|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, December 19, 2015
Changing the Face of Legal Research
In the world of higher education, the appearance of prestige is almost as important as prestige itself. The Ivies, and other universities with well-regarded stature also immediately have access to other important things-good faculty, wealthy students, and, wealthy alumni. This isn't to say that auspicious learning institutions aren't actually of higher quality than their counterparts. Still, perception is reality.
This is nowhere truer than in the law school arena in the United States. The American Bar Association is the governing body which accredits and oversees the nation's schools. All of the top schools are ABA accredited. There are a constellation of requirements that schools must meet in order to merit accreditation. One of them has to do with the size and scope of the school's law library. With the growth of on-line research libraries, this component is arguably becoming a more dated metric.
Which is why I was encouraged to find a recent story about a Harvard Law graduate, who is also the head of a start-up company Ravel Law. The graduate-Romeen Sheth-and his alma mater have recently partnered on a $10 million project to digitize Harvard's entire law library, making it accessible to-gasp---the public.
Symbolically, this is a big deal. Unaccredited law schools often remain that way solely because they lack a bricks and mortar library. New legal practitioners pay top dollar for access to databases like Lexis-Nexis. Non-legal professionals have long struggled to find public access to all but lengthy troves of actual statutes.
Digitizing actual libraries suddenly means that institutions like Harvard can no longer keep a golden lock on the doors of their research libraries. It isn't clear what kind of price tag companies like Ravel intend to attach to the digital information, but it does mean that one need not be a Harvard student to have access to its annals of knowledge.
Will members of the public clamor for this digital library? Maybe not. Arcane case law isn't for everyone. But in theory, access to it should be. I, for one, would like this to cause a shift in a very old tide of thought.
Tuesday, December 8, 2015
The Problem of Access to College Education
A recent report by the Public Policy Institute of California posits that California may hit a shortage of properly trained professionals by the year 2030. Though its metrics and analytics bear greater discussion than allowed here, researchers note that workers with at least a B.A. have better economic outcomes than those without a college degree. A competitive workplace means that college graduates are far more likely to get hired.
In California, however, there is another problem. Not enough people can afford to go to college, and the public system is fracturing from the strains of consistent budget cuts. According to another recent report by the Campaign for College Opportunity, California's population has exploded by 265% since 1950. During that time, public universities have consistently endured cutbacks.
In order to offset these cuts, colleges raise tuition. A lot. Since 2000, the University of California's tuition has soared by 200%. California State Universities have hiked costs by 175%. It doesn’t take a statistician to see that this is problematic.
The goal of the third-level, public education system was to ensure that California had an educated and productive population. Such a workforce is crucial to healthy industry. The current result is that admittees to California colleges are increasingly amongst the very cream of the academic crop from the high schools. Given the necessary costs of attendance, and the limitations on financial aid, the students who can viably attend are those with the wealth to do so.
The governor's budget proposal is announced in early January 2016, and discussion of education funding will certainly be central. The socioeconomic problem, however, persists. How, indeed, does a state expand access to education when it simply cannot afford to do so? What implications does this have in the future health of the workforce?
One thing is certain. It is time for all of us to start paying attention.
Tuesday, December 1, 2015
Beware of the Pundits
Election Day may still be a year away, but the candidates are still omnipresent in the news cycle. And it's been this way for months. By the time the final ballots are cast, most of us will be so battle weary, we'll be glad to put the noise to rest.
What does this have to do with college admissions? Practically speaking? Nothing. But look at it another way. Like any great job search, political candidacy depends on a myriad of metrics, of which aptitude is only a small component. It's as much about who you know, how you look, and the size of your marketing budget.
Are you with me?
I'll admit, I borrowed the idea from a Washington Post blog, which extended the metaphor in far greater detail than I can here. There was an important admonition though. Beware of the pundits. These are the talking heads, whose voices are the loudest-both from the public pulpit and inside your mind.
For college hopefuls, the words of the pundits can be powerful. The fantasy of a dream school can be far more powerful than the reality that said dream school isn't actually a good fit. It's hard to strive for something we can't yet grasp; hard to prepare for an experience that is wholly unknown.
