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September 8, 2014

MBA Admission Tip: MBA Application Data Forms

With MBA programs’ R1 deadlines past or just around the corner, we wanted to offer some words of advice about an often overlooked element of one’s file: the application data forms.  All too often, we see candidates leave these online application forms for the last minute, even rushing to enter all the required information from work on “deadline day.”  The truth is that a weak effort on these forms can do serious harm to one’s candidacy, as it might reflect poorly on the applicant’s professional polish or commitment to the application process.  This being the case, here are a few tips for those who are in the midst of completing this component of the application:

1) Don’t be lazy.  We know that many applicants feel “burned out” from their essays and that it’s tempting to zip through the application data forms and provide a bare minimum of information.  While it’s fine to use your resume as a starting point, make sure that you think beyond this ready-made content and consider other information that might be of interest.  In many cases, the forms are a great opportunity for you to list outside activities in depth, offer a quick explanation of a bad semester, share the significance of some professional awards you’ve received, and so on.  In fact, your application forms will often be the starting point for the admissions officer’s review of your file, so it’s important to put your best foot forward.

2) Follow instructions.  If a school asks you to list activities in order of importance to you, then do not list them chronologically (as you may have done for another school).  If the school asks for a contact person, title or the number of hours/week, do not leave these fields blank.  As attention to detail is very important, spell-checking is another important step in this process.  In fact, many admissions officers have stated that they use the application forms as a way to see whether or not candidates have the ability to follow instructions and show attention to detail.

3) Make everything clear.  The last thing you want is for your reader to have to play detective in understanding your career progression, making sense of gaps in employment, or evaluating your undergraduate performance.  If your listings are not clear, the reader may assume you are hiding something – a conclusion that could seriously damage your chances.  By the same token, you should avoid using industry jargon and be sure that all of your statements will make sense to a reader who is not familiar with your industry or function.  Given the level of competition in the applicant pool, the admissions office can afford to dismiss files that are confusing or difficult to follow.

4) Don’t go overboard.  Admissions officers typically review several files in a sitting – devoting much less time than you might imagine to each file.  With this in mind, avoid listing 18 activities, 22 awards and 17 publications – especially if some of those items date back to high school (or are more than 10 years old).  Stay focused on the elements of your background that are most relevant, while following the instructions that have been outlined.  Remember that the application process is an exercise in marketing, and that the schools appreciate applicants who are discerning about what details to share and know how to present themselves most effectively.

As always, best of luck to those of you who are applying!

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 3, 2014

52 Weeks to College — Week 10: Working with Your Recommenders

Now that your senior year has started, it's time to line up the third parties who are your key allies in the application process: your recommenders. Your core recommendations typically come in the form of a school report from your school-based college counselor and two academic recommendations from your teachers. (The number of teacher recommendations might vary among your colleges.) Recommendations make a difference, and it is up to you to make sure that the recommendations you get will make a positive difference for you and influence the admissions officer in your favor.

Week 10 To-Dos

This Week and 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 second application. Finalizing is the crucial last step before submission.
  • Continue working on supplementary materials. Supplementary materials are portfolios, audition materials, research abstracts, and the like. Note: very few of you should have this to-do on your list because you are following Week 4's advice about exhibiting restraint when it comes to these kinds of materials.
  • Check the websites of colleges on your list to see if and when admissions/college representatives will be coming to your school, your community, or a place near your home. Note these visits on your calendar and do your best to connect with the admissions representatives then.
  • Set up a meeting with your school counselor:  If you haven't already met with your counselor, do that now.
  • Secure your teacher recommendations: Confirm your individual colleges' requirements for teacher recommendations (how many and in which subjects) and make appointments to meet with your recommenders if you haven't already done so at the end of 11th grade. Look out for specific requirements that might influence whom you ask to be a recommender. Ask for any scholarship recommendations at the same time.
  • Draft your second scholarship application.
  • Check whether there are new scholarship opportunities. Add the deadlines to your calendar and block out time to work on them.
  • Secure any recommendations necessary for scholarships. You can ask for these at the same time that you ask for your application recommendations.
  • Prep for your upcoming standardized tests. In Week 6, you made a test prep schedule for yourself. It will only work if you work it! So go to it. 

