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October 7, 2014

Submit with September LSAT Score or Wait to Apply With December Score?

So you didn't get the score you wanted on the September LSAT, and you're planning on retaking in December in the hope of improving your score.  You and lots and lots of other people! What's the best move for your application timeline?  Should you submit now with your existing score, or hold off until you have your December score? 

I recommend submitting your applications with your September score, even if you think you'll be retaking the test. You could always hold off on submitting until the December score comes in, or you could submit with September but ask the schools to hold off on reviewing your file until then (which is effetively the same as not submitting until the score arrives). 

But that's awfully late in the game to be submitting, and most repeat test-takers don't go up by much. You might have wasted two months just to see your score go up one or two points, or even down; it happens. If you had a bad day in September, you might have another bad day in December. Some people find that they always have a bad day where the LSAT is concerned. 

So it's fine to plan on retaking in December, but don't hold up your applications in the meantime. 

Related question: When you're submitting with your September score, should you let schools know that you want to retake the test? Here's a pro tip: They don't actually care that much if you're planning on retaking -- they care if you actually do retake.

You could let the schools know that you plan on retaking th test, but I'm not a huge fan of that option. You might not be able to take the test when the December date rolls around — maybe you wake up with the flu, or you're snowed into your apartment, or some other emergency gets in the way. Life is like that sometimes, and it's best to anticipate that kind of contingency. If you've told schools you'll be retaking, and then don't actually retake, it's awkward to have to get back to them with a big old "nevermind." Then it's better just to send them a score if and when you have it. If all goes well and you do end up retaking the LSAT in December, the schools you've already applied to will automatically receive the new score.

And a word of advice to eary birds who aren't applying this season: Make September*, not December, your backup. That means June should be the latest time you take your first test, so that your retake is in September at the latest. Then you won't find yourself in these timeline pickles.

Good luck in December!

* Some years it's September, in others it's October. 

 

Related LSAT posts from the archives:

 

Anna Ivey is the former Dean of Admissions at the University of Chicago Law School and founder of Ivey Consulting. She and her team help college, law school, and MBA applicants make smart decisions about their higher education and navigate the application process. She is the author of The Ivey Guide to Law School Admissions and How to Prepare a Standout College Application, and also serves on the leadership team of the non-profit Service to School.

October 7, 2014

52 Weeks to College: Week 15 — School Reports

Two applicants are applying to the same college. They both have a 3.99 GPA. Will the admissions officer give them the same academic rating while evaluating their files?

Not necessarily.

Why not? Because not all 3.99 GPAs are created equal. Maybe student A has gotten top grades in the toughest classes at the most competitive schools, while student B has gotten top grades in the easiest classes at the least competitive schools. Those GPAs aren't really the same. You know it. Admissions officers know it. Everyone knows it.

So how does an admissions officer actually figure out what your 3.99 GPA means?<--break->

That's where the school report comes in. It is a crash course for the admissions officer to learn about your high school so that he or she knows how to interpret your 3.99 GPA. The school report typically explains how the GPA is calculated and weighted; what your rank is in the class (if your school ranks); and how rigorous your courses are. What the admissions officer learns in your school report will have a direct bearing on your academic rating. 

So if admissions officers are going to be scrutinizing your school report, you should know what's in it and how an admissions officer will interpret it. We include our top tips for school reports below, and you can also find more information about them in chapter 18 of our book.

(Note that we call it a "school report" because that's what the Common Application calls it. Some colleges have other names for these reports, like "secondary school report" or "counselor recommendation." Treat those all as the same thing.)

Week 15 To-Dos

Every Week

  • Check your email, voicemail, texts, and snail mail for any communications that relate to applying to college. Read them and take whatever action is necessary.
  • Update your parents about what you’re doing. This regular communication will work wonders in your relationship with your parents during this stress-filled year.  

