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Article by Ben Feuer, Photo by Arvell Dorsey Jr.

For a few years now, the business school video essay has been on the rise.  Schools like Yale SOM, Northwestern's Kellogg School, Toronto's Rotman School and many others have incorporated some form of video into their applications.  
Here at Forster-Thomas, we've been ahead of this trend for years -- we work closely with every candidate to prep them for spontaneous and engaging interview and video skills, because we know how much the top schools believe in them. It's not hard to understand why.  Adcoms are human, and humans prefer to evaluate other humans face to face.  Plus, as the technology continues to improve, video essay providers are making big promises to schools about what their product can do.   

Kira Academic, the premier provider of video essay services, claims their product can accurately assess the communications and presentation skills of applicants, particularly international applicants, where interviews can be challenging.  Schools agree -- The dean of Rotman has praised Kira's 'three-dimensional' view of an applicant.

Schools also like these products is because they make applications quicker to review and harder to fabricate -- no one can buy essays from essay mills if they have to write them on the spot, after all!

It's now clear that only candidates with a deep and meaningful understanding of their own life stories are going to make it past the gatekeepers into an elite business school.  The game is changing -- making it up isn't going to work, nor will forcing someone else to 'figure it out' for you.  As the candidate, you are responsible for building a robust narrative from the inside out, and knowing it inside and out.  In other words, we were right all along -- as usual.

For all these reasons, we here at Forster-Thomas are convinced that video essays and video resumes are going to be major players going forward.

So how do you ace your b-school video essay?  There's no simple answer, and no simple checklist to help you get there.  Sorry!  That said, here are a few tips from our in-house video expert (and former MTV teen star) Tom Locke --

Your analytical mind is your enemy.  This is not a challenge you can 'prepare' for by memorizing a speech or revising a script -- you improve by practicing your presentation skills on your feet and honing your ability to be open and engaging.

Greet your anxiety.  Stanford (yes, GSB Stanford) also places a huge emphasis on the ability to extemporize well -- so much so that they created a mandatory seminar for all their incoming freshmen, then threw it on the web!  One of the best take-aways from this hour-long video is the idea of 'greeting' your anxiety.  Don't get anxious about the fact that you're anxious -- power through it and stay focused on the question the application is asking you.

Speak (and sit) naturally.  Do yourself a favor -- don't twist yourself in knots (literally) trying to answer these questions.  The mind and the body are one -- if you feel at ease, you will be at ease.

So you've reached the end of the article -- does that mean you're ready?  Sadly, no.  Practice makes perfect, especially when it comes to presentation skills, and no one improves without feedback.  To nail this one, you're just going to have to pick up the phone (you remember how that works, right?) and give us a call!  We promise not to make fun of your speaking voice.

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Harvard Business School's prestigious 2+2 program is attracting more qualified applicants every year.  How can you stand out from the pack?

The HBS 2+2 program has only been around for a few short years, but it is quickly becoming one of the most attractive destinations for ambitious young scholars.  It has evolved a lot in the few years it has existed, but its mission remains the same -- to attract the best and brightest young students who wouldn't otherwise consider business school and bring them into the Harvard fold. HBS takes these students 'sight unseen', as it were, without work experience, and requires them to work for two years before joining their Harvard Business School class.
The program is highly selective, with acceptance rates hovering around 11 to 12 percent every year -- but if you want to go, here are a few things you have to do in order to prepare yourself.

1.  Have a great job -- in your chosen field.  It is incredibly important to have a post-baccalaureate job lined up before applying to HBS 2+2, even if it means waiting until Round 3 instead of applying Round 2.  Furthermore, it can't just be any old job -- working at the Starbucks isn't going to cut it!  The most competitive applicants will have landed jobs that show their potential in their chosen field, while also leaving the door open to improve themselves with a business education.

