|Admissions Essays Blog|
|Through our very own editors and guest writers, this blog will discuss the INSIDE scoop on the admissions process of various schools and programs. If you wish to ask a specific question, please write to us, and we will make every attempt to address your questions in our future blog discussions.|
Monday, May 11, 2015
Law School Rankings Released; Sniping Comments Ensue
It's that time of year again. The US News & World Report has released its annual rankings of the top Law Schools in the U.S., and very little has changed. In fact, the top seven schools haven't changed at all. Three schools are tied for #8, in case you cared.
The convoluted metrics employed by the publication remain rather opaque. The fine print is hard to find. But that matters very little. In an age of single-clicks and "top ten" lists, few people are likely to wade past the initial bullet points.
Given the heat that the law profession has taken over the past few years, one would think the rankings might have shifted shape a bit. But the internet discourse is the same. In fact, if you thought comment threads in general existed to deflate your faith in humanity, try reading almost any law blog about school rankings. You'll need a ton of kitten videos to pull you out of your funk. Forget the fact that other viable professions exist. Try and forget the fact that the job market for law school graduates is brutal. Remember that there are other options for graduate education. Still, law schools love their rankings. So do "big firms". Ivy graduates are the trophy-wives of firm letterhead. In a competitive market, pedigree does matter.
But there in the back of the auditorium, if you listen carefully, you can hear it. Tiny voices of reason. People trying to remind you that law schools game the ranking system. That the number of students attending the top ten law schools in the country don't even comprise a tenth of a percent of the U.S. population. We are mostly in a frenzy about a privileged group that most of us will never be part of. And finally-who decides what "best" really means?
See for yourself, but please remember, it's just a list. US News >
Monday, May 11, 2015
Looking for College Admissions Transparency in the Right Places
Back in January, I wrote about Fountain Hopper, a website designed by and for Stanford students to help applicants figure out why they'd been rejected by the colleges to which they'd applied. Under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), all notes associated with the review of admissions applications legally belongs to the applicant. So, suddenly, students could try to piece together the reasons they may have fallen short.
Little has come of this rather dramatic news story since. What of the students who actually used Fountain Hopper to access their records? Were they revelatory? Satisfying? Instructive? I don't know.
This recent article in UCLA's own periodical, the Daily Bruin, sheds some more light on admissions transparency. The UC Information Center has created a new database aimed to make it easier to research the UC's admissions metrics. (The database is in "beta" form, meaning it is essentially a work in progress). Nevertheless, students may access information regarding admissions statistics.
The article notes that a previous program, Statfinder, was a bit of a flop. It also aimed to provide admissions statistics, but the site received very little traffic. As the article notes-these transparency sites are only useful when they are used.
For me, it begs the question of accessibility. There is an entire industry built around the demystification of the admissions process. The industry provides mostly speculation, lots of consulting for a price, and few answers.
Fountain Hopper and databases like this one provided through the University of California begs to differ. Perhaps students have just been looking in the wrong places?
Monday, May 4, 2015
College Rankings: Just Entertainment?
A recent blog post on vox.com says yes. Colleges "decide what they value and then measure it". This article isn't the first to poke holes in the rankings system. Students still rely overwhelmingly on US News & World Report to clue them in on which colleges are best. And while US News has become more transparent with its metrics, it is still far from objective.
One of the major problems with their ranking is the use of acceptance rate as a marker of prestige. The Vox article doesn't levy this criticism but instead asks why other, arguably more important measurements aren't used. For instance-student engagement? What of that?
Forbes, according to the article, structures its own ranking system around student satisfaction and post-graduate earnings. Washington Monthly measures public contributions. US News, it claims, charts prestige.
The various ranking systems will appeal to different people precisely because of their different values. But such nuance is largely lost in most considerations of what constitutes a good college. It's hard for people to get past prestige. Even if prestige doesn't always equal a better education.
As Vox points out, student engagement should really be at the top of the list. After all, students can't learn well if they don't participate. If choosing a college is about finding the right relationship, this particular current is crucial.
Then again, if rankings of all sorts are based on too many metrics to be instructive, perhaps we shouldn't be paying much attention to them at all. Apart from their entertainment value, that is.
