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Going from a HBS optional to a Stanford WMM can be quite challenging -- it requires you to add personal and social context to what began as a simple achievement story.

In order to do a great job at repurposing, you must first understand the fundamental difference between the two essays.

A great HBS optional essay boldly differentiates you and establishes your credentials (and style) as a leader, while also including elements of self-discovery and personal growth.

A great What Matters Most essay focuses on self-discovery and personal growth, with leadership material seamlessly integrated into the larger narrative.

To go from a great HBS essay to a great Stanford essay, therefore (we’re assuming you already have a great HBS essay), follow these steps.

    1.    Explore the larger context.  Look beyond leadership, beyond the obvious results of the story and what they meant for you, your company, et cetera.  That was more than enough for HBS — they just wanted something ‘different’, something they didn’t already know — but Stanford wants to know what matters most to you and why, and that’s a big question.
    2.    Talk to someone who knows you.  More than any other essay in the b-school canon, the What Matters Most essay requires insight into what makes you tick.  Sometimes a close friend or a family member sees patterns in your life that you don’t.  Try to pull out patterns in your life that connect to the central HBS incident you’re describing.  Not just successes — failures matter too!
    3.    Beginning and ending.  When you’re rewriting an essay of this kind, build around the middle.  The middle, the description of the moment, is usually mostly correct, needing only minor adjustments.  But the preamble and the way you talk about the outcome often need to change completely.

Think of it this way -- WMM is about the journey, and HBS is about the destination.  If you are a naturally introspective person who thinks a lot about the choices you make in life and why you make them, you will probably find WMM easier to write.  If you are more comfortable talking about leadership, accomplishments and professional life, the HBS optional will be easier.
 
No matter which essay you are starting from, the most important thing to think about is the focus of the central story you are telling – the defining moment.  You need to find that personal evolution or leadership slant that brings the essay to life.

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Repurposing a Stanford Essay for HBS is not as easy as it might sound, but it can absolutely be done -- sometimes. 

 

In order to do a great job at repurposing, you must first understand the fundamental difference between the two essays.


A great What Matters Most essay focuses on self-discovery and personal growth, with leadership material seamlessly integrated into the larger narrative.


A great HBS optional essay boldly differentiates you and establishes your credentials (and style) as a leader, while also including elements of self-discovery and personal growth.


To go from a great Stanford essay to a great Harvard essay, therefore (we’re assuming you already have a great Stanford essay), follow these steps.


STANFORD:

  1. Define your defining moment.  You can’t really understand your WMM essay without being able to articulate clearly the defining moment.  Understand what happened and why this, rather than any other story, is the one you are telling.

  2. Look for HBS hooks.  The version of the story you wrote out is targeted for Stanford.  It probably has references to family and soul-searching that aren’t going to play particularly well at Harvard, which is more achievement-focused.  What are the concrete accomplishments you have to show?  What, if anything, was unique, or at least unusual, about what you did?

  3. Beginning and ending.  When you’re rewriting an essay of this kind, build around the middle.  The middle, the description of the moment, is usually mostly correct, needing only minor adjustments.  But the preamble and the way you talk about the outcome often need to change completely.


Think of it this way -- WMM is about the journey, and HBS is about the destination.  If you are a naturally introspective person who thinks a lot about the choices you make in life and why you make them, you will probably find WMM easier to write.  If you are more comfortable talking about leadership, accomplishments and professional life, the HBS optional will be easier.

 

No matter which essay you are starting from, the most important thing to think about is the focus of the central story you are telling – the defining moment.  You need to find that personal evolution or leadership slant that brings the essay to life.

BTW, if you are going from WMM to HBS, don’t get lazy. Make SURE to remove all references to the phrase “what matters most”.  It’s kind of a dead giveaway.

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Everyone likes the idea of saving time on an application by repurposing one school’s prompt for another -- but when it comes to HBS and GSB, the ‘big dogs’, is it a good idea, or a risky move likely to backfire?  Read on and find out.

Applying to business school is a time-consuming and difficult process, and it’s quite natural that applicants want to take shortcuts wherever possible.  One of the most commonly MISUSED shortcuts is to mindlessly reuse a Stanford essay for HBS.  

 

HBS does make it easy for you to do this – they don’t provide a whole lot of structure for their essay, and they don’t even give a word limit! In other words, HBS gives you just enough rope to hang yourself. Don’t worry -- we’re gonna make sure you do it right.  There are good reasons to repurpose a Stanford WMM for HBS.  Laziness is not one of them.

