Ivey Files

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October 19, 2017

What's Your Favorite Food?

Every year, we’re fascinated to read people’s answers to the Really Short Answer questions on college applications.

What’s a Really Short Answer question? That’s what we’re calling the application questions that ask you to respond to a question in 25 words or less. Kids agonize over these.

Here's the secret: Usually, your quick, gut-level response is your best response, so you really don’t need to agonize. 

Let's try an example. What’s your favorite food? Answer in 25 words or less.

What’s your gut-level answer? Let’s say it’s lasagna. OK, write down lasagna. But don’t stop there. Here’s our pro tip: The more specific, the better. 

So don’t just say lasagna. 


"Lasagna on Christmas Eve, because it’s our family tradition.”

Try a couple. They're not so hard! Here are some other examples: 

"Macaroni & Cheese: it’s a comfort food, doesn’t have to be from Kraft, but from a box. Half the butter, twice the milk, extra cheese.”

“Zwetschgenkuchen, German plum cake. It’s delicious, and it’s the one word my American mother, who speaks perfect German, can’t pronounce, so we joke about it.” 

In fact, you could write a whole essay about your favorite food and why it matters to you, and that would be a wonderful essay. Really, we’ve seen plenty of them! If you can be a little more specific than just a one or two word answer, the Really Short Answer questions let you reveal something beyond just personal taste. (Family traditions? Humor? Quirkiness? International background? There's no shortage.)

The Really Short Answer questions look silly on first glance, but they turn out to be pretty useful. And fun.

March 14, 2017

The Decision Zone

March is the cruelest month, right? (Sorry, Shakespeare.) Now that you've entered the home stretch of the college application process, here is some advice to get you through it.

1. Make double, triple sure that ALL of your applications are complete. If you discovered that something was missing, follow up and make sure it got there. Doublecheck that all of the colleges got the Midyear Report from your school. An incomplete application gets you nowhere. Now is your last chance to complete it.

2. Do some research and find out WHEN AND HOW the colleges you have applied to will be releasing their decisions. Check the college websites. Put that on your calendar, so you know when to freak out and when to relax.

3. Do your best to "check out" and ignore all gossip, rumors, and information from any source other than the college itself. Nothing you learn on College Confidential, from other kids in your class, or from friends is reliable. Really. They don't mean to give you bad information; they just don't know. 

4. Limit yourself to checking email, mail, and websites to once a day if you can. Compulsive, obsessive behavior doesn't change the college's decision; it just makes you crazier (even though it feels good temporarily).

January 10, 2017

What to Do if You Applied Early and Were Deferred

If you have applied early to one or more colleges, the decision letter you received might not have contained a final decision. Instead of being admitted or denied, you might be notified that you have been "deferred." That means you have not been denied, and that's good news, because it gives you a second chance to be admitted! Your deferred application will be reconsidered in the Regular Decision round of decision making.

Sure, it's not the news you wanted (an offer would have been nice!), and being held in a limbo state is no fun, but don't lose hope. You can still maximize your odds of getting in if you follow these steps.‍

1. Treat your deferral as a second chance. Assuming you have continued on a positive course in the first part of your senior year, you have new information that can and will make the best and most compelling application — which you've already submitted — even better.

2. Use your judgment about what additional material to send. In order of most influential to least influential, here are the five kinds of updates that can help your deferred application:

  • New (and good) grades
  • New academic honors or awards
  • New (and higher) test scores
  • Anything that demonstrates your Core Four
  • Anything you have done that demonstrates your interest in that college

You can, of course, also submit other kinds of updates, like additional essays, recommendations, or supplementary materials. But we're not as enthusiastic about encouraging you to submit those, because those kinds of updates get mixed reviews from admissions officers. They tend to be more of the same, and they usually serve only to make your file fatter and more time-consuming for an already harried admissions officer to get through. There's a saying among admissions officers: they dread the files that "land with a thud."

3. Submit one bundled update. Rather than sending things in dribs and drabs, assemble all your updates into one package of materials and submit them all together with a short and polite cover letter. That way, all the updates together will make a cohesive and persuasive statement about you. Sending updates individually also makes it more likely that something will be misfiled or lost. If that college remains your first choice, make sure to reiterate that in your cover letter.

Good luck!

