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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.
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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Wednesday, January 13, 2016
Stepping Away from Google for your College Search
The New Year may mean many things to many different students. Some graduate schools have end-of-January deadlines for the 2016 admissions cycle. Many undergraduates are still waiting on responses to their Fall 2015 applications. Still other high school juniors or gap-year undergrads may just be starting the admissions journey. Whatever lily pad you're sitting on, I'd like to offer a morsel of unsolicited, and unsubstantiated advice:

Step away from your computer.

Don't get me wrong. The internet can be a bottomless treasure chest. With the utmost respect to old-fashioned encyclopedias, the internet has revolutionized our ability to access information, almost effortlessly. At the same time, it's full of some things that are literally impossible to regulate. The worst offender?

Opinions. Yes, I see the irony here.

The thing is, it's easy for opinions to be spun into facts. The internet is the Petri dish for that kind of viral growth. It's like an old-fashioned game of "telephone" on a global scale. Which isn't to say that sites like College Prowler and Rate my Professor don't have some anecdotal value. It's just that, when making the decision about which college to attend and why, students can't slip down the rabbit hole of water-cooler chat.

The most vocal reporters are usually the unhappy ones-just ask any business with a Yelp page. So if you're hearing negative vibes about your college of choice, or being swept up in broad myths about who gets admitted and for what reasons-you may want to just step back. For a start, no one ever fully understands why some students get admitted and others don't. That kind of speculation will just lead to a frustrating loop of answerless musing that is only going to add to what is already a high-anxiety process.

So take a break from Google, or at least consider the sources of your information. Go straight to the college websites. Talk to your school counselor. Hit up some alumni. Read a book.

Let this be your resolution. At least for a few weeks.

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Wednesday, January 13, 2016
The Community College Problem
I live in a moderately-sized town that has one of the top universities in the country and a community college that claims to be number one in the nation. That means that the community college attracts some quality faculty. We're also in a desirable geographic location, which doesn't hurt. There is a guaranteed transfer program which promises community college students a spot at the local university so long as they meet some fairly minimal admissions requirements.

It sounds like the best of all worlds. Some students elect to attend the community college for two years and live by the university-saving money while living in the same neighborhood. The required transfer GPA is as low as 2.4, depending on desired degree program at the university. Over a third of transfer students at the four-year university come from the local community college. Sounds great, right?

Why then is the college transfer pathway so porous? A recent Huffpost blog by Dr. Brian Mitchell, explores the problems with what he calls a "badly broken pathway" between 2-year and 4-year institutions in the U.S. He notes that factors such as the low GPA requirement for transfer students actually leave some community college students ill-prepared for the rigors of 4-year universities.

The problem is that a proportionally small number of community college students actually graduate from 4-year universities. Given the relatively low professional value of a 2-year degree, this begs the question of the overall efficacy of community college education.

It is designed to be an alternate pathway. For high school grads who couldn't get into the university of their choice. For students who can't afford four years of university tuition. For older students who need to work or raise families part-time. Community college was supposed to be the great equalizer.

Unfortunately, it's just underscored the overarching problem with third-level education-it's largely become the private province of the affluent. It turns out that the back-door to 4-year college isn't so easily opened.

There are a great many things in the higher education that need to be fixed. This one is crucial if we are to promise equal footing to tomorrow's professionals.

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Monday, December 28, 2015
Does GMAT Still Reign in Business School Admissions?
For years, the Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT), has been the gold standard for gaining admission to business school. The test's relative emphasis on integrated reasoning and quantitative analysis makes it a different creature from its cousin, the Graduate Records Examination (GRE). The GRE is a more generalized test with stronger verbal components and is required by most other non-business graduate programs.

In recent admissions cycles, business schools' approach has begun evolving. According to a recent survey by Kaplan Testing Service, the number of business schools accepting GRE scores for admission has jumped from 24% in 2009 to over 90% in 2015.

Anecdotally, the tests are viewed as somewhat equally challenging. Because the GMAT has historically been the entry-ticked to business school only, it offers less flexibility than the GRE. On the other hand, because the GMAT is arguably better tailored to graduate business coursework, it is still favored by business schools.

Kaplan's survey also notes that business school admissions officers acknowledge that GMAT takers have an edge in admission. No one is sure exactly why. Simply taking the GMAT is a big symbolic gesture: it means you are serious about business school. Perhaps that ambitious and singular focus is appealing to business schools looking for driven candidates.

