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Many parents of aspiring doctors have asked me how they can choose the optimal college for medical school acceptance.  The answer is simple -- there is no answer.

 By David Thomas, Photo by Damon Sacks

Recently, the mom of a high school student asked me if I could, as an educational consultant, supply her with a list of colleges and universities that had high rates of acceptance to medical school. She had found a number of them via Colleges That Change Lives. She stumbled onto others via internet searches.

In my capacity as both a college and medical school admissions consultant, I have been asked to supply lists like these many times. The problem is always the same; it's impossible.

Why?  Many colleges boast high medical acceptance rates that are practically meaningless, since each school uses its own methodology to calculate the statistics, creating wildly misleading results.

Some colleges only calculate the number of students who were accepted to medical school using the college's officially sanctioned Pre-Med Committee. So if 100 students declare freshman year that they are applying to medical school, 50 drop out after not doing well on prerequisites, 20 get a high-enough GPA to qualify for a Committee Letter, and 18 of those 20 get into medical school. So the school claims a 90% acceptance rate, but could as easily claim a rate of 18%.  Cornell is a great example of a school like this.

But wait, it gets more complicated.  Some of the students apply without a committee letter -- let's say 30.  And 10 of those get in, meaning out of the ACTUAL APPLICANTS to medical school, 28 out of 50 got in, which yields a 56% acceptance rate.  So depending on how you look at it, 18%, 56% or 90% of Cornell applicants get into medical school.

And of course, some colleges do not have a Pre-Med Committee. In those cases, schools usually publish simple acceptance rates.  Because of the statistical gamesmanship, these schools can appear to have worse rates of acceptance but actually have BETTER rates!

The sad truth is this; MED SCHOOL ACCEPTANCE STATS ARE UTTERLY MEANINGLESS. Medical school admissions usually starts with a computer-screening process, and computers don’t weight GPAs differently (at least, not yet). In other words, a 3.9 GPA from Fresno State will always trump a 3.5 from Cornell in this process. Once the Secondary Essays are received, and humans begin to get involved in the screening process, then the subjective factors are considered (as in all admissions).

So what is important? DO WELL AS AN UNDERGRAD—wherever you are. How well you do in college is more important than where you went to college. And the existence of a premed committee doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll get better advising there. In fact, the advantages and disadvantages of a premed committee can balance each other out.

Medical school admissions is incredibly nuanced and tricky, and I've just barely given the tiniest example of its complexities. But first and foremost? Ignore the acceptance-rate stats. They are meaningless.

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A study exploring the correlation between expensive and elite colleges and future earnings raises intriguing questions about the efficacy of higher education. 

We here at Forster-Thomas are busy little bees, always improving ourselves for your future benefit.  You're welcome.  Recently, a study came to our attention that we thought was worth passing along to you.

The study looked at two things -- how much does a school's selectivity impact students' future earnings, and how much does a school's cost impact students' future earnings.  The correlation you probably expected to see was nowhere to be found.  At least for the class of 1972 (upon which this study is based), students who were accepted to Harvard but chose to go to Kenyon wound up earning the same amount, on average, as those who actually attended Harvard. 

 However, there was a correlation between cost and future earnings, meaning that those students who were accepted to Harvard but chose to go to San Diego State U. to save money wound up earning less in the future.

This finding, quite frankly, is strange, and it's hard to know exactly what to make of it.  It's easy enough to make up reasons for it to be true; richer students going in tend to earn more money going out, for example.  But what it really suggests is that further study is needed.

It would be particularly helpful to know how this has evolved over time, since 1972 was a period of relatively low cost AND selectivity for all colleges, and the entire admissions landscape has transformed rapidly since then.  We'll keep our ears to the ground for you.


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Medical school admissions is one of the most complicated admissions processes of all -- it is extremely nuanced.  That said, here are the most important factors in admissions decisions, in order.

By David Thomas

So, you want to go to medical school?  Why not?  Doctors are highly compensated and respected professionals, and most, if not all of them, have bright futures and great careers in store.  Of course, becoming a doctor isn't as simple as just waving a magic stethoscope -- first, you have to attend a little thing called medical school, which means that you have to get into medical school (and thrive there).