Which is why it is so crucial to stay authentic. Do your own research. Don't pretend to be someone you're not. Worse, don’t try to be the person you think your admissions officer wants you to be.
The admissions process may leave you feeling battle-scarred. You may feel like your cover letter matters more than your resume, or that no one is really reading either. The truth is, college admissions isn't perfect. The results may be unexpected or even unfair. Still, you want to aim to land in the place you really want to be-not the place you think you should be.
After all, you are a student, not a politician. For that, you may want to be very grateful.
Labels: Beware of the Pundits
Monday, November 23, 2015
Selling Yourself Short on Your College Admission Essay
If you're a high school junior with an eye on college, you've probably already started reading all the college counseling advice. There is lots of it. You might have a book. You might have hired a consultant. Your parents may have your ear. And when it comes to writing your admission essay, much of the advice is the same.
Edit, proofread, and edit some more.
Brainstorm. Put all your ideas on paper first-organize later. Edit. Have someone else look it over. Be yourself. Show, don't tell.
All good advice. Unless you're suffering from a severe case of writer's block. Then, and only then, you might want to just throw the book at the wall. Then follow me out onto this limb.
What if-you designated an hour on a Saturday afternoon, and just sat down and wrote. Write about whatever comes to mind. Don't put a ton of thought into it. Write about why it is funny or important to you. Don't overthink it. Most importantly, don't write what you think someone else wants to hear.
Trust me here. I write often. My best ideas usually come to me when I'm busy doing other things. I always wish I could stop in that moment and spill the words onto paper, because by the time I have time, I'm often stumped.
I'm not suggesting that you don't edit your work. I'm not telling you not to put another hour into it. I'm just challenging you to take a risk. Get out of your own head, and into your heart.
So much of the admission essay angst revolves around a single thing-writing what you think your university wants to read. It takes the joy out of the creative process. Students, so preoccupied with "getting in", become paralyzed into drafting something that will make them look good, rather than something they actually enjoy writing.
So, why not try it? After all, it's only an hour.
See what happens.
Monday, November 16, 2015
How Many College Applications is Too Many?
In conversation with a friend of mine this week, she mentioned that her recently unemployed spouse has sent out 46 job applications over the past few weeks. He's a highly-qualified tech professional living in a competitive market. Forty-six? I couldn't even fathom rejection on that scale. I mean, he can't possibly expect to get all 46 jobs.
In the changing landscape of college admissions, numbers are starting to matter more. On-line platforms like the Common Application have made it easier to apply to a greater number of universities with the single click of a button. Students can conceivably write a single admission essay and forward the same document to dozens of different universities.
So, is there a magic number of colleges to which a student should apply? Is it better to apply to three colleges or 50? Is there a down side to either?
I don't pretend to have all the answers. It depends in part upon the quality of the research and college counseling that students receive. Students with access to top guidance counselors are obviously at an advantage here. Affluent students also have a leg up in the sense that they can afford to do things like visit out of state campuses.
This kind of front-end research allows students to make more measured decisions. Those students may well be able to narrow their field to a handful of colleges in which they are very interested and to which they are well-suited.
For many other students, college choice is greyer. They may be basing decisions on second-hand information or cursory views of a college website. This makes it harder for students to really assess the school which may be best for them. In that case, I say, cast a wide net (assuming it's affordable-each application usually carries a fee).
The flip-side of this conversation is that more applications make it more difficult for colleges to actually review them. Who knows how technology has squeezed that aspect of the admissions process.
Finally, there are the odds. If you're applying to two dozen schools, you're more likely to get in somewhere; you just need to steel yourself for the inevitable rejection, too.
Which is not a bad life lesson, anyhow.
Monday, November 9, 2015
No, It is Not “Our” Admission Essay
I've read a lot lately about helicopter parenting. As a parent, I have a deeply vested interest in my children's success. I hope I don't hover, but I think that's the problem with over-parenting; you're not likely to realize you're doing it.