This Week 

  • Draft your 6th application.
  • Interview with your colleges.
  • Check the websites of colleges on your list to see if and when admissions representatives will be coming to a place near you. 
  • Meet with college representatives.
  • Continue working on your CSS/PROFILE forms and college financial aid applications.
  • Prep for your upcoming standardized tests. (See Week 6.)

Tips & Tricks

1. Educate yourself about the types of school reports and the kinds of information in them. There are several different kinds of reports: the original school report, the midyear report, the final report. Everything but the original report is just an update to that original report, so don't get bogged down by the names. Your school will submit the original report around the same time that you submit your application. Depending on circumstances, there might also be additional reports: typically optional reports, international reports, or homeschool reports. 

2. Check out your own transcript. You are required to provide official transcripts from every school you have attended since ninth grade. On the transcript, the admissions officer will be able to scrutinize your grades, identify trends and patterns, and spot markers of brilliance or slackerdom. What trends do you see? What do your transcripts say about you? Are there any shining stars or black holes? Also make sure the information is accurate!

3. Make sure the school profile serves you. Because an admissions officer might not know much about your high school, the school report will include a school profile. It should give some basic information about your school (location, composition of the student body, public/private/boarding/military, accreditations); information about what advanced academic programs are available (AP? IB? honors courses? which ones?); the grading system; and a profile of the most recent graduating class (test results, grade distributions, regional/national/international academic awards, what kinds of colleges they went on to). If your high school doesn't post the school profile on its website, ask your college counselor for a copy. If the school profile is inaccurate, out of date, or lacking from your perspective, talk with your school counselor about addressing those problems. 

4. Follow up with your recommenders. Recommenders get busy and aren't necessarily paying attention to your deadlines the way you are. It is helpful for them if you check in and follow up to make sure your recommendations gets submitted on time. A short, polite e-mail is appropriate.

5. If you haven't already finished your early applications, drop everything and get those done!

You can read more tips around school reports and recommendations in chapters 18 and 19 of our book

About the Authors:

Alison Cooper Chisolm heads the college admissions consulting practice at Ivey Consulting. She came to private consulting after working in admissions for more than 10 years at three selective universities (Southern Methodist University, University of Chicago, and Dartmouth College).

Anna Ivey is the former Dean of Admissions at the University of Chicago Law School and founded Ivey Consulting to help college, law school, and MBA applicants navigate the admissions process and make smart choices about higher education.

You can find more college admissions tips in their book How to Prepare a Standout College Application (Wiley 2013), and follow them on Twitter and Facebook

About the 52 Weeks to College Series:

52 Weeks to College is a week-by-week plan for applying to college. It breaks this complex and difficult project down into weekly to-do lists with supporting tips and tricks for getting it all done. Based on the Master Plan for applying to college found in our book, How to Prepare a Standout College Application52 Weeks to College is designed for any applicant who intends to apply to top U.S. colleges. For those of you who are just discovering the 52 Weeks series and want to catch up, click here.

October 6, 2014

MBA Admissions Tip: MBA Interview Etiquette

With interviews imminent for Round One applicants, we wanted to turn our attention to this important step in the admissions process and share a few very basic pointers on interview etiquette.  Though the content of your application materials and comments during the interview are of paramount importance, it’s also crucial to put one’s best foot forward and make a positive initial impression.  Here are a few guidelines for interviewing applicants to keep in mind:

1) Dress the part.  Unless meeting with an alum who explicitly specifies a more casual dress code, assume that business attire is appropriate.  We recommend that applicants dress conservatively, opting for a dark suit (pants or skirts are both fine for women) and a blue or white shirt.  Steer clear of flashy brand gear and loud ties, and go easy on makeup and fragrances; you want to be remembered for what you say and who you are, not what you wore.

2) Be pleasant.  This likely goes without saying, but we wanted to state for the record that in addition to fostering a friendly discussion with your interviewer, it’s also important to be polite to administrative staff and anyone else you might encounter while on campus or in your alumni interviewer’s office.  Flippant comments to the administrative assistant at the front desk often find their way up the chain of command.

