By Ben Feuer. Photo by Miniyo73.

Six years ago, we wouldn't be having this conversation. That is the first, and in many ways, the most important, thing to remember about Online MBAs. They are new. Brand new, really. And they have to be approached the same way we approach any new product, namely, with a blend of optimism and caution. We here at Forster-Thomas have seen quite a few clients evaluate or choose online, executive and part-time MBA options, and we have helped people make those decisions. As such, we felt it was high time someone helped people understand the pros and cons of online MBAs. Hence, this article.

THE CONS

We're going to address these first, and make no mistake, they're substantial.

JOB PLACEMENT IS A CHALLENGE. Even the most optimistic numbers show 20% lower success rates for top online MBAs vs their equivalent 2-year programs. In other words, Kenan-Flagler 2-year MBA places 20% more students in jobs than Kenan-Flagler Online. And that's considering only the sheer number of placements, not factoring in the quality of those jobs, industry or salary. There are a couple of reasons for this. One of the big ones is that online MBA students have less access to organic networking and traditional recruiting than their 2-year peers. Another reason is the cohort of the online students themselves -- they tend to be older, and from non-traditional backgrounds, which disadvantages them versus pliable youngsters. Finally, recruiters (and the machines that do much of their work for them) are still leery of online degrees -- the fact that low-quality product was the first to hit the market negatively impacted first impressions of the degree, and it's taking time for employers to warm up to the idea of learning leadership by yourself in your bedroom. 

THE COST IS HIGH, CONSIDERING. You might assume that cost would be a strength of the online MBA, but in fact, schools are charging almost as much (or in some cases, exactly as much) for the online degree as for the 2-year degree. You're taking the same number of classes with the same professors, and earning the same degree at the end, so it's not completely unjustified. Nevertheless, it's definitely a frustrating fact.

INTERNSHIPS ARE TRICKY. On-campus recruiting and internships are much diminished in online MBAs. Schools are working to counter this as best they can, but it will be years (probably many years) before career-shifters are well-served by the online option.

So why would you do an online MBA? Well, there are several important pro's -- 

THE PROS

THE PROFESSORS (AND STUDENTS) ARE TOP-NOTCH. The myth that an online MBA is isolating is just not true. The top programs go to great lengths to make sure students are speaking with professors and each other at least once a week. Courses, classwork and professors are the same online as they are at the brick-and-mortar equivalents. As long as you put in the work, you'll be able to pass the same tests and achieve the same professional results as any other MBA student.

FLEXIBILITY IS UNMATCHED. A top-20 MBA (or an M7 MBA, if you're that kind of elitist) remains the Lamborghini of degrees. But not everybody is equipped to drive one, and not everybody needs one. And for some people, the sacrifices involved in getting one aren't worth the trade-off.

Consider the following -- you may not be one of the lucky few who's able to take time off your job AND go into mountains of debt -- and even if you are, and even if you do get that promotion or career change you're angling for, that kind of money may take 5-10 years to earn back, making the ROI less attractive at 2-year programs.

Some students aren't able to travel the long distances required to learn at a top institution. Family or other life circumstances hold them back. Their options are to go with a potentially sketchy local or community college degree, or an online MBA. The online may well be the better choice of those two.

You may be in an age range MBA programs don't target, or your career experience may not be in line with your academic ability, and therefore you can't get accepted to a program that's rigorous enough to challenge you (and provide you with all that fantastic on-campus recruiting so many crave). Again, that makes the online more attractive.

WHO IS IT GOOD FOR?

It's a mistake to think of the online MBA as an 'alternative', or worse still, a 'replacement' for the traditional 2-year. It isn't now, and it may not be for a long time. But executive MBAs, part-time MBAs, night-weekend MBAs and Mini-MBAs may indeed be threatened, and ultimately subsumed by this newcomer. 

The best thing about the online MBA is that you don't have to give up your job, move or commute. Therefore, right now it's best for people who are happy with their current situation but want to move up the ladder. If you are promoted internally while earning that degree, as many online MBA students are, your next lateral move won't be concerned with how you earned your MBA, simply that you have it. After all, the best online MBAs make no distinction as to where or how the degree was earned. A Kenan-Flagler MBA is a Kenan-Flagler MBA. 

It's also a great option for people who are, for whatever reason, outside the realistic target of the top 20 MBA programs. You get a much more valuable degree at a lower cost, a better education, and better networking options, assuming you are able to apply yourself and work well in an online learning environment, and assuming you are pro-active and eager to network and seek opportunities in your area. 

It's probably not the right choice for emigres, career shifters, or people entering highly selective hiring processes -- yet. But give it time. As certifications and skill tests grow in popularity, employers will have a more objective way to judge achievement than a name on the diploma -- and at that point, it's anybody's party.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE BEST ONLINE MBAs RIGHT NOW?