 2. Have great test scores and GPA.  Even more than HBS itself, the 2+2 program is intensely competitive and numbers-driven, since there's less work experience for adcoms to judge. You can take either the GRE or the GMAT, although GMAT is the more rigorous test and therefore adcoms will be a little more forgiving of a 'weak' GMAT score than a weak GRE score.  A student applying to 2+2 should have at least a 730 with at least 75% score on the quant section to be competitive, and a 3.7+ GPA.

3.  Have a STEM background. HBS 2+2 loves STEM applicants more than anything.  62 percent of the incoming class was STEM, dwarfing all other backgrounds COMBINED.  Engineers, mathematicians and data scientists' skillsets are always in high demand at business school, so this probably comes as no big surprise.  That said, liberal arts and business majors do have a real shot at getting into the program -- just less of a shot.

4.  Have a compelling story.  Although numbers tell a big part of the story, they don't tell the whole story.  The fact is, recommendations and essays are the "X factor" that can overcome slightly weaker numbers -- and unfortunately, this is the part of the process most candidates spend the least time on!  All of the advice we give to B-school applicants in general goes double for HBS 2+2 applicants -- finding a meaningful reason to go to business school, an exciting life goal the committee will want to engage with, and being able to talk about your personal background and life history in a way that really illuminates who you are.

If you have questions about your chances at getting into HBS's 2+2 program, contact us! ; We'd be happy to handicap your chances and give you a few pointers.

Happy hunting!

Photo by Niklas Tenhaef.

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Article by Ben Feuer, Photo by Evan 

Welcome to the Party

So you’re a little late.  Your job got busy, the deadlines came up sooner than expected, your first crack at the GMAT didn’t go as planned.  Not to worry — Round Two was created for folks like you!  The typical top ten MBA program takes anywhere from 40 to 50 percent of its class in round two with a similar volume of applications, although the exact numbers vary from year to year.  This means that all things being equal, your odds are slightly worse in the second round than the first, but the devil, as always, is in the details.

Characteristics of a Round Two Applicant

Round One is the ‘stats’ round; if you’ve got your bona fides all lined up, if your numbers are strong, if you have brand names all over your resume and gold-plated recommenders, you’re a round one candidate through and through.  The schools are going to use this round to fill out the heart of their program, shore up their numbers and make sure their basic food groups are covered.

Round Two is the ‘story’ round; it’s where the school starts to pick and choose, pull the folks with interesting backgrounds, fill in any gaps they may have after round one (if they’re short on a particular type of job background or ethnic background, for instance) and experiment.  If this sounds like you, you'll be better off waiting until Round Two to hit submit even if you are ready in round one.

The Strategy

What should you do if you're applying round two?  You have to think very hard about your essays and your recommenders -- for you, they're going to matter more than with the typical round one applicant.  Do you understand the overall narrative of your application, and how each of your recommenders fits that strategy?  Do you know how you're going to approach them?

As for essays, you have to start asking yourself some tough questions about your reasons for coming to business school.  What about you is particularly sexy for a top institution.  Do you have a really exciting entrepreneurial idea?  An unusual background — military, the arts?  Can you offer connections to (or insight into) a paritcular type of business that might be useful for your classmates to learn about?  Do you have a really amazing life experience that would make a great optional essay for HBS or Wharton?

You should also have a good story worked up (at least in your own mind) about why you waited until Round Two — was it to shore up your numbers, secure your recommenders, make certain you really wanted to go to school this year?  You don’t need to write about it but it’s helpful to know.

Finally, be sure and use these extra months to shore up weak areas in your candidacy.  Do you have enough volunteer leadership?  Are you creating meaningful change anywhere around you?  Do you need to retake your GMAT?  Do you have enough quantitative coursework and background, or do you need to take a Microeconomics class to shore that side of your application up?

Common Pitfalls

Do you work in Private Equity?  Do you have a co-worker in your business who is also applying for the same slot?  If so, you’re in a race, since most of the top schools take a very limited number from any given firm in a given year.  Don’t wait unless you absolutely have to.

