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Stanford continues to have one of the toughest essays in all of MBA admissions.  Here are our tips on how to attack it. 

What matters most to you, and why? (750 words)

  • The best examples of Essay 1 reflect the process of self-examination that you have undertaken to write them.
  • They give us a vivid and genuine image of who you are—and they also convey how you became the person you are.
  • They do not focus merely on what you've done or accomplished. Instead, they share with us the values, experiences, and lessons that have shaped your perspectives.
  • They are written from the heart and address not only a person, situation, or event, but also how that person, situation, or event has influenced your life. 

My favorite responses to Stanford’s What Matters Most question are always the ones where the candidate really digs down deep and reveals a personal journey that he or she went on—one that created change in his or her life and the lives of those around them. 

The setting? On or off the job—it doesn’t matter. Why? Because the personal always affects the professional and the professional always affects the personal. They are inextricably linked and anyone who says otherwise has simply never been what I like to call “a 24-7 leader”—and that’s what Stanford GSB, or any top business school, is looking for.

Leadership is a way of being, something you come to through a challenging experience that you take on despite your fears or even because of them. And that’s how you zero in on what to write about for Stanford’s prompt:  What Matters Most to You and Why?

Search for SPECFIC moments in your life wherein you had to:

1)   Step Up—formally or informally, elected, chosen or volunteered.

2)   Stay the course -- despite everything falling apart around you or working against you.

3)   Race against the clock—be it three months, three weeks, three days.

4)   Organize and motivate a group—not just something you did all by yourself, because managing others is key.

5)   Leave something behind -- Change the way things go from now on with that circumstance. 

Out of these comes what matters most to you.  (Don’t forget to write “what matters most to me is…” You’d be surprised by how many people leave this crucial line out. Even if it’s obvious, writing these words in your response says “I respect the admissions committee enough to be clear and to the point.”) 

In short, my favorite—and most successful—“What Matters Most To You and Why?” responses are always based on a defining moment in your past that changed the way you think about yourself and the world. Then the essay pivots from that story to how the insight you gained from that defining moment has driven some recent accomplishment—personally or professionally.

Why Stanford?  (350 words)

  • Please explain why Stanford is your first choice of MBA program, and how you will make use of the unique opportunities it provides.

This is a classic 'why our school' prompt -- check out our previous blog on how to answer these questions concisely and effectively.

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Applying for an MBA is a big, complicated process.  If you are applying in round two, it means that you can't afford to get anything wrong, because you do not want to slip to round three.  Here are some key things you should be thinking about to prepare. 

Are you rounding out any ongoing leadership commitments?  If you started something earlier in the year, is it close to completion?  If not completion, how about a milestone, something you can point to as a concrete sign of progress?  Metrics always help here.  If you don’t have any, think about how you might be able to get some.

Have you made initial contact with your recommenders?  Although it’s WAY too soon to be bugging your recommenders, it is NOT too soon to be having a preliminary conversation to feel out their eagerness to BE recommenders.  Feel them out in a casual conversation.  Get a sense of how much work they’re going to want to do, and how much will be on your shoulders.  Find out if they plan to be away or traveling at any point, to protect yourself from future faux pas.

Have you thought about your goals?  Most candidates have a general idea of what they want to do with their MBA (although some don’t even have that!), but wherever you are right now with your thinking about goals, you want to push it to the next level.  If you haven’t narrowed it down to one goal, do so.  If you have one goal, what is transformative about it (for the world, not just for you)?  In other words, why should be be excited?  What are you going to do better, or differently?

Are you satisfied with your GMAT?  If so, great, on to the next problem.  If not, do you already know when you are planning to retake?  Have you blocked out time to study?  Have you chosen a test location that will feel safe and comfortable, and protected the week before you have to take the test?  You don’t want last minute bombshells falling in your lap.

Have you blocked out time to visit schools?  Top schools are competitive, and class visits and admissions info sessions fill up fast.  If you can possibly manage it, you should be planning to visit all of your target schools, because it demonstrates interest and strengthens your essays.  To make the most out of your visit, NOW is the time to think about all the problems that might arise.

Have other questions about your application?  Just ask us!

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Chicago Booth has only one essay for first-time applicants this year, and it is their traditional open-ended question.  How should you approach it?

