For the class of 2016, NYU Stern is only requiring two (instead of three) essays, which people are quick to label as part of the essay-eliminating trend set by HBS last week. However, the biggest change is the fact that Stern now has four rounds (up from three), the first of which is in October--a full month before their traditional deadline of November 15.  This is bad news for procrastinators, but good news those who are serious about Stern: applying in the new round 1 is a great way to demonstrate that the school is your top choice, not a back-up.

Here are the new deadlines:

Round 1 Deadline: October 15, 2013
Round 2 Deadline: November 15, 2014
Round 3 Deadline: January 15, 2014
Round 4 Deadline: March 15, 2014

And here are the essays:

ESSAY 1: PROFESSIONAL ASPIRATIONS
(750 word maximum, double-spaced, 12-pt font)

  • Why pursue an MBA (or dual degree) at this point in your life?
  • What actions have you taken to determine that Stern is the best fit for your MBA experience?
  • What do you see yourself doing professionally upon graduation?

ESSAY 2: CHOOSE OPTION A OR OPTION B

Option A: Your Two Paths
(500 word maximum, double-spaced, 12-point font)

The mission of the Stern School of Business is to develop people and ideas that transform the challenges of the 21st century into opportunities to create value for business and society. Given today’s ever-changing global landscape, Stern seeks and develops leaders who thrive in ambiguity, embrace a broad perspective and think creatively about the range of ways they can have impact.

  • Describe two different and distinct paths you could see your career taking long term. How do you see your two paths unfolding?
  • How do your paths tie to the mission of NYU Stern?
  • What factors will most determine which path you will take?
Option B: Personal Expression

Please describe yourself to your MBA classmates. You may use almost any method to convey your message (e.g. words, illustrations). Feel free to be creative.

If you submit a non-written piece for this essay (i.e., artwork or multimedia) or if you submit this essay via mail, please upload a brief description of your submission with your online application.

    Please note the following guidelines and restrictions:

    • Your submission becomes the property of NYU Stern and cannot be returned for any reason.
    • If you submit a written essay, it should be 500 words maximum, double-spaced, 12-point font. If you submit a video or audio file, it should be five minutes maximum.
    • If you prepare a multimedia submission, you may mail a CD, DVD or USB flash drive to the Admissions Office. These are the only acceptable methods of submission. Please do not submit an internet link to any websites or to a video hosting service such as YouTube.
    • The Admissions Committee reserves the right to request an alternate essay if we are unable to view your submission.
    • Do not submit anything perishable (e.g. food), or any item that has been worn (e.g. clothing).
    • Mailed materials must be postmarked by the application deadline date. Please follow our mail and labeling instructions.

See more guidelines and details about Essay 2, Option B here.

ESSAY 3. ADDITIONAL INFORMATION (OPTIONAL)

Please provide any additional information that you would like to bring to the attention of the Admissions Committee. This may include current or past gaps in employment, further explanation of your undergraduate record or self-reported academic transcript(s), plans to retake the GMAT, GRE and/or TOEFL or any other relevant information.

If you are unable to submit a recommendation from your current supervisor, you must explain your reason.

If you are a re-applicant from last year, please explain how your candidacy has improved since your last application. 

For more information, see our NYU Stern Essay Guide.  


Harvard Business School's decision to require only one admissions essay will have many applicants terrified. But for truly exceptional candidates, standing out from the pack just got a little easier.

By Justin Marshall

You can’t talk your way into Harvard Business School anymore.

According to Evan Forster, co-founder of Forster-Thomas Educational and Career Consulting, that’s the main takeaway from HBS’s new application requirements, announced in a blog by Dee Leopold yesterday and reported by Poets & Quants’ John Byrne.

The most significant change to the application is that there is now only one essay question required of candidates for the class of 2016, a dramatic change from just two years ago, when the school required four essays. The school has also reduced the number of recommenders from three to two, and moved its round one deadline up a full week to September 16.

So what is the new HBS essay question?

You’re applying to Harvard Business School. We can see your resume, school transcripts, extra-curricular activities, awards, post-MBA career goals, test scores and what your recommenders have to say about you. What else would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy?”

Forster, for one, is happy about the move to just one essay, because it takes the emphasis away from writing and puts it where it belongs: candidacies.