Don’t simply wait because you can, or because you’re busy.  Use that extra time to strengthen your application — time is precious, time before an application is twice as precious.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that, because Round Two is OK, Round Three is also.  Round Three, in most schools, is a much worse bet and should be avoided.

Round Two Neutral Schools
These schools generally offer no preference either way.

Chicago Booth

Round One Advantage Schools
These schools generally offer a slight preference to round one applicants.

MIT Sloan

Good Luck!

Now you know the basics of how to be a strong applicant for Round Two.  Have questions about your own application’s timing?  Contact us and I’ll be happy to help.

Ben Feuer is an educational consultant with Forster-Thomas, Inc.



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The GMAT is an ever-evolving beast, and 2015 is no exception to the rule of change.  If you are applying (or reapplying) this year, there are several important changes to the methodology of the test that you should be aware of.

The first has to do with Score Preview and Cancellations.  Score Preview allows you to see your score on test day — If you feel you didn’t perform your best on that day, it is possible to cancel your GMAT scores.  That’s old news.  But here’s the new feature — it used to be that when you cancelled a score, it showed up as a ‘C’ on the score report that went out to schools.  As of July, The “C” that represents a candidate’s cancelled scores will not be shown on any future GMAT score reports generated by GMAC. This means that when a test taker cancels their score, only the test taker will know.

This is a big deal for applicants, who now have a level of fine control over how their GMAC report reads that they did not before.  Different business schools have different approaches to the GMAT — some superscore (taking the highest quant and verbal from different exams), some average all scores, and some take the single highest score.  Some factor cancellations into their decisions, and some do not.  By reducing the number of moving parts, candidates can help streamline their applications.

Another big change is that the wait period between exams has been shortened from 31 days to 16 days.  For most applicants, this is a huge bonus — more time to cram before the first attempt, less time to ‘forget’ inbetween exams.  But be careful — you’re still limited to no more than five attempts in a twelve-month period, and with these new rules you can reach that limit pretty quickly!

Both of these changes should make the GMAT a little less intimidating, but it’s still a challenging exam, especially on the quantitative side, where huge volumes of overseas test takers have been driving percentiles down farther and farther.  An elite quant percentile of 80+ is harder to attain now than it has ever been before, which is why schools are relying more heavily on raw scores and becoming a little more forgiving on the 80th percentile rule of thumb.  That said, it’s never been a hard and fast rule — what kind of candidate you are and what background you come from play a big role in how your quant score is assessed.

Have more questions?  We’re here for you!  Contact us for more information.

Photo by Ryan McGilchrist.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Lessons from 2015-2016’s HBS Round 1

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Article by Ben Feuer, Photo by Ted Eytan.

One down, two dozen to go.  HBS, almost always the first mover in the b-school world, set a brutally early deadline this year, and it became a race to the finish for the strong round one applicants eager for a seat.  Having seen them come and go, we feel like a few remarks are in order as people prepare for their other round one deadlines, or in some cases, for round two.  Here are our biggest takeaways and what to do about them.

  1. Deadlines moved up … and people freaked out.  This year marked a dramatic shift nearly across the board when it came to deadlines.  Everything was happening sooner than expected, which made it difficult for some people to get ready in time for the Round 1 deadline – particularly people who were struggling to bring up a low GMAT.  This may mean that Round 1 is less competitive than in previous years, which might give an advantage to early movers – assuming they were fully prepared.
  2. The new HBS prompt is trickier than it looks.  At a recent Forster-Thomas ‘bull session’, where we sit around and debate the various essays we’re receiving and reviewing, we found that a lot of people were struggling with the new HBS prompt.  The emphasis on personality and informality really threw a lot of B-school writers for a loop.  Many applicants were also trying to tell too many stories – they had ‘completeness’ syndrome, the feeling that if they didn’t include everything cool they’ve done, the admissions committee would ‘miss out’.  Ironing out these issues took time, which meant that those who were prepared early once again got a slight advantage.
  3. Some people were thrown by the lack of a pull-down menu in the application to choose your round.  This is, I think, simply the schools realizing that the designation was redundant.  When you apply automatically determines which round you’re applying in, so why have a menu?  Still, it made some applicants very nervous.
  4. Keep your enemies close … and your recommenders closer.  Although we didn’t see any disasters, we did have a few last-minute scares this year with recommenders caught unawares by the changes in deadlines, rec formatting (it’s all online now!) and the slight variations in questions asked by the schools.  The candidates who fared best were in steady (but not overwhelming) contact with their recommenders and were extremely clear with their requests, both in writing and in person.

