Article by Kirsten Guenther, Image by Evan Hahn

One of the most nerve-wracking parts of the medical school application process is choosing and contacting recommenders. Unless you’re Gordon Gekko or Cersei Lannister, you don’t really go through life thinking about how best to spend emotional capital you’ve built up with your profs. But remember that every single doctor working today had to go through what you’re going through now. If they can do it, so can you.

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So assuming you’re popular enough to have several academic recommenders to choose from, who should you approach first? While the go-to formula here is two science professors and one humanities, your first concern, always, has to be the strength of the friendship. In other words, your best ally is, very literally, your best ally in this process.  If you are superhuman and rocked all of your sciences and all your profs love you, then go with one physical science, one life science and one humanities prof.

If you’re not buddy-buddy with a professor yet—start creating that relationship, now. Sit in front, ask questions, show up for office hours. Make it easy on yourself by choosing a subject that already interests you.  Keep an eye out for profs you know when you’re walking around campus—don’t be all millennial and bury your face in your Angry Birds. That’s not how you get a job, or get ahead, even in 2016.

But let’s say you can’t do any of this. Let’s say your teacher is the invisible man. You can still be fine. Just pick the subjects you did best in, and the teachers you had twice instead of once, or saw for office hours a couple more times. Do the best job you can do. That includes listening to your instincts. If someone feels wrong, they are wrong.

THINGS THAT CAN HAPPEN, AND WHAT TO DO ABOUT THEM

If it’s getting close to your target date and your professor hasn’t submitted her letter, don’t be shy. Send a polite reminder. Remember, she has about one million priorities that rank above you, so you need to be persistent. You are the driver of your application process. Don’t give up the wheel to a bystander.

Sometimes your teacher will have a TA write the letter and then sign it. DO NOT have a panic attack. While this is not ideal, if it’s your only choice—go with it. Med schools are clear that they do not want TAs writing recs—BUT it’s a poorly kept secret that this often happens. But we will deny that we ever gave you this advice—just between us.

Once in awhile, a professor will ask you to partly or even completely write your own recommendation. This is extremely uncool, and if you have backup options this may be a good time to approach them. But if you have no choice in the matter, try to do a comprehensive, limited job of it. What the heck does that mean? It means you should send details and evocative stories drawn from your memory of the professor’s class, assignments and office hours. You should describe your best qualities and give detailed examples. You should not, unless explicitly requested, draft a letter. You want as much of your recommender’s voice in there as possible.

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The recommendation process is a funky blend of academic excellence and social engineering. It’s plenty nerve-wracking, but think of it this way–you’re doing wonders for your bedside manner. If you’re running into trouble with a recommender or you need more detailed advice, reach out to us and we’ll be happy to help.


 

By Kirsten Guenther, photo by Dan Dickinson

April is here again, and medical school admissions are in full swing. Just like every year, there are some people coming in well prepared. Others? Not so much.

One of the big stumbling blocks applicants tend to trip over is AMCAS’s misleading language about dates and times. You're probably aware that June 1st is the ‘earliest’ deadline for AMCAS submissions. Theoretically, however, you can wait until July 15th to submit everything.

Forget theory. Here’s the ugly truth; June 1st is a drop dead date. In fact, forget the whole ‘date’ thing. You know those people that put out lawn chairs and sleep on 5th avenue the night before the Thanksgiving Parade? That needs to be you. You should submit your application the second you are able to—June 1st, 9:30 AM. 

I know what you’re saying to yourself – can a minute really make a difference? In this game, absolutely. Our Forster Thomas clients that submit at 9:31 AM get verified the same day, but I’ve heard tales of people submitting at 9:40 AM that end up having to wait two weeks for verification. YOU DO NOT WANT THIS TO BE YOU. You don’t want to have to wait two weeks to find out if your recommenders submitted or your MCAT score came in. The goal is to get verified quickly and move on to the next stage of your application.

