There are literally thousands of secondary essays put out by medical schools each and every year. But most of those essays can be subdivided into specific categories and dealt with in groups. In this blog, we’re discussing the ‘diversity’ category.


DEFINITION OF THE DIVERSITY CATEGORY


Any medical school secondary essay which either asks how your unique experience as a part of a subculture has influenced the way you intend to approach medicine, OR how your exposure to a particular subculture has influenced the way you intend to approach medicine. The focus should be not on your particular opinions of the subculture, but rather on your lived experiences and how they landed on you, personally. Avoid attempts to universalize and reach beyond yourself -- instead, stay focused on what you have directly experienced, and analzye how it has affected you.


EXAMPLES OF SECONDARY PROMPTS IN THE DIVERSITY CATEGORY


 Mt. Sinai MD 2017 1 What makes you unique, someone who will add to the Mount Sinai community? (Suggested 250 words or less) 250 words
New York University School of Medicine MD 2017 3 What unique qualities or experiences do you possess that would contribute specifically to the NYU School of Medicine community? 2500 characters
Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine MD 2017 6 If you wish, use this space to provide more detail about your selections above and how you would bring diversity to the Northwestern community. 250 words
Oregon Health & Science University School of Medicine MD 2017 1 What experience have you had that has given you insight into the patients you hope to eventually serve? 1500 characters


TECHNIQUE FOR ANSWERING THE DIVERSITY CATEGORY

Most people think they know what a diversity essay is -- in their minds, they translate diversity to 'belonging to an ethnic or gender minority', figure out which box they think they fit into, and write accordingly. But this is a dramatic oversimplification of what elite medical schools mean by diversity.

You can write a diversity essay about any quality under the sun that is outside your direct control, for which you were silently judged, categorized, stereotyped or evaluated by others.  Perhaps it's the area of the world you grew up in, the number of siblings you had, a disability you had to deal with, or simply how incredibly short you were!  You can write about being poor, or even about being rich!

If you just can't think of anything at all that sets you apart, think again.

If you still can't think of anything at all that sets you apart, then you can write an essay about being exposed to diversity. This type of essay covers a discrete moment, or period, where you encountered a person or group of people belonging to any type of subculture which faces discrimination and prejudice. Exposure to diversity essays should be about how, over time, you grew to understand the deeper nature of your new friends' struggles, and ... this is key ... how you CHANGED because of it. No change, no essay. Change must be concrete -- IE, something you actually did differently as a result of the experience.

One common failing of these types of essays happens when you feel like you have to show off or prevent yourself from looking bad by avoiding admitting anything you think might make you look insensitive. But without mistakes, there can be no growth -- so if you want to write a great essay, your attitudes at the beginning must be markedly different from your attitudes at the end.

Another thing that makes a diversity essay really work is a strong focus on characters and settings. Giving detailed and interesting descriptions can really bring your essay to life on the page, plus, it shows you have really taken the time to think through your experiences.

***

Do you have more questions about this secondary essay, or about other secondary essays?  Feel free to contact us and we’ll be happy to help.

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Photo by Fady Habib, Article by Forster-Thomas

You're freaking out right now!

Don't worry, it's normal. Everybody freaks out the first time they're applying to internships. It's a completely normal, completely terrifying part of becoming a professional in the workplace. But what are the key stages of an internship, and how do you, as the title of this blog says, kick ass and take names, becoming intern of the year, decade, or century?

Sourcing the internship

Where can i find a great internship?  This is one of the most vexing questions for aspiring interns, and like most vexing questions, there’s no easy answer.  It's true you never forget your first, but everybody comes by theirs differently.

Your personal connections are your first and most promising source of leads. Does your immediate or extended family have contacts you can take advantage of?  This is the first place you should go because it’s the easiest and has the greatest odds of success, but it can also have drawbacks – maybe you’re not interested in doing what your parents did for a living, or maybe the help comes with too many strings. Fortunately, there are other ways to find a great internship –

Try paying a visit to your university’s career services department!  These departments run the gamut from excellent to terrible, but one thing they all have in common is that they won’t come looking for you – it has to be the other way around.  The squeaky wheel gets the grease in life, and nowhere is this more true than in the world of hunting for great job opportunities.  Become your career counselor’s best friend, and make her job easy – have a clear sense of what kind of job you’re after, and a strong pitch for why you deserve it.  Work on your resume and recommendations, where appropriate, to strengthen your candidacy even more.  If your career services department isn’t cutting it, you could consider transferring to a school with more relevant connections, or applying method 3 –

Internet research!  Don’t knock it – many many people get their first internships via online job postings. Just remember that RESEARCH part of the equation – a lot of companies on the internet make themselves sound more impressive than they really are, and it would be a shame to waste a summer doing something that you could have figured out from the start wasn’t going to be a good fit. That said, this is a great time to experiment and try different career paths, so don’t be afraid to take a chance on an unusual, exciting internship you discover.

