Article by Ben Feuer, Photo by University of Liverpool

More and more business schools are commissioning student blogs about the application process, going behind the scenes for competitions and clubs, and trying to expose what life on campus is really like for all those students unable to visit.  Because we’re awesome, we here at Forster-Thomas have compiled some links for you to make it easier to get first-person feedback on those programs you’re considering spending two years of your life (and a whole chunk of money) on.

Stanford GSB
https://www.gsb.stanford.edu/programs/mba/student-life
https://backinthebay2015.wordpress.com/
frompatotheworld.blogspot.com/
paloaltoforawhile.blogspot.com/

Harvard Business School
http://www.hbs.edu/mba/Pages/default.aspx

Chicago Booth
theboothexp.com/
http://blogs.chicagobooth.edu/blog/Booth_Insider/boothinsider?redirCnt=1&=
https://medium.com/mba-mama-blog/mba-mama-spotlight-louise-chang-of-chicago-booth-d8143303284a#.43vej9rlg

Columbia GSB
https://www8.gsb.columbia.edu/curl/
https://www.knewton.com/resources/blog/test-prep/mba-life-an-insiders-perspective-on-columbia-business-school/
http://www.businessinsider.com/what-its-like-to-be-a-student-at-columbia-business-school-2012-6
http://www.beatthegmat.com/mba/2011/11/28/columbia-business-school-through-the-eyes-of-four-current-students

Wharton
https://mba.wharton.upenn.edu/category/student-diaries/
http://blog.accepted.com/2014/07/18/reflections-of-a-wharton-student-and-commbond-intern/
http://www.businessinsider.com/student-life-at-wharton-business-school-2012-11

Dartmouth Tuck
http://www.tuck.dartmouth.edu/mba/blog
http://blog.accepted.com/2015/04/24/catching-up-with-dartmouth-tuck-student-dominic-yau/
http://poetsandquants.com/2012/07/15/a-tuck-coffee-chat-leaves-our-guest-blogger-a-believer/

Michigan Ross
http://michiganross.umich.edu/student-voices-blog
http://michiganross.umich.edu/ross-news-blog
http://blog.accepted.com/2011/12/09/michigan-ross-student-interview/

MIT Sloan
http://mitsloan.mit.edu/student-blogs/
http://mitsloan.mit.edu/mba/mit-sloan-community/student-profiles/
http://www.mba.com/us/the-gmat-blog-hub/student-video-bloggers/bloggers/julia-yoo.aspx

Northwestern Kellogg
https://kelloggmbastudents.wordpress.com/
http://www.kellogg.northwestern.edu/programs/executive-mba/emba-experience/blog.aspx
http://redwolf056.blogspot.com/
http://www.kelloggmbaclassof2011.com/

UC Berkeley Haas
http://blogs.haas.berkeley.edu/the-berkeley-mba
https://haasintheworld.wordpress.com/
http://rabbyatberkeley.blogspot.com/
http://calgradmba.blogspot.com/

NYU Stern
http://blogs.stern.nyu.edu/full-time-mba/
http://blogs.ft.com/mba-blog/author/victoriamichelotti/
http://blog.accepted.com/2012/01/13/nyu-stern-current-mba-student-interview/

Duke Fuqua
https://blogs.fuqua.duke.edu/duke-mba/
http://www.stevensma.com/
https://reachingthethirties.wordpress.com/

Yale SOM
http://som.yale.edu/programs/mba/blog
http://blog.iese.edu/mba/my-experiences-iese-yale/
http://mbaveggie.blogspot.com/2008/09/yale-som-visit.html

And by the way — this should be the beginning, not the end, of your research!  If you see a program or hear about an opportunity that sounds interesting, research it in more detail. See what else you’re able to turn up!




By Ben Feuer, photo by Roman Pfieffer

So you want to travel abroad in order to attend a top American or European business school?  Good for you.  There's just one little problem -- hundreds (or thousands, depending on your country of residence ... I'm looking at you, India!) of other people just as qualified as you are targeting those same exact seats. Fortunately, you have us on your side!  Check out this free three-step primer on how to prepare for your overseas MBA application.

