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By Ben Feuer

Kellogg has finally released its essay prompts for this year, and you can read them right here on our website.  As with almost every other school this year, Kellogg has trimmed both word count and essay count.  The trend is shorter and sweeter, or as Kellogg admissions prefers to frame it, "a nice amount of space for an applicant to give a well thought out answer but not to feel constrained".  We will let you be the judge of that.

One other useful tidbit -- although the questions are different this year, Kellogg stresses that the themes are the same.  They still view team skills and resilience as very important qualities in developing leaders.  So when you set your pen to paper to answer that first prompt about a challenge you have faced, remember that the size and intensity of the challenge really matters if you are planning to craft a compelling response.

The video essay also survives for another year -- once again, candidates will have twenty seconds to prepare a response, but this year, they will have only sixty seconds to answer.  But don't worry, you are not supposed to feel constrained there, either.  For more information on how to ace the video essay, check out this great video from Forster-Thomas interview skills expert Tom Locke.

1. Resilience.  Perseverance.  Grit.  Call it what you will…. Challenges can build character.  Describe a challenging experience you’ve had.  How were you tested?  What did you learn? (450 words) 

This is what we at Forster-Thomas call a "setback" essay.  It's a kissing cousin of the "failure" essay, which you can read all about in our book.  In fact, you could answer this prompt by writing a failure essay as well, and for certain candidates (particularly those that come across too shiny and well-manicured in their resume and professional experience) it can be really nice to have that humanizing element, especially for a more socially adept student body like Kellogg's.  Just remember the two most important elements of a failure essay -- that you own the failure and take responsibility for it, and that you show us how you learned from it going forward.

But back to the setback essay.  Setback essays are about something you were trying to achieve, be it personal or professional, when ONE SPECIFIC obstacle came up and prevented that from happening.  That obstacle can be concrete (a hurried deadline) or more ambiguous (your boss's controlling attitude stifling innovation), but in order to answer the question, you must write about how you RESPONDED to the crisis -- or as Kellogg puts it, how were you tested and what did you learn?  And of course, you finish up by telling the reader what happened to the project or relationship.  Did it work out?  How?  Are there any relevant metrics?  Was the achievement a first of its kind for that setting?

2. Leadership requires an ability to collaborate with and motivate others.  Describe a professional experience that required you to influence people.  What did this experience teach you about working with others, and how will it make you a better leader? (450 words)

This is a standard 'leadership' essay (covered in our book), meaning that the focus should be on a specific, single event that took place over a well defined period of time (a month, two weeks, et cetera) where some organizational goal needed to be achieved.  In the best leadership essays, the candidate identifies the problem, finds a solution, lobbies to have it implemented and then sees it through to a successful conclusion, creating legacy going forward.  The bigger and more diverse the team, the more important and powerful the leadership experience.

Please note that Kellogg asks you to focus on professional experiences here.

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So you're interested in law school?  Fantastic.  But first, visit these websites and do your due diligence.

By Ben Feuer

Most prospective lawyers are cautious by nature, and eager to do their homework before taking on the huge commitment of time and money that is law school.  But just in case you're one of those 'fly by the seat of your pants' people, take this blog post as a wake-up call -- you need to do some serious thinking about your application.

Naturally, any good lawyer-to-be wants to know the prestige factor of his perspective school.  Is it top fourteen, second tier, etc?  At the moment, the two key sources of law school rankings are Above the Law and US News and World Report.  Their methodologies differ somewhat, but their results are fairly similar, especially in the top ten.  ATL focuses more on the employment side of things.  US News also has some intriguing alternative rankings, including ranking part-time law programs and ranking by diversity.

But rankings are just the beginning of the story when it comes to choosing the right school.  Although they are not rankings per se, LST (Law School Transparency) carries very important and interesting information about the true outcomes of students at particular schools and has a lot of important stats -- this page is definitely worth a visit.

Top Law Schools has a fascinating chart where students self-report their stats and announce which schools they got into -- over time, this gives a surprisingly accurate picture of your odds of acceptance or rejection based on numbers alone.  Here, for example, is HLS.  They also have tons of resources for pre-law students, including advice about where (and whether) to attend.  Law School Numbers offers a similar service.