So how do you judge the merits of one internship over another?  Your priority should always be relationships, relationships, relationships.  Choose the internship that is going to allow you to connect with the people who are doing the job you want to be doing. You’ll be more motivated and learn more under those circumstances. But there are other important factors to consider.  Does the internship pay any money?  For some people, that is essential, although paid internships aren’t common in most fields.  Are the roles and responsibilities clearly defined, and is the work at least somewhat interesting?  It’s never a good idea to prioritize interesting work over relationships and name brand recognition, but you don’t learn much from getting people coffee all day, either.

When you find a promising lead, try to contact people who have held the internship before – firsthand accounts are worth a thousand internet postings when it comes to really understanding what makes a particular place of business tick.

Landing the internship

So now that you’ve found that perfect internship, how do you make it your own?

Remember all that research you did while you were sourcing your internship?  Here’s where it really starts to pay off. At this point, you should be a mini-expert on your target company. You should know their strengths, their weaknesses, their key competitors, their plans for the near future. Most of all, you  should know what they’re going to expect of you.

If your internship requires an interview (most do), remember to present yourself humbly, confidently, sympathetically and professionally.  Never run from a difficult question, and take pride in your achievements, even if they seem rather trivial compared to the person you’re interviewing with!  Articulate your plan for your time at the company, and listen to feedback on that plan – are you giving your potential boss what she wants, or demanding what you want? One thing no boss wants is a needy intern.

Apply broadly – that way, even if your first couple internships don’t pan out, you’ll still have plenty of time to find something apropos.

Acing the internship

No matter what your job or your field, there are a few things you can always do as an intern to impress your superiors: show up on time, dress ten percent better than everyone else is dressing, think before speaking, write in complete sentences, and show off your personality.

So much for presentation. How about the job itself?

Success as an intern is all about anticipating your supervisor’s needs and being productive without requiring micromanagement. The reasons interns are given jobs is because nobody else at the company has time to do them. That means that if you’re eating up a ton of your boss’s time with problems related to your job, you’re doing the opposite of what they want. That said, if you do the whole job wrong, you’ll put them in an even worse situation. So think carefully about what you’re being asked to do. Assess whether it is realistic. If it isn’t, try to gently propose improvements, refinements and alternatives that give the boss what she needs. If it is realistic, and you know how to do it, then go do it!  If you have no idea what your boss is talking about, ask somebody other than your boss for help and clarification. Try not to overload any one person, instead, getting to know many people. After all, the more relationships you build, the better your post-internship experience will be.

Maintaining the relationship

An internship will be, most likely, your first or second source of career connections in your chosen field, depending on what your parents did for a living and how well connected they happen to be. So it’s vitally important, after you have done a great job and put in all that effort to impress your bosses, that they remember your name and face. Who’s going to give you your first recommendation?  Who will connect you with your first paying job?  There’s a very good chance it’ll be that same boss.

So how do you maintain the relationship?  Remember that relationships are two sided, so it’s important to engage with your boss’s priorities as much or more than you ask her to engage with yours.  Keep track of the company, send her a congratulations when you see something in the news or hear something through the grapevine – and at the same time, maybe mention in passing a few of the things you’ve been up to lately.

Email newsletters are another great communication tool, in certain professional fields, particularly creative and entrepreneurial ones. Nobody wants an email update from their accountant – unless you’re just that cool of an accountant – but realtors, musicians, instagrammers and personal trainers are another matter.

Above all, use your head before hitting send. Is the email you’ve just written something you would be excited to receive?  Are you putting your best, most enthusiastic foot forward, or are you sounding needy or demanding?  If you’re having trouble being objective, ask a trusted friend or a professional consultant for help.

Next steps

You now know everything you need to land that first big internship. So go out and make us all proud to have ever known you!  If you have more questions, feel free to contact us and we’d be happy to answer you directly or put out another blog later on.


