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Forster-Thomas takes a peek inside this year's LBS application and gives you insight on how to answer their questions.

By Ben Feuer

What are your post-MBA plans and how will your past experience and the London Business School programme contribute? (500 words)

This is a textbook 'goals' essay. Check out our previous posts on goals, or our book, for a sense on how to approach this. 

How will you add value to the London Business School community? (300 words)

This is another part of the same goals essay, focusing on your contributions to the school. Read our previous posts, and remember to use specific stories drawn from your life to support the points you make about yourself.

Is there any other information you believe the Admissions Committee should know about you and your application to London Business School? (400 words)

The prompt is completely open-ended, which means you can discuss anything you have not discussed elsewhere.  One strong approach is to focus on a 'defining moment' and how it shaped you as a person – it can be something that happened on the job, but often the strongest examples of these essays come from digging deep and getting personal – talking about real, meaningful challenges you face with family or friends. You can also consider using this for additional leadership material, or discussing diversity experiences, or talking about your values.


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Monday, September 29, 2014

What should my recommenders talk about?

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Whether you are applying to an MBA, MFA or medical school program, you are probably wondering what to ask your recommenders to write about you.  Here's the answer.

By Ben Feuer

We've all lived through it -- the intimidating moment when your boss says, "You know I love you, Bob.  Just tell me what you want me to write for your recommendation and I will."  As if applying to school wasn't hard enough without this --

Never fear!  Although it sounds like a lot of work (and it is), there is a proven strategy for success that you can use.  This formula applies to any recommendation for any kind of school, and is easy to follow.

1.  Get the prompts.

The first thing you will have to do is get the prompts that your employers/peers/beach buddies will be answering.  After all, you don't want to write 500 words when they need 500 characters!

2.  Come up with three traits.

Choose three traits that you feel elevate you above your peers -- things that make you among the strongest in your peer group.  For every trait you select, pick one or two stories that exemplify this trait.  These should be stories where you added value to an organization or a relationship, cases where you went beyond your job description, or situations where you were the first or the best at something relative to your peers.  They should be stories your recommender remembers well.

Avoid using traits like hard-working, smart, competent, dependable -- these are extremely common, extremely bad choices that merely highlight how able you are to perform your current job, not how ready you are to take on the next one.  Here are some possible traits --


3.  Think about your weaknesses -- carefully.

Writing the positive side of the recommendation is the easy part.  Writing about your weaknesses is a little trickier, only because there are a few pitfalls to avoid.  First, don't universalize your weaknesses.  Confine them to specific instances and situations, just as you did with your strengths.  If they were corrected, explain, using examples to show how you have evolved since the 'old days'.  Second, avoid weaknesses that are too damning (uncontrollable temper or depression, resistance to authority, violence) or too lame (too hard-working, too eager to please).

One of the main tricks to writing a great 'weakness' recommendation is showing how you handle and internalize any feedback you are given, so be sure and give a lot of detail, more than you think you need, on how you respond to criticism and how you incorporate it into your behavior moving forward.


So there you have it!  Hopefully, this has made recommendations a bit less intimidating for you.  If you still have questions, feel free to contact me and ask!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A primer on law school price cuts

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Law schools around the country are beginning to cut their sticker prices in response to declining applications.  Here are some of the schools that have taken the plunge.

By Ben Feuer


Admit it.  You thought the day would never come.  Nevertheless, here it is.  The number of applicants to law school has slid from more than 87,500 in 2010 to about 54,500 as of this month, according to the Law School Admission Council.

The Wall Street Journal has an article on how law schools are finally cutting their tuition in response to a dearth of applications year after year.  As more and more students flee to the seemingly more lucrative pastures of the MBA and Medical degrees, Law school is (belatedly) trying to make itself more competitive again.

And now, for your further edification, here are some of the programs that have cut tuition recently -- see if any of them look like a fit for you.

UNIVERSITY OF IOWA COLLEGE OF LAW -- US News #27 -- Cut 16.4% to $21,965 for residents or
$39,500 for non-residents.

ROGER WILLIAMS SCHOOL OF LAW -- US News Unpublished -- Cut 28% to $42,130

UNIVERSITY OF LA VERNE SCHOOL OF LAW -- US News Unranked -- Cut 22% to $39,900

UNIVERSITY OF TOLEDO SCHOOL OF LAW -- US News #140 -- Cut 13% to $17,900 in state,
$31,074 out of state.

UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA JAMES E ROGERS SCHOOL OF LAW -- US News #40 -- Cut as much as 39% to $24,381 per year (in-state) and full-time: $38,841 per year (out-of-state)

OHIO NORTHERN UNIVERSITY'S PETTIT COLLEGE OF LAW -- US News Unpublished -- Cut 21% to $33,684


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IESE's addition of a Social Entrepreneurship elective marks another milestone in the trend's growth across Europe and the Americas. 

