Be honest: when was the last time you spoke openly in a conversation with someone outside your family? No calculations, no considerations, no filter. Probably can’t remember, right? When it seems that you can’t get anywhere these days if you aren’t in complete agreement with absolutely everyone else, it’s easy to feel stuck.

When a “wrong” opinion could sideline your entire life, why wouldn’t you be careful?

And we say: Screw. That.

Whether you’re a “raging snowflake” or a “downright deplorable”, your voice is valid. Moreover, your personal opinions aren’t important; your impactfulness is. We think your weirdness is wonderful (unless you’re randomly setting fire to kittens or purposefully funnelling toxic waste into the drinking water). No matter your side of the fence, we’ll listen to your story without judgement. Go ahead and shut that filter off, because when you do your real, whole self can shine.

Know who likes the genuine you? Admissions committees. Your essays are their window into your world, and they can smell a lack of authenticity a mile away. So take a deep breath and a good, long look in the mirror because the person staring back is worth getting to know.

Want to plaster your walls with pictures of AOC? That’s cool.

Want to keep making America Great Again? That’s great.

Want to take the next step in making a difference in the world? That’s the real ticket.


Remember, we don’t care what your personal opinions are, only that you’re willing to own them. The goal is to differentiate, not assimilate. By all means, do what you need to for retaining employment or continuing to be invited to family dinners. We’re not telling you to throw caution to the wind by publicizing your social media and posting nefarious photos... But we ARE telling you that your success with admissions involves pulling down your walls and strutting naked in all your glory (proverbially speaking, of course).

We love (the real) you already. Show yourself some true love and your dream school will, too.




Thursday, July 08, 2021


STERNS NEW ESSAY PROMPT 2021 (350 words max)

In today’s global business environment, the only constant is change. Using NYU Stern’s brand call to action, we want to know how you view change. Change: _____ it. 

Fill in the blank with a word of your choice. Why does this word resonate with you? How will you embrace your own personal tagline while at Stern? Examples:
Change: Dare it.
Change: Dream it.
Change: Drive it.
Change: Empower it.
Change: Manifest it.
Change: [Any word of your choice.]

The individuals whom NYU is looking for are not sitting on the sidelines hoping against hope that things will go back to the way they were. They have embraced, celebrated and created change. If you truly are a candidate for Stern (or any top MBA program), you are not just responding to the new world, you are creating it as a result of your decisions, actions, and vision. 

In Stern’s new essay you want to communicate how your style of innovation and leadership established a new context to understand an evolving situation. This could be how you faced a defeat, or crushed a new career opportunity. It is about how you capitalized on opportunities that others never saw, or if they did, thought were impossible. Show Stern how your innovation during a crisis ensured not only your own survival but to the success of your team. 

So, let’s take a stab at some of the ways you might respond to the new Stern question: 

  1.    Change: Dare it. You dared to follow your dream to join the start-up that became Argentina's GrubHub.     
  2.    Change: Empower it. As Black Lives Matter protests swept the nation, you organized a successful campaign for a local politician.
Or one of your own

  1. Change: Bloom it. During the pandemic you organized community gardens that brought food and flowers to shut-ins.
Remember, what you did is already in the past! How will you apply what you learned to the new challenges on the horizon? Making bold predictions about where you want to go from here, will prove that you will always be ahead of your competition! 

The 2021-2022 Common Application questions for college have been released!  

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.


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.Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?

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? 

This prompt is 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. 

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.

The Covid-19 Question

Where can I explain how COVID-19 had an impact on me?

COVID-19 has affected students in dramatically different ways. If you need it, the COVID-19 and natural disaster question in the Additional Information section is a place for you to describe the impact of these events.

The question is not intended to be an extra essay. There’s also no need to describe how your school responded to these events. Your counselor will have an opportunity to discuss impacts like closures, online instruction, and grading policies. Instead, consider how these events may have impacted you, your family, and your learning environment. Examples might include:

  • Illness or loss within your family or support network
  • Employment or housing disruptions within your family 
  • Food insecurity
  • Toll on mental and emotional health
  • New obligations such as part-time work or care for siblings or family members
  • Availability of computer or internet access required to continue your studies
  • Access to a safe and quiet study space
  • A new direction for your major or career interests


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!


