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 By Susan Clark.  Cartoon by Frits Ahlefeldt.

Picture this: it’s three AM, and you’re hanging out at the dorm of one of your HBS section mates finishing up a group project.  The five of you have been banging away at Excel spreadsheets since nine – nobody’s eaten.  You’re all completely exhausted – but you just realized there’s a key element that isn’t done yet.  How do you break the news to your friends?  How do you avoid the dreaded, “Aah, it’s good enough”? After all, these people know you, but they don’t really know you.  Why should they listen to what you have to say when you ask them to give the maximum effort -- that one last push?

The whole situation brings you back a few years to when you chose to leave your cushy job at JP Morgan to go to Haiti, where you didn’t know a single person, to create a social entrepreneurship venture to solve their ongoing water crisis.   There were so many late nights on that project, so many moments it would have been easier to give up – but you had a shared sense of mission that kept you pulling together. 

Without even thinking about it, you find yourself telling the story to your HBS classmates -- you explain to them that where you grew up, in a small town outside Rio de Janiero, clean water was hard to come be – you explain this ‘random’ class project is actually (for you) part of a larger mission, a dream to go out there and solve the problem of clean water once and for all via a social entrepeneurship startup you’re building.

You half expect them to laugh at you – but instead they pat you on the back and ask you what they can do to help.  Forget the class project – you’ve just made four friends that will last the rest of your life, because you introduced yourself to your HBS classmates in a way that matters.

Or look at it this way – it’s Friday night at your favorite hangout, be it Per Se or the local tap house, and somebody brings up a great topic of conversation.  You think to yourself -- oh my God, yes!  I remember when I did that … and you tell the story.

That’s exactly how you should write your HBS ‘Introduce Yourself’ essay.


HBS wants each member of its community to bring something unique and defining to the table; they’re looking for people who transcend simple brands on a resume, buck the odds and make a difference.  

There is no simple formula for this kind of expression; every essay needs to be as unique as the person writing it.  There are, however, certain key elements the essay should reveal.  You don’t need to have every one of these, but you should touch on at least most of these elements --

  • Your deep passion that has moved you forward, and excited your intellectual curiosity.
  • How that passion caused to grow beyond yourself and be a leader. 
  • How your efforts helped to refine your leadership style, or hone a new leadership skill.
  • How you made a real impact on people around you, big or small, whether it was saving a tree or selling your company’s product.  
  • A thoughtful expression of what makes you tick.
  • An indication of how you grew when you honored your commitments.
  • Something you want us to know about yourself, told through story, and applied to other areas in your life

This essay is NOT:

  • A chance to brag about how wonderful you are.
  • A chronological review of your accomplishments.
  • A rehash of material someone could glean from simply reading your resume.


A great HBS essay really shouldn’t be more than 600 words.  I know HBS is giving you more than enough rope to hang yourself with, but that doesn’t mean you need to spool out your own noose.  When it comes to introductions, less is more, and simplicity is the best policy.

Don’t make the essay a series of anecdotes.  Examples should grow naturally out of the broader points you want to make.

And it wouldn’t hurt to use a few words, no more than a hundred, about how HBS provides what you need to take the next step.


How to start?  How do you brainstorm an essay like this?  Start by making a list.  Five from each category.  Don’t self-censor, either, telling yourself, aah, that one’s not really good enough.  Just list them, and don’t question it.  Discuss:

  • How you discovered some value that was important to you
  • A time you were tested and came to realize your own strength. 
  • What you learned about yourself through failure. 
  • How you made a difference in someone else’s life.


The most important thing to know about the new Harvard essay is that it is not about what you have done, but about how you operate, what commitment drives you to succeed and how you demonstrate leadership. 

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Photo by Steve Corey, Words by Forster-Thomas.

Because we love you, Forster-Thomas has assembled this list of schools that (previously or currently) accept video essays or video portfolios in their application.  Know a school that isn't on this list, but should be?  Contact us!