PHOTO BY SEAN MACENTEE, ARTICLE BY FORSTER-THOMAS, INC.



 

Medical school admissions are more competitive every year. The toughest part for some is the dreaded MCAT test; six hours of academic torture, followed by six weeks of equally torturous waiting. So just how concerned should you be about earning a 515 or better on your MCAT?

Every student applying to allopathic (MD) medical school must take the MCAT. Unlike with business school and certain other types of degrees, there is no substitute test that can be used in place of it. Generally speaking, it is wiser to only take the test once, since all scores must be submitted to the school. There are obviously exceptions.

Since medical school applications have risen in recent years, the MCAT has become more important because it is the most efficient way for schools to weed out large numbers of candidates. 

Here are some of the basic facts you need to know about the MCAT, and how important it really is.

All allopathic (MD) medical schools have MCAT cutoffs, but where that cutoff lies varies by school and by year.

For all intents and purposes an MCAT score below 495 will make it almost impossible for you to gain admission to allopathic (MD) medical schools. You will still be competitive for osteopathic medical schools, podiatry schools and Caribbean medical schools.

For some of the more prestigious medical schools in the country, the minimum MCAT score is between 508 and 512 - below which you will not make it past any screening for interviews, regardless of how strong the rest of your application is. That's a minimum -- if you earn that score, you're still very unlikely to be admitted!

This is the conventional wisdom, although the medical school establishment is working to counteract it. In 2008, 2009, and 2010, the AAMC polled students to determine what their GPAs and MCAT scores were, then compared that to whether they were accepted to medical school.  One important caveat here; the study evaluated whether the students were accepted to ANY school, not to their first choice school. The data showed that approximately eight percent of applicants with UGPAs ranging from 3.80 to 4.00 and MCAT total scores above 523 were rejected by all of the medical schools to which they applied. In contrast, about 18 percent of applicants with UGPAs ranging from 3.20 to 3.39 and MCAT scores ranging from 495 to 505 were accepted by at least one school.

The MCAT matters more for getting an interview than it does for getting admitted.

In 2007, Kaplan test prep reported that in a survey sent to all allopathic medical schools (about 125 at the time) and admissions officers from 83 schools responded. 77% of the responding schools reported that GPA was the first or second factor considered in applications.

75% of the responding schools reported that MCAT was the first or second factor considered in applications. This implies that about 75% of the MD schools consider GPA and MCAT to the first two factors considered in an application.  Letters of recommendation and community service round out the top five most important factors in determining admission.

Yet, the five most important pieces of data for making offers of acceptance are, in order:

1) Interview recommendation

2) Letters of recommendation

3) Science and math GPA (BCPM)

4) Medical community service

5) Cumulative GPA

Clearly, once you pass a certain threshold, the numbers become less important and other factors are weighed more highly.  In the words of one Dean of admissions at a top 10 school, "As much as we hate to turn away that 525/4.0 student in terms of our average numbers, if (s)he is an arrogant jerk they are gonna have to go somewhere else. We use the interview to screen out the arrogant jerks."

The advantages of a high MCAT score tail off after a certain point.

In 2012, a score of 498 puts you at the 50th Percentile. A score of 512, one standard deviation from the mean, corresponds with the 84th Percentile, and a score of 521, two standard deviations from the mean, corresponds with the 99th Percentile.

Obviously, even top schools cannot fill their ranks exclusively with 99th percentile MCAT students. Nor would they want to; diversity is an important factor in every school’s admissions policy. In fact, if you do have exceptionally high numbers, it is important to project humility and concern for others even more strongly than an average or above average student, to offset the impression of arrogance. Might not seem fair, but it is reality. Ultra smart students face a certain amount of prejudice, partly due to jealousy, and partly due to the fact that a lot of really smart people are arrogant.

A high MCAT score can compensate for a low GPA, or vice versa.

The GPA reflects how seriously an applicant has taken his or her undergraduate studies. A high GPA is a reflection of strong study habits.  Obviously, not all GPAs are created equal. Medical schools love to see high science GPA’s, in particular.

Generally, anything above a 3.5 GPA is considered very good and very competitive. Jumping from a 3.0 GPA to a 3.5 GPA will make a huge difference in someone's application, whereas jumping from a 3.5 GPA to a 4.0 will not be quite as dramatic (although it is obviously an advantage to have a 4.0 versus a 3.5 GPA) -- unless that candidate has a low MCAT score. Then, that extra boost to GPA can really matter a lot.