At Forster Thomas, we make sure our clients have triple checked their applications by May 31st so that first thing June 1st all they have to do is submit. Remember, you have to self-report your course work, so if your transcripts don’t match what you submitted exactly you will end up having to appeal a correction. Next thing you know, it’s August and the game is over.

We've written a lot on medical school in the past, and we're going to be writing more in the future, but we'll never tell you a fact more important than this one. Submit your AMCAS at the earliest possible moment.


 

By Susan Clark, photo by Dineshraj Goomany

Now that we know why you want an MFA, we can get into another thorny question -- is now the right time for you to get your MFA?  An MFA program is a professional program.  You need to have a clear direction in your career, as well as a body of work you can stand behind.  Fight the urge to rush into this extremely intense situation if the timing isn’t right.  Make sure you are ready.  Go to grad school to promote yourself, not to find yourself.

Here are some questions you should ask yourself before embarking on your MFA quest.

Am I clear in the direction of my work?  Making art is always an evolution of ideas, but you are about to be buffeted with a myriad of them.  Make sure you are on solid ground with your work before you begin.

Do I have the wherewithal to focus intensely on my work? Get the support of those around you to handle the logistics of life while you spend 20 hours a day working. My son Joey will tell you that it is no fun sitting in a print studio for hours on end while your mother keeps saying, five more minutes, five more minutes.

Am I ready to listen to input and incorporate new ideas?  It made no sense to me that some of my classmates were closed off to the point of view of others.  Half of the benefit of an MFA is in the feedback you receive.

Am I strong enough to shut out strong voices that are wrong for me? Every person brings a different opinion; some people bring so much conviction that it may be difficult to stay on your own track. Being pulled in a direction that is not really you makes it more difficult for you to establish the professional voice that you need to make the most out of the networking opportunities that come in grad school

Do you know the historical context of your work? The influences that surround the Chicago art scene are vastly different from the Bay Area figure painters in San Francisco – Jim Nutt and David Park are drawn to different styles. Knowing how your work relates to where you come from and where you intend to end up can give you a better perspective on your own choices and internal voices.

Do you know how your work fits into the context of the current art world, and the ethos of your school?  Why is your artwork relevant to the current scene? Do you prefer a media siloed program, like Yale, or a purposefully diverse program, like Columbia? Why? I have worked with great conceptual artists who got kicked out of painting programs because they didn’t support their work, and artists who never painted again after going to a school steeped in performance art. No matter how prestigious it is, a program must be right for you.

Are you constantly making and maintaining connections?  Even when you haven't been out of your studio for eighty hours and you're living on Ramen noodles, are you thinking about who you need to check in with? The arts are a networking-driven field! 

If you are looking for a discussion for forum to learn more about the experiences of others, check out this.  If you think you are ready to apply (or if you just have a question or two), drop us a line and we will be happy to help.


What do you want UC to know about you? Here’s your chance to tell us in your own words.

Directions

  • You will have 8 questions to choose from. You must respond to only 4 of the 8 questions.
  • Each response is limited to a maximum of 350 words.
  • Which questions you choose to answer is entirely up to you:  But you should select questions that are most relevant to your experience and that best reflect your individual circumstances.

Keep in mind

  • All questions are equal:  All are given equal consideration in the application review process, which means there is no advantage or disadvantage to choosing certain questions over others.
  • There is no right or wrong way to answer these questions:  It’s about getting to know your personality, background, interests and achievements in your own unique voice.  

Questions & guidance

Remember, the personal questions are just that — personal. Which means you should use our guidance for each question just as a suggestion in case you need help.  The important thing is expressing who are you, what matters to you and what you want to share with UC. 

1. Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes, or contributed to group efforts over time.  

Things to consider: A leadership role can mean more than just a title. It can mean being a mentor to others, acting as the person in charge of a specific task, or a taking lead role in organizing an event or project. Think about your accomplishments and what you learned from the experience.  What were your responsibilities? 

Did you lead a team? How did your experience change your perspective on leading others? Did you help to resolve an important dispute at your school, church in your community or an organization? And your leadership role doesn’t necessarily have to be limited to school activities.  For example, do you help out or take care of your family?