Tips & Tricks

  1. Help your counselor help you. Admissions officers place a lot of weight on what school counselors have to say about an applicant in the school report, and a negative report can be the kiss of death. What the admissions officer learns from the school report will have a direct bearing on your academic rating by the admissions officer. In other words, your school counselor is an important ally in the process, so respect the role he plays. Follow the rules and work within the system (your counselor is bound by school policies as much as you are), give your counselor as much lead time as possible, and take any opportunity to let the counselor get to know you. You can read more advice about the school report, including specific tips for international students and homeschoolers, in chapter 18 of our book.
  2. Choose recommenders who can help you tell your story best. Go back to your story that you wrote in Week 3. Although you don’t always have a choice when it comes to your recommenders, when you do have a choice, you want to choose the recommenders who can help you tell your story best. Pick recommenders who know you well, who can speak about your positives and negatives based on direct experience, and who like you. If you have significant negatives to overcome (very low grades, a disciplinary or criminal record), choose at least one recommender who can address these negatives either because of the recommender’s position or because of the recommender’s knowledge of and experience with you. Read more tips about choosing and working with recommenders in chapter 19 of our book.
  3. Waive access to your recommendations. Under the law, you have the right to see your recommendations (and all other application materials that remain in your student record) after you have been admitted to and enroll in a college, unless you waive that right. The recommendation forms give you an opportunity to waive your rights to access. Typically, the only reason applicants decline to waive access is when applicants are concerned about what the recommender might say and want to discourage the recommender from saying anything negative. That creates a new and equally serious problem: a recommendation that will not have much heft. When you do not waive access, you are not only sending a signal to the recommender, you are also sending a signal to the admissions officer, who might conclude that this recommendation cannot be fully trusted because the recommender could not be completely frank. Choose a different recommender instead.
  4. Be prepared for visits from college representatives. It's fine to treat these visits from school reps as an information-gathering exercise on your part rather than an official interview. You don't have to sell yourself overtly, but be mindful that any contact you have with a school representative (whether an admissions officer, an alum, an administrator, or the secretary answering the phone) will make an impression that could affect the final admissions decision. You want to come across as an applicant who has done her homework about the college that is visiting your turf, and express genuine interest in that college. You want those college reps to leave feeling excited about the prospect of receiving an application from you.

 

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, August 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 2, 2014

Out After Curfew — Do You Have to Disclose?

Our friends at Blueprint Test Prep sent along this question from one of their students:

Three days before my 18th birthday, I was caught being out at night after curfew. There was no drinking or anything like it involved. The police made me wait for my parents to come get me, same with my friends.

The told me they were giving me a warning, but I never received any type of documentation so was led to believe it was verbal. I was also under the impression that since I was turning 18 in three days, that warning would be taken from my record anyway. Is this something that needs to be disclosed [on my law school applications]? And how do I find out if it was actually a written warning? Thanks

Because each law school words its disclosure questions differently, you'll have to read them very carefully to determine whether you have to disclose this incident on your applications. You might have to disclose for some schools but not others.

Many applications ask whether a particular incident happened — that's different from asking whether it's on your record. So don't assume you can ignore it on your applications just because you were under 18, or just because it may have been expunged, or just because it may have been an oral warning versus a written one.

Look for any language in the disclosure questions that creates an exception for juvenile incidents (under age 18), or any exceptions for incidents that were expunged from your record. Also look for any language that distinguishes between convictions and charges, and any language that distinguishes between felonies, misdemeanors, citations, and warnings.

Questions for you to research: Was the warning ever in your record? If so, was it expunged? You'll have to find out exactly what happened and exactly what's in your record by contacting the police department that caught you and issued the warning. Keep records of whatever they confirm one way or the other (even if it's just to confirm that there is no record at all). You'll likely need that information again when it comes time to apply for the bar.

For applications that do require you to disclose this incident, this one is pretty small potatoes, and I doubt very much that it will stand between you and a law school acceptance. If you fail to disclose something when you should have, on the other hand, there can be much more serious consequences. So if in doubt, go ahead and disclose.

You can read more advice on these kinds of topics here:

Good luck!

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, which is downloadable as an e-book.