 

Instead, think about the defining moment (your WMM essay DOES have a defining moment, right?  If not, read our blog here on how to write an amazing WMM essay).  Is it personal in nature, or professional?  Almost all great WMM essays have a purely personal component to them – a change in thinking or attitude, a struggle or failure overcome.  The current HBS essay prompt doesn’t necessarily call for this, however. In fact, we’d say err on the side of leadership. It’s HBS, after all, AKA, MBA with an Attitude.  


So, say your story--be it Stanford or HBS--is one in which you evolve a lot?  Stanford WMM essays often focus on change, coming to terms with a difficult truth or finding a new way to attack a thorny problem. Your HBS essay may simply be recounting of an exceptional moment in your life. Both essays say “leader”, but the approach is different. After all, GSB is asking “What Matters Most…” HBS is asking you to reveal that you are HBS--or not. Up to you.

Stay tuned for our subsequent posts on HOW to repurpose your WMM for HBS, and vice versa.

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Stanford continues to have one of the toughest essays in all of MBA admissions.  Here are our tips on how to attack it. 

What matters most to you, and why? (750 words)

  • The best examples of Essay 1 reflect the process of self-examination that you have undertaken to write them.
  • They give us a vivid and genuine image of who you are—and they also convey how you became the person you are.
  • They do not focus merely on what you've done or accomplished. Instead, they share with us the values, experiences, and lessons that have shaped your perspectives.
  • They are written from the heart and address not only a person, situation, or event, but also how that person, situation, or event has influenced your life. 

My favorite responses to Stanford’s What Matters Most question are always the ones where the candidate really digs down deep and reveals a personal journey that he or she went on—one that created change in his or her life and the lives of those around them. 

The setting? On or off the job—it doesn’t matter. Why? Because the personal always affects the professional and the professional always affects the personal. They are inextricably linked and anyone who says otherwise has simply never been what I like to call “a 24-7 leader”—and that’s what Stanford GSB, or any top business school, is looking for.

Leadership is a way of being, something you come to through a challenging experience that you take on despite your fears or even because of them. And that’s how you zero in on what to write about for Stanford’s prompt:  What Matters Most to You and Why?

Search for SPECFIC moments in your life wherein you had to:

1)   Step Up—formally or informally, elected, chosen or volunteered.

2)   Stay the course -- despite everything falling apart around you or working against you.

3)   Race against the clock—be it three months, three weeks, three days.

4)   Organize and motivate a group—not just something you did all by yourself, because managing others is key.

5)   Leave something behind -- Change the way things go from now on with that circumstance. 

Out of these comes what matters most to you.  (Don’t forget to write “what matters most to me is…” You’d be surprised by how many people leave this crucial line out. Even if it’s obvious, writing these words in your response says “I respect the admissions committee enough to be clear and to the point.”) 

In short, my favorite—and most successful—“What Matters Most To You and Why?” responses are always based on a defining moment in your past that changed the way you think about yourself and the world. Then the essay pivots from that story to how the insight you gained from that defining moment has driven some recent accomplishment—personally or professionally.

Why Stanford?  (350 words)

  • Please explain why Stanford is your first choice of MBA program, and how you will make use of the unique opportunities it provides.

This is a classic 'why our school' prompt -- check out our previous blog on how to answer these questions concisely and effectively.


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Applying for an MBA is a big, complicated process.  If you are applying in round two, it means that you can't afford to get anything wrong, because you do not want to slip to round three.  Here are some key things you should be thinking about to prepare. 

Are you rounding out any ongoing leadership commitments?  If you started something earlier in the year, is it close to completion?  If not completion, how about a milestone, something you can point to as a concrete sign of progress?  Metrics always help here.  If you don’t have any, think about how you might be able to get some.

Have you made initial contact with your recommenders?  Although it’s WAY too soon to be bugging your recommenders, it is NOT too soon to be having a preliminary conversation to feel out their eagerness to BE recommenders.  Feel them out in a casual conversation.  Get a sense of how much work they’re going to want to do, and how much will be on your shoulders.  Find out if they plan to be away or traveling at any point, to protect yourself from future faux pas.

Have you thought about your goals?  Most candidates have a general idea of what they want to do with their MBA (although some don’t even have that!), but wherever you are right now with your thinking about goals, you want to push it to the next level.  If you haven’t narrowed it down to one goal, do so.  If you have one goal, what is transformative about it (for the world, not just for you)?  In other words, why should be be excited?  What are you going to do better, or differently?