By Ben Feuer

Today, IESE announced a new elective that focuses on social entrepreneurship -- this joins the already existing Center for Social Innovation and expands IESE's course offerings in this area.  It also marks yet another milestone in nearly ten years of ascendancy for this hot trend.

In America, of course, social entrepreneurship has been a hot button topic for years.  Harvard, Stanford and Kellogg have lead the way with large-scale and innovative programs that continue to gather steam.

In Europe, the trend has been growing steadily, if also more slowly.  In January 2003, ESSEC became the first school in France to offer a center of excellence for social entrepreneurship.  Oxford's Said Business school has the Skoll Center, paid for by a co-founder of eBay. London Business School has been somewhat slower on the uptake, but they do have electives, as well as a joint initiative with Haas that offers $50,000 in prize money.  IE was also honored as a top sustainability school in 2011, and has continued to grow in that arena.  Now IESE has joined the party, rounding out nearly all of the top European schools.

So what does this mean for people currently applying to b-school?  That depends.  If you are not interested in social entrepreneurship, don't feel that you have to trumpet whatever do-gooder habits you may have casually picked up along the way to appear more attractive to these top schools -- believe me, you won't fool anybody, and you're much better off being yourself.  On the other hand, if you have a genuine and demonstrable interest -- IE, one you can prove through your past actions -- this classic Poets and Quants article will give you more than enough information to chew on.


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Now live on Forster-Thomas's website are the prompts and deadlines for these four schools.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Stanford's evolving priorities

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Stanford is overhauling its curriculum and its approach to teaching business.  Here is why that matters.

By Ben Feuer

Those of you currently writing "Why Stanford" essays, take note of a new article published over at Poets and Quants.  The entire 4-page article is an intriguing read, but I think we both know that is not going to happen.  So in the interest of saving you time and effort, your good friends at Forster-Thomas have combed through the article to determine what the most important takeaways are in terms of your application strategy.

No more "cod liver oil" and "chocolate cake".  For those of you who still think of the first year as a grind through basics you already understand, and the second year as a chance to spread your wings, Stanford is trying to change all of that -- so you better be on-board.  Stanford now offers advanced options right off the bat–seven core courses taught at three different levels, basic, accelerated, and advanced, and three more courses offered at two levels of difficulty.

Advising is a work in progress.  Stanford has been experimenting for several years with different approaches to mentorship, recently shifting from formal advising relationships with faculty to staff advisors who can consult with students about what classes are best to take.  You should bear this in mind when discussing how you plan to get feedback on your curricular choices.

Video dominates classrooms.  An interesting tidbit for those trying to figure out how Stanford stands out from its peers -- they now employ video in a large number of their lectures and make the actual class time more about discussion and leadership development, also increasing interactivity.

Global is good.   "Our applicant pool is very global, with incoming classes of over 40% international. China, India, Brazil and Mexico have become big markets for us. We want to have a global pool of students coming in."

Entrepreneurship?  Kinda.  Last year, nearly one in five graduates–a record 18%–launched their own firms.  But Stanford wants to be seen as a strong general management program.  The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, huh?

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Forster-Thomas takes a peek inside this year's Haas business school application and gives you insight on the questions.

By Ben Feuer


Although we have already covered the basic dates and deadlines and the primary essay questions here, now that students are beginning their 2014-2015 Haas applications (at least for round one) we thought it was high time to take a closer look at the application.  Turns out, there are a lot of intriguing short answers and hidden prompts to address, so without further ado, let's dive in!

1.  Describe an experience that has fundamentally changed the way you see the world. How did this transform you? (400-500 word max) 

Berkeley has always had an enjoyably contrarian streak -- question authority, go your own way, be independent!  This prompt continues that theme, albeit in a more subdued vein than "tell us your favorite song".  You could look at this question as a 'lite' version of Stanford's What Matters Most to you and Why essay -- indeed, variations on this essay are cropping up across the b-school landscape this year.  The approach is simple but not easy.  Find a defining moment in your life, a time when you were stressed out, pushed to your limits, tested or threatened -- or a time when you encountered a dilemma, exceeded expectations, et cetera.  The point is that there must be a strong emotional heart to the incident, and it has to focus on a very limited time frame -- a month, two months.  Not six years.  Be introspective in discussing your transformation -- talk about your feelings, and focus on  the why as much (or more) than the what.

2.  What is your most significant professional accomplishment? (200-300 word maximum) 

An accomplishment can be any task that you did exceptionally well.  It differs from a leadership essay in that it does not HAVE to involve other people, although given that you only get to write one such essay in the entire application, you are much better off if your accomplishment shows adcom your ability to lead.  It is a professional accomplishment, so do not use a personal or scholastic story.

3.  What is your desired post-MBA role and at what company or organization? In your response, please specifically address sub-questions a., b., and c. How is your background compelling to this company? What is something you would do better for this company than any other employee? Why is an MBA necessary and how will Haas specifically help you succeed at this company? (500-600 word maximum for 3a, 3b, and 3c combined)

See any of our previous posts on goals, or our book, for a sense on how to approach this. 