2. Every person has a creative side, and it can be expressed in many ways: problem solving, original and innovative thinking, and artistically, to name a few. Describe how you express your creative side.  

Things to consider:  What does creativity mean to you? Do you have a creative skill that is important to you? What have you been able to do with that skill? If you used creativity to solve a problem, what was your solution? What are the steps you took to solve the problem?

How does your creativity influence your decisions inside or outside the classroom? Does your creativity relate to your major or a future career?

3. What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time?  

Things to consider: If there’s a talent or skill that you’re proud of, this is the time to share it. You don’t necessarily have to be recognized or have received awards for your talent (although if you did and you want to talk about, feel free to do so). Why is this talent or skill meaningful to you?

Does the talent come naturally or have you worked hard to develop this skill or talent? Does your talent or skill allow you opportunities in or outside the classroom? If so, what are they and how do they fit into your schedule?

4. Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced.

Things to consider: An educational opportunity can be anything that has added value to your educational experience and better prepared you for college. For example, participation in an honors or academic enrichment program, or enrollment in an academy that’s geared toward an occupation or a major, or taking advanced courses that interest you — just to name a few. 

If you choose to write about educational barriers you’ve faced, how did you overcome or strived to overcome them? What personal characteristics or skills did you call on to overcome this challenge? How did overcoming this barrier help shape who are you today?

5. Describe the most significant challenge you have faced and the steps you have taken to overcome this challenge. How has this challenge affected your academic achievement?

Things to consider: A challenge could be personal, or something you have faced in your community or school. Why was the challenge significant to you? This is a good opportunity to talk about any obstacles you’ve faced and what you’ve learned from the experience. Did you have support from someone else or did you handle it alone?

If you’re currently working your way through a challenge, what are you doing now, and does that affect different aspects of your life? For example, ask yourself, “How has my life changed at home, at my school, with my friends, or with my family?”

6.  Describe your favorite academic subject and explain how it has influenced you.

Things to consider: Discuss how your interest in the subject developed and describe any experience you have had inside and outside the classroom — such as volunteer work, summer programs, participation in student organizations and/or activities — and what you have gained from your involvement.

Has your interest in the subject influenced you in choosing a major and/or career? Have you been able to pursue coursework at a higher level in this subject (honors, AP, IB, college or university work)?

7. What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?  

Things to consider: Think of community as a term that can encompass a group, team or a place – like your high school, hometown, or home. You can define community as you see fit, just make sure you talk about your role in that community. Was there a problem that you wanted to fix in your community?

Why were you inspired to act?  What did you learn from your effort? How did your actions benefit others, the wider community or both? Did you work alone or with others to initiate change in your community?

8. What is the one thing that you think sets you apart from other candidates applying to the University of California?

Things to consider: Don’t be afraid to brag a little. Even if you don’t think you’re unique, you are — remember, there’s only one of you in the world. From your point of view, what do you feel makes you belong on one of UC’s campuses? When looking at your life, what does a stranger need to understand in order to know you? 

What have you not shared with us that will highlight a skill, talent, challenge, or opportunity that you think will help us know you better? We’re not necessarily looking for what makes you unique compared to others, but what makes you, YOU.




Article by Ben Feuer, Photo by Derek Gavey

We’ve all done things we’re not proud of in life. Things that, if we could do over again, we would definitely think twice about (or at least once).  In my capacity as an educational consultant, I’ve heard pretty much every story you can imagine. DUIs? Of course. Assault? Been there, done that. Drug convictions, rehab, shoplifting? Yes, yes, and yes.

I’ve seen people with, shall we say, colorful pasts get into their dream law school time and time again. How the heck do we pull it off?

The answer is both simple and complex. Simple, because it’s very easy to understand what you need to do. Complex, because doing it well is a delicate and nuanced process that requires a certain amount of, shall we say, finesse.

Don’t Lie. This one seems like it should be obvious, but many, many people come into the process determined to obscure, obfuscate and lie their way into a highly ethical profession. Don’t be one of those people. Even if you manage to lie your way into school, you’ll face the same exact questions when you pass the bar — that’s why they ask them! Commit to telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about your convictions.