1. Get clear on your goals and why you need a foreign MBA to pursue them.  Let's be honest -- although there are applicants who genuinely need the education a top school like HBS or Wharton can offer, there's also a lot of people who are just looking for prestige, a bigger network or a quick fix for a stalled career. If you fall into one of these latter categories, you have a problem, because no one in admissions wants to hear you whine about getting passed over for a promotion yet again. Fortunately, the trouble is mostly between your ears, and therefore, it's a relatively straightforward fix. Paying attention?  Good.

Past is prologue.

Got that? You are not defined by the four or five things that are currently frustrating you. You are the sum of the experiences, challenges and desires that have brought you to this point. Take a step back and look at your career from a higher vantage point. Where are you headed?  Is it somewhere exciting, inspirational? Who are you bringing along for the ride -- what troubled group out there are you preparing to serve?  It doesn't matter if you're a Private Equity quant jock or a burned-out prince of the non-profits in DC, the question is the same. What's next, and just how amazing is it going to be once it comes?

2. Know your role ... and your history. A good application to business school is an exercise in empathy -- you must put yourself in the admissions officer's shoes. She is trying to build a cohesive class. Where do you fit in? Look at your target schools. How many people like you did Stanford admit last year? What were they up to before arriving on campus?

Review your own work and travel history, both to figure out where you're the best fit, and what you have done that a top foreign school might find attractive.  Have you been the big fish in the small pond, changemaking like a boss?  Have you explored cultures and perspectives a top US or Euro MBA program might find intriguing?  What, and who, do you know that can help you to stand out?

3.  Shore up your fundamentals. Depending on exactly which country you are applying from, you may have an exceptionally competitive regional 'bucket' -- people from your area may only be able to claim seats when their fundamentals exceed even the usual lofty bar set by Booth, Kellogg and other top MBA programs. So make sure not to give them any reason to ding you on this account.  Your GMAT, GRE, and transcripts should be as strong as you can possibly make them. If your percentiles are lacking, study and retake. If you can't conquer one test, try the other. If you need more time and you're under 25, take a year to prepare. If your transcript and resume are thin on quantitative rigor, consider a one-year masters program.

So once you've done all that, what next?  Then, my friend, you are ready to take the plunge and begin planning your actual applications.  And that's when you should probably call us.


 
by Evan Forster

So you want to go to Columbia? You and everybody else. There are a ton of things you need to do amazingly well to have a shot. This is about perhaps the most important one – your essays. Don’t overcomplicate this advice, but don’t dismiss it either, after twenty-five years of a near-perfect success rate, believe me, I know of what I speak.

Essay #1: Through your resume and recommendations, we have a clear sense of your professional path to date. What are your career goals going forward, and how will the Columbia GSB MBA help you achieve them? (100-750 words)

College is for finding yourself. Grad school is for people who know what they want. So don’t tell me you’re “not sure yet,” “thinking about it,” or “going to figure it out while I am there.” That means pretty much game over at a place like Columbia Business School, or any b-school for that matter. Think about it. All things being equal—your grades, scores and experience—the only aspect of your candidacy that says “I have a vision that you and your community want to be a part of” is that specific long term goal, something bigger, better and bolder.

So when Steve began to see b-school as more than a mere opportunity to gain some skillz, a resume bump and a better job, he drew that much closer to the gates. Steve, who was in a large real estate management and investment firm, realized that after three years of seeing possible development deals in Detroit glossed over in favor of a quick transactions, he wanted to help transform communities in his backyard through real estate.(Note the little bit of background about himself.) Basically, he saw the possibility of Brooklyn and London’s East End everywhere. And that’s what he wrote about—how CBS would take him from one small rehabbed building to Brooklyn’s Boerum Hill or Hong Kong’s Sheung Wan neighborhood springing up in 8 Mile. I’m not saying you have to create a tectonic plate shift on the planet, but you do have to at least be up something greater than yourself if you’re going to stand out.

So sit down and figure out what you want to do long term, and make sure it’s not just working at a hedge fund. (Sigh) Look into your life and see what’s missing –at work or at play—and consider what you could do to fix it. Give us the context of why you want to be a part of this change and how it relates to what you’ve done in the past. It can’t come out of nowhere. It has to make sense.

