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Another exciting opportunity for those of you still trying to figure out how you're going to finance the next stage of your career;  Bank of America is offering a $40,000 scholarship to MBA students planning to begin classes in the Fall of 2015.

It's a diversity fellowship, so you'll need to be one of the various and sundry minority groups (or in the case of women, majority group) that Bank of America lists on its application page.

Mercifully, the requirements for application aren't too onerous -- a 500 word essay about your career goals and how the BofA fellowship is going to help get you there, a current resume, an example essay from one of your B-school applications (a Stanford What Matters Most essay might be a good choice here if there isn't too much overlap with the essay you write for the BofA application), and a few other odds and ends.

It's also nice that Bank of America has chosen to open this application up to anybody -- you don't need to be a former Bank of America employee to apply (although I'm sure it helps).

So go ahead and start filling out those application forms -- and if you need any advice on your essays, contact us.

Photo by Chung Hu.

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Article by Evan Forster.  Photo by Ted Eytan.


A weird thing happened last week here at Forster-Thomas.  We were settling in for our usual Friday afternoon grind when we heard a strange sound -- my partner David thought it was a foghorn coming from the pier, but I knew better: It was a collective sigh of relief from 2000 Wall Street hopefuls who had just read the new Harvard Business School MBA essay prompt.  

 I could read their minds (I've been doing it for 20 years now) -- 

"Thank God, I don't have to face that crazy open-ended essay."  

"Thank God, they're not saying that scary stuff about already knowing everything about me."  

"Thank God, this is just like that Columbia essay my sister did a few years ago."  

"I can handle this."

We all chuckled a bit and went back to enjoying our appletinis.  

True, Harvard has opened the back door to rejection a little wider with this prompt, and a lot of applicants are going to waltz right in, rattling off laundry lists of accomplishments: mountains conquered, championships won, tests aced.  Cue the Legally Blonde references.

Now which of these people do YOU want to be?  Elle Woods or IQ 187?   Rattling off your bona-fides is like slapping your admissions officer in the face.  They can read.  They know who you are.  What they don’t know is how you operate. How you take on your community, your country, your world.


I'm going to introduce you to one of my favorite clients, Manolo.  But I'm going to do it Harvard style, by focusing on his passions and his transformation.

When Manolo came to the US, he didn't know a word of English.  (And before all you 'reverse racism' types start sharpening your pitchforks, he wasn't poor or raised by a single parent, he was just an immigrant.)  Manolo was a quick study.  He attended UNLV, where he was president of the Honors Society and found himself an internship at Goldman Sachs.

So with all that under his belt, you might think Manolo would be a little self-important, but actually, Manolo didn't want to talk about his accomplishments--he started asking me about Forster-Thomas’s nonprofit arm, Essay Busters.  Manolo desperately wanted to get involved with Essay Busters, but he couldn't do it over the summer; his internship hours were just too crazy.  I sort of shrugged my shoulders--I hear that kind of excuse a lot.

But I underestimated Manolo.  Within four weeks, he conceived of and laid the groundwork for Essay Busters: Nevada.  He engaged every club of which he was a member, securing funding, even working with the mayor of Paradise.  He lined up 32 potential mentors in four weeks.  From New York. While interning full time at Goldman.

What was that about your amazing 780 GMAT score again? Zzzzzzz.


If you want to go to HBS, you need to find that passion.  Where are you leading?  What are you creating?  If the answer is not screaming at you right now, you need to ask yourself, are you really HBS material?  

Choose something you are excited, almost desperate, to have others be a part of.  Then talk about it.  Perhaps you're paving the way for future female Wall Street CEOs.  Maybe you're an engineer working on ending the drought in California.  Or you're at McKinsey trying to create an entirely new private equity marketplace.  Whatever it is, you're up to something big, something that's going to transform the planet one day, and you're sharing the impact with everyone around you.  True transformation has a ripple effect.  

That was clear with Manolo.   He made those around him better.  Find what you have to share--find a way to make those around you better.

Mark my words: Manolo will be invited to interview at HBS in the fall.  And it won't be because he's well-connected, because he's the right color, or because he has an amazing GMAT or "perfect background" (whatever that is).  It will be because he demonstrated an ability to transform himself and the desire to help others do the same in his home community of Las Vegas.

That's introducing yourself -- Harvard style.

