Admissions Essays
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Admissions Essays Blog
Through our very own editors and guest writers, this blog will discuss the INSIDE scoop on the admissions process of various schools and programs. If you wish to ask a specific question, please write to us, and we will make every attempt to address your questions in our future blog discussions.
Tuesday, October 4, 2016
Business Schools Turning to Technology in Admissions Process
It's been about five years since the University of Iowa's Tippie School of Management became the first notable business school to give applicants the option to tweet their way in. The move was a popular one with applicants, who were allowed to chose between a traditional admission essay or a 140-character sound byte; the vast majority chose the tweet.

Since then, the liberal use of technology in admissions has been exploited most deftly by graduate business schools. Back in 2011, Tippie turned to the tweet in an effort to break a cycle of stale admission essays. Business schools are famous for requiring several essays of varying lengths. But there is almost always a primary essay with a limit of 500-1000 words. A tweet would be shorter than the first two sentences of this paragraph (which is 178 characters). Students lapped it up.

In 2016, it's difficult to find a business school that doesn't either encourage or require technology as an admission component. Georgetown now requires a one-minute introductory video from each candidate. Kellogg has dispensed with some of the writing components and now requires three video essays. Tippie, for its part, now offers an option that is potentially limitless; there is no length or file size limitation and the "admission question" may be addressed via video, social media, Power Point presentation, blog post, or other. As Tippie puts it "all options are on the table".

Full disclosure: I'm not a Millennial or even Generation Y. And while I'm pretty tech-savvy, video essays would make me sweat-something that speaks volumes about the demographic that b-schools are courting. At the very least, videos are a shortcut around in-person interviews. They give charismatic students an opportunity to shine. Students with weaker "written records" may be able to use visual media to knock an application out of the park.

In any event, the times, they are a-changin', and business schools are paving the way.


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Monday, October 3, 2016
The Narrowing Down of the Admission Essay
Let me be honest with you from the get-go: there is no single most important aspect of any admission essay. There is no simple recipe for the perfect one. But colleges are trying to help students to be more effective at getting to the heart of a good narrative, and here's how.

The Common Application has significantly narrowed the field of focus in admission essays. With a 650 word limit and four specific prompts to chose from, students have considerable help in shaping the contents of their work. They can then send this same essay to dozens of different schools. So while it functions as a one-size-fits-all personal statement, the Common App gives its student-writers decent guidance.

The trend in college admissions essays is changing. Though most schools still utilize the essay as a vehicle for getting to know a candidate, their questions have become increasingly more detailed. This year for the first time, the University of California is shifting from their two-prompt, one-thousand word model to something very different: a total of eight prompts, from which students must chose four. No essay is to be longer than 350 words.

Students may find it cumbersome to write "more" essays, but the schools who require several are not doing it to increase the volume of information they get from students, but rather the quality of what they are writing. Many universities require a primary essay of around 500 words and often several more within the 250-300 word range.

Shorter essays are often more difficult to write-you don't have the advantage of a long runway for your ascent or landing. But with the tight word limits, they force students to strip away all of the excess and get right to the point. Which is what the essay was supposed to be about in the first place.


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Tuesday, September 27, 2016
Are There Any Downsides to the Common Application?
If college is anywhere on your horizon, you've probably heard of the Common Application. It is an undergraduate admission application that allows students to apply to multiple colleges using a single application. Here are some things you may not know.

The Common Application has actually been around since 1975. It became available online for the first time in 1998. At its inception, it was used by about 15 colleges. Today, more than 700 colleges and universities worldwide subscribe to it; just over 500 of those are located in the United States. The application is free to use for students but universities pay for the privilege of membership.

From an application standpoint, there are few drawbacks. The Common App has streamlined the college application process like no other. It enables students to submit a single admission essay to an unlimited number of colleges. Grades and test scores can also be uploaded, saving students the time consuming effort of applying multiple times to numerous institutions.

The downsides are bigger picture. The ease of applying means that application numbers have gone up, meaning that more students are necessarily rejected. This makes colleges appear more competitive, which works for them in terms of rankings.

The ease of application may also cause students to apply to schools in which they aren't particularly interested. It creates more administrative work for colleges, and may seem unfair that of two students competing for a university spot, only one really wants to be there.