September 1, 2014

MBA Admissions Tip: Know Your Audience

As Round 1 deadlines approach fast, applicants are coming to understand that applying to business school is an incredibly demanding process.  In addition to taking the GMAT, assembling academic transcripts and providing recommendation letters, candidates are required to draft multiple essays, job descriptions, lists of activities and more.

With the obvious incentive to save time wherever possible, it’s understandable that many applicants simply cut and paste content from an existing resume and write about their work in the manner that comes most naturally.  However, in doing so, countless candidates each year assemble their materials without ever asking a fundamental question:

Who will read my application?

While the answer to this question may vary from school to school, one thing is certain: It is unlikely that the person reading your file will have an intimate level of familiarity with your specific industry or job function.  This being the case, if you use industry-specific jargon or assume prior knowledge of your field on the part of the admissions officer, you undoubtedly will lose your reader.

It’s also important to keep the big picture in mind; many applicants become so mired in the details of their own work and role that they fail to provide sufficient context for a company outsider to understand the importance of one’s efforts to the department or organization as a whole.  The solution is to write about your experiences in a way that the average person will understand.  While this is easier said than done, it underlines the importance of sharing your materials with an unbiased advisor (ideally not a work colleague or family member) to make sure that you aren’t off-base with some of your assumptions.

To learn more about who will actually read your essays at the various schools, or to inquire about our application editing services, simply contact Clear Admit with your CV/résumé and sign up for a free initial assessment.

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.

August 26, 2014

How To Use Practice Tests In Your LSAT Prep

Today’s advice comes from our friends at Blueprint LSAT Prep. Blueprint students can enroll in live LSAT prep classes throughout the country, online LSAT courses from the comfort of their own home, or self-study with Blueprint’s new Logic Games book

Practice tests are (and should be) an important component of any LSAT study schedule, but they’re also commonly misused. Sure, anyone who takes dozens upon dozens of practice tests as quickly as possible will improve simply by virtue of increased familiarity with the LSAT. But that person likely won’t improve as efficiently or to the same extent as someone who uses practice tests more strategically. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the right and wrong ways to use practice tests when studying for the LSAT.

If you’re taking an LSAT prep course, some practice tests are likely built into your study schedule. For instance, Blueprint LSAT Prep students take six proctored practice tests throughout the course. You’ll want to take additional practice tests on your own, but it’s best to ask your instructor when you should start doing that. We recommend waiting to self-administer practice tests until all of the new material in the course has been covered; until then, it’s a better use of your study time to focus on mastering the new concepts.

If you’re self-studying for the LSAT, the general philosophy behind using practice exams will be similar. You want to take a few strategically placed tests throughout the early phases of your studying in order to test your understanding of the concepts you’ve already learned. Your timing will likely be a total mess, and you shouldn’t stress the question types you haven’t covered yet; instead, take a close look at the question types you have learned (and that you had time to attempt). If you notice an area you’ve already worked on that you’re still struggling with, you should take some extra time to go back and review that concept. In other words, your early practice exams should be used to make sure that you really have learned the things you think you’ve learned.

As you get closer to Game Day, you’ll want to ramp up taking practice tests. However, even at that point, there’s such a thing as too many. If you do practice test after practice test without taking the time to learn from them, you’ll continue making the same mistakes, and you won’t see much score improvement. It’s paramount to review each practice exam before you take the next one.

Here’s the general review strategy you should be using: 

1) As you take a practice exam, make a note of any questions that you guess on or are unsure about.

2) After you score the test, go back and thoroughly review the questions you got wrong, and any questions you marked in Step 1. When I say “thoroughly review,” I mean that you should be able to explain the question to someone else - both why the answer you chose was wrong, and why the right answer is right. Furthermore, you should think about what tricked you the first time around, so that you can avoid being similarly tricked in the future.

3) Once you’ve completed Step 2, analyze the questions you got wrong to determine if there were any trends. For instance, perhaps you stunk at implication questions (e.g. “which of the following is most strongly supported…”); perhaps you struggled with question types that require you to identify flaws in the argument, like Flaw, Strengthen, Sufficient Assumption, etc.; perhaps Logic Games were your weakest section.