There are a couple of ways to look at this question. Since most people considering an online MBA are also considering 2-year and other options, we feel that at this time, students' best bet is to go for a degree that is viewed as similarly as possible to the 2-year equivalent, at schools with a reputation for high quality academics. As such, our top choices as of this writing are --



HOW TO GET IN

Top online MBAs are extremely selective, with between 25 and 45 percent acceptance rates. Those numbers are in line with many excellent non M7 programs, such as Yale SOM and Duke Fuqua. And as employers grow to accept the degree, expect those numbers to plummet. The relative ease of access (and perceived ease of earning) an online MBA makes them, potentially, much more popular than their brick and mortar counterparts.  

So how can you make yourself appealing? All the typical rules of the MBA game apply (we wrote a whole book about it!), but the online degree does a few tweaks and twists. Students should be prepared to explain why the online MBA specifically is right for them, and should use their storytelling materials to highlight why they will be active and engaged participants in this somewhat unusual learning environment, and how they will be great ambassadors for the school in the future. Online MBAs are going to be very concerned with their reputations for the foreseeable future, so every student they graduate has the potential to put them on the map. You want to be that student for them.

Do you have questions about your particular situation?  Call us, we'll be happy to help.



Article by Ben Feuer, Photo by Kamaljith KV.

Do you watch The Voice?  No?  Your loss, girlfriend. We do, and it's taught us a lot over the years.

One of the things you quickly notice is that it takes more than just a great set of pipes to make the cut -- after all, there are way more top-notch singers than there are opportunities for said singers to make ends meet. And in the end, on a competition show, there can be only one. So how do you make the choice between two singers, equally qualified, equally driven?

Go to the backstory.

That's what the producers of the show do every day. They plumb the depths of family history, trying to ferret out those little nuggets of gold that take a competitor from being just another voice in the crowd to an unforgettable story echoing across the hills.
What's all this got to do with essays?

Simple. You may not have a producer, but you are on a competition show. It's called applying to graduate school. And you'd better not be thinking that a couple of mindless sound bytes about your professional accomplishments, film festival placements or showy shadowing experiences are going to set you apart from the pack. On the contrary; they're likely to bury you inside it even more deeply.

What is unique about me?  This is a question that many people find terrifying. Understandable -- it's extremely nerve-wracking to stand out. It's not easy being different. But it is important, when writing essays, passing outlines to recommenders, shooting videos and prepping for interviews, that you have a sense of yourself, and one of the best places to start looking is your own family tree.

Start with the basics. What did your father do for a living? Your mother? Who was your primary caregiver? Where did you grow up? How big of an extended family did you have? How close are you to your brothers and sisters, in age and in mindset?  What role do you play in the family, and who was your role model?  Do you pride yourself on being the same, or different, from the people who surround you? 

These questions, and the dozens of others like them, serve as the root of your identity. You are not your numbers, nor are you your resume. You are the amalgam of the influences that have shaped you over the years. Whoever raised you, their values and beliefs are imprinted on you, unconsciously, most likely, so it's important that you be able to enumerate what the heck they are!

Develop a hypothesis. It's not enough to assemble facts. People need stories to make sense of the world, and you will need a story to understand what your childhood meant to you. It may be a profound story, or a rather simple one. It may have a happy ending, a sad one, or the story may be in process (unfinished). That's fine, but you still need to understand what it is. In a paragraph or two, start assembling the various data points into a cohesive narrative. I am the son of two immigrants, who taught me to work hard and with integrity. I am the wild child of a brilliant family, and I have spent my entire life so far looking for somewhere to belong. I am the overachiever who no one expected to go anywhere, least of all my alcoholic mother. There are no wrong answers, and no right ones. Only true ones.

See your family as characters. Write brief physical descriptions of them, like you were describing a stranger. Try to simplify their personality into two or three basic ideas. Give the world a thumbnail sketch of the people who were in your life, and it'll go a long way to helping them understand you.  

Write fearlessly. The greatest enemy most people face in the essay writing process is their own reluctance to speak, clearly and forcefully, about the things they have seen, done and overcome. You can turn this weakness into a strength if you are willing to open up, willing to accept imperfections in yourself and those you love. There are no saints, no perfect people, so why pretend that you and your loved ones just happen to be the exception?

***

This is just the beginning of your journey. Writing about family doesn't just make for a great essay or two, it can also be the beginning of new clarity about who you are and why you do what you do. And, if you can carry a tune, it might get you on a stage in front of a panel of celebrity judges. So sharpen your pencils and get to work (and if you get stuck, call).