December 13, 2016

How to Help Your Recommenders Help You

Have you already lined up your recommenders? If not, get cracking, because they are your key allies in the application process. Best case scenario, you already talked to them at the end of 11th grade about writing recommendations for you. But if you’re a senior and you haven't already done so, it’s not too late.

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. Here are the five things for you to focus on:

1. Confirm your individual colleges' requirements for teacher recommendations: how many and in which subjects. Make appointments to meet with your recommenders. Look out for specific requirements that might influence whom you ask to be a recommender. Ask for any scholarship recommendations at the same time so that you don’t have to go back to the same people with new requests.

2. Play nicely with your school counselor. 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. 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.

3. Choose teacher recommenders who can help you tell your story best. Although you don’t always have a choice when it comes to your recommenders, when you do have a choice, 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 (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. 

4. 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 access rights. 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. You're better off waiving your access.

5. Be polite. Always. The way you interact with these allies shapes their impression of you. Any whiff of entitlement or ingratitude will count against you. So will blowing them off. Follow up with them, find out if they need anything from you, make sure you get them what they need, and when your applications are wrapped up, send them thank-you notes.

October 17, 2016

"Other" Recommendations for Your College Applications

Colleges typically require academic recommendations, which are recommendations from your teachers in high school, and some don't let you submit any others. But other colleges also give you the opportunity to submit "other" (non-academic) recommendations from people who aren't your teachers. Examples of non-academic recommenders include mock trial coach, rabbi, or mentor.

When is it a good idea to submit those?

Our cardinal rule: Submit a non-required recommendation only if it truly adds something meaningful to your profile.

Here are four categories of "other" (non-academic) recommendations that can add something meaningful to your profile:

1. It discusses one of your non-cognitive attributes. For example, your leadership can be validated by the coach of a team where you were Captain, or by a Student Council sponsor when you were a Student Council officer. 

Many colleges have started caring more about non-cognitive attributes (like leadership and resilience), in addition to the usual cognitive ones (like reasoning skills and subject matter expertise). Many applicants and their families aren't used to thinking in those terms for their college applications, so at the end of this post we've included a longer list of examples for each.

2. It validates or explains a part of your story that would benefit from the perspective of an outside party. For example, a mentor can describe obstacles you have overcome on your path to achievement, or your employer can vouch for the long shifts you've worked to help support your family.

3. It documents a bona fide talent through a reputable source, for example a flute teacher who writes a letter for an applicant to the New England Conservatory.

4. It underscores your religious affiliation for a college where religious affiliation counts, for example a letter from a minister, priest, rabbi, or imam.

In each of those four cases, the recommender should make clear in the letter what the purpose of the letter is. 

An "other" (non-academic) recommendation is not the best way to solicit "good words" from alums, donors, or famous people. If they really know you (well) and care about you (a lot) and have a strong connection to the powers-that-be at the college, they can just pick up the phone or send an email to the powers-that-be behind the curtain. Don't use one of the "other" recommendations for that.

And when are "other" recommendations a waste of time? When the only purpose they serve is basically to say that the applicant is a great kid.





Knowledge: Has a basic set of facts and methods at his/her command; mastery of the “college prep” curriculum.

Subject Matter Expertise: Has acquired knowledge of specific subject matter both inside and outside classroom. Knowledge can be in any area, including social, personal, or interpersonal. 

Application of Knowledge/Expertise/Problem Solving: Can apply what he/she knows in new or novel situations; develops solutions to problems using knowledge.

Analysis: Can examine and break information into parts, identify motives or causes, make inferences, find evidence to support generalizations.

Evaluation/Critical Thinking: Can make clear, reasoned judgments, can present and defend opinions by making judgments about information, can assess the validity of ideas or quality of work based on a set of criteria.

Synthesis/Creative Thinking: Can build a structure or pattern from diverse elements, put parts to together to form a new whole, compile information in a different way, create something novel or new, develop alternative or innovative solutions.



Grit: Perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Grit is the tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward very long-term goals.

Self-Control: Self-control is the voluntary regulation of impulses in the presence of momentarily gratifying temptations. Able to defer gratification; plan ahead and sets goals.

Growth Mindset: The belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts.

Positive Self-Concept: Demonstrates confidence, strength of character, determination, and independence. 

Realistic Self-Appraisal: Recognizes and accepts any strengths and deficiencies, especially academic, and works hard at self-development. Recognizes need to broaden individuality. 