Goucher College
Babson College Tufts University
Claremont McKenna
St. Mary's College of Maryland
George Mason University
The College of William and Mary
Chapman (BFA Film)

Sunday, June 28, 2015

HBS Bets Big on CORe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Article by Evan Forster, Photo by Chris Lott


Today I read a pretty boring and useless article in the Chicago Tribune about whether college admissions officers look at social media profiles on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other sites during the admissions process. This is certainly nothing that has not been examined over and over in, but it’s a great opportunity for a teachable moment—especially since the article did not have one.

Admissions officers look at social media much more than they claim to. Very few colleges actually admit to this publicly, or include “social media” as one of the factors they consider in admissions. But they do! However, it’s usually a good thing: If an admissions officer is not interested in you, they don’t waste their time checking out your Facebook page or tweets.

The “solution” of many students and/or parents who are beginning the college application process is to scrub their social media presence altogether. But let me be clear: This is a bad solution. In this day and age, having NO social media presence hurts you as much as having a “questionable” one (though in different ways and for different reasons). As one select-university admissions officer recently shared, "We want students who are engaged with the world around them, who are part of the social dialogue of the age." I heard the same thing at an IECA conference two years ago, and it’s even more true now.

At Forster-Thomas, we do a "social media audit" without even telling our students first. When we find something questionable, we discuss it with them. It's an opportunity to teach the student about responsibility, maturity, and public persona. We've never found something truly disturbing, nor have we had to mention anything to a parent. The worst is usually too many "duck-face photos" on Instagram or Facebook or a multitude of party photos.

A great start in the social-media-maturity lesson is email addresses: I quash immature names like "pinkpony13" or inappropriate names like "kim2hot2b" in favor of simple first-name-last-name-numeral addresses. My favorites are email addresses where the domain name is the family's last name (like evan@forsternyc.com…BTW not my real email). 

Some things that are OK, although they make parents nervous, are beach photos (bikinis and board shorts are just what people wear on the beach…nothing you need to be worried about), party photos that don’t involve drugs or alcohol (or such things in the background), and think-piece blogs on controversial issues like civil rights, abortion, religion, etc. Outside of truly fringe ideologies, having controversial ideas is not a problem—having no ideas is a bigger problem. Colleges like thinkers, including public ones. This demonstrates courage and involvement.

So don’t scrub your social media presence, just make sure it reflects who you truly are -- a member of the 21st Century. 

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In a recent opinion column for the Observer, Hootsuite founder Ryan Holmes rolled out the by-now-all-too-familiar canard about how worthless college and graduate degrees are.  Citing his own experience, he argued that the MBA should be seen (as the JD now is) as overpriced.  While his complaints are legitimate (MBAs do cost more than they used to, and graduate pay is not back at the giddy pre-recession levels yet), the fact is for the majority of mid-career businessmen and women, MBAs still make a lot of sense.

Holmes argues that MBAs are making less money than they once did.  Well, that’s not exactly news.  Everyone who isn’t a CEO (sorry, a ‘founder’) is making less than they once did because America has well-documented economic polarization problem.  Like many masters level degrees, MBAs are oversupplied right now — but elite top 50 MBAs are in as short supply now as they ever were, and clearly, their value is well-recognized.  Where you get your degree matters.

In fact, for top 50 MBA programs, which are the ones to seriously consider, the typical graduate earns 50-80 percent more.  More details via Forbes — If your pay before starting an MBA happened to be $50,000, you might expect to be offered $75,000 salary plus bonus (up 50%) at graduation.  By the end of five years post-MBA, Fifth Year Pay was up 80% over Post-MBA Starting Pay for full-time students.

Over the course of a typical-length career (retirement at 65), this could conservatively add up to $2,830,000 MORE earned vs non-MBAs.  Even compared against $150,000 in lost salary, $200,000 in tuition, room and board and perhaps $30,000 in debt servicing, that’s a net win. 