Chicago Booth values adventurous inquiry, diverse perspectives, and a collaborative exchange of ideas.  This is us. Who are you?  There is no prescribed minimum or maximum length.  We trust that you will use your best judgment in determining how long your submission should be, but we recommend that you think strategically about how to best allocate the space.  Acceptable formats are PDF, Word and Powerpoint.

Give Booth some credit.  Before the 'no-page-limit', 'open-ended' prompt was adopted by HBS (and suddenly, shockingly became all the rage) they firmly held to this approach year after year.  Other essays would come and go, but Booth's open-ended essay has been around for a long time.

That's not to say there have not been changes.  Booth used to constrain the length to 4 Powerpoint Slides or pages, which naturally gave rise to a certain kind of storytelling (Stern still does this).  Now, of course, since Booth has eliminated this requirement, it would be a bad idea to repurpose a Stern essay for Booth -- too obvious.  Likewise, just because HBS has you writing open-ended essays now does not mean that you can just reuse the sentiments (or worse yet, the entire essay) for Booth.  Quite frankly, Booth and HBS are not concerned with the same things, and a fit for one school will not be the same as for another.

Also, do not underestimate the value of a good multimedia presentation!  Most people look at multimedia as 'a lot of work' or 'not in their wheelhouse'.  Well, yeah, that's exactly the point.  By going that extra mile, securing some help with your multimedia component, and putting together something well thought out that takes good advantage of the medium, you will already be setting your candidacy apart from dozens of others in your bucket.  You want differentiation?  This is your chance.

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

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Top Architecture Graduate Programs – Yale

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Yale's outstanding graduate architecture program offers remarkable flexibility for students with previous work experience, as well as opportunities for those interested in environmental impact.


•  Ranked #2 overall in DesignIntelligence’s 2014 top architectural program rankings.
• Offers several program options, a three year pre-professional and a two year post-professional M. Arch as well as a joint M. Arch / MBA and a Masters of Design
•  A fundamentals-driven approach — Yale believes that architecture is a palpable art form, not a CAD tutoring program.
• Collaboration with the school of forestry and environmental studies for sustainable design.
• A dedicated urban design workshop, founded in 1992.


Start by registering for an open house to become better acquainted with the program.  You can choose which faculty members you would like to meet.
The application is available here.   Deadline to apply is January 2, 2015.
The application system is online only.  Do not send materials to the school directly.
You must submit transcripts, GRE, a current CV, and three letters of recommendation.  At least one recommender should have direct knowledge of the applicant’s professional potential and academic ability.  For international students, TOEFL is required.  All programs except M.UP require a portfolio — an optimized PDF of under 64MB, 150DPI.  No video.
An essay, not exceeding one page, that includes a brief personal history and reasons for applying is required and must be uploaded to the online application.  Take note that this is also where you mention if you are a minority.

For more information, check out Yale’s website or contact us.

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University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration is one of the top social work schools in the world.  Here's how you can get in.

U. Chicago School of Social Service Administration

Weighted Ranking #1, #3 US News, #1 Goucher.

Why to Go

The University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration offers an “AM” degree, equal to an MSW but adding interdisciplinary theory and research, leading to even greater career flexibility after graduation.

After completing the core curriculum, students focus on clinical practice or social administration. The school offers 9 programs of study that allow students to specialize their degree, but 60% of graduate students create their own specialization through related electives and internships. The diversity of course and internship offerings are among the best in the nation.

Chicago also offers part time, 15 month accelerated and extended evening programs.

How to Go

Applications are accepted between September 1 and April 1, but it is strongly recommended to apply by the December 1 Round 1 deadline or the January 15 Round 2 Deadline.

You will need Three Letters of Recommendation. References should be qualified to discuss your aptitude for both graduate study and social work.

Current undergraduates or recent graduates must include at least two academic references;
15-Month Accelerated Program applicants must include two academic references;
Transfer students and 15-Month Accelerated Program applicants must include a reference from a current or recent practice professor or field instructor who can evaluate your performance in field placement or submit a final field evaluation;
Applicants who are or recently have been employed must include one reference from an employment supervisor. Ask your professional references to speak to your analytic and critical thinking skills.

For both the Master’s and Doctoral Programs: Candidate's Statement. Those applying to the Master’s Program must write a 4-page, double-spaced statement that addresses all of the following:

a social problem and how a direct practice or policy intervention might provide a way to engage that problem; specific short and long term personal goals; and  how a social work education at SSA provides a way to achieve those goals.

For more coaching on how to write this personal statement, check out our blog on the subject.

GRE scores are not required for the masters program.