Successful Leadership Experience: Demonstrates strong leadership in any area: church, sports, non-educational groups, etc. Leadership involves having initiative, building consensus, innovating new strategies, and implementing policies and programs in collaboration with or under the direction of others. 

Collaboration: Communication plus additional competencies related to conflict resolution, decision making, problem solving, and negotiation.

Demonstrated Community Service: Identifies with a community, is involved in community work. 

Openness, Tolerance, Agreeableness, Warmth/Consideration, Generosity, Cooperation/Trust, Openness: The ability to take the perspective of others, particularly from different backgrounds and cultures.

Understands and Knows How to Handle the System: Exhibits a realistic view of the system based upon personal experiences and is committed to improving the existing system. Takes an assertive approach to dealing with existing wrongs, but is not hostile to society nor is a “cop- out.” Involves handling any “isms” (racism, sexism, etc.). 

Availability of Strong Support Person: Seeks out and takes advantage of a strong support network or has someone to turn to in a crisis or for encouragement. Doesn't try to "muscle through" life's challenges alone.  


September 29, 2016

My Grad School Recommender Wants Me to Write My Own Letter

Have you summoned up the courage to ask a professor or an employer for a recommendation, only to have that person say, "Sure, send me a draft and I'll sign it?"

That happens a lot, mostly with professional recommenders, but sometimes too with professors. It puts applicants in quite a pickle.

Because it's so common, applicants often turn around and ask if we can help them with those recommendation drafts. The answer is no.

Any admissions officer I know at any legitimate graduate school would not consider that a real recommendation if the recommender has outsourced writing it to someone else, especially if he's outsourced it to the applicant. For ethical reasons, our consultants cannot help you work on your own recommendation letters, even if the recommender told you to write it yourself.

Effectively, what that recommender is asking you to do is no different than if you came to me and said, "Hey ​Anna, w​ill you write my application essay for me? It will have my name on it, and of course i have to sign off on the content, but it would save me a lot of time." That wouldn't be considered ethical either, for reasons that I hope are obvious.

It is OK for you to have input in the recommendation letter (if the recommender invites that), and even to give your recommender feedback on a draft. It's fine to take your recommender out for coffee and talk about what the recommendation might cover (if the recommender would like that). But you can't do the drafting; it can't be you trying to emulate that person's voice or pretend to be writing as that person.

One solution, if the recommender is willing, would be for you to provide bullet points of things you'd like the letter to cover, with the understanding that ultimately it's the recommender's decision what does or doesn't end up in the letter. And the actual writing of the letter would still have to be done by the recommender. Shortcuts aren't OK, and delegating isn't OK.

I've written more on this topic here, specifically with respect to academic recommendations for law school applications, but the overall advice applies more generally.

July 12, 2016

For Law School Success, Ignore Your Professors A Little

For law school success, don’t do what you’re told -- do what works


Here's a guest post from a new friend, Larry Law Law (no, not his real name, but I wish it were!):


Hey there.  Do you want a first-class ticket on the express train to bad law school grades and disappointment?




Well, watch out!  You will be on that train if you believe this statement:


"I will do well in law school if I do exactly what my law professor tells me to do."


At first glance, this statement seems harmless.  It may even seem like good sense.


But make no mistake.  This statement is evil


Evil.  Like Touch-of-Evil, Gargamel-waterboarding-Smurfs, line-cutting-at-Trader-Joe's, murdering-puppies evil.


Too many smart, diligent 1Ls worked themselves to death just to get average grades.


And you already know what average grades (much less bad grades) mean these days:

      Mid-tier, not top-tier, interviews (if you get any at all);

      Chasing crappy jobs instead of being chased by top-tier law firms;

      Working crap jobs (doc review for chump change) instead of having a fulfilling career (it is not all about money);

      Swimming in student debt that will never go away.


Dire, no?  This may be bad news if your plan for law school was “do what my prof says.”


Now, if you've been with Anna awhile, you know that she tells it like it is (like here). 


Me, too.  I’ve seen the carnage first hand as a tutor to law students.  So let me repeat:


If you do exactly what you are told in law school, your grades will suck and so will your post-law school life.


This may sound crazy.  You got good grades in college doing what your professor said to do.


And it may seem risky to change plans and not follow your law professor’s advice.


But your risk lies precisely in trying to take the safe path.


The risky thing in law school is to follow the same strategy as every other smart, hard-working person in your class.