 4) Once you’ve found that weakness, take some time (like, at least a day) to drill it. You should be doing question after question of that type until you understand them all inside out, upside down and backwards. You should become a merciless Flaw Question Terminator (or whatever question type you were drilling). Then, and only then, are you ready to take another practice test.

Wow, that’s a lot of steps between each practice test! And when people use practice tests the wrong way, they often skip at least one (if not all) of those steps. The simple act of taking a practice exam is not enough to really improve your performance on the LSAT; it’s important to learn from each test as well.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the tests you’re taking should be in strict test-like conditions. One reason that people often underperform on test day relative to their practice exam scores is that they weren’t strict with the timing or they always took their tests in their whisper-silent bedroom with their favorite smooth jazz playing in the background. You can avoid those pitfalls by setting a timer for each section and following it religiously (or using an app like the one found on the Blueprint website to keep track of time for you), and by taking at least some of your practice tests in an area with some light ambient noise, such as a library.

Lastly, you should save the most recent practice exams for closer to test day. The LSAT has subtly evolved over time. There’s still a lot to be learned from the older tests, but more recent tests will give you a better sense of what your test will be like. So take the older tests earlier in your prep, and save the newer ones for your final weeks of studying.

Prep tests are necessary but not sufficient for success on the LSAT (see what we did there?). So use them, but make sure you’re using them wisely. By the time the big day rolls around, you’ll be taking full-length LSATs like a champ.

For more study tips from Blueprint visit their LSAT blog, Most Strongly Supported.

August 26, 2014

52 Weeks to College: Week 9 — Finalizing Your First Application

It’s the last week in August and you are either already back at school or just days away from starting. Everything is accelerating and intensifying and that’s why we hope you are well underway with your college applications by now.

If you’ve been following the 52 Weeks plan, then you are ready to finalize your first application, revise your second, and get started on your third! That puts you in good shape and will keep you from being too stressed out as you start your senior year.

If you haven’t been following the 52 Weeks plan, start now and commit yourself to catching up as quickly as you can. You still have a window of time before you have a full load of school work, and getting on track with your college applications by then is essential if you want to minimize your stress and maximize your success.

Week 9 To-Dos

This Week and 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 first application. Finalizing is the crucial last step before submission.
  • Revise your second application. Take the drafts that you created last week and revise them this week.
  • Draft your third application. By this point, you are an old hand at drafting, having already drafted two applications. So consult your essay map and get to work on your third application!
  • Continue working on supplementary materials with the goal of finishing them in the next couple of weeks. Supplementary materials are portfolios, audition materials, research abstracts, and the like. Note: very few of you should have this to-do on your list because you are following Week 4's advice about exhibiting restraint when it comes to these kinds of materials.
  • Check the websites of colleges on your list to see if and when admissions representatives will be coming to your school, your community, or a place near your home. Note these visits on your calendar and do your best to connect with the admissions representatives then. (We’ll have more advice about how to take advantage of these opportunities in week 10.)
  • Finalize your first scholarship application. Finalizing this application is much like finalizing your first college application, so you can use the same approach for both.
  • Draft your second scholarship application. Drafting the second one will probably go faster now that you have some experience.
  • Prep for your upcoming standardized tests. In Week 6, you made a test prep schedule for yourself. It will only work if you work it! So go to it.

Tips & Tricks

Note: Beginning this week, our tips and tricks will include references to our book, How to Prepare a Standout College Application, because it has officially launched this week and is available for purchase online or in your local bookstore!

It isn’t final until it is error-free. Errors in your application detract from the positive impression you are trying to make. Grammatical and spelling errors suggest reflect badly on your academic abilities. Typographical errors or other errors in completing the application suggest carelessness or indifference, both of which work against you. That’s why you have to proofread your application very, very carefully. For a proofreading checklist and further tips on proofreading, refer to Chapter 11 in our book.

If you have a disciplinary or criminal record, you have to deal with it before you can finalize your college application. While having either sort of record dramatically reduces your chances for admission to a selective college, admissions officers can and do admit applicants with records. But to persuade an admissions officer to admit you despite your record, you are going to have to present a clear and convincing case that you have earned a second chance. That starts with your being honest and forthright in your application about your record. Beyond that, you need to make use of the multiple opportunities you have to make your case (additional essays, supporting documentation, recommendations that address it, and so on). Consult Chapter 13 in our book for our suggestions about how to build your most persuasive case.