On the other side is a different school of thought. Today's interfering parents are creating anxious, co-dependent children who are as bad at tying their own shoes as they are at suffering disappointments.
Like most things, I bet the truth is somewhere in the middle.
The funny thing is, the overbearing parenting isn't happening just to toddlers-it's happening to teenagers. And nowhere is it more obvious than in the college application process.
Teenagers aren't well-known for being impeccably organized. They might even tend to procrastinate, or underestimate the importance of adult things. Like taking the college application seriously. I can see why it would be hard for a parent to take a step-back, watching the proverbial train-wreck with their hands tied behind their back.
This isn't a parenting blog, so I've got no advice there. What I can say is this-your seventeen-year-old shouldn't write as well as a fifty-year-old. Their essay won't be perfect. It can only be as good as they make it. If that's enough to get them into their dream school-great. If not? They've been handed a tough life lesson: we can't always get what we want.
Should they revise their essay? Of course. Have an adult read it and offer feedback? Absolutely. But the admission essay should never be a collaborative effort. It is your child's essay. There is no "we", in the process.
Unless that includes you cheering them on from the sidelines. Which may be one of the easiest and the hardest things for any parent to do.
Then find a way to let them go.
Monday, November 9, 2015
Can You Spin Your Way Into College?
Hard work is the key to success, right? I mean, you go to school, study hard, do well on your tests, and you get into a good college. Then you pave the pavement, get a good starter job, and spend your career climbing the ladder. You make no excuses, and carry a strong moral compass. Victory is yours.
Or is it?
When it comes to giving advice about college admissions, most counselors tow this line. Be yourself in your admission essay. Engage in meaningful extracurriculars. Don't let your parents fill out your application. And while I want all of this to be true, I can't help but wonder if it really is.
In real life, hard work matters. So do things like, say, money. If you're batting from a higher socioeconomic class from the start, you're already a rung up from students without your advantages. In the professional world, attitude matters. I see it in my field all the time. The smartest people and the most charismatic people aren't always one and the same. And trust me, you can balance a lot on the back of charisma.
So when applying to college, how important is sincerity, really? So, your parents paid for your volunteer tourism trip to Guatemala-is it going to carry less weight on your application? Let's say mom hired your college counselor and filled out most of your applications. It may not be the best way to foster your independence, but will it help or hinder your chances of getting into college?
I hate to write this, but putting the right spin on your college application might just be the push every student needs. Certainly, personality isn't going to carry you if your grades and scores are weighing you down-but it could get you pretty far. Is that such a bad thing?
There are at least half a dozen question marks in this short entry; my skepticism about this approach is thinly veiled. Still, as the process has become more competitive, it's not difficult to see how students' collective approach to admissions has calcified into something much more calculated than the counseling advice that promises to help them.
Or perhaps hard work will get them there in the end.
Monday, November 2, 2015
The Back-Side of Competitive College Admissions
As every admissions cycle closes its lap around the track, we hear the same, familiar refrain. The low admissions rates. Hand-wringing ensues. How can Stanford accept fewer than seven percent of applying students? How can anyone be expected to succeed?
UCLA's 2015 acceptance rate was around 17%, which sounds far better than 7%, until you consider the fact that UCLA received a record number of applications for that cycle-112,000. The odds are not good.
Yet, from the perspective of the universities, the view is very different. They are, in fact, having a tough time filling seats.
In its annual Survey of College and University Admission Directors, Inside Higher Education (IHE) reported that more than half of the 264 admission directors polled, responded that they had not met their enrollment targets. More than 75% of the respondents blamed these falling numbers on increasingly crippling student debt.
The survey raises some interesting questions about recruitment techniques. Most colleges seem to be averse to the idea of loosening admission requirements. Put simply, colleges continue to feel most comfortable relying on traditional metrics of achievements, such as test scores and grades. Coming up with unconventional evaluative methodology in order to cast a wider net of potential students was not a popular option-even set against the backdrop of empty seats.
Like most businesses, the surveyed directors favored an approach focused on the bottom line. Recruiting out-of-state and foreign students who are required to pay higher tuition. Sweetening the deal for those students offers promise for the universities' financial health, without sacrificing 'reputation'.
