances in late Spring.
Enter programs like raise.me. Colleges and universities register with the site, and provide a number of minimum metrics required for admission (like GPA). The program itself is funded largely by endowments from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Facebook, amongst others. Students signing up with raise.me can expect to get paid money for various achievements, such as taking an AP class, and earning a high grade in that class.
Students can thus log achievements with the site during high school and rack up credit towards scholarship money-up to $80,000. The site is both financial and merit based. The lower the income of the applying student, the greater the scholarship.
The students are locked into the schools registered with raise.me, and they must substantiate their achievements in order to receive the scholarship money. Last year, the program distributed an average of $20,000 scholarship money to each student involved.
In addition to incentivizing academic and community performance during the high school years, raise.me helps students cultivate more meaningful relationships with colleges during the lead-up years. Increasing the engagement between student and university is a symbiotic benefit that will hopefully lead to improved student-college compatibility.
Thursday, March 3, 2016
How Early is Too Early to Prepare for College?
I'll admit it, the title was pure, unadulterated click-bait: "The Poisonous Reach of the College Admissions Process"—a piece by Matt Feeney that appeared in The New Yorker in late January of this year. It turns out the author and I had less in common than I'd hoped, but his theory was an interesting one. The admissions process has become a virus that starts to permeate our lives at an ever-earlier age. And as the process continues to mutate, the world around it simply shifts in its seat, giving the virus more leg room.
The spread appears to happen under the guise of casting a wider net. In other words, college admissions has gotten so competitive, they've just kept changing the metrics. Feeney points out that "extracurriculars" weren't a thing until more recently. They were added to the consideration process in an effort to add soft factors to grades and test scores.
And now look at them.
They're one more thing that wealthy kids can buy in order to pad their application. There's no way of telling whether or not kids are actually charitable or whether they're just good at pretending to be. Extracurriculars were supposed to be helpful, and now they're a burden. One.More.Thing.
Feeney attacks the Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success, a conglomeration of 90 universities that are pouring resources into a "streamlined" on-line portal that helps college hopefuls organize all their preparatory materials. Or something like that. It's free—which is great. But by encouraging students to start the process of marshalling their college prep materials in 9th grade, aren't we just expanding the already tangled web?
My first grader missed a word last week on his spelling test. For the first time. It was "special". And for a millisecond, I worried that I hadn't spent enough time helping him with his homework. You see where I'm going with this….
Maybe Feeney has a point. What neither of us has is a solution. I'll leave that to time.
Monday, February 22, 2016
In the Legal Education Crisis, Who Really Gets Hurt?
While not compelling conversation at most dinner tables, those in the know about the "law school crisis" of the past several years can truly talk the topic to death. The discourse is propped up by some un-refuted facts which have played out within the past decade:
1) Most law schools have seen a downturn in application and enrollment;
2) The legal job market is not as good as it used to be;
3) The number of LSAT takers has decreased;
4) The number of high-scoring LSAT takers has diminished.
There is a proven correlation between LSAT scores and bar passage rates. So while universities do pay attention to undergraduate performance, there is a still a high premium attached to high scores.
Top tier schools have their eyes fixed on the preservation of two primary concepts: 1) rankings, 2) economic bottom line. In other words, how do schools preserve their prestige, while still earning money. It's a chicken-egg problem, too. Higher rankings make schools more desirable, attracting more applications. If you let in more of the riff-raff, you may be cashing tuition checks, while slowly degrading the prestige that gives your school its value.
And this is at the heart of most discussions about this "crisis". Which leads me to wonder-who is really getting hurt? It's hard for me to muster sympathy for the likes of Yale law school; pricetag of annual tuition (exclusive of books and fees): $55,800. Sure, it's a fiscal crisis for the institutions, but how does this trickle down to society at large.
It may be time to reshape the discussion. How does the downturn in applicants affect the academic future of law schools? What is the effect upon society of fewer, or less competent legal practitioners? Is this a blip, or an educational evolution?
Wake me when those conversations begin.
Monday, February 22, 2016
Mandatory National Service before College?
A recent report by Harvard's Graduate School of Education has taken the college admissions world by storm. In essence, the report bemoans the overemphasis on test scores, and calls for an admissions process that better assesses the potential contributions of the "whole student".
Full disclosure: I'm totally on board with this. I can see, however, how difficult it would be to implement. I'm also skeptical that the higher education structure would ever dispense with the metrics of grades and test scores.
In his Forbes op-ed, Steve Cohen pokes holes in Harvard's report, or more accurately, fills in perceived blanks in their plan. I don't have space here to address more than one: his suggestion that the US government institute a mandatory national service.
His plan would make a military component voluntary-so we aren't talking a national draft. However, it would force all people of a certain age to become engaged in public service of some sort. In his estimation, it would level the socioeconomic playing field for those who eventually want to go to college.