One reason that students are waitlisted is because the university is not convinced you’ll accept the offer back. And in many cases, the colleges are right.

I just received a call from a student with fantastic news: She was just accepted to UC Berkeley. Cal was ranked much higher on her list than Notre Dame, where she had been waitlisted just a week earlier. “Next step: Pull yourself off of the waitlist at Notre Dame!” I said.
“No, no,” she responded. “I need to get off the Notre Dame waitlist. I need it in my back pocket, just in case.”
I might understand this attitude if she had a clear admit to Notre Dame. After all, because of Covid, this high school senior had never visited either campus, and each represented two very different kinds of student lifestyle and learning environment. But she was waitlisted at Notre Dame.
“So, Notre Dame got it right,” I said. “Notre Dame correctly assumed that you would get into a college that you preferred over them.”
At so many colleges and universities right now, the waitlist status is its way of saying, “We’d love to have you, but we aren’t certain that you’re really going to come here.” Waitlisting you puts the ball back in your court: How hard are you going to lobby? Are you going to be persuasive when you tell the college or university that you will accept the offer back?
Let’s be clearer: You have the task of convincing a school you want “in your back pocket” that you’ll accept the offer if it’s given to you. That’s not easy. I would argue that it’s not ethical, either. The sooner you withdraw from a school you won’t attend, the easier you’re making it for everyone else who actually wants that school as their first choice. This is even true if you are waitlisted. In this particular student’s case, I am sure Notre Dame would love to accept her if they were convinced she would attend. Pulling herself off the waitlist gives another waitlisted student a chance.
Why does my student want Notre Dame in her back pocket? Because she’s what I call a “trophy hunter”: a student interested in bragging rights of all the schools she got in. This is a metaphorical remix of the same song she had decried in an essay: boys who only date girls for the boast.
Universities know all about trophy hunters. Nobody wants to be the University of Maybe-I’ll-Go. No college wants to be a notch on your belt. The only way you’re going to get off that waitlist is to convince them you will attend.
But if you are absolutely determined to widen your options, you have to make up “a story.” A story is a work of fiction—like your desire to attend a certain university that you really just want in your back pocket. If you are creative enough to write such a compelling letter of intent, and you are willing to screw over all the people on the waitlist who really do want to attend…then maybe you want to go to that university more than you are currently willing to admit.
Or maybe you’re just not living your values. That’s the approach I took with this student. She believes deeply (or so she said) in equity and inclusion, in making the world a better place, in creating a planet where people don’t lead with self-interest but with social enhancement. I asked her to remember what she wrote about in her essays and talked about in her interviews.
Thank God a lightbulb went on over my student’s head and she returned back to being that bright, highly capable, honest and fair student I know her to be. She pulled herself from the Notre Dame waitlist.
Live your values and be honest with your intentions. It’s the right thing to do.

The following was posted on 10/13/20 on the academic test prep site,


Back in 1981, The Clash asked a timeless question, a version of which a lot of college students are asking themselves in 2020: Is now the right time to go to grad school? COVID-19 has upended all the conventional wisdom about when, how, and why to apply to graduate school. Here are the three most important things you need to know as you consider applying to professional graduate schools like law, medical and business school, during a pandemic.

1. Hiding out is not a reason to go to graduate school

If you are considering graduate school out of fear of the future, then your entire candidacy is going to be drenched in fear. Flip the narrative and focus on finding a proactive reason for applying to graduate school that has to do with you and your goals, not a reactive one that is responding to a moment in time. 

We are living in a pivotal time for education, where politics, law, healthcare, finance and business, and religion can come together to solve problems. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously put it best: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” If graduate admissions seeks to do one thing at its core, it is to take your measure, thus your search should start by taking measure of yourself and your goals.

