Article by Ben Feuer, photo by Rosemary Voegtli

There are literally thousands of secondary essays put out by medical schools each and every year. But most of those essays can be subdivided into specific categories and dealt with in groups. In this blog, we’re discussing the ‘practice’ category.

DEFINITION OF THE PRACTICE CATEGORY

 

Any medical school secondary essay touching on a student’s ambitions as a doctor or plans for a future medical practice. Some of the prompts emphasize certain disciplines, others emphasize time-frames (10-15 years after graduation, for example), and other ask about the student’s degree of interest in research.

 

EXAMPLES OF SECONDARY PROMPTS IN THE PRACTICE CATEGORY

 

Are there any areas of medicine that are of particular interest to you? If so, please comment. 

 

The ultimate goal of our institution is to produce a population of physicians with a collective desire to improve health of all segments of our society through the outstanding patient care, research and education. In this context, where do you see your future medical career (academic medicine, research, public health, primary care, business/law, etc.) and why? Your answer need not be restricted to one category. If your plans require that you complete a dual degree program, please elaborate here. 

 

What medical specialty are you thinking about pursuing at this point?

 

Please describe the basic and/or clinical research fields that you think you might like to explore and/or develop expertise in during your MSTP training. To the extent that you have defined potential specific future clinical interests, please describe the type(s) of medicine that you might be interested in pursuing once you have completed the MSTP.

 

How will the University of Connecticut School of Medicine best serve your needs of becoming a physician or physician scientist?

 

What are your aspirations for your medical practice? Fast-forward to 15 years in the

future: where do you imagine yourself? 

 

TECHNIQUE FOR ANSWERING THE PRACTICE CATEGORY

 

Medical school secondary essays can be divided into two basic subtypes – narrative essays, which require the applicant to tell a story, and factual essays, which require the applicant to answer a series of factual questions.  The practice essay is a factual essay, so brainstorming should be centered around the specifics of the type of career the applicant wants to pursue.

 

Always answer this type of question narrowly. In other words, if a school doesn’t ask you what specialty you are interested in pursuing, don’t tell them. Answer only the questions you are asked by each school, as each wants to know a different set of things.

 

Although this type of essay is primarily about simple, direct factual answers to questions, it’s still important to have reasons and stories behind your choices. For instance, suppose you wanted to pursue a blend of research and clinical – why is it important to you to pursue both?  Or, say you wanted to start a practice in a small town – why would you prefer that to a big city?  By telling schools your reasoning, you invite them to engage with (and support) your way of thinking.

 

Remember that you are answering a question about the distant future, so it’s more important to have a clear emotional plan in your mind – the types of people you want to help, and why – than it is to have a perfected road map, which would have to change anyway.

 

***

 

Do you have more questions about this secondary essay, or about other secondary essays?  Feel free to contact us and we’ll be happy to help.



By Ben Feuer, photo by Steven Lilley

The 2017-2018 common application questions have been released into the wild. This year they’re pretty consistent with other recent years, but there are a few new twists, so read carefully.

First, a few ground rules.  Your word count should be between 250 and 650 words for each question.  Don't feel obligated to use every word -- but don't go over, either.  Double and triple-check your spelling and grammar -- don't get dinged on a technicality!  Read all of the topics and consider each of them before choosing which one you will answer.  Don't choose based on what story about yourself you feel like telling, or what you think the committee 'ought to know' about you -- instead, select a story where you grew, changed or evolved as a person.

THE QUESTIONS

1.  Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

Read this prompt carefully.  This is a standard 'diversity' prompt -- which means it asks students to share some distinctive element of their background or upbringing -- BUT the wording is very strong.  Only choose this prompt if your background is so integral to your life that you really can't imagine writing about anything else.

Note that this prompt also invites you to tell a story that is central to your identity -- that could be (for instance) a narrative about personal growth, or about an unexpected friendship or chance encounter -- again, so long as it is central to who you now are as a person, it's fair game.

2.  The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

The common App has softened this prompt, perhaps after a bunch of complaints of being triggered by even thinking about past failures … 😊  So now, you can write about a challenge, setback or failure. But guess what – you should still write about a failure. If you don’t feel up to it, or don’t think you have a strong failure to discuss, then call us. But seriously, if you don’t have a strong failure, you should pick another prompt, you certainly have plenty to choose between.