Thursday, April 30, 2015
Navigating the Waitlist Headache
Tomorrow is May 1st. In college admissions circles, I guess we can call this Decision Day. It's the date by which most U.S. colleges require students to either accept or decline an official offer of admission. It usually involves some sort of deposit fee in order for a student to secure their position.
It may be a tough decision for some students, but it's a good place to be. You'll be going to college somewhere. But it may be a struggle for waitlisted students. If you've been accepted to the University of Oregon, but you've been waitlisted at Brown, you still have to let Oregon know what you want to do by the 1st. At some point in the future, you may be forfeiting a deposit.
The thing to consider is the waitlist criteria. Almost universally, waitlisted students aren't ranked. So if UCLA has waitlisted a thousand students, they are all pooling in the same bucket. The university is waiting to see which of the "accepted" students are going to put down their deposit on May 1st. After that date, they'll know how many open spots are available. But they don't start by picking the "top" student from the wait list, because there isn't one.
What universities are likely looking for is a balanced or diverse student body. So whether they pick an Engineering hopeful from Namibia or an Anthropology hopeful from Orange County is going to depend on the texture of the students that they've already admitted as of May 1st.
What can a waitlisted student do? Drafting letters of continued demonstrated interest can help. Students may get a huge boost if they have new activities, scores, or publications to share with the college since the submission of their original application.
Beyond that, it is, in fact, a waiting game. One which hopefully resolves for most students sooner, rather than later.
Labels: Navigating the Waitlist Headache
Tuesday, April 21, 2015
Reframing the College Admissions Model
Call me old-fashioned, but there's something a little predatory about marketing your college to an eighth-grader. If you want to hit the AP classes in high school, you have to lay the groundwork in middle school. To me, that's pressure enough. But marketing to 12-13 year-olds?
The thing about college marketing is that many teenagers don't actually know it is happening. In reality, colleges routinely buy lists of test-takers from the businesses that administer the SAT and ACT exams, for example. High scoring students are a prize for the colleges, so they begin targeting those students-often as early as the eighth grade.
A recent Washington Post article posits an interesting question. If colleges are researching candidates long before the admissions process even happens for them, how important is the college application itself? The advent of on-line applications has made it easier and faster to apply to many schools at once, meaning that many students are merely casting a wide net, rather than making painstaking applications to the schools of their dreams.
So how important should the application be? What does it have to offer that cannot be assessed by simply harvesting information about student scores and grades? If the colleges have access to a student's "work history", the application is little more than a metaphorical "nterview". Is it time to rework the process?
One of the primary problems with the current system is its inefficiency. UCLA boasts of 90,000 undergraduate applications. This may sound prestigious, but it also sounds like a whole lot of busy work, particularly since the vast majority of those students don't stand a chance of admission.
There are too many avenues bearing need for discussion in this post. The system is slowly breaking, but fixing it will be a long, evolutionary journey. For a brief overview, the WP article can be found here: Washington Post >
Tuesday, April 14, 2015
College Admissions Essays Need Not Be Perfect
It's admission time, and the news stories swirling in the collective conscience largely revolve around the students who got into the greatest number of Ivies. Three students have received accolades for being accepted into all eight Ivies. All of them are African immigrants with incredible stories and extraordinary contributions to their credit.
Today, I stumbled upon the apparent admission essay of Gloria Tso, a high school senior who, this week, found out she had been admitted to four Ivy League schools. The essay published was hers for Princeton, and revolved around the question of the importance of public service.
I have no idea what Tso's grades and test scores were like. She makes a brief mention of her extracurriculars in her essay, and they sound impressive. Clearly, she's a highly credentialed candidate. Her essay is well composed and answers the essay prompt. It sounds like a finely tuned, thoughtful composition by a seventeen-year-old girl. It is not maudlin or dramatic. She does not boast or promise ridiculous perfection.
This got me thinking. I see how much agony surrounds the admission essay. I get the sense that students think admissions committees want them to submit essays that sound as though they were written by professional writers. They think the essay needs to blow their readers' mind. Tso's essay, in its quiet simplicity, proves that is not always the case.
I've read many essays by students that gained admission to top schools. Some are quirky. Others are funny. Some are creative and clever. Some are unconventional and eye-catching. Tso's doesn't fall into any of these categories, and yet, it is, clearly, enough.
