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October 19, 2014

52 Weeks to College: Week 17 — Reviewing Your Application Before You Submit

You're almost there! Now that you've finished all of the components of your first application, you should take one more careful look at the application as a whole. Does it come together into a coherent and compelling story about you? If it does, then you have produced a standout college application — an application that presents you at your very best and maximizes your chances for admission. The best and easiest way to review your application as a whole is to assemble your own application file and then read it from start to finish just as an admissions officer would.

Week 17 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 6th application.
  • Revise your 7th application.
  • Draft your 8th application.
  • Follow up with your recommenders.
  • Interview with 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.)
  • Take the ACT.

Tips & Tricks

1. Review your application as a whole to make sure it conveys your story. Remember your story from Week 3? Go pull it up again. Are all the elements of your story coming through when you read your application as a whole? If not, which elements are missing or getting lost? Where can you incorporate them in your application materials?

2. Make simple, easy tweaks. There's still time for you to change up your really short answers, switch out your short answers, and realign your essays.

3. Proofread. We've said it before, and we'll say it again. You should be getting pretty good at proofreading by now.

4. Sustain your momentum. If you've been following our advice week by week, then you already have multiple applications in process. But other people like to conk out after they finish their first (early) application. That would be a very bad idea. You have built up a lot of momentum by this point, so take advantage of it and don't stall out. It is good to stay in application mode until all of your applications are complete. 

You can read more tips for reviewing your application as a whole in chapters 5 and 21 of our book. Next week, we'll focus on the logistics of submitting, so don't hit the submit button just yet.

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 15, 2014

How Much Can I Help My Friend With His Personal Statement?

At a recent LSAC forum, I met a guy who is a refugee and is currently in the middle of the law school admissions process, as am I. He is studying for the LSAT, but having much trouble due to English being his second language. I offered to assist him in preparation for the LSAT. I have been working with him on this, but he has recently asked me to review his personal statement, and I am unsure of the ethical constraints in such work. I read your book and I can tell that you approach such issues with considerable tact and ethical consideration. Do you believe that it would be acceptable to help him with grammatical issues? He is highly intelligent but struggles with verb tenses in the English language. His oral speech is for the most part easily proficient, but his writing needs considerable work. I am concerned about assisting him on this because I know that a law school may be upset if they find that his writing is considerably less grammatically sound than his admissions materials led them to believe. I would appreciate any advice you may be able to give.

This is such a great question, and big points to you for caring about where that line gets drawn. It's one I'm mindful of every day in my work with applicants, and sometimes the line can get fuzzy, so it bears thinking about. There are both ethical and practical considerations, and I'll tackle both in this post. I'm thrilled you're giving me an excuse to think out loud about this topic, so thank you.

When I think back to when I was an admissions officer, my expectation was that for something really important like a grad school application, it makes a lot of sense to have a second (and picky) pair of eyes stare at your documents to make sure that things are squared away. There's nothing wrong with that, and that includes fixing a verb tense here or there. 

We've all been there — you've stared at the same document a gazillion times, you're trying to get it perfect and just so. That's precisely when your eyes and your brain betray you, and you stop seeing little problems and mistakes that can sneak in and stay put.

As a writer, you can miss macro problems, too, because you're too close to your own material. Maybe you think you're being really clear in a particular sentence or paragraph. Or you assume the essay has a coherent arc but in fact it takes a bunch of detours that seemed terribly important to you but really don't move the essay forward. Pity the poor admissions officer trying to make sense of some of that stuff.

For those reasons, the best help someone can give you as an applicant is to tell you when things are making sense, when they're easy to follow, when they are true to what you are trying to say, and when they have your voice. Or, more importantly, when that's not the case. Just make sure you ask the right people. It's amazing what kind of damage others can do when they have nice intentions but have half-baked notions about what a law school personal statement is supposed to accomplish. The worst essays, bar none, are the ones that have obviously been written by committee: here's a bit you included to make your dad happy, there's a bit that a 1L friend threw in, here's something you added based on something you saw on a discussion board. And next thing you know, you end up with a dog's breakfast instead of a good personal statement. Crowdsourced essays are almost always awful.

So getting some kind of outside feedback on a personal statement can be helpful in the right circumstances. That's true for both the superficial stuff and the substance, and it's true for both native and non-native English speakers.

I regularly help people with grammar, but I try to make sure they understand that something like a verb tense isn't discretionary, that there are actual rules that govern. Maybe nobody in high school or college taught them about the past perfect tense, for example. (Very few schools seem to teach it anymore. Ditto for proper punctuation and parts of speech.) If you're applying to law school, there's no time like the present to beef up your grammar and writing skills, and not everyone comes into the process with the level of skills they want or need. Whether you get help from a friend, or the writing center at your school, or someone else, those skills matter not just for your application, but also for your success in law school and your success as a lawyer.