Let me be clear — that doesn’t mean you need to dish about incidents that were expunged from your record, or every random moving violation. Answer the questions your schools ask (different schools word them differently). Don’t overshare, don’t undershare.

Own the crime.  Every incident you discuss on your applications must be approached with an attitude of 100 percent responsibility. Schools don’t care if your boyfriend talked you into it. Schools don’t care if it seemed like it was your only option. Schools don’t care if you grew up poor. They want to know that right now, in this stage of your life, you’re prepared to take full responsibility for your actions.

Contrition. What have you done since your incident to show the world how sorry you are? Have you performed community service, or created lasting change in some other area of your life? How has your character been strengthened or changed, and what did you learn?

Another way to look at this section of your essay: you need compensating factors to show the school that, despite the occasional slip-up, you’re basically a responsible and ethical person. Sometimes these factors come from a very different area of your life — your volunteer work with disabled children, or your academic decathelon results. The important thing is that you close the essay by showing another side of yourself.

So that’s the basics of how to answer Character and Fitness questions in your law school applications. Feel like you need more tips? Contact me and I’ll be happy to help!

Monday, March 21, 2016

Why pursue a fine arts MFA?



Article by Susan Clark, Photo by Angie Harms

What are some reasons people go for an MFA?  Some artists say they want an MFA to teach, but that’s not so easy -- thousands of applicants compete for a handful of available college professorships, even in out of the way places. Recently the University of Central Arkansas received nearly a thousand applications for a position to teach drawing.  An MFA can also help to land teaching positions at private schools, but you’d still have a better chance at a K-12 job with a state teaching license. What enables artists to get the good professorships is a thriving career, so some artists go to MFA programs to gain recognition.

Then there is the networking value, both perceived and actual, of a top MFA.  I attended Yale and the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program to improve my ability to connect with those working at a high level that I admired, and hopefully to have them connect with my work. Artists want and need exposure to a broad range of views and a broader network of other artists, critics and collectors.  

But ultimately, we make art because we love it, and we would do anything possible to achieve breakthroughs, including working the midnight shift at the Empire Diner, to afford it. (I was the head waiter there many years ago, before I was a professor and a Forster-Thomas consultant.)  The best reason to get an MFA is to improve as an artist.

If you want to talk to me about your plans to pursue a fine art MFA, hit me up!

 



Monday, March 14, 2016

Why do we work so wrong?

 By Ben Feuer

I spent one day of my last vacation on a powerboat, with friends I barely knew, tearing up and down narrow waterways. I am a writer, and like most of my brethren, I spend my time tangled in thorny problems of my own making, which I hope will prove relevant to the experiences of my audience. But on that day in the boat, once I actually managed to loosen up and forget work, I had a great time — the water was cool and the company enjoyable. We left a Golden Retriever back on the shore who was very sad to see me go and very happy to see me return. Even though we had just met, that mutt already liked me better than a lot of my professional friends (rivals?). Later on, back inside the house, I helped my friends’s two-year-old son, Jack, build a puzzle.


It was simple work. It lacked existential meaning. I’ve never had a more fulfilling afternoon.

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Ryan Avent’s brilliant, insightful and incredibly sad article, “Why Do We Work So Hard?”, really made me think. I commend both his honesty and his insight, but I think he doesn’t go far enough in acknowleding the implications of what he has observed. It is now painfully clear that the 30-something generation’s break with our parents, our relentless pursuit of career self-fulfillment, has been worse than a waste — it has been a disaster.

Let’s start with our sense of accomplishment. Shouldn’t we be proud of our work, of how far we’ve come? Perhaps, but we’re not, because we all know that our elite status we fought so hard for isn’t really ours — it was bought and paid for with privilege, influence and cold hard cash. Lawyers, creative directors, hedge fund managers, app developers and celebrities perch atop arbitrary ‘meritocracies’ based upon equally arbitrary values.  