Whether the Common App can be tweaked in order to reverse some of these problematic trends is another question all together. For now, the ubiquity and convenience of the Common App mean that it is likely to be around for years to come.


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Monday, September 26, 2016
What to Make of Yale’s New Admission Essay Questions
In a rather scathing presidential election campaign year and against the backdrop of some of the most severe-or at least visible-racial tensions the U.S. has experienced in years, words matter. In a world where media both defines and reshapes the things we talk about, imagery is important.

There's scarcely a surface in this country that hasn't been scuffed by the dysfunctional race relationships driving discourse in America today. If you think college admissions is spared from the fray, you'd be sorely mistaken.

In the U.S. Supreme Court this year, affirmative action was challenged again. A coalition of Asian students brought a class action suit against dozens of U.S. universities claiming reverse discrimination. Last year at Harvard University School of Law, photographs of black professors were defaced with black tape. University of Missouri and Yale University struggled publicly against massive protests regarding systemic racial policies.

Which is just part of the reason why Yale's revised admission essay prompts are so pregnant with meaning. Among them "What is a community to which you belong? Reflect on the footprint that you have left."

These words don't matter because lots of people will be applying to Yale-roughly 2,000 of 30,000 applicants were admitted last year. They matter because, for better or worse, people pay attention to Ivy League universities and their policies.

Is a wave of change likely to flow from ivory towers down to the shores of the rest of the nation? Probably not. But the contours of college admissions continue to reveal themselves as a metaphor for society at large. At the very least, it's worth paying attention.


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Tuesday, September 20, 2016
The Key in College Admissions? Grades, grades, grades
Every autumn, the National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC) releases its State of College Admission report. And every year, it reaches a similar conclusion: the single most influential aspect of a student's college admission application is their grades.

This should come as a relief for most students. It also makes logical sense. Grades demonstrate a student's interests and strengths over a broad period of time. According to NACAC, colleges place greater weight on college preparatory courses, but also emphasizes the importance of grades in all courses. Strength of curriculum is also important; a reminder to students considering whether to tackle AP classes or not.

Test scores were a close second, according to NACAC. This is noteworthy, given the considerable criticism about the reliability of test scores as an evaluation method. On the one hand, tests are the great equalizer in a country with an enormous spectrum of curriculum quality. On the other hand, test scores consistently correlate with wealth, making them an unreliable metric for many students who may otherwise be very academically capable.

The report should also ease some of the pressure surrounding the admission essay. While a powerful essay may help students "on the bubble", it is unlikely to buoy a candidate with weaker grades and test scores.

NACAC's report should be most useful as a tool for students to honestly evaluate their admissions options. Quality college education and successful futures are not tied inextricably to college ranking. The best college for a particular student is the one that is most appropriately tailored to their strengths and weaknesses.


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Monday, September 12, 2016
Capturing a Moment in Your Admission Essay
Know the quickest way to drive an admission essay into the ground? Nope, it's not grammar (although there's no quicker way to demonstrate laziness). It's trying to squeeze too much into too tight a space.

Let me explain.

I see a lot of college admissions essays about leadership. They might start with a tacit, general observation on the subject. Then students dig in. They talk about being team captain. ASB president. Math-club founder. None of this is inherently bad. It just doesn't make for an interesting read. More than that, it's just too much information to distill into 500-650 words.

If you just list the leadership positions you've held, you haven't really crafted an essay-you've made a bullet list, without the bullets. If you write one great example of leadership within each role, you run the risk of two missteps: 1) making the essay too long, or 2) making it too boring.

A better essay would zoom in on any one of those experiences and build a leadership essay around it. It sounds rote, but the essay is the admission's committee's window into your soul. Gracing a litany of subjects with a cursory sentence about each isn't going to give them any insight into who you are; it will merely tell them what you do.

The admissions committee has access to your grades, clubs, test scores and other activities. Don't waste essay space on them! Just don't. If you have a perfect SAT math score, write an essay about anything but math. Don't feel the need to compress four years of high school into two pages. Capture a moment, and move on.


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Monday, September 5, 2016
The Interesting Case of a Texas Law School
The University of North Texas at Dallas College of Law first opened its doors in 2014, with an unusual stated mission. The school sought to afford reasonable tuition and encouraged applications from "non-traditional" law school applicants. In law school parlance, this meant students with a variety of life, work, and service experiences who did not necessarily possess the academic credentials required at the more "competitive" law schools.