Because guess what? Law school professors and law firm partners are notoriously picky about what the rest of the world would consider minutiae. So are judges. Some of them are picky because they're pedantic (I'm guilty, too, sometimes), but they are also picky because in the law, these details matter. Putting a comma in the wrong place in a contract can cost your client a million dollars and result in a malpractice suit. If commas can get you into that much trouble as a lawyer, imagine what can happen if a lawyer hasn't yet mastered other parts of written English. Here's a page from a brief where the judge actually marked up the writing mistakes and kicked it back to the lawyer who had filed it. Embarrassing. 

But there's a big difference between teaching someone good grammar and trying to make a non-native writer sound native. Let me state for the record that I'm not dissing non-native writers. My two favorite authors in all of English-language literature were not native speakers (Nabokov and Conrad), so don't mistake this for a xenophobic screed.

More specifically, if you can stick to teaching correct grammar and making sure your friend actually improves his own writing skills, then that can be a helpful exercise, not just for his personal statement but for his LSAT writing sample as well. But if you try to make a non-native speaker sound native, or try to make his written English substantially better than he'll be able to perpetuate on his own, you're turning him into something he's not. I hear from applicants from abroad (and from certain countries in particular) who ask for that kind of help all the time, and at our firm, we decline to go that far. Sometimes we get yelled at because we haven't made an applicant's English "perfect." We try to persuade those applicants that if their essay sounds as if it's been written by a native English speaker, and it's clear from their background that they are not, no admissions officer will find that essay credible, and they'll begin questioning the authenticity of the application more generally. Most people aren't Nabokov, it's true.

Moreover, admissions officers will compare the essay to the writing sample on the LSAT (the only helpful purpose of the writing sample, in my opinion), and if that gap is too large, it will be obvious that the essay has been "scrubbed." That is never a benefit for the applicant; it actually amounts to self-sabotage.

For those reasons, a non-native English speaker is better off staying closer to her true level of written expression, however far she can push that between now and then. It's impossible to fool admissions officers about actual writing skills when they have that LSAT writing sample in front of them. (That's true for native speakers as well.) They don't expect the LSAT writing sample to be perfect — test takers are given stupid topics to write about, and those writing samples are drafted under time pressure without the opportunity to belabor 20 revisions. But it is a great baseline against which to compare the application essay when its authenticity is in question for any reason.

What does that mean for an applicant whose written English skills need "considerable work," as you describe the situation? Remember that one of the things an admissions officer is measuring in the application is whether the person has sufficient command over written English. (See my Big Rule #1 for writing a law school application essay.) If an applicant's writing skills are too deficient, then I'd say that person isn't ready yet to apply to law school, or at least to a competitive one. (I concede that there are plenty of junk law schools that do not select for good writing skills, but they aren't worth attending anyway; good luck finding a decent legal job afterwards.) Applicants with poor writing skills won't be able to keep up at a law school whose grades revolve around long, high-stakes, written exams at the end of each semester, and those schools don't want to set people up for failure if they admit them. Will you be around to fix your friend's writing when he's muscling through his law school exams, submitting a legal brief to his summer employer, drafting cover letters, or taking the bar? You won't, nor should you be. But I give you a big, gold star and a bunch of karma points for mentoring him. And sometimes mentoring means *not* doing something for someone, but helping him help himself.

That doesn't mean that a top law school is out of the picture for your friend full stop. Maybe his current level is good enough that you can help him improve it between now and the LSAT/submission of the application essay. But if that gap is too wide, he would probably benefit from an additional year to participate in an intensive writing program and get his written English skills up to par. There is no shame in that, and in the long run it will make him a better law student and a more effective lawyer, too. It will also make him more likely to land a good legal job afterwards, which is ultimately the whole point. All of that is true whether a person grew up speaking English or not. 

In the meantime, here are some of my favorite books that help people get their written English from good to great. To master the rules, the Chicago Manual of Style is still the gold standard. For pro tips on merging grammar with style, check out Sin and Syntax: How to Craft Wickedly Effective Prose. And here's a separate post I wrote on good writing for law school applications.

If you get a chance, please share updates in the comments. I'm all in favor of paying things forward, and some day, when his writing skills are much stronger, I'm sure your friend will turn around and help others with their writing. When done right, that's a great thing. Good luck to you both on our LSAT and your applications.

