Thursday, June 12, 2014

So-Fi Student Loan Refinancing

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Now THIS is how to exploit a great business opportunity.

By Ben Feuer


For those of you who have been following this blog for awhile, or reading our book, or working with me personally on applications, or really doing anything at all with me, you know that I am a stickler for having a strong, unique and useful professional goal to go with every application.  Why do I always come back to this point?  Because it is the first, and arguably the most important, thing you do when you attend a business school.  You pursue your professional goals.

So where are we to find these goals?  Simple.  We look for the intersection of opportunity and expertise.  To have a great goal, you need two things -- an underserved group or an inefficiency in the marketplace, and a person (you) with an idea about how to make it better or do it better.

We all know the student loan market is completely bananas.  We all know that tuition is too high.  But most of us don't know WHY.  There are several reasons, but the main reason is extraordinarily simple.  It's a mismatch of supply and demand.  Easy access to student loans has driven 4-year-college attendance through the roof, but not all colleges and majors are equally adept at job placement -- an engineer from Stanford does not have the same job opportunities as a University of Phoenix graduate in Communications.  But the federal loans are deliberately blind to these distinctions.

Enter So-Fi.  This company, created by Stanford graduates, is offering to refinance Stanford loans at a very low rate.  You see, Stanford students default at very low percentages (2% or so) vs the national average (14% or so), so they ought to have less risky loan pricing.  Plus, of course, it puts So-Fi in the very appealing position of having done a financial favor for a bunch of future industry titans, and it's a sustainable business model going forward -- there will always be another incoming class!

So if you're banging your head against the wall trying to come up with a goal, remember this blog.  An opportunity and an inventive way to bypass the problem is all you need.



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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

MCAT To Change in Spring of 2015

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The MCAT is Changing.  The question is -- should you take the test now or wait until after the change?

By Ben Feuer

A new article points out an interesting debate that has come up for students planning to apply to medical school in the next year or two.  The test is set to have a major overhaul in 2015, removing the written portion and adding two new sections, “Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior” and “Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills.”

Will the test be easier or harder?  It's too soon to say.  What is clear is that it will be different, and that earlier prep materials will no longer be relevant.  This means applicants face a simple choice -- should they take the test quickly, before it changes, or wait until after the change to begin studying?

Unfortunately, there's no simple answer to this question.  There are, however, pros and cons to each approach.

IF YOU TAKE THE TEST EARLY:

•  You won't have to worry about a lack of prep materials

•  You will know what your score means

•  You will have it out of the way, and will no longer have to worry about it

IF YOU WAIT:

•  There is no need to rush your studying and potentially hurt your score

•  Schools may favor applicants who have taken the newer test, feeling that it examines more relevant skill sets.

What should you do?  Consult experts, people that you trust and who know your case well.  Every situation is different.  But whatever you do, don't get caught in-between these two choices by studying for a test that will prove irrelevant when the time comes to take it!


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This exciting news could open up graduate school to a new range of students.

By Ben Feuer


Good news for graduate students who take on huge amounts of student debt (AKA, all graduate students), especially for law school, business school and medical school.  President Obama looks set to expand a program called PAYE, which should cut their debt payments and shorten the window until student debts are forgiven.

From the article -- 

All borrowers with federal student loans are already eligible for a program calledIncome Based Repayment, which reduces a monthly bill to 15 percent of discretionary income. The executive order would extend eligibility in a similar program, known as Pay as You Earn, to further reduce monthly payments to 10 percent of income. In its current form, PAYE is available only for borrowers who took out their first loans after 2007 and borrowed as recently as October 2011. The executive order on the table would get rid of those exclusions.


This is exciting news, especially for lawyers choosing to work in the non-profit or government sectors, business school students pursuing startup dreams, or medical school students working as family doctors or internists.  But it's even more exciting for people currently thinking of applying to top schools, as it widens the range of choices available, and makes money (somewhat) less of a factor in the final decision.


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Sheds light on the current state of grade inflation at top law schools and on the requirements for clerking.

By Ben Feuer


Popular law school blog Above the Law recently got ahold of a massive screw-up at UVA Law School wherein the names, grades and class ranks of all clerkship applicants were released publicly.  Rather than look at this from the rather obvious standpoint of schadenfreude, it's a lot more interesting to think about this information in the abstract, considering how it plays into the larger landscape of law school admissions.