So, the first step to this whole process is to do some personal reflection and find out where the idea of going to graduate school is coming from.

Take this test:

  • Are you in college and fear your job recruiting prospects?
  • Has your job search come up empty? 
  • Did you recently get furloughed or lose your job?

If you said yes to any of these questions, you have a great reason to be considering graduate school right now. But none of these reasons would be compelling to a graduate school admissions committee. You need a proactive, confident, vision-based foundation to your candidacy. That is the key to the kingdom and lies at the heart of the “personal statement,” “goals essay,” or “academic statement of purpose” asked by every flavor of graduate school. 

Personal statements (or the “goals essay” or “academic statement of purpose”) are the foundation of your entire candidacy. They sum up who you are, where you’ve been, and where you’re going. Here are some examples of great “vision-based” reasons for attending professional school programs you might be considering:

  • Business school: I want to transform the business climate and policy around the adoption of clean-energy incentives.
  • Law school: Teach for America taught me how wealthy versus poor parents gain access to Individualized Education Plans, and I want to advocate for people who can’t afford the support of traditional law firms.
  • Film school: Netflix has created a new platform for telling highly personal stories that would never make it on broadcast television; I want to learn how to tell stories of people and communities that have been marginalized until now.
  • Medical school: Bioinformatics and data analytics are the future of medicine; I want to combine my engineering degree with new technologies to advance how telemedicine can be used as a more powerful tool.

2. Ask for recommendations early

Everyone loves being asked to write a recommendation…but nobody actually enjoys writing them. COVID-19 has made asking for recommendations harder than ever, because you might not be physically near your recommender. A year ago, you would have swung by your favorite professor’s office or your supervisor’s desk to have a quick chat about why you would be honored for their letter of recommendation. You would start a dialog about your deadline for the letters, negotiate some qualities or attributes to highlight, and remind them of great moments in your history on the job or in the class. 

Nowadays, your exposure to your professor or supervisor may be limited to Zoom calls, texts, and emails. These media are very impersonal, easy to ignore, and tempting to put off. You should lock down your recommenders as soon as possible, anticipating a longer-than-usual turnaround time. Your recommenders are stretched to the limit, learning how to navigate this new world (whether it’s professors creating tech-friendly curricula or bosses who are understaffed due to furlough). Build in extra time and plan to send a gentle reminder or two (and, of course, a genuine thanks when the letter is in). 

But there’s a catch. By this point in the game in a ‘normal’ year, most graduate schools would have already released applications for fall 2021 admissions; this year, however, many are very behind in releasing applications. If you want to initiate the recommendation process but you have no active application to link your recommender to, there is an excellent service called Interfolio Dossier. You can create an account there, invite your recommenders to submit their recommendation into the Dossier, and then connect the Dossier to your application form when it comes out. There’s an added benefit: The Dossier will store the recommendation for as long as you keep an account active—which means you can use the same letter if you need to reapply or if you need a letter for a Fellowship or Scholarship application after you are accepted. 

3. Extracurriculars still matter – even if they are only online

The fundamental question behind every application for admission is, Who are you? Admissions committees want to know what you value and what kind of contribution you want to make. Your community service, campus/workplace leadership, and personal interests paint a picture of who you are. They are vital components of your narrative.

Graduate schools want to fill a class with people who are agents of change. While college is often a time of exploration, graduate school is all about focus and making an impact. So, if you have been waiting out the virus, now is the time to find a way to get to work demonstrating that a global pandemic will not get in the way of your goals.

Sitting on the sidelines is also just plain bad for your psyche. A University of Idaho study released in September found that getting off your couch is good for your mental health. “Fear surrounding COVID-19 largely predicted negative psychological health and was significantly correlated with PTSD symptoms, depression, anxiety and stress,” said Clarissa Richardson, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Idaho’s Department of Psychology and Communication Studies. 