The prospect isn't promising for all but the top-performing local students seeking admissions to universities close to home. It is complicated by a competitive job market, and students graduating with crippling student loan debt.
Only time will tell whether long-term reform is in the cards.
Monday, October 26, 2015
Making College Admissions More Accessible
One of the aims of the Obama Administration has been opening up access to third-level education to students from a wider variety of social, economic, and racial backgrounds. The prohibitive costs of college, coupled with the labyrinth of obstacles students must traverse in order to gain admission has historically made college admissions a ticket available largely to the wealthiest American demographic.
Part of the administration's goal was to make it easier for students to ascertain a return on investment from their college education. The theory was that, if students were to sink into enormous debt in order to obtain a degree, they should at least know whether they'd be able to ever feasibly pay it off.
While weighing the value of an education is crucial, it is only a piece of the puzzle. Certainly, access to transparency of costs at the front-end is crucial. But so too, is a logistical introduction into the application process itself. Where do I apply? How do I apply? How early do I start preparing to apply?
To assist students with this component, a growing group of national colleges are banding together. Under the auspices of Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success (http://www.coalitionforcollegeaccess.org/members.html), more than 80 schools have pledged to offer need-based financial aid packages and affordable tuition to in-state students. It is more nuanced than that. These schools are also working to ensure that these students actually graduate (within six years).
The first iteration of the application tools are set to be rolled out in early 2016. They will include free, user-friendly, on-line access to college information and applications for young high school students. The overall goal is theoretical at this stage, but designed to transform the college application process from one that is purely transactional to one that is less intimidating. This is especially crucial to students lacking the socioeconomic reinforcements that traditionally buoy successful college entrants.
The evolution of the college admissions process may be slow, but the gradual commitment to greater inclusion is promising. To everyone involved.
Monday, October 19, 2015
The Beauty of the Safety School
Years ago, when I was applying to colleges, there was a sort of unspoken routine to the application process. This was before the Common Application and, frankly, the Internet, so we filled our applications out by hand. That, and the cost of each application forced us to rein it in a bit. I only applied to five different schools.
I applied to one college that was out of the solar system for me. I applied to another that was a stretch. My top choice was a maybe. The other two were certainties, and I would have been happy enough to attend either. As it turned out, I got into all but the one out by Pluto. And because I had so many options, I wasn't heartbroken about it.
Forbes has a great list of 107 "Super Safety Schools", many of which also offer big tuition discounts. I love that Forbes does this. Like a moth to a flame, the media is fixated on the tiny handful of exclusive private colleges with the most ridiculously exclusive acceptance rates.
Harvard and Stanford will never be in most students' stratospheres. Which makes me wonder why we spend so much collective time talking about them.
There are over 4,000 public and private universities in the U.S. Many accept at least two-thirds of applicants. There is no reason why most students shouldn't be considering many of them. Pedigree is helpful, but it isn't everything. More importantly, just because a school is name brand, doesn't mean it will be a great fit.
I get it. It's hard not to want the shiny stuff that other people covet. But college is just too important to be looked at that way. Check out Forbes' list, and most of all, keep an open mind.
Labels: The Beauty of the Safety School
Monday, October 12, 2015
Personalize Your Admission Essay-By Writing About Someone Else
Arguably, one of the hardest parts of the admissions process is simply digging into the admission essay. Any writer, at almost any level will tell you that the most gut-wrenching stage of authoring is, well, starting. It might go something like this. You open up your computer. Click the Word icon. Stare at the white screen for awhile. Write and re-write a word. Delete it. Check Facebook. Get lost on the Internet. Repeat.
The universities are generally pretty explicit about what they're looking for in an admissions essay. The problem is that their terms are usually far too general. "Tell us about yourself". Most essay prompts are a variation on the same question and talking about yourself is difficult. For a start, the breadth of information you have to draw from is a little too broad.
You probably know a lot about yourself. But which of it is relevant? Or interesting?