 

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 13, 2014

MBA Admissions Tip: MBA Interview Prep

With interview invitations from a number of programs already on their way out to Round One applicants, we wanted to offer some more advice on this element of the admissions process.  Last week we posted some very basic etiquette information that will help candidates ensure that everything is in order on the big day.  Today, we turn our attention to some steps one can take to prepare for the interview itself.

1) Know what to expect. This might go without saying, but interview types and duration vary across programs.  For instance, nearly all invited Stanford applicants interview with alumni, while on-campus Wharton interviews are conducted by second-year students and admissions staff.  Candidates for Columbia admission participate in an informative resume-based chat, while HBS and MIT interviewers have in-depth knowledge of the applicant’s entire file.  Thinking carefully about the format of the interview and the person conducting it will influence the sort of questions you might come prepared to ask and help you arrive at a mindset conducive to success.

2) Review your materials.  Because it’s important that you reinforce your positioning during the interview, reading over your essays and reflecting on the themes presented in your application is a great first step in preparing to speak about your ideas and objectives.

3) Tell them something they don’t know.  In addition to reinforcing your existing message (a critical component of most interviews), the interview is also a great time to expand or add new information to your file via the interviewer’s notes.  Have there been any major developments in your candidacy that you should share?  Have you visited the campus or spoken with students since submitting your written materials?  Have you made any strides toward your goals?  Even if just an example from work or an activity that relates to the interview question but didn’t fit into your essays, it’s a great idea to approach the interview with the goal of enhancing the admissions committee’s knowledge of your candidacy.

4) Anticipate and practice.  Though it’s impossible to predict the exact questions you will be asked, the type of interview and historical data will provide some great clues as to the sort of information the interviewer will be seeking.  The Clear Admit Interview Archive could serve as a great starting point, as it features detailed firsthand interview accounts from applicants to the top MBA programs.  After arriving at a list of possible inquiries, it’s a good idea to not only reflect on what you might say in response, but to actually practice articulating your responses, explaining your goals and recounting some significant professional and extracurricular experiences.

Best of luck to all those who are eagerly awaiting invitations and preparing for interviews!  For more information about Clear Admit’s school-specific Interview Guides visit our shop and access immediate downloads of all the latest interview questions for your target school.  For more information about our tailored one-on-one mock interview services, feel free to contact us.

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.

October 12, 2014

52 Weeks to College: Week 16 — Non-Essay Parts of the Application

With all that essay work behind you, you may be tempted to think that you're basically done. Almost. Remember that every single part of your application matters, so before you hit that submit button, double-check that you've made the best use of the non-essay parts of the application forms as well. We have a bunch of tips below to help you do that.

Week 16 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 

  • Revise your 6th application.
  • Draft your 7th application.
  • Submit your early application(s).
  • Interview with 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. Check that you've filled out the factual questions accurately and to your advantage. What are factual questions? These are questions asking you about you and your family: your age, your gender, your state of residence, your citizenship, your languages, your ethnicity or race, and your veteran status. If you don't feel as if the boxes on the application really represent who you are, check the ones that come closest, and then use the Additional Information section of the application to elaborate. If you're a legacy, see if you can work that in. Also make sure to use your legal name on all your college application documents so that your name is consistent (that will save you lots of headaches later). Follow the U.S. format for dates (month/day/year). Use a reliable snail-mail address. Proofread!

2. Check that you haven't missed any miscellaneous questions. Those are questions about whether you're appying for financial aid, your academic interests, and any demonstrated interest in that particular college ("Have you visited?" "How did you learn about our college?"). Don't have particular career interests yet? It's OK if that's still up in the air. But you should at least be able to articulate your academic interests. (College is an academic enterprise, after all.) Make sure that the interests you list align with your story (Week 3). If you are on the fence about whether to apply for financial aid, check whether the college is "need blind" or "need aware" — you might decide that it's not worth applying for financial aid at a "need aware" school if you can afford to do without it.

3. Make sure you know which program or division you're applying to. Some colleges have just one application for the entire undergraduate program, and you can decide later what division you want to be in and what you want to major in. Other schools make you decide upfront whether you're applying to a particular divison (or college-within-the-college). For example, some schools make you decide at the application stage whether you're applying to the School of Liberal Arts or to the School of Engineering. Make sure to read the instructions for each college carefully so that your application ends up in the right hands.

4. Check that your activities list conveys the Core Four. Go back to the work you did in Week 3 and as you review your activities list in the application, make sure you've communicated all the activities that tell your story, and that you've conveyed the Core Four (don't forget impact in particular). Also make sure you've made use of the space available to you in the activities list.

You can read more tips for these sections in chapters 3, 6, 7, 8, and 14 in 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 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.


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