Article by Ben Feuer, photo by Starmama

It’s that time of year again!  Juniors and seniors are gearing up for college, and we all know what that means – frayed nerves and nails chewed down to nubs.

But not every parent you meet during the admissions season is anxious. There’s also another type, one you know well – in fact, you probably have a couple of good friends who fit this description to a ‘T’. That outspoken activist who’s always rallying the troops at every PTA meeting; she’s one. The high-flying finance Dad who decided to retire young and spend more time with his family; he’s definitely one. You can sum up their attitude to admissions in one word – overconfident.

Don’t get me wrong -- overconfident parents are still great parents: they work hard, get things done, and really love their kids.  The problem is, especially in the heat of college fever, they can sometimes work a little too hard and get a little too much done.

Whatever happens, your job is not to listen to the siren song of these well-meaning ‘authorities’.  Their overconfidence can lead to costly mistakes in the admissions process.  Here at Forster-Thomas, we’ve seen them damage relationships with their kids, reduce those kids’ odds of getting into their dream schools, and drive pretty much everyone up the wall, all without knowing they’re doing anything wrong.

Here are a few telltale warning signs that your friend is an overconfident parent:

Hey, I just had a great idea of what I can do to give Junior an edge at insert dream school.  Just thinking this kind of thing is a problem, because in the vast majority of cases, there is nothing your friend, as a parent, can do to give Junior an edge. Of course, if you tell them that, they smile and say, “Sure, but you don’t understand. I’m different.”  Trust me when I tell you, they are not. The parent’s role in the admissions process is to be supportive, inquisitive, enthusiastic, and to recruit the right partners, both amateur and professional, to support Junior as he gets the job done his way. If you do a great job at that and nothing else, you’ll be doing better than the vast majority of your peers.

Junior's a little shy / unmotivated. I'll fill the gap by being extra motivated, and talking to everybody at the school about how much he loves it and what a great fit he'd be. If I had a nickel for every hour I have spent listening to a frazzled college admissions officer kvetch about overbearing parents, I could start my own mint.  These parents’ efforts are having the opposite effect they intend. They are making their son look incapable, unwilling and unready to go to college, when the fact is he's probably just making room for them because they’re obviously having such a good time 'helping'. It’s OK to prod and propose, but when you’re carrying the banner for your offspring, there’s a problem.

I have a family friend who went to BZT U.  Maybe I'll ask her to write a letter of support.  Is your friend's friend’s name on a building on campus?  Did she pull the dean of Admissions out of a burning building?  Is your friend’s friend Prince, or at least *a* prince? If the answer to these questions is no, then a letter of support is not going to give your friend’s son a boost.  And even if she did know someone fantastically well connected, a letter of support would only help if her son was absolutely committed to going to the school, and the family friend was absolutely committed to her son, by which I mean not recommending anyone else.

I'll become an amateur college expert and save us some money on counseling. Fun fact. Do you know what professional counselors do when their kids are applying to college?  Send them to a counselor. Do you know why? Because they know better than anyone how incapable they are of having a rational, objective take on their own kid’s application.  It’s like communism – great in theory, terrible in practice.  Distance and objective evaluation are at the heart of college admissions.  Only someone with that distance is going to be to able to get the job done right.

I'm a good writer. If I tweak a few of Junior's phrases, here and there, they'll realize what he meant to say.  As an admissions officer, one of the first things you learn to spot are ghostwritten essays (and resumes, and recommendations, and short answers ...)  They stick out like sore thumbs. Schools want to fall in love with your kid. They want to be dazzled by his ideas, his beliefs, his accomplishments, not yours.  Coach if you must, although that too is best left to experts, but don’t meddle with the language, and unless you're an expert copyeditor, don't go through and 'correct' his sentence structure, either.

So what do you do if you know someone like this?

Simple. Take a deep breath, shut your ears and walk away. Sometimes doing nothing is the perfect thing.  Let go and let God. If you don't know how, we can help with that.  

In the end, I promise, you’ll be surprised, charmed and thrilled to learn just how great of a job you did as a parent.



Article by Ben Feuer. Photo by James Jordan.

 

WHAT IS 2+2, ANYWAY? 

Is it an overgrown arithmetic problem? A formula for Noah’s ark?