“I’m really excited about this change. It backs up everything we’ve always known about b-school: It’s a place that develops great leaders, not great essay writers,” Forster said. “By cutting the requirement down to one essay, they’ve leveled the playing field. They took away the writing crutch. They’re really going to be evaluating you more on who you really ARE, not on who you SAY you are. Candidates can’t just talk the talk anymore. They have to walk the walk.”

Forster also feels that that gives Forser-Thomas an edge.

“Forster-Thomas has never been an essay mill. We don’t help undeserving candidates sprinkle fairy dust on their essays as a quick fix. We’ve always been about building candidacies. We give our candidates a Leadership Action Plan and help them find ways to make a difference in the world. That’s actually HBS’s mission statement—educating leaders who make a difference in the world. Their new approach to essays shows that the HBS admissions committee is actually on board with their own school’s mission.”

Forster-Thomas cofounder David Thomas agrees with this assessment. But he disagrees with Leopold that reducing the number of essays will bring candidates any relief. “Both this year and last, Dee Leopold has suggested that candidates are too nervous about writing essays. And she seems to think that by reducing the writing requirement, she’s making people worry less about them. But the truth is people are more nervous. I’ve already gotten calls from candidates who are freaked out that they only have one chance to tell their story. And since there’s only one essay, you have to get it right. So in many ways, it increases the pressure.”

Another significant change regarding the essay is that there is no word count. “That’s it. No word limit,” Leopold writes in her blog. “Use your own judgment as to how much you tell us. We have neither a ‘right answer’ nor a ‘correct length’ in mind … I also think that removing the word limit brings this process closer to the way things work in the Real World—always our goal.”

While many candidates might be relieved to not be limited to 400 words (the previous word limit for most HBS essays), Thomas says that having no limits can be a dangerous thing: “This is called ‘Dee Leopold giving you enough rope to hang yourself.’ You still need to show discipline and restraint and purpose. Type-A, top-level candidates have a compulsion to fill the space they’re given, and being given unlimited space is the most painful and cruel thing you can do. There is a happy medium, which is what we’ll help our candidates find.”

One thing Forster and Thomas are both very much in agreement about is that, regardless on how many essays HBS has, the best responses all have a few things in common.

“How do you answer the HBS essay question?” Forster asked. “The same way as always: By showing you’re a cultural fit with HBS. You can say whatever you want: discussing a professional accomplishment, talking about a family member, or describing an act of leadership. But you have to filter that through the lens of why that makes you a fit with HBS’s community and culture—a place for people who strive to have an impact.”

“The words have changed, but the song remains the same,” Thomas concurs. “It just reinforces what I’ve been saying for years: the essays are not about WHAT you do, but WHY and HOW you do it. They’re going to find out what you did through your resume, recommendations, application form, and stats. Essays aren’t a chance to repeat all your accomplishments, they’re an opportunity to express why and how you achieved them.”

Rather than focusing on the changes to the essays, however, Forster believes the single biggest thing candidates should be asking is if they’re ready to apply this year.

“With fewer essays, HBS isn’t going to get distracted by a bunch of pretty words. They’re just going to be super-focused on what you’ve actually done. That means what people are doing in their lives is going to be more important than ever. And since you can’t put together a candidacy overnight, people need to be thinking about their candidacies—and creating them—long before they apply.”


Harvard Business School has just announced its essay question for the class of 2016. Note the word "question" is not plural. That's because there is now only one essay.  Also, you're only allowed two recommenders. And the round one deadline is a week earlier than ever before. Oh, and if you receive an interview, you must arrive to campus riding a pachyderm indigenous to the Southern Hemisphere and be prepared to sing the Harvard Fight Song while skipping rope. Good luck.

Yes, HBS Admissions Director Dee Leopold is ushering in a wealth of changes, which she explained in her blog post of May 30th. Here they are in more detail:

The application deadlines are:

Round 1 Deadline: September 16, 2013
Round 2 Deadline: January 6, 2014
Round 3 Deadline: April 7, 2014

Note that Round One deadline.  Procrastinators beware.

Here is the single essay for the Class of 2016:

You’re applying to Harvard Business School.  We can see your resume, school transcripts, extra-curricular activities, awards, post-MBA career goals, test scores and what your recommenders have to say about you.  What else would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy?

There is no word limit.

Also, note that HBS no longer requires three recommenders. Only two are now permitted.  Bad news for some, good news for people who are generally unlikeable.