3) Be aware of body language.  In addition to your comments about your experiences, interests and reasons for seeking an MBA, your interviewer will also be taking note of the way you present yourself.  You’ll also want to avoid taking notes or reading from your resume; it can be fine to have the latter in front of you as a reference, but remember that you should be familiar enough with its content to focus on maintaining eye contact and establishing a rapport.

4) Follow up.  Make sure that you get your interviewer’s card and take his or her contact information in order to send a “thank you” email within 24 hours of the interview.  This is not only common courtesy but could also serve as the first step in forging a lasting correspondence.

While these steps should help readers in one element of their interview presentation, we’ll offer some more content and strategy focused advice next week.  Meanwhile, applicants who are curious about what to expect might want to check out the Clear Admit Interview Archive, which features firsthand accounts of interviews at all of the top programs, and the Clear Admit Interview Guides, which offer in-depth, school-specific interview guidance for nearly every leading MBA program.

Good luck to everyone hoping for an interview invite!  For personalized interview coaching, school-specific advice, and even a free initial consultation, feel free to contact Clear Admit.

About Clear Admit:

Ivey Consulting is proud to partner with Clear Admit to provide comprehensive admissions information and consulting services to business school applicants. Learn more about Clear Admit here.

September 30, 2014

52 Weeks to College: Week 14 — 'Why College X' Essays

Most college applications ask you to write some version of a "Why College X" essay. Here are some examples:

  • Please tell us what you find most appealing about Columbia and why.
  • Given your interests, values, and goals, explain why Oberlin College will help you grow (as a student and a person) during your undergraduate years. 

Most of these types of questions suggest an answer in the short-answer range (250-300 words), while others allow for an answer that's as long as the personal essay (250-500 words.)

Regardless of the length or the particular wording of the question, your job here is to explain why College X is a good match for you. Most applicants' "Why College X" answers are pretty bad, and good chunk of those are truly horrible. This should be an easy way for you to stand out—in a good way! We'll show you how. For more tips on the "Why College X" essay and some examples of how to make an average one really great, check out chapter 12 of our book.

Week 14 To-Dos

Every Week

  • Check your email, voicemail, texts, and snail mail for any communications that relate to applying to college. Read them and take whatever action is necessary.
  • Update your parents about what you’re doing. This regular communication will work wonders in your relationship with your parents during this stress-filled year.  

This Week 

  • Finalize your 5th application.
  • Finalize your supplementary materials. (See Week 4.)
  • Check the websites of colleges on your list to see if and when admissions representatives will be coming to a place near you. Sign up, and add those meetings to your calendar.
  • Finalize your 3rd scholarship application.
  • Begin working on your CSS/PROFILE forms and college financial aid applications.
  • Prep for your upcoming standardized tests. (See Week 6.)
  • Order your test score reports.
  • Take the SAT.

Tips & Tricks

1. Be specific and personal. For your "Why College X" essays, it's not enough to identify what makes College X interesting in general; you need to specify why College X is interesting to you in particular. Is it the massive library where you want to get lost in the stacks? Is it the respect for vegan students? Is it the creative writing instructor who happens to be your favorite author? Whatever it is, name it. And if you're interested in a college because of its ranking, that's not a good reason to mention here. It might be why you're actually applying, but it won't be interesting at all to the college. Do your research and figure out why that school makes it to the to pof your own ranking.

2. Connect College X to your goals. It's not enough to say that there's a connection between you and the school. You also have to show it, and one way to do that is to connect the college to your goals. What is it that you actually want to get out of your college experience? Check out the last sentence of your story in Week 3—you have articulated some career goals in the last sentence. What do you need to accomplish in college to put you on a path to those career goals? If you don't have career goals yet, look at sentence 2 of your story—your academic interests—and go from there. College is first and foremost an academic enterprise, so those reasons should be front and center.

3. Learn how Expected Family Contribution (EFC) works. In particular, pay attention to the difference between Federal Methodology and Institutional Methodology. Some great online resources to learn about EFC and the different methodologies are FinAid.org, the College Board, and the college's financial aid pages themselves.