Yes, but it’s also a highly selective program targeted at undergraduates in their junior year, designed to ‘lock them into’ Harvard Business School two to four years in advance of their attendance.

If you’re a top student, especially if you also happen to be female or an under-represented minority, you’re gonna be a very sexy target for graduate programs. Business school may seem to you like the least attractive option: dull, money-centric, excessively technical, and culturally irrelevant. Plus, it takes years of work experience and total industry commitment to even be considered!

Enter Harvard, always a thought leader, once again attempting to shift the conversation. The 2+2 program is that attempt. 

This program is designed to convince and convert brilliant ‘on the fence’ students, locking them into Harvard’s prestigious business school, HBS, at the ideal age — just when as they might otherwise have gone over to the medical or law schools.

Even if you already know all this, it’s important to remind yourself of it before you think about applying. By understanding the type of student Harvard wants, you can better position yourself in your application.

 

FACTS AND FIGURES 

Here are some statistics that can help give you a sense of the overall landscape of 2+2 admissions. 

The 2+2 program accepts around 110 students each year. The selectivity of the program is around 11 percent

STEM and humanities majors are preferred … however, business majors are accepted every year. In fact, 26 percent of the most recent class were business or economics majors, compared to only 12 percent humanities majors! That said, econ is going to be much more competitive than undergraduate business.

You’ll need great stats. The GRE is an option, but GMAT is still more popular70% of admitted students chose GMAT.

 

FOR BUSINESS MAJORS

~780 GMAT target.

~3.9 GPA target.

 

FOR NON-BUSINESS MAJORS

~750 GMAT target.

~3.7 GPA Target.

 

2+2 is not just for undergraduates.  Many people don’t know this, but candidates from master’s degree programs who have not held a full-time work position (not including law, medical or Ph.D) are also eligible to apply.

 

HOW TO GET IN 

Getting into HBS 2+2 is both the easiest and the hardest thing you’ll ever do. It’s hard because very few people are successful. It’s easy, however, to understand why they’re successful.

Want to know the secret? Here goes —

 

Lead in what you love.

 

2+2 is, at its core, a blank check from Harvard to you. They’re saying to you, “No matter what, we have your back. Now go out and change the world, then come back to us and change it again.”

So you better have at least two key things if you want to get in —

 

1. A proven track record of creating change, in a leadership role.

2. An area of the world, not business, that you are currently focused on changing.

 

Once you know what that is, the rest is simple, at least in theory. The execution can be more of a challenge. You need to reorganize your essays, your resume, your extracurriculars, your potential recommenders, and probably your life, to reflect this new direction you now realize that you have. 

All of these aspects of your candidacy are important, but pay special attention to your recommenders. For younger students like 2+2 applicants, character is incredibly important because there’s less of a track record to look at. So pick recommenders who know you really well, and have known you for a relatively long period of time. Think years, not months. Strong, enduring relationships are a good indicator of success in a program like 2+2, which has 2-4 year gaps between accepting students and reeling them back in.

When it comes to your essays and resume, dwell in the land of the firsts and the bests. What have you done that is different? How did it change you?

There are many potentially compelling extracurricular profiles. Here are a few we’ve seen succeed in the past.

 

•Non-profit founder

•NCAA star athlete

•Major engineering/design competition winner (especially team projects)

•Small-to-medium business founder (revenues up to $50 million)

•Overseas educator

•Anti-poverty crusader

•Early career success in competitive field (entertainment, politics)

•School, class or association president

 

One last tip. Don’t get too hung up on name brands. Harvard’s attitude towards them is lukewarm at best — they want to add brand recognition, not join the back of a conga line. They’ll take a state schooler with extraordinary leadership qualities over a middle of the pack Ivy leaguer every day of the week.

 

WHEN TO APPLY 

The 2+2 applications have only one deadline this year: April 3rd, 2017. Applications are not reviewed on a rolling basis so your application will not be considered until the April 3rd application round.

 

MORE QUESTIONS?

No problem!  Hit us up and we'll be happy to discuss your particular situation and answer any questions you may have, including how competitive you are.




By Ben Feuer, photo by Wonderferret

Hey there, dummy!