OTOH, if you're applying to a reach school, or if you're concerned about other areas of your application, this prompt is your chance to stand out from the crowd and make an impression.  Nothing grabs admissions officers' attention as quickly as a well-thought-out failure essay, particularly because most students run screaming from this kind of prompt.

So what makes a great failure essay?  We cover this at length in our MBA admissions book, but the fundamentals are this -- you need a singular, powerful failure narrative where you failed not just yourself, but others you cared about.  The failure must be absolute -- no saving the day at the last minute.  It must point to some underlying aspect of your character which you then identify (stubbornness, overcaution, arrogance).  You finish up the failure essay by telling a brief (50-100 word) anecdote about how you have changed as a result of this failure -- use concrete examples here! 

3.  Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome

The flipside of the failure essay, the challenge (or as we call it, the leadership) essay is one of the most commonly seen essays on the common application.  This, too, has been weasel-worded down to a softer “questioned or challenged”, but your story about that time you asked the teacher if you really had to sit at the front of the class all year is NOT good essay material, trust us.

If you have accomplished something that was exceptionally challenging for you and really shaped who you are as a person, this is your prompt.  If you are just looking to brag about your killer grade in that AP History class or your five goals in the championship bocce match, this is NOT your prompt.  Move along.

When thinking about challenges, students always want to focus on the external -- what happened and why it's impressive.  This is the wrong approach. The question-writers are giving you a very big clue when they ask you to describe what prompted your thinking – they want to understand how your mind works. The important story to tell is how you GOT to the impressive result -- and what you thought about, did and said that led to that result.

Finally, remember that these types of stories work best and are most impressive when you're motivating other kids (or adults!) to excel -- contrary to what your lovin' mother told you, it ain't all about you.

4.  Describe a problem you've solved or a problem you'd like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma-anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.

This prompt is a somewhat unusual spin on a common theme of transformation and growth.  There is an obvious STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) spin to this question -- after all, a laboratory experiment or a planned course of study fits into this prompt very neatly.  But resist the urge to get completely technical and step outside your own experience!  Remember that whatever prompt you choose for your essay, the central figure in the story is you -- your challenges, your growth, your maturity.

This prompt also might be a good choice for students who have been fortunate enough to have interesting experiences in unusual places and contexts.  Worked on a social issue overseas?  Spent eight months living with the Amish?  Shadowed a researcher at CERN?  This could be your prompt.

5.  Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

Rites of passage can be fascinating topics for essays -- if they're handled well.  No one wants to hear about how grandpa cried at your confirmation -- snoozefest!  Becoming an adult is about accepting the responsibilities, limitations and joys of being human, and so should your essay.

The focus on a particular event is important.  It's very easy when writing an essay to drift from one subject to another, but great essays have a singular focus -- they're about one thing and one thing only.  In this case, the event or accomplishment in question and why it became a period of maturation.

It’s also worth noting the emphasis on understanding others. Surprising or difficult events often deepen our ability to empathize with others’ struggles – if you have a story that involves learning to see the world in a new way, this could well be your prompt.

6. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more? [New]

This is a brand new prompt, for those of you who are just 100 percent not comfortable talking about yourselves in any way, shape or form. Now, before you breathe a sigh of relief and rush off to write yet another paean to microbiomes or Martin Luther King, let us insert a caveat. This is usually the wrong kind of prompt to choose. For most people, most of the time, you’re going to get an essay that’s dry, technical, and reveals nothing about the candidate – in other words, a waste of word count.

In order to write a good essay about an idea or concept, you have to loop in … feelings!  Yours and others.  Talk about the people who share your passion, or the ones who inspired it. Talk about the key moments in the development of your favorite obsession – how did it all begin, where do you see it going?  Relate it back to larger themes in your life. How has this experience helped you to grow and mature?

7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you've already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design. [New]

This is what we call an open-ended prompt. You can do whatever you want with it, which most folks find utterly terrifying. Not to worry – this should really be a last resort prompt if you have a fantastic essay already written that just doesn’t seem to fit any of the other prompts.