So for next year's applicants-consider that. You need not be too cute, serious, intellectual or dynamic. Your accomplishments will speak for themselves. Let them.
Tuesday, April 7, 2015
Long Island Teen Accepted to All Eight Ivies
I write a lot about how a successful college admission has to do more to do with finding the right match than getting into the top schools. No student needs to get into every school they apply to; they only need to get into the one that best fits their needs.
But then someone like Harold Ekah comes along and accomplishes all of the above. This is important not because he should serve as the litmus test for college admissions. It's important because it's rather extraordinary.
Ekah, 18, is the son of Nigerian immigrants. He moved to the U.S. with his parents when he was eight years old. In his admission essay, he wrote of the early difficulties of learning English, and of having an accent so strong that people could scarcely understand him. Many immigrants write of similar experiences, so it probably wasn't Ekah's essay alone that swung the pendulum in his favor.
He's also a straight-A student, with a 2270 SAT score, who is the Editor-in-Chief of his school newspaper and the Chief Executive of his Model United Nations chapter. He was a semi-finalist for the Intel Science Talent Search. He wants to become a neurosurgeon so that he can search for a cure for diseases like Alzheimer's, from which his beloved grandmother suffers.
He is unquestionably inspirational. He has called the acceptances a victory not for himself but for his community. He hopes his success will inspire younger generations to work hard, against any odds.
Ekah has not yet decided where he will attend, but is leaning towards Yale.
Wednesday, March 25, 2015
Finding Solace in College Rejection
We're still muddling through March. College admissions and rejection letters are trickling in. With them, comes the heavy referendum on self-worth.
I've written many times about the positives on the college landscape. Most universities do accept students. College isn't everything. The best college isn't necessarily the one that is the hardest to get into.
But New York Times columnist Frank Bruni put things in a more elegant perspective than I could hope. He and I are of the same mind when it comes to college admissions as a threshold event in life. Yet, he reminds his readers of what college should be, a "singular opportunity to rummage through and luxuriate in ideas, to realize how very large the world is and to contemplate your desired place in it".
This, he says, is lost in the chaos of college admissions, which has evolved, in his words, to "a border to be crossed" instead of "a land to be inhabited and tilled for all that it is worth". College is a place, not a finish line. And if students are able to look at it as fertile ground, rather than a trophy, they will see that where they go doesn't matter in the long-haul.
In life, everyone has the potential to till the soil. So why do we treat college admission as an all-or-nothing affair? Potential does not evaporate with a rejection letter. Instead, we learn about disappointment, dusting ourselves off, and getting up again.
Like Bruni, I have put many years between me and my college experience. Which makes it a bit easier to be philosophical about its significance. Sometimes, however, grown-ups have had their knees scarred by experience. And it isn't so bad.
The full blog, and a moving letter from some very wise parents, can be found here:
NY Times >
Monday, March 23, 2015
Admission to the University of Everywhere
As college costs continue to rise and competition for admission accelerates to near impossible levels, more and more educators are discussing alternative paradigms in higher education. In his book, The End of College: Creating the Future of Learning and the University of Everywhere, author Kevin Carey envisions a sort of equal-opportunity utopia where universities no longer hold the best knowledge under lock and key.
His theories (impossible to consolidate into a short blog entry) are based upon the ubiquity of information now available to people via technology. This isn't too say that Google Scholar will offer the same education as Harvard. But the on-line "open university" model is one that is becoming increasingly viable.
Students who can't afford bricks and mortar universities are learning that education can be available at their fingertips. Such a model is also more workable for older students, and students who may already have families or full-time jobs. Carey talks specifically about an on-line course in Introductory Biology that he once took on line. It was essentially taped lectures from an MIT course. He took the same exams and read the same textbooks as the MIT students. What, then, he ponders, is the difference in the quality of the two educational experiences?
Carey's theory is based upon the idea that the entire college system is merely one that perpetuates privilege. We feel we need college in order to get better jobs. But college admission is largely limited to children who are already socio-economically privileged. Carey calls it not a system of opportunity but "a system of replicating privilege that already exists".
Exploring the cost-benefits of on-line education is just one way of unpacking the ways in which education could (and should) be made more accessible. Could the University of Everywhere really become a possibility?