For law school to be worth it these days, you must excel.


And to excel in law school, you need to step out of your comfort zone – maybe for the first time – and be a rebel.


To be clear:  I am not telling you to play Opposites Day with all your law professor's advice. 


I am not telling you to go to class blaring Killing In the Name Of wearing a chain-mail shirt and no pants.  (Rather: keep your pants and skip underwear!  Feel the rebellion inside your pants! But avoid wool.)


No.  You are going to be a limited tactical rebel in law school.  Ignore a little and listen a little.


Most importantly, you will be relentlessly focused on those things that will get you results (i.e., good grades). 


Which may or may not be what your professor tells you to do.


In short, the boringest. nerdiest rebel ever!


So here, rebel rebel, is what you need to know.


1.  College = cramming knowledge into your knowledge-hole


Your college experience shapes what you think law school will be like.


Most get to law school thinking it’s college, just with lockers and meaner professors.


This unexamined belief makes you susceptible to following bad advice from law profs.


So let’s start with college:  What was it like for you? 


You went to class.  You took careful notes.  You read.  (Yes, nerd, extra reading, too.)  You went to review sessions.  You went to office hours.  You asked good questions.


All to one end:  to cram knowledge into your knowledge-hole. 


So you can regurgitate it on an exam that calls for you to elicit the specific knowledge you crammed.


(If “cramming” a “knowledge-hole” is too vivid for you, try gentler imagery:  “screw the knowledge-bulb in your knowledge-socket,” etc.  Happy to make it less disturbing for you!)


It is that simple in concept:  Cram knowledge, then regurgitate it.


It is not easy to do well -- it takes planning, discipline and hard work -- but you did it well enough to get into law school.


This concept is rooted in an unspoken agreement, which I’ll call The Compact.  It’s like this:

      The student does what the professor asks. 

      The professor gives you an exam only about what the professor asks. 

      The professor rewards the student with good grades. 


2.  At first and for a while, law school seems like college . . .


So you arrive at law school and it mostly looks like college:  There are professors, lecture halls, books, and exams. 


Since law school looks like college, The Compact must be in effect, right?


So your job is clear:  you do what the professor asks.  And your professor asks you -- tells you, rather -- to do a bunch of things:

      Your professor tells you to read all the cases in your casebooks, so you read all the cases.

      Your professor tells you to “brief cases” you read (in short, summaries identifying different pieces of cases), so you brief cases.

      Your professor tells you to go to class and take notes, so you go to class and take notes.

      Your professor tells you to be prepared to be called on to talk about cases in class, so you prepare to discuss cases in class.  (The endless joy that is the Socratic method: “Mr. Hart, recite the facts of Hawkings vs. McGeeeeeee.")


You work harder than you ever have.  You cram a metric shit-ton of knowledge. 


Still, you feel lost about what is important -- what are you supposed to be studying?  There are ton of details.  Are all of them important?


You hear from other students that outside materials (commercial outlines or hornbooks) can help you understand the law.


But your professor says outside materials are streng verboten.  Your prof tells you not to consult outside materials, so you do not consult outside materials.


So your only option is, like Boxer in Animal Farm, to work harder.  You work harder reading cases, briefing cases, taking notes, and trying to look prepared for class. 


(For all his troubles -- spoiler alert! -- Boxer gets sent to the glue factory.)


Also, two other factors:  you would hate to look stupid in front of your brilliant classmates.  Public speaking is, for most, hard enough without hecklers (your prof).


And your professor makes vague but ominous threats about docking your grade if you’re not prepared when he calls on you in class.  


As the semester winds down, your professor finally suggests breaking up the reading cases/briefing cases/panicking about being called on monotony. 


Your prof kind of suggests that you should think about making outlines and taking some practice exams to prepare for finals, so you maybe think about making outlines and taking practice exams. Whatever that means.


You give it the college try.  But since your professor did not make it mandatory and wasn’t that clear about what you should do, your effort is muddled. 


Still, you approach finals with some faith.  You did all your professor asked you to do.


Under The Compact, that’s enough, right?  Your reward should be good grades.


3.  . . . until final exams.


Here, the merry-go-round breaks down.


You take a real final exam, under pressure, and it is nothing like your college exams.


College exams ask full questions -- with nouns and verbs -- that invite you regurgitate crammed knowledge (e.g., "What were the causes of the Peloponnesian War?" “Was Napoleon’s rise caused by the French Revolution, or was he just an asshole?”)