Then, figure out the short term stepping stone you need in order to walk across the river without falling in. In other words, you can’t just go from CBS to world domination. There’s a middle ground. In Steven’s case, it was a year long internship with an NYC real estate development corporation at the Hudson Yards project to hone his skills.

After that, you’ll need larger representation of how CBS is going to help you gain the skills and the community you need to get to where you want to go. I am talking big picture, with an academic focus such as Real Estate, Health Care or management. Maybe mention Columbia’s various institutes, like the Lange Center for Entrepreneurship, that will be of help to you. Then get specific about the skills you need in order to reach your short and long term goals. Some soft skills like decision-making, negotiation, assessment and/or team-based problem solving. Some hard skills like you’ve been in Marketing and PR now you need to understand DCF or discounted cash flow. Mention the type of classes—two or three that CBS has to offer and, and, of course, who do you want to study under? Don’t just drop names. Get specific about who you’re excited to meet—all in to order reach your goals.

Essay #2: Columbia Business School’s students participate in industry focused New York immersion seminars; in project based Master Classes; and in school year internships. Most importantly, they complete a questionnaire taught by a combination of distinguished research faculty and accomplished practitioners. How will you take advantage of being “at the very center of business”? (100-500 Words)

Yup, Columbia has changed this second question up again. This year its simple -- how is Columbia’s NYC location going to help you reach your long and short term goals? This time we are talking VERY SPECIFICALLY about courses, professors, speakers, externships, etc. that are at your fingertips because you’re in the hood. What resources does Columbia have, thanks to its NYC location that you need to achieve your goals, as stated in essay 1?

Remember, if they think you’re running the old “hallowed halls of academia game, then two things are possible in the minds of admissions officers: 1. You’re BSing and didn’t do your homework or 2. If you’ve got really great stats, story and experience, you might not show up. In other words, if you’ve got that 740 GMAT, killer resume, and a 4.0, you really need to SHOW Columbia that you know how its program is going to help you get to where you’re going.

Figure out exactly what you’re going to take and who you’re going to study with each semester. Envision your time there and then break it down for them—courses, professors, and internships. Who will you meet—from fashion to finance, real estate to the art? How will Master Classes Executives in Residence help you and why? Use this essay to drill down even more deeply into the curriculum. Explain how Columbia will give you all the resources and advantages you need to achieve your goals.

Essay #3: CBS Matters, a key element of the School’s culture, allows the people in your Cluster to learn more about you on a personal level. What will your Clustermates be pleasantly surprised to learn about you? (100-250 Words)

This is so, so simple. Why do so many people love to make this complicated? Look, they even boldfaced the most important word for you. Pleasant. You know, like grandma’s doilies or a Kenny Chesney single. Don’t you dare take that as carte blanche to send me something boring, I hate boring. But don’t try to show off, don’t try to prove what a gold-plated bad boy you are, and don’t waste your precious time and word count writing about people and things that aren’t you!

Pick a hobby, or a habit, or something you love, that you can nerd out about. Write about your favorite Game of Thrones character, or an ode to Cherry Coke, or Havana Cigars. Write about your love for backyard baseball, or teaching your cousins to ski on the bunny slope, or setting up free Wi-Fi for your home town. Should your story reflect well on you? Well, you shouldn’t come away looking like a dog! But gloating is not the point. The point is relating.

**

So that’s what’s up, kids! I really hope that after my master class, you don’t have any lingering questions. But just in case you do, feel free to call. Always happy to scream in your ear until you get clear!

Lovingly,

Auntie Evan


Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Should I keep or cancel my GMAT score?

 

Article by David Thomas, photo by wonderferret

For a couple of years now, GMAC has given students the option to cancel their scores if they aren't happy with how they performed. But control without judgment is a dangerous drug. One question we get all the time at Forster-Thomas is whether to keep or cancel a GMAT score. Although every case is different, here are a few basic guidelines to consider.

When to Cancel. This should go without saying, but if your score is way low, if you were sick or hung over or outrageously distracted, cancel the score. You're all but guaranteed to do better next time.