Aspiring doctors (and their parents) often ask us what the most important factors are in determining who makes it into top medical schools like Johns Hopkins, Harvard, U. Penn Perelman and Yale.  Unfortunately, the answers are far from simple -- medical school admissions is arguably the most complex of all admissions processes.  That said, this checklist will give you a solid grasp of the basics.

1.  A high GPA in your prerequisites

 

Median GPA for a top 10 school should be in the 3.7+ range, with exceptionally high grades in  prerequisite courses such as
biology behavioral science
organic chemistry demonstration of writing skills
inorganic (general) chemistry calculus
physics social sciences
biochemistry general chemistry
humanities

2.  A high MCAT score

a score of 25.2 puts you at the 50th Percentile. A score of 31.6, one standard deviation from the mean, corresponds with the 84th Percentile, and a score of 38, two standard deviations from the mean, corresponds with the 99th Percentile. - See more at: https://benchprep.com/mcat/prep/what-is-a-good-mcat-score#sthash.3UGAMk8M.dpuf

You can read a bit more about it here, but the basics are as follows -- A score of 25.2 puts you at the 50th Percentile. A score of 31.6, one standard deviation from the mean, corresponds with the 84th Percentile, and a score of 38, two standard deviations from the mean, corresponds with the 99th Percentile.  For a top school, you'll want to be in the 85+ percentile, ideally 90+.

a score of 25.2 puts you at the 50th Percentile. A score of 31.6, one standard deviation from the mean, corresponds with the 84th Percentile, and a score of 38, two standard deviations from the mean, corresponds with the 99th Percentile. - See more at: https://benchprep.com/mcat/prep/what-is-a-good-mcat-score#sthash.3UGAMk8M.dpuf

3.  Great volunteer and clinical work

Show distinction by focusing on a particular area of practice -- show initiative by scouring local hospitals and nursing homes for good opportunities.  Most of all, show that you have a human side -- that you are not just a brain on stilts.

4.  Shadowing experience

Shadowing is a great chance to build up your bedside manner, get to know how a real doctor operates, and have some experience dealing with patients -- all of which matters a lot to top medical schools.

5.  At least one research experience (much more if you plan on applying for an MD/PhD)

Top medical schools want to take students who already know they like medicine and want to pursue it as a career, and lab experience helps show that you have thought things through.  Having trouble finding a good opportunity?  Check out this link for some tips.

6. A demonstrated interest in liberal arts and broad coursework

Fun fact -- philosophy majors have a higher acceptance rate to medical school than biology majors!  Part of this is a simple numbers game, but mostly this has to do with relatability -- after all, bedside manner counts for something, and no teacher wants to spend four years training a school full of technocrats.

So there you have it!  The six most important factors in determining whether that coveted 'admit' will be yours.  Get to cracking those books and chasing down those volunteering opportunities -- and don't forget to take a break and have a sandwich every once in a while!

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More questions? Get a free consultation or call 212-741-9090.


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It’s getting toward that time of year when prospective students begin to sweat out their applications to art school, film school, creative writing school and the like.  What do all those programs have in common?  They require statements of purpose.  But what the hell is a statement of purpose, anyway, and how do you write a good one?  Read on and find out.

By Ben Feuer, photo by Drew Coffman

Most people are confused by the very idea of a statement of purpose.  They look at it and think to themselves, “Well, isn’t it obvious?  I’m here, aren’t I?”  One of the downsides of being trapped in your own mind all day (aside from the redundancy) is that it’s difficult to see the world from someone else’s perspective — say, for example, your average admissions officer.  Perhaps there are six types of candidates for a given program — adcom wants to know what type you are so they have an idea who to compare you with.  They want to know what you’ve done and what you’re planning to do.  So no, your work samples and your resume do not speak for themselves.  You do.  And if you’re smart, you’ll see it as an opportunity.

Take us on a journey.  Another way of looking at a personal statement is as a way to answer the question, who are you and why do you need our program at this stage of your life?  Both parts of the question are important, and together they should form a kind of continuum — there should be a path you can identify yourself as being on (even if you didn’t know it at the time!).  For instance, if you started out writing serialized fiction but you’re now more interested in nonfiction because of some fabulous experiences you had abroad last year, and you want an MFA to refocus your efforts, that’s a journey.  If you’re an intellectual with a good eye who wants the chance to work with intuitive artists and better understand how they function, that’s a journey too.  It’s about transformation.  Before and (hopefully) after.

