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It’s so simple, so seductive.  Who knew that there was a way to acquire the prestige and earning potential of an elite, top three MBA program without the trouble of optimizing your grades, GMAT and resume? Apparently, Poets and Quants did, and they finally decided to share the method with the rest of us in their recent article about part-time MBAs, the so-called ‘secret back-door’ into top programs.

Let’s get one thing out of the way first. We here at Forster Thomas love part-time, evening, and executive MBA programs. Many of the people who work with us wind up going earning alternative MBA degrees at schools like Ross, Kellogg,, and Haas, for a range of reasons. Some have to balance work and family. Some don’t need as much preparation because they are further along in their careers.  Some just want to spend some time learning from (and with) Americans.

One thing all of our clients have in common, however, is that they do NOT attend a part-time program and then play act as though they were in the full-time program, posing pretentiously as ‘real’ MBA students and demeaning their classmates who ACTUALLY wanted part-time degrees in the first place.

There are lots of really good reasons not to look at the part-time MBA as ‘full-time lite’. The first one is a fairly obvious ethical one.  After all, every top business school prides itself on maintaining a high moral standard. How do you think they would feel if they heard you were deliberately misrepresenting your degree on your resume?

But perhaps you’re thinking, “Eh, what they don’t know won’t hurt them”.  Au contraire -- there are also a boatload of pragmatic arguments against doing this.  A big part of the MBA experience is networking, which requires making strong connections with like-minded people. Nobody wants to cozy up to the kid who claims a bunch of merits he didn’t earn – it just looks desperate.

Deception on a resume is also a terrible strategy when you’re trying to get hired.  Bulge bracket banks and top-tier PE and consulting firms have layer upon layer of interviews and HR.  You might be able to sneak your trick past a computer weeder, but when the hiring manager (who after all, is probably an alumna of one of these schools) sees what you tried to pull there’s no way she’s giving you the job. You have just proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that you are not worthy of her trust. 

Then there’s the matter of on-campus hiring and job fairs.  Most schools want to help their students get jobs, and some, like Kellogg and Ross, do a remarkably good job of it. But no school is going to want to help the student misrepresent his or her resume and thereby put the brand of the school itself at risk.

Trying to game the University system and spending a bunch of money on a degree in order to pretend you’re getting a different type of degree is stupid, short-term thinking. The smart move is to be true to yourself and your abilities, pick a program where you are going to mesh well with the other students, work hard alongside them, earn their trust, and go out and do great things together.  There is no secret backdoor into HBS – but if you’re looking to get kicked out the front door, lying is a great way to start.

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The more things change, the more things stay the same. If this is true of anything, it is true of the US News law school rankings.  Every school in the top 14 held its standing or gained ground, reinforcing the somewhat obvious fact that the rankings primarily reflect opinions already held about the schools by people who were influenced, among other things, by the US News.

They admit as much when explaining their methodology; 40 percent of the schools ranking is determined by peer review, AKA people’s opinions.  Can you really rely on a study that primarily relies on itself to form its opinions about something as complex and important as admissions?

Rather than offering meaningful reform or addressing law school's serious issues head-on, US News tries to make something headline worthy out of the fact that they changed their methodology a bit this year. Specifically, they weighted school sponsored jobs less heavily, a token nod to the continuing furor over the limited job prospects for graduating law school students. By using this tweak as their headline, the organization seems to be suggesting that they have acknowledged ongoing criticism that law school is useless below a certain tier.

But if they have acknowledged that criticism, their fix is a fig leaf at best.  The table they show indicates that the problem is widespread – top ranked schools like U. VA Law employ nearly 17 percent of their own graduates each year.  The proportions for Emory and William and Mary are even more striking; more than a quarter of students are employed by the University at both schools.  This fact does not, however, seem to have had much effect; UVA and Emory held steady at #8 and #19, and William and Mary, the biggest offender, dropped only five spots down to #29.  Since US News does not give numerical values for its rankings, it’s hard to know whether this represents a big jump or a small one.

All in all, the new rankings do not change the equation much for students thinking about applying this year. If you get into a top 14 school, or even the top third, law school can definitely work for you, provided you work hard after you are admitted and graduate in the top half of your class.  But if your only admits are at schools like Brooklyn or Loyola, you are probably better off re-applying next year or choosing another career path.

