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With all the great articles being written and published every single day, how do you know which ones are worth your time? Fortunately, you have us to comb through and pull out the most interesting tidbits of the week. And here they are! 

The beleaguered field of legal education suffers another body blow in this fascinating Bloomberg article. The graphics clearly show that law students with very little chance of securing high-paying jobs wind up paying more for their degrees than the more desirable high-LSAT students.  If you have any intention of going to law school, get that LSAT up.


New Jersey will be getting its first private medical school, and Seton Hall will be its location. This story has continued to develop over the past few weeks, and so far everybody seems to be on board. Of course, this is still many years away, but for those of you who will not be applying to medical school for another few years, this is worth keeping your eye on.


Senators Lamar Alexander and Michael Bennet have proposed a re-instatement of the year-round Pell Grant for students who want to finish college in three years instead of four.  For those of you who continue to struggle with how to finance your degrees, this should be something you get out there and support. Perfect or not, is one more way for you to get your education financed.


A fascinating piece about the day we lost sight of what “Liberal Arts” meant.  We at Forster-Thomas work on the practical side of admissions for the most part, helping people get into their dream schools, but we do enjoy musing about the overall direction of higher education from time to time.  This article explores in depth how the pursuit of the almighty dollar may have limited the potential of a college education in recent years.


As always, if you have questions about your upcoming college or graduate school application, let us know – we’ll be happy to help!

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What can I say? We're psychic.  The day after we post a blog about the importance of problem-solving and creative thinking to graduate schools and employers, Rotman School of Management in Toronto has put their money where their mouth is by offering a free ride to the student who can untangle a complicated situation using basic business principles.

The Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto is Canada's #1 business school. Rotman ranks among the Top 10 in North America. In 2013, Poets and Quants awarded former Rotman dean Roger Martin as Dean of the Year.  What does all this mean?  Long story short, an MBA from Rotman is about as good as it gets – – except, of course, a free MBA! The topic details are up on Rotman's website today, so you can begin preparing immediately. They even provided videos of winners in previous years for you to review.  The rest of the deadlines and awards are listed below. 

Happy hunting!  And if you want a few professional pointers on how to ace this kind of problem-solving challenge, drop us a line and we'd be happy to advise you.

Key Dates

January 23: Topic Details Distributed – Stay tuned to the Rotman Problem Solving Challenge website for details on how to submit your answer the question!! 
February 6: Registration Deadline (Written Submissions Due) 
February 20: Presentation Invitations Sent to Top 100 Submissions 
March 28-29: Problem Solving Challenge 


The top individuals with the highest cumulative scores will receive the following: 
First overall wins a full tuition scholarship valued at $90,000
Second overall wins a $60,000 scholarship
Third overall wins a $40,000 scholarship
Fourth overall wins a $30,000 scholarship
Fifth overall wins a $20,000 scholarship
Top individual presentation wins a $10,000 scholarship
Top individual written submission wins a $5,000 scholarship
The top groups with the highest group scores will receive the following:
First place group wins $5,000 per team member
Second place group wins $3,000 per team member
Third place group wins $2,000 per team member
Fourth place group wins $1,000 per team member

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It has become a truism in contemporary America that college students believe they are more prepared for the workplace than they actually are, according to their employers.  Whatever you might feel about vanishing on-the-job training and outrageous demands for entry-level work experience, the fact is that employers, and not students, decide where to set the bar.  Therefore, it is extremely important, both for getting your first job and for getting into graduate school, that you demonstrate a track record of the qualities employers want to see.  Here are a few big ones.

Problem Solving.  Most college courses expect you to listen to a limited range of problems and apply prescribed solutions to them.  The working environment, as students quickly find out, is an altogether different animal.  Tasks are open-ended, not self-contained.  Measurements of job performance are unscientific and qualitative — does your boss ‘feel’ like you did a good job?  When applying to graduate school, it is very important to use your essays, particularly those with a leadership or accomplishment angle, to demonstrate your ability to proactively find solutions to entrenched problems.  No one is going to be impressed by you doing precisely what was expected of you.  They will, however, be impressed by you seeing a problem, taking the initiative and solving it, despite whatever obstacles stood in your way.