Monday, December 19, 2016

How to edit your essay



Article by Ben Feuer, photo by Susan Fitzgerald

So after an exhaustive and exhausting effort, you've finally completed all of your first drafts. Great news!  Now the real fun begins -- editing!  Many people don't realize that editing and rewriting is, in fact, the most demanding and time-consuming part of the writing process. It's the stage where you refine your initial ideas, make them easier to understand, and get rid of everything that's superfluous or confusing. While it's impossible to boil all of our expertise down to a page and a half, here are a few of our top tips on the topic.

Think like a reporter. Before a reporter begins to write the details of his story, he makes sure to clearly establish all the facts. Since you are, in essence, the reporter of your life story when you write an essay, you have to make sure that whoever is reading it is properly equipped to make sense, not just of what the story is, but of why you're telling it.  It might feel didactic to you, writing down dates, names of important characters, and laying out your themes in plain language at the start of the essay, but it will make it easier on everyone in the long run, and clarifying is an important part of the editing process.

Know what to cut. How can you decide what is essential to your story, and what isn't?  Refer back to the basic facts of your story, and the reason you're telling it. For example, if you're trying to make a point about how your relationship with your father has evolved over the years, details of your work performance, however intriguing, just don't fit. On the other hand, if the prompt you're answering demands details of a time you were an outstanding leader, maybe don't focus so much on details about the organization or why you decided to take on this opportunity in the first place. Effective editing is making the core story stand out!

Read your work aloud. One of the best pieces of advice you'll ever get (and one you're very unlikely to follow) is the tip that you can always catch several mistakes in your work if you read it out loud before sending it to anyone. People are reluctant to do this for many reasons -- they feel awkward, it seems slow and inefficient. But it's still the best and most reliable way to make certain you're submitting something error-free.

Stick to the word count. People often think that if they throw in just a little bit extra, they'll be improving their essay. Not so!  When you have to read a hundred of them in a row, you're always looking for excuses to get rid of a few applications quickly, and failing to follow the rules is an easy one. On the other hand, if you're UNDER the word count, that's fine, as long as you're fully answering the question.

Ask for help. It's nearly impossible to be your own editor. Get a trusted collaborator to help go over it with you at least a couple of times. Otherwise, you'll never be fully confident that your message is coming across clearly and without mistakes!

Need more advice?  Reach out to us and we'll be happy to help.  In the meantime, happy revising and good luck with your applications!

Thursday, December 01, 2016

The Entrepreneur's Guide to MBA Applications



Article by Ben Feuer, photo by The Stoe

Entrepreneurship is a growing sector of business worldwide, and many entrepreneurs are looking at MBAs, eMBAs, or other high-level masters degrees to help round out their skill sets, meet new people and encounter new opportunities. These applicants face a unique set of challenges, but also bring a unique set of strengths. In this guide, we'll deliver all the essentials, covering how to stand out.


Areas you're likely to be strong.


1. Hands-on leadership. As an entrepreneur, you've likely had two or more direct reports, overseen budgets and dealt effectively with vendors and lawyers, all strengths the investment banking crowd can't usually claim.  Use these hands-on experiences in your essays and talk to your recommenders about highlighting them as well. But don't just say that you were a leader, say what kind of a leader you were. Be descriptive and make helpful distinctions for b-schools so they can separate you from the pack.

2. Crisis Management. You've probably faced some seriously hair-raising situations where your entire business was put at risk, and come out of them the other side. These make great stories for your essays, but only if you know how to put them in the proper context. It's not enough to simply explain what happened -- you have to help us re-live the experience with you, and walk us through your decision process as a leader, almost like a case study.

3. Visionary goal-setting.  The most exciting thing about entrepreneurs is their capacity to dream big. So don't come to the table simply saying, "I'd like to be a management consultant," even if you do want to be one!  Find a visionary, exciting, empowering way to look at this career change. You're an entrepreneur, a maker, a trend-setter -- don't just be 'another X', be the first, smartest, or best XY.


Areas you're likely to be weak.



1. Volunteering, extracurriculars and non-profit work. Entrepreneurs are often busy, and are usually too focused on succeeding in their business to worry about backup plans. So when their first idea doesn't pan out and an MBA starts to look more attractive, they haven't done all the groundwork b-schools like to see as far as service and community engagement go. If you're in this boat, you have to start engaging with organizations immediately. Look for places where you can offer meaningful skills and help on a high level -- the usual one-off events, mentoring and tutoring are only slight improvements over having nothing at all. Can you fundraise, work on strategy, or develop deeper relationships with streams of volunteers or key donors?

2. International exposure. Diversity is a key element of the mix these days at top business schools, and international diversity is a very important factor in class balance. A student without meaningful foreign exposure risks seeming uncompetitive in today's market. Applicants with time to develop their candidacies should look into forging new relationships abroad, exploring business opportunities or collaborations overseas, or simply take a foreign language immersion course or an extended service trip for a month or two.