Finally, HBS will once again require candidates who receive an interview to write a post-interview essay within 24 hours of the completion of the interview.  That essay also has no word limit. Candidates who receive an interview will receive more detailed instructions at a later time.

For more information on the HBS essay, see our HBS Essay Guide. And stay tuned for an HBS Best Practices blog, where we'll provide tips and advice on how answer that one essay.

 


After teasing its essays out to Businessweek's b-school blog in what appeared to be an exclusive interview and claiming its actual essays wouldn't be available until July, Ross seems to have just decided to get all official and stuff and post their essays for realsies. So, without further ado, we'll post their Fall 2014 Full-time MBA essay questions too:

But first, the new deadlines, so you know how long you have to procrastinate:

Round 1 Deadline: October 1, 2013
Round 2 Deadline: January 2, 2014
Round 3 Deadline: March 3, 2014

OK, and NOW, the essays (which are also available in PDF form and with the U of M logo here):

1. Introduce yourself to your future Ross classmates in 100 words or less.

2.

  • a. What about your professional experiences has led you to determine that business school is the right next step? (150 words)
  • b. As you have researched MBA programs, what actions have you taken to learn more about Ross and what has led you to believe that Ross is the right MBA program for you? (150 words)
  • c. What career do you plan to pursue after business school and why? (150 words)

3. Describe a time in your career when you were frustrated or disappointed. What advice would you give to a colleague who was dealing with a similar situation? (400 word maximum)

4. Optional question: Is there anything not addressed elsewhere in the application that you would like the Admissions Committee to know about you to evaluate your candidacy? (300 word maximum)

For more info, see our Ross Essay Guide.  And stand by for our Best Practices Blog on how to answer the Ross essay questions.  Coming shortly.


Forster-Thomas essay coach Kirsten Guenther shares her tips on how to answer the Stanford GSB essay questions for the class of 2016.

Last year, Stanford tweaked their essay questions a bit, reducing the number of essays from four to three and increasing the word count of the choose-one-of-three essay. In this year's May 24th newsletter, they wrote, "This worked really well, so essay questions are remaining the same as last year." In other words, this year's Stanford essays are identical to last year's. But you still need to make sure you answer them the right way, so here we go:

Essay 1: What matters most to you, and why?

Save the best for last. Hold off on this essay until you’ve completed the essays for every other school you’re applying to. Trust me, “WMM” will be strengthened by the introspection you have gained from delving into the other essays.

Important: This is not a goals essay (as Auntie Evan points out in Chapter 16 of The MBA Reality Check). This is not “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Think of WMM this way: The airplane is going down…you have one minute to live—think fast—what’s the most important thing in the world to you?

BE HONEST. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. Stanford wants to know who you are at this juncture in your life, how you came to be that person and what it taught you, and how you have applied that lesson—or how a realization has shaped who you are today.

I recently read a book called, What I Saw and How I Lied. For the protagonist, the most important thing in the world was to live a life that is truthful. So true that she refused to even laugh at a joke that she didn’t think was funny just to fit in. HOW did she come to be this person? HOW did this become the thing that mattered MOST to her? When she was a teenager her mother committed a crime and asked her daughter, the protagonist, to be her alibi—this ended up causing a ripple effect of even more serious issues. The protagonist saw that no one was helped by the lie; in fact, their lives were made much worse because of it and they were unhappy. It was then that she vowed never again to tell even the whitest lie.

If she were applying to Stanford, I would urge her to write about the moment she made the decision to lie for her mother—the fallout from NOT being true to herself—and then what led her to make the commitment to live a truthful life in the future. She could then write about how this has affected her relationships with friends and colleagues and how she has had to adapt her communication skills in life from that day forward. No longer could she say she liked a Christmas sweater she didn’t, or could she agree with a co-worker just to placate someone. She would have had to adapt her communication skills so that she could be honest but not off-putting or awkward—not just in business but in her personal life as well. Who she is as a person was largely shaped by the decision she made to live a completely truthful life.

Last, drill down deep—you’re not revealing anything about yourself to stick to broad, common themes (no matter how truthful) such as “family” or “honor,” and you sound like you’re just saying what you think they want by writing about “access to opportunity” and “making the world a better place.” This isn’t the Miss Universe pageant. These things matter to everybody. Teach us something that makes you you.

 

Essay 2: What do you want to do—REALLY—and why Stanford?