Finalize your first application, but don’t submit it unless the college has a rolling admissions program. Rolling admissions programs favor those who submit early and first, so if the application you have completed is going to a college with a rolling admissions program, then by all means submit it. Otherwise, we encourage you to wait a little bit before submitting your first application because you’ll often discover that there are a few things you want to change if you wait until late September or early October to submit it.

For example, if you wait for the first few weeks of school to go by, you can update your positions in your various school clubs or activities (often leaders are elected or chosen at the beginning of the school year). Or you can add your new and better test scores. Beyond updating, you might decide that you want to switch out or modify your essays. Your first application is, after all, your first. Your college application essay writing skills will improve as you go along, and you’ll also have more essays to choose from as you answer more questions. So holding on to that first application gives you an opportunity to take advantage of your own subsequent efforts, and that’s to your benefit.

Finalizing your first application is a significant milestone on this journey. So once you’ve done it, take a little bit of time to savor your accomplishment. It will give you energy and motivation to keep going!

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, August 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.

August 25, 2014

MBA Admissions Tip: Declare Your Love and Explain It

With Round One deadlines for a number of programs just around the corner, it’s the time of year when many applicants are working hard on their application essays and learning more about their target programs in the process of rounding out their “why MBA/why school X” discussions.  Keeping this important component of the admissions process in mind, we wanted to take the time today to offer some advice on how to polish this element of one’s file and get the most mileage out of this section.

1. Make it personal.  Schools look for applicants who seem genuinely excited about their program, and the best way to bring this across in your essays is to come right out and say it.  Many applicants are well-researched but present their findings in the form of objective facts.  The adcom will already know whether their program features a flexible curriculum, is very strong in marketing, or offers an international focus.  What they don’t know – and what you should be explaining in your essays – is what you find exciting and appealing, and why.  Stating your interest in a school by connecting its offerings to your goals and interests is a great way to help the adcom understand (and ideally get them to agree with) your opinion that you would be a good fit with the program. 

2. Cite your sources.  In addition to hearing about your impressions of the program, the adcom will also wonder how you arrived at your conviction that their program is right for you.  Did you attend an information session or an MBA tour?  Visit the campus?  Sit in on a class?  Contact the heads of student clubs?  Speak with alumni in your current or target field?  Comb through student blogs and other online sources of information?   Sharing the steps you’ve taken to familiarize yourself with the school will showcase the effort you have put into learning about the program and will also add credibility to your comments about your commitment.

3. Keep it tailored.  Just as it’s important to mention aspects of the curriculum or community that make a particular school unique in comparison to others, it’s also essential that you highlight how your own interests and goals guide your discussion of school-specific elements.  This approach will not only have the benefit of showing off the research you’ve done on the program in question, but will also help you to stand out from other applicants by virtue of your unique goals and interests.  Sure, it’s reasonable to mention the core curriculum, as this is an important aspect of the business education, but because this could be a draw for any applicant to a given program, you would be better served by focusing on those classes that are most relevant to your particular educational needs.

Of course, arriving at in-depth knowledge is the first step in this process, and those applicants who are looking to gather key facts for their essays may want to use the Clear Admit School Guides as a starting point.  Good luck to everyone who is hard at work on this challenging element of the application process!

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.

August 25, 2014

Top 15 Law School Recommendation Tips

  1. Assume that schools prefer academic recommendations unless they specifically request a professional one. An academic recommender is someone who has taught you in a college classroom environment, graded your papers, led your discussion sections, etc.

  2. Law school recommendations are not meant to be character references; they should focus on you as a student. Any thoughts they share about you outside the classroom are just bonuses; they are not required or expected. Recommendations are also not expected to discuss other parts of your application, like your extracurricular activities while in college.

  3. Less is more. Have good reasons for submitting more than the required number of recommendations.
 In fact, have a good reason for submitting anything as part of your application that isn’t required.

  4. Use LSAC’s Credential Assembly Service to submit your recommendations for your applications. When the online system asks whether you’re submitting a “recommendation” or an “evaluation,” select “recommendation.”