--

So there you have it!  Not so scary after all, huh?  Still, you probably have a lot of questions as yet unanswered.  Or maybe you have a draft all written up and you want some seasoned eyes to take a look?  If so, drop us a line -- we'd be happy to help!


By Ben Feuer. Photo by Morgan Sherwood

Every year, a few students get into schools (and newspapers) by writing totally unconventional essays. Essays that break the mold, that reinvent the basics, and that often completely ignore the question asked and the school’s requirements. But, hey, essays are an art form, and art is all about breaking the rules – right?

Sure. But there’s a smart way and a dumb way to take risks. And if you’re planning to be this year’s Ziad Ahmed and write that crazy, bare-your-soul tone poem in place of an essay, check out this advice first.

***

SOME GROUND RULES

Don’t write a risky essay for a match or safety school – you’re better off simply taking your chances with a strong, compelling conventional essay and seeing how it goes.  You only write a risky, hail-mary essay for a reach school. 

You should always seek the approval and agreement of coaches, counselors and family members before embarking on a strategy.  Note that I didn’t say they have to approve of all your choices or your final draft – if you’re choosing to take a risk, do so by your own rules – but you should at least make sure you’re not missing something important or obvious before making a bold move. 

Make sure the ‘risky’ essay you’re writing is actually risky. A lot of the time, people think they’re being daring and original when they’re really just being derivative or obnoxious. Again, use your lifelines on the risky essay – not so people can tell you what to write, but so that you can gauge their honest reactions to what you have written.  And don’t copycat what got a lot of press last year. That’s the complete opposite of risky.

Don’t make your first-ever essay a risky essay. If you’re new to the essay writing game, start with some of the easier ones, and work your way up to the crazy ones.  That way, you’ll be sure of who you are as a candidate and what you have to offer before going off the deep end.

HOW DO I WRITE A RISKY ESSAY?

The whole point of risky essays is that they are cheeky, original and daring. So you should already have a pretty good idea of what you want to write about. If you don’t have a strong concept, why are you even considering a risky essay in the first place?

Now that you have your concept, make sure it aligns with all the other aspects of your candidacy. Consider Ziad Ahmed again (linked above) – he considered himself first and foremost a provocateur and activist, so his provocative, activism-themed ‘essay’ fit his candidacy to a T.  The purpose of an essay is to reveal who you are, to give the committee a strong sense of who they’re considering admitting. If you’re going to break the rules, you have to be giving them twice as strong of a sense.

Write your first draft quickly. Don’t slow down or give yourself too much time to second guess. Remember that a draft is just that, a draft. If it doesn’t work, chuck it and do something new instead. But trust your instincts. They’re what drove you to make this decision in the first place, so stick with them, and they’ll stick with you.

***

Writing an essay, any essay, is hard, but writing a risky essay is four times harder. Like the best modern art, it may look simple, but the simple exterior conceals a lot of truth and authenticity (and hard thinking) beneath the surface. The risky essay is not for everyone – remember, for every one student who gets in this way, 1000 are getting in the old-fashioned way, by doing the work and answering the question asked. But if you’re a risk-taker, you’re not about playing the odds anyway, are you?


Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Shaping your essay-writing environment



Article by Ben Feuer, Photo by Tim Taylor

Many people underestimate the importance of environment when it comes to writing a great set of essays for college or graduate school. They figure, "I'll just squeeze this in when I can ... after all, what difference does it make when I do it, as long as I do it?"  Actually, it can make a huge difference!  How effective your writing sessions are, and how many new ideas you're able to come up with, is deeply impacted by the way you prepare for and spend your precious writing time.  So, since we're all writing veterans here at Forster-Thomas, we wanted to share a couple of our best tips with you.


