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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.
Saturday, September 12, 2015
College Visits: Good for the Soul
College is way in the distance in my rearview mirror. The game has changed considerably since then. But fundamentally, that transition is very much the same. Students looking to go away to university are largely facing one of the first big Changes in their lives. Most of that, it turns out, has very little to do with college.

My family has recently began reconsidering a move out of state. It is a big psychological burden. The logistics are almost too heavy to carry. We've combed the internet, surveyed friends, bought books, and even stuck pins in maps. We're still not much closer to a decision. The next step is obvious. We have to hit the pavement.

Which is precisely what this years' high school seniors need to be doing. The stakes may be different, but I'm pretty certain our emotions are very much the same.

The internet is a blessing and a curse. Information is good. Lots of information is, well, kind of stressful. There is peace in every decision. The internet almost offers too many options.

I'm a big believer in getting a feel for the place. You can search the web for tips on touring college campuses. That's not where I'm going with this. I say, pick a handful of places that suit you from a practical perspective-cost, location, fields of study, size. Then go see them. Do sit in on classes. Have a meal in the student common. Take pictures. Check out the surrounding neighborhood.

Can you picture yourself there? It's an important question to ask. There's a lot of value in gut instincts.

And remember this. It's easy to make a bad decision, but it's hard to make a wrong one. Life isn't always predictable, but with some well reasoned choices, it's okay to take the leap. The net will appear.


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Saturday, September 12, 2015
What's in the Winning College Admissions Essays
This is the million-dollar question, of course. The admission essay is a centerpiece of the college consulting industry, primarily because it is such an enigma. Test scores and grades-those are measurable. We know what good and bad ones look like, and colleges can be explicit in their expectations.

The essay is much mushier. This blog and countless others have devoted thousands of words to describing the perfect one. Still, students struggle to find out what colleges are looking for.

Admit See is a start-up with a simple model: invite verified high school students to share their college application materials, and pay them for it. Students have an incentive to share, and Admit See suddenly has valuable goods for future students. See what the successful essays actually look like.

In just the year since its inception, Admit See boasts a catalogue of over 15,000 essays, many from successful admits to top schools. The information they share is broad and of varying degrees of utlity.

For example, successful Harvard admits tended to address their parents as "mother" and "father"; at Stanford, it was "mom" and "dad". Harvard essays contained more words related to hardship ("cancer", "difficult"), while Stanford essays were more optimistic ("happy", "passion"). And while these minutiae may or may not actually improve one’s odds, other observations might.

Risk-taking apparently pays off. The more uniquely structured (well-executed) narratives drew the attention of admissions committees. Even taboo subject matter seemed to poll well with readers.

Companies like Admit See cleverly prey upon students' anxiety surrounding the mysterious essay. But you never know-they may just be on to something.


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Tuesday, September 1, 2015
What Does it Mean to be a First Generation College Student?
It's one of those old pieces of college lore. Those afflictions you secretly want to have in order to improve your chances of getting in. You know, the soft factors that generate the most heat in debates about college admissions. Race. Gender. Class. National origin. Hardship.

It's uncomfortable to talk about. Because it involves privilege. All the marginalities that make life hard for people in real society can somehow be an asset in the admissions game. When colleges say they want a diverse student body, people don't fully understand what it means.

So they write their own stories. I shouldn't check the Asian box. I should tell them I'm gay. They should know my parents are African, even if I was raised in Topeka.

I see the way people talk about the difficulty of being the first in their family to go to college. It's one of those things that the rest of us can't really understand. All the adults in my family went to college. That I would go too was never a question. There was virtually zero mystery to the experience. A handful of my relatives had even gone to my university.

Yet, we never really see this discussed. Which is why I found this recent NY Times article so moving. The author talks about her experience as a first-generation college student. Not in terms of its value as an admissions metric. But in terms of the way it played out for her in real life.

It's the kind of story that should remind people that there is a difference between hardship and sob stories. That everyone doesn't arrive to the ivory towers on the same bus. That adversity isn't a free pass but rather a thing that contextualizes the journey, imbuing it with meaning.