Two years after its inception, it was delivered a crushing blow. The national accrediting body for all U.S. law schools-the American Bar Association (ABA) has recommended against accreditation for the school. In Texas, only law students from ABA-accredited schools can sit the Texas bar exam.

The ABA is stuck between a proverbial rock and a hard place. If it isn't strict enough in its accreditation, law schools may churn out students unprepared for the rigors of the bar exam. On the other hand, if it is too strict, qualified candidates that might not otherwise make the cut in law school will never get the chance to become attorneys.

Certainly, accreditation is vital to a profession that depends on the skills and competence of its practitioners. And there are links between high LSAT scores and bar passage. But relying on the current elite model means that law practice will always be populated by the privileged.

UNT offered an alternative. It encouraged ex-military, mature students, and other students who hadn't taken the direct route to apply. It recognized that there are many low-income populations requiring service of legal practitioners and that students graduating with six-figure debt aren't likely to take low paying legal-aid jobs.

The ABA's announcement threatens UNT and affordable schools like it across the country. For now, the nation's law school system continues to be riddled with struggles and lacks clear, positive solutions.


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Monday, August 29, 2016
Georgetown to Offer Priority Admission to Descendants of Slaves
Established in 1789, Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. is the oldest Catholic and Jesuit institution of learning in the United States. A private research university, it is consistently ranked as one of the top colleges in the country and boasts distinguished alumni like former President Bill Clinton and deceased Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

In 1838, the Jesuits in charge of running the university that would eventually become Georgetown, sold 272 African-American men, women and children to plantation owners in order to finance the school's continuing operation. This fact is not disputed.

For several months, the issue has been under discussion as university officials grappled with a way to effectively issue reparations. This week, it was announced that the school would offer preferential admission to all descendants of those 272 enslaved people-a number estimated to be between 12,000-15,000.

Following recent protests, the school removed plaques with the names of two of the Catholic priests responsible for the sales. The university has also announced plans to build a memorial for the 272 people, create an educational institute on slavery, and name several buildings on campus after African-Americans.

Because the Jesuits formally recorded the names of the 272 people, their descendants have been very traceable. The non-profit Georgetown Memory Project seeks to trace the lineage of the enslaved people in order to honor their "sacrifice and legacy". The project also strives to embed this story into ongoing education about slavery across U.S. history.

According to the New York Times, Georgetown is not the only university in the country to have benefitted financially from the labor and sale of enslaved people, but the well-documented sale of 272 people is unprecedented and undisputed.

Despite annual tuition of close to $50,000, the university has not announced whether financial aid will be part of the deal.


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Monday, August 22, 2016
In Your Admission Essay, Be Willing to Color Outside the Lines
In today's hyper-connected world, there is no shortage of information available to students applying to college. Few aspects of the admission process fill students with more dread than the admission essay. Unlike all of the sharp metrics like grades and scores, the essay is shrouded in mystery.

For better or worse, most students start the essay process by asking a single question: What can I write that will impress these readers? What this immediately does is to shift the focus from a creative-writing venture into an interview on paper. And what is more nerve-wracking than an interview?

Writing advice is hard to give. I might tell a student to "write from the heart", but what does that mean, really? Especially to a student with writer's block?

This recent Washington Post article offers essay advice from a handful of admissions officers. The Washington Post

The main take-aways for me are "beautiful, clear writing" and a willingness to color outside the lines. It takes maturity and experience in writing to trust that simple words are more effective than complicated phrasing. Big words won't make a mediocre essay sound better; it will simply sound clunkier, and harder to follow.

Coloring outside the lines takes courage. It may mean choosing not to write about your Model United Nations experience but about your dog having cancer. It may mean not mentioning a single grade or test score or sport or community service event but instead writing about the creek at your grandparents' cabin in rural Idaho.

Don't ever buy into the idea that 650 words will encapsulate everything about you. It can't. But it is an opportunity to place a magnifying glass over a tiny part of you; that could be the place where your writing finds its magic.

Take a leap. What have you got to lose?


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Monday, August 22, 2016
The Art of Storytelling in the Admission Essay
Ushering students through the sludgy process of writing is difficult at the best of times. Enjoyable narratives aren't always objectively good. Like art, some writing speaks to us, and some does not. When used well, tight grammar and punctuation can pull a narrative into a tidy bundle. But technical accuracy doesn't give writing a soul, and this is particularly relevant to autobiographies.