SECTION III: Optional Essays

1.  Please feel free to provide a statement concerning any information you would like to add to your application that you have not provided elsewhere.  (500 words maximum)

Given the extensive section II supplemental questions (not covered in detail here) which ask about your professional and extracurricular background, letters of recommendation and all the other things that would usually be covered in an optional essay, this should be interpreted in the same manner as HBS and Wharton's optional essays -- IE, it is a good idea to fill this out.

The prompt is completely open-ended, which means you can discuss anything you have not discussed elsewhere.  Since you already have a defining moment essay, you could consider using this for additional leadership material, or discussing diversity experiences, or talking about your values -- or maybe telling them your favorite song!  :)

2.  If not clearly evident, please discuss ways in which you have demonstrated strong quantitative abilities, or plan to strengthen quantitative abilities.  You do not need to list courses that appear on your transcript.  (250 words maximum)

It's not entirely clear why this is an essay, and why it is optional rather than supplemental, but for those of you who do not come from conventional quantitative backgrounds, this is a must-answer.  Avoiding your transcript, highlight experiences and abilities the admissions committee may not otherwise know that you have.


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Friday, September 12, 2014

Weird essays

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 Weird essays.  We have all read them -- not so much in terms of the structure or approach, but in terms of the content.  So are they a good thing or a bad thing?

By Ben Feuer



I had an interesting conversation with a client, Louie, the other day -- a typical I-banking/PE guy.  I was spending my time (as I so often do) trying to wring more personality out of his essays, which read like they were written by committee.  Louie, of course, fretted over every little trait I wanted to highlight, no matter how mild.  "Won't this make me look childish?"  "Won't this make me look goofy?"

"Of course it will," I answered.  "That's the whole point.  This is a personality game.  You can't win with your whole self tied behind your back."  Louie, like so many others, had worked long and hard to excel in his professional life, and he did not want to throw it all away by seeming out of step with the other lemmings -- while simultaneously fretting endlessly over differentiation, a prized bugaboo for nearly all applicants.

Well Louie, you can't have it both ways.  Hide if you must, but don't be surprised when you fail to make it out of your 'bucket' -- a little personality goes a long way.

A Darden professor, Martin Davidson, has been studying the effect of oddballs and outcasts on business for quite some time, and he has a new article in Businessweek discussing some of his findings.  He concludes that we undervalue oddballs in corporate environments.  Business school, in this regard, is very different.  B-schools WANT the mavericks.  They want the leaders.  So the same lockstep behavior that served you well in your previous life will not serve you well here, in your applications.

You can be like everybody else -- or you can set the building on fire.  Your choice.


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Thursday, September 11, 2014

Kellogg Video Essay Questions 2014-2015

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The Kellogg Video Essay questions are arriving with the round one candidates.  Here are the ones we have heard so far.

By Ben Feuer

The prompts for the Kellogg video essays are beginning to trickle in.  Here are the ones we have heard so far --

What is the best piece of advice you have ever gotten?

What is your favorite TV show?

Tell us about your first job.

If you could teach any course, what would it be?

Remember that these questions are intended to be answered in a casual, off the cuff manner -- do NOT attempt to script responses and read them to the camera!  Speak naturally, as you would to a friend.  Use the questions above as PRACTICE -- don't overthink this!

For more detailed advice, check out our other blog on this topic as well as our helpful video


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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Economically diverse colleges -- where to apply?

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The New York Times has released its list of the most (and least) economically diverse colleges.  How should this affect your application strategy?

 By Ben Feuer


 We here at Forster-Thomas have followed with some interest the ongoing furor over economic diversity at top colleges.  Simply put, are lower income students being given the shaft, and if so, what are colleges doing to change that fact?

 The New York Times has finally weighed in, releasing a long-awaited list of the top colleges for economic diversity, and the worst offenders. In case you are wondering, the top five are --

1.  Vassar

2.  Grinnell

3.  UNC Chapel Hill

4.  Smith

5.  Amherst

Wesleyan (my alma mater), Susquehanna and Rice (my brother's alma mater) also received positive nods. If you are a lower-income junior, you may be thinking to yourself, fantastic!  Now I know exactly where to apply.  Not so fast, cowboy.  If you want to apply to these five schools, fair enough, they are excellent schools, but consider an alternate strategy --

Aim for the bottom of the ranking.

Some excellent schools, including Wash. U in St. Louis, Caltech and Wake Forest, were publicly shamed (and in some cases named in the article) by this list.  You can bet your bottom endowment dollar those schools will be looking to climb in the rankings this year, so the smart money is that they will look favorably on Pell Grant applicants for the next few years, whereas some of the schools on this list with smaller endowments, such as St. Mary's, Susquehanna, and Kalamazoo, may be inclined to sit on their hands for a few years and pursue more profitable students.

Food for thought -- but whatever path you choose to take, the release of lists like this is a great thing for college admissions, and an important counterweight to that all-important *other* ranking system.


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