Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Forever MBA

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We all know sometimes it FEELS like school never ends.  What if it actually never ended?

By Ben Feuer

Be honest -- when ranking business schools on a scale of innovation, Wharton is not at the top of the list.  Prestige and name recognition it has in spades, but along with that comes a bit of a prim and proper vibe.  You may have to change your tune now that a frankly revolutionary idea has come out of Pennsylvania.

Simply put, imagine a Wharton MBA ... who never graduates.  Imagine a business school running not on a 2-year immersion model, but a lifelong subscription model.  That is the disturbing and fascinating brainchild of Christian Terwiesch and Karl Ulrich -- ten months of immersive learning and networking, followed by a return to the workforce and an as-needed array of MOOCs, courses and meetings to round out the degree.

Is it a good one?  Possibly.  It has some obvious advantages.  Less time out of the workforce means less of a financial burden for students, who can return to the workforce more quickly.  But will they really have time for learning once they are working full-time jobs and raising families?  Will they even feel like they need it?  And what would the degree really mean if distance learning was a la carte?  Would it ultimately dilute the perceived value of the MBA still further, hurting students' job prospects?

All in all, the idea definitely needs more polish before it can shine -- but then again, no one is talking about implementing this right now.  This much is certain -- it's innovative.


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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Money's Best Colleges

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Money Magazine ranked the best value for money colleges in America.  We analyze the top five.

By Ben Feuer, photo by


College rankings are like fudge -- even when you've had more than enough, there's always room for one more.  Money Magazine has obliged, offering up a ranking of the best colleges for your dollar.  It will be fascinating to see how this list compares to the one the government will be putting out at some point in the near future.  For now, you'll have to settle for Forster-Thomas's quick take on the top five.

1.  Babson College.  Obviously a surprise pick, but not a completely shocking one.  As MBA applicants have known for years, Babson is a hidden gem among Northeastern b-schools at both the graduate and undergraduate level.  Perhaps this will help bring them out of the shadows a bit.

2.  Webb Institute.  Listing a college of 80 students on a list of this kind feels a bit like a gimmick -- isn't this really more of a trade school?  Still, I can tell you one thing for sure -- now that this list is out there, that 38 percent acceptance rate is set to go way, way down.

3.  MIT.  Here is where the powerhouses begin to weigh in, and it is not particularly surprising that a school that graduates the most exclusive batch of STEM majors in America at a time when STEM is highly desirable would have excellent employment numbers.

4.  Princeton.  Princeton is the top liberal arts school on this list, and the top Ivy.  Apparently this is because of its excellent financial aid.  Of course, with an acceptance rate of 7% and a top ranking on many 'best college' lists, this was not exactly a hidden gem.

5.  Stanford.  Stanford's reputation across disciplines has grown exponentially in the last fifty years, and its ranking on this list is just another example of how amazingly far this school has risen in the world.  Tops in entrepreneurship, tops in undergraduate ... heck, they even  have a great D1 football program!

The rankings are definitely worth a top to bottom read -- or at least a 1-20 read.  An interesting new take.


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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

MBA Employment Trends 2014

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Forster-Thomas covers recent trends in MBA employment.

By Ben Feuer

The MBA Career Services & Employer Alliance's surveys from the past two years have revealed some interesting trends in MBA recruiting and employment.  Although there are always a lot of questions left unanswered by surveys like these, a few trends seem very clear indeed.

1.  Overall, recruiting is up.  Since the source of information is B-schools' self-reported statistics, this can hardly be considered unimpeachable data.  Still, things appear to be trending upward overall as the economy continues to rebound.  Small, midsized and large firm recruiting is up at around 40% of reporting schools.

2.  Startups are recruting more fresh MBAs.  As poaching executives becomes more impractical for fresh startups, MBAs are looking like a more attractive alternative every day.  57% of startups are doing more on-campus recruiting.

3.  Schools 21-50 have seen a recruiting boost.  Although the rising tide of MBA desirability is lifting all boats, it is lifting the boats of the 21-50 ranked schools the most.  Poets and Quants attributes this to 'overfishing' at the top schools, but it is equally possible that the reputation of the degree overall is simply improving.

Overall, although there are never any guarantees in the realm of employment, these developments can only be seen as promising for the degree and the field overall.


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By Ben Feuer

Kellogg has finally released its essay prompts for this year, and you can read them right here on our website.  As with almost every other school this year, Kellogg has trimmed both word count and essay count.  The trend is shorter and sweeter, or as Kellogg admissions prefers to frame it, "a nice amount of space for an applicant to give a well thought out answer but not to feel constrained".  We will let you be the judge of that.

One other useful tidbit -- although the questions are different this year, Kellogg stresses that the themes are the same.  They still view team skills and resilience as very important qualities in developing leaders.  So when you set your pen to paper to answer that first prompt about a challenge you have faced, remember that the size and intensity of the challenge really matters if you are planning to craft a compelling response.