Although I'm not going to name names, most law schools have a lot of very useful resources on their own websites -- you can find out the best timing for campus visits, learn more about profs and news from the campus community, and see what students are up to at the school.  Of course, this is no substitute for visiting in person, but it is a good supplement.

And last but not least, no list of this kind would be complete without mentioning LSAC, the dreaded body that administers the LSAT.  But the truth is, smart pre-laws flock to LSAC -- they are a well-organized hub of information and opportunities, offering personal advising, hosting local forums in your city of choice, diversity grants and prep tools.


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Tuesday, May 13, 2014

How to trim your essays

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Many people find rewriting to be the toughest part of writing -- here are a few time-honored tricks to help you kill off surplus verbiage.

By Ben Feuer

The New York Times has a fun article today about the importance of editing to good writing.  This is especially true for writing with a word count -- as you do when, for example, you are writing an essay for school!  Most people are able to get something down on paper, but then they have no idea what to do next -- so we have put together some important tips to help you shave excess words.

1.  Avoid redundancy, weasel words, and the passive voice.   To be fair, this is an easy trap to fall into -- after all, it can be hard to come up with exactly the right word to describe the job you did on your most recent volunteering trip to Guatemala, or the look in your boss's eyes when he told you you were getting promoted.  Unfortunately, people try to solve this problem by putting in EVERY relevant word they can think of.  Look out for obvious cases of redundancy -- using synonyms or restating an idea multiple times in slightly different ways.  But also be wary of superfluous adjectives -- your massive, amazing, innovative and revolutionary idea is probably really just a good idea with too many clothes on.  And above all, those words that people write when they are coming around to the thing they mean to say but not quite wanting to say it until they finally get to the sentence's end -- that's called the passive voice.  It stinks.

2.  Get fresh eyes.  Not your mom, not your best friend, not your coworkers, not alumni.  Those people have agendas.  You want someone who knows nothing about your subject matter and ideally, nothing about you -- because that person is as close as you're likely to get to the perspective a real admissions officer will have on your essay.

3.  Cover less ground.  Essay writing is not informational, it's persuasive -- forget trying to give a comprehensive account of your actions, or your time at a company.  Focus on one tiny sliver, one simple story, with powerful emotional roots, like the moment you convinced your boss to hire his first gay employee, or the time you finally got healthier options added to the lunch menu.


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Wednesday, May 07, 2014

How to get unstuck writing your essay

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When your writing hits a wall, Forster Thomas coach Susan Clark has the answer for how to break out of your doldrums.

By Susan Clark

Let’s say you’re into football (I mean American football, not that goofy European game where no one scores).  The quarterback is back in formation and hands off to the running back – and the guy doesn’t move.  Linebackers are tearing up the turf and the team is going to take a big loss – but the running back is just sitting there, waiting for specific instructions about how to get through the defense.  

Sound ridiculous?  Marco, a candidate I coached last year, was that running back.  I took care of the game plan, telling Marco exactly what we were out to achieve with each essay.  I called the play, helping Marco find structure in his personal stories.  But then Marco dropped the ball.  He accepted everything and added nothing, ceding all control. When I asked him how he felt about his experiences, he replied, “What do you think I should say I was feeling?”

I am a coach.  I can help my clients find their most interesting stories and steer them around pitfalls and mistakes.  I can generate ideas, and I have tons of experience building applications. But I can’t supply the authenticity.  The essays needed Marco’s flair, his voice, his thoughts, his feelings, to bring them to life.

So I had Marco do a simple improvisational exercise that I learned while running logistics for acting workshops. I started a story with a random sentence.  Marco had to build on that story for a bit and then hand it off to me.  After passing it back and forth for a while, laughing the whole time, we returned to his essays. At first I had to coax him to apply the same loose logic to his own life, but Marco soon realized that his honesty made the stories sparkle.  After that, he didn’t struggle any more.

Are you stuck?  Here are three tips on how to get unstuck!