Perseverance.  In college, if you’re not doing well in a class, you can appeal to a professor, leave a class and not bother with it, or find any number of other ways around the problem.  In the workforce, when you’re presented with a problem, walking away is not an option.  They expect solutions.  In your essays, be prepared to write candidly about mistakes you have made, failed approaches to solving a particular problem.  Then explain how you were able to adapt and ultimately overcome the difficulties you faced.

Comfort with people. 
Another thing conventional colleges do not train students in is how to most effectively collaborate with peers, bosses and employees — since the approach for each is different.  Some students are naturally thoughtful, inquisitve and courteous, but others, especially those with STEM backgrounds, may not be.  Between college and graduate school, it is expected that you will pick up on some of the basics of ‘getting along’ with others.  To be a strong leader, of course, you need to be able to motivate others in pursuit of a shared goal.  This is another vital aspect of any great leadership essay.

Of course, these are only a few of the many qualities employers and graduate schools look for in students, but they are some of the most important.  So start thinking about how you can adapt your leadership essays to highlight one or more of these qualities!

Got more questions?  Email us!

Friday, January 16, 2015

How to get a Judicial Clerkship

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Many law students aspire to become judicial clerks. Aside from the prestige, it can lead to great career opportunities. But clerkships are extremely competitive.  How can you maximize your chances of success? Read on and find out.

The clerkship hiring process is cyclical. Currently, according to the experts, it is in a state of non-regulation.  Practically, that means that the process of applying for clerkships is much less predictable than it was 10 or 20 years ago. That said, the judiciary has not suffered from the same shrinkage of positions that top law firms have, so clerkships are still very desirable. What does this all add up to? A highly competitive landscape for clerkships, that’s what. So if you’re planning to apply to law school, what can you do to make yourself more attractive to judges and more likely to land a clerkship before graduating?

Your preparation begins long before you apply.  Clerkships take into account all of your previous work experience, including internships and jobs.  If you have prior experience in government or in clerical work, that helps.  If you have demonstrated an interest in administrative or criminal law, that helps too. If you are still in school when you apply, include any future positions you have accepted (e.g., “prospective summer associate”).  If you have already graduated from law school and have a job, that can actually be an advantage! Incoming law clerks who have prior federal experience may be eligible to match their highest previous rate of federal pay within the grade for which they qualify. 

Note that not all classes are created equal. Although it’s very important to have strong grades overall if you plan to land a clerkship, it is extra important to have strong grades in classes taught by professors with ties to judges.

Be flexible in where you apply, and when. Many students struggle to find a clerkship because they are too restrictive in where they are willing to live. Be as flexible as possible when it comes to location; there are judges everywhere in America. If you cannot be flexible with your location, for example for family reasons, then at least offer flexibility in terms of timing. One of the unusual things about clerkships is that they hire years in advance, so you might be applying this year for a job three years from now. The more you can hold open future years, the more likely you are to get a position. By the way, this does not just apply to when you are in law school. Even after you graduate, you have anywhere from 3 to 5 years to continue applying to clerkships, which means your flexibility may extend even further than that. Think about it!

Make sure your applications are perfect. There are many things you’re not going to be able to control by the time you’re actually applying: your grades, your work history, your relationships. But there still a lot of things you can control.  Have you checked and double checked for typos? Have you really thought about and personalized your cover letter? People read them! Highlight relevant experience in your resume, particularly if you have more content than fits easily on a single page.

For more info check out these useful posts as well, or contact us.



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A recent trend in teaching, the flipped classroom offers greater interactivity and a more dynamic classroom experience.  But for international students and those hailing from more complex backgrounds, the system also presents challenges.  How can you shape your application to take advantage of these new challenges?

In 2007, Colorado high school teachers Jonathan Bergman and Aaron Sams were tired of sick students missing lectures and falling behind in class, so they decided to take advantage of technology to rectify the situation.  They began taping their lectures and posting them online for all their students to see.  The lectures became very popular online, and Bergman and Sams realized that without intending to, they had stumbled on a new form of pedagogy – the flipped classroom

So what exactly is it?  It’s pretty simple.  In a flipped classroom, students spend their class time doing workshops and ‘homework’ and the professor serves as a guide to help them learn.  At home, the students are expected to watch lecture videos and review the baseline material they will need to perform the workshops in the following class.

