The Yale Question

If you are a law school applicant, admissions officer, or preparation company, you are almost certainly aware of the “Yale Question.” But for those that are not, here is the basic idea:

Yale Law School has added two questions to its 2009 application, which ask candidates to disclose the use of A) LSAT test preparation, and B) admissions consulting.

The mere fact that Yale added these questions generated a response within the law school community, but it was a blog post on Yale Law’s “203” (“An Admissions Blog”) that really ruffled some feathers and put applicants in a quandary.

In the post, Asha Rangappa, Associate Dean, takes a pretty harsh stance toward both LSAT preparation and law school admissions consulting. The thrust of her argument is that admissions consulting creates an unfair advantage — basically, that it undermines any hope of a level playing field for applicants.

I’ve had a chance to engage in a dialogue with Asha about some of this and find her to be extremely intelligent and sincere, with a very idealistic viewpoint toward the world of admissions. It is that idealism that makes her stance both compelling, but also — in my opinion — incomplete.

In a vacuum, law school admissions consulting does indeed create an uneven playing field. Because all things being equal, an available resource would allow “consulting applicants” to gain an advantage over the rest of the applicant pool. And certainly, even in the real life version of admissions, some candidates do indeed gain a competitive advantage by paying for services that others can’t afford.

Of course, law school admissions does not exist in a vacuum, and that type of analysis ignores the enormous advantage held by a percentage of the applicant pool that is fortunate enough to enjoy built-in resources right at its fingertips. I’m referring, of course, to those candidates who have a brother that went to Yale Law, or an uncle from Sullivan & Cromwell, or a family friend who taught at Harvard. I’m referring to the candidates from Princeton and Cornell and Stanford, who have amazing pre-law advisers at their disposal. All of these advisory options are allowed and encouraged by Yale. But how many people have these types of resources?

The applicant from a state school, with limited pre-law advising (if any), no family members in the law, no close friends from Yale … how can that person possibly compete with the advantages described above? Based on the preexisting disparity between segments of the applicant pool, it is my opinion that admissions consulting actually levels the playing field.

Access

Of course, I would be remiss if I did not return to the idea that there are applicants who can’t afford such services. Knowing that there is an “access” problem (and when is there ever not an access problem when it comes to admissions?), should we just give up on the idea of consultation altogether? That hardly seems like the best solution. Doing so would just continue to create massive information advantages for the privileged upper crust and leave the masses behind. “Admissions Consulting for no one” doesn’t really solve anything. “Admissions consulting for everyone,” on the other hand, might just be the answer.

Imagine a situation in which each applicant had the same insight, guidance, and perspective on the process. It sure seems like such a scenario would allow the best stories, skills, and fits to emerge from the applicant pool. Which, of course, is the end goal of any admissions process. And yes, “admissions consulting for everyone” is a pipe dream at this point, but it is not unreasonable to think that pro bono options will emerge at companies like ours, or that schools like Yale will one day provide financial programs to allow for low income applicants to receive consulting services (which would be an advanced — and admittedly more expensive — form of application fee waivers). I’d much rather aim for this form of idealism than Yale’s. Because the provision of admissions consulting for every applicant is still possible, if not likely. On the other hand, eliminating the “legacy” portion of the applicant pool that I described above is absolutely, unequivocally impossible. That cat is already out of the bag.

Process versus Substance

In addition to the access argument, I’ve also heard it argued that admissions consulting is a particularly bad fit for law school applications, because the “application process” counts as much as the “application’s substance.” What this implies is that law schools are evaluating not just the merits of candidates, but also their analytical and presentation skills. The argument goes like this: law schools are trying to admit tomorrow’s leading lawyers and one of the lawyer’s tasks is to identify key components and then present them in an articulate way — therefore, any assistance in doing so eliminates the law school’s ability to evaluate those skills.

I find this argument to be unconvincing. For starters, one need look no further than law school itself to recognize that “developed legal skill” is not the primary goal of this process. Find me one elite law school that makes “process” its educational mission — my guess is you will be looking for a long time. Law schools strive to teach critical thinking skills and explore theoretical underpinnings for the way laws and legal systems work. You don’t spend three years writing motions and briefs — you’ll be lucky if you spend three classes honing those skills.

Furthermore, whenever the analysis in question is introspective, the challenge becomes unique and distinguishable from any other process of compiling and presenting data. One can’t draw inferences from the admissions process as to a candidate’s ability to draft memos, motions, or briefs, because the two tasks are apples and oranges. Ask a talented person to write an op-ed piece or a research paper and that person will more than likely handle the task with aplomb. Ask that same individual to write a bio and it is just as likely he or she will struggle mightily. It is much harder to analyze one’s own life than it is to analyze facts, cases, and statutes. It is much harder to write a personal statement than it is to write a legal brief. If not harder, then different. The skills are not the same. To attempt to evaluate such skills in this context is foolhardy. Not only that, but I suspect if law schools were really serious about analyzing lawyering skills, they would include a closed universe assignment. If you really care about it, make it apples to apples.

Burden Shifting

All told, there is not a compelling reason to dismiss admissions consulting (let alone LSAT prep) outright. Sure, if companies or consultants approach this process in a way that lacks integrity — if they broadcast secret tricks or write their clients’ essays for them — then crack down on them. By all means. And there is no doubt that admissions — and the services that support candidates — are complicated and difficult to structure and police. But to shift the burden and put the pressure on the applicant (do I pass up a resource? use it and lie? receive assistance and risk being denied for it?) is completely unfair. And to denigrate a helpful and needed service based on a limited and slightly archaic viewpoint seems irresponsible. Particularly when the author holds so much sway on such influential subjects. Because when Yale speaks, people tend to listen.