What do you REALLY want to do? Okay—in the spirit of Forster-Thomas’s own Project Ridiculous—Go! Want to create an Indian dance troop to tour the globe, bringing awareness to the Indian tradition and culture? Great. Write about that…if that’s what you REALLY want to do. But if you think that’s just going to win you points by sounding meaningful? The adcom will see right through it (because nothing else in your candidacy will back that up).

State your aspiration—but don’t forget to include why YOU…why this is your calling. Why will YOU (specifically) succeed in this? Talk about the skills you’ve built thus far, but ALSO talk about your personal background or relationships you can draw from in terms of pursuing your goal. Maybe your cousin in India is a theatrical producer and the two of you can join forces?

DISCLAIMER: While your goal should be something you are passionate about, if you know nothing about Indian dance and have never been to India but you saw Slumdog Millionaire and thought it looked cool, that does not mean you should write about it in your business school application. You’re not playing pin the tail on the donkey with your aspirations here. Your goal needs to be something that you’ve spent a lot of time thinking about and educating yourself about—it is something for which you have developed a PLAN to accomplish. This plan includes business school.

Next, talk about what skills you want to gain or improve—and why these skills are essential and how you will build these not at any business school but at Stanford. VISIT the school. Talk to alumni—go through the class schedule and figure out what curriculum and classes will support your aspirations. Don’t just talk about why these classes will help you achieve your goal, but also what you will offer your classmates and what you will contribute to the Stanford COMMUNITY.

 

Essay 3: Answer one of the three questions below. Tell us not only what you did but also how you did it. What was the outcome? How did people respond? Only describe experiences that have occurred during the last three years.

  • Option A: Tell us about a time in the last three years when you built or developed a team whose performance exceeded expectations.

Leadership. Leadership. Leadership. They want to know that you can motivate a group to work toward a common goal. More so, they want to know that you can bring together the right group to accomplish that goal. “When you built or developed a team…” For example, the time the afterschool program at the high school in your hometown was losing funding for the arts and you cast a team from your friends and colleagues to raise the funds to save the program. Maybe you called your college roommate who was a theater major, and your brother’s girlfriend who is a public school teacher, and your buddy on your intramural basketball team who’s a marketing guru. Talk about a time when you not only coached the team but you drafted the players as well.

  • Option B: Tell us about a time in the last three years when you identified and pursued an opportunity to improve an organization.

This is about creating positive change—leaving something better than when you found it. It’s not that guy you’re dating who you got to stop wearing two-toned shirts (though that would be an improvement). In this question, they want to know that you seek opportunities to create positive change. This doesn’t just have to be raising enough money to expand the work of a charity you believe in—get creative—and remember, leadership. Talk about the time you designed an innovative marketing strategy for your favorite charity and how that plan is reaching more donors. That is something that will CONTINUE to improve the cause, as opposed to a one-time fundraiser (we call this “legacy”—see Chapter 5 of The MBA Reality Check).

  • Option C: Tell us about a time in the last three years when you went beyond what was defined or established.

Talk about a time you didn’t just do the research your manager asked you to do and organize it into a spreadsheet—talk about the time you did that AND then created a method to make sharing this research with your whole department more effective. A time you didn’t just adopt a homeless dog—you built an animal shelter.

For all of the choose-one-of-three questions, remember to talk about HOW you were able to accomplish these things: what your methods were for problem solving and how you lead your team. What skill set and resources did you draw from?

For more information on the Stanford 2012-2013 essays, see our Stanford Essay Guide.

Need help digging down deep to write amazing essays? Call Forster-Thomas at 212-741-9090 or set up a free candidacy assessment.


Columbia University's MBA program just announced its essay questions and deadlines for the Class of 2016.  There are significant changes from past years' essays here, so extra-long drum roll, please...

The application deadlines are: 

Early Decision Deadline: October 2, 2013
Merit Fellowship Consideration: January 6, 2014
Regular Deadline: April 9, 2014

Note: Columbia Business School uses a rolling admissions process, which means applications are reviewed—and decisions rendered—as they are received. It is always advantageous for you to submit your application as early as possible.

And here are the Essays:

Applicants must complete one short answer question and three essays.