Conclusions

So, do you need a 515 or not?  That depends on what you are trying to achieve. If you want to get into a top school, you will need at least a 515 to clear their cutoffs.  From that point on, the other factors in your application will begin to matter more and more. If you just want to get into a medical school period, then you should make sure to study enough beat the 50% mark and focus more on other factors that are easier to control, such as recommendations and community service.  If you cannot clear 495, then you should probably choose a different type of school; there are many types of medical schools that are not as concerned with MCAT scores.

Do you have questions about your MCAT score, whether to retake a test, or how to prepare your secondary essays?  

We're happy to help -- you can contact us directly, or read more about our services.


SUPPLEMENTARY SOURCES INCLUDE:

https://www.aamc.org/download/261106/data/aibvol11_no6.pdf

https://benchprep.com/mcat/prep/what-is-a-good-mcat-score

https://ulife.vpul.upenn.edu/careerservices/blog/2012/01/09/is-it-all-about-my-grades-and-mcat-score/

http://www.startmedicine.com/app/gpamcat.asp


Photo by Amy, Article by David Thomas and Ben Feuer




Photo by Creative Ignition

Around this time of year, lots of teenagers are getting some very exciting fat envelopes and/or brief phone calls.  Yes, it's Early Decision / Early Action season, and in this age of instant gratification and high-stress admissions gamesmanship, more and more families have turned to this safe haven. After all, it increases your odds of getting in and gives you peace of mind throughout the Spring. What's not to love?

Money, mostly. The not-so-attractive facts about Early Decision are this -- it's an option that only the well-heeled can pursue, since you have to make your college choice independent of FAFSA, and there's no guarantee that your chosen school will cover the difference. True, if you can prove financial need, they'll usually meet you halfway, but then you're right back in the stress laden boat you were trying to get out of in the first place!  And in the meantime, you're waving goodbye to any potentially better offers from other schools. Since almost everyone who applies ED does so to a reach school, usually there ARE better financial packages on the table by the time April rolls around, but at that point, your only option is to say no.

Given this state of affairs, it's not surprising that some families are beginning to wonder just how binding Early Decision really is. 
The answer is, quite binding. Schools look very unfavorably on candidates who walk away from ED, and doing so can hurt not only your own reputation, but that of your brothers, sisters, counselors, and even your school.

So if you know you're going to be in a tricky financial situation, do yourself a favor and bypass Early Decision. There are still plenty of non-binding Early Action options to get you that coveted peace of mind.  And if you've already made your bed, find a way to sleep in it!  Call your school and work things out. After all, if you were in love with them enough to apply in the first place, you should be in love with them enough to attend.

Article by Ben Feuer, Photo by Owen Benson

Congratulations!  You’ve got it all figured out!  While those other OCD kids fill out one long, dull application after another, you’re saving time and effort by focusing on more ‘important’ things, like classes and Stranger Things 2, and only completing your Early Decision application.  What could possibly go wrong?  After all, they’re going to love you …

If I could give just one piece of advice to every family currently working through the college admissions process, it’s this – BE YOURSELVES. But if I could give two, my second tip would be Don’t wait until your early decision college results come in to fill out your regular decision applications. Just … don’t.

Absolutely, we hope and pray and predict that your ED school will, in fact, love you. But life doesn’t always go as planned. I’ve seen it happen a hundred times – when the deferral or ding comes from your ED school, the LAST thing you’re going to feel like doing is completing eight, ten or twelve MORE college applications. But that’s exactly what you’ll have to do. And, you’ll have to rush because by then you’ll have two weeks (or less!) to complete them, AND you’ll have to miss Christmas and New Years and ruin your winter vacation slaving away in front of a computer. And how are you going to feel then?

Don’t let this sad, sad story happen to you. Finish everything by December 1.

Struggling with time management?  Let us know, we can help.




Article by Ben Feuer, photo by John Brawley

If you want to direct the next big Hollywood blockbuster, how do you get to where you're going?  There's certainly no one size fits all answer, but looking at the ten directors of top grossing films in 2017, it's easy to see their similarities (and differences!)  PS: We're not including animated films, because the business/operational side of animation is so radically different from traditional feature filmmaking.

