By Ben Feuer, photo by Caleb Roenigk

Here we are again – at the high tide of anxiety for students on the verge of a law school application. A plunge into the unknown, safety-net-less; nothing but their wits and a dog-eared copy of the U.S. News Rankings to guide them.  But this year, one additional choice will await at least some of these future legal eagles; the choice between the LSAT and the GRE.

One thing you learn pretty fast while working (as I do) as an educational consultant is that one of your most important jobs is to dispel fear, ignorance and anxiety surrounding that bugbear that is America’s school application process. And boy, has there been a lot of FUD coming off the latest decision from HLS; allowing either test on their application.

For instance, a certain famous newspaper with a pretty strong anti-law-school bent is now dropping opinion-hints that maybe, just maybe, expanding access is a Bad Thing™.  Their argument (advanced by a late-night TV writer, speaking of absurdly pie-in-the-sky career choices) seems to be that expanding the pool of applicants will simply create more lousy, unmotivated lawyers.  Well, first of all, no, it won’t – the number of seats at any given law school won’t change. It’s possible the move might save a few lousy law schools from the scrap heap, but, if you haven’t figured out by now that any legal education outside the top 100 is a complete crap shoot, caveat emptor. Law school is a big purchase, and you should do your homework before slapping down the cash. This website’s a good place to start.

But more to the point, adding the GRE will actually give prospective students more options, not less. They’ll be able to choose not just between law schools, but between law schools and other degrees, applying to two or three types of program in one application cycle.  Then, once they know where they’ve been accepted, they can make a smart, well-thought-out choice between 2 or 3 very specific options. In the current model, it’s law school or bust, and that’s scaring away people I know who could be great lawyers, but aren’t able to devote a year of specialized education simply to the prospect of being one.

It allows schools to be more selective, weeding out low LSAT types with a low probability of success at law school and instead admitting high-GRE students with great natural ability and intellect.

It also saves students money – the great thing about the GRE is that it’s pretty comparable to the SAT in terms of subject matter and style, so you don’t have to re-learn how to test take all over again. And the fact is, logic games notwithstanding, there really isn’t anything about law school that requires highly specialized or technical knowledge before applying – after all, in many countries, law is an undergraduate degree. It’s a generalist degree. Many JDs don’t actually go on to practice law. And that’s OK too.

It limits the absurdly over-inflated power of standardized tests, which is a good thing no matter how you slice it. The fact that some schools have started to use these numbers as a crutch or a shorthand to save themselves the trouble of holistically evaluating every candidate is unfair and wasteful. Knowing how to game a test – any test, logic games and time restrictions or no – can only be one small slice of judging a student’s readiness to practice law.

As for the bogeyman fear that you might put a lot of effort into something only to find you don’t like it – that’s life! You try things and you learn. Liking the LSAT is not the same as liking Law School. Liking Law School is not the same as liking a law firm. Liking a law firm is not the same thing as liking the law. You have to find what you like. That’s the whole point of our big, unwieldy, messed up educational system.

There are no easy choices in admissions, for schools or students. But there are fair ones. Schools owe it to themselves to expand and not limit access, to make applying easier and better understood, not harder and more exclusive. And that has nothing to do with what kind of student ought to apply, and everything to do with the kind of student we ought to want.

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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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Photo by Patrick Breitenbach.

HBS recently launched a new podcast called Cold Call.  Disappointingly, at least in the first few episodes, the podcast itself is little more than an advertisement for the Harvard Business Review’s booming business in selling case studies at $5 to $9 a pop.  The format appears to be simple: they invite the professor to come on to the podcast, tease the story, and then say, ‘if you want to know how it turns out, buy our case study!’.  NPR ought to try this with its next edition of Serial.  It’s a conversation, not an account of what happened, so expect the podcasters to jump around from one subject to another.

Crass commercialism aside, HBS’s podcast does have a few interesting tidbits that are worth taking note of if you happen to be planning to apply to the school this year.  For one thing, you’ll learn a bit about the case study method, which is important to understand before you apply.  The case study method is anecdotal, for one thing — it is based on principles of storytelling, with the business leader as protagonist (this, by the way, is a great model for you to follow in your own essays about leadership). Another advantage is that you can hear from some actual Harvard profs and get a feel for what they might be like as teachers.  But thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, the way the teachers tell the stories implies what kind of abilities they’re looking for in a leader.

Gautam Mukunda, a former consultant (and Harvard student) and the author of a recent book called “Indispensable”, takes the lead on the first podcast, and it’s clear from his tone what he believes is important.  Transformative impacts, unconventional leaders and institutional morality are three of the qualities he highlights.  He likes leaders who come from unusual backgrounds.  He’s on the hunt for people who are exceptional, who buck the norm, and who make ethical choices, even when they’re hard.

Not only is this good advice for a business leader, it’s a good way to approach your candidacy.  How and where can you show your own willingness to buck trends, even in a small way?  Can you show that you resolved a challenging ethical dilemma successfully?  Can you write about a time when you learned from a failure?  What are your own case studies?  These are the questions you need to answer if you want to be considered Harvard material.

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!

Sunday, June 28, 2015

HBS Bets Big on CORe

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For years now, online and distance education have loomed as vaguely menacing threats off in the distance for traditional brick-and-mortar colleges and universities.  It seemed as though the two were inevitably destined to clash.

Leave it to HBS to figure out a way to make the competition/coordination dynamic both smart and profitable.

HBX CORe was introduced last year and has since gone through three cohorts.  Far from being just another mini-MBA or online learning program, CORe was innovating from the start; consider HBX live, which promises to allow up to sixty students all around the world to 'sit in class' together and communicate via the cameras on their PCs.  Pretty heady stuff, but if anyone can pull it off, Harvard can.