So much for pay — but what about networking?  Surely in this internet age, we can all find our next job without actually trudging out to social gatherings, right?  Yeah, maybe not.  Don't get me wrong -- social networking is great.  I meet a lot of cool people on Linkedin, and I’m sure you do too.  But it’s no substitute for meeting someone in person.  Fox Business points out (accurately) that relationships built exclusively via social networks tend to be shallower and less valued.  Although Linkedin is a great way to monitor who’s hiring, for instance, or track interesting companies, 60 to 80 percent of hiring decisions happen through personal connections.

So what about the exceptional case Holmes cites — some girl who got a million dollar investment via Twitter?  Even if we accept that as the entire and complete story (which I, for one, don’t), Ms. Ferreira was attending prestigious NYU Steinhardt at the time of her tweet, and she did not drop out UNTIL Richard Branson literally handed her a million dollars on a silver platter.

If you don’t have a personal connection, you’ll be applying to your next job through a typical resume/interview process — and the very first thing most companies do is filter applications without the relevant experience and keywords (so-called ATS hiring systems).  Let’s pick a few of the top business-oriented jobs from a respectable company … say … Hootsuite.  Here are a few of their current openings as of May 2015.

Alliances Associate: Competencies associated with a post secondary degree in business or other related fields

Director, Hootsuite Labs: BSc in Computer Science, BComm, MBA or equivalent experience

Product Marketing Manager: B.A. in marketing or business preferred

CFO: 12+ yrs experience in progressive financial roles with at least 3-5 years in C-suite.  

Good luck getting past any of those filters without quality degrees.

You want to go beyond riding a trend and posturing, Ryan Holmes?  Fine.  State outright that Hootsuite will IGNORE educational experience in hiring.  Explain to your HR managers that you want them to treat a high school graduate who’s been working at a pizza shop for four years but shows intriguing leadership ability the same as they would an MIT MBA with a Wall Street pedigree.  Then get laughed out of the room.

Until somebody creates an efficient alternative credentialing system that employers recognize and respect, the MBA and its sister professional degrees are not going anywhere.

 Photo via Trent Bigelow/Flickr


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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Chung Hu.

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Article by Evan Forster.  Photo by Ted Eytan.


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

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

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

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

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

"I can handle this."

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

That's introducing yourself -- Harvard style.

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 Photo by Elizabeth Perkins, article by Ben Feuer

You may have read about them in Bloomberg or on other mainstream news sites.  You may have heard business schools grumbling about it devaluing the nomenclature (“They’re not REAL MBAs!”).  But like it or loathe it, the mini-MBA monicker is here to stay, and so is the certificate, although how it is earned (and how much it’ll set you back) has evolved over the years.

There are a few different theories as to the origins of the mini-MBA. MBA boot offered by consulting companies such as McKinsey & Co. and Booz Allen Hamilton on business essentials may have been taken over by universities — others claim they can be traced back to McGill University in the late 1940s.

In either case, the mini-MBA as we know and love it today comes in three basic flavors.

1.  The online superMOOC.   Forget networking, late night commuting and CE credits.  Some people just need a basic grounding in business practices and terminology, either for their own startups or because of a recent promotion.  UNC Kenan-Flagler has you covered, as do many other schools that have chosen to offer relatively inexpensive online certifications.  These can last up to eight weeks,  but the work is done remotely and the lectures are all online.

2.  The in-person crash course.  This was the original concept for the mini-MBA — a one-week crash course (or possibly up to three or four) which would allow middle managers to network, gain vital skills and terminology, and become better leaders at their respective companies.  Rutgers owns this type of mini, with over 18 offerings (although it has online offerings too), but there are many, many options here.

3.  The elite pre-eMBA.  Schools like Columbia and Kellogg have studiously eschewed the mini-MBA monicker in favor of more sonorous titles like “Essentials of Management”.  The price of these programs is truly eye-popping — from $24,000 up to $48,000 for a few weeks — but they do offer lodging and (some) meals, as well as the confidence in knowing the guy sitting next to you in the classroom has scratch to spare.  Many students use these type of programs to evaluate a school’s eMBA offerings and decide if they’re interested in an even bigger commitment somewhere down the line.