If, however, you are a student that struggles with some of the more math-based subjects like accounting and statistics, the GMAT may be daunting. If you've got your heart set on b-school, you may just want to power through any fear of math.

The real hope here would be that by accepting more GRE-takers, business schools are truly diversifying the knowledge-base and interests of their students. Any good learning environment benefits from discourse amongst divergent minds. Still, like most test-taking trends, the wheels of change creek slowly.

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Wednesday, December 23, 2015
How to Master the Supplemental Essay
If you've ever applied to business school, you know what I'm talking about. This isn't the 500-700 word missive you're required to compose about your life, your background, your ambitions. This one seems easier because it's so short. Two-hundred and fifty words? No problem! That's three short paragraphs. Easy, right?

Right?

As an editor, I can promise you that these supplemental essays are really just lying in wait to trip you up. The admissions committees haven't peppered the application with them out of a sense of boredom. After all, why would they want to add to their reading load? Nope, they're there for a reason.

Here's how to tackle them.

1) Answer the question right away. There is no room for an introductory paragraph. If X University wants to know why you want to be a part of their engineering department, tell them. They want you to prove to them that you've put thought into this.

2) Don't recite their brochure to them. These supplementals often ask for specifics, like why you've chosen Emory, or what you hope to accomplish in their Physics program. Don't tell them what Emory has to offer in general. Tell them why Emory appeals to you. And don't talk about architecture or weather.

3) Pay attention to the question. By the time you're drafting your 150-300 word supplemental, you've already delivered the main course. Don't repeat the generalizations from the main essay. The university wouldn't include the supplemental prompt if they didn't want additional and distinct information.

4) If possible, have fun. Some universities use the supplemental essays as an opportunity to elicit unconventional responses. Don't be afraid to be original. Tufts asks "What makes you happy?" Yale asks "What do you wish you were better at being or doing?" Look at these prompts as opportunities to be creative.

Above all, don't assume that word-count and time-investment are inversely proportional. Give as much time and space to preparation of supplemental essays as you would to the primary essay. Your readers are paying attention. And they're waiting for something good.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2015
Taking a Holiday Break from College Admissions
Let's be honest, Americans aren't great about taking breaks. Two weeks of vacation per year is pretty standard, and most of us are left scrambling to take it over the holiday season. Which is, to say, we take time off to scramble around shopping and cooking to excess. This squeeze starts early, and even young teenagers feel it. Especially high school seniors.

As December draws to a close, the curtains can slowly be drawn over a hectic year of admissions chaos. With the SAT and the admission essay in the rearview mirror, things have settled somewhat. It's time to finally acknowledge that the die has been cast---the fate of the young student is now in the hands of the faceless, enigmatic college admissions officers.

The temptation to stew may be overwhelming. But I'm here to offer an alternative. Let it go.

Whatever you celebrate, celebrate it. The admissions officers are at home doing just that. You've done all your hard work. It's now out of your hands for a few months. You need to rest and gear up for the round of admissions and rejection notices that may be in the future.

Give yourself some breathing space. In a few months, you will be back in charge and making big decisions about your futures. Make sure you have the peace of mind to do so. If you end up getting waitlisted or rejected, you want to be able to tackle those eventualities with a clear head.

As I always say, college admission isn't a referendum on your worth. Sure, it is a big life milestone. It may be a reflection of many years of hard work. Still, it is a moment in time which will pass.

Approach the New Year with renewed energy. Your adult life is just around the corner. There's no rush to get there.

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Saturday, December 19, 2015
Changing the Face of Legal Research
In the world of higher education, the appearance of prestige is almost as important as prestige itself. The Ivies, and other universities with well-regarded stature also immediately have access to other important things-good faculty, wealthy students, and, wealthy alumni. This isn't to say that auspicious learning institutions aren't actually of higher quality than their counterparts. Still, perception is reality.

This is nowhere truer than in the law school arena in the United States. The American Bar Association is the governing body which accredits and oversees the nation's schools. All of the top schools are ABA accredited. There are a constellation of requirements that schools must meet in order to merit accreditation. One of them has to do with the size and scope of the school's law library. With the growth of on-line research libraries, this component is arguably becoming a more dated metric.