Monday, March 16, 2015
Name-Blind College Admissions
A few weeks back, I wrote about legacy admissions. In case you missed it, legacies in the college admissions context have to do with giving preference to children of prominent alumni. "Prominent" may mean anything from "famous to "generous donor". It sounds icky when you call it like it is-non merit-based preferences in a system that is supposed to be the ultimate meritocracy.
In reality, legacy admissions make sense, from a business perspective. Big names draw prestige. Prestige draws donations. Money makes institutions better. It may even be subtler than that. Prestige is its own life force. Universities with auspicious alumni are just treated differently. They are catalogued on a higher shelf in the collective consciousness.
So let's put aside my personal beef with legacies. (If they exist, so too should affirmative action. And I'm not sure how this all squares with meritocracy). A recent Washington Post blog reminded me that the eldest of President Obama's two daughters, Malia, is a senior in high school. This means she's currently touring colleges.
As the Post rather cumbersomely asks, "Imagine seeing 'Malia Obama' on a college-admission application". Well yes, let's. The daughter of a sitting U.S. President. For better or worse, people will be paying attention to the college of her choice. I know nothing of Ms. Obama's grades or test scores, but I'll go out on a limb and state the following: it would be a difficult name for an admissions officer not to notice.
What does this mean for college admissions? I see it as another reminder of just how impossible it is to keep the process wholly objective. Even assuming the President's daughter should be admitted based on her performance and not her name, it may not be reasonable to expect universities to separate the two.
Labels: Name-Blind College Admissions
Wednesday, March 11, 2015
College Admissions Disadvantage for Asian Students
There are myriad reasons why the discussion of race in college admissions is so ubiquitous-on this blog and elsewhere. Affirmative action cases have been tried in states across the country and appealed all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court. No one can agree on the issue. It's an issue precisely because college is competitive, and no one wants to believe that anyone else has an unfair edge.
Most colleges admit to taking a holistic approach to college admissions. Even in states where race cannot officially be a consideration, it is one of many elements which admissions officers are allowed to contemplate when making an admission assessment. Without question, the two largest underrepresented racial groups are African-American and Hispanic students.
This blog, however, focuses on the effects of race in college admissions for Asian students. On campuses across the country, Asian students (both American and foreign born), account for larger numbers in the student population than in the general population. Asian students are stereotyped as being supremely academic, strong in the STEM subjects, and often less well-rounded than their Caucasian peers.
Foreign born Asian students often embody this stereotype precisely because of the high stakes academics that in fact form the pillars of academic systems in countries like China.
A recent LA Times article notes that certain college preparatory services recognize the "Asian stereotype" and base their advice on an acceptance of racial bias in college admissions. The sheer number of Asian students in colleges means that even a holistic approach to admissions means that some Asian students must necessarily be turned away. Asian students also struggle to set themselves apart from the cookie-cutter stereotyping of their races and cultures.
Is it possible for admissions to ever be utterly neutral? Can race be removed from the equation? Should it be? Does it need to be? It probably depends upon who you are asking. For more on the HS2 Academy:
LA Times >
Monday, February 23, 2015
College Admissions: Not as Scary as You Think
As March s l o w l y rolls into April for college hopefuls, I can't help but think two things. First-I'm glad it isn't me. I remember how excruciating the waiting game was. Second-I wonder if, like me, many students will actually be pleasantly surprised with their acceptances. Is college admissions really the nightmare it's made out to be?
It is stressful, for certain. And it is no doubt more competitive than it was when I did it a couple decades ago. However, so many of the "impossible odds" news stories and blogs center around the most elite colleges in the country. Those schools boast admission rates of under 10%, and suddenly, it seems like college is out of reach for everyone.
Actually, the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) reported in 2013 that the mean acceptance rate for four-year universities was 64%. That same report noted that 80% of colleges nationally accept 50% of applicants. Additional surveys have noted that the majority of those applying to college get into their first choice schools.
For those that don't apply to or get accepted to a four-year university, community colleges are always an option, and they shouldn't be viewed as just a fallback. Many community colleges offer outstanding curriculum and faculty. Some argue that community colleges boast a richer learning environment, since they are also filled with older students, those with families, and those who waited longer to pursue third-level education---in other words, people who have an even greater incentive to succeed.