Just kidding! As everybody knows, grades and intelligence don't necessarily correlate. That said, if your current goal is to attend a good four-year college, then the whole ‘grades’ thing?  Yeah. It’s gonna factor in.

Fortunately, we've been helping academic ne’er-do-wells right their ships since 1995. There are no magic wands to wave here, and no quick fixes. However, if you’re willing to put in the work, you can definitely find yourself standing on your dream campus in a year or so.

This guide is designed for students who want to go directly into competitive four year schools out of high school. However, there are a number of other options for you to consider as well, including —

• Entering a trade school or joining a professional union
• Taking a gap year
• Enrolling in a two year private or community college with the intention of transferring
• Attending a school with relatively low selectivity, such as a relatively obscure liberal arts college or a non-flagship state school
• Being LeBron James

Each of these options is going to be right for some of you and wrong for others. You (possibly with some professional guidance) are going to have to figure out what works best.

PERFORM A SELF ASSESSMENT


The first step you have to take in any college application is performing a realistic self-assessment. In other words, who the heck are you? And I don’t mean your name, rank or serial number, I mean how should you be seen in comparison to other students like you? What makes you stand out? What have you been up to on the planet that is revolutionary and game changing?

What are your strengths?  Your razor-sharp wit?  Your faith?  Your encyclopedic awareness of The Big Bang Theory?  Overcoming tough obstacles in your personal background to get where you are today?  Are you a savant, brilliant at a few things and terrible at everything else?  Are you a reformed mega-jock now looking to score an academic touchdown?

Now look at your weaknesses. Where did you get your worst grades, and why? Details matter. If you struggled in advanced-level courses, that’s a very different matter from struggling in remedial Algebra. This is the kind of information you’ll address in your so-called supplemental essay, which usually goes in the additional information field, or is uploaded as a separate file.

Get tested for any potential disorders, such as learning disabilities and autism spectrum. This kind of hard evidence can help explain to schools why you struggled so mightily.

BUILD A TARGET SCHOOL LIST

Be smart and realistic about this. Apply to a wide range of colleges — eight’s a good rule of thumb.  Seek out a range of possible partners, from reach schools to safeties. Choose places that you think might respond to your story and your candidacy. Are they a good match in subject matter, goals, faith, ethnicity, geography?  Would they have some reason to value you more highly than other schools?  What about satellite campuses of schools you like, or schools that offer exchanges with schools you like?

Whenever possible, build relationships with professors and administrators. Especially at small schools, this can sometimes make a big difference with borderline candidates.

PROVIDE ALTERNATE EVIDENCE

Believe me, colleges find your transcripts even more boring than you do. The average admissions officer considers a transcript for 30 seconds. 30 seconds. That’s barely the length of a Budweiser spot.

So no one is going over your history with a fine toothed comb. They’re looking for standout highs and lows (A+’s and Ds) and considering where, when and how they were earned. Then they’re making a snap judgement. Can he compete academically with everybody else at my school, or will he be overwhelmed and drop out?

If you have a weak GPA, you need to show that you can stand on an equal academic footing, or at least come close. How? Here are some of the best ways.

• High test scores — ACT, SAT, AP
• Summer school — A’s from quality colleges
• Testing for professional programs, or admission to other selective academic programs

BACK UP YOUR STORY

So hopefully, by now, you know what kind of candidate you are, where your strengths lie and how you’d like to be seen. The trickiest part is finding an elegant way to present this information, showing rather than telling the school who you are.

People judge you by your results and your actions, as well as by the opinions of others they trust. That’s why schools weigh extracurricular activities so heavily. If you’re a subpar student, then you’d better have some really impressive results to draw on from outside the classroom. That doesn’t mean you need to have acted on Broadway or founded a startup. It can simply mean that you grew your chess club from four members to fifteen, or created a template for delivering the school’s morning announcements that is still in use today.

Choose and use your recommenders strategically. Of course, you want people who are very familiar with your work and your personality, but you also want people who are naturally sympathetic to an underdog story. The type of recommender who will fight harder for you because you overcame adversity others didn’t have to face.

ODDS AND ENDS

There is at least one other very important factor to consider — money. Many schools are willing to take on subpar students, as long as they’re prepared to pay full freight.  That’s a lot of cash, so think carefully before reaching for that top tier school. Be sure that you’re going to get good value for your dollar.