When it comes to writing, most high school students have limited tools. This isn't to say there aren't many gifted 17-year-old writers out there, but, as with any art, precision and imagination ripen with time. Which is why giving college admissions essay advice can be so difficult.

Young students are often constrained stylistically by their high school training. Standard English classes conform to rote rules of composition, which may leave students feeling uncomfortable being creative when writing personal statements.

I once had a professor who encouraged us to read our work aloud. Her theory was that putting your words out in the air subjected them to a different type of scrutiny. Cadences, pauses, and loose ends that may not have been apparent in written form tend to show themselves when spoken.

In reviewing college admissions essays, I see many of the same pitfalls. Long lists of activities. Written excuses for weaknesses in their academic records. Sob stories. And, sadly, essays that are simply uninteresting. All of these fragilities would become readily apparent if read out loud.

The essay should be a good story. It should not be a grab-bag of student accomplishments. There is room for that list elsewhere on the application. Write something you'd like to read.

Like every good author, students should work diligently to unburden themselves of the need to impress their reader. Counterintuitive in the application process? Sure. But try to remember the role of the admission essay: it is meant to soften out the hard edges of scores and grades. It is meant to be a window with a different view.

What better way to make it so than by telling a story well?


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Monday, August 15, 2016
When the College Pre-Gaming Starts Too Early
Taking summer school classes to get ahead is nothing new. When I was in high school a couple decades ago, there were two groups of kids you'd find there: kids who were retaking flunked classes, and students who wanted to clear general education requirements off their plates in order to make room for more AP classes during the regular school year.

Fortunately, I went to public school, where summer school classes were free. In 2016, the college admissions landscape is no longer so simple. For handfuls of cash, high school students can take on-line courses at Ivy Leagues or attend week-long "camps" at universities. I'm not talking YMCA camp on a lake-I'm talking intensive Physics at Stanford.

And while excoriating the competitiveness of admissions has become something of a pastime for me and other critics, I can't miss another opportunity. Just last week, I read about $5,000 pre-kindergarten courses being offered in Los Angeles, California. Not preschool. Not pre-k. Actual classes designed to prepare 5-year-olds to better tackle the challenges of kindergarten. The PSAT of elementary school.

In a world where preschool is no longer the sole launch-pad for kindergarten, high school no longer seems to be sufficient preparation for college. There are a million reasons why this feels so wrong, but one is more important than the rest: access.

This is just another blatant example of privilege cutting the proverbial queue. Even if the excessive preparation doesn't actually increase admissions odds, it has the practical effect of producing privileged kids who are even better prepared for college. It also affirms the ideal of success-at-any-cost. What is the psychological effect of putting this kind of competitive pressure on a 16-year-old? On a five-year-old?

The answer doesn't matter. Until college actually becomes more accessible, admission acrobatics will get increasingly complex. It’s the kind of bubble that seems ripe to burst.

NY Times


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Monday, August 8, 2016
Saving Money on Your College Application
Technology. It's always a double-edged sword, and its evolving role in college admissions is no different. The Internet has made it easier for students to apply to college. The Common Application has made it possible for students to send applications to a dozen universities with a single click.

More applications for the same number of spaces equal lower admission rates, which drives up competition. From a business perspective, it's a boon for universities. Especially because students are far more likely to apply to submit a greater number of applications than they used to.

The University of California has nine campuses. Students can apply to all nine using a single application, but must pay $70 per campus. The charge isn't new, but the increased competition and ease of applying on line has arguably made students more likely to apply to more campuses in the hopes of getting admitted somewhere.

A practical way to save money when applying is to not treat the process as a numbers game. If your dream university has an acceptance rate of 6%, you might want to consider looking elsewhere. Being pragmatic doesn't mean you are lowering the bar. Just because it's easy to send in an application, doesn't mean it's worth the $80 you'll pay for the privilege.

A better way to tackle the heightened competitiveness is to be willing to search off the beaten path. Find the school that is the right fit-not just the right name. Admissions will always be a gamble, but your fee should be a good investment rather than a desperate bet.