Clerkships are one of the most sought-after prizes a law school student can attain, and UVA has always done well in finding clerkships for its students.  It's now clear that the school retains an unusually large amount of data about its applicants, which may help their chances (being the top law school closest to Washington DC can't hurt either, though).

The grade inflation is, simply put, staggering.  The LOWEST ranked student in the entire class had a GPA of around 3, or a B average in normal terms.  The vast majority of students were clustered between 3.4 and 3.8.  Presumably this has now become de rigeur for clerkships, and it makes one wonder if this is yet another weapon top schools use to keep lower ranked schools away from elite opportunities like clerkships.

Anyway, follow the link, check out the data and form your own opinions.


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Cornell's Johnson school has partnered with Tsinghua University in China to offer the first Mandarin & English Dual MBA.

By Ben Feuer



If you haven't heard of Tsinghua University, you're probably not Chinese.  If you haven't heard of Cornell's Johnson school, you haven't done enough legwork for your MBA.  But the opportunity to acquire degrees from BOTH of those schools simultaneously may prove irresistible to future international moguls -- at least, the schools hope that it will.

It's far too early to make any predictions about how this experiment will turn out -- after all, it was just announced two days ago! -- but this much we can say for sure.  It may be the first experiment of this type, but it will not be the last.  Business schools are concerned about market contraction, and they're doing their best to differentiate themselves, to create unique opportunities and advantages to help them stand out.  Although the number of people who intend to work actively in both Mandarin and English is a limited subset of all MBA applicants, it's a big one, and likely to grow.

These type of announcements are exactly why, if YOU are applying to business school this year, you should be tuned to the b-school news websites (like ours!).  You never know when a new opportunity might open up that would be a perfect fit for your candidacy.


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Once again, the number of medical school students exceeds the number of available residencies.

By Ben Feuer


Thanks to a shortfall in Medicare funding, this year there were 412 medical school students who were unable to secure residencies, a necessary step toward becoming a physician.

Obviously, this isn't good -- but it's also not unexpected.  Every desirable discipline is becoming more competitive, and medicine is no different.

So how does this affect you?  If you have not yet applied to medical school, understand that more than ever, IT MATTERS WHERE YOU ARE ADMITTED, and the significance is likely to increase over time.  Don't take a casual approach to your application. (I'm sure you weren't planning to!)

If you are already IN school, be realistic about your relative performance at your school and cast your net wide enough that you are very likely to secure a residency.  Treat it as you would a school application -- have reaches and safeties to prevent being left out in the cold.  What discipline you choose matters.  What geographic region you choose matters.  Don't put yourself in an impossible situation.

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In a fascinating New York Times article, HBS openly discusses its struggles with how to handle online courses.  How does it affect your candidacy?

By Ben Feuer

In the increasingly interconnected world we live in, it is less and less surprising every time the curtain is pulled back from a storied institution, only to reveal the same kind of fear, uncertainty, innovation and courage one encounters in every other walk of life.  For those of you that put top B-Schools on a pedestal, who live and die by the US News Rankings, take a look at how the professors at these schools actually see themselves -- potential future dinosaurs.

Harvard Business School, quite possibly the most storied institution in all of business education, is openly in crisis.  The internet has disrupted many well established business models, and education might well be the next tower to crumble.  The New York Times article linked above shows the professors's thinking about this crisis and how to handle it.

So you're planning to apply to HBS this year.  How does this affect you?

Well for one thing, you should be aware of HBX, a new initiative by the business school to offer a kind of 'pre-MBA' certification at a (relatively) low cost.  Is it free, like Coursera or Edx?  Nope.  But it doesn't really function like those services do -- it's more interactive, and the pieces of paper it plans to hand out are potentially more valuable, although ultimately the marketplace will determine that.

Another thing to be aware of is the potential for top teachers at these institutions to become free agents, educating the world and earning top dollar for doing so.  This should matter to you because understanding your professors, and finding common ground with their ambitions and initiatives can really help you in your application process.  You have valuable insights to share on which teaching methods work for you and which don't, and the more articulate you can be in your feedback, the more potential there is for you to help your teachers grow.

But the most valuable aspect of this article is that it gives you a firsthand opportunity to watch how top thinkers in leadership deal with potential future crises (spoiler: they don't all agree about what should be done, but they are equally proactive and thoughtful in pursuing their various approaches).  You can emulate this in your own work and nonprofit initiatives and make a good impression in your essays.

So the next time you find yourself thinking that Harvard is a magical land where everything always goes smoothly, remember this article, and know that it takes at least as much work to remain the best as it does to become the best.


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