3. Comfort discussing failure. Since most entrepreneurs applying to b-school are failed entrepreneurs (no shame, just saying), it's really important to be able to show that you have learned from your mistakes and found ways to bounce back, stronger than ever, in your next proposed venture.  Don't avoid your failure, don't apologize for it, and don't blame others for it. Instead, take a powerful, full-responsibility stance on what happened, and show how you have grown and rebounded after what was probably an emotionally draining experience.

If you bear in mind these basics and incorporate your own set of strengths and weaknesses, you'll be well on your way to success in the application game. But if you're more than a year out from your MBA application and looking for ways to make yourself a stronger candidate, contact us about our leadership action program, and we'll get an expert to help plan your next few pre-MBA career moves.

 

Article by Ben Feuer, photo by Eli Pousson

When it comes to getting into a top undergraduate filmmaking BFA like Chapman, all creative materials are definitely not created equal.  What can you do to make your application stand out?

One of the rising stars in the world of film, Chapman University has made a number of bold and innovative moves over the past ten years to put itself on the map, including a highly engaging program for teenaged filmmakers, a massive budget for equipment, high-end soundstages and industry networking. So what does it take to join their hallowed ranks?  Well, first, you have to get into the school -- no mean feat, as top film schools have become more selective every year, with Chapman’s circling around a skimpy 15 percent.

The most important component of your application is going to be your creative portfolio.  Simply put, if it's great, you're in.  Here are the required elements for the Chapman creative portfolio in Film Production for undergraduates, and how to nail each one.

Dodge College Personal Statement. In 500 words or less, tell us what about your distinct experiences/background/values makes you a unique candidate for the program for which you are applying. Please focus on what makes you unique as a person beyond any direct experience you may have in your intended field of study. Use this prompt to talk about aspects of yourself that are not already covered in other parts of your application.

How you handle a personal essay will be different for undergraduate and graduate students. For undergraduates, Chapman is also going to see your Common App essay and supplements, so they’ll know a lot about the fundamentals of who you are as a person, what you believe in and what you’re all about – assuming you’ve done a good job with those essays, of course!  Paradoxically, it’s better to write about your love for film in the common app and write about something else in your portfolio – film schools don’t really like hearing about students’ film experience, they prefer to shape and mold their little charges themselves.

They want to know your story -- your personal, human narrative -- that led you to this point of applying to film school. What raw material, what attitudes and experiences, you're going to be drawing upon when you tell your stories.  So tell them a story -- the kind that only you can tell -- yours! And remember that narrative and documentary filmmakers are storytellers, first and foremost. So make sure it’s emotional and compelling!

Major Requirement “Essay”. Prompt: Create a self-introductory video essay no more than two minutes in length. Your video should visually highlight something about yourself, your personality, your interests, etc. that is not related to film. The only rule is that you may NOT appear in the video in any way (including any photographs of yourself), so be creative. We are primarily looking for your strengths at conveying a story visually and for evidence of your creativity rather than your technical abilities.

Format: Videos can be as simple or complex as you like but should have a clear story. You do not have to edit this project; it can be one long shot. Video essays can be live action or a slide show of still images or photographs with text and phrases, or a combination. Videos must not exceed a total running time of two (2) minutes.

For tips on creating your video essay, and for examples of our top video picks, visit the Admission Video Samples page.

This is the question that Chapman has become famous for. It’s a very different challenge than what you’ll face at any other school, which means that Chapman is trying to recruit people who really want to be there (or want it enough to make them a custom video, at least).

A lot of people seem to get tangled up in this question. How am I supposed to make a video about myself without showing myself? But don’t get yourself in a brain freeze just yet, because Chapman specifically suggested you focus on an ASPECT of yourself. A personality trait or an interest. Obviously creativity counts big here, so don’t just start thinking of workarounds (gee, maybe I can cast someone as me, or I just won’t show my face) … believe me, we’ve all seen that before. Instead, look inside yourself and determine what you actually have to say. What makes you you? And figure out the story first and the visuals second. Don’t let the cart drive the horse. Finally, don’t waste a ton of money on this – you are being judged on innovation, not your pocketbook!

Creative Resume

Provide a one-page (max.) resume highlighting 5-7 pieces of what you consider to be your best creative work. These projects should demonstrate your ability to convey a story or message through creative, artistic or technical talents. As we are only asking for a limited number of projects, include more recent items and projects in which you were the driving force or had a leadership role. These can include class assignments, projects from jobs or internships, or your personal hobbies and freelance work. Please note you are NOT to submit any actual materials from this resume at this time.  Please use the following format when structuring your resume:

Title: title of the project (length of project if applicable)

Source and Date of Creation: You may write “freelance” if it was something you did on your own.