Although we're sure there will be new questions and issues that arise in round two, we're equally sure that being ahead of deadlines, in communication with recommenders and patient with the essays will produce stronger and more successful applications.  Good luck in HBS Round Two!

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Does my MFA film program require the GRE?

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By Ben Feuer, Photo by Ryan McGilchrist


Many prospective film students are intimidated by the idea of taking the GRE — the good news is that at this point in time, the vast majority of top MFA film programs no longer require it.  Here’s a list, accurate as of 2015, about which schools need the GRE and which do not.

USC: only for PH.d
Columbia: No
NYU: only for PH.d
Chapman: The GRE is required if your cumulative GPA from your degree granting undergraduate school is under a 3.0. A minimum score of 153 on the verbal section and 4.5 on the analytical writing section is required.
UT Austin: GRE is required for everyone.
Cal Arts: No
Emerson: Optional for Film&TV Writing, No for Media Art
FSU: No for production, Yes for Writing

Have more questions about the MFA application process?  Drop us a line.

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How to get in: USC School of Cinematic Arts 

Article by Ben Feuer, Photos by Ben Feuer (except the one of Sean Connery, obv)


Let’s get this straight right off the bat -- USC is not your father’s film school.  Even if your father is Sean Connery.



In our August 13th 2015 visit to USC’s campus and conversation with admissions counselor Lucy Leon, we covered the gamut of USC’s exciting, dynamic and sometimes dizzying set of new horizons and opportunities, and we’re here to give you the straight scoop on what the Trojans have been cooking up.

More than any other MFA/PH.d program in the United States, USC is tuned in to the rapidly evolving media landscape.  Although they still retain a dominant position in the (Hollywood) filmmaking pantheon because of the size of their alumni network (12,000+ at last census, including hundreds of prominent directors and writers), USC’s eyes are clearly trained on what they consider to be the future: episodic, new media and interactive.

One great example of this is USC’s allowance for interdisciplinary study – you can cross-enroll in any of USC’s 7 majors, which means even if your focus is game design you can pick up a bit of cinematography along the way.

USC’s screenwriting program is becoming more and more television oriented, following both students’ taste and the overall job market.  That said, if you’re still a feature-head no one is going to stop you from doing your portfolio that way, it’s just less common than it was when spec scripts were selling in the high six figures on a semi-regular basis.

USC was never a particularly strong independent cinema program, and despite their prominent featuring of Fruitvale Station director Ryan Coogler in their promotional videos, USC is not going to be a place where you develop your independent voice as a writer – it’s too regimented, too busy and far too technical a program for that.


The gaming division, on the other hand, has a decidedly indie vibe, with Jenova Chen https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jenova_Chen one of the more notable graduates.  The emphasis is on fun and storytelling, and the interactive divisions, especially the newest one, Media Arts and Practice PH.d (which focuses on embedded / infotainment content and experimental interfaces), receive a lower volume of applications and are more high-touch than their filmic counterparts.