By focusing your essay on someone other than you, you can demonstrate your abilities of observation. If you evaluate your subject well, you'll deftly show your reader how skilled you are at being introspective. You may even be able to prove that you can listen, without being burdened by the filter of your own biases. After all, truly understanding someone or something else means stepping outside of our own comfort zones.
Don't believe me? Next time you're stuck, pick a person, animal, place or subject that has some strong moral value for you. Then start writing about it. Anything about it. You may be surprised at where the creative flow leads.
At the very least, you won't be staring at a blank white screen.
Monday, October 5, 2015
Lowering the Bar on Law School Admission
Nowhere is there a more unabashed elitism than in law school admissions. The highest ranking law schools even have a syrupy nickname ("T14"). Law schools in the U.S. are ruled with an iron fist by the American Bar Association, which is exceedingly choosy about who gets their stamp of approval, and why. And despite the myriad shades of personalities, skills, interests, experiences and intellect required to populate the massive pool of legal practitioners, success is still predicted largely by a single tool: the LSAT.
Research shows a connection between higher LSAT scores and bar passage rates. Students scoring in the highest percentiles can expect the uncoiling of fluffy, red carpets from top schools. I don't have time to unpack all my feelings about standardized tests, but I am not alone. Aptitude tests tend to be obvious markers of success. But the students who do well on them are usually benefitting from a litany of other privileges which are already setting them up to succeed in academics and beyond.
Still, the downturn in the market for law degrees over the past few years (a topic of many of my other posts), has caused some law schools to allegedly ease their admissions requirements. The trend seems to beg an ethical question: do law schools have an obligation to admit only the students with some plausible chance of passing the bar exam?
In some ways, the conundrum is no different from the one happening at the undergraduate level-even the Obama administration has jumped in to encourage universities to be transparent about graduation and post-graduate employment rates. But to what extent is the success of students really the responsibility of the school?
The hand-wringing doesn't seem to be grounded in concerns about student well-being. Law doesn't want to look bad-low bar-pass rates debase the profession at large. At the same time, law schools need to fill seats.
What's happening is an intersection of two dueling problems for the legal education industry: maintaining the requisite prestige while also meeting bottom line fiscal targets. The victor remains to be seen.
Friday, October 2, 2015
California to Shave a Day off Bar Examination
If you're applying to law school in California, you've probably already heard all the horror stories. The LSAT may have been your first major hurdle, but an even more daunting barrier awaits California law school graduates at the end of their demanding three years of education. The California Bar Exam.
Widely regarding as one of the most difficult (if not the most difficult) in the nation, one thing that sets the California Bar Exam apart from other states is its length. Even the New York and Virginia Bar Exams-also amongst the most challenging in the U.S., require law students to sit through just two days of testing. At 18 hours, the California examination is grueling.
As it currently stands, California law students must complete six hours of written exams on seventeen different subjects. They must also complete six hours of a performance examination, which tests real-world legal skills. The remaining six hours are devoted to 200 multiple-choice questions.
Under the new rules, which take effect in 2017, California would make the biggest cut to the performance exam, which would consist of just ninety minutes. The written subject exams would consume the other five hours of day one. The multiple choice exam—which is a nationally standardized test—would consume day two.
Grading may be as unforgiving as ever. With equal weight given to the two days, students who struggle with multiple choice questions may face an uphill battle. On the other hand, the physically and emotionally demanding exam will be an entire day shorter.
The motivation of the Committee of Bar Examiners is unclear. Cutting a day from the exam would make it more cost-effective for students, and less unwieldy for graders. So while it may translate to one less night in a hotel for law students, it won’t necessarily be easier.
Monday, September 28, 2015
Overstating Charity in Admissions Essays
Every time this comes up, I cringe a little. Then I pad lightly around my critique, taking great care not to be outright cruel. It's hard to hand a 17-year-old student a hard dose of reality. Especially when the college admissions process is already so stressful. By the time students are tackling the admission essay, they're nearly tapped out.
Still, I feel the need to warn them. I'll state it here, to no one in particular. You did not actually save the world. The children living in the impoverished [insert name of poor foreign country] where you spent a week as a volunteer are not permanently moved by your charity. You don't need to promise to make the world a better place.