When to Keep. This category is larger than most people think. You should definitely keep any score that is higher than your previous overall scores, even if quant is lower. You should definitely keep a score with a higher quant score, even if the overall is lower. You should definitely keep a first score within 100 points of your practice tests. You should definitely keep any score of 710 or higher. And you should definitely keep anything with a quant score of 47 or higher.

Why? Say, for argument's sake, you have two tests. One with an overall high score, and a second with a high quant score but mediocre overall. You can refer to that high quant score in an optional essay as additional evidence of how quantitatively brilliant you are -- and schools will factor that in!

Don't panic! Remember -- even if you do cancel a score, you can get it back later. You have 60 days to decide whether to reinstate the scores—for a fee of 100 US Dollars. If you're thinking about reinstating, if you have questions about how your practice tests are going, or you just want to get a better handle on the process -- contact us! We'll be happy to help.

 

 

As one of the top medical schools in America, you might think that getting into JHU is a complex, multifaceted process – and you’d be right!  Fortunately, we’re here and happy to guide you through the absolute basics of what you’ll need to be a competitive applicant.  If you have questions about your specific case, of course, feel free to reach out to us and ask.

School Nickname: JHU

Median MCAT: 36

Median GPA: 3.9

Associate Dean of Admissions: James L. Weiss (Also Here)

Dr. Weiss studied at Yale and graduated in 1968.  He is now director of the Cardiology Fellowship Program, the director of the Heart Station, and the Michael J. Cudahy professor of Cardiology.

Application Overview: Highlights below

The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine pioneered modern medical education at our founding and is dedicated today to developing medicine’s future leaders. In our search for students who embody such promise, we look for applicants who demonstrate not just high academic achievement but also leadership qualities, a dedication to service, an ability to work collaboratively and a commitment to medicine. If this describes you, we encourage you to apply. 

Top Residencies: 

Drug and alcohol abuse

Pediatrics

Women’s Health

Geriatrics

Application: More here

Two-stage.  First stage MUST be done through AMCAS, with a deadline of October 15th.  There is then a secondary application for P&S with a deadline of December 1st.

Recommendations can include committee letters, letter packets or faculty letters.

Note: If you have a graduate degree or significant full-time work experience of a year or more, you are also required to send a letter from the individual who supervised your work. If you held more than one position of at least one year, include a letter from each direct supervisor.

Required Courses --

  • A Bachelor of Science (B.S.) or Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) degree from an accredited institution.A minimum of 24 semester hours is required in areas of humanities (English, History, Classics, Foreign Language, Philosophy, Arts, etc), social science (Sociology, Economics, Political Science, Anthropology, etc.)  and behavioral science (Psychology, etc.).College biology with laboratory, one year
  • General college physics with laboratory, one year
  • General college chemistry with laboratory, one year.  Acceptable advanced chemistry courses include the following:  a second semester of organic chemistry; a second semester of biochemistry; analytical chemistry (quantitative or qualitative); physical chemistry, applied chemical equilibrium and reactivity, etc.
  • Calculus and/or statistics, one year
  • Organic chemistry with laboratory, one semester (4 semester hours) are required.
  • Biochemistry. Three or 4 semester hours are required. Lab is not required.

ADDITIONAL FACTS:

The School of Medicine accepts prerequisites completed at the community college level. In order to be competitive in the selection process, we encourage prospective applicants with community college prerequisites to supplement these courses by taking advanced courses in related subjects at their four year institution.

  • Extension or evening courses taken in fulfillment of premedical course requirements are not acceptable unless they are identical to courses offered in the college’s regular academic program
  • Online courses are not acceptable
  • Preparation in foreign universities must be supplemented by a year or more of work at an approved university in the United States
  • Prerequisites do not need to be completed to apply but must be completed by August 1, just prior to matriculating at Johns Hopkins. Until successful completion of the requirements, acceptance is considered conditional
  • All coursework submitted in fulfillment of admission requirements must be evaluated on the basis of a traditional grading system. Such a system must employ a range of numbers or letters to indicate the comparative level of performance
  • CLEP credits may not be substituted for any course requirement

Previous Year JHU Questions:

1. If you have already received your bachelor’s degree, please describe what you have been doing since graduation, and your plans for the upcoming year. (This space is limited to 700 characters.)