If all this choice seems a little overwhelming, then you’re getting an excellent sense of how the program can be for younger and less focused students.  This is NOT a place for people looking to ‘find their way’, particularly at the MFA/PH.d level.  Students should come in with a game plan and be prepared to make a lot of noise to get their needs met – with a massive 1700 students enrolled, USC is not going to cater to individuals as well as a smaller program like AFI, USC, or Columbia.

There’s also one more touchy subject to bring up – money.  USC is extremely cagey about how much film students spend ON TOP OF TUITION, partly because it varies student to student, but mostly because the raw facts are shocking.  Class fees range from $25 to $150 per class, production courses carry an insurance fee of $1000 per semester (very approximately) and incidental project costs on class films range from $500 to $1000 per semester, although many students spend more.

Then there’s the thesis.  It’s not uncommon to hear of USC students spending $15,000 to $50,000 on their thesis films, and every year someone will break the bank and spend $100,000 or MORE (West Bank Story and Turbo being two notable examples).  No one is saying you HAVE to spend this kind of cash – USC discourages it – but the fact is that it does provide a competitive edge, so students keep doing it.  USC offers ‘modest scholarships’ (their words, not mine) based on need only, and production costs are not covered, so be aware before you enroll that you must pay to play.



USC is one of the most selective institutions out there for film, with admits ranging from 9% to about 25% depending on your choice of program.  Production is the most competitive, naturally.

The GRE is not required for MFA programs. For MA and PH.d programs, however, it is required and plays an important role in the admissions process.

All recommendations are now submitted digitally.  One should be academic, the rest are your choice.  Keep them to one page maximum or expect them to be ignored.  As is always the case with recommendations, distinctive and thoughtful comments from someone who knows you and your work well are more important than industry position or name value.

Your portfolio is, of course, the heart of any MFA application, and Lucy says that admissions counselors like her don’t review applications at all at USC – the faculty go through every single one.  That’s impressive.

Excerpts, trailers or reels are NOT a good idea for video samples, because USC wants to judge your storytelling capacity more than your technical chops as a filmmaker – they consider it more relevant.  You can submit a longer video sample than five minutes, but admissions only requires faculty to watch up to 5 minute mark, and overall it’s a bad idea to submit more.

Writing samples form another important component of the application.  For more information on how to create great writing samples, check out my previous publication in IECA.

Lucy was down on the general admission interview, although she did one herself – she feels it’s only a good idea if you interview well.   YMMV.



If you have questions, USC provides Ms. Leon’s email address at the link above – or, of course, you can always talk to us

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Article by Ben Feuer, Photo by Fady Habib.

    There aren’t a whole lot of funding opportunities for graduate students out there, much less DACA graduate students — but Paul and Daisy Soros are offering one such opportunity.
    In addition to receiving up to $90,000 in funding for the graduate program of their choice, each new Fellow will join the prestigious community of recipients from past years, which includes US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, leading Ebola researcher Pardis Sabeti, Oscar health insurance co-founder Kevin Nazemi and over 500 other New American leaders.
    The 2015 cohort is remarkably diverse in terms of their immigrant backgrounds; 2 are DACA recipients; 5 are green card holders; 15 are naturalized citizens. 14 are first-generation college graduates; 10 are first-generation high school graduates.
    They are equally diverse in the type of program that interests them; 13 Fellows are pursuing medicine; 7 natural science; 4 law; 3 music, visual and/or performing arts; 2 computer science; 2 business ; 1 social science and 1 education. 3 Fellows are currently pursuing more than 1 degree.
    If you’re interested in applying, the form can be found on their website.  Here are some details on the timeline -

    •    Applications are due on November 1, 2015 (11:59 pm EST)
    •    Finalists will be notified in January of 2016
    •    2016 Paul & Daisy Soros Fellows will be announced in April of 2016

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 By Susan Clark.  Cartoon by Frits Ahlefeldt.