The video essay also survives for another year -- once again, candidates will have twenty seconds to prepare a response, but this year, they will have only sixty seconds to answer.  But don't worry, you are not supposed to feel constrained there, either.  For more information on how to ace the video essay, check out this great video from Forster-Thomas interview skills expert Tom Locke.

1. Resilience.  Perseverance.  Grit.  Call it what you will…. Challenges can build character.  Describe a challenging experience you’ve had.  How were you tested?  What did you learn? (450 words) 

This is what we at Forster-Thomas call a "setback" essay.  It's a kissing cousin of the "failure" essay, which you can read all about in our book.  In fact, you could answer this prompt by writing a failure essay as well, and for certain candidates (particularly those that come across too shiny and well-manicured in their resume and professional experience) it can be really nice to have that humanizing element, especially for a more socially adept student body like Kellogg's.  Just remember the two most important elements of a failure essay -- that you own the failure and take responsibility for it, and that you show us how you learned from it going forward.

But back to the setback essay.  Setback essays are about something you were trying to achieve, be it personal or professional, when ONE SPECIFIC obstacle came up and prevented that from happening.  That obstacle can be concrete (a hurried deadline) or more ambiguous (your boss's controlling attitude stifling innovation), but in order to answer the question, you must write about how you RESPONDED to the crisis -- or as Kellogg puts it, how were you tested and what did you learn?  And of course, you finish up by telling the reader what happened to the project or relationship.  Did it work out?  How?  Are there any relevant metrics?  Was the achievement a first of its kind for that setting?

2. Leadership requires an ability to collaborate with and motivate others.  Describe a professional experience that required you to influence people.  What did this experience teach you about working with others, and how will it make you a better leader? (450 words)

This is a standard 'leadership' essay (covered in our book), meaning that the focus should be on a specific, single event that took place over a well defined period of time (a month, two weeks, et cetera) where some organizational goal needed to be achieved.  In the best leadership essays, the candidate identifies the problem, finds a solution, lobbies to have it implemented and then sees it through to a successful conclusion, creating legacy going forward.  The bigger and more diverse the team, the more important and powerful the leadership experience.

Please note that Kellogg asks you to focus on professional experiences here.

Booth, McDonough and McCombs have released their essay prompts for this year.  Check them out right here on our website!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

LSAT Takers at a 14 year low

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The dip in June test takers, and what it means for your prospective application.

By Ben Feuer

As most people know by now, Law School is in decline, at least when it comes to the number of students they graduate.  There was further evidence of that this month when the new data on LSAT takers showed a steep drop.

If you were one of those LSAT takers, of course, this is great news for you -- less competition means your application will be more competitive.  Just make sure that you are not falling into the same trap some of the last few class years of law students have fallen into by reviewing this ultra-simple checklist.

Is your LSAT over 160?  If the answer is no, wait a year and retake the LSAT.  If you never clear 160, choose another line of work, as your odds of gainful employment post-graduation go way down.

Do you have work experience?  K through JD might seem like the most efficient career path, but you could be setting yourself up for failure.  You are also making yourself less competitive at top schools, which prefer some work experience.  Again, the solution is to take a year or two and be sure this is what you want.

Are you ready to work really hard?  This one might seem self-explanatory.  After all, studying for the LSAT is hard too, right?  well, yes, but depending on what school you wind up going to, class rank is going to matter A LOT in your job opportunities, and class rank is competitive.  Class rank is also dependent upon the amount of time you are willing to spend studying.  Ergo, if you are looking to cruise or avoid academic hardship for a little while, wait.

Are you paying sticker price at a <T14 school?  Reconsider.  You will probably be better off getting to the top of your class at a T50 school while also saving some money on tuition, which in turn will save you from some of that nasty student loan debt.  At a T14 school, your odds of getting a big law offer improve dramatically, so this concern is somewhat alleviated.

You make the call on this one -- but really, take our advice (and everybody else's), and don't rush into a decision about ANY graduate degree, but ESPECIALLY a JD.


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On the other end of the spectrum from yesterday's post, a supreme court justice overreacts to US News Rankings.

By Ben Feuer

This is old news, but worth highlighting as a counterpoint to yesterday's post about MBA rankings.  Law School rankings, although still very problematic, are an excellent predictor of employability and salary, at least according to some sources.  But justice Alito had some hard words for US News's rankings, calling them an 'abomination' and claiming that the legal community would be better off if they were eliminated.

Here is a list of Alito's clerks in the last four years.

Yale, Yale, Yale, Yale  #1
Stanford, Stanford #3
UVA #8
Duke, Duke, Duke #10
Cornell #13 (tie)
Georgetown #13 (tie)
Texas #15
George Washington #20
Notre Dame #26
Seton Hall #68

A couple points to make about that list.