Because while college is a new page for every freshman, all prologues are not created equal.

New York Times


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Thursday, August 20, 2015
ABA Reverses Decision on LSAT Exemption
It's been just over a year since the primary governing body of America's accredited law schools decided to dispense with the ubiquitous LSAT requirement. The standardized test has long been a staple of law school admission. Exceptional LSAT scores can help tip the scales for students with on-the-fence grades. A poor performance can be the kiss of death.

Like most standardized tests in higher education, the LSAT was designed as a leveler of the playing field. With law students coming from a wide variety of undergraduate backgrounds, the test was a helpful weeding tool.

Last year, the American Bar Association (ABA), surprised many when it introduced an exemption option for the LSAT. Up to ten percent of a school's annual admittees could include students that had not taken the LSAT.

The premise may have been simple, but the execution was not.

As in other areas of tertiary education, the LSAT had become a litmus test of privilege. The hope was that, by eliminating the requirement-at least in part-law schools could cast a wider net. Diversity was the buzzword, but it was more nuanced than that. Law schools would be opening their doors to qualified candidates who may have excelled in areas other than standardized test taking. Shutting the doors on poorer LSAT performers may have also been screening out valuable talent.

The ABA has said little about the reversal. It was not a referendum on diversity as much as a salve for a confusing rule. Or so they say. It is a curt reversal, and some law schools are disappointed that the ABA changed course without allowing the initial dust to settle.

For now, at least, the LSAT remains one of the greatest obstacles to law school admission. Which, it seems, is precisely how the ABA wants it.


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Wednesday, August 5, 2015
Why Law School Could be the Perfect Place for STEM Students
Many years ago, I sat at a writing seminar for law students. It was at a big hotel in Los Angeles, and attended by hundreds. The speaker was dynamic. One of the points that resonated for me was his comment about undergraduate backgrounds of law students. He polled the audience regarding their fields of study. Predictably, most of us had degrees in the humanities.

He told us we had picked the wrong majors.

Clearly, this was for effect. His point, however, was not lost on us. He was trying to teach us how to better respond to law school examination questions, which are largely essay-based. Being able to write well, he suggested, was of little use to us. Instead, he noted, that math, engineering and science majors tend to think differently. They are more linear. They think in bullet points.

This is a valuable tool in legal analysis. Most exams, including the bar, demand that students process a large amount of information quickly, then distill it into a concise, cohesive argument. Law students must also support argument with law. This process may align with traditional essay composition. But it is more easily paralleled with the explanation process of, say, a scientific experiment.

And the law profession needs patent lawyers. They need scientists in environmental law. They need intellectual property lawyers who understand technology. These are non-traditional qualities essential to the competency of the legal profession.

So for the STEM students that hadn't before considered it, law has the potential to be an surprisingly good fit. What may make them stand out could also cause them to excel in unexpected ways.


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Tuesday, August 4, 2015
GWU Drops Test-Score Requirement
With more than 25,000 students-10,000 of them undergraduates, George Washington University in the District of Columbia just became the largest U.S. school to drop the SAT and ACT testing requirements. GWU joins more than 125 private universities on US News & World Report's ranked list to dispense with the mandatory tests.

GWU's official statement on the issue sound promising. The university claims that it didn't want to discourage otherwise accomplished students, who may have had mediocre test scores, from applying. For years, discussion has swirled about the utility of standardized test scores. By and large, the scores skew along socioeconomic and racial lines, causing some to question them as an objective metric of academic skill.

Ironically, standardized tests were first introduced as a great equalizer. Since the rigor of high school curricula varies wildly across the country, an "A" from one school does not always carry the weight of an "A" from another. Standardized tests were designed to make it easier for admissions committees to measure students' aptitude.

Although high SAT and ACT test scores do correlate with long-term college success, the data is misleading when taken out of context. Wealthier students from superior high schools tend to perform better on the tests. These are the same students more likely to enjoy a long-term trajectory of success.