Are you satisfied with your GMAT?  If so, great, on to the next problem.  If not, do you already know when you are planning to retake?  Have you blocked out time to study?  Have you chosen a test location that will feel safe and comfortable, and protected the week before you have to take the test?  You don’t want last minute bombshells falling in your lap.

Have you blocked out time to visit schools?  Top schools are competitive, and class visits and admissions info sessions fill up fast.  If you can possibly manage it, you should be planning to visit all of your target schools, because it demonstrates interest and strengthens your essays.  To make the most out of your visit, NOW is the time to think about all the problems that might arise.

Have other questions about your application?  Just ask us!


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Chicago Booth has only one essay for first-time applicants this year, and it is their traditional open-ended question.  How should you approach it?

Chicago Booth values adventurous inquiry, diverse perspectives, and a collaborative exchange of ideas.  This is us. Who are you?  There is no prescribed minimum or maximum length.  We trust that you will use your best judgment in determining how long your submission should be, but we recommend that you think strategically about how to best allocate the space.  Acceptable formats are PDF, Word and Powerpoint.

Give Booth some credit.  Before the 'no-page-limit', 'open-ended' prompt was adopted by HBS (and suddenly, shockingly became all the rage) they firmly held to this approach year after year.  Other essays would come and go, but Booth's open-ended essay has been around for a long time.

That's not to say there have not been changes.  Booth used to constrain the length to 4 Powerpoint Slides or pages, which naturally gave rise to a certain kind of storytelling (Stern still does this).  Now, of course, since Booth has eliminated this requirement, it would be a bad idea to repurpose a Stern essay for Booth -- too obvious.  Likewise, just because HBS has you writing open-ended essays now does not mean that you can just reuse the sentiments (or worse yet, the entire essay) for Booth.  Quite frankly, Booth and HBS are not concerned with the same things, and a fit for one school will not be the same as for another.

Also, do not underestimate the value of a good multimedia presentation!  Most people look at multimedia as 'a lot of work' or 'not in their wheelhouse'.  Well, yeah, that's exactly the point.  By going that extra mile, securing some help with your multimedia component, and putting together something well thought out that takes good advantage of the medium, you will already be setting your candidacy apart from dozens of others in your bucket.  You want differentiation?  This is your chance.
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Don't be shy! Schedule a consultation to find out how we can help you.


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Many of you are freaking out right now (or about to) wondering whether you got that interview at Harvard Business School.  Forster-Thomas has the information you need.

HBS interview invitations will be sent out via email on October 8 and October 15. Candidates invited to interview will receive detailed instructions about the sign-up procedure. The interview scheduler will go live the following day.

On October 15, candidates who will not be invited to interview will be notified of their release.  So if you don't hear anything on October 8th, don't worry, you're still under consideration.

A group of Round 1 applicants, roughly 100-150 if previous years serve as a guide, will be placed under "Further Consideration." These candidates will be reviewed in Round 2 and either be invited to interview or released on the Round 2 timetable.

Round 1 interviews will be conducted between October 20 and November 21. Not all dates will be available in all locations. In addition to on-campus interviews, Harvard will be interviewing in New York City, Palo Alto, London, Paris, Shanghai, Tokyo, Dubai, Mumbai, Sao Paulo, and Santiago. Candidates who cannot travel may be accommodated via Skype. 

The interview itself will be the standard b-school fare, but HBS initiated a new procedure last year requiring candidates to write a follow-up essay 24 hours after the interview, reflecting on how it went.  (To be clear, there's no guarantee the prompt will be identical this year, we'll just have to wait and see).  Don't pre-write or pre-think this -- it is intended to be casual and spontaneous.

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By the way, if you DID get an interview -- Forster-Thomas offers interview coaching and specialized essay coaching for your 24-hour turnaround essay.  That's right -- we'll stay up all night with you to get it right.  Cause we're that cool.  All you need to do is ask us!


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University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration is one of the top social work schools in the world.  Here's how you can get in.

U. Chicago School of Social Service Administration

Weighted Ranking #1, #3 US News, #1 Goucher.

Why to Go

The University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration offers an “AM” degree, equal to an MSW but adding interdisciplinary theory and research, leading to even greater career flexibility after graduation.

After completing the core curriculum, students focus on clinical practice or social administration. The school offers 9 programs of study that allow students to specialize their degree, but 60% of graduate students create their own specialization through related electives and internships. The diversity of course and internship offerings are among the best in the nation.

Chicago also offers part time, 15 month accelerated and extended evening programs.