Everyone has an optimal time of day for writing.  For some, it's the morning. For others, the evening. But you'll know you've hit your 'sweet spot' when your mind is at its clearest, and least distractable. This is the time when most of your best ideas are going to come.
Shut off distractions. Even one notification or alarm can take up to fifteen minutes to recover from. You'll get the work done a lot more quickly if you shut off all your dings, dongs and bleeps until you're done with the difficult work of crafting your first draft.
Create a pattern. Unless you're extraordinarily lucky, the muse isn't going to show up the first time you come calling for her. It often takes a few days of marinating on the problem, trying approaches that don't work, and fumbling with your own memories, before you're able to hit on the opening that 'feels right'.  So instead of setting aside a block of time on one day, set aside a little time, even a half-hour or an hour, over several days. Get used to getting into a writing mode.
Forgive mistakes. Writer-brain and editor-brain are two very different creatures.  You're going to be a lot happier with your results if you shut off editor-brain for awhile. You'll know him when you hear him, he's the one who second-guesses and nit-picks every idea you come up with. The problem with editor-brain early in the process is that it prevents you from completing a thought and seeing where it takes you. Even if the beginning isn't promising, the day's explorations may uncover a few gems. So just start where you start, and go where you go, and worry about cleaning everything up later.


So there you have it!  A few simple, practical tips to make writing easier.  Of course, if you're still having trouble, you can always give us a call -- but then, you were already planning to do that, weren't you?

Article by Ben Feuer, photo by jarito

What to write about?  Many people find this the most intimidating question of all when they first sit down and get to work.  After all, most people know (or think that they know) how to string a few words, paragraphs or sentences together.  But it can be very hard, living in the moment, to have any sense of what the key themes are in your life, let alone how they’ve changed or evolved over time.

And yet, those are precisely the questions you need to answer, and answer with precision, if you want to write a great personal essay for college, graduate school, your next New York Times opinion piece or anything else.  Personal essay writing, or short stories drawn from your life experience, follows many of the same rules as all good writing.  You need to know what you’re trying to say, why you’re trying to say it, and how your audience is likely to approach your work.  You need to have patience with ideas and themes as they develop, rather than settling for the first thing that comes into your head.  You need courage to face the times when you get stuck, or just can’t think of anything to say.

So are there any tricks, tips or ideas that can help you generate new topics, or new approaches to old topics?  Fortunately, the answer is yes!

Get a fresh perspective.  If you’re stuck, ask a friend or a relative, a mom or a dad, someone who knows you and your topic pretty well, for advice.  Don’t show them your essay or tell them what you’re planning to do – that might pollute their own memory.  Just ask them, in an open-ended way, to share their experiences and memories about a certain time or topic.  You’ll be surprised to learn that their memories often differ substantially from yours, both as to what happened and how people felt about it at the time, and they just might inspire something you didn’t consider earlier.

Take advantage of flow and focus.  Before you write, read something that inspires you for fifteen minutes – some writing you consider top-notch (and something that is in the same style as what you intend to do).  Then take a deep breath and forget it – after all, you’re not trying to copy, just feel motivated.  Once you’ve got your motivation, work in silence or with some light background noise (classical music works well for me) in a concentrated block of approximately 45-50 minutes, taking breaks not to think about other things, but to perform mindless tasks like stretching, taking out the garbage or shaving.  Approaching writing in this manner will clarify your intentions and help you to write exactly what you are thinking in that moment.

Start over.  It takes distance to evaluate writing, and if you’re trying to evaluate your own writing, that can be particularly hard to achieve.  So once you’ve finished a draft, pat yourself on the back and go do something else for a day or so.  Then return to it and try to figure out what you were writing about, what you were saying.  Force yourself to sum up everything you ACTUALLY WROTE (rather than what you were intending to write) in a sentence.  What message have you conveyed with these words?  Is there growth, progression, change?  Does it start quickly and end with a fun surprise or an emotional payoff?  If your sentence doesn’t correspond to what you were imagining (or if you’ve since come up with a better idea), start the process over fresh with a brand new document, rather than trying to rewrite.  You can always mix and match your favorite parts later.

Of course, there are many other things you can do to improve your ability to write on themes, but these are a few of the most helpful core ideas.  If you’re still struggling and want some guidance, feel free to reach out to us – we’re always 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!

 
by Evan Forster

So you want to go to Columbia? You and everybody else. There are a ton of things you need to do amazingly well to have a shot. This is about perhaps the most important one – your essays. Don’t overcomplicate this advice, but don’t dismiss it either, after twenty-five years of a near-perfect success rate, believe me, I know of what I speak.