By making the tests optional, GWU and its counterparts are attempting to take a more holistic view of potential students. Their vetting process will refocus on high school grades and extracurriculars, taking into account a student's sustained performance over the course of several years, rather than several hours of test-taking.

With over 4,000 universities in the U.S., the test-optional schools still represent a tiny fraction of the nation's schools. Still, their novel approach to evaluating student candidates should serve as food for thought for the majority.


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Wednesday, July 22, 2015
Will US Schools Actively Recruit Cuban Students
This week was a big one for Cuba and the United States. After severing ties with Cuba in 1961-largely in response to Castro's Communist regime-the two countries resumed diplomatic relations on Monday of this week.

There continues to be a commercial and economic embargo, preventing the two countries from formally doing business. But the U.S. has reopened its embassy in Havana and travel restrictions between the two countries are slowly being loosened. The gradual reestablishment of the relationship between the countries is being referred to in the media as the "Cuban Thaw".

With the status of the new logistical relationship still up in the air, it is difficult to see what this will mean for higher education. Cuban business students, however, offer an interesting demographic for U.S. business schools. The Wall Street Journal reports that Cuban higher education is known for its strength in the sciences. The diplomatic and economic flux between the two countries also presents fertile ground for academic discourse.

Among the logistical hurdles-access for Cuban students to standardized tests such as the GMAT. There is some concern that many students may not be able to finance costly U.S. educations. Of course, access to information and ease of communication between the two countries will slowly lubricate the process.

In the mean time, the trickle down effects of this watershed political moment may mean big changes on the academic horizon.

For the WSJ take: Wall Street Journal


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Tuesday, July 21, 2015
Admissions Essays and the Power of Editing
I've been doing editing work in various shapes and forms for well over a decade. My experience in the college admissions realm is well known within my large extended family. In the last ten years, at least half a dozen of my younger cousins have gone to college. Sometime around their junior year, they ask me for editing help. I don't mind. Honestly.

I think that the years have taught me to be diplomatic. It's one of those soft factors in editing that is the most delicate. I don't feel bad correcting grammar or sentence structure. Tone? Substance? Purpose? Those concepts are tougher to tackle.

My visceral response to things I read is immediate. Sometimes the cringe is a flicker. Other times, I feel a silent leap as my eyes are tugged by a jovial turn of phrase. The worst is when I'm bored. How does one inspire someone to write better by calling them tedious?

Still, these responses are what no writer wants to hear but what every writer needs. There are thousands of google hits that will tell you how to write a better admissions essay. They like giving you bullet points. Start early. Be honest. Proofread. Rewrite. All good advice.

What you really need, however, is a second set of eyes.

I looked at some essays for a family member several years back. Academically speaking, I would've been indiscernible in the shadow of his trajectory. His writing was good, but had room for improvement. He took all my criticisms on board and was very grateful for my input. Later, he told me my comments had been a bit like sandpaper on silk. Still, he appreciated them.

That's the thing about editing. No one else can see your work through your eyes. And that's important. It may just be what saves you from yourself.


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Tuesday, July 21, 2015
Jump in LSAT Takers a Good Omen?
I cannot honestly remember the last time I blogged about law school with a hint of optimism. For the past several years, the profession and its pursuit has sagged under the weight of a bad economy and academic scandals. The cost of a law school education has lagged behind its value. Year after year, the number of students taking the LSAT is down, the number of law school applicants are down, and law schools are scrambling to stay afloat.

June 2015, however, may have given law schools a reason to tilt their chins up. For the first time in five years, the number of LSAT takers rose by 6%. The test is offered four times a year. This is the third consecutive increase by cycle. This means that the numbers of takers is rising steadily and consistently. At least for now.

Law school application numbers are still down. The LSAT is relatively affordable and because students can take it multiple times, it is a reasonably low-risk endeavor. Still, students aren't likely to take the LSAT unless they have serious intentions of going to law school.

