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An article raises key questions about where MBA essay prompts have been, and where they are headed.

By Ben Feuer

Bloomberg Businessweek has a fantastic article today about why certain questions have survived in the process, and why others change every year.  The whole article is worth a careful read if you are planning to apply to business school this year, but here are a few of the highlights.

1.  If a question stays every year -- it's because the school likes the question.  Obvious?  Perhaps.  But Booth's Powerpoint essay, or Kellogg's new video essay, or Stanford's What Matters Most essay have become synonymous with the schools themselves.  Admissions officers believe (correctly!) that if you cannot figure out a way to answer these questions, these schools are not right for you.  And conversely, if you have a great answer to these questions, you might just be a great fit at these schools ...

2.  Authenticity is the goal.  All MBA candidates want to 'force' a fit between themselves and their target school.  It's only natural -- you want them, so you want to make them want you.  As anyone who has frequented eHarmony can tell you, life doesn't work that way -- but if you put yourself out there, you just might get lucky!  Safe, rote and formula responses are a recipe for rejection, as these admissions officers are eager to remind you -- it's part of why they shake up the questions each year.

3.  Video's relevance is on the rise.  It's a teleconferencing age, and b-schools are recognizing that.  Yale and Kellogg both have video components to their applications this year, and FT's crystal ball predicts this trend will spread.  Schools like the spontaneity of the video responses (and they like not having to read another essay).

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What's new in the world today?  How about a kitchen appliance for vitamins, bioprinted leather and a global exchange for Bitcoin?

By Ben Feuer

One of the many fabulous services we here at Forster Thomas like to provide is an occasional snapshot of the innovation landscape -- a few carefully chosen examples to highlight the diversity and sophistication of global thought.  Why do we do this?  To push you to think beyond a conventional, one size fits all goal, and start thinking about how you can have a real and meaningful impact on the world around you.

Our first innovation of the day comes from a well-established company, Nestle.  Simply put, they want to make the replicator real -- but they're starting a bit smaller than that, focusing instead on nutrition.  Nestle contends that most people are deficient in at least one of the 30 nutrients the human body requires and cannot produce, and is building a prototype gadget for your kitchen that would build your own nutritional supplement.  So what about replicated hamburgers?  Nestle says that's at least ten years away still.

A rather fancifully named startup, Modern Meadow, raised a big chunk of change on its idea of using vat-grown leather for clothing.  Eco friendly and stylish!  This one is a few years away as well, but provides an insight into how more and more startups have a physical (real-world) component to them -- after all, there is a limit to how many internet apps one person can really use.

This Forbes article about one of Europe's most popular Bitcoin exchanges is particularly intriguing because of its founders, a couple of 20something Slovenians named Kodrič and Merlak.  The young, delocalized nature of modern entrepreneurship was never more evident than now, with these two fast on their way to being the richest Slovenians around (except that they are actually relocating their company to London).

So if you are writing your essays now (and you better be!), keep your mind open to exciting new possibilities.  The world is evolving more rapidly than ever before, and you get a front row seat!


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Forster-Thomas's first monthly meeting at our new location took place yesterday -- and some interesting insights came out of it.

Ben Feuer

Company-wide meetings here at Forster-Thomas are a casual affair.  Fine wine is served, we dress to impress, we dine beneath the stars and talk long into the night about our fabulous selves.  

So what's new in Forster-Thomas land?  Turns out, lots!  Auntie Evan and Uncle David continue to break new ground with Essay Busters and Job Talk Daily, to say nothing of their work right here at Forster-Thomas.  Our very own Tom Locke is simultaneously developing a new television series with a Hollywood producer and a new audition coaching initiative for acting students in need of aid.  Kirsten Guenther just won a Rockefeller Grant while continuing to help medical school applicants get in touch with their inner Grey's Anatomy.  Jani Moon launched a website and a Google Hangout TV series.  Aimee Barr conducted a sold out conference for MSW graduates.  Susan Clark created a volunteer art mural in Italy!  Katie Kennedy is hard at work with Evan on his next book!  And of course, no Forster-Thomas meeting would be complete without honoring the glue that holds the entire organization together, Roberto Pineda and Nallely Rosales!

So everybody's doing awesome -- awesome!  What does this mean for those of you who are busy struggling with your essays?  Get to the good stuff, I hear you cry!  All right!  No need to be so pushy!

The first point was made by our very own Uncle David, and it concerns brainstorming.  I tell my candidates to brainstorm all the time, because I consider it an exceptionally helpful way to break out of mental ruts and develop your best ideas.  Well, Uncle David mentioned this gem and I had to pass it on to all of you.

"When brainstorming, most people think their job is to come up with 3 or 4 good ideas.  But that's not how brainstorming really works.  In fact, it goes like this.  First you get some good ideas.  Then you get some OK ideas.  By the time you're on your fifteenth idea, you know you're running on fumes.  And then something magical happens, and by PUSHING THROUGH IT, your last three ideas are usually even better than the first five.  So never stop when the ideas are good -- instead, push on until they're bad, then push through the badness so you can get to the greatness!"