Don’t be modest — but don’t brag either. 
Sorry about the twin pitfalls, but you really do have to walk a tightrope with the content of your SOP.  Basically, if you come across as too accomplished, you won’t leave any room for the school to shape you as a writer (which is what they do).  If you come across as too self-deprecating, you won’t make any impression at all.

One important tip to remember — it’s a good idea to use the personal statement to subtly highlight other strengths of your candidacy — GPA, publications, or anything else you’re particularly proud of.  You can’t count on a bored reader to weigh every aspect of your application seriously, so make sure they don’t overlook what’s awesome about you.

Name names.  Time and time again people overlook this simple fact — doing research into your target school (and who’s going to be reading your essays), studying their work and taking something useful away from it is ONE OF THE MOST USEFUL THINGS YOU CAN DO to improve your odds of getting in.  Why?  Because everybody likes to be liked.  That, and it shows you didn’t just blindly reuse a personal statemen from another school.

This also goes for those of you who have worked with interesting/famous people, by the way — everyone enjoys a little bit of insider info about a celeb.

Be concise.  It varies by program, but typically two pages of personal statement is more than enough.  Divide your time roughly evenly between discussing your personal journey and what you want to get out of the program you’re applying to.  Notice I said ‘evenly’?  You’re going to focus 75% or more on your personal history in your first draft.  That’s OK.  Do more research and rebalance.

Get advice.  Don’t try to go it alone.  It’s extremely difficult, if not impossible, to evaluate your own personal statement objectively — your brain automatically fills in gaps others will miss.  Plus, it never hurts to have another set of eyes looking for typos.

That’s about it!  I hope this was useful, and that you spend many happy hours at your choice of MFA program with the help of this little advisory column.  If you have questions, just email me.

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Going from a HBS optional to a Stanford WMM can be quite challenging -- it requires you to add personal and social context to what began as a simple achievement story.

In order to do a great job at repurposing, you must first understand the fundamental difference between the two essays.

A great HBS optional essay boldly differentiates you and establishes your credentials (and style) as a leader, while also including elements of self-discovery and personal growth.

A great What Matters Most essay focuses on self-discovery and personal growth, with leadership material seamlessly integrated into the larger narrative.

To go from a great HBS essay to a great Stanford essay, therefore (we’re assuming you already have a great HBS essay), follow these steps.

    1.    Explore the larger context.  Look beyond leadership, beyond the obvious results of the story and what they meant for you, your company, et cetera.  That was more than enough for HBS — they just wanted something ‘different’, something they didn’t already know — but Stanford wants to know what matters most to you and why, and that’s a big question.
    2.    Talk to someone who knows you.  More than any other essay in the b-school canon, the What Matters Most essay requires insight into what makes you tick.  Sometimes a close friend or a family member sees patterns in your life that you don’t.  Try to pull out patterns in your life that connect to the central HBS incident you’re describing.  Not just successes — failures matter too!
    3.    Beginning and ending.  When you’re rewriting an essay of this kind, build around the middle.  The middle, the description of the moment, is usually mostly correct, needing only minor adjustments.  But the preamble and the way you talk about the outcome often need to change completely.

Think of it this way -- WMM is about the journey, and HBS is about the destination.  If you are a naturally introspective person who thinks a lot about the choices you make in life and why you make them, you will probably find WMM easier to write.  If you are more comfortable talking about leadership, accomplishments and professional life, the HBS optional will be easier.
 
No matter which essay you are starting from, the most important thing to think about is the focus of the central story you are telling – the defining moment.  You need to find that personal evolution or leadership slant that brings the essay to life.

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Repurposing a Stanford Essay for HBS is not as easy as it might sound, but it can absolutely be done -- sometimes. 

 

In order to do a great job at repurposing, you must first understand the fundamental difference between the two essays.


A great What Matters Most essay focuses on self-discovery and personal growth, with leadership material seamlessly integrated into the larger narrative.


A great HBS optional essay boldly differentiates you and establishes your credentials (and style) as a leader, while also including elements of self-discovery and personal growth.


To go from a great Stanford essay to a great Harvard essay, therefore (we’re assuming you already have a great Stanford essay), follow these steps.


STANFORD:

  1. Define your defining moment.  You can’t really understand your WMM essay without being able to articulate clearly the defining moment.  Understand what happened and why this, rather than any other story, is the one you are telling.