But at least our work has meaning, Avent argues. At least there’s a reason for us to get up in the morning. Sure, our work means something, but let’s not kid ourselves, if we wanted to make people’s lives better we would have become organic farmers. The value our worlds offer to society is not nearly so great as we like to pretend it is. We overtrained hyperspecialists can spend hours refining a turn of phrase or manipulating an Excel spreadsheet. But does “The World” really operate that much better because we do? Our profits may be mind-boggling, but our social impact is marginal — we are a luxury good, and we’re more buzzworthy to each other than we are worthy of praise.

Which makes it all the more tragic just how many sacrifices we have demanded of ourselves and those around us to make us possible. Because yes, of course, this race doesn’t just hurt us — we, the ‘success stories’, are in fact those least blighted by it. The invisible people in Avent’s narrative, as in most of our lives, are the ones we left behind years ago. The ones who couldn’t ‘keep up’.

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In this brave new world where all our time is taken up with work and work alone, what happens to our autistic sister-in-law who can’t hold a high-powered job, or possibly any job?  What happens to our poor single mother acquaintance, trying to raise her child?  What about our high school best friend with a couple college DUIs who now can’t afford to buy a house or raise a family? What about our ex-girlfriend who scored eight points too low on the LSAT and now does contract legal work for twenty dollars an hour? What about the people from broken homes, those who were never given a chance to thrive?

How do we justify their total exclusion from our ‘elite’ culture? Do we simply conclude we’re better than these people? Is that why we ignore them? Do we think that we have nothing to learn from them, and that we’re more healthy and secure, intellectually and socially, when they are marginalized?

By making this story about us, aren’t we simply continuing to degrade the very real jobs that need doing all around us?  There are plenty of clever wordsmiths lining up to write blogs — where is the next generation of great teachers, machinists and social workers?

As someone who works with high-powered students destined for all sorts of advanced careers, I have one foot solidly planted in the world of high achievement. As someone whose social life is still influenced by the small New Jersey towns he grew up in, I have always managed to keep one foot outside of it.

From my split perspective, the world Avent and I share is not one we should be proud of. Its values are not driven by the greater good. If anything, it’s shockingly Hobbesian. In our world, the weak conveniently vanish. I have seen friends cut off other friends because they were not perceived to be as professionally successful. I have seen people ‘take off’ and forget where they came from so fast it would make your head spin. Time and time again, I have seen people too busy for their families, their sick relatives, their ailing communities.

Too busy with themselves.

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It’s clear from his article that Avent knows all this, and yet he offers no solution, and at times wallows in the problem. Anyone with a good heart can sense that we are dismantling everything fundamental, thousands or even millions of years of culture, family, tradition, and replacing it with a vast gray monoculture of identical monkeys scaling narrow ladders of wealth and status. We owe it to ourselves to get off the sidelines and take action, not cheer others’ failure to break free.

So here is my suggestion to those facing the quandary Avent describes —

Step away from the cell phone.

Put it down for a few hours. Let your emails buzz.

Go back to humanity. If your bedroom community is falling, don’t be a drive-by citizen — break a sweat, lift a stone and mend a fence. Do it for an evening a week if that’s all you have time for. Join a local Yahtzee club. Help a poor kid get into college. You might be surprised at the rewards it brings, even if they don’t smell quite as strongly of accomplishment to your ‘friends’.

If we all do it — even if only the best of us do it — our employers, who ‘value’ us so much that we’re afraid that if we leave their sight for a few days we’ll be replaced, will have to reconsider their stance.

We who have been given every opportunity and every advantage cannot afford to forget the loving families and communities that created us. Once we do, there’s nothing left. Once we do, there’s no going back. it’ll be us versus the disaffected, the Sanders-Trump demographic, and all the data-driven promises of BetterTomorrows(TM) won’t save us.

And we’ll wonder why everyone’s so darn angry all the time.

Coming up with an original and compelling short film idea is one of the most challenging parts of the process. It’s also one of the most important. If you don’t get the concept right, no matter how well you do everything else, you still won’t wind up with a great movie in the end.