Academic reachers should always apply regular decision rather than early decision. That way, you’ll be faced with a talent pool that more closely resembles you.

Have questions? Of course you do. Fortunately, we’re just an email or a call away!

Monday, April 25, 2016

The 2016-2017 Coalition Prompts

 

As you may be aware, there is a new Coalition alternative to the common application. Although not all coalition schools will require essays, many will -- and for those that do, here are the prompts for those essays. With one exception, they're very similar to the common app essays. There are no word limits, as of this point.

  • Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it.
  • Describe a time when you made a meaningful contribution to others in which the greater good was your focus. Discuss the challenges and rewards of making your contribution.
  • Has there been a time when you’ve had a long-cherished or accepted belief challenged? How did you respond? How did the challenge affect your beliefs?
  • What is the hardest part of being a teenager now? What’s the best part? What advice would you give a younger sibling or friend (assuming they would listen to you)?
  • Submit an essay on a topic of your choice.

 

By David Thomas, Photo by Tim Green

A surprising number of our medical school candidates at Forster Thomas ask me for a priority list when they’re first thinking of applying. Which is more important, great grades or lab experience? Should I focus on securing my recommenders or turning in my AMCAS early? This question, and it never fails to leave me scratching my head. To me, it’s like asking, “Are hands less or more important than feet,” or “Which eye do you value the most, your left or your right?” 

Try to picture your application as a pie -- apple, to be specific. There are many, many slices: grades are one, recommenders another. You can’t prioritize one layer of your pie. It all needs to get baked together into one perfectly delicious whole. If one piece is tangy and another is sweet, even if they’re both tasty on their own, you have a problem.  Admissions isn’t going to simply eat around the bad part.

Recently, I got a phone call from a client, Sasha. She was in tears, because she didn’t know how she could go to her shadow-ship AND complete her paper. She wanted my permission to slack on one of them, and was wondering which one to phone in. What I told Sasha was cut-throat, but true.

If she couldn’t figure out how to do both – AMAZINGLY -- she wouldn’t survive medical school. 

Trying to prioritize different parts of your application is another way of looking for shortcuts. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but they don’t exist. Not in this game. So man (or woman) up and stop wasting energy on trying to rank your responsibilities. Instead, refocus that energy on kicking butt everywhere.

By the way, if you need someone to kick your butt FOR YOU and keep you focused on your goals, that's kind of my specialty. Reach out to me and let me know the details of your situation, and I can tell you if I'm a good fit for your needs.




Article by Kirsten Guenther, Image by Evan Hahn

One of the most nerve-wracking parts of the medical school application process is choosing and contacting recommenders. Unless you’re Gordon Gekko or Cersei Lannister, you don’t really go through life thinking about how best to spend emotional capital you’ve built up with your profs. But remember that every single doctor working today had to go through what you’re going through now. If they can do it, so can you.

***

So assuming you’re popular enough to have several academic recommenders to choose from, who should you approach first? While the go-to formula here is two science professors and one humanities, your first concern, always, has to be the strength of the friendship. In other words, your best ally is, very literally, your best ally in this process.  If you are superhuman and rocked all of your sciences and all your profs love you, then go with one physical science, one life science and one humanities prof.

If you’re not buddy-buddy with a professor yet—start creating that relationship, now. Sit in front, ask questions, show up for office hours. Make it easy on yourself by choosing a subject that already interests you.  Keep an eye out for profs you know when you’re walking around campus—don’t be all millennial and bury your face in your Angry Birds. That’s not how you get a job, or get ahead, even in 2016.

But let’s say you can’t do any of this. Let’s say your teacher is the invisible man. You can still be fine. Just pick the subjects you did best in, and the teachers you had twice instead of once, or saw for office hours a couple more times. Do the best job you can do. That includes listening to your instincts. If someone feels wrong, they are wrong.

THINGS THAT CAN HAPPEN, AND WHAT TO DO ABOUT THEM

If it’s getting close to your target date and your professor hasn’t submitted her letter, don’t be shy. Send a polite reminder. Remember, she has about one million priorities that rank above you, so you need to be persistent. You are the driver of your application process. Don’t give up the wheel to a bystander.