Finally, most students know their limits. Before you ever send an application off to Harvard, you know whether or not it is a reach school or a total impossibility. Sure, Harvard has to turn away some pretty qualified candidates, but those students are highly unlikely to be turned away at every prominent school to which they apply.
The envelope or email should not be a complete surprise. And while college admission in general is not a slam-dunk, it certainly isn't the nightmare you might think.
Monday, February 23, 2015
Guidance Counselors and College Admission
When I was in high school, I thought guidance counselors were there to steer students through the normal travails of high school. What classes to take. How to navigate social problems. Where to find a tutor. And though I vaguely recall them having college pamphlets on hand, I'm pretty sure college advising was only a small part of their role.
That has changed. And, as a recent NPR article points out, the socioeconomic divide between affluent and underserved schools is often best symbolized by the workload of the guidance counselor.
According to the American School Counselor Association (ASCA), the recommended counselor to student ratio is 1:250. The average public high school guidance counselor oversees 471 students. As NPR notes, this is more than five times the number of students as most private high school guidance counselors.
Why does it matter?
Well, like most aspects of the college application process, the deck is stacked against poor students. They don't have the same financial/geographic access to standardized testing prep, such as SAT workshops and tutoring. They cannot afford private college consultants, or editors for their admissions essays.
Then there are the soft factors often linked with students from underserved populations, such as language barriers and being the first in their families to attend college.
This is where the guidance counselor should be able to step in and help level the playing field. Unfortunately, public schools simply can't afford to hire the number of counselors necessary to give students the kind of attention they need. And then there is the reality of salary to skill ratio. Private schools can afford to pay more, so they attract counselors with a greater skill-set.
Many organizations are trying to step up to support guidance counselors, in the hopes of giving students the preparation advice they need. But money talks, and even well-intended initiatives like the "Reach Higher" program backed by the White House won't level the playing field in a single admissions cycle.
Sadly, the disparity simply magnifies a problem with college admissions. Getting in is hard enough. As it currently stands, poor students are doing it with a hand tied behind their backs.
Monday, February 23, 2015
Revelations at UT Law School Underscore Legacy Admission Concerns
In a damning 104-page investigative report released last week, it was revealed that University of Texas at Austin President Bill Powers, routinely circumnavigated the admissions system, giving favorable advantage to select students.
The report notes that approximately 73 students with test scores and grades that fell below UT's traditional standards were admitted based upon the "bump" they received from Powers. A handful more of arguably unqualified candidates were admitted at the law school level with his assistance.
More disturbing is the fact that Powers put his thumb on the proverbial scale for several hundred candidates to the undergraduate and law school campuses. That these students ultimately may have been admitted based upon their qualifications alone offers some comfort. But let's be honest. It still isn't fair.
The beneficiaries of Powers' special treatment were not named in the report, but it was suggested that they included children of power players within the state of Texas, including legislators and members of the Texas Board of Regents. The report also illuminated the high volume of requests for preferential treatment made by families within the Texas elite. Such requests are often forwarded directly to the President, giving the impression that he-and not a neutral admission body-holds the final say on admission.
While legacy admissions are well-recognized, they are rarely well-reported. Preference given to elite alumni are deemed to be healthy for a school's bottom line and reputation, but can hardly be regarded as objective or fair to the average qualified candidate.
Whether the report has any long-term effect on Powers' job or UT's admissions policies remains to be seen. But it is an unsavory referendum on the state of admissions, one which may be just the tip of a very large iceberg.
Tuesday, February 17, 2015
Colleges Trolling for Applicants
Perhaps my headline is a little unfair. We all know that the college admissions game is very much a seller's market. Even the top 5% of applicants aren't guaranteed admission at their dream schools. There are #justtoomanyapplicants. If this hashtag isn't trending yet, it should be.
So why, oh why, are some top colleges extending their application deadlines? Why are they spamming potential applicants with reminder emails, full of saccharine cheerleading and tons of exclamation marks?
A recent Bloomberg Business article took the opportunity to ask. The University of Chicago (acceptance rate: 8%) claimed it extended its application deadline in order to make potential candidates aware of new financial aid initiatives. Ok. The University of Pennsylvania (acceptance rate: 12%) claimed their extension was simply designed to make life a bit easier for applicants. Really?