I recommend that you begin by ‘scratching’ — appropriating things you like from successful short films, short stories, podcasts, radio plays, you name it. Notice that I’m NOT mentioning feature films or TV shows — why? Because you’re most likely going to appreciate what everyone else appreciates, which will make your short film less original in the end. The second reason is that from a storytelling perspective, features and TV are bad models for short film — the stories they tell are way too complex and involved.

Short film thrives on minimal story — in fact, in many cases, the best short films have almost no story at all.

Hellion - (Official 2012 Sundance Film Festival) from Kat Candler on Vimeo.


As for writing, anyone who knows anything about the subject will tell you this — it’s a process, not an event. Writing is a habit you must form for as long as you intend to be a writer; a habit of walking over to a keyboard and setting words down on screen.

That habit can be as fun (or as horrifying) as you make it. But unless you get into the habit, you won’t get out with a script.

Once you have a draft of your idea, be generous with praise and appreciation for those who take the time to give you feedback. Everybody likes writing original scripts, but almost nobody likes reading them. Listen patiently to the comments you receive and write everything down. Then walk away from the whole thing for a week and do something else. I know, you’re in a hurry to be the next Francis Ford Coppola, but distance will help you make better choices.

So how do you know when you’re finished? 

Simple — you need to be thinking to yourself, wow, there’s no way I can allow this script NOT to become a movie. It’s just that good.

Once you feel that way, it’s time to assemble your team and move on to pre-production, which we’ll learn all about in our next blog.

By Ben Feuer

Short films have been around for as long as film itself.  In the olden days, filmmakers used them as experimental laboratories, places to play with new cinematic techniques and technologies.


Frankenstein Goes to College, an early Edison film


Gertie the Dinosaur, the first keyframe animated film

Today, short films are used as industry ‘calling cards’. Much as a short story can get a novelist ‘discovered’, a fantastic short film can get a filmmaker her first opportunity to direct a feature.


Todd Haynes (Carol) got his start animating barbie dolls

So you’ve decided that you want to join their ranks and make a spectacular, award-winning short film of your own? Slow down, hero. Even before you brainstorm, you’ll want to run though a basic checklist to ensure that you’re ready to create your magnum opus.

• Watch 100 Short Films

This is not an exaggeration nor an approximation. This has, in fact, been scientifically proven to be the precise number of short films one must watch before making a great short.

Okay, that was obviously a complete lie. That said, you should watch at least that many short films before trying to make one. Watch recent festival successes on websites like these … they’ll help you get a sense of what people are looking for. Take notes about what you liked and what you didn’t like.  Keep a record of your favorite shorts and watch them three or four times — figure out how often they cut, how much dialog they use, what style of camerawork they employ.

• Attend a Local Film Festival

Sure, you can also go to film school or haunt your local art house theater (provided you still have one), but attending a film festival is a great way to meet other people who share your interests. Who knows? You might even find a few willing collaborators …

• Examine Your Life

Sure, but for what? What should you be looking for?  What are the stories, issues and themes that matter to you? Did something happen to you that was unusual or particularly interesting that you would like to share with the world?  Do you live in an unusual place, or are you part of a group of unusual people?  Don’t just copy successful filmmakers — think about what makes you stand out!

• Take Stock of Your Resources

How much time do you have? Money? Access to equipment? Willing friends? You’ll need all of these things to make a memorable short film. Figure out what you have plenty of and what you’re a bit short on, and start seeking out the resources you’re going to need.

** ** ** **

Okay! By now, you should have everything you need to get started on your short film!  Next time, we’ll talk about brainstorming the perfect short film concept.

By Evan Forster and Cyndy MacDonald, IECA

 In this moving and informative video, educational consultant and LBGTQ activist Evan Forster discusses his path to a complete gender identity. He also talks about college students he has worked with who have struggled with issues relating to sexuality, and gives advice on how to deal with those issues when they arise.

Are you concerned about whether your college is LBGT-friendly? Do you have questions about exploring your identity on campus? Contact us.