THE LIST

BILL CONDON (Beauty and the Beast): Columbia University BA. No film school (considered UCLA MFA). Worked in LA as a writer very shortly after graduating.
PATTY JENKINS (Wonder Woman): Cooper Union BA. AFI MFA. Directed well-regarded first feature, "Monster", 3 years after graduating. Lived & worked in LA.
JAMES GUNN (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2): St. Louis U BA, Columbia MFA (prose writing). Worked for Troma as a writer immediately after graduating, first produced movie one year after graduating.
JON WATTS (Spider-Man Homecoming): NYU Film School (degree unclear). Worked as a commercial and music video director for Park Pictures immediately after graduating. Got his first feature made by name-checking Eli Roth in a fancy horror film trailer. Sundance director.
ANDY MUSCHIETTI (It): 40 year old Argentinian director. Film school background unclear. Credited feature directing began at age 25 (approximately).
TAIKA WAITITI COHEN (Thor: Ragnarok): From New Zealand. Victoria University of Wellington UG, drama. Nominated for a short film academy award in 2004 (aged 29). Sundance director 2x. Top grossing filmmaker in New Zealand 2x.
JAMES MANGOLD (Logan): Born in New York City, raised by two artists. CalArts Film (UG), Columbia Film (MFA). First feature won best director at Sundance film festival (Heavy). Got his first deal, with Disney, at age 22.
F GARY GRAY (The Fate of the Furious): Born in NYC, raised in Southern LA. Directed Friday, starring Ice Cube, at age 23.
ZACK SNYDER (Justice League): Studied painting, Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA. Became a commercial director, made feature debut, Dawn of the Dead, at age 29.

CHRISTOPHER NOLAN (Dunkirk): Raised in London, England and Evanston, Illinois. Moved to Chicago as a teenager. Educated at Haileybury and Imperial Service College and University College London (UCL). Funded first feature, Following, out of pocket in 1998, aged 28. Film was a 'festival success', and paved the way for Memento in 2000.


Questions about how you break through?  Reach out to us, we're happy to share what we know.

Article by Mark Puner, photo by Martin Fisch

As Forster-Thomas’s Chief Editor, I spend a lot of my time thinking about my limits. Word limits, that is. Contrary to popular belief, a genie will not appear in order to grant your every wish when you submit your personal statement at the exact word count. (Two myths debunked: genies aren’t real, word counts are.) But I will be singing your praises, or whoever else is helping you edit your essays.

Word counts are not an attack, a punishment, a test or a deterrent. Believe it or not, they’re actually helpful, once you understand why they exist. They’re forcing you to focus, to be judicious and selective about what you choose to say, and what you choose to leave out.

Consider the Common App’s maximum word allotment of 650 in terms of time, either 6:50 a.m. or 6:50 p.m. A train leaves the station at 6:50…

For STEM students:

If a train leaves the station at 6:50, it’s best to arrive early. This is an approximation of the train’s departure time. It does not account for the time you will spend buying a ticket, figuring out which track the train arrives on, or pondering multi-differential equations in the meantime.

For non-STEM students:

Get there early

For everyone:

Leave some cushion

As someone who has read your essay at every stop along the way, I invariably like the express version—the passion of your first draft combined with spit and polish that takes time to cull. Yes, this is easier said than done. No, this will not exceed 630 words. At 6:30 everyone can comfortably enjoy the ride to the next destination. No genies needed.

Have questions about how to get your essay down to size?  Contact me!




Article by Tom Locke, Photo by Matt Chan

As the Senior Interview Consultant for Forster Thomas, i have the good fortune of preparing droves of clients each year for those coveted “Invite Interviews.” And, most of the candidates I have the pleasure of prepping share some commonalities: most are excited, and rightly so! Most are wondering how they can be best prepared, and I get that. Yet, most are also absolutely freaking out. You know the type— they need to do their interview prep session 6 weeks before the interview. They send me, in advance, every essay they have written, not just for this application, and not even for all their applications. They send me every essay they have written since 8th grade. They want to know: Will we meet in person even though I am in Oklahoma and you are in New York?  If we skype, what should I wear for our skype session? What are the 20 most common questions that they are going to ask me? How long will the interview last? My friend said…, My boss, who went to HBS, told me…, I read online that…. The list goes on and on….and on. 

I am here to tell you three things:

1)    It’s going to be ok!