Description of item: An in-depth description of the piece, the inspiration or objective, and your specific role in its creation. Also list any awards or special recognition you may have received for the piece.

Example

Articles for the School Newspaper

Journalism I class, 2008

I wrote several feature articles on various topics from the constant flooding of the men’s bathroom to vandalism on campus. I also did a film review for every issue. I helped with the layout of the paper as well as selecting the final photographs.

Unlike some of the other schools, Chapman doesn’t want a comprehensive list here. They just want your 5-7 best projects. They obviously want dates, so they can get a sense of when you have been creative, and in what contexts. And they want full-paragraph descriptions of the project itself.

Note that they’re not limiting you to movies here. Quite the contrary. You can frame a lot of different things as being creative, as long as you’re able to get creative when you write it. J  Figure out what you’ve learned, and what the key challenges were, in each task you undertook.

So, there you are!  Everything you need to craft an awesome portfolio!  If you have more questions, of course, you can always ask me -- happy submitting!

 


Formerly Known As: New England Female Medical College

Median MCAT: 35

Median GPA: 3.74

Degrees Offered: M.D./Ph.D., M.D./M.B.A., M.D./M.P.H., M.D./J.D., M.D./M.S., and a 7-year college->M.D. program

Dean of Admissions: Dr. Robert A. Witzburg

Expertise in systems development in health care delivery and in medical education, with a focus on holistic evaluation of candidates for medical school. Published author in the field of holistic review of medical school applicants.

Core Mission:

Our core mission is training the next generation of physicians, dentists, and scientists. Health sciences education has changed substantially. Although computerization facilitates learning, more information exists to be mastered. Boston University provides today’s health sciences students with distinguished and committed faculty, thoughtful and humanistic mentoring, state-of-the-art learning facilities, and clinical experiences in one of New England’s most respected teaching hospitals, as well as in other locations in the Boston area and internationally. We remain committed to providing future doctors, dentists, scientists, and public health professionals with an outstanding education in both science and humanism.

 

Top Residencies: 

anesthesiology

Obstetrics

emergency medicine

pediatrics

 

 

Application: More here

Two-stage.  First stage MUST be done through AMCAS, with a deadline of October 15th.  There is then a secondary application for P&S with a deadline of November 15th.

BUSM does not pre-screen information from AMCAS. All applicants indicating interest in BUSM on their initial AMCAS application will receive a secondary application from us in due time. All applications are completed electronically. Due to the retention of the current student body, Boston University School of Medicine does not have any slots available for advanced standing in the second or third classes.

Applicants who have not graduated from an accredited U.S. or Canadian institution, but who completed a minimum of two (2) years in such an institution, including all of the prerequisites, may be considered to be eligible and should bring the details of their record to the attention of the Committee on Admissions.  Occasionally a candidate of unusual ability is accepted after attendance for three academic years in an undergraduate school if he or she has satisfactorily completed all of the prerequisites and the minimum entrance requirements of 90 semester hours.

Required Courses --

  • One year of English
  • One year of Biology with labs
  • One year of Physics
  • One year of Humanities
  • Two years of Chemistry, one of which must be Organic Chemistry, one of which must be biochemistry

All prerequisites must be completed before a student can matriculate at BUSM. We generally prefer that applicants take these courses at 4-year undergraduate institution rather than utilize advanced placement credits. If an applicant chooses to use advanced placement credits, rather than taking a course at a 4 year accredited college, he/she will be asked to explain the circumstances as a part of their BUSM secondary application.  The Committee on Admissions will then consider the matter as a part of its comprehensive review of the application.  This applies also to CLEP, community college, and junior college courses as well. 

 

Current Year Questions:

 Secondary Application Essays:

1. Did you go on to college directly after high school? (1400 character limit, approximately 280 words)

This may seem like a trap, but this essay actually has the potential to help you greatly – medical schools strongly prefer applicants with diverse life experiences. Use this prompt to tell them a story, assuming you have one, about the time you spent between high school and college and how it helped you mature or change.

2. Are you expecting to go on to medical school directly after completing your undergraduate degree? If no, explain. (1400 character limit, approximately 280 words)

Be honest and specific.

3. If you have spent more than 4 years as an undergraduate, please explain below (You may skip this question if you have graduated within 4 years.). (1400 character limit, approximately 280 words)

4. Please provide a narrative or timeline to describe any features of your educational history that you think may be of particular interest to us. For example, have you lived in another country or experienced a culture unlike your own, or worked in a field that contributed to your understanding of people unlike yourself? Or, have you experienced advanced training in any area, including the fields of art, music, or sports? This is an opportunity to describe learning experiences that may not be covered in other areas of this application or your AMCAS application. It is not necessary to write anything in this section. (2000 character limit, approximately 400 words)

Don’t try to be comprehensive here – pick a couple things that you consider particularly distinctive or memorable. Use them to shape a story about who you are as a candidate, what you believe in and what life has taught you.