Essay #1: Through your resume and recommendations, we have a clear sense of your professional path to date. What are your career goals going forward, and how will the Columbia GSB MBA help you achieve them? (100-750 words)

College is for finding yourself. Grad school is for people who know what they want. So don’t tell me you’re “not sure yet,” “thinking about it,” or “going to figure it out while I am there.” That means pretty much game over at a place like Columbia Business School, or any b-school for that matter. Think about it. All things being equal—your grades, scores and experience—the only aspect of your candidacy that says “I have a vision that you and your community want to be a part of” is that specific long term goal, something bigger, better and bolder.

So when Steve began to see b-school as more than a mere opportunity to gain some skillz, a resume bump and a better job, he drew that much closer to the gates. Steve, who was in a large real estate management and investment firm, realized that after three years of seeing possible development deals in Detroit glossed over in favor of a quick transactions, he wanted to help transform communities in his backyard through real estate.(Note the little bit of background about himself.) Basically, he saw the possibility of Brooklyn and London’s East End everywhere. And that’s what he wrote about—how CBS would take him from one small rehabbed building to Brooklyn’s Boerum Hill or Hong Kong’s Sheung Wan neighborhood springing up in 8 Mile. I’m not saying you have to create a tectonic plate shift on the planet, but you do have to at least be up something greater than yourself if you’re going to stand out.

So sit down and figure out what you want to do long term, and make sure it’s not just working at a hedge fund. (Sigh) Look into your life and see what’s missing –at work or at play—and consider what you could do to fix it. Give us the context of why you want to be a part of this change and how it relates to what you’ve done in the past. It can’t come out of nowhere. It has to make sense.

Then, figure out the short term stepping stone you need in order to walk across the river without falling in. In other words, you can’t just go from CBS to world domination. There’s a middle ground. In Steven’s case, it was a year long internship with an NYC real estate development corporation at the Hudson Yards project to hone his skills.

After that, you’ll need larger representation of how CBS is going to help you gain the skills and the community you need to get to where you want to go. I am talking big picture, with an academic focus such as Real Estate, Health Care or management. Maybe mention Columbia’s various institutes, like the Lange Center for Entrepreneurship, that will be of help to you. Then get specific about the skills you need in order to reach your short and long term goals. Some soft skills like decision-making, negotiation, assessment and/or team-based problem solving. Some hard skills like you’ve been in Marketing and PR now you need to understand DCF or discounted cash flow. Mention the type of classes—two or three that CBS has to offer and, and, of course, who do you want to study under? Don’t just drop names. Get specific about who you’re excited to meet—all in to order reach your goals.

Essay #2: Columbia Business School’s students participate in industry focused New York immersion seminars; in project based Master Classes; and in school year internships. Most importantly, they complete a questionnaire taught by a combination of distinguished research faculty and accomplished practitioners. How will you take advantage of being “at the very center of business”? (100-500 Words)

Yup, Columbia has changed this second question up again. This year its simple -- how is Columbia’s NYC location going to help you reach your long and short term goals? This time we are talking VERY SPECIFICALLY about courses, professors, speakers, externships, etc. that are at your fingertips because you’re in the hood. What resources does Columbia have, thanks to its NYC location that you need to achieve your goals, as stated in essay 1?

Remember, if they think you’re running the old “hallowed halls of academia game, then two things are possible in the minds of admissions officers: 1. You’re BSing and didn’t do your homework or 2. If you’ve got really great stats, story and experience, you might not show up. In other words, if you’ve got that 740 GMAT, killer resume, and a 4.0, you really need to SHOW Columbia that you know how its program is going to help you get to where you’re going.

Figure out exactly what you’re going to take and who you’re going to study with each semester. Envision your time there and then break it down for them—courses, professors, and internships. Who will you meet—from fashion to finance, real estate to the art? How will Master Classes Executives in Residence help you and why? Use this essay to drill down even more deeply into the curriculum. Explain how Columbia will give you all the resources and advantages you need to achieve your goals.