2)    I understand your angst

3)    YOU NEED TO STOP! NOW!

Now, let me address some of your specifics: it’s not practical or necessary to travel 1500 miles to do a prep session in person. Technology is wonderful. I don’t care what you wear for our prep session. I care what you wear to your interview. If I give you the 20 most common questions, I can promise you that: Stanford, or Harvard, or Kellogg knows what those questions are and they are going to ask you question numbers 21, 37, and 149. The interview will last as long as it lasts, and DO NOT READ INTO THAT. First of all, I have seen people have ten minute interviews and get in. I have also seen people have 2 hour interviews and get inexplicably dinged. And forget what your friend, your boss, your dad, or your milkman said. They know their experience, from one moment in time, at one school. And that probably will not apply to you!

So, what do you do? The best, most simple advice I can give you is this— TREAT IT LIKE A FIRST DATE. Treat it like a date with someone you met online.

Let’s just think about that for a second. You meet someone on Match or OKCupid or JDate or BDate or XDate or dateme.com and you scour each other’s profiles, determining if you each check enough boxes to go out with the other. Then, you use email, or maybe even texts, to determine if there is a bit of a connection there beyond those boxes. And guess what! There is. So, you both know a bit about each other, you both like what you have discovered, and now you are going to go sit across from each other, try to get to know each other, and determine if you each want to spend some more time together. Like, maybe the next two years.  And you know what? That is EXACTLY the way you should treat your MBA interview. Be focused on helping them get to know you, and be curious about them. And if you can be yourself? You will probably have more dates. If you try to impress them, or overprepare, or worry incessantly about things that don’t matter, you will not come off as AUTHENTIC and you will freak them out and you will not get another date, and you will not get into that school you have been dreaming about!

They will not ask you anything you don’t know the answer to. I repeat, you already have all the answers. You just need to be relaxed enough to let them out! Yes, there are things to think about in terms of approach, but the most important thing you can bring to an interview that nobody else in the world can bring…is YOU! Just like a date. So, if you are good at dating, relax. You’ll be fine! And if you’re not— get yourself out there in the dating game. It just might help your MBA interview.

Got questions for me?  Hit me up -- I'm around.

 

Article by Susan Clark, Photo by Peter Hellberg

GOALS AND THE GRAPE

MBA goals essays are one of the most common prompts for prospective b-school students, and some colleges are starting to ask about them as well. So you’d do well to start thinking about just what your goals are. Of course, knowing your goal is only part of a great essay. The rest … is grape juice.

There was this old TV ad that used to run all the time back when I was a kid, in the Dark Ages. It was a spot for carpet cleaner, featuring a toddler in a high chair in the middle of a pristine white room.  The mother hands the kid a sippy cup with grape juice, which the kid, predictably and immediately, tosses in the air.  Grape juice droplets fly in slow motion. Just before they splatter, everything freezes. “This mother isn’t afraid of grape juice!” the announcer says, “she has X!”  I never bought X, but I sure bought the ad! In one clear image, it created empathy and an understanding of the need for the product.

That’s why now, all my clients create a “Grape Juice Moment” (GJM) at the opening of their goals essay. And you can have one too, if you follow these simple instructions.

SQUEEZING THE GRAPE

The constituent parts of a GJM are empathy, understanding, and need.  You (the applicant) must create a desire in the reader (an admissions officer) to support your future. Start with an evocative image drawn from memory that the reader can relate to (like the baby in the white room). There’s the empathy. Clearly state the problem/opportunity you see (the freeze frame of the grape juice), and you’re on your way to understanding. Then present your dynamite solution, and BAM! That school is going to NEED you in their world.

CASE STUDY 

Situation

My family’s textile company in India was starved for power. Why? Because electric companies have a residence first policy for power distribution. When our power was cut off, orders went out late, threatening our reputation in the global marketplace.

Solution

I noticed that subsidies for creating wind generated power had been eliminated, and many windmills were being sold for less than it cost to build them. Sensing an opportunity, I led the initiative in my company to purchase windmills, solving our power dilemma.

Goal     

This plan, I realized, could be expanded to help other Indian companies in a similar predicament. That’s why, after business school, I want to return to my family business, grow its holdings of renewable energy, and provide the first ever reliable source decentralized power for industrial use across India.  