The advantages of the system are fairly obvious – it makes class time more interactive and increases student engagement, and saves professors from having to repeat the same twenty-five power-points over and over and over again.  But the flipped classroom also makes a unique set of demands on prospective students.  As more and more medical and business schools make use of this teaching method, it’s important for you to understand what kind of student excels in a flipped classroom, so that you can (hopefully) embody those principles in your application!

To be clear, we’re not suggesting you USE any of this terminology in the essay.  But if you are aware of the qualities that make flipped classroom students successful, you should be able to find ways to integrate that naturally into your essays, short answers and interview responses.

Leadership.  Many students from international and conventional American scholastic backgrounds are used to being champion followers.  It’s how they got top marks, how they stood out from their peers, and how they earned praise.  Top American business and medical schools, however, are not looking for that kind of student anymore.  They are looking for a strong follower who has also demonstrated leadership capabilities.

Showing leadership in an essay is not hard – leadership is, simply put, any time you are building consensus or guiding a team in pursuit of a shared vision and overcoming obstacles – but living leadership in a meaningful way is, for some students, a major challenge.  If you are serious about Stanford, Harvard and Columbia, start seeking out leadership opportunities nearby, either at work or with volunteer societies.  Think in terms of group leadership rather than individual leadership.

Initiative.  Success in a flipped classroom comes to the student who is not afraid to carry ideas beyond what the professor initially hands down.  Independent thinking and research serve you well in an environment where you are expected to perform in front of your peers and your professor.

When you are crafting your application, writing your essays and thinking about what you’ve accomplished in your life up to this point, try to find times in your life when you sought out new challenges or invented them.  Look for opportunities you were able to exploit that others missed out on or gave up on.  The more natural initiative you display, the more successful you will be in a flipped classroom.

Teamwork.  In a flipped classroom, all the students learn together, as a unit.  The professor acts as a guide but cannot (and will not) correct every slip-up and error.  Therefore, students must create a collegiate atmosphere, helping one another understand challenging concepts and taking the time to review challenging questions.  In other words, it’s not OK to let someone in your workshop fall behind.  Everybody has to come along for the ride as much as possible.

When writing about teamwork, focus on how you teach.  Explain your method, and describe how you are able to adapt it to different people with different styles of learning.  Talk about why you find it rewarding.  Demonstrate a sustained interest in helping and collaborating with your peers.  It will make you not only a more appealing candidate in the classroom, but also in clubs and overall campus environment.


Questions about flipped classrooms?  Flip us an email!

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This exceptionally strong medical school has a focus on primary care and draws most of its class from within the state of North Carolina.  In order to better understand its process and supplementary application, read this blog.

School Nickname: UNC
Median MCAT: 32
Median GPA: 3.75

Dean: William L. Roper.  From 1997 until 2004, Dr. Roper was dean of the School of Public Health at UNC.  Before joining UNC in 1997, Dr. Roper was senior vice president of Prudential HealthCare.  He joined Prudential in 1993 as president of the Prudential Center for Health Care Research.  Before coming to Prudential, Dr. Roper was director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), served on the senior White House staff, and was administrator of the Health Care Financing Administration  (responsible for Medicare and Medicaid).  Earlier, he was a White House Fellow.

More about the school: Also read this

The UNC-Chapel Hill School of Medicine has a special opportunity and responsibility to educate physicians who can help meet the health care needs of our state, the nation and the global community. With a committment to producing outstanding physicians who are well prepared for meeting society's health care needs in the 21st century, they are interested in students who will join them in this mission.

Top Residencies: anesthesiology, obstetrics and gynecology, emergency medicine, orthopaedic surgery, family practice, pediatrics

Application: More here.

Preference is given to North Carolina residents. Consideration is given to each candidate's motivation, maturity, leadership, integrity, and personal accomplishments, in addition to the scholastic record. Reapplications are compared to those previously submitted.

Students should plan to take the MCAT no later than September prior to the year they are planning for matriculation.   For applicants taking the exam for the current 2015 application cycle, the latest scores we will accept will be from September 18, 2014 - there will be no exceptions. In other words, if you are taking the MCAT exam in October, November or December of 2014 for the first time,  you will not be able to use the scores for the 2015 application cycle at our school.