4. Collaborate with your parents in the financial aid effort. Unless you are declaring yourself financially independent from your parents for financial aid purposes, your parents will be key to filling out these financial aid forms, and you will need their input to secure the best financial aid package possible. It helps if you're all rowing in the same direction when you're working together on these forms.

About the Authors:

Alison Cooper Chisolm heads the college admissions consulting practice at Ivey Consulting. She came to private consulting after working in admissions for more than 10 years at three selective universities (Southern Methodist University, University of Chicago, and Dartmouth College).

Anna Ivey is the former Dean of Admissions at the University of Chicago Law School and founded Ivey Consulting to help college, law school, and MBA applicants navigate the admissions process and make smart choices about higher education.

You can find more college admissions tips in their book How to Prepare a Standout College Application (Wiley 2013), and follow them on Twitter and Facebook

About the 52 Weeks to College Series:

52 Weeks to College is a week-by-week plan for applying to college. It breaks this complex and difficult project down into weekly to-do lists with supporting tips and tricks for getting it all done. Based on the Master Plan for applying to college found in our book, How to Prepare a Standout College Application52 Weeks to College is designed for any applicant who intends to apply to top U.S. colleges. For those of you who are just discovering the 52 Weeks series and want to catch up, click here.

September 29, 2014

MBA Admissions Tip: Essay Basics

We often stress that, to present oneself effectively in one’s application essays, it is critical to think carefully about what a given question is asking and what this might indicate about a specific school’s admissions priorities.  Of course, it’s also imperative to communicate clearly and appropriately regardless of the target program or particular inquiry.  Today, we’re going back to basics and offering a few broadly applicable tips on tone and style to keep in mind when drafting essays and other written materials for your applications.

1. Be Professional.  While a number of schools ask fun questions and most urge applicants to be themselves rather than submitting “overly polished” materials, it’s important to remember that this is a graduate school application and you should approach your essays with a degree of formality.  You do want your unique narrative voice to come through, but even professional writers know to vary their tone based on their audience.  As such, you should avoid using slang and conversational speech patterns in your writing.

2. Emphasize Action.  A common pitfall for many applicants is lapsing into the passive voice, constructing sentences about how some unseen force or agent acted upon something or someone else (e.g., “we were required to” or “the project was completed”) rather than putting their own thoughts and actions at the fore.  By making a conscious effort to write “I/he/she did x” rather than “x was done to y” you can make your comments more informative, dynamic and, often, more concise.

3. Avoid Repetition.  It’s often a good idea to give the reader a sense of an essay’s direction through an introduction and to sum up the key ideas through a conclusion, but ideally each sentence of an essay will add some new information to the document or build the reader’s understanding of what you’ve already written.  Keeping this rule in mind as you revise can help trim a response down to the word limit and ensure that you are including as much relevant information about your candidacy as you can within the allotted length.

Best of luck!  For more information about how Clear Admit might assist you in communicating your experiences and goals to the adcom in a way that will be engaging and well received, contact us to set up a free initial consultation.

About Clear Admit:

Ivey Consulting is proud to partner with Clear Admit to provide comprehensive admissions information and consulting services to business school applicants. Learn more about Clear Admit here.

September 29, 2014

LSAC Waivers and Taking the LSAT a Fourth Time

I have taken LSAT three times. One of them is a cancel. I would really like to be able to take the test for a fourth time and can't wait for the 2 years limit to be over for the fourth take. I think I can improve. How can I get LSAC to grant me a fourth take? Thanks in advance.

***

I have expended the 3 takes in the last 1 year and didn't reach my target. I basically underperformed even though in strictly timed and proctored PTs I was doing well. One of the 3 takes is a cancel. I want to be able to apply this cycle but I can't take until later next year. I can't apply with my current LSAT. I know that 3 takes within one year is already too much but I was/am clearly performing well in prep tests.