Which is why I was encouraged to find a recent story about a Harvard Law graduate, who is also the head of a start-up company Ravel Law. The graduate-Romeen Sheth-and his alma mater have recently partnered on a $10 million project to digitize Harvard's entire law library, making it accessible to-gasp---the public.

Symbolically, this is a big deal. Unaccredited law schools often remain that way solely because they lack a bricks and mortar library. New legal practitioners pay top dollar for access to databases like Lexis-Nexis. Non-legal professionals have long struggled to find public access to all but lengthy troves of actual statutes.

Digitizing actual libraries suddenly means that institutions like Harvard can no longer keep a golden lock on the doors of their research libraries. It isn't clear what kind of price tag companies like Ravel intend to attach to the digital information, but it does mean that one need not be a Harvard student to have access to its annals of knowledge.

Will members of the public clamor for this digital library? Maybe not. Arcane case law isn't for everyone. But in theory, access to it should be. I, for one, would like this to cause a shift in a very old tide of thought.

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Tuesday, December 8, 2015
The Problem of Access to College Education
A recent report by the Public Policy Institute of California posits that California may hit a shortage of properly trained professionals by the year 2030. Though its metrics and analytics bear greater discussion than allowed here, researchers note that workers with at least a B.A. have better economic outcomes than those without a college degree. A competitive workplace means that college graduates are far more likely to get hired.

In California, however, there is another problem. Not enough people can afford to go to college, and the public system is fracturing from the strains of consistent budget cuts. According to another recent report by the Campaign for College Opportunity, California's population has exploded by 265% since 1950. During that time, public universities have consistently endured cutbacks.

In order to offset these cuts, colleges raise tuition. A lot. Since 2000, the University of California's tuition has soared by 200%. California State Universities have hiked costs by 175%. It doesn’t take a statistician to see that this is problematic.

The goal of the third-level, public education system was to ensure that California had an educated and productive population. Such a workforce is crucial to healthy industry. The current result is that admittees to California colleges are increasingly amongst the very cream of the academic crop from the high schools. Given the necessary costs of attendance, and the limitations on financial aid, the students who can viably attend are those with the wealth to do so.

The governor's budget proposal is announced in early January 2016, and discussion of education funding will certainly be central. The socioeconomic problem, however, persists. How, indeed, does a state expand access to education when it simply cannot afford to do so? What implications does this have in the future health of the workforce?

One thing is certain. It is time for all of us to start paying attention.

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Tuesday, December 1, 2015
Beware of the Pundits
Election Day may still be a year away, but the candidates are still omnipresent in the news cycle. And it's been this way for months. By the time the final ballots are cast, most of us will be so battle weary, we'll be glad to put the noise to rest.

What does this have to do with college admissions? Practically speaking? Nothing. But look at it another way. Like any great job search, political candidacy depends on a myriad of metrics, of which aptitude is only a small component. It's as much about who you know, how you look, and the size of your marketing budget.

Are you with me?

I'll admit, I borrowed the idea from a Washington Post blog, which extended the metaphor in far greater detail than I can here. There was an important admonition though. Beware of the pundits. These are the talking heads, whose voices are the loudest-both from the public pulpit and inside your mind.

For college hopefuls, the words of the pundits can be powerful. The fantasy of a dream school can be far more powerful than the reality that said dream school isn't actually a good fit. It's hard to strive for something we can't yet grasp; hard to prepare for an experience that is wholly unknown.

Which is why it is so crucial to stay authentic. Do your own research. Don't pretend to be someone you're not. Worse, don’t try to be the person you think your admissions officer wants you to be.

The admissions process may leave you feeling battle-scarred. You may feel like your cover letter matters more than your resume, or that no one is really reading either. The truth is, college admissions isn't perfect. The results may be unexpected or even unfair. Still, you want to aim to land in the place you really want to be-not the place you think you should be.

After all, you are a student, not a politician. For that, you may want to be very grateful.

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Monday, November 23, 2015
Selling Yourself Short on Your College Admission Essay
If you're a high school junior with an eye on college, you've probably already started reading all the college counseling advice. There is lots of it. You might have a book. You might have hired a consultant. Your parents may have your ear. And when it comes to writing your admission essay, much of the advice is the same.

Edit, proofread, and edit some more.