  2. Look for HBS hooks.  The version of the story you wrote out is targeted for Stanford.  It probably has references to family and soul-searching that aren’t going to play particularly well at Harvard, which is more achievement-focused.  What are the concrete accomplishments you have to show?  What, if anything, was unique, or at least unusual, about what you did?

  3. Beginning and ending.  When you’re rewriting an essay of this kind, build around the middle.  The middle, the description of the moment, is usually mostly correct, needing only minor adjustments.  But the preamble and the way you talk about the outcome often need to change completely.


Think of it this way -- WMM is about the journey, and HBS is about the destination.  If you are a naturally introspective person who thinks a lot about the choices you make in life and why you make them, you will probably find WMM easier to write.  If you are more comfortable talking about leadership, accomplishments and professional life, the HBS optional will be easier.

 

No matter which essay you are starting from, the most important thing to think about is the focus of the central story you are telling – the defining moment.  You need to find that personal evolution or leadership slant that brings the essay to life.

BTW, if you are going from WMM to HBS, don’t get lazy. Make SURE to remove all references to the phrase “what matters most”.  It’s kind of a dead giveaway.

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Everyone likes the idea of saving time on an application by repurposing one school’s prompt for another -- but when it comes to HBS and GSB, the ‘big dogs’, is it a good idea, or a risky move likely to backfire?  Read on and find out.

Applying to business school is a time-consuming and difficult process, and it’s quite natural that applicants want to take shortcuts wherever possible.  One of the most commonly MISUSED shortcuts is to mindlessly reuse a Stanford essay for HBS.  

 

HBS does make it easy for you to do this – they don’t provide a whole lot of structure for their essay, and they don’t even give a word limit! In other words, HBS gives you just enough rope to hang yourself. Don’t worry -- we’re gonna make sure you do it right.  There are good reasons to repurpose a Stanford WMM for HBS.  Laziness is not one of them.

 

Instead, think about the defining moment (your WMM essay DOES have a defining moment, right?  If not, read our blog here on how to write an amazing WMM essay).  Is it personal in nature, or professional?  Almost all great WMM essays have a purely personal component to them – a change in thinking or attitude, a struggle or failure overcome.  The current HBS essay prompt doesn’t necessarily call for this, however. In fact, we’d say err on the side of leadership. It’s HBS, after all, AKA, MBA with an Attitude.  


So, say your story--be it Stanford or HBS--is one in which you evolve a lot?  Stanford WMM essays often focus on change, coming to terms with a difficult truth or finding a new way to attack a thorny problem. Your HBS essay may simply be recounting of an exceptional moment in your life. Both essays say “leader”, but the approach is different. After all, GSB is asking “What Matters Most…” HBS is asking you to reveal that you are HBS--or not. Up to you.

Stay tuned for our subsequent posts on HOW to repurpose your WMM for HBS, and vice versa.

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Stanford continues to have one of the toughest essays in all of MBA admissions.  Here are our tips on how to attack it. 

What matters most to you, and why? (750 words)

  • The best examples of Essay 1 reflect the process of self-examination that you have undertaken to write them.
  • They give us a vivid and genuine image of who you are—and they also convey how you became the person you are.
  • They do not focus merely on what you've done or accomplished. Instead, they share with us the values, experiences, and lessons that have shaped your perspectives.
  • They are written from the heart and address not only a person, situation, or event, but also how that person, situation, or event has influenced your life. 

My favorite responses to Stanford’s What Matters Most question are always the ones where the candidate really digs down deep and reveals a personal journey that he or she went on—one that created change in his or her life and the lives of those around them. 

The setting? On or off the job—it doesn’t matter. Why? Because the personal always affects the professional and the professional always affects the personal. They are inextricably linked and anyone who says otherwise has simply never been what I like to call “a 24-7 leader”—and that’s what Stanford GSB, or any top business school, is looking for.

Leadership is a way of being, something you come to through a challenging experience that you take on despite your fears or even because of them. And that’s how you zero in on what to write about for Stanford’s prompt:  What Matters Most to You and Why?

Search for SPECFIC moments in your life wherein you had to:

1)   Step Up—formally or informally, elected, chosen or volunteered.

2)   Stay the course -- despite everything falling apart around you or working against you.

3)   Race against the clock—be it three months, three weeks, three days.