Well said, sir.

I also had a few humble thoughts of my own for all of you stuck in the early stages of drafting your essays.  Google Ventures has taken to using timers to inspire its entrepreneurs/children to get over their perfectionism and innate long-windedness.  I think timers are an excellent tool for anyone trying to be creative, because constraints are empowering.  So if you are struggling to draft an essay, constrain yourself to an hour (or half an hour) to write it.  You might be surprised at how imperfect, and how interesting, the results can be!

Meanwhile, we here in Forster-Thomas land send you lots of love and best of luck for the upcoming application season!

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It's a red letter day at the FT offices -- new essays and deadlines have been released!

By Ben Feuer

Our essay guide was just updated with four new schools -- Duke Fuqua, Yale SOM, Berkeley Haas, and UPenn Wharton.  Check out the prompts and deadlines at the following links!


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Every year, NALP pulls the employment and salary statistics of law school graduates -- these are the most important developments this year.

By Ben Feuer

NALP's selected findings for the class of 2013 have been released, and they provide some fascinating insights on current trends in the overall law school community.  Bear in mind that this is broadly targeted information -- at your particular school, mileage may vary -- sometimes a lot.  Still, certain overall trends are easy to spot.

1.  2008 is not coming back.  If your interest in the legal profession is based solely, or even primarily, on the pre-crash salaries at big law firms, choose another line of work.  Like almost every field in this country, law is becoming more entrepreneurial and there is less tolerance for baby lawyers learning on big law salaries.

2.  Graduating classes are going to shrink.  Partly because of decreasing demand, law schools intend to cut their class sizes by 30% over three years.  This is a smart, responsible move on their part, but it will make top law schools more competitive for prospective students.

3.  Lawyer/entrepreneurs are on the rise.  There have always been a certain number of lawyers hanging out their own shingle after graduating law school, but that number is on the rise, and now stands at 4.8 percent for law jobs.  This is a good potential option for recent graduates seeking opportunities in the field.  On a related note, the percentage of lawyers employed in business has risen to 18.4 percent, an all time high.

4.  Academic jobs are rare -- and often part time.  Although "Law School Professor" is definitely a great gig, it is also very hard to come by.  Only 2.6 percent of all legal jobs were in academia in 2013, and of those, 39 percent were part time (read: adjunct).

5.  This is still a great field.  Overall unemployment for law school graduates stands at 12.9 percent.  High?  Yeah.  But the opportunities accrue disproportionately at the top end, and law is a very hierarchical field.  What does that mean?  It means that if you are a top student throughout school, law can provide you with a stable and lucrative career, which is more than can be said for many other degrees.


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When setting career goals, go to what matters in your life.

By Ben Feuer

Yesterday, your humble blogger spent a fascinating day at YCombinator's Startup School New York, mingling with students of every imaginable discipline and thinkers of every age range and walk of life.  What most of the folks I met had in common was a mutual fascination with making the world work better, usually in some small way.  Some were interested in online education, others in improving the job market, still others in sharing opinions on world issues.  The focus was on what I would call microentrepreneurship, small improvements in the way we work and live.

This morning, I awoke to a fierce, pointed screed against 'upstarts'/'startups' from a traditional media outlet.  It's not that I disagree with Lehore's argument (which is, simply put, that disruption is overrated as a predictive agent of change, and is more useful as a way of reflecting on what's happening all around us, and that ultimately more conventional measures of business greatness such as a truly useful product and sound management are more important) so much as I dislike the shrill tone of the debate.

There's plenty of room at the table for traditional finance guys AND sneaker-wearing disruptors, even if the one is never going to attend the other's tea party.  And there are truly vital innovations to be found in BOTH areas, improvements in honesty and efficiency that can make the world better, if we remain focused on what really matters.

So if you are applying to school, looking for a goal, trying to sort out what the heck you're doing with your life -- what IS that really important thing?  What is that touchstone?  The answer is simple, if elusive.  You have to believe in what you are doing and understand why it matters.

Apoorva Mehta, the CEO of Instacart, tried twenty startups in a year before settling on the one that worked for him.  It addressed a problem that he himself faced every day.  But there's no reason you can't have the same experience working for Goldman Sachs -- it's just that your improvements will take longer and probably be smaller scale (although potentially higher impact).

Belief and comprehension.  This simple, centering message can carry you past hollow debates about whether a particular theory is "true" (which is impossible) and lead you instead to what you know better than anybody else -- your experience, your feelings, and the future you want to live out.


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Mood is an important factor in writing great essays.

By Ben Feuer

Well, folks, it's getting to be that time of year again -- that time when young people's thoughts turn to top schools, and their fingers turn to keyboards to start tapping away at those admissions essays.  Some of you are probably excited to be finally getting started, but that excitement will soon fade when you are faced with an intimidatingly empty page.

A fascinating recent study examined people's emotional states while browsing Facebook, and found that the moods of their online 'friends' could easily infect them -- a viral mood state, if you will.  Aside from how mind-blowing it is that that is even possible, this should illustrate to you just how easy it is for people to drift into a state of anxiety or depression when faced with an intimidating task like writing an essay.