Colleges want community service, but the current reality is that service is a luxury largely confined to the wealthy classes. Poor students may actually have to work paying jobs. They may not have the wealth to engage in volunteer tourism. So even if colleges did refocus their interest on the so-called "soft factors" of a student's experience, poorer students would still come up short.
Cohen raises an interesting point, although the likelihood of a mandatory national service is about as feasible as Stanford eliminating the SAT requirement. Still, the conversation once again raises important issues about access to higher education, and the values we prioritize in looking for top students.
Monday, February 15, 2016
Parents and College Admissions: Recipe for Disaster?
Being a parent means being part of a club with its own set of secret understandings. There are just certain things that no non-parent can truly comprehend. Wanting the best of everything for your kid is something that simply comes with the territory. And it isn't until you become a parent that you realize how many mountains you'd be willing to move for your offspring.
As an adult, you understand things that kids inherently don't. If you've ever parented a teenager, you know that knowledge gap will always be vigorously tested.
And if you thought helping your kid with homework was an exercise in tearing your hair out, you probably haven't yet tackled the college application process. Will college help your child's prospects of long-term success? Almost certainly. Will college be a positively transformative life experience? Most likely. Will your child trust you when you tell them that? Maybe.
Here are a couple of things you can do (and I'll bullet-point it, because I know your time is valuable):
• Don't plan vacations in the August before senior year. The Common Application is open for business starting August 1st. While many deadlines come much later in the year, your child can never spend too much time drafting, re-drafting and proofreading their admissions essay;
• Consider hiring a college counselor. Cost can be prohibitive, and they may not always be necessary. But any parent who has ever been locked in a battle of wills with their child knows that children often take direction much better from an objective adult.
• Back off. Yeah, I know, right? Like homework, the more you push, the more they may resist. Try some reverse psychology. Empower them to make the right choices. Give them the information they need, and back out the bedroom door.
• Breathe. Remember that this is an incredibly stressful time for your kid, too. They don't need your anxiety compounding theirs.
Also remember, like every other challenge of parenting, this is a phase. It too shall pass.
Monday, February 8, 2016
The Real Agony of the College Admissions Essay
Let me start out by saying that I am guilty. I have done this thing a thousand times. I sit smugly at my keyboard, pouring many decades of writing and life experience into short, admonitory blogs to teenagers. I close the laptop feeling satisfied.
Relax, kids. It's just an essay.
So today, as I read this beautifully crafted article by a young woman less than half my age-I had to really find a way to turn the mirror on myself. When I applied to college over 20 years ago, everything was done on paper. But that wasn't the biggest difference. I really only had to write a single essay. Sure, some of the private elite schools required a second or third question, but the stakes seemed different.
They'd leave five empty lines on a paper application and ask something like "tell us something you're particularly proud of". You wouldn't feel compelled to write earth-shattering prose. It felt more like filling out an intake form at your doctor's office.
But now. Now, it is so competitive. Students wanting to get in anywhere simply must cast a wider net. Sure, they can reuse and recycle some of their own work, but that's only half the battle. Most schools require at least two or three essays, and some want upwards of five. There can't be substantive overlap.
And while 250 words may not sound like much, it's oftentimes the hardest essay of all. Imagine being told you had to write down everything you loved about doughnuts. On a piece of paper the size of a dime.
It's not just an essay. It's a massive writing assignment, and good writing isn't something that most of us can just phone in. Neither is life experience-the lifeblood of most rich prose.
So I promise-from now on, when I lecture teenagers in cyberspace, I will be more empathetic.
Monday, February 1, 2016
Is It Possible to “Turn the Tide” on College Admissions?
Answer: probably not. But a new report, co-signed by over 50 college admissions deans and educators, gives a number of suggestions about how to do so.
The concept of the report sounds good: stop sending high school kids the message that individual success is more valuable than the common good. The purpose of the report, which is the collaborative undertaking by the Harvard Graduate School of Education, certainly has its heart in the right place. And it is taking its message to an important place-college admissions offices.
The hope is, by having so many deans sign off on the idea, the report can help reshape the value set placed on incoming college students. If colleges begin to place greater emphasis on community service than test scores, some of the success pressure might be lifted off the shoulders of young high school students.
Will the theory translate into practice? Well, so far, it's an academic report, so whether its traction will trickle down is questionable. It's utopian emphasis on student engagement in community is highly attractive, but shifting a decades-old value system is an uphill battle.
Colleges have to employ a system of metrics in order to vet candidates. Should an engaged, compassionate student with mediocre grades be invited into an institution where they might be destined to fail academically? By the same token, should a top student with few extracurriculars be given the same consideration?
At the same time, third-level institutions are somewhat responsible for preparing young people to become contributing members of society. Is training an investment banker as important as training a social worker? More importantly, how would such a shift in values affect the financial bottom line?
Monday, January 25, 2016
The Art and Science of College Admission
Hint: I don't have the answer.