Campus visits are strongly recommended.


Like what you're reading? Want to learn more? Contact one of our experts right now and get a free evaluation of your candidacy!

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Looking for that coveted 'admit' from your top MBA program of choice?  You'll need great essays.  Here are the five most important tips to remember.

By Ben Feuer

So, we here at Forster-Thomas have useful info all over our site about prompts, deadlines and best practices for particular schools and MBA essays.  But what if you're looking for something more basic, like how to approach MBA essay writing in general?  Well, we did write a book.  But say you're impatient -- which considering you're reading this on the internet, is a safe bet.  Here's the Cliff Notes version -- what you really MUST remember when writing your MBA essays.

1.  Show leadership.

So simple to read, so complicated to pull off.  There are two components there.  The first is leadership -- which means getting people other than yourself to work in conjunction with you toward a shared goal that you came up with.  One specific time when you transformed an organization or created one, a time when you were the first or the best at something important.  It can be professional but it does not have to be.  What it does have to be is SHOWN.  Walk us through leadership experiences step by step.

2.  Assume you are worthy.

Too many candidates try to use their essays to make up for perceived weaknesses in their candidacy.  Don't bother.  Schools will reject you outright long before they read your essays if they deem you unworthy of attending -- in fact, that's how the first 30-50% of applicants get cut.  If they are bothering to read your essays, it means you're worthy.  So focus on differentiation.

3.  Speak plainly and concisely.

Don't try to impress people with your fancy words and 'smarty-pants' writing -- you will just end up annoying them.  This is not a business document, and it is not for your boss or your savvy client to read.  Write as you would to a 7th grader who knows nothing about what you do except the absolute basics.  Spell out all your acronyms and define all your unusual terms.  Avoid run-on sentences, weasel wording (google it) and irrelevant horn-tooting.

4.  Read and answer the question.

Another simple one that oh so many candidates whiff on.  Read the prompt, word for word, and then read it again until you are SURE you know exactly what it is asking of you.  Don't be a politician, twisting their words to fit your agenda.  Answer honestly and directly, then use that answer as a springboard to tell an interesting, relevant story.

5.  Proofread your essays -- out loud.

This is an awesome trick that almost nobody actually does.  Print your essays out, stand in front of a mirror and read them to yourself.  I guarantee you will catch at least 4 typos.  Plus, if you stumble over a sentence or a concept confuses you, rewrite it.  If you're having trouble saying it, it's because you're having trouble reading it.


So there you go, essay writing 101!  For much much more information on this topic, including answers to specific questions and prompts, check out our blog or contact us directly!

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Forster-Thomas takes a peek inside this year's LBS application and gives you insight on how to answer their questions.

By Ben Feuer

What are your post-MBA plans and how will your past experience and the London Business School programme contribute? (500 words)

This is a textbook 'goals' essay. Check out our previous posts on goals, or our book, for a sense on how to approach this. 

How will you add value to the London Business School community? (300 words)

This is another part of the same goals essay, focusing on your contributions to the school. Read our previous posts, and remember to use specific stories drawn from your life to support the points you make about yourself.

Is there any other information you believe the Admissions Committee should know about you and your application to London Business School? (400 words)

The prompt is completely open-ended, which means you can discuss anything you have not discussed elsewhere.  One strong approach is to focus on a 'defining moment' and how it shaped you as a person – it can be something that happened on the job, but often the strongest examples of these essays come from digging deep and getting personal – talking about real, meaningful challenges you face with family or friends. You can also consider using this for additional leadership material, or discussing diversity experiences, or talking about your values.


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

Monday, September 29, 2014

What should my recommenders talk about?

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Whether you are applying to an MBA, MFA or medical school program, you are probably wondering what to ask your recommenders to write about you.  Here's the answer.

By Ben Feuer

We've all lived through it -- the intimidating moment when your boss says, "You know I love you, Bob.  Just tell me what you want me to write for your recommendation and I will."  As if applying to school wasn't hard enough without this --

Never fear!  Although it sounds like a lot of work (and it is), there is a proven strategy for success that you can use.  This formula applies to any recommendation for any kind of school, and is easy to follow.

1.  Get the prompts.

The first thing you will have to do is get the prompts that your employers/peers/beach buddies will be answering.  After all, you don't want to write 500 words when they need 500 characters!