Your emotional state matters when you write -- your environment, how much sleep you've gotten, how well fed you are -- and it can have a big positive (or negative) impact on what you choose to write and how well you do it.  Since projecting confidence and contentment unselfconsciously is important to successful essay writing, take whatever necessary precautions you have to to make sure you write at a time and in a way that is conducive to doing your best work.

Here are a few tips we here at Forster-Thomas have found useful when we put pen to paper.

Keep a schedule.  Don't try and 'squeeze' your writing in whenever you can -- dedicate a time in advance when you know you will be writing and prepare yourself mentally and emotionally.

Don't try to write for long periods if you are not used to it.  Your productivity will decline precipitously if you try to 'binge write'.

Be well fed and well rested.  Really!  Mood and state of mind matters.

Don't write distracted.  Pay attention to what you are trying to say -- re-read what you write aloud.  Does it actually say what you meant for it to say?

Every writer has his own secret bag of tricks to lure his muse out of hiding.  These are a few of ours.


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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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Fab Labs, AirBnBs and DonorsChoose all begin as somebody's bright idea.  What's yours?

By Ben Feuer

If you are planning to apply to graduate school, you are probably spending some time thinking about how to bolster your non-profit experience on your resume -- perhaps incorporating some elements of leadership, international service, or something scalable that can persist after you go off to school.

You see, volunteering doesn't just mean strolling down to the local Big Brothers, Big Sisters and giving up a few hours of your day anymore (although if that is what you are into, aggregator websites have made this easier than it has ever been).  The rise of dynamic internet startups mean that nearly anything can be experimented with on a small scale.  These days, what starts as a volunteer business can grow into a real one, and it can define what type of role you see yourself playing in your community.

You might be a raiser.  Take Donors Choose -- what amounts to a Kickstarter for teachers.  The founder, who is listed on the website as earning about $240,000 a year from his small business, was a teacher who decided one day to create a webpage promoting all the projects teachers wanted to do for their students and asking for funding from the local community.  It started small and grew from there.  The fact is, an entire economy of giving to new products and causes is evolving, and there are many opportunities outside of Kickstarter, IndieGoGo and Kiva to have an impact.

You might be a maker.  The maker economy is growing fast thanks to the rise of 3d printers, which allow practically anyone to make a product without resorting to factories or assembly lines.  This Bloomberg article talks about a 'fab lab', founded in Detroit for $250,000, that gives inner city youths an opportunity to make their own bikes.  These labs can be built anywhere in the world (India, for example) and cost relatively little to initiate, but can provide both entertainment and employment for locals.  Of course, you might want to make something in the lab instead of making the lab itself.  There, too, you can find volunteer opportunities, collaborating to create a new product like this Nifty Minidrive mentioned in the article.

You might be a sharer.  The sharing economy is getting so big that the (non-sharing?) economy is getting a bit nervous and trying to squelch it, but this way of life is not going away anytime soon.  Beaucoup websites and apps such as Uber, AirBnB and Taskrabbit have each wound up creating disruptive micro-economies of their own.  Not only are there opportunities out there to create local, small scale versions of these types of services (like a neighborhood share shed for power tools or a group time share on boats or a pier) in your own neighborhood, you just might come up with the next big idea that blows up into something much bigger.

So think about which of these roles best suit you -- or come up with one of your own -- our very own founders, David Thomas and Evan Forster, did just that when they created Essay Busters.  One thing's for certain -- there are no shortage of people out there who need your help.


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Friday, June 13, 2014

MIT Sloan's Essay Questions Released

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One returning question and one unusual new question comprise the 2014-2015 MIT Sloan essay questions.

By Ben Feuer

MIT Sloan just released its 2014-2015 instructions, although the application itself will not be live until July.  The essays have changed -- details follow.

In the coming weeks, we will analyze these prompts in greater detail and provide our usual best practices blogs on the subject.  For now, just familiarizing yourself with the prompts and beginning to brainstorm responses will give you a good headstart.


We are interested in learning more about you. In each of the essays, please describe in detail what you thought, felt, said, and did. Please draw upon experiences which have occurred in the past three years.

Essay 1: The mission of the MIT Sloan School of Management is to develop principled, innovative leaders who improve the world and to generate ideas that advance management practice.  Discuss how you will contribute toward advancing the mission based on examples of past work and activities.   (500 words or fewer)

Essay 2: Write a professional letter of recommendation on behalf of yourself.  Answer the following questions as if you were your most recent supervisor recommending yourself for admission to the MIT Sloan MBA Program: (750 words or fewer)

  • How long and in what capacity have you known the applicant?
  • How does the applicant stand out from others in a similar capacity?
  • Please give an example of the applicant's impact on a person, group, or organization.
  • Please give a representative example of how the applicant interacts with other people.
  • Which of the applicant's personal or professional characteristics would you change?
  • Please tell us anything else you think we should know about this applicant.
- See more at: http://mitsloan.mit.edu/mba/admissions/apply-here/instructions/?admissions/applicationinstructions.php#sthash.1ENxDUmA.dpuf