Essay #3: CBS Matters, a key element of the School’s culture, allows the people in your Cluster to learn more about you on a personal level. What will your Clustermates be pleasantly surprised to learn about you? (100-250 Words)

This is so, so simple. Why do so many people love to make this complicated? Look, they even boldfaced the most important word for you. Pleasant. You know, like grandma’s doilies or a Kenny Chesney single. Don’t you dare take that as carte blanche to send me something boring, I hate boring. But don’t try to show off, don’t try to prove what a gold-plated bad boy you are, and don’t waste your precious time and word count writing about people and things that aren’t you!

Pick a hobby, or a habit, or something you love, that you can nerd out about. Write about your favorite Game of Thrones character, or an ode to Cherry Coke, or Havana Cigars. Write about your love for backyard baseball, or teaching your cousins to ski on the bunny slope, or setting up free Wi-Fi for your home town. Should your story reflect well on you? Well, you shouldn’t come away looking like a dog! But gloating is not the point. The point is relating.

**

So that’s what’s up, kids! I really hope that after my master class, you don’t have any lingering questions. But just in case you do, feel free to call. Always happy to scream in your ear until you get clear!

Lovingly,

Auntie Evan


 

By Ben Feuer, photo by Damian Gadal

So here we are again, smack dab in the middle of another admissions season. Medical school, college and business school students around the world are clearing their schedules, holding their calls and barricading themselves in their rooms in a frantic first-ditch attempt to write some cool, sexy essays.

Bet you never thought you’d see the phrase ‘cool, sexy essay’ in a sentence, huh? Actually, around here you hear it a lot. Also things like ‘terrible, mind-numbing essay’. But I digress.

So here’s a question everyone decides, but most people never think to ask. How long should I be spending on a draft of an essay? There’s no definitive answer, but I’ve seen some of the best (and some of the worst) at work, and I can give you a few handy rules of thumb.

1) Don’t overthink your first draft. This is really, really important. Type-A people, particularly business types, are used to presenting material that’s ‘perfect’ on the first pass. To them, hearing feedback like ‘this doesn’t work at all’ is deeply unsettling. They’ll pour six, eight, sometimes twenty (!) hours into a first essay draft, and send it off to me thinking, OK, got that taken care of. Unfortunately, writing doesn’t work that way. It’s an experimental process of trial and error, failure and re-failure (followed, ultimately, by success). That’s why you should time limit first drafts to about four hours. Even if your English isn’t perfect, that’s more than enough time to get your main point across, without obsessing over word choice, sentence structure, punctuation … all for an essay that may not even work.

2) Don’t underthink it either. College applicants in particular are often guilty of this, but it can happen to anyone. They’ll look at a word count of, say, 500, and think, heck, I can knock that out in no time. They think of essay writing as filling a quota, instead of distilling a lot of good ideas into a limited space. These essays are often unfocused, and the people who wrote them have a certain hallmark attitude of, ‘Hey, it’s just a first draft’. No, it’s the beginning of a conversation about who you are. And you just lead off with, ‘Yeah, I don’t know. Whatever.’ If this could be you, force yourself to spend at least two hours per draft. It doesn’t matter if they’re productive. Just spend them thinking about your essay and yourself.

3) Don’t ‘cap’ your drafts. If you had just decided to run a marathon, how would you decide to train? Would you research online about successful practice routines and approaches, or would you walk out your door, run until you got tired, say ‘I’m all set’, and wait for the day of the marathon to arrive? It sounds ridiculous, but people writing essays assume this kind of attitude all the time. They say, ‘I’ve already written a draft of that essay’. Well, so what? You might have written five. The question is, are any of them any good? You need to get objective feedback on every draft and every story you write. Until your readers say it’s good, you can’t be sure it is, and you certainly shouldn’t place arbitrary limits on how much revision you’ll do.

4) Don’t be streaky. You know how some baseball hitters are streaky? They’ll have a few good weeks, a few bad ones? Nobody likes that in sports, and it doesn’t work for essay writers either. Once you start, don’t put down your pen until the last essay is 100 percent finished. Don’t take a few weeks off to recharge. Don’t take breaks to redo tests or focus on something else for awhile. You may get tired -- that’s OK. Your focus will produce more consistent, coherent work, which is vitally important when you’re trying to present a complete picture of yourself to admissions committees.