Naturally, it's too early to draw any broad conclusions from the trend. It should, however, give breath to the notion that the declines of the past few years were cyclical rather than permanent. With the economy rebounding, the investment in a law school education may no longer carry such burdensome risks.

Maybe the numbers are up precisely because students think law school admissions may be easier during a downturn in law's popularity. The causation remains to be seen. But the increase changes the color of the law school narrative. For that reason alone, it is worth watching.


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Tuesday, July 21, 2015
The Problem with Asian Students
This topic is nothing new. The stereotype of the Asian mathlete who's been doing tae kwon do and piano since the diaper days is well-branded into the American psyche. Relative to their numbers in the U.S. population, Asian students have comprised large percentages of college student bodies for decades.

Which is why the recent lawsuit against Harvard University, filed on behalf of 64 separate Asian-American groups, raises some interesting questions about race in college admissions. The lawsuit, filed in federal court by a group called Students For Fair Admission (SFFA), isn't as simple as it might seem on its face.

The gist of the complaint is that Harvard unfairly discriminates against Asian students in its admissions process. The plaintiffs claim, in essence, that Asian students have to work harder and score higher than students of other races in order to get in.

Like many of its ilk, this lawsuit is, for legal reasons, filed on behalf of a rejected student who will likely have graduated from college by the time the suit is resolved. Arguably, the suit also fails to speak for "all Asians". Put simply, the suit is an attack on affirmative-action policies, which many Asians wholeheartedly support.

With around a 5% acceptance rate at Harvard, it will be difficult for the plaintiffs to prove that race alone is the reason more Asian students are not admitted. In fact, most people of any race are not admitted to Harvard.

Nevertheless, it is well accepted in the college consulting industry that many Asian students are stereotyped by admissions committees. Arguably, they may be forced to try hard to look less Asian in order to stand out from their Asian competition.

The multi-layered problems with race and college admissions affect different groups in distinct ways. This conversation may be precisely what SFFA's lawsuit will start to unearth. Whether it makes college admissions any easier for Asian students is something that remains to be seen.


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Tuesday, July 21, 2015
Women Still Underrepresented in Business School
According to the Graduate Management Admissions Council, the percentage of women applying to business school is hovering somewhere around 35%. Some of the top schools boast enrollment of around 40% women. Yet, with fewer women applying, the prospect of evening out the numbers in MBA programs seems bleaker.

For many years now, certain business schools have sought to fight the locker-room stereotype that plagues them. Though it's impossible to measure all the reasons why women aren't pursuing graduate business degrees, it is a conversation that needs to be had. In an effort to galvanize interest for women, some schools are broadening their reach.

The Wall Street Journal reports that some business schools, such as the Kelly School at Indiana University and Carlson at the University of Minnesota, are targeting high school girls. The schools are inviting high-school juniors and seniors to all-female programs and tours designed to stoke early interest in graduate degrees. The University of Michigan’s Ross school is even offering a day-long mentoring program for Girl Scouts.

Big-name schools like Harvard (HBS) and the Stern School at NYU have long had strong, supportive networking programs for women in the field. Yet business schools have had a tough time shaking the antiquated image of business as a man's world (which it still is).

Fortunately, these schools see the benefit of bringing more women into the fold, and the importance of doing a better job of articulating what MBA programs have to offer to women in particular.


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Wednesday, July 15, 2015
Starting Early—Big Advantages for International Students
A report from the Institute of International Education and the U. S. State Department noted that, for the 2013-2014 academic year, there were 886,052 international students enrolled at U.S. universities. Though this constitutes just four percent of the overall enrolled students, the number represents the eighth straight year of growth. The U.S. also hosts more of the world's 4.5 million students than any other country.

Despite the increasing numbers, navigating the U.S. college system is not easy for foreign students. As evidenced by the blossoming college consulting industry in the U.S. and abroad, there is a significant familiarity gap. And that should come as no surprise. U.S. college preparations start early in high school in the form of AP classes, PSAT prep workshops, and college fairs. These things are not part of the landscape for students from other countries.