5. (Optional) Use the space below to provide additional information you feel will provide us with a comprehensive understanding of your strengths as a candidate for a career in medicine.This should include only information NOT already included in your AMCAS or other sections of the BUSM Supplemental Application. Most applicants leave this blank. (3000 characters)

 

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Got questions about your application? Schedule a consultation to get some answers.

 


 

 

Article by Ben Feuer, Photo by Dineshraj Goomany

Wondering how much time you should be allotting to complete your application for higher education? Great question, random internet reader!  For your edification, we have prepared a handy-dandy flowchart! Follow this article from top to bottom to figure out exactly how much time you should be budgeting for your application to school.


WHAT TYPE OF PROGRAM ARE YOU APPLYING TO?
Medical School.  +9 weeks.
College. +8 weeks.
Portfolio-based school.  +6 weeks.
Business School. +5 weeks.
Law School.  +4 weeks.
All Others.  +4 weeks.

WILL YOU BE GETTING HELP?
Yes, amateur help. +1 week. It's a great idea to get feedback -- we recommend it -- but people are busy, and your application is not their priority. Expect to lose some time waiting on feedback. +2 weeks if it's your parents.
Yes, professional help.  -1 week.  Professional help saves you time by allowing you to prioritize certain aspects of your application and delegate other parts. However, it also adds complexity to the process and requires more redrafting, so you don't end up saving as much time as you might expect.

ARE YOU A GOOD WRITER?
Do you have a lot of experience writing? Are you filling out applications in your native language? If so, then this part won't slow you down. Break even. If you struggle with writing, tend to procrastinate, or aren't writing in your first language, +10-30%. Use your best judgment about how slow you are by comparing yourself to your peers in historical context (are you always the last to hand in papers?)

HAVE YOU DONE YOUR DUE DILIGENCE?
Yes. Congratulations, this won't slow you down.  Break even.
No. You'll need extra time to choose schools, visit campuses, speak to stakeholders, and familiarize yourself with your schools similarities and differences. +10% per application.

HAVE YOU CHOSEN AND PREPPED YOUR RECOMMENDERS?
Do you know who will be recommending you? Do they know they will be recommending you? Have you given them timelines, talking points and a current resume? If so, break even. If not, +1 week.

ARE YOU PLANNING ANY TRAVEL, VACATION OR AWAY TIME?
If so, add a day to your required time for every day you won't be working.

These numbers presume that you're doing other things at the same time, such as preparing for standardized tests, working or attending school. If you have nothing to do other than apply to school, reduce your final number by -25%.

Worried about your timing? Want to talk things through with someone? We're happy to help.

 

By Ben Feuer, photo by Kevin Dooley

It’s a truth that these days borders on a truism; you can’t get into a top-tier school without a top-tier application. That means having the right names and dates on your resume, having the right numbers in the right boxes, and most importantly of all, connecting with readers through the medium of your personal statement.

If you’re reading this article, you probably already have a sense of what an LL.M degree is and who it’s for. But just in case you’re some sort of zombie with a Google account, the LL.M is a degree for people with international legal training to become academically acquainted with America’s laws and systems. Some folks use it as a way to transition to the US legal market, and others use it as a way to gain prestige in their home countries and advance in their careers. Either way, it’s a useful set of letters to have in your pocket.

The personal statement (or statement of purpose, or personal essay, or whatever your institution of choice prefers to call it) is a bit different for LL.M students than it is for JD applicants (or, for that matter, the wide range of other degrees that call for one). Here are a few vitally important points for you to remember as you start writing.

This is an academic degree. Although many people see it as a professional degree, the LL.M is first and foremost an academic degree, particularly on the higher end. It’s important to emphasize which legal questions and subjects interest you, and to explore how you might advance your understanding of them at your target school. Academics value curiosity, intellectual engagement with the world and a willingness to ask questions, so make sure your essay highlights a few of these qualities.

Be conversational and tell a story. While you’re busy trying to sound smart, remember that all of this fabulous research and thinking you have done in the past and plan to do in the future has to fit into a larger narrative; who are you, and why is this the ideal moment for you to apply for an LL.M?  Far too often I see personal statement drafts that simply list a string of things that happened to you, expecting the reader to connect the emotional dots. Focus less on the what and more on the why of your history, and don’t feel enslaved by chronology – deal with incidents in whatever order best helps you tell your story.