4)   Organize and motivate a group—not just something you did all by yourself, because managing others is key.

5)   Leave something behind -- Change the way things go from now on with that circumstance. 

Out of these comes what matters most to you.  (Don’t forget to write “what matters most to me is…” You’d be surprised by how many people leave this crucial line out. Even if it’s obvious, writing these words in your response says “I respect the admissions committee enough to be clear and to the point.”) 

In short, my favorite—and most successful—“What Matters Most To You and Why?” responses are always based on a defining moment in your past that changed the way you think about yourself and the world. Then the essay pivots from that story to how the insight you gained from that defining moment has driven some recent accomplishment—personally or professionally.

Why Stanford?  (350 words)

  • Please explain why Stanford is your first choice of MBA program, and how you will make use of the unique opportunities it provides.

This is a classic 'why our school' prompt -- check out our previous blog on how to answer these questions concisely and effectively.


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Applying for an MBA is a big, complicated process.  If you are applying in round two, it means that you can't afford to get anything wrong, because you do not want to slip to round three.  Here are some key things you should be thinking about to prepare. 

Are you rounding out any ongoing leadership commitments?  If you started something earlier in the year, is it close to completion?  If not completion, how about a milestone, something you can point to as a concrete sign of progress?  Metrics always help here.  If you don’t have any, think about how you might be able to get some.

Have you made initial contact with your recommenders?  Although it’s WAY too soon to be bugging your recommenders, it is NOT too soon to be having a preliminary conversation to feel out their eagerness to BE recommenders.  Feel them out in a casual conversation.  Get a sense of how much work they’re going to want to do, and how much will be on your shoulders.  Find out if they plan to be away or traveling at any point, to protect yourself from future faux pas.

Have you thought about your goals?  Most candidates have a general idea of what they want to do with their MBA (although some don’t even have that!), but wherever you are right now with your thinking about goals, you want to push it to the next level.  If you haven’t narrowed it down to one goal, do so.  If you have one goal, what is transformative about it (for the world, not just for you)?  In other words, why should be be excited?  What are you going to do better, or differently?

Are you satisfied with your GMAT?  If so, great, on to the next problem.  If not, do you already know when you are planning to retake?  Have you blocked out time to study?  Have you chosen a test location that will feel safe and comfortable, and protected the week before you have to take the test?  You don’t want last minute bombshells falling in your lap.

Have you blocked out time to visit schools?  Top schools are competitive, and class visits and admissions info sessions fill up fast.  If you can possibly manage it, you should be planning to visit all of your target schools, because it demonstrates interest and strengthens your essays.  To make the most out of your visit, NOW is the time to think about all the problems that might arise.

Have other questions about your application?  Just ask us!


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Chicago Booth has only one essay for first-time applicants this year, and it is their traditional open-ended question.  How should you approach it?

Chicago Booth values adventurous inquiry, diverse perspectives, and a collaborative exchange of ideas.  This is us. Who are you?  There is no prescribed minimum or maximum length.  We trust that you will use your best judgment in determining how long your submission should be, but we recommend that you think strategically about how to best allocate the space.  Acceptable formats are PDF, Word and Powerpoint.

Give Booth some credit.  Before the 'no-page-limit', 'open-ended' prompt was adopted by HBS (and suddenly, shockingly became all the rage) they firmly held to this approach year after year.  Other essays would come and go, but Booth's open-ended essay has been around for a long time.

That's not to say there have not been changes.  Booth used to constrain the length to 4 Powerpoint Slides or pages, which naturally gave rise to a certain kind of storytelling (Stern still does this).  Now, of course, since Booth has eliminated this requirement, it would be a bad idea to repurpose a Stern essay for Booth -- too obvious.  Likewise, just because HBS has you writing open-ended essays now does not mean that you can just reuse the sentiments (or worse yet, the entire essay) for Booth.  Quite frankly, Booth and HBS are not concerned with the same things, and a fit for one school will not be the same as for another.

Also, do not underestimate the value of a good multimedia presentation!  Most people look at multimedia as 'a lot of work' or 'not in their wheelhouse'.  Well, yeah, that's exactly the point.  By going that extra mile, securing some help with your multimedia component, and putting together something well thought out that takes good advantage of the medium, you will already be setting your candidacy apart from dozens of others in your bucket.  You want differentiation?  This is your chance.
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