Monday, February 09, 2015

How to choose between HBS and Stanford

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One of the most interesting parts of Bloomberg’s new poll analysis, which explores what students choose when trying to decide between two schools, is how much students are currently favoring Stanford over Harvard. This is obviously a huge change from 20 or even five years ago, and really shows how landscape is shifting. That said, the choice may not be as cut and dried as it seems from those numbers.

When you’re talking about deciding between offers from two schools as prestigious as Harvard and Stanford, rankings really should not enter into the debate. Both are obviously top programs, enough said. There are, however, some important factors you can use to decide between the two, should you be fortunate enough to get offers from both.

Go to Stanford if:

You are interested in entrepreneurship. Of course, this is the most obvious reason to choose Stanford over Harvard. This is also not as clear-cut a choice as it once was. Boston has an exceptional startup scene now, and the rock Center accelerator program offer substantial scholarships and in some cases loan assistance. But, Silicon Valley was and is the absolute heart of the innovation economy, so Stanford is still the best place for entrepreneurs.

You want to focus on your soft skills. Touchy-feely is not just a class a Stanford, it’s a way of life. Intense group therapy are not words you usually hear applied to business school classes. Stanford education will not simply teach you how to run a successful business, it wants to teach you how to be a better person.

You like the weather. Okay, obviously this is a little reductive, but hear us out, because the weather is not just the weather. A warm, welcoming, open environment, both physiologically and socially, is exactly what some people need to do their best work. On the other hand, people who are more introverted might not like that experience.

Go to Harvard if:

You want to work in a place or industry that recruits there. Again, this might seem obvious, or it might seem like a wash. After all, most top companies recruit at both Stanford and Harvard.  Yes and no.  The fact is, Harvard has been around a long time, and has been on top for a long time. The school has established relationships with certain companies, coming in and going out. So if you’re looking for that more traditional track to certain positions of power in Private Equity, banking or politics, Harvard is a better choice.

You want a degree that will travel. The old cliché about Harvard students (that they like to say they went to school in Boston) is true. There’s also a good reason for it. People treat you differently when they know you went to Harvard.  That is more true of Harvard than any other school. And while you might not want to intimidate friends and random acquaintances, if you do a lot of overseas work, or if you plan on changing jobs, careers or fields more than once throughout your life, it's probably the place for you.  Having Harvard on your resume changes the entire rest of your career in a way that no other degree does.

You are focused on achievement. Harvard is not known as a place to make close friends, although that can sometimes happen.  The cluster structure and the rigorous first-year curriculum mean that you will be working pretty darn hard, and you might not like all the people you’re working with. However, if you like working hard, if you’re at your best when you’re being pushed and challenged to get everything done, this can be the perfect warm-up for high achieving career. Just get ready to kiss a lot of free time goodbye, if you had any to begin with!

Those are the most important reasons we would suggest you choose Stanford over HBS, or vice versa. There are many many more, but they won’t all fit in a blog post, so feel free to contact us if you have questions.


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Twas the night before XMAS ... MBA Edition

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Hey MBAs -- did you spend most of Xmas in your room finishing your round two applications?  We feel your pain -- so we spent our holiday making you a funny video.  Enjoy!  

'Twas the night before Christmas, both silent and clear,
In a house full of transcripts and empty of cheer,
Twas no food in the fridge save a bottle of Jack,
And a half-eaten Shroom burger from the Shake Shack.
John hung up his Armani, Jane her DKNY,
They collapsed into bed with two miserable sighs.
Like their GMAT review books, all beaten and worn,
Both John and Jane wished they had never been born.
And they both thought of nothing but getting their letter
From Kellogg, or Booth, or perhaps someplace better --
Still backed up with work, they had little to say,
Warm under the sheets, they soon drifted away ...

An hour later, John sat up groaning, quite numb
Did I leave those breakevens at the office half done?
And Jane tossed and turned, her locks worn and frayed
Was my primary  recommendation waylaid?
They both stood up yawning and went to their Macbooks.
"We're both being silly.  Let's just have a quick look."
Paranoia assuaged, they both shook their heads,
But moments before they got back into bed --
Buzz buzz!  Went their iPads and laptops and phones --
A blizzard of emails, the senders unknown.
John and Jane sat straight up, as they nervously chattered
and rushed to their phones to see what was the matter.
It was Olin!  And Tuck!  And Ross!  And what's more, son,
The both of them had been admitted to Wharton!

They pranced and they shrieked, they could hardly believe it!
The yeses were coming before they could read em!
A knock at the door?  Who is that at this hour?
Twas Dee Leopold holding a bouquet of flowers!
John and Jane, I bought this for you at the bodega
To your applications, I'm quite proud to say, yeah!
Dee went down on one knee to expound on her love,
But then, crickety-crack! Came a  noise from above.
Like a flash Derrick Bolton shot right down the chimney!
He shook off the coal dust and smiled quite winningly.