Sometimes your teacher will have a TA write the letter and then sign it. DO NOT have a panic attack. While this is not ideal, if it’s your only choice—go with it. Med schools are clear that they do not want TAs writing recs—BUT it’s a poorly kept secret that this often happens. But we will deny that we ever gave you this advice—just between us.

Once in awhile, a professor will ask you to partly or even completely write your own recommendation. This is extremely uncool, and if you have backup options this may be a good time to approach them. But if you have no choice in the matter, try to do a comprehensive, limited job of it. What the heck does that mean? It means you should send details and evocative stories drawn from your memory of the professor’s class, assignments and office hours. You should describe your best qualities and give detailed examples. You should not, unless explicitly requested, draft a letter. You want as much of your recommender’s voice in there as possible.

***

The recommendation process is a funky blend of academic excellence and social engineering. It’s plenty nerve-wracking, but think of it this way–you’re doing wonders for your bedside manner. If you’re running into trouble with a recommender or you need more detailed advice, reach out to us and we’ll be happy to help.


 

By Kirsten Guenther, photo by Dan Dickinson

April is here again, and medical school admissions are in full swing. Just like every year, there are some people coming in well prepared. Others? Not so much.

One of the big stumbling blocks applicants tend to trip over is AMCAS’s misleading language about dates and times. You're probably aware that June 1st is the ‘earliest’ deadline for AMCAS submissions. Theoretically, however, you can wait until July 15th to submit everything.

Forget theory. Here’s the ugly truth; June 1st is a drop dead date. In fact, forget the whole ‘date’ thing. You know those people that put out lawn chairs and sleep on 5th avenue the night before the Thanksgiving Parade? That needs to be you. You should submit your application the second you are able to—June 1st, 9:30 AM. 

I know what you’re saying to yourself – can a minute really make a difference? In this game, absolutely. Our Forster Thomas clients that submit at 9:31 AM get verified the same day, but I’ve heard tales of people submitting at 9:40 AM that end up having to wait two weeks for verification. YOU DO NOT WANT THIS TO BE YOU. You don’t want to have to wait two weeks to find out if your recommenders submitted or your MCAT score came in. The goal is to get verified quickly and move on to the next stage of your application.

At Forster Thomas, we make sure our clients have triple checked their applications by May 31st so that first thing June 1st all they have to do is submit. Remember, you have to self-report your course work, so if your transcripts don’t match what you submitted exactly you will end up having to appeal a correction. Next thing you know, it’s August and the game is over.

We've written a lot on medical school in the past, and we're going to be writing more in the future, but we'll never tell you a fact more important than this one. Submit your AMCAS at the earliest possible moment.


 

By Susan Clark, photo by Dineshraj Goomany

Now that we know why you want an MFA, we can get into another thorny question -- is now the right time for you to get your MFA?  An MFA program is a professional program.  You need to have a clear direction in your career, as well as a body of work you can stand behind.  Fight the urge to rush into this extremely intense situation if the timing isn’t right.  Make sure you are ready.  Go to grad school to promote yourself, not to find yourself.

Here are some questions you should ask yourself before embarking on your MFA quest.

Am I clear in the direction of my work?  Making art is always an evolution of ideas, but you are about to be buffeted with a myriad of them.  Make sure you are on solid ground with your work before you begin.

Do I have the wherewithal to focus intensely on my work? Get the support of those around you to handle the logistics of life while you spend 20 hours a day working. My son Joey will tell you that it is no fun sitting in a print studio for hours on end while your mother keeps saying, five more minutes, five more minutes.

Am I ready to listen to input and incorporate new ideas?  It made no sense to me that some of my classmates were closed off to the point of view of others.  Half of the benefit of an MFA is in the feedback you receive.

Am I strong enough to shut out strong voices that are wrong for me? Every person brings a different opinion; some people bring so much conviction that it may be difficult to stay on your own track. Being pulled in a direction that is not really you makes it more difficult for you to establish the professional voice that you need to make the most out of the networking opportunities that come in grad school

Do you know the historical context of your work? The influences that surround the Chicago art scene are vastly different from the Bay Area figure painters in San Francisco – Jim Nutt and David Park are drawn to different styles. Knowing how your work relates to where you come from and where you intend to end up can give you a better perspective on your own choices and internal voices.