2.  Come up with three traits.

Choose three traits that you feel elevate you above your peers -- things that make you among the strongest in your peer group.  For every trait you select, pick one or two stories that exemplify this trait.  These should be stories where you added value to an organization or a relationship, cases where you went beyond your job description, or situations where you were the first or the best at something relative to your peers.  They should be stories your recommender remembers well.

Avoid using traits like hard-working, smart, competent, dependable -- these are extremely common, extremely bad choices that merely highlight how able you are to perform your current job, not how ready you are to take on the next one.  Here are some possible traits --


3.  Think about your weaknesses -- carefully.

Writing the positive side of the recommendation is the easy part.  Writing about your weaknesses is a little trickier, only because there are a few pitfalls to avoid.  First, don't universalize your weaknesses.  Confine them to specific instances and situations, just as you did with your strengths.  If they were corrected, explain, using examples to show how you have evolved since the 'old days'.  Second, avoid weaknesses that are too damning (uncontrollable temper or depression, resistance to authority, violence) or too lame (too hard-working, too eager to please).

One of the main tricks to writing a great 'weakness' recommendation is showing how you handle and internalize any feedback you are given, so be sure and give a lot of detail, more than you think you need, on how you respond to criticism and how you incorporate it into your behavior moving forward.


So there you have it!  Hopefully, this has made recommendations a bit less intimidating for you.  If you still have questions, feel free to contact me and ask!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A primer on law school price cuts

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Law schools around the country are beginning to cut their sticker prices in response to declining applications.  Here are some of the schools that have taken the plunge.

By Ben Feuer


Admit it.  You thought the day would never come.  Nevertheless, here it is.  The number of applicants to law school has slid from more than 87,500 in 2010 to about 54,500 as of this month, according to the Law School Admission Council.

The Wall Street Journal has an article on how law schools are finally cutting their tuition in response to a dearth of applications year after year.  As more and more students flee to the seemingly more lucrative pastures of the MBA and Medical degrees, Law school is (belatedly) trying to make itself more competitive again.

And now, for your further edification, here are some of the programs that have cut tuition recently -- see if any of them look like a fit for you.

UNIVERSITY OF IOWA COLLEGE OF LAW -- US News #27 -- Cut 16.4% to $21,965 for residents or
$39,500 for non-residents.

ROGER WILLIAMS SCHOOL OF LAW -- US News Unpublished -- Cut 28% to $42,130

UNIVERSITY OF LA VERNE SCHOOL OF LAW -- US News Unranked -- Cut 22% to $39,900

UNIVERSITY OF TOLEDO SCHOOL OF LAW -- US News #140 -- Cut 13% to $17,900 in state,
$31,074 out of state.

UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA JAMES E ROGERS SCHOOL OF LAW -- US News #40 -- Cut as much as 39% to $24,381 per year (in-state) and full-time: $38,841 per year (out-of-state)

OHIO NORTHERN UNIVERSITY'S PETTIT COLLEGE OF LAW -- US News Unpublished -- Cut 21% to $33,684


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

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IESE's addition of a Social Entrepreneurship elective marks another milestone in the trend's growth across Europe and the Americas. 

By Ben Feuer

Today, IESE announced a new elective that focuses on social entrepreneurship -- this joins the already existing Center for Social Innovation and expands IESE's course offerings in this area.  It also marks yet another milestone in nearly ten years of ascendancy for this hot trend.

In America, of course, social entrepreneurship has been a hot button topic for years.  Harvard, Stanford and Kellogg have lead the way with large-scale and innovative programs that continue to gather steam.

In Europe, the trend has been growing steadily, if also more slowly.  In January 2003, ESSEC became the first school in France to offer a center of excellence for social entrepreneurship.  Oxford's Said Business school has the Skoll Center, paid for by a co-founder of eBay. London Business School has been somewhat slower on the uptake, but they do have electives, as well as a joint initiative with Haas that offers $50,000 in prize money.  IE was also honored as a top sustainability school in 2011, and has continued to grow in that arena.  Now IESE has joined the party, rounding out nearly all of the top European schools.

So what does this mean for people currently applying to b-school?  That depends.  If you are not interested in social entrepreneurship, don't feel that you have to trumpet whatever do-gooder habits you may have casually picked up along the way to appear more attractive to these top schools -- believe me, you won't fool anybody, and you're much better off being yourself.  On the other hand, if you have a genuine and demonstrable interest -- IE, one you can prove through your past actions -- this classic Poets and Quants article will give you more than enough information to chew on.


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