1.  Yale, the #1 ranked law school, accounted for a quarter of all clerks.
2.  Top ten schools accounted for more than half of all clerks.
3.  One clerk from outside the T50 schools made it as a clerk ... 5 years out of school.

We here at Forster-Thomas hate to point fingers, but if Justice Alito wants to make a case for ignoring law school rankings, he could start by doing that with his own clerks.  And if you are applying to law school, rankings do matter ... although probably not as much as you think they do.

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It's a red letter day at the FT offices -- new essays and deadlines have been released!

By Ben Feuer

Our essay guide was just updated with four new schools -- NYU Stern, UVA Darden, U. Michigan Ross, and UNC Kenan-Flagler.  Check out the prompts and deadlines at the following links!

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An article raises key questions about where MBA essay prompts have been, and where they are headed.

By Ben Feuer

Bloomberg Businessweek has a fantastic article today about why certain questions have survived in the process, and why others change every year.  The whole article is worth a careful read if you are planning to apply to business school this year, but here are a few of the highlights.

1.  If a question stays every year -- it's because the school likes the question.  Obvious?  Perhaps.  But Booth's Powerpoint essay, or Kellogg's new video essay, or Stanford's What Matters Most essay have become synonymous with the schools themselves.  Admissions officers believe (correctly!) that if you cannot figure out a way to answer these questions, these schools are not right for you.  And conversely, if you have a great answer to these questions, you might just be a great fit at these schools ...

2.  Authenticity is the goal.  All MBA candidates want to 'force' a fit between themselves and their target school.  It's only natural -- you want them, so you want to make them want you.  As anyone who has frequented eHarmony can tell you, life doesn't work that way -- but if you put yourself out there, you just might get lucky!  Safe, rote and formula responses are a recipe for rejection, as these admissions officers are eager to remind you -- it's part of why they shake up the questions each year.

3.  Video's relevance is on the rise.  It's a teleconferencing age, and b-schools are recognizing that.  Yale and Kellogg both have video components to their applications this year, and FT's crystal ball predicts this trend will spread.  Schools like the spontaneity of the video responses (and they like not having to read another essay).

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Forster-Thomas's first monthly meeting at our new location took place yesterday -- and some interesting insights came out of it.

Ben Feuer

Company-wide meetings here at Forster-Thomas are a casual affair.  Fine wine is served, we dress to impress, we dine beneath the stars and talk long into the night about our fabulous selves.  

So what's new in Forster-Thomas land?  Turns out, lots!  Auntie Evan and Uncle David continue to break new ground with Essay Busters and Job Talk Daily, to say nothing of their work right here at Forster-Thomas.  Our very own Tom Locke is simultaneously developing a new television series with a Hollywood producer and a new audition coaching initiative for acting students in need of aid.  Kirsten Guenther just won a Rockefeller Grant while continuing to help medical school applicants get in touch with their inner Grey's Anatomy.  Jani Moon launched a website and a Google Hangout TV series.  Aimee Barr conducted a sold out conference for MSW graduates.  Susan Clark created a volunteer art mural in Italy!  Katie Kennedy is hard at work with Evan on his next book!  And of course, no Forster-Thomas meeting would be complete without honoring the glue that holds the entire organization together, Roberto Pineda and Nallely Rosales!

So everybody's doing awesome -- awesome!  What does this mean for those of you who are busy struggling with your essays?  Get to the good stuff, I hear you cry!  All right!  No need to be so pushy!

The first point was made by our very own Uncle David, and it concerns brainstorming.  I tell my candidates to brainstorm all the time, because I consider it an exceptionally helpful way to break out of mental ruts and develop your best ideas.  Well, Uncle David mentioned this gem and I had to pass it on to all of you.

"When brainstorming, most people think their job is to come up with 3 or 4 good ideas.  But that's not how brainstorming really works.  In fact, it goes like this.  First you get some good ideas.  Then you get some OK ideas.  By the time you're on your fifteenth idea, you know you're running on fumes.  And then something magical happens, and by PUSHING THROUGH IT, your last three ideas are usually even better than the first five.  So never stop when the ideas are good -- instead, push on until they're bad, then push through the badness so you can get to the greatness!"

Well said, sir.

I also had a few humble thoughts of my own for all of you stuck in the early stages of drafting your essays.  Google Ventures has taken to using timers to inspire its entrepreneurs/children to get over their perfectionism and innate long-windedness.  I think timers are an excellent tool for anyone trying to be creative, because constraints are empowering.  So if you are struggling to draft an essay, constrain yourself to an hour (or half an hour) to write it.  You might be surprised at how imperfect, and how interesting, the results can be!

Meanwhile, we here in Forster-Thomas land send you lots of love and best of luck for the upcoming application season!