Short Answer Question:
What is your immediate post-MBA professional goal? (200 characters maximum)

Essay 1:
Given your individual background, why are you pursuing a Columbia MBA at this time? (Maximum 500 words)

Essay 2
Columbia Business School is located in the heart of the world's business capital - Manhattan. How do you anticipate that New York City will impact your experience at Columbia? (Maximum 250 words)

Please view the videos below:

New York City - limitless possibilities

New York City - fast paced and adaptable

Essay 3:
What will the people in your Cluster be pleasantly surprised to learn about you? (Maximum 250 words)

Optional Essay
An optional fourth essay will allow you to discuss any issues that do not fall within the purview of the required essays.

Knight-Bagehot Fellows
Rather than answer Essay 1, Part A above, current Knight-Bagehot Fellows applying to Columbia Business School should use the space allocated to the first essay (500 words) to complete the Wiegers Fellowship application essay.

For more information, as well as links to the Columbia Admissions page, see our Columbia GSB Essay Guide.


Architecture personal statements can be challenging. Here's how to write one the admissions committee is never going to forget.

There are so many fantastic architecture schools out there -- check out our deep dives into Harvard and Yale for two specific examples -- but one thing that they all have in common is the requirement that all applicants write an admissions essay.

No matter what name it goes by -- statement of purpose, statement of interest, or plain old personal statement -- architecture school statements are challenging.  They often want you to cover a whole lot of information in only 500 words. For instance, Columbia University’s prompt this year was: In a statement of approximately 500 words, describe your background, your past work in your intended field of study, and your plans for graduate study and a professional career. All of that in only 500 words or less? Oy.

“So…by ‘background’ do they mean my entire life story plus all of my work, school and internship experiences?” my candidate, Kara, an aspiring architect, asked. “It says ‘personal’ – does that mean I should tell them about my parents’ divorce?”

Here’s the thing: It is important that after the admissions committee has read your statement of purpose, they feel that they know who you are. They need to know what you want to do (your goal)—Kara’s was opening her own architecture firm one day—why this is important to you, what you have done thus far in regards to pursuing your goal or taking an interest in the subject matter, and what you still have left to learn and/or explore. And right there is the outline for your entire 500-word, statement of purpose.

BREAKING DOWN THE ARCHITECTURE PERSONAL STATEMENT

Paragraph 1: This is where you get personal. No, this doesn’t mean empty the contents of your diary. This means write about the moment you realized you wanted to pursue your goal. For instance, perhaps it was when your family moved from a sprawling home in Greenwich, Connecticut, to a 1200 sq. ft. apartment in Manhattan. Perhaps you found yourself wishing you could move the walls around, and reconfigure the space to be more open. There, you have your “ah-hah!” moment—the moment you realized that architecture would be a part of your life. Write about that. Be specific.

Why? Graduate programs want students who are passionate about what they want to do, not students who are just looking to avoid the real world for another few years. This is your opportunity to show them why you want it.

Paragraph 2: What have you done thus far to pursue your interest in architecture? Did you explore classes in college? Did you take art or art history classes? When you studied abroad, did you take an active interest in the city’s architecture? This is an opportunity to discuss specific classes you’ve taken as well as experiences—talk about a particular professor you learned from, clubs you started or joined. Discuss internships or observation hours. But do not simply list them; you don’t want to regurgitate your resume (remember, they have it!). Tell them what’s not on your resume. For instance, discuss specific moments within your internship where you learned something significant and how you plan to apply what you learned.

Why? Graduate school want students who have already been seeking knowledge; show them what you’ve learned so far.

Paragraph 3: Why do you want to go to grad school? What do you still have left to learn? Discuss skills that you need to obtain, improve or expand. For instance, you might be looking to strengthen your foundation and design skills with a Masters in Architecture. You might be interested in expanded your knowledge of technology and how one can use it in the design process in order to achieve greater innovation. Look at your goal, and then ask yourself, “What do I need to get better at in order to improve my chances of achieving my goal?”

Now here’s the part where Kara asks, “But don’t I want to appear confident? Won’t it make me look weak to admit that I still have stuff to learn?”

No. Schools want students who are self aware–they know their strongest and weakest areas. You want to show the school that you know what you need to work on and what experiences you need to gather in order to accomplish your goal. This also demonstrates that you actually will benefit from graduate school—and proves to the school even more that you are a serious candidate.

Paragraph 4: The school-specific portion of your essay. Why Columbia, specifically? Here, it is important to be extremely specific in order to show enthusiasm for a particular school. Research classes, professors and clubs, and discuss how they will help you accomplish your goal.