1.  Break out of your rut.  Had trouble thinking of what to say?  Chances are that you (and Marco) are a little short on innovation in your life, and it is affecting your ability to reflect on your life.  Go someplace you haven't been in a while.  Talk to some new people.  Try a new activity.

2.  Have fun with it.  It isn't a coincidence that Marco and I made our best progress in a humorous moment.  Sometimes a joke is exactly what you need to take your mind off your troubles and get you going again.

3.  Don't be your own editor.  No one can wear two hats at once except Zaphod Beeblebrox.  Your job is to come up with ideas, not decide whether or not they work.  Let your reader (or your essay coach) be the judge of that!


Don't be shy! Schedule a consultation to find out how we can help you.

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Just as social profiles are becoming key tools for employers, your target schools are also considering your online presence when you apply.  Here's how to manage what they see.

by Ben Feuer

It's a weird new world -- just a few short years ago, a resume was the be all and end all of your professional life.  Now, nearly anything is fair game, and not just for employers, either.  Surveys show 30 percent of admissions officers are checking up on what you do online, and that number will only grow.  So here are a few Forster-Thomas-style tips to help you manage your online presence.

1.  Don't whitewash.  White's NOT your color.  In all seriousness, though, one of the first things you'll read online is to delete all sorts of pertinent, identifying information like your religious and social convictions and causes.  Well, don't.  Remember -- you WANT admissions to get to know you better, and seeing what you stand for is a great way to make that happen.  Of course, use your best judgement -- that keg stand you pulled off last week might NOT look quite so impressive to Harvard.

2.  Be logical, be consistent.  Wherever possible, purge irrelevant or misleading details or elements of style -- they may lead a reader who does not know you well down a rabbit hole you'll have trouble getting out of.  Consider what your TOP links on Google are -- are they representative?  If not, can you try to push up some content that is, by updating it or refreshing it?  Are your social media presences well managed -- do you have outdated or inaccurate information in some old profile setting you forgot about?

3.  Be lovable.  Love is a greater motivator than fear, and ultimately this process is about falling in love -- you with the school, and hopefully, them with you.  So don't post a lot of negative, flaming comments (especially if they're true), and don't get a rep as a can't-do person or a naysayer.  Project your best self -- an image that is active, engaged, thoughtful and caring.

4.  Friend means friend.  The last thing you want is to content with ridiculous wall posts or junk Zynga game invites all over your profile because you friended someone who doesn't get tha interwebz.  Keep your friends close and unfriend your enemies.

Don't wait until you apply -- start taking action NOW.  Some of this stuff may take time to filter out of internet search caches and the like.


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How to Write the Perfect Medical School Personal Statement

Med School graduate guru Kirsten Guenther shares her unique insight into crafting the ideal personal statement for your application.

By Kirsten Guenther

Admit it. You’ve watched at least one episode of Grey’s Anatomy. Even if you rolled your eyes the whole time, and made a gagging motion when they removed that kid from a block of cement with no permanent damage. (Okay, I’ve watched more than a couple of episodes.)

Although Grey’s Anatomy (sadly) is more Fabio than Florence Nightingale, it might actually be worth another look, because believe it or not, Grey’s Anatomy could help you with your personal statement for medical school.

Tom, one of my medical school hopefuls last year, had beaucoup internships and shadowships, a 37 MCAT score and a 3.9 G.P.A from Yale.  What he didn’t have was a compelling story for his personal statement.  Rather than writing about who he was, Tom just listed facts about himself—where he was born, what classes he had excelled in, all his fabulous qualities and qualifications.  Dullsville.  So I gave Tom some homework – he was to watch season one of Grey’s Anatomy and report back. 

Next week Tom gushed, “Kirsten! It was amazing! It’s called Grey’s Anatomy because it’s the Anatomy of Dr. Grey! The episode is like an x-ray of her soul.”

Yes, Tom …

Every episode of Grey’s Anatomy is centered around a deeply personal revelation for the main character. And the show is narrated by her—so you really get into her head and her heart. The character is self-aware—she shares her fears, her goals, her strengths, and her weaknesses. And at the end of each episode, (or for purposes, essay) she shares a revelation that changed her.

