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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.
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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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

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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?

Daily Bruin

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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?

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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.

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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

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