Answer the question clearly and directly, with an emphasis on approachability and intelligibility. Don’t overthink your responses or shape them in an attempt to ‘look good’, whatever that might mean to you. Just focus on being clear, direct and simple, and wherever possible, show a distinctive, original mindset and a connection to the humanistic principles of JHU (helping people).

2. If you interrupted your college education for a semester or longer, please describe what you did during that time. (This space is limited to 700 characters.)

3. List any academic honors or awards you have received since entering college.  (This space is limited to 600 characters.)

4. Briefly describe your single, most rewarding experience. Feel free to refer to an experience previously described in your AMCAS application.  (This space is limited to 900 characters.)

Don’t repeat yourself here, that’s a waste of an opportunity. Instead, brainstorm a few really meaningful experiences you have had that tie into JHU’s mission and values. Don’t write about a fun party you went to once, but don’t write about a day spent doing beach cleanup volunteering either. Pick out a topic that you can write genuinely about, and expound on what it meant to you.

5. Are there any areas of medicine that are of particular interest to you? If so, please comment.  (This space is limited to 1100 characters.)

6. Briefly describe a situation where you had to overcome adversity; include lessons learned and how you think it will affect your career as a future physician.  (This space is limited to 900 characters.)

7. If applicable, describe a situation where you were not in the majority. What did you learn from this experience?  (This space is limited to 1100 characters.)

There are some ‘obvious’ ways to approach this diversity prompt, but the question is worded in such a way that anyone should be able to find a compelling response. We’ve all felt out of place. We’ve all felt like something about us is inherently different, that we in some way don’t fit. Explore what you did to respond to those feelings, how you managed them, how you grew as a result of facing them.

8. If applying to the dual MD/MBA program, please describe your reasons for wishing to obtain this degree.  (This space is limited to 1100 characters.)


 

By Ben Feuer, photo by walknboston

A lot of prospective legal eagles' scholastic options are going to be pretty obvious early on in the process, because their numbers are going to match up. For those of you who don’t know, the numbers I’m talking about here are LSAT score and GPA. The real-world LSAT range is from about 145 -> 180, and the real-world GPA range is from about 2.5 to about 4. So here are a few examples of LSAT/GPAs that ‘match up’, and the type of schools they should be targeting.

 

GPA                       LSAT                      PERCENTILE                        SCHOOL TYPE

3.85                        176                         ~90th                                      Top 14

3.55                        170                         ~70th                                      Top 50

3.1                          159                         ~40th                                      Top 100-150

 

Sounds simple enough. But what about the strange case of the splitter? Splitters, with their high marks in one area and low marks in another,  confound this process. In most cases, LSAT is going to be weighted more heavily than GPA. But that depends on your age, which school you’re coming from, and how many years you’ve been out working. Certain types of schools prefer candidates with certain types of profiles, as shown by their admissions data over the last few years. So if you’re a splitter, here are some schools you should definitely be looking at.

 

High LSAT / Low GPA

Virginia

Duke

NYU

Illinois

 

Low LSAT / High GPA

UC Berkeley

Minnesota

BYU

Pittsburgh

 

It’s also important to remember that your LSAT, unlike your GPA, can to some extent be improved with additional training and effort. If you’re serious about law school, this is one of the most valuable things you can do to help yourself get in. And the good news is, with applications down at almost every law school, there’s never been a better time to take your shot.


Are you ready to be the Queen Bee of GSB? Check out our tips to figure out how you can optimize your essays, recommendations and application.

Photo by Paramount, Article by Ben Feuer

 

Hopefully, everyone in the universe has seen Mean Girls. If you haven’t, go Netflix it. One of the most memorable characters in the coterie of teenaged back stabbers that form the core of the film is Regina George. Regina’s pretty, smart, and has everything going for her … except self-esteem. She’s insecure to the point of absurdity, and feels the need to smash anyone who looks like a threat to her.