I'm skeptical. These universities receive tens of thousands of applicants. Each application costs between $35-$75. Lower acceptance rates drive rankings. The truth is, these universities just don't need more students. And frankly, students who have already missed an admission deadline aren't likely to be the caliber of students they were seeking in the first place.
Truthfully, it seems to me like they're peddling false hope for a buck. Sure, in theory, a larger applicant pool increases the overall integrity of the student quality. But when we're talking 30,000 applicants, it's fairly impossible to believe any university would have the time or manpower to adequately vet them. Many admissions officers admit to turning away equally qualified students because they simply don't have the space for them.
To me, this practice underscores the need for students to do their research. Find a university that fits your needs. Assess whether or not your scores and grades make you a likely candidate. Then give the application all the effort you can.
Finally, turn it in on time. Your odds aren't that likely to change in the next five days. So breathe, and move on.
Labels: Colleges Trolling for Applicants
Tuesday, February 17, 2015
The Waiting Game
Everyone knows, the waiting is the hardest part. Naturally, the twelve years of college prep, the arduous junior year of standardized testing, and the marathon of applying to college-well, yeah, that was tough. But waiting for an answer on your acceptance? Excruciating.
For early action or early decision students, the deferral letter may have already come in the mail. Disappointing as that may be, it does have a silver lining in that the deferral letter itself probably comes with instructions. The school should let you know what (if anything) they'd like you to provide by way of updated materials.
For regular deadline applicants, the waiting can feel just as tough. Some university websites make it easy for you to fill this time. The admission sections of their sites may give you lists of supplemental materials they accept during this period of limbo. Dance programs might invite a video of a choreographed performance. Art schools may invite sample projects.
Then there are the rest. The colleges that don't specify and don't ask you to provide anything further. In the case of large schools, this is likely very deliberate. Some schools are processing 30,000+ applications. They just don't have time to read your last plea.
If you do decide to send a follow up letter or email, my advice is to keep it simple. Start by writing about anything that has changed for the better since your application-grades, awards received, community service projects completed. Then, you might consider giving an update on your grades, bearing in mind that many universities will want your high school to send updated second semester transcripts anyhow.
You may also want to use this time to reach out to current or former students at your desired college. If you have connections to faculty or administrators-tactfully contact them and let them know you are still interested.
Finally, take one last moment to remind X University of why they are atop your list. Check out the activities and events that are happening there RIGHT NOW. Talk about how you might take advantage of those events if you were a student.
Then, unfortunately, you still wait. At least you can do so knowing you've done everything possible to put your best foot forward.
Labels: The Waiting Game
Thursday, February 12, 2015
Vaccinations to be Mandatory for College Admission?
As I write this blog, the number of reported cases of measles in California has risen to over 100. What began as an isolated outbreak at Disneyland back in December has begun to unfold into a serious public health concern. Measles is airborne and highly contagious, which means that the threat of its spread is a very real possibility.
The outbreak has seen the long-simmering vaccine debate explode to the surface. Parents of young children are most concerned since the measles vaccine is not administered until age one, with a booster again around age four. It makes sense that schools and daycares are petri dishes for the sharing and spread of illness. Apparently, college campuses are not far behind.
Since vaccinations are not mandatory in California and many other states, and since there is no easy way to track vaccination records for foreign students, the University of California is considering making measles vaccinations mandatory. College campuses, dorms and their surrounding environs harbor large numbers of young students living in close proximity to one another. Diseases thrive in these environments.
Scientists and medical professionals agree that vaccines are effective. For students that may not have received the vaccine or its booster (possibly at the election of their parents), this requirement at the college level could be a reasonable way to prevent the spread of the disease.
To get an idea of scope, the University of California, Los Angeles, is the largest of the UC campuses, with a combined undergraduate/graduate population of over 40,000 students. UC Berkeley isn't far behind, with approximately 37,000 students. This means that the vaccine requirement could have fast and far-reaching effectiveness.
The new rule would become effective for the entering class of 2017.
Monday, February 9, 2015
Law School Standards Slipping? Part Two
The last blog scratched the surface of the changing shape of the law school climate. I poked fun at the snobbery of law school hierarchies. And while I may personally find them distasteful, they are alive and well.
