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.

Are you ready to be the Queen Bee of GSB? Check out our tips to figure out how you can optimize your essays, recommendations and application.

Photo by Paramount, Article by Ben Feuer

 

Hopefully, everyone in the universe has seen Mean Girls. If you haven’t, go Netflix it. One of the most memorable characters in the coterie of teenaged back stabbers that form the core of the film is Regina George. Regina’s pretty, smart, and has everything going for her … except self-esteem. She’s insecure to the point of absurdity, and feels the need to smash anyone who looks like a threat to her.

Regina George didn’t go to Columbia GSB, but if she had, she would’ve fit right in. Of all the top business schools, Columbia is the one most afflicted with a Napoleon complex. Perhaps it’s because they struggle in the rankings compared to their somewhat loftier brethren in the Northeast. Perhaps it’s because their New York location makes them hypercompetitive. Whatever the reason, Columbia is the top B-school that is always looking for a way to belong.

You can get a great MBA education at Columbia, and it’s a fantastic feeder for all the usual post-MBA roles, including private equity, investment banking, consulting, and entrepreneurship. But in order to get in, you’re going to have to court Regina. She’s temperamental, but worth the trouble.

So what are the keys to success?

Apply early. Because of its unusual rolling admissions process and binding early decision, Columbia fills its class more quickly than its competition. This is one of the many ways they try to lock in top students. You can’t fight this, so it’s best to embrace it. If you’re considering Columbia, you give yourself the best chance by applying as early as possible -- August 1st is ideal.

Be powerful. Queen bees are drawn to self-confident people with obvious social standing and the ability to command a room. Think about how you can demonstrate transformative leadership in your recommendations, essay two, and essay three. And if you don’t know what leadership is, read our book.

Take action to understand her. The absolute worst thing you can do in a Columbia application is make it obvious to them that you’re just using them as a safety school for their competition: Harvard, Stanford, and Wharton. The best way to combat that impression, aside from applying early, is to take actions to integrate with and understand the Columbia community. Then, write at length about the research that you’ve done in your Columbia essay one and essay two, naming names and citing specific details. By showing you understand the unique appeal of the school, you make yourself more appealing.

Be pleasant. Columbia’s essay three asks what your cluster mates will be pleasantly surprised to learn about you. For whatever reason, a lot of people overthink this and try to make it into a referendum on their professional accomplishments, leadership, or general all-around awesomeness. By doing this, you reflect exactly the kind of insecurity that Columbia wants to avoid. Whatever you choose to write about, it should first and foremost be something pleasant. Not depressing, not impressive, pleasant. If it can be impressive as well as pleasant, obviously that’s great. But if you have to choose one, just make it clear that you’re an easy person to get along with, that you’re relatable, and that you don’t have an overinflated ego. There’s only room for a single Regina in a relationship.

So there you have it! These guidelines should help you prepare a top-notch application to Columbia. But if you have more questions, feel free to reach out to me and I’ll be happy to help.


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Forster-Thomas takes a peek inside this year's LBS application and gives you insight on how to answer their questions.

By Ben Feuer

What are your post-MBA plans and how will your past experience and the London Business School programme contribute? (500 words)

This is a textbook 'goals' essay. Check out our previous posts on goals, or our book, for a sense on how to approach this. 

How will you add value to the London Business School community? (300 words)

This is another part of the same goals essay, focusing on your contributions to the school. Read our previous posts, and remember to use specific stories drawn from your life to support the points you make about yourself.

Is there any other information you believe the Admissions Committee should know about you and your application to London Business School? (400 words)

The prompt is completely open-ended, which means you can discuss anything you have not discussed elsewhere.  One strong approach is to focus on a 'defining moment' and how it shaped you as a person – it can be something that happened on the job, but often the strongest examples of these essays come from digging deep and getting personal – talking about real, meaningful challenges you face with family or friends. You can also consider using this for additional leadership material, or discussing diversity experiences, or talking about your values.

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Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Duke Fuqua 2014-2015 Essay Prompts with Analysis

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Duke's essays maintain their distinctive flavor this year -- here are some tips on how to attack them.

By Ben Feuer


Required Short Answer Questions: Answer all 3 questions. For each short answer question, respond in 250 characters only (the equivalent of about 50 words).

1. What are your short-term goals, post-MBA? 

2. What are your long-term goals?

These are standard goals essays.  See any of our previous posts on goals, or our book, for a sense on how to approach this. 

3. Life is full of uncertainties, and plans and circumstances can change. As a result, navigating a career requires you to be adaptable. Should the short-term goals that you provided above not materialize what alternative directions have you considered?