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On April 29th, the Brookings Institute released yet another rankings system for colleges -- much like the "Money Magazine" system, this one attempts to rank colleges by their INCOME value per dollar spent.  The results are occasionally shocking and consistently interesting -- read on to learn more.

One thing immediately leaps out about the Brookings Institution's efforts -- they show their roots as a think tank quite clearly in their more rigorous and complete approach to the rankings than certain magazines take.  Their methodology is intriguing, and to Brookings' credit, they do an excellent job of diagraming and explaining precisely how it works on their page.  
Another plus is that this ranking addresses two-year as well as four-year colleges.  Considering 40 percent of Americans wind up at 2-year schools, the subject is well worth a closer look.

So, how about the results themselves?  Unfortunately, Brookings falls into the same trap as all rankings, namely, that they either confirm the biases you already have (US News) or throw them so out of whack that you have trouble taking the methodology seriously, which is more where this one falls.    It certainly does offer an amusing scramble -- how often do you get to see Pacific Lutheran University outrank Yale?  -- but its hard to take such a result seriously, no matter what methodology was used to achieve it.

There's an argument to be made that it is not the methodology but rather the data that is flawed, and that colleges themselves should be held more accountable for their students' outcomes.  We here at Forster-Thomas certainly think that wouldn't hurt, as long as it wasn't carried too far. 

Of course, this ranking, which is focused on earning potential, also lauds STEM degrees and those who earn them.  Although it's safe to say the demand for many liberal arts professions is unlikely to grow, and that STEM appears to be dominant, remember that nothing lasts forever.  The tech bubble could collapse again, and Stanford, Cal Tech and MIT would be tarnished as a result.  The 'hot' field is an 'of the moment' phenomenon -- students ought to pursue the careers and colleges where they can excel -- note that I didn't say the school you "love" -- the schools that challenge them, push them to improve on their strengths and shore up their weaknesses, and leave them with a greater sense of direction and purpose than they had going in.

Perhaps the most valuable thing to come out of the Brookings rankings are their conclusions about what factors are associated with successful economic outcomes, DISCOUNTING existing advantages that the student had going into the school.  Brookings cites the following as being decisive factors:

•   Curriculum value: The amount earned by people in the workforce who hold degrees in a field of study offered by the college, averaged across all the degrees the college awards;
•   Alumni skills: The average labor market value, as determined by job openings, of skills listed on alumni resumes;
•   STEM orientation: The share of graduates prepared to work in STEM occupations;
•   Completion rates: The percentage of students finishing their award within at least twice the normal time (four years for a two-year college, eight years for a four-year college);
•   Student aid: The average level of financial support given to students by the institution itself.  Schools at the top of the prestige ladder do well -- Williams, for example.

For more on this, check out Brookings's site, or just drop us a line.

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If you're thinking of applying to b-school this year, you have something right now that is more valuable than you can possibly imagine -- preparation time.  But we all lead busy lives -- what is the best use of that time?  What really matters, and how long will it take to do?

Article by Ben Feuer, Image by Moyan Brenn

We here at Forster-Thomas know that applying to any graduate program can feel completely overwhelming, with a hundred little things to take care of and not enough time to take care of it.  So what should you focus on and when?  Here's a cliff-notes answer to that important question.  Please note -- this is in no way intended to be a comprehensive list, but it should give you plenty to think about if you're trying to maximize your application's chances.


3 YEARS - Congratulations!  You're really into planning ahead.  Keep earning top grades at your school (or if that's too easy, transfer into a tougher school) and tackle meaningful leadership challenges in your clubs and organizations.  If you're early on in the workforce, start building the key professional contacts who can later serve as recommenders or write letters of reference for your target schools.

3 MONTHS - Depending on the relative strengths and weaknesses of your application, you could either focus on retaking your GMAT or taking your GRE (standardized test scores are important) or you could look to burnish your resume with meaningful leadership by founding a small business or taking on a big responsiblity for a nonprofit.

3 WEEKS -  Although this can be enough time to do a rushed GRE/GMAT retake, depending on when the tests are scheduled, perhaps the most important thing to think about with three weeks remaining is corralling your recommenders.  Hopefully they already know you're applying at this point, but it's a good time to put in a few gentle reminders, set up any necessary meetings to provide information or just catch up, et cetera.  