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Monday, August 1, 2016
Broadening Your College Search
Perhaps it is news to only some of the students in search of their ideal college fit that there is more to an education than top rankings. As with any competition, so much effort is spent clamoring for the top spot that people often forget there isn't space up there for everyone. One can still be a successful runner without making it to the Olympic trials.

Still, this is one of life's tough lessons, and it's a hard sell to a young teenager. It's human nature to gravitate towards popularity. With all of the branding tied up in college admissions, it's virtually impossible to avoid being sucked into the cult of elitism.

One of the messages sent by US News & World Report and the colleges themselves is that, by expanding the scope of their college searches, some students are lowering the bar on expectations and potential success. When students hear that nearly 100,000 kids applied to UCLA last year, they want a piece of that pie. If they don't apply, it's nearly like, quitting before you even start the game.

On the other hand, students could save themselves time and heartache by reshaping their expectations. What is the real value of a pedigree? What are your long-term goals? Does a big-name school automatically equal a higher-quality education? Are you worried about getting lost in the crowd?

This Forbes article reframes the issue as a wise business decision-put your money in lower-risk investments with greater long-term potential.


Another practical benefit? Smaller, newer and growing schools often have more space for progressive thought in their leadership. Without the burden of monumental endowments and powerful boards, they can make the kinds of sweeping decisions that keep education new and invigorating. Cutting-edge isn't reserved for the historic behemoths. Their bottom line depends on people's willingness to look down their noses at universities with higher acceptance rates.

When it comes to college applications, don't write your essay about "thinking outside the box"-do it yourself. You may be surprised at what you find.


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Sunday, July 31, 2016
College Admissions in an Election Year
If you're like most of the country and even halfway plugged into the media coverage of the 2016 election cycle, you've probably got a few strong opinions. Presidential campaigns have the capacity for exposing both the most honorable and vilest sides of human nature.

Worst of all? Everyone's an expert.

Know where else this happens, all year long? In most discussions about college admissions. Some of them even get traction in mainstream social media outlets. Heard about Guillermo Pomarillo? He's a first-generation Latino student who recently got accepted at Stanford and was belittled for his accomplishment by an apparently classist and racist dentist.

The gist? That the spot wasn't earned, because Pomarillo is Latino. That qualified white students are edged out when universities hand out admissions to under-qualified minorities. Fortunately, Pomarillo's letter, lashing out at the dentist has gone viral with mostly positive support. The entire exchange, however, is reflective of our country's overall conversation about class and race.

There is a sizeable chunk of the population that believes people of color enjoying success haven't actually earned it. That white people have been passed over while progressives trip over themselves to give a hand-up to the undeserving. Speculation is built not upon evidence, but upon complex layers of speculation and misunderstanding.

Don't believe me? Read ANY comments thread on affirmative action in college admissions. I recently scanned an article by a young, white female student writing merely about expectations and disappointment in the college admissions process. The comments section was peppered with suggestions that the schools that did not admit her probably took a less qualified minority student instead.

This idea-that people are cutting in front of us in line-is a crucial motivator for social tensions. These play out in many arenas. Political theater draws them to the forefront. In the sense that a college degree is seen as an escalator towards success, it serves as a microcosm of a much broader social ill.

This year, we have one political candidate promising to work towards affordable and even free college tuition. The other says simply that he wants the federal government to stop profiting from higher education. Sadly, the real ailments of this society may run much deeper than that.


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Tuesday, July 26, 2016
Law School and a College Degree in a Single Bundle?
If someone told you the path to an undergraduate and juris doctorate was only six years long, would you buy a ticket? If you'd just graduated from high school, would you be certain enough that you wanted to practice law? Certain enough that you could handle a rigorous, uninterrupted course load for six long years?

If your answer is "maybe", you may want to read on.

The dual degree program is nothing new. Universities across the prestige spectrum have been offering JD/MBA programs, interdisciplinary double-majors, undergraduate-MBA degrees and more. Students with clear goals from the outset lock into these programs, knowing it will speed their passage to the professional world while giving them the option to coalesce their learning options.

Typically, law degrees involve three years of full-time education. With the downturn in the legal job market over the past decade, law schools have begun to scramble to find new ways to keep students streaming into classrooms.

The so-called 3+3 programs incorporate three years of undergraduate study with the three-year law degree. Some universities with attached law schools will guarantee students entry into the JD program, provided they succeed in the undergraduate program.