This question is unique to Fuqua.  Simply put, they are testing how adaptable you are to change if your goals do not work out exactly the way you want them to.  There are two great ways to answer this question.  The first way is to focus on the same long term goal, but find an alternate short term path to arrive there -- a different kind of interim position, or a different field.  The other way to approach this prompt is to create a completely new long term goal and explain how you would go about achieving that from scratch.

First Required Essay – Answer the following question – present your response in list form, numbered 1 to 25. Some points may only be a few words, while others may be longer. Your complete list should not exceed 2 pages.

1. The "Team Fuqua" spirit and community is one of the things that sets The Duke MBA experience apart, and it is a concept that extends beyond the student body to include faculty, staff, and administration. When a new person joins the Admissions team, we ask that person to share with everyone in the office a list of "25 Random Things About Yourself." As an Admissions team, we already know the new hire's professional and academic background, so learning these "25 Random Things" helps us get to know someone's personality, background, special talents, and more.  In this spirit, the Admissions Committee also wants to get to know you–beyond the professional and academic achievements listed in your resume and transcript. You can share with us important life experiences, your likes/dislikes, hobbies, achievements, fun facts, or anything that helps us understand what makes you who you are. Share with us your list of "25 Random Things" about YOU. 

This essay has been around for years -- frankly, it's one of our favorites here at Forster-Thomas.  We find it is often very revealing, and a lot of fun to read and to write!  The approach couldn't be simpler -- list random things about yourself.  You can and should draw from every aspect of your life, personal, professional and extracurricular -- be diverse!  You should list more than 25 initially so it is easy to cut a few.  They should vary in length and complexity -- here are two examples, one short, one long.
SHORT: my favorite food is salmon.
LONG: One time I wanted to surprise someone by jumping out of their trunk when they got back to their car, but they never opened the trunk so I was locked in there as they drove home.
Some should be funny, some should be serious -- show a range of unconnected facts about yourself.

Second Required Essay – Choose only 1 of the following 2 essay questions to answer. Your response should be no more than 2 pages in length.

When asked by your family, friends, and colleagues why you want to go to Duke, what do you tell them? Share the reasons that are most meaningful to you.

This is a why school essay with a twist -- namely, that your friends, family and colleagues are asking you why you want to go to Duke.  This means that you should spend at least some time discussing your friends and family -- what do they want for you?  What are their primary concerns as far as your development goes?  Maybe your aunt is only concerned about money.  Maybe your wife is concerned with work life balance.  Maybe your uncle is a former college quarterback and wants to know about fun athletics opportunities.  Use the essay both to demonstrate your interest in the school, and to tell Duke a bit more about the important people in your life.

The Team Fuqua community is as unique as the individuals who comprise it. Underlying our individuality are a number of shared ideas and principles that we live out in our own ways. Our students have identified and defined 6 “Team Fuqua Principles” that we feel are the guiding philosophies that make our community special. At the end of our 2 years at Fuqua, if you were to receive an award for exemplifying one of the 6 Principles listed below, which one would it be and why?  Your response should reflect the research you have done, your knowledge for Fuqua and the Daytime MBA program and experience, and the types of activities and leadership you would engage in as a Fuqua student.

Authentic Engagement: We care and we take action. We each make a difference to Team Fuqua by being ourselves and engaging in and supporting activities about which we are passionate.
Supportive Ambition: We support each other to achieve great things, because your success is my success. The Success of each individual member of Team Fuqua makes the whole of Team Fuqua better.
Collective Diversity: We embrace all of our classmates because individuality is better and stronger together.
Impactful Stewardship: We are leaders who focus on solutions to improve our communities both now and in the future. We aren’t satisfied with just maintaining the status quo.
Loyal Community: We are a family who looks out for each other. Team Fuqua support you when you need it the most.
Uncompromising Integrity: We internalize and live the honor code in the classroom and beyond. We conduct ourselves with integrity within Fuqua, within Duke, and within all communicates of which we are a part. 

First, choose one (and only one!) of the six principles listed below.  Pick the principle that you feel you best embody.  Use about 2/3rds of a page to tell a few stories about previous experiences and accomplishments you have had that highlight why you represent this quality.  Then use the rest of the essay to talk about what you plan to do and take advantage of at Fuqua that will allow you to win this award, using the usual "why school" principles to guide your decisions on what to include.  An essay like this is all about your ability to 'give back' to the school, its clubs and programs -- and in order to explain how you would give back, you have to understand some of what the clubs and programs would actually need from you.  Be specific!
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