Why? You must prove that you want to go to the school. By getting specific about the school you also demonstrate your ability to research and gain knowledge—good traits for a prospective student. Additionally, when you get an interview—you’ll have lots to discuss.

Last paragraph: Your conclusion. A few short sentences about how Columbia is going to help you, and you are going to help them, change the planet (by using your masters in architecture).

SO, NOW WHAT?

Need more help?  Just ask -- we're happy to answer any questions you have about your application.

Or, if you prefer, you can check out more details on the services we provide for graduate students, advising them on overall application strategy as well as essay prep.


My jaw dropped when I saw the video Ethan planned to submit to USC film school—and not because of his immense talent behind the camera. His 13-minute narrative, “Upside Down,” was like a master class on how not to direct a movie. Even Ed Wood would have been ashamed to put his name on it. The story made no sense, the acting was atrocious, and the music was so loud you couldn’t hear the actors’ lines.

But Ethan had hired me to help him get into film school, so yelling at him for terrible directorial choices was futile. Instead, I told Ethan that he needed to make another film—one that wouldn’t be suitable punishment for a detainee at Guantanamo Bay. After Ethan and I brainstormed a number of ideas, I suggested he direct a scene from his favorite play, “All My Sons”…and shoot it with a handheld video camera…in his living room. Ethan was beyond skeptical. Didn’t he have to write the film he submitted? And didn’t he need props and locations and a tripod and all those other things that make films look like “real” films? I insisted he did not, and told him to put all of his energy instead on making every shot work, and every dramatic moment feel genuine.

Ethan did exactly what I said. Two weeks later, he presented me with the result: a tight, well-crafted, six-minuite video with a handful of really smart directorial decisions. It wasn’t going to win any Oscars, and it was definitely rough around the edges, but it was a huge improvement upon his previous monstrosity. In fact, you wouldn’t even know it was the same director.

Seven months later, Ethan was behind the camera again. This time, the camera was perched upon on a tripod, and both were property of USC film school.

Ethan was not a bad director. He had just made a host of bad mistakes. Over the years, I have seen many others do exactly the same, either in my role as Forster-Thomas’ film school specialist or when I worked in admissions within Columbia University’s film division.

With that in mind, here are the 5 biggest mistakes MFA film school applicants make when submitting a reel:

  1. Choosing style over substance. Most applicants assume their films must look glossy and professional. The truth is that film schools don’t care if your film was shot on a $100,000 35mm Panavision package or an iPhone camera. They’ll ignore the lighting and wardrobe, because there’s only one thing they really care about: your abilities as a director. Better to make a substantive film with a strong story and good direction than something slick but empty.
  2. Working with actors who can’t act. Part of a director’s job is directing actors. In fact, that’s likely your most important job—if the performances aren’t believable, the film won’t work, period. While you’re not expected to have access to Kate Winslet and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, you should find a way to cast trained actors in your films. Put an ad on craigslist or visit your local college’s theater department. If you must use your friends, make sure they can act (or at least allow your film to be partially improvised to make up for the fact that they can’t).
  3. Using flashy motion graphics and credits. Film professors are not impressed by your AfterEffects skills. They don’t care that you can make text look like it’s melting. They don’t want to watch a two-minute bumper for your fake production company. All of the above will merely annoy them, because it is preventing them from getting to your film—you know, the part where you actually used a camera and have a story. Rule of thumb: plain white text on black. Title of film followed by your role and the running time. 10 seconds max.
  4. Ripping off your heroes. Quentin Tarantino is allowed to pay homage to all his heroes by stealing their ideas and motifs. You are not. So don’t submit a film that is an homage to Kill Bill or Requiem for a Dream or The Matrix. Make a film that’s an homage to your own unique voice. It’s fine to submit something you didn’t write, but make sure the directing is your own.
  5. Believing that quantity trumps quality. If you’ve made one great film and three mediocre ones, don’t submit all four films. Submit the great one! Why dilute the power of that film just to prove you’ve worked on others? When I did admissions, I once turned someone down because after their first film (a great, tight, eight-minute short), they included six more, all of which were atrocious. Based on the evidence, I had to assume the good film was a fluke.

Read more on our MFA Film School consulting process or request a free candidacy assessment.