Regina George didn’t go to Columbia GSB, but if she had, she would’ve fit right in. Of all the top business schools, Columbia is the one most afflicted with a Napoleon complex. Perhaps it’s because they struggle in the rankings compared to their somewhat loftier brethren in the Northeast. Perhaps it’s because their New York location makes them hypercompetitive. Whatever the reason, Columbia is the top B-school that is always looking for a way to belong.

You can get a great MBA education at Columbia, and it’s a fantastic feeder for all the usual post-MBA roles, including private equity, investment banking, consulting, and entrepreneurship. But in order to get in, you’re going to have to court Regina. She’s temperamental, but worth the trouble.

So what are the keys to success?

Apply early. Because of its unusual rolling admissions process and binding early decision, Columbia fills its class more quickly than its competition. This is one of the many ways they try to lock in top students. You can’t fight this, so it’s best to embrace it. If you’re considering Columbia, you give yourself the best chance by applying as early as possible -- August 1st is ideal.

Be powerful. Queen bees are drawn to self-confident people with obvious social standing and the ability to command a room. Think about how you can demonstrate transformative leadership in your recommendations, essay two, and essay three. And if you don’t know what leadership is, read our book.

Take action to understand her. The absolute worst thing you can do in a Columbia application is make it obvious to them that you’re just using them as a safety school for their competition: Harvard, Stanford, and Wharton. The best way to combat that impression, aside from applying early, is to take actions to integrate with and understand the Columbia community. Then, write at length about the research that you’ve done in your Columbia essay one and essay two, naming names and citing specific details. By showing you understand the unique appeal of the school, you make yourself more appealing.

Be pleasant. Columbia’s essay three asks what your cluster mates will be pleasantly surprised to learn about you. For whatever reason, a lot of people overthink this and try to make it into a referendum on their professional accomplishments, leadership, or general all-around awesomeness. By doing this, you reflect exactly the kind of insecurity that Columbia wants to avoid. Whatever you choose to write about, it should first and foremost be something pleasant. Not depressing, not impressive, pleasant. If it can be impressive as well as pleasant, obviously that’s great. But if you have to choose one, just make it clear that you’re an easy person to get along with, that you’re relatable, and that you don’t have an overinflated ego. There’s only room for a single Regina in a relationship.

So there you have it! These guidelines should help you prepare a top-notch application to Columbia. But if you have more questions, feel free to reach out to me and I’ll be happy to help.




By Ben Feuer

There has been a lot of ink spilled lately on the subject of whether law school is in a death spiral.  Almost everyone knows that applications are way down over the past few years, and newspapers, always excited to be in at a kill, are stoking the fires of resentment for all they’re worth.

The truth is always more nuanced than a simple-minded fairy tale about greedy schools and vulnerable students.  The truth, however, can be a hard commodity to come by. That’s why I’m going to break down for you exactly what you need to know before deciding to apply to law school.

Ultimately, whether you are economically satisfied with your law school experience will boil down to three essential factors.

1.  Did you have to take out loans in order to attend, and how large were they?  If you add to your debt load by over $100,000, think of it as taking out a second (third?) mortgage, with servicing costs exceeding $1200 a month in many cases.  Even amortized over time and a long career, the average Mom and Pop law shingle isn’t going to earn you back significantly more than you would have made in your previous career.  That said, everyone’s financial situation is different, and if your college degree is unlikely to ever provide you the opportunity to earn a reliable living, law school may make financial sense despite the debt load.  Talk to an expert, and crunch numbers, before rendering your final judgment.

2.  What kind of schools are you getting offers from?  Law schools can be roughly divided into four categories: top 14, top 100, ABA accredited and non-ABA.  Let me be exquisitely clear — at this stage of the game, no one should be applying to a non-ABA law school.  Learn technical writing, project management or internet marketing instead, if you’re humanities oriented.  ABA schools outside the top 100 should be examined very carefully.  Talk to at least a dozen alums, including those who finished in the bottom half of the class. Ask what their job prospects were after graduation.  The top 100 is a little bit safer, but you’ll need to perform well academically (think top quartile), and you should expect to stay and work in the region where you are attending school.  Top 14 schools are still a no-brainer to attend, with a large plurality of students receiving need-based aid and compelling job offers.