Tom eventually found his inner Dr. McDreamy and got into his top choice of school, and you can too, as long as you follow these FIVE SIMPLE TIPS.

  1.  You are writing an autobiography.  And the heart of this autobiography is simply this -- why do you want to be a doctor?  Tell admissions the story of your evolving relationship to medicine, and make sure to demonstrate how passionate you are about medicine through self-understanding and action.
  2. Show compassion. Notice I said show, don’t tell. Do not FYI them that you are understanding and patient. Walk them through the time you broke through to that tutoring student that just ‘didn’t get it’, or the time you helped that patient at the free clinic deal with a diagnosis of cancer.
  3. What kind of doctor are you?  I don’t mean your discipline – pediatrician or brain surgeon, it’s all good.  I’m talking about your bedside manner. The way you describe your internship experiences, in particular, should provide clues on how you will treat your patients once you become a doctor.
  4. Demonstrate self-awareness. How scary would it be to have a doctor who thinks he or she is perfect? Exactly. You are not perfect, thank goodness, so be clear about your strengths and weaknesses. Where can you grow and develop at medical school?
  5. Evolve.  Even if you are into Intelligent Design, you can still benefit from some personal evolution. Each experience you describe must build on the previous one – not only will your essay become infinitely more dynamic, you will show a pattern of progressing maturity over time that will reflect well on you as a candidate.

By the end of the essay, admissions must be certain you will be come a doctor. That it is in your bones, and this is their chance to help you get there.  And if you still don’t understand what I’m talking about, I sentence you to watch more Grey’s Anatomy! (Best to stick to the first three seasons.)


Don't be shy! Schedule a consultation to find out how we can help you.

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To reveal or not reveal other awards? That is the question.

During this time of year—and more and more, during this economic climate—my accepted students revisit, meet with, and ultimately follow-up with financial aid appeal letters to their top-choice colleges and universities, asking for more financial assistance. And why not? It never hurts to ask—especially if you are a top, sought-after candidate at that college. Right?

Maybe. All too often, the request from the college-of-your-choice is the same:  “Please attach the offers you have received from the other schools to which you were accepted.”

So what should you do? Is it ethical for your first-choice school to see what other institutions have offered? Is it anyone’s business? Should you ignore the request?

Let’s work through these questions for some peace of mind.

Recently, a student of mine who was accepted to her first-choice private university, and offered $10K per year. Nothing to sneeze at, but not enough. What she needs is $15K to make it possible for her to attend without taking a job. After her second visit to the campus, the financial aid office asked her to reveal the other colleges’ offers. That’s when my student asked me, “What should I do?” After all, no one had offered her $15K. Her second and third choices offered her $11K and $13K respectively. She was worried she had boxed herself in.

Are you in a similar situation? Have you already met with the financial aid office? If so, here are a few questions you might be asking yourself:

If my first-choice college—the one I want the $15K from—sees the lower offer from another school, are they likely to meet it or beat it? What is the benefit of showing them a better offer? Isn’t it like showing your poker hand?
Should I reveal the lower offer, but explain that although my first-choice college is A, I will have to go with College B—a great school, but not the one I have my heart set on?

Since it’s my number one choice, should I just take the 10K offer and figure out a way to make up the difference? Work at Starbucks or the bookstore?

Obviously, you get that all of the questions depend on how bad you want to be at your number-one choice, here are some responses from the wisest colleagues in the admissions biz.

First off, make sure you’re comparing apples to apples—make sure the tuition is frozen for the next four years—meaning the colleges you received financial awards from are similar in rank and style…

1. Go ahead and show your number-one that better offer from the other schools. All colleges base their calculations on the same federal methodology, but alter their offers based on their particular financial policies. So, seeing a higher offer just might get you the extra $ you need. If the margin is small, my colleagues assure me, your top-choice will adjust their original offer to match the other schools.  But make sure you’re only sharing the letters of “comparable” schools…for example, a highly selective college won’t care that you got a full ride from a local “suitcase school.”