ANALYSIS

This company failing to meet deadlines is the grape juice moment.  The nice thing about this writer’s solution is that it starts personal and scales national. That means he has the know-how to do what he says he’s going to do, PLUS, if the School supports him, they support all of India. Who wouldn’t want to get on board with that?  

WHERE’S YOUR GRAPE?

You don’t need to save the world. The most important thing in any essay is connecting with your reader. It is much harder to turn down a person you know than a statistically defined stranger. So get to work on finding your grape (or it can be an orange, even a prune … I’m not picky!) juice moment. And if you want to know more about my ideas, hit me up!




Article by Ben Feuer, Photo by Lillith

If there is one type of essay every college hopeful moans and groans about — it’s their Common App personal statement.  But the “why school” essays run a close second.  Everyone struggles with them.  Shawna, bright and funny with a GPA to die for, was aces when it came to writing about her background as a half-Filipina woman trying to find her way in a prejudiced society. But once it came time for her to do school research, she stalled out. It feels like hitting a single, not a home run, she told me. But I disagree --

ANYBODY can hit a home run with a “why school” essay — if she’s willing to put in the work.  

Writing a great school-specific essay requires a very different set of skills than writing a great personal statement, but both types of essay are important. You should always take them when you have an option, AND you should always write at or near the maximum word-count for Why School essays (unlike other types of essay, where it isn’t as important).  Here are some commonly asked questions about this essay type --

Why are schools so concerned with research?  

Don’t they already know what is great about their school?  Of course they do (although it never hurts to hear it again).  They’re asking because of something called demonstrated interest. Demonstrated interest is a fancy way of saying, how much do you really want to go to OUR school?  Did you pick us just because we’ve got a good ranking, or do you actually know something about how we work?  Have you visited campus?  Have you spoken to alumni?  Are you familiar with the enviroment?  Class size?  Cultural reputation, IE, what the students behave like and what they value?  Schools like DI. DI correllates to yield, and yield boosts rankings — and everybody likes high rankings.

OK, fine.  What am I even supposed to talk about?


The world is your oyster!  Here’s a partial list.  There are many more.

Top professors (shared history, publications, work history, teaching reputation), student body (diversity, age, work history), recent alumni (willingness to communicate, quotes drawn from experience), advanced alumni (internships and placement), career services, industry strengths (sectors, disciplines), specialized majors, ability to cross-enroll, strength of cross-disciplinary opportunities, campus setting (proximity to family, friendliness, size, appearance), local opportunities (incubators, fellowships, internships, work-study, volunteering), clubs and organizations (duration, comparative strength, leadership opportunities, ways to grow or give back), conferences and campus speakers (relevance, reputation), entrepreneurial opportunities (competitions, incubators), classes (first year, second year, specializations), campus visits (info sessions, experience, sitting in on classes), family history (connections, early life)

I’m overwhelmed. Where do I start?

Start by creating a ‘headline’ for each of your target schools.  ALL of them, not just your favorite.  Summarize, in 1 or 2 sentences, what you think the unique fit is between yourself and the school. Treat these sentences as a hypothesis you need to prove.

Remember that your research will be more effective if you do early research into ALL your schools at once, or at least all the ones that have Why School essays. That way, you’ll have a basis for comparison (and a good school research point should ALWAYS be comparing one school to another, albeit not by name).

School research can be divided into three main categories.

  1. DEEP WEB RESEARCH. This should be the heart of your essay, as well as the meat and potatoes. Reading the school’s website is not a bad start, as it will give you a basic overview of what’s on offer. Keep an eye peeled for course listings, recent news events, maps and descriptions of important campus buildings, student run organizations, and other key terms.  Then take those terms and plug them right into Google, Youtube and Linkedin!  Yes, it’s that easy.  After reading 10-15 links on the things that interest you, you’ll understand it almost as well as someone at the school!  Statistical websites like College Factual are tremendously helpful here as well, as are blogs from current and former students, Vlogs, Instagram feeds – anything and everything is fair game. Cite a wide range of sources in your essay to show the depth of your research.
  2. TALK TO CURRENT/FORMER STUDENTS AND PROFS. Anyone more than 10 years out from graduation is not likely to be helpful, but more recent grads, particularly folks with similar backgrounds to you, are tremendous sources of information. But do your web research first, that way, you’ll be able to ask more specific questions. Remember, you’re trying to get interesting observations you can paraphrase, so if they’re speaking generally (or you’re not taking good notes) the whole thing will be a waste.  Don’t ask “How did you like the school?”  Ask “You took Professor Trelawney’s Divination II, right?  How did you like the reading material for that class, did you find it useful in your overall understanding of the degree?”  Focused questions result in focused answers. Better!
  3. DO A CAMPUS TOUR. Again, be prepared to take notes and take names. If you can’t get there in person, do a virtual tour. Note the date of your tour in your essay, sometimes that information comes in handy!