So there you go, a few useful guidelines to get you started with your essay writing timeline. Need some advice on your personal timeline? I’d be happy to help!



Article by Ben Feuer, photo by Starmama

It’s that time of year again!  Juniors and seniors are gearing up for college, and we all know what that means – frayed nerves and nails chewed down to nubs.

But not every parent you meet during the admissions season is anxious. There’s also another type, one you know well – in fact, you probably have a couple of good friends who fit this description to a ‘T’. That outspoken activist who’s always rallying the troops at every PTA meeting; she’s one. The high-flying finance Dad who decided to retire young and spend more time with his family; he’s definitely one. You can sum up their attitude to admissions in one word – overconfident.

Don’t get me wrong -- overconfident parents are still great parents: they work hard, get things done, and really love their kids.  The problem is, especially in the heat of college fever, they can sometimes work a little too hard and get a little too much done.

Whatever happens, your job is not to listen to the siren song of these well-meaning ‘authorities’.  Their overconfidence can lead to costly mistakes in the admissions process.  Here at Forster-Thomas, we’ve seen them damage relationships with their kids, reduce those kids’ odds of getting into their dream schools, and drive pretty much everyone up the wall, all without knowing they’re doing anything wrong.

Here are a few telltale warning signs that your friend is an overconfident parent:

Hey, I just had a great idea of what I can do to give Junior an edge at insert dream school.  Just thinking this kind of thing is a problem, because in the vast majority of cases, there is nothing your friend, as a parent, can do to give Junior an edge. Of course, if you tell them that, they smile and say, “Sure, but you don’t understand. I’m different.”  Trust me when I tell you, they are not. The parent’s role in the admissions process is to be supportive, inquisitive, enthusiastic, and to recruit the right partners, both amateur and professional, to support Junior as he gets the job done his way. If you do a great job at that and nothing else, you’ll be doing better than the vast majority of your peers.

Junior's a little shy / unmotivated. I'll fill the gap by being extra motivated, and talking to everybody at the school about how much he loves it and what a great fit he'd be. If I had a nickel for every hour I have spent listening to a frazzled college admissions officer kvetch about overbearing parents, I could start my own mint.  These parents’ efforts are having the opposite effect they intend. They are making their son look incapable, unwilling and unready to go to college, when the fact is he's probably just making room for them because they’re obviously having such a good time 'helping'. It’s OK to prod and propose, but when you’re carrying the banner for your offspring, there’s a problem.

I have a family friend who went to BZT U.  Maybe I'll ask her to write a letter of support.  Is your friend's friend’s name on a building on campus?  Did she pull the dean of Admissions out of a burning building?  Is your friend’s friend Prince, or at least *a* prince? If the answer to these questions is no, then a letter of support is not going to give your friend’s son a boost.  And even if she did know someone fantastically well connected, a letter of support would only help if her son was absolutely committed to going to the school, and the family friend was absolutely committed to her son, by which I mean not recommending anyone else.

I'll become an amateur college expert and save us some money on counseling. Fun fact. Do you know what professional counselors do when their kids are applying to college?  Send them to a counselor. Do you know why? Because they know better than anyone how incapable they are of having a rational, objective take on their own kid’s application.  It’s like communism – great in theory, terrible in practice.  Distance and objective evaluation are at the heart of college admissions.  Only someone with that distance is going to be to able to get the job done right.

I'm a good writer. If I tweak a few of Junior's phrases, here and there, they'll realize what he meant to say.  As an admissions officer, one of the first things you learn to spot are ghostwritten essays (and resumes, and recommendations, and short answers ...)  They stick out like sore thumbs. Schools want to fall in love with your kid. They want to be dazzled by his ideas, his beliefs, his accomplishments, not yours.  Coach if you must, although that too is best left to experts, but don’t meddle with the language, and unless you're an expert copyeditor, don't go through and 'correct' his sentence structure, either.

So what do you do if you know someone like this?

Simple. Take a deep breath, shut your ears and walk away. Sometimes doing nothing is the perfect thing.  Let go and let God. If you don't know how, we can help with that.  

In the end, I promise, you’ll be surprised, charmed and thrilled to learn just how great of a job you did as a parent.