You sit, open your law school exam, and begin to sweat bullets as you stare:


The exam appears to be a 2-3 page long shaggy dog story, followed by the professor’s insanely terse question:






Or, if the professor feels very generous:  “Assess the claims and defenses of the parties.”


As Kimmy Schmidt might say:  WhatTheFudge.


What happened to The Compact?  You, the student, did all your professor asked. 


In exchange, your professor was supposed to give you an exam that tested what you learned.  And then you were supposed to get good grades (and laurels and groupies and your own servant to whisper in your ear:  “Remember thou art mortal”). 


But this exam question (“Analyze” or “Discuss”) does not seem inviting at all.  There seems to be no place for regurgitate case details you memorized.


It turns out that the exam is really asking you to demonstrate your skills in “issue spotting,” that is, your ability to identify, analyze, and resolving legal claims and defenses.


This is fair in that it is what actual lawyers do, and what law school should train you to do.


This is not fair in that your professor spent no time directly teaching you issue spotting.


Apparently, when your professor mumbled something about practice exams, you were supposed to teach yourself issue spotting.


Your professor may think that the public shamings that are the Socratic method constituted some kind of “training.” 


But did it teach you to spot legal issues in brand new situations?  Nope. 


At best, your training was indirect.  Like your professor spent the whole semester training you on a stationary bike at Soul Cycle, then took you to the Tour de France for your final exam, hands you a real bicycle and says “Pedal and balance, or you’re dead.”


* * *


Will your professor take responsibility for this bait-and-switch?  Will anyone?


Nope.  More likely, if you visit your professor with questions and a transcript littered with Scarlett Letter Bs, you will get: 

      condescension (“Some students just get it and some don’t.”);

      victim-blaming (“Anyone who does the work will do well.  Did you do the work?”);

      gaslighting (“Of course I prepared you for the exam!”);

      pity (“It must be really hard to struggle like this.”); and

      weird rationalizations (“So much of life is luck, you know. Well, off to lunch!”).


You will not get an apology, even of the Animal House variety, i.e., “You fucked up; you trusted us.”


You will not get, from your professor, compassion or empathy because nearly all of them succeeded in law school.  They don’t understand students who don’t succeed.  (Compassion is not pity.  Compassionis to understand another’s pain and suffer with them.  Pity is a sad-face emoji text, a condescending arm’s length hug without understanding).


You will not get an acknowledgement that the prevailing method of legal teaching (thanks a ton, Christopher Langdell) for the last 100 years -- make students read cases and figure out the law and let them figure out issue spotting for themselves -- is the problem. 


You will not get an admission that this so-called pedagogy is, in essence, an abdication of responsibility for actually teaching law students.  Making someone pay $250,000 to let them sink or swim is not teaching.  Doing more than that is not coddling, either.


It is patently insane to make students focus an entire semester on one set of activities (case analysis), and then test them on something else entirely (i.e., issue spotting).


This is so insane that many of you will disbelieve or ignore what I am telling you.


Ignore me at your own academic and professional peril.


So what does this mean for you?  Law schools and profs won’t change any time soon.  I can’t change them, much as I would like to.


The only thing you can change is you. 


In short: you are on your own to learn the law and to develop the skills that really matter on your law school exams.


But not totally alone.  You’ve got me.


Now, I said a lot about what not to do.  What, more positively, should you do to succeed?


More on that next time. 


Larry Law Law is a tutor and coach to top students at T14 law schools.  Hundreds of students used his methods.  He wasn’t a shabby student himself:  magna cum laude, Order of the Coif and on the Law Review Exec Board at NYU Law.  Larry Law Law’s been around: he clerked (2x) and worked in BigLawBoutiqueLawGovLaw, and NoPayHumanRightsLaw

CLICK HERE for Larry's QUICK FREE GUIDE to law school study shortcuts.  Or see his blog here.

April 27, 2016

Before you put your law school deposit down

There's been a lot of press about the poor prospects of many law students and recent law school graduates. As you're deciding where to put down your law school deposit, I thought this might be a good time to merge two older blog posts that still hold true today.

In particular, I was inspired by an email I received from a former client and one-time law school applicant, updating me about the interesting things he was up to. He concluded the message by saying:

Anyways, thanks for being the law school advisor that told me that law school didn't sound like it was for me :) . After killing myself for another 7 months and finally getting up to a 174 on the LSAT, I said screw law school and haven't looked back... I still recommend your services and have gifted at least 15 of your books.