Prescreening: Our prerequisites must be met from an accredited college or university within the United States or Canada to allow eligibility for verification by AMCAS.

Supplemental applications will typically be sent to qualified out-of-state applicants who meet the following academic criteria: science GPA (or BCPM) of >3.49; cumulative GPA of >3.59 and a total MCAT score of 33 or greater.

Required Courses: full list here.   NO SUBSTITUTIONS ALLOWED.
    •    Eight semester hours of general biology
    •    Eight semester hours of general chemistry
    •    Eight semester hours of organic chemistry
    •    Eight semester hours of general physics, biochemistry strongly recommended
    •    Six semester hours in English, three semester hours in behavioral or social sciences
    •    Advanced Placement (AP) courses are accepted as long as they appear on your official transcript. If you have received AP credit for any of the required science courses, we strongly advise you to consider taking advanced level college courses to enhance your academic preparation for medical school.

Secondary Statement Questions:
*Respond to each prompt in no more than 1-2 paragraphs (150 words total).  Short!  Be extremely efficient in your word counts!  Don’t try to discuss more than one subject in any depth.

Prompt 1: We have all tried something and failed, whether it was something big or something small. Describe a situation or an experience you had when you realized that you were not up to the task, and tell us what life-lessons you learned from this experience.

Strong failure essays focus on owning the failure.  What does that mean?  Pretty simple — it means that rather than shifting blame or making a simple situation complicated, take charge from the very beginning, explaining what you did wrong and describing in detail the negative impact it had on yourself AND on others.  It’s not enough for it to just have been a problem for you.  You have to include the impact on those around you.  At the end, devote fifty words to explaining how you have changed as a result of this experience, citing a specific example when you were faced with a similar situation and succeeded.

Prompt 2: Much of medical school education is based on team-learning. What important activity have you accomplished that required a team approach, what
was your role in the outcome, and what did you learn from it?

This prompt is trying to assess how you operate as part of a team, or possibly leading a team.  The most important thing is to be clear up front about what actually happened, what the situation and the context was, so that the reader will understand the story you’re about to tell.  Once you’ve devoted 20 words to the where, why and what, explain your role rather than generally talking about the ‘team’s work’ — be specific as to who did what, and if you had to draw someone out or get someone to focus on a particular element of the job.  Conclude with 25-30 words explaining what you learned from the experience, with a focus on personal transformation.

Prompt 3: Give an example of how you have made a difference in someone's life whether it is a patient, friend, classmate, or a family member and explain what
this experience taught you about yourself.

The trap in this question is to focus too much on the ‘other guy’ — to make the entire answer about the person you were helping.  Remember the committee wants to learn about YOU — so when you speak about the person you helped, do so in a larger context.  How old were you?  What did you expect out of the relationship going in?  How did things turn out differently than you had anticipated?  Save 25-30 words at the end to discuss what you took away about your own personal growth — be specific, citing something you didn’t have or do before that you do now.

Section G: Research Interests (MD/PhD Applicants Only)
Please list your top 5 areas of research interest below. This list will help us determine which research faculty you should meet if you are invited for an interview.

Section H: Re-applicants (MD and/or MD/PhD Applicants)
Prompt 1: Explain why you have decided to reapply. Please respond in no more than 1-2 paragraphs (150 words total).

Focus on what has changed in your application since the previous year, highlighting things that the committee might have otherwise overlooked, particularly soft skills or informal elected leadership positions.
Have more questions?  Email us!

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Looking to finally go for that MBA in 2015-2016?  Happy hunting -- here are a few tips on how to handle your big year before your applications.  Photo by Daniel Zimmermann.

So Christmas is over, you got all your presents – hopefully they were good – and now you’re thinking about two things. One, going back to work on Monday, and two, getting ready for this year’s b-school applications if you’re planning to apply in 2015. Now some of you may be thinking, but I’m not even done with 2014-2015 applications!  Fair enough. But the fact is, the type of candidates who will be getting acceptance letters to Harvard, Stanford, and Wharton in October are the same type of candidates who are thinking right now, what should I be doing to strengthen my position before the mid-summer rush of procrastinators hits?