3.  Are you ready to work hard?  Although there are plenty of exceptions, the average student finds law school to be difficult, stressful and tedious. This is more true of lower-ranked law schools, because the competition is fiercer for fewer jobs.  After graduation, law school students must pass the bar exam, which can be a brutal slog in and of itself. And finally the work itself is detail-oriented, repetitious and exacting.  It’s completely reasonable to expect your professional degree to provide you with a solid living, but don’t be surprised when it’s an onerous one.

The world is an uncertain place, always. And there’s little doubt that recent trends in America point to more econonmic instability, rather than less.  A well-chosen professional degree is an investment in oneself and a hedge against future economic uncertainty.  Just make sure that you choose the right degree; with an ever-lengthening menu of options, there’s no reason to settle for easy answers.

If you have questions about whether law school is right for you, contact me and I’ll be happy to advise you.

 

By Ben Feuer, photo by Damian Gadal

So here we are again, smack dab in the middle of another admissions season. Medical school, college and business school students around the world are clearing their schedules, holding their calls and barricading themselves in their rooms in a frantic first-ditch attempt to write some cool, sexy essays.

Bet you never thought you’d see the phrase ‘cool, sexy essay’ in a sentence, huh? Actually, around here you hear it a lot. Also things like ‘terrible, mind-numbing essay’. But I digress.

So here’s a question everyone decides, but most people never think to ask. How long should I be spending on a draft of an essay? There’s no definitive answer, but I’ve seen some of the best (and some of the worst) at work, and I can give you a few handy rules of thumb.

1) Don’t overthink your first draft. This is really, really important. Type-A people, particularly business types, are used to presenting material that’s ‘perfect’ on the first pass. To them, hearing feedback like ‘this doesn’t work at all’ is deeply unsettling. They’ll pour six, eight, sometimes twenty (!) hours into a first essay draft, and send it off to me thinking, OK, got that taken care of. Unfortunately, writing doesn’t work that way. It’s an experimental process of trial and error, failure and re-failure (followed, ultimately, by success). That’s why you should time limit first drafts to about four hours. Even if your English isn’t perfect, that’s more than enough time to get your main point across, without obsessing over word choice, sentence structure, punctuation … all for an essay that may not even work.

2) Don’t underthink it either. College applicants in particular are often guilty of this, but it can happen to anyone. They’ll look at a word count of, say, 500, and think, heck, I can knock that out in no time. They think of essay writing as filling a quota, instead of distilling a lot of good ideas into a limited space. These essays are often unfocused, and the people who wrote them have a certain hallmark attitude of, ‘Hey, it’s just a first draft’. No, it’s the beginning of a conversation about who you are. And you just lead off with, ‘Yeah, I don’t know. Whatever.’ If this could be you, force yourself to spend at least two hours per draft. It doesn’t matter if they’re productive. Just spend them thinking about your essay and yourself.

3) Don’t ‘cap’ your drafts. If you had just decided to run a marathon, how would you decide to train? Would you research online about successful practice routines and approaches, or would you walk out your door, run until you got tired, say ‘I’m all set’, and wait for the day of the marathon to arrive? It sounds ridiculous, but people writing essays assume this kind of attitude all the time. They say, ‘I’ve already written a draft of that essay’. Well, so what? You might have written five. The question is, are any of them any good? You need to get objective feedback on every draft and every story you write. Until your readers say it’s good, you can’t be sure it is, and you certainly shouldn’t place arbitrary limits on how much revision you’ll do.

4) Don’t be streaky. You know how some baseball hitters are streaky? They’ll have a few good weeks, a few bad ones? Nobody likes that in sports, and it doesn’t work for essay writers either. Once you start, don’t put down your pen until the last essay is 100 percent finished. Don’t take a few weeks off to recharge. Don’t take breaks to redo tests or focus on something else for awhile. You may get tired -- that’s OK. Your focus will produce more consistent, coherent work, which is vitally important when you’re trying to present a complete picture of yourself to admissions committees.