I had had a preliminary diagnostic conversation with this applicant, as I always did before starting any counseling on the applications themselves, because I wanted to make sure we'd had a conversation about whether it made sense to apply at all. His update helped me distill the central message:

It's OK to walk away from law school, even after you've gotten a great LSAT score, and even after you've gotten in. Before you sign on any dotted lines and send in your deposit to go to law school, remind yourself that you DO NOT HAVE TO GO. You're looking at the offers in front of you, and you're feeling really good. As you should. And now is the time to reassess those options and decide whether they still make sense for you. Keep your head screwed on straight. 

DO go to law school if you want to be a lawyer (based on what knowledge?), and you are going to a school — and at a price point — that sets you up to reach your goals. Do you know what your goals are? Do you know why you're going? Are you going to hit the ground running from Day 1? If not, don't go.

DON'T go just because you can.

DON'T go because your parents want you to.

DON'T go because you think a law school diploma will somehow validate you as a smart person.

DON'T go because you think law school — even a top law school — is a safe bet. It's not.

DON'T go because the government is enabling you to borrow heaps of money for this purpose.

DON'T go because some law school out there is happy to part you from your student loan dollars.

You may still have good reasons to go to law school, but it's on you to figure out what those good and rational reasons are. Law school is a fine choice for some people, and a terrible one for others, depending on the circumstances and various options on the table.

I still believe that most ABA-approved law schools do not add enough value to justify the tuition they are charging, or the debt that many people incur in order to attend. There's no shame in applying but then deciding, "Wait, this might not be the best option for me." Sometimes you have to start down a particular road before you have a moment of clarity, or before you are open to hearing something you didn't think you needed or wanted to hear. Imagine how hard it is to walk away from a 174 LSAT, after all that blood, sweat, and tears, when you know that others would give their right arms for that score. Still, this once-aspiring-applicant thinks he made the right call.

And it's also a good reminder that despite the wailing and gnashing of teeth on behalf of applicants in the NYT, WSJ, WaPo, Bloomberg, etc. (and here on my blog), ultimately nobody is holding a gun to your head and making you go. It's your choice, and if there's value to all that press coverage, it's in serving as a caution to exercise that choice with great care. 

We live in a time when you have to be the CEO of your career. As Thomas Friedman once wrote in an op-ed called "The Start-Up of You," in which he interviewed entrepreneur and LinkedIn founder Reid Garrett Hoffman, you'll need to be

using your network to pull in information and intelligence about where the growth opportunities are — and then investing in yourself to build skills that will allow you to take advantage of those opportunities. Hoffman adds: “You can’t just say, ‘I have a college degree, I have a right to a job, now someone else should figure out how to hire and train me.’” You have to know which industries are working and what is happening inside them and then “find a way to add value in a way no one else can. For entrepreneurs it’s differentiate or die — that now goes for all of us.”

Substitute "law school" for "college" in the quotation above, and the message still holds true. Educate yourself about the legal profession as it is today, warts and all. Educate yourself about what graduates from School X typically earn and what their typical career paths are. Go sit in on law school classes to see if they are your idea of heaven or hell. Educate yourself about borrowing costs. Go find lawyers who do the kinds of things professionally that you think you want to do, and look under the hood. Go get the LSAT score you need to get into the school that will open the doors you want opened, and the score that will enable you to go there without a real risk of financial ruin. And if you're not in the running for the kind of school you need to get from Point A to B to C, have a back-up plan and go do something else. Don't have a back-up plan? That might be the worst reason to go to whatever law school will take you.

Once you've done that homework and gotten advice and formulated a plan — do not outsource or skip this part, because ultimately it's you who bears the consequences — you'll have a much better sense of whether law school in general is the right move for you, and whether particular law schools are good investments for you. If so, that's great news. And if not, that's great information to have too.

Why do I keep banging this drum? Because so many of the forces and voices you come into contact with will push you toward law school — supposedly easy money, prestige, your proud parents, magical thinking, glossy law school brochures and dodgy statistics, sexy TV shows, historical levels of affluence among lawyers, you name it. The list is long.

Those are the wrong influences to be listening to, for a bunch of reasons: the present is not like the past, some of those schools are lying to you, you have to pay the money back (and it's a lot), the practice of law is rarely sexy, and your mom will still love you even if you don't go.