Disagree?  Have questions?  Contact us!

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By Ben Feuer (educational consultant, Forster-Thomas, Inc.)

Frank Bruni’s feel-good, think-bad article this past weekend was a good read, and an even better reminder of how entrenched the mindset of elitism is in 1% America. By unconsciously focusing on those who already have been given so much and nevertheless feel entitled to more, Bruni illustrates all too clearly the dividing line in this country between privilege and poverty, opportunity and despair.

His basic point is sure to inspire sympathy in anyone who has ever been spurned; IE, anyone, and by reminding parents that a top tier college is not the be-all and end-all of achievement, Bruni offers a dose of common sense for Times-devouring tiger moms with zero perspective.  Bruni takes a shot at everyone’s favorite straw man, the opaque and depressing college admissions process, calling it fatally flawed. Of course it is, if you believe that the purpose of college admissions is to give every elite applicant from Exeter and New Triers a free pass to the next level, which it certainly doesn’t.  (By the way, whether or not your child went to Exeter, if he has his or her own room, you are officially in this elite world.)  In fact, the reason many students find college admissions daunting is because this is the first time they are facing a bar that they cannot easily clear simply by virtue of token effort and fortunate birth.  The really revealing part of the article, actually, is the examples themselves that Bruni uses to make his point.

The truth is, admissions is flawed, but not the way Bruni says it is.  Colleges are still doing a horrible job of providing equal access to all worthy students.  In Bruni’s article, Peter Hart and Jenna Leahy felt out of place when they didn’t get into top schools.  The fact is, the admissions process does a pretty good job of comparing and contrasting people who go to Exeter – – there was probably a good reason, like Jenna’s subpar SAT and Peter’s apparent lack of ambition and maturity on paper, for their rejection. This is an example of the process working the way it is supposed to work; the college passed on Peter and Jenna and instead gave those seats to students that had earned them, hopefully a student from a disadvantaged background whose life will be immeasurably improved by an elite university education.

It is both easy and comforting to blame the system that denies you access – and it’s nice to have a friend at the times to give your venting a megaphone.  Imagine, however, that instead of facing that rejection once, at age 18, you faced it from your mother at age three, who didn’t want you, or from a series of foster parents who turned you over to the state one after another.  Imagine people distrusted you and assumed the worst of you simply because of the color of your skin or the way you dressed.  Imagine going to bed hungry every night and still being expected to finish your homework (with no parents around to help).  For too many Americans, THAT is still the reality they face every day.  College and graduate school applicants sometimes complain that their lack of adversity hurts them on their essays and applications, as indeed it does. They never seem to think about what it’s like to actually live through that adversity that reads so well on those applications. 

The more pertinent question, and the one Bruni completely fails to ask, is why the only way to validate a perceived failure (not getting into a brand name school) is by telling a later success story involving the same brand names that were the villains of the first story. Hart didn’t get into Harvard undergraduate, but then got into Harvard business school, thereby ‘proving them wrong’.  Jenna’s ‘failure’ to get into Emory was redeemed by earning a spot at Teach for America. 

And then to add to the absurdity, YCombinator, as elite a brand as can be imagined, makes itself look good in Bruni’s article at the expense of elite Stanford, a sophisticated piece of social engineering from a brand that has proven itself very adept at self-promotion. We’re so elite, founder Altman argues implicitly, that we don’t need elites. We MAKE them.  Bruni lets him get away with that, but I won’t.  Colleges, despite their flaws, provide training, education, history and jobs to those who need it.  Elite accelerators, whose successes can be counted on the fingers of one hand, take advantage of groupthink and elitism to promote themselves, selling prestige for marketshare while perpetuating the type of vicious cycles that Stanford, at least in part, is trying to stop.

What is this article supposed to prove, Frank?  If you have enough advantages, one failure isn’t going to kill you?   By that logic, ALL the seats at Harvard should go to the underprivileged – after all, when they miss the cut, they don’t go to private school – instead, they take two years of community college (if they’re lucky) and go to work to support their mothers, wives and children.  Elite schools aren’t just about bragging rights for the 1% -- they also offer crucial, life-altering opportunities for the lucky few that manage to run the gauntlet of poverty. And the sad fact is, neither service could exist without the other, at least not in our current system.