How to Go

Applications are accepted between September 1 and April 1, but it is strongly recommended to apply by the December 1 Round 1 deadline or the January 15 Round 2 Deadline.

You will need Three Letters of Recommendation. References should be qualified to discuss your aptitude for both graduate study and social work.

Current undergraduates or recent graduates must include at least two academic references;
15-Month Accelerated Program applicants must include two academic references;
Transfer students and 15-Month Accelerated Program applicants must include a reference from a current or recent practice professor or field instructor who can evaluate your performance in field placement or submit a final field evaluation;
Applicants who are or recently have been employed must include one reference from an employment supervisor. Ask your professional references to speak to your analytic and critical thinking skills.

For both the Master’s and Doctoral Programs: Candidate's Statement. Those applying to the Master’s Program must write a 4-page, double-spaced statement that addresses all of the following:

a social problem and how a direct practice or policy intervention might provide a way to engage that problem; specific short and long term personal goals; and  how a social work education at SSA provides a way to achieve those goals.

For more coaching on how to write this personal statement, check out our blog on the subject.

GRE scores are not required for the masters program.

Campus visits are strongly recommended.

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Like what you're reading? Want to learn more? Contact one of our experts right now and get a free evaluation of your candidacy!

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Forster-Thomas takes a peek inside this year's LBS application and gives you insight on how to answer their questions.

By Ben Feuer

What are your post-MBA plans and how will your past experience and the London Business School programme contribute? (500 words)

This is a textbook 'goals' essay. Check out our previous posts on goals, or our book, for a sense on how to approach this. 

How will you add value to the London Business School community? (300 words)

This is another part of the same goals essay, focusing on your contributions to the school. Read our previous posts, and remember to use specific stories drawn from your life to support the points you make about yourself.

Is there any other information you believe the Admissions Committee should know about you and your application to London Business School? (400 words)

The prompt is completely open-ended, which means you can discuss anything you have not discussed elsewhere.  One strong approach is to focus on a 'defining moment' and how it shaped you as a person – it can be something that happened on the job, but often the strongest examples of these essays come from digging deep and getting personal – talking about real, meaningful challenges you face with family or friends. You can also consider using this for additional leadership material, or discussing diversity experiences, or talking about your values.

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


Monday, September 29, 2014

What should my recommenders talk about?

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Whether you are applying to an MBA, MFA or medical school program, you are probably wondering what to ask your recommenders to write about you.  Here's the answer.

By Ben Feuer



We've all lived through it -- the intimidating moment when your boss says, "You know I love you, Bob.  Just tell me what you want me to write for your recommendation and I will."  As if applying to school wasn't hard enough without this --

Never fear!  Although it sounds like a lot of work (and it is), there is a proven strategy for success that you can use.  This formula applies to any recommendation for any kind of school, and is easy to follow.

1.  Get the prompts.

The first thing you will have to do is get the prompts that your employers/peers/beach buddies will be answering.  After all, you don't want to write 500 words when they need 500 characters!

2.  Come up with three traits.

Choose three traits that you feel elevate you above your peers -- things that make you among the strongest in your peer group.  For every trait you select, pick one or two stories that exemplify this trait.  These should be stories where you added value to an organization or a relationship, cases where you went beyond your job description, or situations where you were the first or the best at something relative to your peers.  They should be stories your recommender remembers well.

Avoid using traits like hard-working, smart, competent, dependable -- these are extremely common, extremely bad choices that merely highlight how able you are to perform your current job, not how ready you are to take on the next one.  Here are some possible traits --

Curiosity
Vision
Analysis
Leadership
Initiative
Self-confidence
Maturity
Perseverance
Energy
Creativity
Teamwork
Approachability

3.  Think about your weaknesses -- carefully.

Writing the positive side of the recommendation is the easy part.  Writing about your weaknesses is a little trickier, only because there are a few pitfalls to avoid.  First, don't universalize your weaknesses.  Confine them to specific instances and situations, just as you did with your strengths.  If they were corrected, explain, using examples to show how you have evolved since the 'old days'.  Second, avoid weaknesses that are too damning (uncontrollable temper or depression, resistance to authority, violence) or too lame (too hard-working, too eager to please).

One of the main tricks to writing a great 'weakness' recommendation is showing how you handle and internalize any feedback you are given, so be sure and give a lot of detail, more than you think you need, on how you respond to criticism and how you incorporate it into your behavior moving forward.

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So there you have it!  Hopefully, this has made recommendations a bit less intimidating for you.  If you still have questions, feel free to contact me and ask!