What do you think? Did you walk away? Do you wish you had? How about those of you who are glad you stayed the course? What sources did you find helpful when making your decision?


From the archives: 

April 20, 2016

It's that Frenzied Time of Year

Wise words from the dean of admissions at Smith College:

Students have many options. Focusing on the narrow list of so-called top colleges ignores the rich diversity of the nation’s higher education choices — including community colleges, online courses, residential colleges and large research universities.

Students often combine study at different types of colleges and accrue credit for all of these varied experiences. Remember, “highly selective” doesn’t necessarily mean better for a student — it just means more selective.

When I talk to prospective students and parents, I often quote Frank Sachs, former president of the National Association for College Admission Counseling: “College is a match to be made, not a prize to be won.” The ideal pairs a student with the school that best fulfills that student’s academic, social and aspirational needs.

Read her full remarks in the New York Times here

April 19, 2016

Standardized Tests: Should You Take the SAT or ACT or Both?

So many tests, so little time. When it comes to standardized testing for future college applicants, there are some decisions you have to make before fall of Senior year in high school to help you maximize your options when the time comes to apply. But there are ways to "work smarter, not harder."

When we talk about which tests to take, we realize that these are moving targets because of changes on the test side of the world, particularly on the SAT side. The fact that the SAT has been in flux recently informs the advice we give. Here's our advice for anyone who plans on applying to selective four-year colleges in the U.S. We assume you're still in the planning stages, so that would be 11th grade in the U.S. 12-year system. 


1. Plan on taking the SAT or the ACT 

It's true that more and more colleges are going "test-optional," meaning that they are no longer requiring the SAT or the ACT from applicants, although you can still submit scores if you choose to. You might end up applying only to test-optional schools, or you might end up with a mix. Or you might turn out to be really good at the tests, in which case a good SAT or ACT score would still work in your favor even if they're not required.

Most students don’t apply to a list of schools that is 100% test optional, so as you're planning ahead, you need to have one of those tests under your belt. Then the question becomes which one to take.


2. Take a diagnostic SAT and diagnostic ACT

Do take diagnostic SAT and ACT tests because there’s no way to predict whether you are going to do better on the SAT or ACT or equally well until you’ve taken a practice test of each in timed conditions. Every test prep company in the world will do this for free as part of the sales process, or it will be the first thing you do once you sign up for test prep. 

For the ACT, take a look at the free diagnostics offered by ArborBridge and RevolutionPrep (or any test prep company you like). Princeton Review used to have book that allowed people to do a condensed diagnostic, but the book doesn’t align with new SAT, so until a new version comes out, we no longer recommend it. (Fingers crossed that they update it.)

For the SAT, take a practice diagnostic test through Khan Academy. Because the SAT has changed recently, test prep companies have to simulate practice questions for the new SAT — they can't rely on real questions from the older tests. From our perspective, that's less than ideal. At this time, Khan Academy is only test prep organization that has access through College Board to real practice questions written by the College Board (the makers of the SAT), and it’s all free. 


3. After the diagnostic tests, pick the ACT or the SAT and stick with it 

If the SAT is demonstrably your better test, run with it. Otherwise, stick with ACT.

Sometimes parents push back because they don’t want to spend the time on all that diagnostic testing. We'd like to persuade you that this tip translates into “work smarter, not harder."

We don’t suggest you prep for both tests longer term. Spending some time up-front on both diagnostics allows you to pick the test you're better at and then focus your test prep around it. Parents usually have a bias in favor of one test or another (often based on their own experiences many years ago), so this tip is also designed to help parents get out of the bias.

If you do equally well on both diagnostics, then commit to the ACT because it gives you the option of avoiding subject tests. Parents and kids love to hear that, because it means fewer tests longer term (many colleges don't require SAT subject tests if you take the ACT). If you can take the ACT and call it a day, that's great news.

There are still a few schools that require the subject tests even if you take the ACT, but it still gives you lots of options if your subject tests don’t come back particularly strong. Do plan on taking at least two SAT subject tests to keep your options open.


4. Even though the Writing portion is now optional for both the ACT and SAT, do take Writing so that you preserve your options.

We'll continue keeping an eye on developments in SAT- and ACT-land, and also on the best test prep options as students and test prep organizations adapt to the new SAT.  

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