3 DAYS - Do a campus visit for the weekend!  Prepare by reaching out to students via Linkedin and asking pointed, thoughtful, comparative questions about their b-school experience thus far.  Invite them to talk about their favorite and least favorite aspects of what they do every day, and what parts of school they got the most out of.  Once you arrive on campus, take a lot of notes -- they'll help you when the time comes to write your "why school" essays -- and shake a lot of hands -- depending on the school, face-time with profs and admissions staff can help your chances of getting in quite a bit.

3 HOURS - Write a first draft of an essay.  Don't try to get it perfect your first time out of the box.  That isn't possible.  Just write something complete, authentic and honest with a clear plan in mind.  If you're going over three hours for your first draft, you're overthinking it!  Relax and wrap it up.  Then hand it to your brain trust (you do HAVE a brain trust, right?) and be prepared to be told it doesn't work at all.

30 MINUTES - Jot down five essay brainstorms for a particular prompt -- one-paragraph reminders of things you've done in the last three years or so.  You can also reformat your resume in 30 minutes, leaving plenty of negative space, compressing to one page, emphasizing recent employment and accomplishments, and purging things that aren't relevant for b-school like technical skills.

3 MINUTES - Take a deep breath and relax.  You've hit submit -- it's out of your hands now.  The best thing you can do is put it out of your mind and wait.


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

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Photo by English106, Article by Ben Feuer

 The new common application questions are out for 2015-2016 -- students and parents everywhere are wondering how to answer them.  This guide will help you get started!

The brand-new common application questions have been released into the wild!  First, a few ground rules.  Your word count should be between 250 and 650 words for each question.  Don't feel obligated to use every word -- but don't go over, either.  Double and triple-check your spelling and grammar -- don't get dinged on a technicality!  Read all of the topics and consider each of them before choosing which one you will answer.  Don't choose based on what story about yourself you feel like telling, or what you think the committee 'ought to know' about you -- instead, select a story where you grew, changed or evolved as a person.

And now, without further ado, the questions!

1.  Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

Read this prompt carefully.  This is a standard 'diversity' prompt -- which means it asks students to share some distinctive element of their background or upbringing -- BUT the wording is very strong.  Only choose this prompt if your background is so integral to your life that you really can't imagine writing about anything else.

Note that this prompt also invites you to tell a story that is central to your identity -- that could be (for instance) a narrative about personal growth, or about an unexpected friendship or chance encounter -- again, so long as it is central to who you now are as a person, it's fair game.

2.  The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

If you're applying to a reach school, or if you're concerned about other areas of your application, this prompt is your chance to stand out from the crowd and make an impression.  Nothing grabs admissions officers' attention as quickly as a well-thought-out failure essay, particularly because most students run screaming from this kind of prompt.

So what makes a great failure essay?  We cover this at length in our book, but the fundamentals are this -- you need a singular, powerful failure narrative where you failed not just yourself, but others you cared about.  The failure must be absolute -- no saving the day at the last minute.  It must point to some underlying aspect of your character which you then identify (stubbornness, overcaution, arrogance).  You finish up the failure essay by telling a brief (50-100 word) anecdote about how you have changed as a result of this failure -- use concrete examples here!

3.  Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?

The flipside of the failure essay, the challenge (or as we call it, the leadership) essay is one of the most commonly seen essays on the common application.  If you have accomplished something that was exceptionally challenging for you and really shaped who you are as a person, this is your prompt.  If you are just looking to brag about your killer grade in that AP History class or your five goals in the championship bocce match, this is NOT your prompt.  Move along.

When thinking about challenges, students always want to focus on the external -- what happened and why it's impressive.  This is the wrong approach.  The important story to tell is how you GOT to the impressive result -- and what you thought about, did and said that led to that result.

Finally, remember that these types of stories work best and are most impressive when you're motivating other kids (or adults!) to excel -- contrary to what your lovin' mother told you, it ain't all about you.

4.  Describe a problem you've solved or a problem you'd like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma-anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.

This prompt is a somewhat unusual spin on a common theme of transformation and growth.  There is an obvious STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) spin to this question -- after all, a laboratory experiment or a planned course of study fits into this prompt very neatly.  But resist the urge to get completely technical and step outside your own experience!  Remember that whatever prompt you choose for your essay, the central figure in the story is you -- your challenges, your growth, your maturity.

This prompt also might be a good choice for students who have been fortunate enough to have interesting experiences in unusual places and contexts.  Worked on a social issue overseas?  Spent eight months living with the Amish?  Shadowed a researcher at CERN?  This could be your prompt.