Does it sound a little mean?
Obviously, I soften it. But here's why sincerity matters. First of all, your reader can recognize when you're trying to pad your application. Secondly, the real point of the admissions essay is introspection. If you aren't able to really place your volunteer work in context, you may not have learned that much from the experience.
Did the poor children you worked with benefit from your involvement? Perhaps. Was your impact upon their lives far-reaching? Maybe. Yet the real life lesson here was probably your own. Most likely, working with "disadvantaged" people of any sort forced you to check your own privilege. Maybe that felt uncomfortable. Maybe it was easier to cast yourself as a hero.
A truly reflective essay shares the experience, but doesn't overstate its importance. I get it-some students aren't necessarily boasting. They really feel that they've done some good for the world, and for that, they should be commended. They just need to be careful that their altruism doesn't come across as self-aggrandizement.
So I promise to keep coming up with nice ways of telling writers to reevaluate the impact of their charity work. So long as writers promise to be more self-aware.
Your reader will notice.
Wednesday, September 23, 2015
More U.S. Students Going Overseas for MBA Degrees
So many of the stories about the college admissions landscape revolve around the growing number of foreign students in American undergraduate and graduate schools. As economies boom overseas, countries like China and India are sending students to the U.S. in record amounts. The dissolution of borders in the business world makes this academic globalization incredibly valuable.
This is perhaps nowhere more relevant than in the context of graduate business degrees. At Stanford's graduate school of business, a full 44% of the student body is from abroad; at Harvard, that figure is 34%. Overall, the undergraduate institutions in the U.S. with the highest numbers of international students run at around 30%.
Some publications point out that it isn't necessarily surprising that the world's most populous nations are sending many young people abroad for education. Others note that the numbers of Chinese and Indian students educated in the U.S. represent only a fraction of those country's respective populations. Still the changes mark an evolution in the topography of the American educational map.
Despite these increases, there is another noteworthy trend in play-American students are seeking MBA degrees overseas in record numbers. Graduate business schools such as the University of Oxford's Saȉd School of Business and France's prestigious Insead School, are reporting a small, but not insignificant jump in enrollment of students from the U.S.
What's significant is the overall demographic at top European institutions such as these, where as many as 95% of the student body comes from different nations. In the race to globalize the students of graduate business schools, Europe currently seems to have the edge. Also appealing to many U.S. students is the one-year program available at many European schools, which is half the length of the traditionally two-year degrees here in the U.S.
So while borders continue to be barriers amongst nations, education is allowing people to traverse them in record numbers. Which promises nuanced and remarkable changes for the future.
Monday, September 21, 2015
Conveying a Love of Learning in Your Admission Essay
So much of the college application process these days involves a sense of gaming the system. It's virtually impossible to know what each university really wants in its students. Admissions isn't a science, but that doesn't stop students from trying to measure their odds with methodical precision.
College consultants find themselves fielding the same questions with regularity. Students want to know if they should take the harder class and risk the lower grade, or take the easier class and bolster their GPA. ACT vs SAT? Which AP exams to take? Should they do community service locally or abroad? Are internships important? How many sports should they take?
These questions are all valid, but they kind of miss the mark. I'll be honest, as an adult, I find it hard to pursue knowledge for the sake of it. Life's immediacies like taking care of family and paying rent always push themselves to the front of the line. But if there's any philosophical advice that I wish students would truly take on board, it is that. Learn for the sake of knowing more. Follow your interests.
If you volunteer at the Boys' and Girls' Club in order to check some sort of proverbial box, it will be obvious. If you flunk Physics because you are terrible at science, maybe taking your beloved Humanities course just makes more sense.
I don't mean that we must always eschew the things that feel intellectually laborious to us. I do mean that the pursuit of things that are both challenging and interesting is more gratifying. And when we are satisfied, we tend to be more successful.
In writing any college admissions essay, the guiding piece of advice is "show, don't tell". If you're writing about something you love, it will be obvious. It will be sincere.
And your reader will know it.
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.
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.
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 >
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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