Brainstorm. Put all your ideas on paper first-organize later. Edit. Have someone else look it over. Be yourself. Show, don't tell.

All good advice. Unless you're suffering from a severe case of writer's block. Then, and only then, you might want to just throw the book at the wall. Then follow me out onto this limb.

What if-you designated an hour on a Saturday afternoon, and just sat down and wrote. Write about whatever comes to mind. Don't put a ton of thought into it. Write about why it is funny or important to you. Don't overthink it. Most importantly, don't write what you think someone else wants to hear.

Trust me here. I write often. My best ideas usually come to me when I'm busy doing other things. I always wish I could stop in that moment and spill the words onto paper, because by the time I have time, I'm often stumped.

I'm not suggesting that you don't edit your work. I'm not telling you not to put another hour into it. I'm just challenging you to take a risk. Get out of your own head, and into your heart.

So much of the admission essay angst revolves around a single thing-writing what you think your university wants to read. It takes the joy out of the creative process. Students, so preoccupied with "getting in", become paralyzed into drafting something that will make them look good, rather than something they actually enjoy writing.

So, why not try it? After all, it's only an hour.

See what happens.

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Monday, November 16, 2015
How Many College Applications is Too Many?
In conversation with a friend of mine this week, she mentioned that her recently unemployed spouse has sent out 46 job applications over the past few weeks. He's a highly-qualified tech professional living in a competitive market. Forty-six? I couldn't even fathom rejection on that scale. I mean, he can't possibly expect to get all 46 jobs.

In the changing landscape of college admissions, numbers are starting to matter more. On-line platforms like the Common Application have made it easier to apply to a greater number of universities with the single click of a button. Students can conceivably write a single admission essay and forward the same document to dozens of different universities.

So, is there a magic number of colleges to which a student should apply? Is it better to apply to three colleges or 50? Is there a down side to either?

I don't pretend to have all the answers. It depends in part upon the quality of the research and college counseling that students receive. Students with access to top guidance counselors are obviously at an advantage here. Affluent students also have a leg up in the sense that they can afford to do things like visit out of state campuses.

This kind of front-end research allows students to make more measured decisions. Those students may well be able to narrow their field to a handful of colleges in which they are very interested and to which they are well-suited.

For many other students, college choice is greyer. They may be basing decisions on second-hand information or cursory views of a college website. This makes it harder for students to really assess the school which may be best for them. In that case, I say, cast a wide net (assuming it's affordable-each application usually carries a fee).

The flip-side of this conversation is that more applications make it more difficult for colleges to actually review them. Who knows how technology has squeezed that aspect of the admissions process.

Finally, there are the odds. If you're applying to two dozen schools, you're more likely to get in somewhere; you just need to steel yourself for the inevitable rejection, too.

Which is not a bad life lesson, anyhow.

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Monday, November 9, 2015
No, It is Not “Our” Admission Essay
I've read a lot lately about helicopter parenting. As a parent, I have a deeply vested interest in my children's success. I hope I don't hover, but I think that's the problem with over-parenting; you're not likely to realize you're doing it.

On the other side is a different school of thought. Today's interfering parents are creating anxious, co-dependent children who are as bad at tying their own shoes as they are at suffering disappointments.

Like most things, I bet the truth is somewhere in the middle.

The funny thing is, the overbearing parenting isn't happening just to toddlers-it's happening to teenagers. And nowhere is it more obvious than in the college application process.

Teenagers aren't well-known for being impeccably organized. They might even tend to procrastinate, or underestimate the importance of adult things. Like taking the college application seriously. I can see why it would be hard for a parent to take a step-back, watching the proverbial train-wreck with their hands tied behind their back.

This isn't a parenting blog, so I've got no advice there. What I can say is this-your seventeen-year-old shouldn't write as well as a fifty-year-old. Their essay won't be perfect. It can only be as good as they make it. If that's enough to get them into their dream school-great. If not? They've been handed a tough life lesson: we can't always get what we want.

Should they revise their essay? Of course. Have an adult read it and offer feedback? Absolutely. But the admission essay should never be a collaborative effort. It is your child's essay. There is no "we", in the process.

Unless that includes you cheering them on from the sidelines. Which may be one of the easiest and the hardest things for any parent to do.

Then find a way to let them go.

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