Fortunately, students live in the age of the Internet. Amenities like the Common Application and virtual tours make it easier to access college from across the pond. Still, it's hard to know what you should be doing and when you should be doing it.

So why not start early? By early, I mean high school. Spend a year (or longer) in the U.S. as an exchange student. Chinese students, who, at 31%, make up the largest number of U.S. foreign students, routinely attend U.S. high schools in preparation for collegiate study.

The advantages? The language and cultural barriers which often prove isolating to new foreign college students can be tackled within the safe confines of a host family situation. Students have access to U.S. guidance counselors. They get the opportunity to talk college prep with other U.S. students who are still in the midst of the process. They can stay on top of deadlines for standardized tests.

By the time college rolls around, America won't seem so daunting or, well, foreign.


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Wednesday, July 8, 2015
UC Tightening its Belt on California Students
With annual tuition costs hovering around $13,000, it's easy to forget that the University of California was originally created as a state-funded educational system. The oldest of the UC campuses at Berkeley, was established in 1868-just two decades after California ratified its first State Constitution. The aim of accessible education was one of its tenets.

In the years since, the UC system has blossomed. Ten campuses exist throughout the state, boasting undergraduate and graduate student enrollment of over 230,000 students. Some of the UC institutions are amongst the most prestigious centers in the world for learning and research. It's two most competitive campuses, at Los Angeles and Berkeley, are as highly sought after as many of the nation's top private universities.

Unfortunately for Californians, the UC appears to be growing less accessible to locals. State funding for the UC has been slashed again and again in recent decades (by about $1 billion since the year 2000). Universities are forced to fundraise in order to cover their budgetary gaps. But one of their greatest resources comes in another form-out-of-state tuition.

Foreign students and non-California residents are charged nearly triple the rate of tuition as in-state locals. That's around $36,000 a year. And those students come at no extra cost to the university. It is pure profit for the UC and it all turns on the address of the applicant.

For the 2015-2016 academic year, just 60% of California applicants were offered spots at UC schools. The LA Times reports that this figure is down from 79.9% in 1999. The UC makes no secret of their reasons. It’s a budgetary policy. They simply cannot afford to accept more local students while still covering their own costs.

For aspiring UC students who are residents of California, this may come as frustrating news. So long as the state budget remains strained, and college admissions remain highly competitive, there appears to be no relief in sight.


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Thursday, June 25, 2015
Dropping the LSAT in Law School Admission
The dreaded aptitude test has been a prominent feature of third-level and post-graduate topography for years. Originally designed to serve as an objective metric for student ability, exams like the SAT, the GMAT, the GRE, the MCAT and the LSAT have become part of higher education lexicon. Why then, have the tests become increasingly controversial?

Perhaps that isn't the best way to characterize them, and perhaps they shouldn't be lumped together in one category. Yet some research has shown that while tests like the SAT do tend to predict collegiate success, the causal factors may be suspect. Students with the financial, social and educational support to prepare well for the SAT would likely be more successful in college anyhow.

To some extent, the same may be true of the Law School Admission Test-an intensive measurer of verbal reasoning and analytic skills which is required by the vast majority of American Bar Association (ABA)- approved law schools in the U.S. Top scorers often receive invitations to apply from some of the top-tier schools.

Yet, in response to declining law school enrollment, some schools are deciding to drop the LSAT requirement in the hopes of attracting more students. Last summer, the ABA amended their admission rules, allowing law schools to fill up to ten percent of their classes with high-performing students who have not taken the LSAT.

Some schools see this as an opportunity to open up the pool of applicants, by making it slightly easier (or at least more appealing) to get in. Talk of dropping the SAT requirement for undergraduates has been brewing for some time now. Law schools, deeply wed to notions of prestige and competition, may have a tougher time shedding this skin.


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Monday, June 15, 2015
Big Business of College Consulting
If you are a college-hopeful at a relatively standard American high school, you might want to consider yourself rather lucky. I'm not even talking about the quality of your AP courses or the availability of Pre-SAT workshops (although this is important). I'm talking about your access to information about colleges.