5.  Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

Rites of passage can be fascinating topics for essays -- if they're handled well.  No one wants to hear about how grandpa cried at your confirmation -- snoozefest!  Becoming an adult is about accepting the responsibilities, limitations and joys of being human, and so should your essay.

The focus on a particular event is important.  It's very easy when writing an essay to drift from one subject to another, but great essays have a singular focus -- they're about one thing and one thing only.  In this case, the event or accomplishment in question and why it was the turning point in your journey from boy to man or girl to woman.


So there you have it!  Not so scary after all, huh?  Still, you probably have a lot of questions as yet unanswered.  Or maybe you have a draft all written up and you want some seasoned eyes to take a look?  If so, drop us a line -- we'd be happy to help!


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Below are the brand-new 2015-2016 Common Application essay topics!  For tips on how to handle these questions, check out our best practices blog.

Instructions. The essay demonstrates your ability to write clearly and concisely on a selected topic and helps you distinguish yourself in your own voice. What do you want the readers of your application to know about you apart from courses, grades, and test scores? Choose the option that best helps you answer that question and write an essay of no more than 650 words, using the prompt to inspire and structure your response. Remember: 650 words is your limit, not your goal. Use the full range if you need it, but don't feel obligated to do so. (The application won't accept a response shorter than 250 words.)

1. Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

2. The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

3. Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?

4. Describe a problem you've solved or a problem you'd like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma-anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.

5. Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

To get started, access the new Common Application.


Need help with your college application? We can help!  Schedule a consultation today.

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The more things change, the more things stay the same. If this is true of anything, it is true of the US News law school rankings.  Every school in the top 14 held its standing or gained ground, reinforcing the somewhat obvious fact that the rankings primarily reflect opinions already held about the schools by people who were influenced, among other things, by the US News.

They admit as much when explaining their methodology; 40 percent of the schools ranking is determined by peer review, AKA people’s opinions.  Can you really rely on a study that primarily relies on itself to form its opinions about something as complex and important as admissions?

Rather than offering meaningful reform or addressing law school's serious issues head-on, US News tries to make something headline worthy out of the fact that they changed their methodology a bit this year. Specifically, they weighted school sponsored jobs less heavily, a token nod to the continuing furor over the limited job prospects for graduating law school students. By using this tweak as their headline, the organization seems to be suggesting that they have acknowledged ongoing criticism that law school is useless below a certain tier.

But if they have acknowledged that criticism, their fix is a fig leaf at best.  The table they show indicates that the problem is widespread – top ranked schools like U. VA Law employ nearly 17 percent of their own graduates each year.  The proportions for Emory and William and Mary are even more striking; more than a quarter of students are employed by the University at both schools.  This fact does not, however, seem to have had much effect; UVA and Emory held steady at #8 and #19, and William and Mary, the biggest offender, dropped only five spots down to #29.  Since US News does not give numerical values for its rankings, it’s hard to know whether this represents a big jump or a small one.

All in all, the new rankings do not change the equation much for students thinking about applying this year. If you get into a top 14 school, or even the top third, law school can definitely work for you, provided you work hard after you are admitted and graduate in the top half of your class.  But if your only admits are at schools like Brooklyn or Loyola, you are probably better off re-applying next year or choosing another career path.

Disagree?  Have questions?  Contact us!

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With the usual fanfare, US News has released its 2016 Graduate School rankings.  What are the most important takeaways this year?  Here's one -- we need a more sophisticated method of evaluating our education.

Here we go again.

With the release of its 2016 graduate school rankings, the US News and World Report sets the merry-go-round awhirl once again with breathless murmurs about who’s up and who’s down (answer; no one relevant) and the usual circular debates as to why a few lower tier schools have leapt around the rankings like overcaffeinated gymnasts.  Yes, it’s the same data as last year, folks, all laid out in a tidy, digestible table so that people can know, to a numerical certainty, just how superior they are supposed to feel to the person sitting next to them.  Isn’t that a relief?

Well forgive us for speaking truth to power (it’s kind of our thing), but we here at Forster Thomas feel compelled to break the orthodoxy and say, in no uncertain terms, the unspeakable –

Do we really care anymore?

After the first few weeks of click frenzies die down, will these rankings really tell you anything about your target school the last five years of rankings did not? Do they illuminate, in any meaningful way, the graduate school process?  After all, most top MBAs already know what schools, or at least what universe of schools, they’re applying to.  For them, year-to-year rankings don't matter much.  If Stanford takes first three years running, or HBS drops to 8th place, that might turn some heads, but little changes?  Not really.  