So there you go, a few useful guidelines to get you started with your essay writing timeline. Need some advice on your personal timeline? I’d be happy to help!



Article by Ben Feuer, photo by Starmama

It’s that time of year again!  Juniors and seniors are gearing up for college, and we all know what that means – frayed nerves and nails chewed down to nubs.

But not every parent you meet during the admissions season is anxious. There’s also another type, one you know well – in fact, you probably have a couple of good friends who fit this description to a ‘T’. That outspoken activist who’s always rallying the troops at every PTA meeting; she’s one. The high-flying finance Dad who decided to retire young and spend more time with his family; he’s definitely one. You can sum up their attitude to admissions in one word – overconfident.

Don’t get me wrong -- overconfident parents are still great parents: they work hard, get things done, and really love their kids.  The problem is, especially in the heat of college fever, they can sometimes work a little too hard and get a little too much done.

Whatever happens, your job is not to listen to the siren song of these well-meaning ‘authorities’.  Their overconfidence can lead to costly mistakes in the admissions process.  Here at Forster-Thomas, we’ve seen them damage relationships with their kids, reduce those kids’ odds of getting into their dream schools, and drive pretty much everyone up the wall, all without knowing they’re doing anything wrong.

Here are a few telltale warning signs that your friend is an overconfident parent:

Hey, I just had a great idea of what I can do to give Junior an edge at insert dream school.  Just thinking this kind of thing is a problem, because in the vast majority of cases, there is nothing your friend, as a parent, can do to give Junior an edge. Of course, if you tell them that, they smile and say, “Sure, but you don’t understand. I’m different.”  Trust me when I tell you, they are not. The parent’s role in the admissions process is to be supportive, inquisitive, enthusiastic, and to recruit the right partners, both amateur and professional, to support Junior as he gets the job done his way. If you do a great job at that and nothing else, you’ll be doing better than the vast majority of your peers.

Junior's a little shy / unmotivated. I'll fill the gap by being extra motivated, and talking to everybody at the school about how much he loves it and what a great fit he'd be. If I had a nickel for every hour I have spent listening to a frazzled college admissions officer kvetch about overbearing parents, I could start my own mint.  These parents’ efforts are having the opposite effect they intend. They are making their son look incapable, unwilling and unready to go to college, when the fact is he's probably just making room for them because they’re obviously having such a good time 'helping'. It’s OK to prod and propose, but when you’re carrying the banner for your offspring, there’s a problem.

I have a family friend who went to BZT U.  Maybe I'll ask her to write a letter of support.  Is your friend's friend’s name on a building on campus?  Did she pull the dean of Admissions out of a burning building?  Is your friend’s friend Prince, or at least *a* prince? If the answer to these questions is no, then a letter of support is not going to give your friend’s son a boost.  And even if she did know someone fantastically well connected, a letter of support would only help if her son was absolutely committed to going to the school, and the family friend was absolutely committed to her son, by which I mean not recommending anyone else.

I'll become an amateur college expert and save us some money on counseling. Fun fact. Do you know what professional counselors do when their kids are applying to college?  Send them to a counselor. Do you know why? Because they know better than anyone how incapable they are of having a rational, objective take on their own kid’s application.  It’s like communism – great in theory, terrible in practice.  Distance and objective evaluation are at the heart of college admissions.  Only someone with that distance is going to be to able to get the job done right.

I'm a good writer. If I tweak a few of Junior's phrases, here and there, they'll realize what he meant to say.  As an admissions officer, one of the first things you learn to spot are ghostwritten essays (and resumes, and recommendations, and short answers ...)  They stick out like sore thumbs. Schools want to fall in love with your kid. They want to be dazzled by his ideas, his beliefs, his accomplishments, not yours.  Coach if you must, although that too is best left to experts, but don’t meddle with the language, and unless you're an expert copyeditor, don't go through and 'correct' his sentence structure, either.

So what do you do if you know someone like this?

Simple. Take a deep breath, shut your ears and walk away. Sometimes doing nothing is the perfect thing.  Let go and let God. If you don't know how, we can help with that.  

In the end, I promise, you’ll be surprised, charmed and thrilled to learn just how great of a job you did as a parent.