We have heard students complain that their hands are tied during this time, when most organizations have closed their doors. Your job is to find a creative way to open those doors, or create doors of your own. If our college-bound high school students can create a food drive for the homebound, or can gather all their friends to tutor elementary school kids learning at home, then imagine what you can do with your extra wisdom, maturity, and experience. 

There are a million platforms to find online volunteer activities. Here are a few of the best:

You need to be confident, decisive, proactive, mission-driven, and vision-based in your application to graduate school. Manage the process the way you manage your life, and don’t let fear drive you. You are going to do an amazing job.

What follows is a transcript of an important conversation I had earlier today about registering for the ACT next week (week of July 27, 2020) with one of the most highly respected test-prep CEOs, Sean Quinn, of Onsen Education.

Sean: I totally understand the anxiety about registering for the ACT, especially this year, but relax. Everything’s going to be okay.

Auntie: Okay??? Are you joking? Nothing about testing under Covid-19 is OKAY!!!

Sean: The ACT has announced that it opens registration the last week of July (the week of July 27th), but they haven't confirmed an exact day/time on their website. So make sure you and your parents are signed up to get an email alert from this link: When the ACT does open registration, you and your parents will receive an email notification (not a text, #Snowflakes!).

Auntie: Wow. Thanks, Sean. I think that—

Sean: Auntie, stop interrupting. There’s more.

Auntie: Ouch!

Sean: First, Auntie, students’ phones and their parents’ phones should be set up to receive email alerts. (You should do it too, Auntie.) Second, pay attention to any communication that lands in your Inbox with the word "ACT" or comes from Third: Even without receiving an email from the ACTin the rare case that the email alert is delayedcontinue to check the ACT website for registration twice a day, every day, starting Monday, July 27—once in the morning around 9am, and once in the afternoon around 4 or 5pm.

Auntie: What do we do once we get the email alert?

Sean: Head directly to the ACT registration website and register as soon as you can for the dates that most interest you! The dates are listed below. Onsen Education generally recommends that current applicants register for one in September and one in October. And by the way, students should ask themselves, “Do I really need to take the test now?” If you’re a rising junior, for example, you might get some really good karma if you step aside and let the rising seniors take first shot at registering. Rising sophomores, definitely step aside.

Auntie: What if the date I want is already booked?

Sean: Not to worry—the ACT has effectively added 5 test dates this year, for a total of 7 possibilities between September and October. Of course, you may have to try all week long! The server will be congested and likely to go down multiple times. Don't give up! 



    • Saturday, September 12 
    • Sunday, September 13 
    • Saturday, September 19 


    • Saturday, October 10
    • Saturday, October 17
    • Saturday, October 24
    • Sunday, October 25 

Auntie: Thanks, Sean. You are amazing, Thanks for taking the time today to answer my questions. I am sure there are many of my colleagues and students who have found your words very calming and your instructions easy to follow. Please send us more photos of your munchkin toddler, Cala.

Any have any other questions? Please feel free to contact Sean at or 443-631-3338, or contact Forster-Thomas or 212-741-9090.

There is a famous quote from the poet Robert Burns, paraphrased thusly -- "The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray."  That's certainly how it works when it comes to your essays. You may think that you have an unstoppably brilliant idea, only to sit down and find that you can't actually write a word of it!  Or perhaps, you've got too many ideas (and you know it), but narrowing the field is proving nearly impossible. Or perhaps you're going through the umpteenth tweaking of your essay -- you've changed the "the" to "as", then back to "the" again, about fifteen times at this point. Only to finally, depressingly conclude that you just can't make this essay work. It just won't click.

You have three choices: one, you can forge ahead with an essay you know isn't your best. Obviously, we don't recommend that. Two, you can give up, curl up in a ball and cry. Satisfying, sure, but it doesn't get you any closer to your goal. Or three -- you can start your essay over from scratch.

Assuming you're on board and ready to start over again, here's the process you need to run through.

What was it that you fundamentally were not getting from the previous draft?  Was it a feeling, an idea, a sense of cohesion? What is the number one thing you need to focus on? Make sure it's only one -- the last thing you want is to try to fix everything, you'll end up right back where you started.