Put simply, it still does make sense to try and get into a T14 school. First of all, they are good schools. Second of all, you're more likely to get a job in an incredibly competitive market. This is a pretty big deal breaker when you're graduating with six-figure debt.
There has been a great deal of discussion about declining applicants and deteriorating LSAT scores. People worry that the quantity and quality of law school applicants is tanking. They then worry about what this means for the profession. There are no actual answers.
There is this. The top schools have been largely unaffected by the downturns. Getting in remains competitive. Graduates get good jobs. Their median LSAT scores aren't going down. The shifts are more apparent at the lower-tiered law schools.
This makes sense. There was always going to be a place for the most competitive students. Big firms still need junior associates and Supreme Courts still need law clerks. They will continue to skim from the top cream.
Whether the changing face of the profession is significant remains to be seen. Students still have to sit state bar exams-the standards of which have not changed. The public will still demand high-quality representation. A more competitive market arguably forces improved quality of practitioners.
The boring truth may be simpler. Fewer people are going to law school, some LSAT scores may have declined, and some law schools may have to re-budget in order to preserve their bottom line. The bigger question for aspiring students is whether or not there is a job waiting for them at the end of the journey.
That's a question mark that punctuates any graduate degree.
Monday, February 2, 2015
Law School Standards Slipping? Part One
Let me start by saying that my title is a bit misleading. In fact, it's become a familiar hook-line for half the internet blogs about the "state of affairs" in law school admission over the past few years.
A few things are actual facts: 1) the legal job market is tough right now, 2) the number of law school applicants is down, 3) some law schools have been making cutbacks. Cue the speculation about what this means for the future of the profession.
This isn't surprising, given the vice-grip within which law students hold the importance of ranking. More than most professions, this is one where pedigree matters a lot. There are well-known tiers of law schools. The bottom doesn't mingle with the top. Federal clerkships don't go to students at mid or low-tier schools. LSAT scores matter more than intelligence.
Am I speaking broadly? A bit, perhaps. But score a 170 or higher on your LSAT and you can pretty much count on an acceptance from a top-20 school. This is law school, of course, so we actually have the Top 14 (which also have their own moniker- "T14"), so named because their graduates are the crop from whom most of the "big" firms harvest their wet-eared associates.
Somewhere in all of this hierarchy, there is possibly space for intellect, innovative thought, perseverance, and good will. You won't find it on internet comment threads. Now more than ever, the law crowd seeks to protect the veneer of its prestige. Blogs hand-wring about the decline in quality of candidates why the profession is in trouble.
The truth-as it usually is-probably lies somewhere in the middle. Is the "profession" struggling? In some ways, yes. Are the top schools suffering? Probably not. Is the legal system likely to come crumbling down? No. But speculation makes for meaty-blogging.
More next week.
Tuesday, January 20, 2015
Choosing Metrics for a National College Rankings System
It has been about a year since the Obama administration announced its intent to implement an official college ratings system. The system is just one component of the administration's mission to overhaul education on a national scale. President Obama has stated that, in addition to being accessible and affordable, higher education should also have a predictable value.
This does not sit well with many universities.
The administration aims to answer a very simple question-are graduates getting jobs? If so, do those salaries justify the price tag of a college education?
Arguably, the existing ratings systems serve universities better. US News and World Report is one of the most well-known. It bases its rankings on metrics such as mean SAT scores, graduation rates, and, notably-acceptance rates. Such metrics can be problematic for a variety of reasons, the most obvious of which is this: they measure a university's exclusivity, which isn't necessarily the same as its overall value to the average consumer.
The government is hoping to value things such as employment rate following graduation. Colleges may not like this. Public universities balk that many of their graduates may ultimately work in the public or non-profit sector, earning relatively low salaries. They argue that salary shouldn't be the measure of the quality of a degree.
That may be true, but students deserve to be able to make a cost-benefit analysis before dropping huge amounts of tuition on an education they may not be able to afford.
This week, the Obama administration reached out to colleges, asking them to offer suggestions regarding acceptable metrics to use in the ratings system. This places colleges in an awkward position-they must at least appear to embrace the transparency of this new process despite the fact that it makes college sound like a commodity, rather than a pedigree.
Prestige alone, however, won't pay the mortgage. Watch this space to see how the government system eventually shakes out.
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