 GMAT vs GRE.  Which test looks better on your application?  It depends.

Oh, the times they are a changin’.

Just three years ago, top b-schools like Chicago Booth were going on record as “having no plans to accept the GRE in the near future.” Today, it’s hard to find a b-school that will not accept the GRE in lieu of the GMAT. HBS? Check. Stanford? Check. Booth? You betcha. In fact, as of this writing, the only top 10 MBA program that will not accept the GRE is Berkeley Haas.

So it’s official: the GRE has quickly established itself as a viable alternative to the GMAT. But how do the two exams stack up? Are b-schools truly as acronym-blind as they claim to be? And which test is right for you?

As usual, the answer is not simple. There are numerous factors in play, a wealth of conflicting information, and at least a handful of “it kinda depends” scenarios.

For example, while many contend that adcoms secretly frown upon the GRE, John Byrne at Poets & Quants recently pointed out that because many rankings organizations don’t factor GRE scores into their rankings criteria, MBA programs are actually more tolerant of a low GRE score than a low GMAT score. Likewise, some b-schools refrain from reporting GRE scores to rankings organizations, meaning that they are more likely to admit a strong candidate with a poor GRE score than a strong candidate with a poor GMAT score. In other words, if you’re not a strong test-taker, the GRE seems the way to go.

On the other hand, there’s a perception gap to contend with. The GMAT is still considered the gold standard of standardized testing for MBA programs, while the GRE is often regarded as an easier test (primarily because the quantitative section is less challenging). If you’re a strong candidate and you choose the GRE over the GMAT, it could cast a slight shadow of doubt over your entire candidacy (“If he’s really as smart as he looks, why was he afraid of the GMAT? What’s he hiding?”). If you’re a less-than-stellar candidate, meanwhile, taking the GMAT could be exactly what you need to show admissions that you’re up for the rigors of their program—but only if you get a strong score. Finally, for people who aren’t 100% set on b-school, the GRE is a great option because it is transferrable to numerous other programs…but taking it instead of the GMAT could raise questions about your commitment to pursuing an MBA.

In short, there’s enough strategy involved in the process to make General Patton go a little weak in the knees. Because of this, it’s virtually impossible for me to give you a “general rule” on the GRE vs GMAT debate. If you really want to know which test is right for you, you should contact Forster-Thomas for a free and personalized candidacy assessment. But if you twisted my arm for a general rule, well, this is what it would be:

For the majority of b-school candidates, I suggest taking the GMAT. As mentioned earlier, it’s still the gold standard, and it will be for the foreseeable future. Admissions officers know the test, trust the test, and like the test, if for no other reason than it’s more familiar to them. While the GMAT will likely require more preparation time, tutoring sessions, and headaches, chances are better that it will all pay off in the end.

Getting a bit more specific:

  • If you are a very conventional applicant, the GMAT is practically a must. “Very conventional” means that you are from a big applicant pool and have a quant background (i.e., investment bankers, PE associates, management consultants, etc). The GMAT is what your (numerous) peers are taking, and you’ll stick out like a sore thumb if you opt for the GRE. The only exception here is if you’re bombing your GMAT diagnostics (even after sufficient prep). If that’s the case, the GRE might be a good alternative; schools are more likely to overlook a poor GRE score than a poor GMAT score, since they may not have to report the former. However, this only works if you have a stellar candidacy—otherwise, they’ll just take the “you” with the good GMAT score (probably that guy you hate who works two cubes over from you).
  • For highly unconventional applicants with strong GPAs, the GRE is a viable alternative if you’re struggling with the GMAT. You’re unconventional if you have no “business experience” and/or never took a single econ or finance class in college—in other words, you’re a Sociology major who has spent the last two years doing Teach For America or working in the PR department of a crunchy non-profit. If this sounds like you, I still suggest you try your hand at the GMAT; if you can do well on it, you’ll impress the adcom. But if the GMAT just isn’t paying off, the GRE will suffice—after all, the reason b-schools started accepting the GRE was to attract a more diverse applicant pool, and you are the “diversity” they had in mind. Just make sure your GRE quant section is strong, as that’s where admissions will really be looking.
  • For strong dual-degree applicants, the GRE can be a great option. Not only will it allow you to take one test instead of two, but you have a built-in “excuse” for not taking the GMAT. That being said, you don’t want to seem lazy, so you better study hard and get a great score. Further, while MBA programs have nothing against dual-degree programs, they look out for applicants who might just be tacking on the MBA to add an extra degree, but one for which they might not really care about. Therefore, if you opt not to take the GMAT, you better make it clear just how much you want that MBA in your MBA goals essay. In summary, the GMAT is still the king, but the GRE is gaining ground, and is a great option for less traditional candidates and those who just can’t crack the GMAT.