Create a call to action, or engagement. Much like a marketing campaign, personal statements should invite the reader to join the writer on a journey to a specific destination, whether that’s a deeper understanding of a particular point of law or a platform from which to move the world. Once you know your goals and your trajectory, don’t neglect to explain why they matter, not just to you but to those around you. Give schools a reason to support you and they’ll happily do just that.

Still got questions? Of course you do! Fortunately, we’re just an email away, and we’re happy to help you better understand your next steps. Until we meet again, happy writing!


Tuesday, October 04, 2016

How to Research a School



How to Research a School
By Ben Feuer, Photo by tallchris

To gain entry to a top school these days, applicants and parents need to wear a lot of hats – scholar, change-maker, networker. One of the less-appreciated (but vitally important) hats is that of researcher. Across academic disciplines and continents, schools are turning to their full-length bedroom mirrors, striking a pose and whispering to candidates everywhere, “Tell me that you love me.”

The truth is, even though parents and students think of themselves as being in competition for the schools' affection, schools are also in competition with one another to snag the best students. And their preferred mode of salving their academic insecurities, apparently, is by having applicants write worshipful ‘why our school is the best’ essays. It's really not as crazy as it sounds, though, there are some good reasons for it. For one thing, it separates out those who are 'just tossing another on the pile' from those who are serious. And for another thing, schools know that if they make you research them, you just might fall in love with them unexpectedly. That's why somehow, even when essays get cut and word lengths shrink, this topic always seems to stick around.

It ain't because they're popular, we can tell you that much. School research essays drive candidates crazy, and many smart kids who cruise through every other stage of the process get stumped by this one. So we here at Forster-Thomas are taking a few minutes out of our busy schedules to get you up to speed on how to nail your school research.

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Dig deep on a few topics. Most school specific essays are like aerial bombardments or spaghetti foodfights – throw stuff everywhere and hope something sticks.  But the great ones are like surgical scalpels, cutting to the heart of the inherent bond between the candidate and the school. The key question to ask yourself while researching is – Do I care about this aspect of the school?

Once you pull a list of three or four specific things you care about (for a list of possible research topics, check out our other blog on this subject), it’s time to do your deep dive. Figure out the relevant keywords and Google them in various combinations and iterations. Read the first 5-9 links that come up – news articles, Rate my Professor reviews, EventBrites and Meetups, student blogs, Linkedin profiles, what have you. When evaluating this kind of material, the question you need to ask yourself is -- Does this sound different, or better, than how it’s done at other schools? How? Then -- and this is a key step -- WRITE EVERYTHING DOWN. By efficiently combining and clearly referencing your sources now, you’ll be setting the stage for success later.

Think like a reporter. So now you have research. How do you put it to good use? Reporters don’t go into an article wondering what they’re going to learn. They already know most of the basic facts of the case before they set fingers to keyboard. In other words, they have a thesis, just like scientists and sufferers of college writing seminars. When they’re drawing on sources and pulling quotes, they’re filling in the gaps of a story they already know. On the other hand, most candidates approach conversations with adcoms, former students and professors with a nearly total blank slate, expecting their partner to fill them in on everything. Sorry, guys, but that’s not possible!  If you want a useful answer, you need to ask a useful question, which means you need to know what question to ask, which means you, too need a thesis as to why you're a good fit for your target school.

So write one out. Right now. In a sentence or two. It should be different for every school.

Good. Now that's done, you can start contacting your sources and filling in gaps.

Say you’re interested in the XYZ Club at RFD University. It would certainly be a great idea to talk to the former student who used to manage that club – but NOT until you’ve already Googled the club, checked out their Facebook page, studied the programs from their last three events, determined how large it is, how long it's been around, and a half-dozen other similar questions. That way, your conversation won’t consist of platitudes like “How did you like the club?”  You’ll be able to ask them “So last semester, who was it that got Bob Smith to come to campus? How was his talk? Did he recruit anyone out of the club last year? Whatever happened with that power struggle in the leadership where the club split two years ago?” When you then go to write the essay, you’ll be armed with quotes supporting a very specific thesis concerning where the club stands, what it does well, and how you can contribute to its further growth. Sound like too much work? For you, maybe. But the guy next to you is going to do it. And he's going to have a leg up on you. This part of the process is completely meritocratic -- you get out what you put in.

Show your sources. Name names of students and give class years IN THE ESSAY. Name the professors, classes, clubs and initiatives that interest you IN THE ESSAY. Reference the student blogs and websites you have read ... wait for it ... IN THE ESSAY. (Need a list of student blogs? We made one!)