Case in point: Columbia hasn’t ranked higher than 7th for five years, yet many people choose Columbia over MIT, Kellogg, and Booth despite what the rankings say.  The same goes for NYU and Duke over Darden and Ross, probably because of the schools undergraduate prestige and name recognition, although that hasn't yet helped Yale, which is now tied with Fuqua and is solidly in the top 14, despite having the lowest employment numbers by a fairly wide margin.

On the whole, the US News rotisserie simply reinforces the prejudices applicants already carry around inside their heads. The methodology, after all, is largely based on reputation. Is it any surprise that creating a ranking system that reinforces reputation essentially operates as a self-fulfilling prophecy?  And lest we forget, that reputation knife cuts both ways.  If US News shakes things up too much, they'll look out of touch (imagine if Darden jumped to #4), but they have to reshuffle the chess pieces to make headlines. 

Stanford displacing HBS at #1 headlines, but it doesn't make change.  Alternate ranking systems in recent years have tried to do just that, upsetting the orthodoxy completely.  We have covered some of the most interesting ones right here on our blog. There have been some attempts to calculate value for money, and to more heavily weight employment numbers.  Certain ranking systems emphasize international prestige, which can be important for students who want their degree to translate overseas. 

Why does an organization with US News’ resources try, for instance, interviewing all the deans of the schools, or making an in-depth examination of faculty or the effects of cluster size on student learning? Then, at least, each year’s rankings would tell us something new -- augmenting the previous year’s knowledge rather than supplanting it.

But the US News rankings, at least for business school, are still trapped in a world where the most valuable currency is chatter, and superficial metrics take the place of serious, in-depth investigation of the schools.

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Just what the world needed, another ranking of top MBA programs! In all seriousness, though, M7 Financial's new ranking, which divides the schools into tiers based on the cost of financing an education vs the amount of debt incurred, has some unique aspects which make it worthy of a second look.

To paraphrase Poets and Quants, the M7 Financial MBA Creditworthiness Ranking awards schools ratings of A+ to C grades based on the a “leverage ratio”–the average student indebtedness divided by average starting salary and bonus–and a “debt service coverage ratio”–the average starting salary and bonus divided by the estimated annual principal and interest payments on a ten-year student loan.

Because its methodology is so distinctive, the ranking produced some interesting and at times slightly ridiculous results. No one is likely to choose Wisconsin or Arizona State over Harvard or Stanford any time soon. And there are good reasons for that. This ranking, which supposedly evaluates a schools financials, only looks at first-year salaries and employment levels, and does not acknowledge to what degree employment levels are actually factoring into the ranking. What about five years after graduation? What about 10? What about students who choose to switch careers in their 30s or 40s? What about students who have to work overseas for a long period of time? All of these are important factors in any financial decision, and none of them are dealt with in this ranking. And then, of course, there's quality-of-life, which is difficult to assess in any sort of ranking.

So what we are left with are starting salaries, which admittedly are strikingly similar across the board, especially compared to law schools, and debt ratios, which have much more variation.  Which brings us to the most valuable aspect of this new system; the new light it throws on really excellent programs that never seem to get the attention they deserve.  Brigham Young's Marriott school, Rochester's Simon School, Texas McCombs and many other programs are given A rankings and show very high rates of employment after graduation and good compensation packages. Students who have to take on a lot of debt to finance MBA should take a serious second look at some of these schools as safeties.

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Just because you can’t go to work doesn’t mean you can’t have a good time today! For those of you who still have Internet service, we decided to give you a few helpful suggestions on how to make the time fly by!

Rock out to All About That Bass while weeping over your round one rejection emails.

Read even more reasons not to go to law school this year and feel good about your life choices.

Catch up on Transparent.

Practice your acceptance speech for your (anticipated) victory at the Lean Startup Challenge this year.

Teach yourself to make voodoo dolls in preparation for the round two rejection emails.

Get creeped out about the fact that vampirism actually works.

Obsessively troll Internet forums trying to figure out if anyone has heard back from Stanford yet. (No link required, you know where those forums are)

Follow Elon Musk on Twitter.

Watch endlessly recycled footage of crews deicing plane wings on the news.

Be happy it’s 2015 and snowstorms are not actually that big a deal anymore.

Happy Winter! from the Forster-Thomas Team