Picture this: it’s three AM, and you’re hanging out at the dorm of one of your HBS section mates finishing up a group project.  The five of you have been banging away at Excel spreadsheets since nine – nobody’s eaten.  You’re all completely exhausted – but you just realized there’s a key element that isn’t done yet.  How do you break the news to your friends?  How do you avoid the dreaded, “Aah, it’s good enough”? After all, these people know you, but they don’t really know you.  Why should they listen to what you have to say when you ask them to give the maximum effort -- that one last push?

The whole situation brings you back a few years to when you chose to leave your cushy job at JP Morgan to go to Haiti, where you didn’t know a single person, to create a social entrepreneurship venture to solve their ongoing water crisis.   There were so many late nights on that project, so many moments it would have been easier to give up – but you had a shared sense of mission that kept you pulling together. 

Without even thinking about it, you find yourself telling the story to your HBS classmates -- you explain to them that where you grew up, in a small town outside Rio de Janiero, clean water was hard to come be – you explain this ‘random’ class project is actually (for you) part of a larger mission, a dream to go out there and solve the problem of clean water once and for all via a social entrepeneurship startup you’re building.

You half expect them to laugh at you – but instead they pat you on the back and ask you what they can do to help.  Forget the class project – you’ve just made four friends that will last the rest of your life, because you introduced yourself to your HBS classmates in a way that matters.

Or look at it this way – it’s Friday night at your favorite hangout, be it Per Se or the local tap house, and somebody brings up a great topic of conversation.  You think to yourself -- oh my God, yes!  I remember when I did that … and you tell the story.

That’s exactly how you should write your HBS ‘Introduce Yourself’ essay.


HBS wants each member of its community to bring something unique and defining to the table; they’re looking for people who transcend simple brands on a resume, buck the odds and make a difference.  

There is no simple formula for this kind of expression; every essay needs to be as unique as the person writing it.  There are, however, certain key elements the essay should reveal.  You don’t need to have every one of these, but you should touch on at least most of these elements --

  • Your deep passion that has moved you forward, and excited your intellectual curiosity.
  • How that passion caused to grow beyond yourself and be a leader. 
  • How your efforts helped to refine your leadership style, or hone a new leadership skill.
  • How you made a real impact on people around you, big or small, whether it was saving a tree or selling your company’s product.  
  • A thoughtful expression of what makes you tick.
  • An indication of how you grew when you honored your commitments.
  • Something you want us to know about yourself, told through story, and applied to other areas in your life

This essay is NOT:

  • A chance to brag about how wonderful you are.
  • A chronological review of your accomplishments.
  • A rehash of material someone could glean from simply reading your resume.


A great HBS essay really shouldn’t be more than 600 words.  I know HBS is giving you more than enough rope to hang yourself with, but that doesn’t mean you need to spool out your own noose.  When it comes to introductions, less is more, and simplicity is the best policy.

Don’t make the essay a series of anecdotes.  Examples should grow naturally out of the broader points you want to make.

And it wouldn’t hurt to use a few words, no more than a hundred, about how HBS provides what you need to take the next step.


How to start?  How do you brainstorm an essay like this?  Start by making a list.  Five from each category.  Don’t self-censor, either, telling yourself, aah, that one’s not really good enough.  Just list them, and don’t question it.  Discuss:

  • How you discovered some value that was important to you
  • A time you were tested and came to realize your own strength. 
  • What you learned about yourself through failure. 
  • How you made a difference in someone else’s life.


The most important thing to know about the new Harvard essay is that it is not about what you have done, but about how you operate, what commitment drives you to succeed and how you demonstrate leadership. 

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Photo by Steve Corey, Words by Forster-Thomas.

Because we love you, Forster-Thomas has assembled this list of schools that (previously or currently) accept video essays or video portfolios in their application.  Know a school that isn't on this list, but should be?  Contact us!


Goucher College
Babson College Tufts University
Claremont McKenna
St. Mary's College of Maryland
George Mason University
The College of William and Mary
Chapman (BFA Film)