  5. The longer you’ve been out of school, the less admissions officers expect to see an academic recommendation, and the more appropriate it is to submit a professional one. Keep an eye out for the exceptional schools that do prefer a professional recommendation; they will tell you so in their application instructions.

  6. The recommender’s job title is never more important than the closeness of the relationship. The Teaching Assistant might have more meaningful things to say about you as a student than the name-brand professor does.

 Recommendations from famous people, politicians, or other VIPs are useless; don’t bother.

  7. Recommendations should be mainly backward-looking, offering an opinion on you as their student (or employee, if a professional recommendation).

 Recommenders are not expected to predict how you’re going to fare as a law student in particular, or as a future lawyer, but they are expected to know your past academic work in their class well enough to assess your academic qualities.

  8. Anecdotes and stories make a recommendation memorable. A bunch of adjectives, even superlative ones, do not.
 If a recommender invites your input or guidance, ask her to give examples that back up her opinions. It also helps if she can put you in the context of the other students she has taught.

  9. Never ask to see a draft. If recommenders ask for you input, it’s great to give them input. If they show you a draft, you are absolutely allowed to see it even if you’ve signed the waiver on the application form.
 But never give recommenders the impression that you expect to see what they have written about you.

  10. It’s always a good idea to prep your recommenders. You can help them understand your motivations for pursuing law school (you want to signal to them that you have thought through this big decision, and that you are not applying to law school just because it’s the path of least resistance). Help them understand in broad strokes how you are positioning yourself in your application.

  11. When requesting recommendations, give your recommenders an “out.” If they express any hesitation, move on and find someone who is enthusiastic about writing you a meaningful letter.
  

  12. Do not write your own letter, even if a recommender asks you to (“draft it and I’ll sign it”). Admissions officers would not consider that ethical or useful, and even if it were, self-written letters tend not to be very good. (Try writing one sometime. Unless you are a narcissist, it’s hard to say truly stand-out things about yourself. And you can’t read your recommender’s mind or write in his voice in any event.)

  13. Be mindful that you are asking recommenders to spend some of their reputational capital on you. Don’t abuse that courtesy.

  14. The most important thing for you to do is pick the appropriate recommenders and guide them as requested. After that, it’s out of your hands. Give them a deadline to submit their letters — at least six weeks before you want your applications to be complete (four weeks for them to write the letter, two for LSAC to process it). Your LSAC account will show when each letter has been received. Follow up with any tardy recommenders as soon as possible after the deadline you have given them.

  15. After you know where you will be starting law school, follow up with your recommenders and thank them. They are part of your network, and they actually care about your success. Stay in touch.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

August 19, 2014

52 Weeks to College — Week 8: Revising Essays

Now that you have at least a week of drafting essays behind you, you are ready to tackle the next phase of the writing process – revising. Revising is its own art, so our tips and tricks this week focus on how to do it well.

Week 8 To-Dos 

This Week and 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 first application. As we noted in a prior post, drafting and revising are distinct tasks. At this point, we expect that you have already drafted all your answers for your first application and that you are ready to turn your attention to revising them.
  • Begin working on your second application. The essay map you created in Week 6 is your writing to-do list. Look to see which application essays are next on your list and start drafting them.
  • Continue working on supplementary materials, such as portfolios, audition materials, research abstracts, and the like. Note: very few of you should have this to-do on your list because you are following Week 4's advice about exhibiting restraint when it comes to these kinds of materials.
  • Check the websites of colleges on your list to see if and when admissions representatives will be coming to your school, your community, or a place near your home. Note these visits on your calendar and do your best to connect with the admissions representatives then. (We’ll have more advice about how to take advantage of these opportunities in a few weeks.)
  • Revise your first scholarship application. Revising your scholarship application should be much like revising your first application, so you can apply the same tips and tricks.
  • Keep prepping for your upcoming standardized tests. In Week 6, you made a test prep schedule for yourself. It will only work if you work it! So go to it.

Tips & Tricks

Revise content first. You will save loads of time if you revise your essay for content before you move on to revising it for things like flow and voice. An easy way to check for whether you have the right amount of content in your draft is to let the word counts guide you. Most application essays have both a minimum and a maximum word count (or character count). These word counts signal how much content your essay is expected to have.