Finally, if you’ve taken the GRE already and want to know what your score looks like to MBA admissions, check out this handy GRE/GMAT comparison tool.

--Justin Marshall

In 2013, 86% of Forster-Thomas MBA applicants got into at least one of their three top choice schools.  Join the club!  Contact Forster-Thomas for a free and personalized candidacy assessment.


Graduate school personal statements can be challenging, often because they don’t specify what exactly they want you to write about. For instance, the prompt might read as follows: Personal Statement (500 word limit).

This can create a lot of anxiety in grad-school candidates. “So, I can write about...anything?” my client, Ryan, an aspiring speech pathologist asked. “It says ‘personal’ – does that mean that I should tell them about how my mom had a stroke when I was in tenth grade?”

I gave Ryan the same answer I give all of my candidates who come to me with that confused puppy dog look: “Yes and no.”

If you’re applying to a speech pathology program because you want to work with stroke victims, then yes, by all means, include the story about your mother’s stroke in your personal statement. Discussing the impact that moment had on you would be the perfect set-up for the essay. BUT, be careful not to end up writing an essay about your mother. Remember, you only have 500 words, so talk about you. Your mother is only a launching point for a discussion about a defining moment in your development as a future speech pathologist.

Let me break it down for you:

Paragraph 1. This is where you get personal. No, this doesn’t mean empty the contents of your diary. This means write about the moment that you realized you wanted to pursue your goal. For the speech pathology example, this paragraph could be about how your mother had a stroke and then how you watched her struggle to relearn how to speak—and how you worked with her to improve her speech and found that you had a passion and a talent for it. Be specific.

Why? Graduate programs want students who are passionate about what they want to do, not students who are just looking to avoid the real world for another few years. This is your opportunity to show them why you want it.

Paragraph 2. What have you done thus far to pursue your interest in speech pathology? This is an opportunity to discuss specific classes you’ve taken in college—talk about a particular professor you learned from, clubs you started or joined. Discuss internships or observation hours. But DO NOT simply list them, you don’t want to regurgitate your resume. Remember, they have your resume! Tell them what’s not on your resume. For instance, discuss specific moments within your observation hours where you learned something significant and how you plan to apply what you learned.

Why? Graduate school want students who have already been seeking knowledge; show them what you’ve learned so far.

Paragraph 3. Why do you want to go to grad school? What do you still have left to learn that you need NYU for? Discuss skills that you need to obtain, improve or expand. For instance, you might want to work with stroke victims in a hospital—therefore you are looking to apply to a medically-based speech pathology program. Perhaps the majority of your observation hours were spent in a classroom with young children. Therefore you lack the medical knowledge needed to obtain a job as a speech pathologist in a hospital.

Now here’s the part where Ryan asks, “But Kirsten, don’t I want to appear confident? Won’t it make me look weak to admit that I still have stuff to learn?”

The answer? No. Schools want students who are self aware–they know their strongest and weakest areas. You want to show the school that you know what you need to work on and what experiences you need to gather in order to accomplish your goal. This also demonstrates that you actually will benefit from graduate school—and proves to the school even more that you are a serious candidate.

Paragraph 4. The school-specific portion of your essay. Why NYU, specifically? Here, it is important to be extremely specific in order to show enthusiasm for a particular school. Research classes, professors and clubs, and discuss how they will help you accomplish your goal.

Why? You must prove that you want to go to the school. By getting specific about the school you also demonstrate your ability to research and gain knowledge—good traits for a prospective student. Additionally, when you get an interview—you’ll have lots to discuss.

Last paragraph. Your conclusion. A few short sentences about how NYU is going to help you, and you are going to help them, change the planet (by using your speech pathology degree to work with stroke victims).

Don’t worry, it’s completely normal to feel anxious about writing a personal statement. It can feel like the be all end all—when you start to feel overwhelmed, just remember that you already know all of the answers. You’ve been living this essay—just dig down deep and start typing.

--Kirsten Guenther