So what should we do?  I’d need another thousand words at least to answer that question.  For now, it’s enough to shine a spotlight on the problem and remind people that it’s rude to demand seconds when there are others at the table who haven’t been fed at all.   

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With the usual fanfare, US News has released its 2016 Graduate School rankings.  What are the most important takeaways this year?  Here's one -- we need a more sophisticated method of evaluating our education.

Here we go again.

With the release of its 2016 graduate school rankings, the US News and World Report sets the merry-go-round awhirl once again with breathless murmurs about who’s up and who’s down (answer; no one relevant) and the usual circular debates as to why a few lower tier schools have leapt around the rankings like overcaffeinated gymnasts.  Yes, it’s the same data as last year, folks, all laid out in a tidy, digestible table so that people can know, to a numerical certainty, just how superior they are supposed to feel to the person sitting next to them.  Isn’t that a relief?

Well forgive us for speaking truth to power (it’s kind of our thing), but we here at Forster Thomas feel compelled to break the orthodoxy and say, in no uncertain terms, the unspeakable –

Do we really care anymore?

After the first few weeks of click frenzies die down, will these rankings really tell you anything about your target school the last five years of rankings did not? Do they illuminate, in any meaningful way, the graduate school process?  After all, most top MBAs already know what schools, or at least what universe of schools, they’re applying to.  For them, year-to-year rankings don't matter much.  If Stanford takes first three years running, or HBS drops to 8th place, that might turn some heads, but little changes?  Not really.  

Case in point: Columbia hasn’t ranked higher than 7th for five years, yet many people choose Columbia over MIT, Kellogg, and Booth despite what the rankings say.  The same goes for NYU and Duke over Darden and Ross, probably because of the schools undergraduate prestige and name recognition, although that hasn't yet helped Yale, which is now tied with Fuqua and is solidly in the top 14, despite having the lowest employment numbers by a fairly wide margin.

On the whole, the US News rotisserie simply reinforces the prejudices applicants already carry around inside their heads. The methodology, after all, is largely based on reputation. Is it any surprise that creating a ranking system that reinforces reputation essentially operates as a self-fulfilling prophecy?  And lest we forget, that reputation knife cuts both ways.  If US News shakes things up too much, they'll look out of touch (imagine if Darden jumped to #4), but they have to reshuffle the chess pieces to make headlines. 

Stanford displacing HBS at #1 headlines, but it doesn't make change.  Alternate ranking systems in recent years have tried to do just that, upsetting the orthodoxy completely.  We have covered some of the most interesting ones right here on our blog. There have been some attempts to calculate value for money, and to more heavily weight employment numbers.  Certain ranking systems emphasize international prestige, which can be important for students who want their degree to translate overseas. 

Why does an organization with US News’ resources try, for instance, interviewing all the deans of the schools, or making an in-depth examination of faculty or the effects of cluster size on student learning? Then, at least, each year’s rankings would tell us something new -- augmenting the previous year’s knowledge rather than supplanting it.

But the US News rankings, at least for business school, are still trapped in a world where the most valuable currency is chatter, and superficial metrics take the place of serious, in-depth investigation of the schools.

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By Ben Feuer

Lately, there has been a lot of debate about whether college is right for every student, or indeed the majority of students. If you are applying to college next year, should you be listening to this debate? Here is the answer.

Okay. I’m going to get personal here for a minute. It’s hard for me to fully appreciate the challenges some people have in accessing higher education. I was fortunate; my parents both went to graduate school at Ivy League universities, and aside from some handwaving about cost of education and student loans and murmurs like “Rutgers is offering an awful lot of tuition money”, there was never any serious doubt that I would have control over my own choices when it came to higher education.

For a variety of reasons, many people out there are not as fortunate as I was. That said, college is still the gateway to a better way of life for the vast majority of young people in this country.  According to Pew, millenials with college educations earn $15,000 a year more on average than their peers, and face unemployment rates of around 4%, as opposed to 12% for those with high school educations.

With that said, the trend may be changing, and there are already important alternatives to consider.  Trade schools are on the rise, and talented technicians earn almost as much as college graduates, on average.  Community colleges can provide valuable associates degrees, or can act as gateways to the full college experience.

But every major choice in life is difficult, and a choice like whether or not to go to college is exceptionally difficult.  That’s why, if you are thinking about whether or not to go to school, I recommend you check your gag reflex.