How many points should I be discussing?

A common bad strategy for this type of essay is overstuffing it with poorly supported points — referencing three classes in a row without explaining why any of them are necessary (or particularly strong at your chosen school), name dropping professors without explaining how their book on Cannibal Theory changed your life, using alumni quotes but providing no context as to their relevance.

Instead, make a few well chosen points and back them up.  What are the two or three things you, personally, MOST need from a college?  This, by the way, is ALSO the reason nobody can do this work for you. Ultimately, you’re the one who really knows your priorities and the things you most need in order to grow.

I wrote it, but I don’t like what I wrote. It feels general and vague. 

Every early draft of a why school essay shares the same pernicious flaw — blanket statements made without evidence (to back them up) or context (to explain why they belong in the essay).  So how do we fix these statements?  Watch the following bland comment transform into a great point — through action.

U.Chicago’s campus is very diverse.  Awful.  A blanket statement with nothing to back it up — not a shred of research or introspection.

When John Smith ’13 told me about U.Chicago’s diverse campus environment, I was very excited.  So-so — at least you spoke to (and quoted) an alumni.  But not much effort shown, nor much reflection on your own goals and needs.

When John Smith ’13 told me about U.Chicago’s diverse campus environment, I was very excited — my four years at Ball State proved to me that I thrive when I am learning from my peers as much as my professors.  Above average — not great.  Action taken, related it back to your own experience.  This is what I’d consider “bare minimum” for making a solid point as to why you and a school are a good fit.

When my best friend John Smith ‘20 told me about U.Chicago’s diverse campus environment (ranked 23rd in the nation by College Factual for its strong geographic and ethnic balance), I was excited, but skeptical — diversity can mean different things to different people.  So I went to see for myself, visiting on September 9th, 2017.  The info session was intimate — more so than any other I have attended — with a relatively select group of students offered full campus access.  Bob Davis ’12, my tour leader, was extraordinarily patient, walking me through U.Chicago’s outstanding array of clubs and societies, including the MSAC Committee. U.Chicago is one of the only schools I am considering that even offers a student-led Diversity Committee, much less one that advises faculty and university management on key outreach issues.  Outstanding.  The candidate walks us through his thought process — smoothly incorporating his actions taken (alumni interviews, campus visit, talked to tour guide for 1/2 hour) into a larger journey of how he came to fall in love with Booth.  We believe him.

Don’t fake it.  

I know, I know — you’re thinking, nah, that sounds too hard, or too expensive — I don’t want to Google-stalk a professor, or haunt an internet forum, or network on LinkedIn to meet alums from a school — I’m busy!  (as 1000 tiny violins play)  Campus visits, I’ll just make it up.  Ok, big boy, you do that.  And you might fool your parents, or even a peer reviewer or two.  But you won’t fool the experts, who have to read literally THOUSANDS of these things.  They know their own programs, and if you think you can generalize your way around campus — sorry, no.

You can’t have fit without a goal.

Your school may ask you “why us” but may not ask specifically about your goals.  Use one or two sentences to tell them about your goals for college.  Why?  Because if you don’t, how are you going to show that you are a good fit on campus?  People with dreams need help making their dreams come true.  Your goal and your past experience dictate what you need from the school. 

But be as specific as you can when it comes to your needs. Let’s say, for argument’s sake, you want to master leadership in college.  OK.  What aspect of leadership are you looking to develop?  Small teams?  Big teams?  Collaborating remotely?  Speaking in front of groups?  Setting long term visionary goals?  Achieving short term objectives?  By better defining your growth areas, you can focus more precisely on what the school has to offer you.  The same thing applies to every discipline you wish to develop — precise thinking and precise language will set you apart.

The end -- and the beginning.

That's it -- everything you know to write a great "why school essay.  It's not complicated -- but it's also not easy.  It takes time, and thought, to get it right.  Still, as with everything in this process, practice makes perfect -- so get to work on those drafts!

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