It turns out that when it comes to picking the right college, Google isn't your only friend. If you are exceptionally fortunate, you might attend a private or small public high school where the guidance counselor to student ratio is relatively low. These people know a lot about college admissions. Talk to them.

Still, the competitive nature of college admissions has led many students (or their parents) to turn to college consultants. This cottage industry has exploded in the last decade and a half. The degree of hand-holding is often proportional to the fee charged. So ubiquitous are these private consulting services that navigating them has become almost as difficult as searching colleges.

The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) is a somewhat neutral body that offers guidance to students about consulting services. NACAC is a good starting source for students looking to navigate the process of admissions and admissions consulting.

Resources such as NACAC and Education USA (a service of the U.S. Department of Education) are especially important for foreign students, for whom the U.S. application process may seem particularly confusing. In some countries, the consulting industry is peppered with "agents", or consultants who arguably have their gaze honed on commissions rather than the best interests of their students.

When it comes to "getting in", choosing the right consultant can be as crucial as choosing the right college. In both cases, choosing wisely is the only road to success.


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Tuesday, June 9, 2015
A “Rich-Kid” Problem at the College Level
I wrote earlier this week about our expectations of justice in college admissions. A cursory glance at the current state of affairs underscores the utter lack of egalitarianism at the nation's universities. As I posited earlier, it isn't fair, and colleges have little incentive to make it so.

A recent report from the Century Foundation notes that, amongst America's most selective schools, a full 70% of students come from the wealthiest quarter of American families. Let that marinate for a minute. Nearly three-quarters of the student body comes from the top-quarter of the country's ruling classes.

At the same time, colleges claim to be assembling their student populations based upon holistic diversity.

Race aside, the study indicates that there is little to no economic diversity at the top colleges. And while this may come as little surprise, it remains a disappointment. It isn't that lower income students can't make the grade. On the contrary, take Ronald Nelson, a high school student from Tennessee who was recently accepted to all eight Ivy League schools. Nelson, who hopes to one day attend medical school, turned all eight Ivies down in favor of the University of Alabama. The reason? The Ivies offered paltry partial scholarships. University of Alabama offered him a full ride.

Lest you scoff that Nelson is an outlier, some economic reports have noted that 39% of the highest achieving high school students come from the nation's poorest 50%; many of these students never even bother applying to top schools because of prohibitive costs.

This is a great loss to these top institutions, but one which clearly takes a back seat to their economic bottom line.


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Monday, June 8, 2015
College Applications and Long Summer Days

This may be the only thing I have in common with the average seventeen-year-old.

What most teenagers have that few adults do is free time. Trust me on that one. Something else that has changed since my college days is the race to the application deadline. Students are applying to more colleges, and colleges are asking for more material. Many students will finish the application process having written more than a dozen admissions essays.

The Common Application begins accepting college applications on August 1st. Many students will not yet have sat for their standardized tests at that stage. Still, there is no disadvantage to starting early. For high school seniors, the first semester of that final year is one of the busiest of their school careers. Trying to search out colleges, sit the SAT, write admissions essays and juggle a normal class load can be crippling.

And while I concede that summer is sacred, I can promise that it will remain so for at least another four years. You aren't sacrificing all your free time. You're merely tackling some of the unwieldy task of college applications before time becomes far scarcer.

Is it hard to plan ahead? Difficult to generate your best work absent high pressure? Sure. But college is pretty important, and ten weeks of summer will pass in a blink. And like so much in life, you may find yourself wishing you could have that time back.

Think of it as the first of many adult decisions you'll be making over the next few decades. This one may just have a delicious reward at the end.


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Monday, June 1, 2015
Is it Fair to Expect Fairness in College Admissions?
I'm not the only one perplexed by the concept of justice in college admissions. It is a concept about which exhaustive speculation exists. Affirmative action cases languish for years in the highest judicial systems. Race, class, gender and privilege all incite vigorous-often aggressive conflicts in discussions about college admissions.