For the time being, clients of Veritas Prep’s law school admissions consulting services can expect to receive thorough, honest, and helpful service that will level the playing field and help them overcome those built-in advantages enjoyed by the most connected candidates in the applicant pool.

Just know t
hat if you use our services, you will be asked to disclose that fact to Yale Law school.

For more updates on Yale and other top schools, be sure to follow us on Twitter.

What’s in a Game Plan?

The phrase “game plan” gets thrown around a lot in the hallowed offices of Veritas Prep. Our director of research, Scott Shrum, literally co-wrote the book on MBA admissions and named it Your MBA Game Plan. We offer a Personalized Game Plan as part of every admissions consulting package. There are a lot of people in our office that love college football and study the art of game planning for blitz packages. And so on.

So what’s the benefit of having a game plan when it comes to the graduate school admission process? There are a lot of answers to that question, but one that is often overlooked is the necessity of shifting perspective.

An applicant to a top law school or MBA program comes armed with both a set of skills and experiences as well as a cultivated perspective on those issues. The applicant is probably in good shape with regards to the former. The latter? Not so much.

The biggest problem I encounter when working with applicants – at any level – is that they fail to see themselves the way the admissions committee sees them. The skills and experiences that seem outstanding to a college senior may or may not appeal to an admissions officer at a law school. The reverse is also true – attributes that may seem run of the mill in one’s graduating class or circle of friends may be highly unique and appealing to someone evaluating an application.

I often think back to my own law school application experience and note the complete lack of perspective that I possessed at the time. As the associate director of admission at one of the nation’s top 50 universities and someone armed with a better-than-expected academic profile, I should have been able to destroy the law school application. Instead, I focused on all the wrong things. I incorrectly deemed my writing accomplishments to be singularly noteworthy when, in fact, almost every student who enrolled with me at the University of Chicago could boast of similar feats. On the other hand, I downplayed my extensive management experience, believing it to be appropriate only for B-Schools. Wrong. I found out later that it was my work – the title, the recommendations, the responsibility – that suggested an intellectual and emotional maturity. Luckily for me, the Director of Admissions at Chicago took a close enough look to find that information, since I basically hid it from her.

When students sign up for our consulting services and they ask me what “this game plan thing” is all about, I tell them it is about discovering a new perspective and avoiding making the same mistake I made. By working with an expert who has been through the process before, applicants are gaining insight into the way an objective, qualified outsider sees them as a candidate. No longer are you bound by your own limited perspective or suffering from a shortage of information. Now you know who you are in the eyes of the people who count. You’re armed with the best kind of knowledge.

And as they used to say in the old G.I. Joe’s Public Service Announcements: Knowing is half the battle.

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Thoughts from the First Annual AIGAC Conference

Last week several of us at Veritas Prep were lucky enough to attend the first annual conference for the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants (AIGAC), in Chicago. Although the organization is only a couple of years old, it’s clear that it has already made great strides in establishing high standards for ethics and professionalism in the world of admissions consulting.

On the morning of the first day we visited the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, where we heard from admissions director Rosemaria Martinelli about what the school looks for in applicants. While she didn’t go into too many specifics that I can share here, she did promise us that Chicago’s 2008-2009 application essays are coming soon, and that more changes are afoot. Expect to see some significant changes to the school’s admissions essays, although the PowerPoint presentation remains! We also heard from Chris Iannuccilli, the school’s Executive Director of Marketing, who shared some interesting insights about where the GSB plans to go in the next couple of years.

That afternoon we headed north to Evanston, where we visited my favorite business school, the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. There we heard from Beth Flye about the latest trends the school is seeing. Think about this: In 2007-2008 the school saw a 20% increase in application volume, on top of years of already strong growth. Keep that in mind when you think about going severely over your word limit in your MBA application essays. Additionally, we heard that Kellogg’s incoming 1-Year class is 45% international — something to consider if you’re looking for an especially international flavor to your business education in the United States.

The second day featured some stimulating panel discussions, the first of which featured some of our peer admissions consultants as they tackled interesting topics such as managing unreasonable client expectations, dealing with unethical clients (we heard some VERY interesting war stories), and — what I found most interesting of all — the rising tide of the Millennials generation and their over-involved “helicopter parents.” Yes, it seems that these parents are now infiltrating even the world’s top MBA prorgams.

Another panel featured admissions officers from Tuck, Haas, Anderson, LBS, and Kenan-Flagler. They expressed many of the ideas and concerns that we also heard from Kellogg and Chicago, but interestingly, they also mentioned the trend of more and more parents being involved in the admissions process. I consider this to be a disturbing trend (Will we ever let our children grow up?), but one that we’re all going to have to live with, from applicants to admissions consultants to admissions officers.

We closed the two-day event with a more informal mixer with admissions representatives from these and other top schools. In many cases, it was great to simply be able to put faces to names, and the casual environment was perfect for letting everyone get to know each other a little better.

I left the first anunal AIGAC conference even more excited than ever about the prospects for our young young industry. As Veritas Prep and other leading admissions consultants continue to take the high road and maintain an open dialogue with admissions officers, I expect that the industry will continue to grow, and clients (and even schools) will continue to benefit.

Stephen Covey Discusses Leadership – The Type of Leadership You Want in Business School

Business school applications are all about laying out how you have exhibited the qualities of a leader. After all, this is the quality that b-schools, in general, desire the most in their applicants. A lot of my admissions consulting clients struggle with a succinct definition of leadership. That is, one that they as the applicant can use as a succinct model. To this point, my clients and prospective MBA students ask me what my definition of leadership is. I believe Stephen Covey covers it well in this article. http://www.stephencovey.com/blog/?p=6

This is important as a lot of b-school applications ask for the applicant to provide meaning leadership experience and examples in their essay. Follow Covey