A recent NPR broadcast discussed the shroud of mystery that cloaks the college admissions deliberation process. The college consulting industry promises to answer a million different questions. But that isn't one of them, because, no one really knows. Few colleges actually give anyone insight into their bare-bones methods for choosing students.
For a start, it would open a can of worms that could never again be closed. Every rejected candidate would feel unjustly overlooked. Every admissions committee member would be unfairly criticized. The reality, of course, is that most colleges have to turn away the majority of their applicants. That may mean that good students don't get in. It may even mean that they occasionally chose wrong.
On the radio show, NPR looks at a small, Catholic college in Massachusetts, with an entering class of 700. Those applications are vetted by a total of 13 different people, prompting the school's Director of Admissions to call the vetting process "both an art and a science". In other words, objective metrics like grades and test scores are crucial-the science half. But the rest of it-the art part-is more subjective. It comes down to the gut instincts and personal opinions of thirteen different people.
This is just a tiny window into the heart of one institution. For added context, schools like UCLA and the University of Texas have freshman classes in the tens of thousands. UCLA boasted 16,000 admits out of almost 100,000 applications. Framed that way, it's easy to see why the admissions process alone is practically its own institution.
Perhaps the process is just bigger at larger universities. It's easy to see how universities can't promise to spend more than a couple minutes per application-at least on the first read. Which must make prospective students feel rather unsettled. At the same time, the lack of predictability in the process also means it's anybody’s game. Which should give everyone a little hope.
Though it may not help lift the veil.
Tuesday, January 19, 2016
Is the Law School Admissions Collapse Good for Lower-Ranking Schools?
One of the most interesting sides of the recent downturn in law school admissions has been the discussions it has generated. So many discussions. So much speculation. People are fascinated when high-ranking fields are rankled. They like to ponder all the reasons the mighty have fallen, and whether or not they'll be able to dust off their knees and get up again.
In the world of law school education, rankings are everything. I mean, everything. It's all about numbers and prestige. You can have mediocre undergraduate grades, but if you score high enough on the LSAT list, top schools start sending you personalized postcards. The top 14 schools even have their own nickname (T14), despite the fact that everyone knows how spurious ranking systems can be in the first place.
With the very real downturn in the legal job market, rankings have become more important than ever. Take junior associateships, for instance-these are the pre-graduation internships that serve as the pipeline for post-grad jobs. For students that want a shot at big-firm jobs, the advantages of a T14 school are palpable.
What's interesting is the fall-out. If fewer people are applying to law school, you'd think that would affect law schools at every tier. It isn't that simple. The T14 schools, by and large, have begun to admit fewer students, even if it means a reduction in their bottom line. Why? Because they don't want to skim the cream from the top of the lower tier schools, for fear of pushing down their own rankings. Oh yes, people talk about real-live law students like statistics.
The losses for lower tier schools may not be as distinct. Those schools typically have cheaper tuition, less overhead, and less to lose with a dip in the rankings. Which really begs the important question: has the law school admissions collapse meant that we are producing lower-quality attorneys? Isn't that what should really matter?
Since practicing attorneys all have to pass their own state bar exams, and since those exams have remain largely unchanged by the "collapse", the end result might be simple. Fewer attorneys, but not diminished quality.
Tuesday, January 19, 2016
The Problem With Law School
At the start of law school, students are fed a ubiquitous truism about the separate phases of their legal education. First, there is law school. Then there is the bar exam. Finally, there is legal practice. The line is fed with a shrug and a smirk. As if to say, only the best of you will be able to conquer all three; mastering one doesn't necessarily mean you'll be able to successfully tackle another.
This promise is only slightly better than the other nugget of wisdom proffered to most 1Ls. "Look at the person sitting next to you. Only one of you will be here next year".
Indeed, law school trades upon the idea that law student occupy a sort of elevated intellectual space which the ordinary population could never possibly visit. The competition encouraged within the walls of law schools was always designed to make students better, smarter, stronger. Perhaps there's nothing wrong with that.
But even if the cutthroat competition of law school and its tributaries isn't distasteful to you, the idea that school doesn't prepare students for the bar exam or even legal practice is problematic. Isn't school supposed to prepare students for success?
All the recent talk about the cultural downfall of law schools has centered around different problems-economic cycles, fraud scandals, tough job markets. Blogs abound about declining application numbers, and lower LSAT scores. But perhaps the conundrum is more multifaceted. Is law school simply too elite for its own good?
Shouldn't law school prepare students for the bar exam? And shouldn't both endeavors help steer students deftly into the rigors of legal practice? The sink or swim mentality may force only the toughest cream to the top, but is that really the best thing for the legal profession?
Perhaps the world of Law should consider worrying less about appearances, and more about substance. If winning is measured by the presence of an empty seat at your side, the entire moral compass of the profession has a lot to answer for.
Labels: The Problem With Law School
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