Although there was already some buzz around HBX CORe, adcoms were understandably cautious about anointing it as a substitute for (or even a supplement to) traditional business school education, and many students we spoke to were wary about the cost/value.  Who can blame them?  When your two biggest selling points for a product are; 1. It costs money (compared to a MOOC) and 2. It's proprietary (not open source), you might have a tough time getting buyers interested.

Fortunately for Harvard, their prestige and reputation for intelligent positioning is well earned.  In a series of recent announcements, HBX partnered with Amherst, Carleton, Grinnell, Hamilton, Wellesley and Williams.  This allows the program to funnel smart, high-achieving students into the system and also allows it to take advantage of financial aid and tuition remission, an important selling point for indebted undergraduates.  

In the short term, this should increase the quality of incoming cohorts and increase selectivity, which is essential if Harvard wants to establish a prestige brand for its new offering and prevent it being seen as a simple cash-in.  

In the long term, things get even more interesting.  The new HBX partnerships could be the beginning of a symbiotic relationship between traditional universities and online and distance education.  Imagine you're Johnny Freshman and you got shut out of a required course for your major, or you're interested in something your school doesn't have strong offerings in -- for a small fee, you can get CREDIT for distance learning courses at top universities.  This could be the beginning of true education customization.

Of course, this is early days yet, and a lot of things could still go wrong -- but Harvard's initiative here is bold and smart, and will probably pay dividends very quickly in the rapidly evolving world of online education.

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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.

Monday, February 09, 2015

How to choose between HBS and Stanford

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One of the most interesting parts of Bloomberg’s new poll analysis, which explores what students choose when trying to decide between two schools, is how much students are currently favoring Stanford over Harvard. This is obviously a huge change from 20 or even five years ago, and really shows how landscape is shifting. That said, the choice may not be as cut and dried as it seems from those numbers.

When you’re talking about deciding between offers from two schools as prestigious as Harvard and Stanford, rankings really should not enter into the debate. Both are obviously top programs, enough said. There are, however, some important factors you can use to decide between the two, should you be fortunate enough to get offers from both.

Go to Stanford if:

You are interested in entrepreneurship. Of course, this is the most obvious reason to choose Stanford over Harvard. This is also not as clear-cut a choice as it once was. Boston has an exceptional startup scene now, and the rock Center accelerator program offer substantial scholarships and in some cases loan assistance. But, Silicon Valley was and is the absolute heart of the innovation economy, so Stanford is still the best place for entrepreneurs.

You want to focus on your soft skills. Touchy-feely is not just a class a Stanford, it’s a way of life. Intense group therapy are not words you usually hear applied to business school classes. Stanford education will not simply teach you how to run a successful business, it wants to teach you how to be a better person.

You like the weather. Okay, obviously this is a little reductive, but hear us out, because the weather is not just the weather. A warm, welcoming, open environment, both physiologically and socially, is exactly what some people need to do their best work. On the other hand, people who are more introverted might not like that experience.

Go to Harvard if:

You want to work in a place or industry that recruits there. Again, this might seem obvious, or it might seem like a wash. After all, most top companies recruit at both Stanford and Harvard.  Yes and no.  The fact is, Harvard has been around a long time, and has been on top for a long time. The school has established relationships with certain companies, coming in and going out. So if you’re looking for that more traditional track to certain positions of power in Private Equity, banking or politics, Harvard is a better choice.

You want a degree that will travel. The old cliché about Harvard students (that they like to say they went to school in Boston) is true. There’s also a good reason for it. People treat you differently when they know you went to Harvard.  That is more true of Harvard than any other school. And while you might not want to intimidate friends and random acquaintances, if you do a lot of overseas work, or if you plan on changing jobs, careers or fields more than once throughout your life, it's probably the place for you.  Having Harvard on your resume changes the entire rest of your career in a way that no other degree does.

You are focused on achievement. Harvard is not known as a place to make close friends, although that can sometimes happen.  The cluster structure and the rigorous first-year curriculum mean that you will be working pretty darn hard, and you might not like all the people you’re working with. However, if you like working hard, if you’re at your best when you’re being pushed and challenged to get everything done, this can be the perfect warm-up for high achieving career. Just get ready to kiss a lot of free time goodbye, if you had any to begin with!

Those are the most important reasons we would suggest you choose Stanford over HBS, or vice versa. There are many many more, but they won’t all fit in a blog post, so feel free to contact us if you have questions.

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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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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.


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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Well regarded in the rankings and in the hearts of applicants everywhere, Harvard's GSD inaugurates our new series of top Architecture Graduate programs.

By Ben Feuer


•  Ranked #1 overall and #1 in design in DesignIntelligence’s 2014 top architectural program rankings.

•  History.  The world’s oldest landscape architecture program (1893) and urban planning program (1900) are both Harvard.

•  Strong focus on design and theory

•  Experiential learning opportunities and recruiting visits from top firms.

•  Programs and initiatives including a Joint Center for housing studies, a program for Islamic architecture, and nine labs.


Start by filling out an inquiry form.  It’s a great way to introduce yourself to the program and formally announce your interest.

The application will be available in the fall.   Deadline to apply is December 15, 2014.

Submitting through the online system is required. Applicants may not send application materials to the GSD through the mail.

You must submit transcripts, GRE, and three letters of recommendation.  For international students, TOEFL is required.  All programs except M.UP require a portfolio. 

Students may concurrently pursue two degrees offered by the GSD. Often concurrent degrees are completed with two of our professional degree programs (MArch I, MLA I, MUP). If you apply to more than one program, you will need to submit a separate application fee and form for each program and must be admitted into each degree program independently.

An applicant may apply a maximum of three times to the same GSD degree program.

The GSD does not accept transfer credits for work completed at another institution.

For more information, check out the GSD’s website or contact us via the links above.