Arguably, the legal job market has rebounded-at least in part. But law school admissions numbers and LSAT-takers are still down, making 3+3 programs enticing for universities, law schools, and some hopeful lawyers. Enrollees would also save a year in undergraduate tuition.

Purists will argue that the rigorous JD should be a stand-alone program. Others note that there are a number of undergraduate fields of study, which prepare students well for a legal education. Through that prism of thought, the dual programs may prove to be a more popular choice in the future.

It's a concept that's been slow to blossom, and continues to unfold sluggishly. As it stands, the ABA does not keep record of available dual degree programs in the U.S., but experts put the number around 20.


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Monday, July 18, 2016
Things Still Looking Up for Women in Business School
At least once a year, the blogosphere lights up with the results of new surveys measuring the growth of enrollment of women in the world's business school programs. In June of last year, I wrote about the slumbering enrollment numbers in US MBA programs.

This year, the numbers of women enrolling in graduate business programs here in the U.S. continue their slow growth. By some measures, the numbers in overseas schools are growing more steadily. For women looking to get into business school, the gender gap is (sadly) worth paying attention to. Some schools put more effort into recruiting women than others.

What's most salient, though, isn't that women haven't yet reached the 50% mark in any major business program, but the snail's pace at which women are becoming faculty and board members at business schools both in America and abroad.

This shouldn't be a major surprise in a market where eight (8) of the CEO's in Fortune's Top 100 are women. Eight. Things are more dismal if you zoom out; there are only 22 female CEO's in the Fortune 500. That's 4.4%, for you quant ladies.

Is there a happy bottom line? Maybe. The numbers of women enrolling in professional schools across the board continues its slow upward creep with each passing year. But those numbers-which hover around 40% in the top business schools, bear almost no relation to the numbers of women in management positions at the top of the ladder. The same is true for faculty and board representation.

Like all discussions of women in the work force, the nuances go far beyond enrollment numbers, and meander into more expansive social topography-most notably, work-life balance for professional women who decide to have children.

Still, it's comforting to see the enrollment numbers moving in the right direction. Waiting for those to catch up with workforce numbers may be the slowest climb of all.


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Monday, July 11, 2016
Choosing Words Wisely in Admissions Essays
In my many years of editing admissions essays, I have seen and read a lot. I've helped students from a wide variety of backgrounds, with expansive and sometimes unique sets of experiences. I have also learned how to read between the lines. While each student's history may be distinctive, their admissions essays often aren't. The flood of similarities can get cringe-worthy—mostly because I know that students are generally trying their best.

As a seasoned reader, I can sense when a narrative is becoming rote and-hard as I may try-that's generally when my shoulders begin to slump.

I believe admissions officers feel the same.

Trust me when I say that I'm not unsympathetic to students. It's hard to write well when the stakes feel so high. The crux of the problem is twofold. First, students want badly to sound "interesting" to their reader. This desperation doesn't always lend itself to quality writing. Second, students are so caught up in needing to impress, that they want to write about everything.

Remember-your grades and test scores are listed elsewhere on your application. There should be almost no reason to discuss them in your essay. Period.

Tread lightly on the community service work. For the vast majority of students, this isn't central to their identity. Completing a CPR course or finishing a 5K cancer run doesn't tell your reader a lot about you. Volunteering four summers in a row at the local hospital probably does.

If you're a middle class student who traveled to Kenya to help build a school, spare your reader overly reflective observations about disparity of global wealth. If the trip truly changed you, it will be evident in the life you've lived since.

There are topics that most consultants will tell you to simply avoid: sex, drugs, crime, and politics. Write at your own peril. Be careful discussing death of loved ones; it is difficult not to sound as though you are exploiting grief in order to earn your reader's approval.

Above all, don't feel as though you need to be everything to everyone. Your reader knows you are human. Write like one. Don't overcomplicate things. Write something you’d like to read. You’ll be surprised at how far that will carry you.


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Thursday, July 7, 2016
Community Service With a Pricetag
As an editor and consultant, I have read thousands of admissions essays over the past few decades. I'm appreciative of students' various limitations, and try to always read with a clean pair of eyes. Still, I'm human, and can't avoid getting snagged on threadbare irritants. These are the narrative missteps that well-intentioned students make time and again. It's my job to learn how to critique gently and constructively.