What can I say to LSAT so that I can get to take it again before next year? Under what conditions can lsac grant a fourth take in 2 years? Can I request waiver from a school to strengthen the case for 4th take (even though lsac changed the policy in 2011)? I work full time in a very demanding profession and can't wait till next year. Thanks.

***

Hi Anna. Do you have any idea what sort of "extenuating circumstances" LSAC would be likely to deem adequate for granting an exemption?

These were all comments to a previous blog post I wrote, "Taking the LSAT More Than Three Times." For those of you who are new to the LSAT, LSAC  (the people who make and administer the test) limits the number of times you can take the LSAT. Here is LSAC's current LSAT retake policy:

You may not take the LSAT more than three times in any two-year period. This policy applies even if you cancel your score or if your score is not otherwise reported. LSAC reserves the right to cancel your registration, rescind your admission ticket, or take any other steps necessary to enforce this policy.

For significant extenuating circumstances, exceptions to this policy may be made by LSAC. To request an exception, submit a signed, detailed explanation—along with verification, if possible—addressing the circumstances that you feel make you eligible to retake the LSAT and specify the date that you wish to test. Email your request as an attachment to LSACinfo@LSAC.org or send it by fax to 215.968.1277.

That's a change in policy as of 2011. It used to be the case that you could petition any ABA-approved law school to grant you a waiver from the 3-in-2 policy, and you could always find somebody at some random school who would rubberstamp your request. It was a bit of a kabuki dance.

LSAC has since wised up and now serves as that gatekeeper instead. The point of that policy change was to make exemptions much, much harder, and to start enforcing the rule, this time for real.

What that means for you:

You can try petitioning LSAC for a waiver, but I would go into the process assuming the answer will be "no." Are there magic words you can use to soften them up? No. My guess is that unless you were taking the LSAT in a tent in Kandahar those three times and things were going kaboom around you, you're going to have a tough time getting them to bend the rule.

The rule exists for a reason. LSAC knows that taking the LSAT a gazillion times in the span of a few years is almost guaranteed to be either a laziness response (not having studied for the test properly the first three times), or a panic response ("OMG OMG OMG I'm just going to keep retaking it and hope that something changes")  rather than a smart test taking strategy. I'm sure they'd love to collect more registration fees from you, but I'm also guessing they have boatloads of data that support their policy. In any event, it's their policy to make, so we're all stuck with it, for better or worse.

If you weren't able to get the score you wanted over the course of three tests in two years, LSAC's implied message to you is that you either need to accept the fact that these three tests were ample opportunity to show your LSAT capabilities, or you need take some time off from the test and do a serious regrouping. I second that (implicit) advice, as I explained in my previous post:

As a law school applicant, you're looking to join a profession that lives and dies by nitty-gritty procedural rules, so make sure you know about this one, too. That being said, I would strongly discourage you from taking the test more than three times. If you haven't been able to conquer the LSAT in three attempts, you and the LSAT should probably part ways.

I know it's incredibly frustrating to study hard for the LSAT and not get the score you want, but doing more of the same isn't going to get you what you want, either. 

And for anyone just starting with the LSAT, here are some more thoughts on retaking the LSAT from the test prep perspective, courtesy of our friends at Blueprint:

It was never a particularly good idea to retake the test three times, let alone four. However, some people out there do it. My advice is, don’t let yourself be one of those people. Register for the exam that will come after a period of relative inactivity in your life so that you have enough time to properly study. If you’re not ready, postpone, and take the exam once when you’re going to score your highest.

 

Anna Ivey is the former Dean of Admissions at the University of Chicago Law School and founder of Ivey Consulting. She and her team help college, law school, and MBA applicants make smart decisions about their higher education and navigate the application process. She is the author of The Ivey Guide to Law School Admissions and How to Prepare a Standout College Application, and also serves on the leadership team of the non-profit Service to School.