Don’t self-censor early drafts. One mistake many applicants make is collecting a ton of research, throwing up their hands while trying to organize it all into a small word count, and then throwing it away and replacing it with one generic sentence they could have come up with before they ever applied!  This is where having a smart, thoughtful, patient reader comes in handy. Instead of trying to decide for yourself what sounds good, present the most comprehensive and strong argument you’ve got, and let someone else suggest where to trim.

The golden question. Wondering if you’ve gone deep enough on your research? This golden question will give you the answer. If I replaced the name of the school in ANY sentence of this essay with another school’s name, would the sentence still be true and make sense?  If the answer is YES, you need to do more research. If the answer is NO, you’ve done enough. Whether you’ve done it well is another matter.

Cohesion. Although you can’t treat a school-specific essay like a narrative essay (it doesn’t tell a story), you still need to consider whether the topics you’re discussing form a cohesive picture of how you’ll operate at the school. Are you really going to join the consulting club AND the finance club? Are you really going to be active with the East Asian students AND the Mambo club? Probably not, if you’re being honest with yourself. Your choices of what topics to discuss define where you’re looking to grow and how the schools can help you grow, so make choices that cohere.

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Sound like a lot of work? It can be. But here’s the good news – there actually is a silver lining to this cloud. All that research you’re doing just might actually help you figure out which school you want to attend in real life! You might meet someone, or learn something, that opens up your mind to the wide and wild world beyond the US News Rankings. We could think of worse ways to spend an afternoon.


 

Article by Ben Feuer, photo by Paul Townsend

One of the hottest (and for many, one of the most terrifying) trends in college and graduate admissions is the sudden popularity of the diversity statement. Once it was a mere afterthought, of interest primarily to crunchy Berkeleyites and hippie whitebeards eager to preach what, back when they were applying, no one dreamed of practicing. Today, what could be more 2016, more solidly on trend and on fleek, than to flaunt the unique perspective of a Pacific Islander raised in a commune, or to recount the war stories of your first generation Laotian refugee parents?

Certainly, that’s how your friendly neighborhood elite university feels. Which is why you’re seeing more and more essay prompts like these –

Tell us about a time within the last two years when your background or perspective influenced your participation at work or school.

Short and to the point. Or how about this self-congratulatory tongue-twister of a prompt?

Fancypants University’s admission process is guided by the view that a student body that reflects the broad diversity of society contributes to the implementation of Fancypants’ mission, improves the learning process, and enriches the educational experience for all students. In reviewing applications, Fancypants considers, as one factor among many, how an applicant may contribute to the diversity of Fancypants based on the candidate’s experiences, achievements, background, and perspectives. This approach ensures the best and most relevant possible training and serves the profession by training to effectively serve an increasingly diverse society. You are invited to submit an essay that describes your particular life experiences with an emphasis on how the perspectives that you have acquired would contribute to the Fancypants intellectual community and enhance the diversity of the student body. Examples of topics include (but are not limited to): an experience of prejudice, bias, economic disadvantage, personal adversity, or other social hardship (perhaps stemming from one’s religious affiliation, disability, race, ethnicity, national origin, age, gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity); experience as a first-generation college student; significant employment history (such as in business, military or law enforcement, or public service); experience as an immigrant or refugee; graduate study; or impressive leadership achievement (including college or community service).

So if you're that Laotian refugee, answering this prompt seems simple enough (although it isn't). But suppose you grew up white, straight and well-off in a middle-class suburb, where nothing of any particular consequence happened to you? You still have to write the essay. Clearly, this is a situation that calls for some high-level mental jujitsu.

Here’s the skinny. Instead of fixating on that terrifying word diversity, instead turn your head to take in its underappreciated companion, ‘perspective’. Actually, if you dig into that War and Peace of a prompt above, you’ll see that the school hands you some clues of possible topics, including military/employment history, disability or disease, and even impressive leadership achievement, although be hella careful with that last one.

Ultimately, a great diversity essay isn’t driven by some accident of birth. Don’t believe us? Try writing “Hey, I’m black” as your entire response and see how that goes for you. It’s driven by your response to the formative experiences that shaped you.

What was hard for you growing up? What took some adjustment to learn to live with? For one guy we worked with, it was being a rural kid in a big city school. For another girl, it was being an army brat, shuttling from base to base. For yet another, it was being way, way too into cooking.

Whatever the challenge was, first take some time to explore why and how it was hard. Paint a vivid verbal picture of what it was like the first time that mean old uncle of yours said ‘little boys don’t make souffles’. Show yourself struggling, being wrong, doing wrong, if that was how it went down. Adjustments take time, and they often don’t stick right away. And when (and if) you do talk about how you saved the day and fixed everything, please try to address what’s universal about your struggle. Try to relate your experience to that of others, and show the adcom how you’re prepared to use your experiences to contribute on campus, rather than siloing.

Got questions? Call. In the meantime, good luck, and happy writing!