Apart from bad grammar and maudlin hyperbole, one of the most frustrating mistakes I see many students make is to spend too much time writing about their community service. While I realize there are a handful of students whose experience is meticulously shaped by their volunteer-work, they are the exception. Resume-padding can be pretty transparent. It's nowhere more obvious than in the pricey hobby of volunteer tourism.

College admissions is already skewed towards wealthy students. In the bid to sound more exotic to admissions officers, more and more students have taken to volunteering overseas. There are an abundance of programs offering organized trips to "underdeveloped" regions for a price. For parents, there is comfort in knowing your teenager isn't wandering foreign lands on their own. For students, an opportunity to travel, help, and create fodder for an engaging essay.

I hate sounding so cynical. I have no doubt that seeing the slums of Mumbai or Guatemala leaves an eye-opening impression on a young, wealthy, western student. And still, it's difficult to write about these experiences without sounding like a cliché.

Admissions officers waffle about the importance of these trips. While they certainly offer points of reflection for young students, they aren't likely to tip the scales in a student's favor, and they don't always make for a readable essay. Instead, they often serve as markers of a student's wealth, and underscore a lack of introspection that is a very real part of being a young teenager.

Like everything else in the college admissions game, these trips-and the subsequent tale of the journey-can have limited value in terms of "getting in", despite their actual cost.

A successful writer will do well to not hang their hat exclusively on this hook.


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Monday, July 4, 2016
The Real Value of Law School Rankings
Every year, the Law School Admissions Council offers up a tally of the top law schools in the U.S. and the GPAs and LSAT scores it took to get admitted. This chart immediately evolves into a point of worship for certain law school hopefuls. I know students who picked their school exclusively based on the number of junior associateships offered by BIGLAW for each university.

Jobs at top firms all look pretty similar. Big paychecks, prestige, relentless billable requirements, unforgiving social commitments and quick burnout. Which is exactly what some law students are looking for. If you scope the internet, law school begins and ends with the Top 14, despite the fact that fewer than 10% of all law students will land at these behemoths.

In the real world, there is a need for lawyers that is far more expansive than the insular world of big law. For a start, there are over 200 law schools across the United States. For every professional athlete or multinational corporation that hires a Big Firm, there are countless ordinary citizens who need a lawyer to help them file for divorce or write a will. That just doesn't make for interesting internet fodder.

The biggest elephant in the room for anyone that's graduated from law school and practiced law is the enormous skills gap between the two. Law schools-even (and perhaps especially) the top ones- are notorious for the total absence of practical training within curriculums.

Which doesn't mean that a Yale grad isn't likely to succeed. What it does mean is that many lawyers don't become good at what they do until they’ve practiced for awhile and earned a reputation. At that point, almost no one will care what your LSAT score was.

I'm not discounting the incredible value of prestige. What I do wish was that the discourse surrounding law school admission could free itself from the constraints of percentiles and US News & World Report rankings. These tokens represent a symbolically important aspect of law school admission, but barely scratch the surface of at-large legal practice.


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Monday, June 27, 2016
Taking a Breather from College Admissions Essays
It's the summer before your junior year. You may have already taken the SAT and squeezed in a few perfunctory college visits. The end of high school is near, but still far off enough to stave total panic. Maybe your parents are on your case to get serious about researching colleges. Your guidance counselor may have sent you home with a pile of brochures and a notebook for jotting down essay ideas.

But it's summer. Why borrow worry from tomorrow? Why not be a kid for a little while longer?

Why, indeed-and yet, when it comes to writing, there is no better editor than time. I can promise you that I've written things late at night that sounded brilliant until I read them again in the morning.

Which is why-sadly, perhaps-I think this summer is an ideal time to start thinking about your essay. I realize I can't make you. Yet good writers and experienced college consultants frequently advise college hopefuls to start keeping a diary. You don't need to pour your heart out to the pages every night, but just jot down things that strike you at the time. Time tends to lend perspective to emotional highs and lows, and this measured reflection will surface in your writing.

The benefit here is that note-taking won't swallow your summer. On the contrary, it will help keep it fresh for you. Trust me-you won't remember half of it, and the other half, you'll remember wrong.

Ignoring responsibility just makes small tasks seem huge. Give your essay a little thought this summer, and then walk away from it. When used wisely, time is a powerful architect of change.


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