No, not the gag reflex after you have one too many dirty martinis (but you wouldn’t know anything about that, would you?) – – The gag reflex is a little acronym checklist to help students decide if college is right for them.  I know, it's cheesy, but hey.

Here are the steps of GAG.  They should be considered (and prioritized) in order.

1.  Grades.

How successful were you in high school? This also applies to standardized tests like SATs. The reason we consider this first is because it has such a heavy influence on everything else. If your grades aren't up to snuff, it really doesn't matter that you think you be interested in being a doctor – – nursing's a better fit. On the other hand, if you have great grades, maybe you can trade prestige for scholarship dollars by going to a local or state school. Long story short, if you have the grades and put in the work, you belong at a top school. Don’t sell yourself short, and don’t let fear stand in your way.

2.  Access.

Students who come from money are always going to have college options, whether private, out-of-state, for-profit, online… The list goes on. Students from limited financial backgrounds have to seriously consider alternate strategies more seriously.  But there are other factors besides money that can limit access. Handicaps, both physical and mental, play a role in evaluating a student’s college readiness. Some students, either by preference or necessity, stay close to home. 

3.  Goals.

Not everybody thrives in college, and not everybody who eventually thrives in college is ready to do so at age 18. Some people just need to have a little work experience and maturity before they are really ready to go out on their own like that. Don’t worry so much about career goals at this early stage, because no offense, you have no idea what your options are when it comes to career. Nobody does, until they get out there and find out what the market is actually looking for. The kind of goals that matter at this stage are little bit bigger picture. Are you interested in the arts and humanities, or are you more of a math and science gal?  Do you like working in teams, or alone? Do you think you are interested in management? What kind of situations, settings, and environments make you feel most comfortable?

Naturally, you’re going to talk any major life decision over with your friends, family, and loved ones. It’s good to get a lot of opinions. That said, in the end this is your life and your choice.  Do yourself a favor and gag before you leap.


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

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It’s the online business education that isn’t an online business education. It’s taught by HBS professors, but it’s not an HBS program.  It’s an elite training program for ambitious future business students without the specific guarantees of an MBA degree. Such are the ambiguities and contradictions in Harvard’s new HBX core program.  Is it worth the high price of admission?

The frequently asked questions and HBX Core’s shiny new website look promising enough.  Many people decide to go to business school relatively late in life, it argues. Why should they be at a disadvantage compared to those who got involved in banking right after graduating? HBX core hopes to close the knowledge gap, improving students ability to hit the ground running when they start attending business school. The program is a part time commitment -- you can still do your job while you are taking the classes. It is also designed to be rigorous, delivering grades and promising serious expectations for assignments and class participation.

But can Harvard actually deliver value for the money with HBX Core? The answer isn’t yet clear, and it’s unlikely to be anytime soon. That said, we did our best to find out by contacting admissions officers in the know.  The results were a little disturbing.  Forster Thomas’s admissions contacts at top business schools indicated that not only has Harvard not reached out to them about the program to flout its benefits, many of them were not even aware it existed. Although they will most likely review it along with all the other new initiatives when they meet in the fall to begin considering admissions, it seems unlikely at this point that the Harvard name alone is going to make the Core certification leap out on anybody’s resume.

That said, there are a few things about HBX Core that might make it more valuable than your average community college accounting course, but even these aren’t sure things. For instance, will Harvard’s plan to grade on a high honors\honors\pass basis actually correlate to the business ability of students graduating from the program? If so, the program’s reputation easily grow over time. If not, it could lose all its credibility overnight.

All in all, it’s probably too soon to make a full judgment either way on HBX core. For students planning to apply next year, it’s hard to endorse the program unless you are absolutely planning to apply to Harvard. It seems like a safe bet that Harvard will want to promote the program and make it seem legitimate in its early stages, which means they will probably make a big show of admitting at least a few core students into HBS.

For other schools, the benefit is less clear. Also unclear is whether the core program can substitute in any meaningful way for full MBA program, or even a one-year-old part-time MBA program. Will employers value the certification?  Will Harvard try to bring some recruiters in as partners?  It’s an alternate approach which could bear fruit, but there are no signs of it as of yet.

We will keep our eye on the story as it develops. In the meantime, if you want to get the latest information on HBX core or if you have any questions, just contact us and will be happy to answer them.