I know it's a breach of our protocol, still,
I had to tell both of you how Stanford feels. 
Dee growled, "Derrick, back off -- they're HBS admits!"
Derrick smiled too sweetly.  "You think I give a shit?"
Wharton sent a new email!  To prove we're not kidding
We're offering total tuition remission!
John and Jane, quite ashamed
 begged the deans to stop fighting,
Til another surprise came at them quick as lightning.
An most irksome clanging!  Oh what could it be?
Twas John's old alarm clock,  more's the pity.
For as cruel as it sounds, yes, as cruel as it seems ...
John and Jane realized they were having a dream.
They tried to resist, they tried to remain,
But they failed and awoke with both back and heart pain.

For the rest of the morning, they moved just like zombies.
Tragic indeed are the dreams of what might have been.
John and Jane, don't you worry.  I happen to know
There's a little surprise for you waiting below!
As they scanned their inbox, it cheered them to learn
That year's Goldman bonus had just been determined!
John and Jane smiled, there was no need to fight --
B-school or no, they were doing all right.
And they both shook their heads as they said to each other --

I can't wait for January and this shit to be over.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

MPA or MBA: Choose in 30 Seconds

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If you're trying to choose between an MPA and an MBA quickly, this is the post for you!

No muss, no fuss.  Here are the most important factors to consider when choosing between the MPA and the MBA.

STUDIES
MBAs focus on economics, finance and marketing, aiming for jobs in the private sector or hedging their bets between private and non-profit.  
MPAs negotiate and face trade-offs, seek grants, and learn to manage policy and human resources, focusing on public sector or socially conscious business.

COST AND VALUE OF DEGREE
MBAs are elite, expensive, and highly competitive.  They are widely available.  They are financed via family money, earnings or loans.  They are somewhat flexible, allowing non-profit, for-profit, and entrepreneurial career paths.
MPAs are less common, more niche, but also more affordable.  They are financed via loans, tuition forgiveness, and financial aid.  They are highly flexible, allowing non-profit, public sector, and for-profit career paths.
Both degrees learn operations management, project managment, and leadership.

LIKELY JOB PLACEMENT
MBAs go into marketing, management, finance, consulting, and entrepreneurship.
MPAs go into urban planning, research and budget analysis, government, and national security.

WHERE TO GO
For an MBA, consider Wharton, HBS, Stanford, Kellogg, or NYU Stern.  
For an MPA/MPP, consider Johns Hopkins SAIS, Columbia SIPA, Harvard KSG, or Indiana Bloomington.

HYBRID APPROACHES
Stern offers a Social Innovation and Impact specialization which can overlap with MPA needs, and HBS offers a dual degree at the Kennedy School, which can be paired with other degrees.  Georgetown offers an MSFS/MBA for foreign focus.  Tufts' Fletcher school offers a well-regarded MIB 2-year degree with good job placement options.

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A fascinating new Poets and Quants article explores the best and worst things about top MBA programs from the point of view of perspective students.  How can this help you with your applications?

Poets and Quants released an interesting article last week quoting students' real impressions, positive and negative, of their schools.  We here at Forster-Thomas decided to translate that into all-important "fit",  which many schools consider one of the most important factors in a candidacy.  How can you present yourself as a good 'fit' for a target school?  Use these helpful tips!

HBS.  HBS is a great fit for outgoing, self-confident, diverse students with proven leadership ability, either in their workplace or extracurriculars.  Harvard is looking for exceptionally strong academic performers, partly because their quantitative coursework is considered questionable by some, and partly because they can.  HBS is very large, so you have to prove that you have the ability to stand out from the pack, or at least be comfortable getting lost in a crowd a little bit.

Stanford.  GSB is looking for people with diverse work backgrounds (IE not just entrepreneurs ...) and inclusive, humanist personal attitudes.  Stanford is extremely academically rigorous, and although entrepreneurship is far from the only thing to do at Stanford, the large amount of available opportunities mean that self-starters, team-builders and natural leaders with warmth and kindness are bound to be looked on favorably.

Booth.  Chicago is a top-notch conventional business school, feeding a lot of banking and consulting, but very interested in out-of-the-box thinkers with unconventional backgrounds and ideas looking for a fresh start or a new direction.  Creativity is important, as is the ability to make friends quickly and securely.

Wharton is the oldest and most academically rigorous of the top programs, with an excellent (if occasionally a bit stodgy) reputation.  Wharton's quantitative demands are high and it focuses on finance, although entrepreneurship is on the rise there.  A strong Wharton candidate will present a stellar work and academic history and a reasonable ability to 'make nice' socially.