September 24, 2014

52 Weeks to College: Week 13 — Short Answer Questions

A typical short answer question looks something like this:

Please briefly tell us more about one of your extracurricular activities or a volunteer or work experience. (1,000 characters or less)

We define a short answer question as any question that you are asked to answer in 100-300 words or up to 1,000 characters. Often it's the answers to the short questions that separate the true standout applicants from the LMOs ("Like Many Others"), so you need to give these short answers just as much weight as you do the full-length essay. (And yes, we really are dinstinguishing between "short answer questions" and "really short answer questions.")

The Common Application 4.0 has eliminated its short answer question, but on many college-specific supplements to the Common Application, there is at least one short answer question. And MIT, which does not use the Common Application, has nothing but short answer questions on its application. (MIT's advice for the short-answer questions: "These are the places in the application where we look for your voice - who you are, what drives you, what's important to you, what makes you tick.")

 For the typical applicant who applies to ten selective colleges, you can assume that you will have to write anywhere from two to fifteen short answers. Whew. Answering these kinds of questions will be much easier if you did your "pre-work" in Week 3 to create your story and your resume, so if you haven't done that pre-work yet, go back and get caught up. The best topics for any short answer question are those that will punch up one of the themes of your story, and some of the questions will expressly ask about your activities.

Week 13 To-Dos

Every Week

  • Check your email, voicemail, texts, and snail mail for any communications that relate to applying to college. Read them and take whatever action is necessary.
  • Update your parents about what you’re doing. This regular communication will work wonders in your relationship with your parents during this stress-filled year.  

This Week 

  • Finalize your 4th application.
  • Revise your 5th application.
  • Continue working on supplementary materials, and exercise judgment about whether to include them at all. (See Week 4.)
  • Check the websites of colleges on your list to see if and when admissions representatives will be coming to a place near you. Sign up, and add those meetings to your calendar.
  • Revise your 3rd scholarship application.
  • Prep for your upcoming standardized tests. (See Week 6.)

Tips & Tricks

1. Answer the question. Colleges spend a lot of time deciding which questions to ask. Read the question carefully and make sure you answer the question that is asked. If they ask you to elaborate on two activities, don't write about one or three; write about two. If they ask you to address what appeals to you about their academic program, then write about the great major they offer, not about how much you love the location.

2. Make one well-developed point only. There are really two tips here. First, make only one point (you don't have room for more than one). Second, develop the one point you make well. For any question that relates to extracurricular activities or work experience, your well developed point is all about demonstrating the "core four"—passion, talent, initiative, and impact. The core four should form the foundation of your activities list and resume. You can read more about the core four in Week 3 and in chapter 8 of our book.

3. Be specific. Details distinguish you from everyone else, and they make your answer come alive. As you are composing your short answer, look for details that don't show up elsewhere on your application. Do not waste your precious wordcount in the short answer restating what you've already said.

4. Observe the rules for formal writing.  Short answers are not text messages or Facebook posts. They are not outlines or lists. They are full-fledged sentences and paragraphs and should observe the formal rules of grammar, spelling, and punctuation.

About the Authors:

Alison Cooper Chisolm heads the college admissions consulting practice at Ivey Consulting. She came to private consulting after working in admissions for more than 10 years at three selective universities (Southern Methodist University, University of Chicago, and Dartmouth College).

Anna Ivey is the former Dean of Admissions at the University of Chicago Law School and founded Ivey Consulting to help college, law school, and MBA applicants navigate the admissions process and make smart choices about higher education.

You can find more college admissions tips in their book How to Prepare a Standout College Application (Wiley 2013), and follow them on Twitter and Facebook

About the 52 Weeks to College Series:

52 Weeks to College is a week-by-week plan for applying to college. It breaks this complex and difficult project down into weekly to-do lists with supporting tips and tricks for getting it all done. Based on the Master Plan for applying to college found in our book, How to Prepare a Standout College Application52 Weeks to College is designed for any applicant who intends to apply to top U.S. colleges. For those of you who are just discovering the 52 Weeks series and want to catch up, click here.