We are so happy you asked. This year, instead of resolving to burn off or bulk up that 15 pounds nobody’s going to notice anyway (did you miss All About that Bass?), or swearing up and down you’ll finally read “This is How You Lose Her” (such a downer!) Forster-Thomas has put together five New Year’s resolutions that are not only good for you, they’re great for your chances of getting into business school to. So read on, and find out what they are!

  1. Up your GMAT.  Some of you may not have taken practice tests yet, and some of you have taken practice tests but not exams.  But for those of you who already have a score, and did not get the 700+, 80th percentile quantitative you were after, resolve this year to improve that score – and not to beat yourself up if you can’t. It isn’t the end of the world … as long as you give yourself the time to adjust.  There are other things you can do to make up for the numbers gap, like taking additional quantitative coursework on the side. As long as you give yourself time. Which is why, your New Year’s resolution number one should be to work on that GMAT.
  2. Create leadership opportunities. A lot of you out there have been making excuses for a long time. Your excuses sounds something like this. “Oh, my job takes up so much of my time and energy, I just haven’t had the chance to take on many extracurricular activities since college!” Well guess what, Mary Jane – those extra hours you spent partying and someone else spent volunteering, or better yet creating volunteer opportunities for others, may well be the difference maker in September. So step one is to stop telling yourself you’re too busy. You’re not. Step two is to think about where you are already involved – are you currently volunteering somewhere on a part-time basis? Is it something you could scale up? Almost every volunteer organization needs good business thinkers. Fundraising, organizational, and logistical challenges abound at most nonprofits. And guess what? You are well-trained to help them with those things. If you don’t currently have any extracurriculars worth mentioning, it’s time to find one. And if you can’t find one, maybe it’s time to create one of your own.
  3. Target your schools. One thing that you can start doing right now while you are still on break is researching what’s out there in terms of b-schools. Yeah, I know you know that Harvard, Booth, Kellogg, and whatever that school is out in California are pretty exciting destinations. But what you know about Vanderbilt, INSEAD and Emory?  And those schools that you’ve got your heart set on -- what do you really know about them, other than their US news ranking? Differentiation is not just for candidates, it’s also for schools. The better you understand what makes your target school special, the more likely you are to get in. So get out there, meet alumni and current students, set up a campus visit when you have free time, and do all the reading you can on useful websites like Bloomberg and Poets and Quants.
  4. Prep your workspace. Nope, not talking about your desk, Milton. Every business school requires at least two recommenders. Some require three. Have you thought about who you’re going to choose? Are you making sure that the work you’re doing for them is really standout? Are you seeking opportunities to lead and make a difference at work?  I hope so, because they’re not going to come to you. You have to find them.  If you are due for a title bump or a promotion, do you have a timetable for when it’s coming? Do you have an exit strategy so that you don’t leave your employers hanging? Although it’s too soon to be having any specific conversations, it’s definitely not too soon to be laying the groundwork for those conversations.
  5. Get some help. Naturally, you have a lot of things on your mind. But when you’re talking about business school, you’re talking about your professional future. What could be more worthy of your time and attention than that? So make sure that you are getting the help you need to understand and prepare for the process. Talk to friends who have been through it.  Discuss your plans with your family and loved ones. And not to toot our own horn, but we do have a pretty awesome Leadership Action Plan, which gives you regular professional coaching months or in some cases years in advance. Talk about a leg up!

Anyway, like any good set of New Year’s resolutions, you’re definitely going to end up shame-binging on Haagen Daas one night thinking about how many of these you DIDN’T get to.  And that’s OK, we forgive you.  But if you pull off a bunch of these New Year’s Resolutions, you might find that your 2015 and all your tomorrows just got a whole lot brighter.

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For all of you prospective MBAs about to send in those applications, we made a list and checked it twice to cover all of the little things you might have overlooked.  Check it out and make sure that you haven't left any opportunities on the table.

Do all of your schools have all of your transcripts and your GMAT or GRE scores?
Have you taken the TOEFL, if necessary, and submitted your score?
Are your transcripts official?  Do they have to be?  
Are your transcripts in sealed envelopes?  Are they in English?
Have you converted your high school and college GPAs to 4.0 standards?