Kellogg.  Northwestern is a friendly school with a true Midwestern feel, a strong marketing reputation, and a collegial and supportive student body.  It can be a bit slow paced and does not have the fanciest facilities, but there are tremendous experiential learning opportunities for self-starters and a tight-knit alumni network for glad-handers.

Columbia.  A top-notch school with unparalleled industry access.  Driven students and strong multitaskers fit well here.  There are a wealth of opportunities, but this can overwhelm certain students.  Columbia has at times been seen as stern and a bit unwelcoming, and is consciously making efforts to counter that impression.

Tuck.  Dartmouth is perhaps the most close-knit school among the top MBAs.  There is a certain sense of cloistered isolation from the world, which strengthens that impression even further.  Ability to play nicely with others is tremendously important here.  Academic requirements are a little more relaxed than at some other top schools, with more allowance given for interesting work history and overall fit.

Duke.  Fuqua is an approachable, slightly easygoing MBA experience, a particularly strong choice for future consultants.  Emphasis is placed on gentility and the ability to fit in with the relaxed, thoughtful culture.  The '25 Random Things', in particular, is a strong indicator of a prospective student's ability to laugh at himself a little.
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Going from a HBS optional to a Stanford WMM can be quite challenging -- it requires you to add personal and social context to what began as a simple achievement story.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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


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


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


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


STANFORD:

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

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

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


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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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


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

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

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Many of you are freaking out right now (or about to) wondering whether you got that interview at Harvard Business School.  Forster-Thomas has the information you need.

HBS interview invitations will be sent out via email on October 8 and October 15. Candidates invited to interview will receive detailed instructions about the sign-up procedure. The interview scheduler will go live the following day.

On October 15, candidates who will not be invited to interview will be notified of their release.  So if you don't hear anything on October 8th, don't worry, you're still under consideration.

A group of Round 1 applicants, roughly 100-150 if previous years serve as a guide, will be placed under "Further Consideration." These candidates will be reviewed in Round 2 and either be invited to interview or released on the Round 2 timetable.

Round 1 interviews will be conducted between October 20 and November 21. Not all dates will be available in all locations. In addition to on-campus interviews, Harvard will be interviewing in New York City, Palo Alto, London, Paris, Shanghai, Tokyo, Dubai, Mumbai, Sao Paulo, and Santiago. Candidates who cannot travel may be accommodated via Skype. 

The interview itself will be the standard b-school fare, but HBS initiated a new procedure last year requiring candidates to write a follow-up essay 24 hours after the interview, reflecting on how it went.  (To be clear, there's no guarantee the prompt will be identical this year, we'll just have to wait and see).  Don't pre-write or pre-think this -- it is intended to be casual and spontaneous.

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By the way, if you DID get an interview -- Forster-Thomas offers interview coaching and specialized essay coaching for your 24-hour turnaround essay.  That's right -- we'll stay up all night with you to get it right.  Cause we're that cool.  All you need to do is ask us!


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

By Ben Feuer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Thursday, May 29, 2014

HBS 2017 - Should I Write the Essay?

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For 2014-2015 HBS applicants, the open-ended question provides the same set of challenges it did last year -- first among them, should I answer at all?

Ben Feuer

It's back.  That terrifying creature you thought was dead has emerged after a brief hibernation to once again terrorize your days and haunt your nights.

No no, the OTHER terrifying creature -- HBS's new old 2014-2015 optional essay!

This question raises all the same bugaboos it always did, first among them, should I answer it or give it a pass?  See, the thing about optional essays is, unlike required ones, they can actually hurt your candidacy if you do them wrong.  Look at it this way -- if you mess up a required essay, you still get more points than the guy who didn't write one at all.  But with optional essays, you don't have that out anymore.  No one is holding a pencil to your head and forcing you to write about the awesome (read: snoozefest) $20 million deal you helped close by sheer Excel wizardry.

So should you answer the HBS prompt?  That depends.

1.  Something new.  The question is exquisitely clear -- do NOT rehash anything that already exists in your application.  So if you want to answer HBS's prompt, you had better bring something new.

2.  Something you.   The question is clearly asking you to ILLUMINATE your candidacy -- shine a light on it in a way they would not otherwise have seen.  What's the amazing thing about you as a human being that you did not have a chance to talk about anywhere else?

3.  Something true.  This one ought to go without saying, but the sad fact is, I see people replacing their own life experience with platitudes every single day, just because it's too much effort to remember the specifics of what you thought, felt, said and did.  Well, buddy, if you want to get into Harvard, you're going to have to dig deeper than that.  I need to feel that exquisite resonance of authenticity.  Just gotta have it.

Can you fulfill these three criteria with your idea?  If so, go write an essay!  If not, go back to the drawing board.

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