Which leads me to wonder aimlessly-who said college admissions should be fair?

In a recent NPR interview, former president of the National Association of College Admissions Counseling (NACAC), Jim Jump, noted that, "uniqueness is kind of the hidden currency of college admissions".

In the race to be the best of the best, many students lose sight of the notion that colleges may not always be looking for the same "best". In their bid to create a diverse student body, universities aren't likely to simply be searching for a bunch of high test scores. When dealing with thousands of equally qualified candidates, colleges have the option of picking the most interesting of the cream at the top.

Jump refers to this notion as "building a class full of differences, rather than admitting a bunch of individuals". This subtle distinction may be a tough sell for students trying to figure out "what it takes" to get in, and for the college preparatory services promising to give them that answer.

Universities are there to provide a service, and students are expected to pay for it. Universities generally have the discretion to select who they want to be a part of their institution-much like an employer gets to choose who it employs. Why then, the assumption that the process should be fair?

If we see college as the gateway to success in society, it would feel good to believe that it isn't restricted to a privileged few. But the reality is that colleges owe nothing to society. The concept that admissions should be fair is one resting on a moral imperative, not a practical one.


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Tuesday, May 26, 2015
Time to Scrap the Bar Exam for Law Graduates?
The conversation about the efficacy and continued need for law school bar exams is nothing new. It isn't, however, an easy conversation to have. For decades, the test has been steered largely by the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE), a national organization that devises and administers crucial portions of the bar exams offered in each state. To complicate matters, most states also have additional, state-specific testing requirements which are administered by the state bars of each state.

One of the most common criticisms is the same that is often levied at most standardized tests-it does not adequately measure merit. To be sure, the various iterations of the exam across the states do in fact gauge a student's understanding of the law. Some states also test "state-specific" law, though all states test federal law, which is also a fundamental component of all law school curriculums.

The problem is that the passage rates are often dismal. California, for example, offers the exam twice a year. The overall pass rate for its February exam hovers around 40%. Some would argue that this is precisely why the exam should exist-as a sort of gate-keeper, weeding out unqualified attorneys.

Others, however, note the gap between material tested on bar exams, and the knowledge necessary for legal practice. Most exams test a huge multiplicity of subjects, for example, but most lawyers practice in a single field.

Bar exams are costly, and require an average of two months of full-time preparation. Graduating law students may be sitting on six-figure student debt, but unable to earn an income until they pass.

The wheels of change move slowly. It's unlikely that any modifications will happen soon or dramatically. But the conversation is stirring.

For recent New York Times discussion of the issue: New York Times


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Monday, May 18, 2015
Common App Reveals 2015-2016 Essay Prompts
Almost every year, the Common Application makes some form of revision to their existing essay prompts. This isn't news for all people, but it may matter to the more than 800,000 hopeful students who use the Common App in their college application process. It may also cause a ripple in the water for the more than 500 universities in the U.S. that accept applications through the Common App channel.

This year's changes are minor. The most marked difference is the removal of the prompt asking students to describe the place where they feel most content. The Common Application claims to have surveyed more than 6,000 students about the existing prompts; that prompt was the least favorite. It has been replaced with "Describe a problem you've solved or a problem you'd like to solve…".

To those in the admissions field, this prompt is resonant of many graduate business school prompts, which demonstrate a decided interest in problem-solving. Such a prompt gives a student an opportunity to travel outside the traditional "describe the world you come from", which may be the easiest to answer, but not always fodder for the most compelling read.

Which is why the changes should matter to students. The readers don't care which prompt you answer. The changes aren't monumental. But the tweaks should serve a primary purpose: to inspire students to write more astutely and distinctively.

Regrettably, readers won't spend hours ruminating over your narrative. They don't have that kind of time. What they need is to be instantly gripped-compelled not to simply cast the essay aside thoughtlessly, reaching for the next.

High school juniors, take note-it isn't too early to start ruminating on your essay topic for the Fall.

To see the updated Common Application prompts, click here. Washington Post


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