Do all of your recommenders know all of the schools you are applying for?
Have you provided an up-to-date resume and bullet points about your strongest characteristics?
Have you followed up to courteously remind them about deadlines and answer any questions they may have?
Have you coordinated any special letters of recommendation you may be receiving, and made certain they are only going to your top choice school?
Do you have a recommendation from your current, direct supervisor?  If not, have you explained why not in your optional essay?

Are you sure you have answered all the essay questions?
Did you answer them at the correct word, page and character counts?
Have you fully answered every question?  Read each prompt closely and address every aspect of every question.  Leave nothing out.
Are your essays too long or too short?  Do you need to add or subtract material anywhere?
Do you need to write an optional essay explaining away grades, test scores or gaps in employment?
Have you double-checked your schools’ formatting and uploading requirements?
If you are repurposing material from one school for another, have you double-checked to make sure you did not accidentally leave in another school’s name?
Have your essays been proofread carefully?

Have you visited every campus you possibly can?
When you visited, did you take careful notes of names, dates and places for later use?
Did you make good use of all your salient research either in your essays or elsewhere in your application?
If you were not able to visit, did you attend an ‘info session’?  Did you ask questions?  Did you take note of who was offering the info session?
Have you spoken to current and former students, received specific and revealing quotes about each of your target schools, and made use of them in your essays?


Have you scheduled an interview for schools that allow you to interview, like Tuck and Kellogg?
Have you begun to practice your interview answers for basic questions like career goals and leadership experiences?
Are you familiar with the common prompts for video essay questions?  Have you thought loosely about answers?  No scripting!

Are all the dates, times and job functions accurate and clear?
Are your descriptions of your work appropriate for b-schools?  Do they highlight leadership and accomplishments rather than job functions and experience?
Is your resume one page?
Are there any formatting inconsistencies?  Has it been proofread?
Do you need to adjust your resume for different schools to account for certain factors (like working with an alum or on a particularly relevant project)?  Have you done so?

Have you skipped over any portions of the application?  if so, return to them now.

Did you answer every short answer question with complete and satisfying detail?  Did you include all the necessary names, dates and places?

Did we miss something?  Let us know!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Twas the night before XMAS ... MBA Edition

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Hey MBAs -- did you spend most of Xmas in your room finishing your round two applications?  We feel your pain -- so we spent our holiday making you a funny video.  Enjoy!  

'Twas the night before Christmas, both silent and clear,
In a house full of transcripts and empty of cheer,
Twas no food in the fridge save a bottle of Jack,
And a half-eaten Shroom burger from the Shake Shack.
John hung up his Armani, Jane her DKNY,
They collapsed into bed with two miserable sighs.
Like their GMAT review books, all beaten and worn,
Both John and Jane wished they had never been born.
And they both thought of nothing but getting their letter
From Kellogg, or Booth, or perhaps someplace better --
Still backed up with work, they had little to say,
Warm under the sheets, they soon drifted away ...

An hour later, John sat up groaning, quite numb
Did I leave those breakevens at the office half done?
And Jane tossed and turned, her locks worn and frayed
Was my primary  recommendation waylaid?
They both stood up yawning and went to their Macbooks.
"We're both being silly.  Let's just have a quick look."
Paranoia assuaged, they both shook their heads,
But moments before they got back into bed --
Buzz buzz!  Went their iPads and laptops and phones --
A blizzard of emails, the senders unknown.
John and Jane sat straight up, as they nervously chattered
and rushed to their phones to see what was the matter.
It was Olin!  And Tuck!  And Ross!  And what's more, son,
The both of them had been admitted to Wharton!

They pranced and they shrieked, they could hardly believe it!
The yeses were coming before they could read em!
A knock at the door?  Who is that at this hour?
Twas Dee Leopold holding a bouquet of flowers!
John and Jane, I bought this for you at the bodega
To your applications, I'm quite proud to say, yeah!
Dee went down on one knee to expound on her love,
But then, crickety-crack! Came a  noise from above.
Like a flash Derrick Bolton shot right down the chimney!
He shook off the coal dust and smiled quite winningly.

I know it's a breach of our protocol, still,
I had to tell both of you how Stanford feels. 
Dee growled, "Derrick, back off -- they're HBS admits!"
Derrick smiled too sweetly.  "You think I give a shit?"
Wharton sent a new email!  To prove we're not kidding
We're offering total tuition remission!
John and Jane, quite ashamed
 begged the deans to stop fighting,
Til another surprise came at them quick as lightning.
An most irksome clanging!  Oh what could it be?
Twas John's old alarm clock,  more's the pity.
For as cruel as it sounds, yes, as cruel as it seems ...
John and Jane realized they were having a dream.
They tried to resist, they tried to remain,
But they failed and awoke with both back and heart pain.