What is the simplest, best possible version of yourself that addresses this issue?  Say, for example, you're trying to make a school understand how sensitive and thoughtful you are. Maybe you want to write about the charity you created devoted to animal welfare, or the shelf full of paperback romance novels you've read over and over again. Well, maybe not that second one. :)

Forget about getting it right -- just write. When starting over, it's especially important not to get bogged down in first draft perfectionist syndrome. Instead, just tell the story to the best of your ability, set it aside for a couple of days, then return to it with fresh eyes.

So that's it!  3 simple steps and you'll be well on your way to (re)writing the essay of your dreams!  And if you have questions about how to proceed, give us a call.

Well, here you are again, Last Minute Larry. You can't claim innocence -- as usual, you did it to yourself. The deadline you've been dreading is now staring you in the face, and it ain't pretty. On the contrary, it's terrifying. And that big blank white computer screen isn't going to fill itself with words. So what do you do?

Whether you've got a week, a day, or only an hour, here's a simple plan to help you make the most of the time you have left and put your best foot forward.

STEP ONE -- FORGIVE AND FORGET. Yes, you are a bad, bad boy or girl or genderfluid person. Naughty, no biscuit. But forget that noise, because the cycle of self-recrimination and avoidance is what got you here in the first place. You need to forgive yourself for the past, and forget everything but what's in front of you right now. Write it down so you won't forget. X minutes to midnight. Time to get serious.

STEP TWO -- SHUT OUT DISTRACTIONS. I know, I know, you're busy like Lady GaGa. You got so much going on right now it's not even funny. Well you know what would be really funny?  You missing that deadline and having to explain to your parents why you're not going to college/grad school this year. I'd enjoy being a fly on the wall for that conversation, because yes, I'm jaded like that. So lock the door, kick out your cat, shut down your Insta feed and get to work already.

STEP THREE -- WRITE VERY BADLY. Yes, you're a brilliant, clever perfect person who must always and forever be admired. But forget that salient fact for just a minute. Because right at this moment, "you" are a space where some words should be. And it's time to fill that space with words. And no, they're not going to be the best words. In fact, they might be some of the worst words. But that's OK. Because you have to start somewhere, which is exactly what you've failed to do up until this point.

STEP FOUR -- FINISH WITHOUT SELF-CRITIQUE. Write the whole thing, right now, don't stop, don't think, just write.

STEP FIVE -- SHUT DOWN AND WALK AWAY. Go have fun, have a snack. Now, if the worst happens, you can hit submit. Even though you probably wouldn't want to.

STEP SIX -- COME BACK FRESH AND IMPROVE. Come back when you're refreshed and read your bad words. Now it is OK to be a judge, but try to come with solutions, not problems. Say -- I think I could tweak this. I think I can punch up that. Not -- I hate myself and this is so bad.

STEP SEVEN -- FIRE AND FORGET. OK, you've revised, it's 10 minutes to the deadline. Time to send it off and forget about it. I know, now that it's been rattling around in your brain because of how long you spent NOT doing it, that might be tough. But just remember you did the best job YOU were capable of doing AT THIS TIME. And that's always enough. Next time, perhaps, you'll be better. Or maybe you'll be worse.

Good luck!

PS: If you procrastinate and you know it -- maybe get some professional help with that.

Photo by Dinesh Raj Goomani

Often, people are surprised when we suggest they write about their Greek experience in a graduate school admissions essay. After all, they reason, there's nothing academically impressive about kegstands and hazing rituals, is there?

Well, if you're letting Animal House cliches blind you to the wide range of fraternity experiences, maybe it's time you re-examined the role of Greek life on a modern campus. Aside from their social functions, fraternities and sororities also do charity work, balance budgets, provide professional training, create and host events and elect leaders, fundraise and recruit. The leadership and organizational challenges encompassed in actually running the day-to-day business of a fraternity is not all that different from running a law office, medical office or managing a division of a business. You need to be persuasive, persistent, innovative and able to work with a wide range of personalities and ideas.