September 22, 2014

MBA Admissions Tips: Common Recommendation Dilemmas

As many of our readers are aware, letters of recommendation are a central part of the application process.  We would like to take a look at how to handle the snags that often arise for applicants in unique employment situations.

The applicant who is most likely to have trouble finding a suitable recommender is either self-employed or works in his or her family’s business.  First, self-employed entrepreneurs by their very nature do not have a direct supervisor.  Similarly, an applicant who works for the family business may have trouble finding a non-related supervisor, or someone who can offer a truly objective opinion.

Applicants who find themselves in this dilemma should not despair.  Some applicants might be in a position to solicit a letter from a client or customer with whom they have worked extensively.  In an ongoing relationship like this one, the applicant is accountable to the client and, in this sense, the client may act as a supervisor.  A letter from a client or customer works best, of course, when the relationship has been intensive and ongoing; the writer should be familiar with the applicant’s responsibilities and the way he fulfills them, as well as his or her career trajectory.

Another option is to look to former supervisors for a letter of recommendation.  This is a good option for an applicant who has maintained a close relationship with a previous employer.  In this scenario, it is important that the applicant has kept the recommender informed about any developments in his career goals.  This way, the letter will be oriented towards the future, even if it draws on anecdotes from the past.

For applicants who have pursued extensive community involvement outside of work, yet another recommendation option may exist within a volunteer organization.  Someone who has contributed to a nonprofit for several years and has taken on responsibilities at the organizational level would be in a great position to explore this option.  Again, an applicant in this position should look for a recommender who ranks above him in the organization’s hierarchy and has first-hand knowledge of his contributions.

Following these criteria, in conjunction with some of the more general guidelines, applicants can acquire insightful, enthusiastic recommendations that bolster their entire applications.

About Clear Admit:

Ivey Consulting is proud to partner with Clear Admit to provide comprehensive admissions information and consulting services to business school applicants. Learn more about Clear Admit here.

September 17, 2014

52 Weeks to College — Week 12: Really Short Answers

 

This week we're sharing tips and tricks specifically around the questions on the Common Application (or any other college application) that require really short answers. We're defining that as an answer not much longer than a text message, tweet, or Facebook post. You should be able to own these — they are tailor-made for your generation!

But approaching these questions can feel tricky for many applicants. Are admissions officers trying to trap you when they ask about your favorite author, what historical moment you wish you'd witnessed, or your nutty idea for a gadget? Do they really care that Toy Story is your favorite movie? YES, because that gives them a window into your genuine personality. If you're answering these questions correctly, you are not too focused on what you think an admissions officer wants to hear (which rarely ends well), but rather you're focused on having an authentic answer, because that's the answer they're really looking for here. That's how you "think like an admissions officer."

Week 12 To-Dos

Every Week

  • Check your email, voicemail, texts, and snail mail for any communications that relate to applying to college. Read them and take whatever action is necessary.
  • Update your parents about what you’re doing. This regular communication will work wonders in your relationship with your parents during this stress-filled year.  

This Week 

  • Finalize your 3rd application.
  • Revise your 4th application.
  • Draft your 5th application.
  • Continue working on supplementary materials, and exercise judgment about whether to include them at all. (See Week 4.)
  • Check the websites of colleges on your list to see if and when admissions representatives will be coming to a place near you. Sign up, and add those meetings to your calendar.
  • Draft your 3rd scholarship application.
  • Prep for your upcoming standardized tests. (See Week 6.)
  • Take the ACT.

Tips & Tricks

1. Link to your story. So how do you "be yourself" in the context of really short answers? As always, go back to your story from Week 3. Use your really short answers to emphasize or reinforce a particular theme about yourself in your application, or to bring out a side of yourself that hasn't yet made it into your application but that needs to be there.