For the rest of the morning, they moved just like zombies.
Tragic indeed are the dreams of what might have been.
John and Jane, don't you worry.  I happen to know
There's a little surprise for you waiting below!
As they scanned their inbox, it cheered them to learn
That year's Goldman bonus had just been determined!
John and Jane smiled, there was no need to fight --
B-school or no, they were doing all right.
And they both shook their heads as they said to each other --

I can't wait for January and this shit to be over.

Friday, December 19, 2014

How to come up with great essay ideas

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For many people, brainstorming great essay topics is more intimidating than actually having to write them!  Here are some tips to get you past the writer's block.

By Ben Feuer

You're a creative person -- most of the time.  But when it comes to choosing a topic for your essay, you're drawing a blank.  You have no idea what to write about -- you don't even know how to DECIDE what to write about!  Don't worry -- you've come to the right place.

Step One: Know your prompt and your word count -- and then forget them.  Ah, Zen.  Let's begin with a contradiction, shall we?  The very first thing you should do when you're trying to answer an essay question is read the prompt, word for word, out loud, at least twice.  Mouth it to yourself if you are super shy but reading aloud is better.  Notice each and every word.  Now look at the word count.  Is it a character count?  Page count?  No limit?  Will you be putting it into a form or sending it as an attachment?  Consider the context of what you're about to write.  Think about it from a reader's perspective.

Now forget all of that.  It will help you later, but for the next step it will only get in your way.

Step Two: Go to the feeling.  Fear, joy, rage -- these are powerful emotions.  And because they're powerful, we tend to avoid them on a day to day basis.  We try to make our lives ordinary.  And that's just fine.  Except when we're setting out to write essays.  Because the number one rule of essay writing is MAKE IT INTERESTING, and it's very hard to get other people excited about a topic that you don't even care about yourself!  So think about times in your life when you were frightened or elated.  Think about the hardest things you ever had to do.

Step Three: Be questioned.  The one essential tool in coming up with ideas is your brain.  Problem is, most people's brains and memories don't work well in a vacuum.  You need to have a conversation with someone who can push you, someone who can ask odd and unexpected questions, rapid fire, to throw you out of your usual patterns of thought.  You have a lot of preconceptions built up inside, and a good interrogation can help break some of them down.

Step Four: Never say no.  As you come up with ideas, your first instinct is going to be to shut yourself and others down.  No, that won't work.  Because of this, or that, or the other thing.  Reject that instinct.  Leave everything on the table.  Explore the corners and contours of your initial thought rather than throw it away.  Try to find aspects of it you didn't consider at first.  And even if you still don't think it works, write it down anyway.

Step Five:  Think like a journalist.  So now you should have a couple pages of ideas.   What do you do with this scrawled list of half-recalled stories?  Who, what, where, why, how, when.  The details of the story you're about to write might be second nature to you, or you might not have thought about them for years.  Either way, you're going to be writing for an audience that does not know anything about you.  So do them a favor and give them something to sink their teeth into.  Before you try to make your essay perfect, just tell the simple facts of the story in 200 words or so, more if you need them.  The purpose of this exercise is to let yourself (and your reader) see clearly what actually happened.  Choose AT LEAST FIVE that you think have some chance at working.

Step six:  Get feedback.  Now that your ideas are fleshed out and legible, go back to your reader.  Ask him or her which of the ideas seems most promising.  Chase down any leads he or she suggests.  Maybe explore this person more, or this side of the story more.

Step seven: Repeat as needed.   People don't like this step much, but it's often necessary.  New parts of your life, new questions you haven't heard.  There is ALWAYS something you haven't considered.  Maybe whatever it is is about to be your next awesome essay topic.

I know this can look kind of overwhelming.  Whatever happens, don't get discouraged.  Take things one step at a time.  Trust me, the process works, we've been doing it for years.  With a little faith and a little honesty, you'll soon have a big menu of ideas to choose from.


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