Do you know how your work fits into the context of the current art world, and the ethos of your school?  Why is your artwork relevant to the current scene? Do you prefer a media siloed program, like Yale, or a purposefully diverse program, like Columbia? Why? I have worked with great conceptual artists who got kicked out of painting programs because they didn’t support their work, and artists who never painted again after going to a school steeped in performance art. No matter how prestigious it is, a program must be right for you.

Are you constantly making and maintaining connections?  Even when you haven't been out of your studio for eighty hours and you're living on Ramen noodles, are you thinking about who you need to check in with? The arts are a networking-driven field! 

If you are looking for a discussion for forum to learn more about the experiences of others, check out this.  If you think you are ready to apply (or if you just have a question or two), drop us a line and we will be happy to help.




Article by Ben Feuer, Photo by Derek Gavey

We’ve all done things we’re not proud of in life. Things that, if we could do over again, we would definitely think twice about (or at least once).  In my capacity as an educational consultant, I’ve heard pretty much every story you can imagine. DUIs? Of course. Assault? Been there, done that. Drug convictions, rehab, shoplifting? Yes, yes, and yes.

I’ve seen people with, shall we say, colorful pasts get into their dream law school time and time again. How the heck do we pull it off?

The answer is both simple and complex. Simple, because it’s very easy to understand what you need to do. Complex, because doing it well is a delicate and nuanced process that requires a certain amount of, shall we say, finesse.

Don’t Lie. This one seems like it should be obvious, but many, many people come into the process determined to obscure, obfuscate and lie their way into a highly ethical profession. Don’t be one of those people. Even if you manage to lie your way into school, you’ll face the same exact questions when you pass the bar — that’s why they ask them! Commit to telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about your convictions.

Let me be clear — that doesn’t mean you need to dish about incidents that were expunged from your record, or every random moving violation. Answer the questions your schools ask (different schools word them differently). Don’t overshare, don’t undershare.

Own the crime.  Every incident you discuss on your applications must be approached with an attitude of 100 percent responsibility. Schools don’t care if your boyfriend talked you into it. Schools don’t care if it seemed like it was your only option. Schools don’t care if you grew up poor. They want to know that right now, in this stage of your life, you’re prepared to take full responsibility for your actions.

Contrition. What have you done since your incident to show the world how sorry you are? Have you performed community service, or created lasting change in some other area of your life? How has your character been strengthened or changed, and what did you learn?

Another way to look at this section of your essay: you need compensating factors to show the school that, despite the occasional slip-up, you’re basically a responsible and ethical person. Sometimes these factors come from a very different area of your life — your volunteer work with disabled children, or your academic decathelon results. The important thing is that you close the essay by showing another side of yourself.

So that’s the basics of how to answer Character and Fitness questions in your law school applications. Feel like you need more tips? Contact me and I’ll be happy to help!

Monday, March 21, 2016

Why pursue a fine arts MFA?



Article by Susan Clark, Photo by Angie Harms

What are some reasons people go for an MFA?  Some artists say they want an MFA to teach, but that’s not so easy -- thousands of applicants compete for a handful of available college professorships, even in out of the way places. Recently the University of Central Arkansas received nearly a thousand applications for a position to teach drawing.  An MFA can also help to land teaching positions at private schools, but you’d still have a better chance at a K-12 job with a state teaching license. What enables artists to get the good professorships is a thriving career, so some artists go to MFA programs to gain recognition.

Then there is the networking value, both perceived and actual, of a top MFA.  I attended Yale and the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program to improve my ability to connect with those working at a high level that I admired, and hopefully to have them connect with my work. Artists want and need exposure to a broad range of views and a broader network of other artists, critics and collectors.  

But ultimately, we make art because we love it, and we would do anything possible to achieve breakthroughs, including working the midnight shift at the Empire Diner, to afford it. (I was the head waiter there many years ago, before I was a professor and a Forster-Thomas consultant.)  The best reason to get an MFA is to improve as an artist.

If you want to talk to me about your plans to pursue a fine art MFA, hit me up!