As you already know -- because as a fraternity brother or sorority sister, particularly if you assumed any kind of leadership role, you have been responsible for many or all of these challenges.

Now, do you see how this might become MBA, JD or even MD application essay material?

No one is saying that acting as the social chair of a fraternity is a comparable level of responsibility to, say, CFOing a company. But most twenty-two to twenty-seven-year-olds applying to graduate school haven't been given much professional responsibility yet. Rather than writing about being a tiny cog in a big machine, filing away papers and earning somebody else lots of money, write about the personal challenges involved in persuading alumni to donate $100,000 to keep the lights on, or getting fifteen to twenty people to agree on the theme for an event. Admissions officers will learn a lot more about you that way.

In no way are we endorsing the idea that you should ignore your professional experience when applying for a professional degree!  But you might need to supplement your professional experience with other areas of your life where you had more authority, and fraternities are a great one to consider.
If you're interested in learning more about possible topics and how to write amazing essays, give us a call, we'll be happy to walk you through the process in detail.

The college admissions process is stressful in so many different ways. One of the biggest challenges for many college students is the sudden pressure to decide what they're going to pursue as a career. After all, students are quick to point out, I haven't really had a chance to try many things -- or maybe anything at all!  Why are schools asking me in supplemental essays what I want to study, and what I want to do with my life?  Is this some kind of test?

No, it's not a test. And no, you do NOT have to have, at age eighteen, a clear and firm idea of what kind of work you want to do after graduating. That said, for certain disciplines, it can be very helpful to have a general sense of what interests you, and which direction you want to take your career. 

But it's important to remember that nothing is final!  Just because you write about something in an admissions essay, or talk about it to an admissions officer, doesn't mean you're 'locked in' -- you always have the right to change your mind!


Here are a few common career paths we encounter at Forster-Thomas, including our advice on each.

IF YOU PLAN TO BE A DOCTOR, you need to start laying the groundwork even before applying to college. Medical school is unbelievably competitive, and most successful candidates are already shadowing and taking relevant coursework at sixteen or seventeen years old. If you're in this camp and applying to college, it's a good idea to let your school know what you're planning to do.

IF YOU PLAN TO BE A LAWYER, don't go into too much detail about it during your undergraduate application process. Express a general interest in law and justice, but leave it at that. And don't pursue pre-law as a major, it generally works against you, rather than for you. Philosophy, engineering and various liberal arts degrees are the most common feeders into law school.

IF YOU PLAN TO GO INTO BUSINESS, again, you don't need to go into very much detail while applying, nor do you need to write about what kind of business you want to pursue. It might be a good idea to join relevant clubs and fraternities shortly after getting on campus, though, since networks make business careers.

IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN THE ARTS, study whatever you like, BA or BFA, but create lots of really good work while you're in college, and take internships as a way to shake hands and start meeting people in your target industry. For classical musicians and theater types, there is some advantage to pursuing relevant BFA programs, although it is not decisive, and certain film BFA programs also confer professional advantages.

IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN STEM, the proof will largely be in your academic prowess and the history of things you have created and made, competitions entered, et cetera. These are very hierarchical, grade-focused fields, and so it helps to specialize early.

IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN A TRADE, such as ELECTRICIAN, PLUMBER or AUTO REPAIRMAN, your career path may not involve college at all. In that case, you definitely want to have a pretty clear idea of which trade you'd like to pursue and why you'll be good at it, since you'll probably have to spend a decent chunk of money on training, and it won't be transferable to any other profession.

IF YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU WANT TO DO AT ALL, you should start to try and figure it out. Undecided is OK, clueless is not. Narrow it down to three or four possible paths, without attempting to eliminate any, prioritize any, or choose between them.

IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN ANY OTHER CAREER, write briefly about it while applying, and indicate a relevant major preference if you have one. But don't get too specific, and be open to other possibilities that may arise along the way.

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