2.  When you’re sending in that “please, sir, I want some more” request, make sure you do it with grace and respect. Express your regret at even having to make the choice between your number-one and the other schools.

3. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot. If your number 1 is really your number 1—has the programs, the people and the professors you want—then rise to the occasion and don’t let a few thousand dollars come between you and dream school. Who cares if you spend a few hours a week in college asking “would you like fries with that” if you’re set up for the career you’ve wanted?

Finally, I’d go with what Nirav Mehta, the associate director of admissions at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business, said when I asked him the above three questions:

“I believe the other offers should be revealed, as requested by the Financial Aid Office. But it's equally important to highlight the real financial need without an adversarial approach. Financial aid officers are interested in helping young people realize their educational dreams, but they're making decisions with limited information. Helping financial aid officers get an honest picture of the situation will be the most effective approach. I have seen modifications in the financial aid package with this kind of approach that focuses on the need, especially if [you’re] academically stellar.”

Thanks, Nirav!

Don't be shy! Schedule a consultation to find out how we can help you.

Bottom line: It never hurts to ask, and honesty is the best policy.

Auntie Evan

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Forster-Thomas interview skills expert Jani Moon offers ten great tips on how to conduct a powerful, sexy, persuasive MBA admissions interview.

By Jani Moon

In case you missed it, yesterday I explained in detail how to have a mind-blowing sexual encounter – I mean, MBA interview. Actually, I explained both at the same time. Check it out. And then come back here for the after-party – ten essential tips that will make you irresistible in an admissions interview.

1. Get my attention. I'm HBS. I'm the hot chick in the room, and I know it. If you do not get my attention, you won't get anywhere with me. So start with a dramatic introductory fact, question, statistic, quote, or thought. Make sure you've practiced it in front of a mirror and can deliver it well. If it's good, it will hook me.

2. Give me foreplay. Here's a little open secret about us girls – you have to lower the drawbridge BEFORE you storm the castle. Set up the story. Give me the time and place. Introduce the cast of 'characters' I need to know. Present the internal or external conflict. An internal conflict is a struggle that you have within yourself and external conflict is one you have outside of yourself.

3. Guide me, but gently. Some like it rough, others like it gentle. But here's something nobody likes – being left uncertain what to do. This is your ride, and you have to be my guide. Tell me a sequence of specific events that build to the conflict and climax. Tease me with details. Use metaphor, simile, personification and the language of the senses to paint a full picture.

4. Reveal your thoughts and feelings. What are you thinking right now? I want to know. No, I'm not just asking, I really want to know! Those kinds of details are exciting! Whatever you talk about in the interview, make sure I know what you are thinking and feeling about it. I will feel more connected to you. You're opening a gateway into your soul, an opportunity for me to relive this specific moment and time with you.

5. Build to a climax. I know it's coming. I've been waiting for it. Don't disappoint me. Instead, dramatically build into your climax. Increase the pace of your voice, use a higher pitch tone, and repeat phrases to build intensity. And don't be afraid to surprise me with a last minute twist.

6. Release into darkness. That's it. You hit the emotional summit. But don't be sad. Instead, be silent. This was amazing. No need to talk about it. Sh-h-h-h. Breathe. Pause. Pause. Pause. Silence is golden.

7. Surrender. When you finally do speak again, don't you dare ask me how it was. Do not seek my approval – your job is not finished yet. Now it is time, softly, slowly, and with total vulnerability, to tell me your deepest, darkest, rawest truth. The one that scares you. That's the one. Your fear, your pain, your dream, your joy, your hidden belief that you are not good enough. That moment will complete our emotional bond.

8. Give empathy. When I participate, offering something in return, be a generous partner. Empathize with my point of view, even if you do not agree. Be kind and accepting and prepared to learn something amazing. Above all, be humble and grateful for the emotional ride and soulful experience that you just shared.

9. Complete. Ok, so we had this earth-shaking, amazing moment. Now what? Don't leave any questions in my mind, or in my heart. Resolve every story, answer every concern or fear I may have (remember, I'm vulnerable here too!). Make sure before you walk away that I am satisfied and I know what the next action should be.