  • If your draft falls between the minimum and maximum word count, then move on to revising for flow and voice.
  • If your draft is below the minimum word count, then you have to add meaningful content, not just words. How could you develop one of your ideas more deeply? What other ideas could you introduce? Stick with it until you have a draft that is the right length.
  • If your draft is above the maximum word count, then you probably have tried to develop too many ideas in the essay. Consider which ideas are central and then eliminate the others. 

Check your essay for flow. An essay that flows well carries the admissions officer reading it effortlessly from one idea to the next. She never stumbles, gets lost or has to reread to figure out what you are trying to say. A logical order and smooth transitions are the keys to an essay that flows well. As you are revising, pay close attention to these aspects of your essay. Is there a logical order to your ideas? If not, stop and reorder. Are there smooth transitions between your ideas? If not, take the time to rework your transitions. After you’ve revised, a good way to check that your revisions have solved your flow problems is to read your essay aloud. You’ll hear missed connections or bumpy transitions long before you see them.

Make sure your voice comes through loud and clear. When an admissions officer reads your essay, he should feel as if he were talking to you and only you. In order to leave the admissions officer with that feeling, your essay must have your voice. Most applicants have plenty of voice in the first drafts of their essays, but strip it all away when they revise. Guard against doing that as you revise your own essays. For example, keep the quirky phrase that you are well known for using or hold onto your signature staccato writing rhythm of short, emphatic sentences. These are the aspects of your writing voice that make it yours and yours alone.

Once you’ve revised your first application, you’ll be ready to finalize it next week. And that means you’ll have one application done by the end of August and a second one well underway. Can you see how you are starting to build momentum and get ahead of the curve? We hope so, because you are! Keep it up.

 

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, August 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 forthcoming 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.

August 18, 2014

MBA Admission Tip: The Optional Essay

We realize that the questions of whether to answer an optional essay and, if so, what to say are ones that loom large for many b-school applicants at this time of year.  While we’ve been offering a great deal of school-specific essay advice over the past few months, we wanted to take some time to suggest a few considerations that applicants might want to take into account when making this call.

Is it relevant?
Perhaps this goes without saying, but the only information worth sharing in an optional essay is that which will make a material difference in your candidacy.  Whether you wish to comment on an exciting leadership role you’ve just taken on or explain that you were overextended extracurricularly during that one bad semester in college, make sure to think carefully about whether this information will affect and enhance the reader’s perception of your business school candidacy.

Was it requested?
Most schools do request that applicants use an optional essay to address certain issues, such as a failing grade in a degree program or the absence of a letter of recommendation from one’s current direct supervisor.  In spite of the technically optional nature of the question, it’s very important to follow directions and provide this information if a school requests it.

Also along the lines of what information is requested, it’s wise to think carefully about a school’s other essay questions before deciding to use an optional essay or provide additional information, as each of these topics affords applicants a chance to introduce the information about their background and interests that they consider to be most important.  Your objective should be to provide as complete a picture of your candidacy as possible within the framework of a school’s required essays (as these are a good indication of what a given program is most interested in hearing about) and to only introduce information in an optional essay that you could not have covered elsewhere without sacrificing something more essential.

Is it constructive?
Once you’ve decided that a detail is relevant to your candidacy and merits mentioning in an optional essay, the next step is to think carefully about the way this information might be perceived and make sure that the impact it makes on your chances of admission is a positive one.  For instance, an essay that simply alerts the adcom to a serious medical condition might help its author stand out from other applicants, but it could also leave the reader wondering whether this person could handle the demands of a rigorous academic program.  On the other hand, a few details about this applicant’s strategies for achieving success in spite of some kind of disability and commitment to supporting others with a chronic illness or impairment might make him or her seem like a very valuable addition to the business school community.

Is it concise?
It’s always a good idea to keep in mind that by answering an optional essay, you are creating extra work for the person reading your file.  While this should not dissuade you from addressing a topic that you have deemed important based on the considerations above, it’s very important that you demonstrate good judgment by limiting your comments to the most relevant information and keeping your response as direct and concise as possible.

We hope that these general guidelines have helped to clear up some confusion and shed some light on the optional essay issue.  For more tailored feedback on your personal situation, feel free to contact us for 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.

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