2. Personalize the clichés. Do you think you're the only applicant naming blue as your favorite color? Not a chance. But that's perfectly OK, as long as you personalize your answer. Examples:

  • "My favorite color is the blue of my mother's eyes."
  • "My favorite color is royal blue."
  • "My favorite color is blue because I am red-green color blind, and blue is the only color that I see as others see it."

There are infinite ways to personalize your answers. You can check out some other techniques in chapter 9 of our book.

3. Watch your tone. Tone can be problematic with really short answers. What might strike you as sophistication or dry wit might strike an admissions officer as arrogance or negativity. You don't want the admissions officer to draw the wrong inferences about you just because of tone. The best way to check your tone is to ask someone who knows you well to read all of your really short answers together. You've struck the right tone if that person starts smiling and responds, "That's so you!"— in a good way.

4. Revisit your essay. Now that you've finalized three applications, consider whether you want to revisit your essay in order to realign it. All the pieces of each application should fit together to tell your story. Is there anything you could be tweaking in your essay to make the parts of the application fit together better?

5. Sleep. That's right. Sleep! Sleep is the secret weapon for performing better on standardized tests.

 

About the Authors:

Alison Cooper Chisolm heads the college admissions consulting practice at Ivey Consulting. She came to private consulting after working in admissions for more than 10 years at three selective universities (Southern Methodist University, University of Chicago, and Dartmouth College).

Anna Ivey is the former Dean of Admissions at the University of Chicago Law School and founded Ivey Consulting to help college, law school, and MBA applicants navigate the admissions process and make smart choices about higher education.

You can find more college admissions tips in their book How to Prepare a Standout College Application (Wiley, 2013), and follow them on Twitter and Facebook

About the 52 Weeks to College Series:

52 Weeks to College is a week-by-week plan for applying to college. It breaks this complex and difficult project down into weekly to-do lists with supporting tips and tricks for getting it all done. Based on the Master Plan for applying to college found in our book, How to Prepare a Standout College Application, 52 Weeks to College is designed for any applicant who intends to apply to top U.S. colleges. For those of you who are just discovering the 52 Weeks series and want to catch up, click here.

September 15, 2014

MBA Admissions Tip: Word Limits

With applicants for the round one deadlines putting the finishing touches on their applications, the question of how strictly applicants need to adhere to word limits is perhaps more popular than ever.  MBA candidates naturally have a good deal of information they want – and need – to convey in their materials, and getting the important ideas down under restrictive word counts is a difficult task.  While it might be tempting to run a bit beyond the guidelines to slip in that one extra thought, it’s important to keep the reasons for word limits in mind.

In addition to being a forum for explaining your goals and sharing your story, the essays also serve as a test of the applicant’s ability to communicate clearly and concisely, not to mention follow directions and answer a question.  Because business schools and post-MBA employers place a premium on all of these elements, adhering to word counts ultimately works to the candidate’s advantage.

The other consideration is the reader’s time.  Because of high application volume and the need to give every applicant fair and thorough consideration, schools are forced to limit the amount of information in each file.  If you consistently extend your answers beyond the suggested limits, you are essentially asking the reader to give you more time than they are devoting to the other applicants.  In other words, if you were to ignore the word limits and overshoot by 30% throughout, this might imply that you consider yourself to be 25% more interesting than everyone else who applied.

That being said, there is some leeway.  For the vast majority of programs, it’s generally acceptable to exceed the word limit by 5%.  There are, of course, a few exceptions:

Caveat #1: If a school gives you a range (e.g., 250-750 words), you should ideally stay within that range.
Caveat #2: If a school gives you a page limit (e.g., 2 pages), you should stay within that limit – without excessive margin manipulation or font size reduction.

In terms of the other end of the length issue, it is likely unwise to consistently fall more than 5% below the word limits, as this is valuable room in which to share further information about your candidacy (and might signal a lack of effort, experience, or accomplishments).

Best of luck to all those working on their application essays!

About Clear Admit:

Ivey Consulting is proud to partner with Clear Admit to provide comprehensive admissions information and consulting services to business school applicants. Learn more about Clear Admit here.

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