10. Share what you learned. It may not come up, but if it does, you have to be ready. If asked what you learned, thoughtfully reflect on the experience. Tell me how you have changed because of our meeting. Share a valuable lesson. Discuss what you might do differently – next time. Remind me there will be a next time.

Wow! That was amazing. I think I need to take a cold shower now.

Take me on the ride of my life. Interview like you are making LOVE to me and get into the MBA program of your dreams. I dare you.


Jani can guide you personally! Schedule a consultation to find out how.

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Forster-Thomas interview skills expert Jani Moon shares everything you always wanted to know about sex and MBA admissions interviews, but were afraid to ask.

By Jani Moon

As a professional interview skills expert at Forster-Thomas, I've seen my share of MBA applicants. As a sexy Asian girl living in New York City, I've had my share of romantic interludes. Believe it or not, the two experiences have a lot in common!

A great interview is like great sex. I go on an epic emotional journey, fully present to both who and what I am. You share deeply with me, and take risks. I am moved and I surrender, releasing into darkness and coming out the other side grateful, alive, and transformed.

Am I telling you climb across the conference table and get all “hey girl” Ryan Gosling on me? Of course not. But the same DYNAMICS apply. Talk to your HBS, Kellogg or INSEAD interviewer like you would an old friend or a confidant. Make her fall in love with you, call her to action. Leave her inspired.

Jerry was a bad 'lover'. As he robotically rattled off the facts of his painful divorce during our interview session, I missed the TRUTH of the story he was telling. Where was the pain he had felt? What lessons had he learned? How had he transformed? I was ready to fire up an e-cigarette and call it a night.

I get it. Interviews are scary, especially when you want that slot at Columbia GSB so badly you can taste it. Jerry was scared of rejection. He didn't feel safe or confident. So he held back – and I got nothing.

Sorry, Jerry, but that's not the way to get in. You can't hold back. You have to lean in, bust out of that cage you call a three piece suit and PLEASE me. In other words, be more like Pia.

Pia knew what she was doing. I felt her emotion but also her groundedness, her humbleness, but also her complete and utter transparency. The story about the death of her mother moved me to tears. She left me begging for more. And by the way, it wasn't just me who dug Pia's act – after Kellogg saw her video essay, she got into her school of choice without even breaking a sweat.

You're probably thinking – dammit, I'm a Jerry, not a Pia. But you're wrong. Jerry was a Pia, he just didn't know it. You already are amazing, sexy, dynamic. You have what I want. You just have to believe that you do.

Tune in for part two tomorrow and find out the ten essential tips that will make you irresistible in the the interview room, AND the bedroom.


Want to meet Jani? (we don't blame you) Schedule a consultation to find out how we can help you.

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There are certain terms MBAs use that, when seen in the proper context (real life), are meaningless. In this series, we tell you how to avoid them and choose superior alternatives.

By Ben Feuer

Somewhere along the line, the American public decided that innovation was a good thing.  This was not always so.  In Victorian England (or pretty much anytime in China), innovation was subordinate to a host of other virtues such as obedience, piety and courage, none of which you're likely to encounter in an essay for business school today.

In other words, we have all conformed to innovation.  How's that for irony?

We're not knocking innovation.  Innovation is a good thing.  But it is also a rare thing.  Were your leadership techniques really innovative, or just imaginative?  Even inventive sets a lower bar than innovative, which means, quite simply, the introduction of something NEW.  New, as in unprecedented.  Any leadership technique you are likely to have utilized at your job has been used literally millions of times before, and the relentless hyperbole and self-aggrandizement implied by the word innovative is (dare I say it?) itself now a cliche.
What about your business idea?  Surely it is innovative, or at least revolutionary.  Again, probably not.  If your business were truly innovative, brand new, we would have heard about it.  It might be clever, dynamic, sophisticated, efficient -- but double-check your word choice when you use that tired word innovative.

Innovative is played out.  If you really are a groundbreaking thinker, use that 1000 watt brain of yours to dream up a more exciting word to use.

Don't be shy! Schedule a consultation to find out how we can help you.