UNC Business Essentials
 Cost: $2,500 Highlights: Offered by an elite B-schools, available online only, and affordable.  Each of the six UNC Business Essentials modules takes an average of 10-12 hours to complete. The entire program can be completed in 4 months if an individual spends 4-5 hours a week on coursework.   Includes certificate. Website

Buffalo Online Mini-MBA Cost: $995 Highlights: Price, price, price.  Under $1000 for 17 credits and a certificate makes this the best deal of the bunch, by a country mile, if you don’t need a name brand school. Website

University of St. Thomas, Mini-MBA
 Cost: $2,995 Highlights: One of the original mini-MBA programs, available onsite in Minneapolis and online, affordable Website

Rutgers, Mini MBA 
 Cost: $4,995 Highlights: Available onsite in New Jersey and online, several specialization available, including digital media and biopharma.  Lasts 1 week.  Includes a certificate and CE credits. Website

Loyola University Chicago Mini-MBA Certificate Program
 Cost: $3,500 Highlights: Highly reputable school, 10-week onsite program in Chicago. 

Kellogg Advanced Management Program
 Cost: $36,000 - $48,000 Highlights: Top ranked school.  Offers both on-site and remote.  Huge cost. Website

Columbia University, Columbia Essentials of Management 
 Cost: $24,450 Highlights: Elite University, available onsite only, very expensive Website

Georgetown University, Business Administration Certificate Cost: $5,370 Highlights: Powerhouse university, taught by faculty at the McDonough School of Business, on-site in Washington, DC. Website

Ross University Executive Certificate Cost: TBD Highlights: Another very solid school, with a slightly unusual piecemeal offering — you choose four credits that then become one certificate. Website

McKinsey Mini-MBA
 Cost: TBD Highlights:  There are a few certificate offerings out there NOT from schools — McKinsey’s is one of the most interesting, since the company has had training programs like this for many years.  3 weeks in person combine with 4-8 weeks of ‘pre-work’, making this a fairly significant time commitment. Website

Ready to take the next step and go for an eMBA or MBA?  Got questions?  We got you covered

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Image by Isado.  Article via IECA and Ben Feuer. 

PANELISTS: WPI, American University, Lafayette College, MSU, Swarthmore 

How do colleges look at transcripts, and what are they used for?  When they evaluate transcripts, admissions officers are looking for RIGOR and ACHIEVEMENT.  Achievement is usually evaluated by grades or verbal evaluations – how well did you do? Rigor, the more complicated of the two factors, is evaluated somewhat subjectively, and depends on what others at your school did – did you take the hardest classes available to you?   Did you challenge yourself with subject matter?   Did you take advantage of what your HS had to offer?

TRENDS are very important to admissions officers.  Did you improve or did your grades slip as time went on?  More and more colleges are demanding senior year grades before making a final decision for this exact reason.  Early decision is now conditional on maintaining GPA at many schools.  Schools with rolling admissions can (and do) rescind offers.  Seniors are being asked by schools routinely to self-report their senior year grades.  Swarthmore pointed out that students should take it as a very good sign if a school calls to ask for senior year grades – they don’t call for rejects.  Trends also matter with electives – do you demonstrate passion and commitment over the long haul to specific unified interests?

School Profiles, which most schools create and send to colleges and universities, are vitally important.  They give context to each transcript the admissions officer receives.   Without a profile or with a weak or incomplete profile, it is very challenging for admissions officers to properly evaluate a transcript, especially because grade inflation continues to be a massive problem.

The Transcripts



This is theoretically the easiest type of transcript to read, and the most common, but in fact, every single panelist handled this type of transcript differently, which is a testament to how complicated the transcript evaluation process is overall.  American University recalculates only transcripts over 5.0 on the scale – recalculates in this context meaning normalizing to a single unified standard for all transcripts.  If Phys Ed or Music was missing a grade, they would add it in.  Michigan State, on the other hand, recalculates every single application, bar none.  They count only core subjects when evaluating GPA – no gym, no electives.  Lafayette recalculates unweighted GPAs, trying to focus on rigor.  They use professional judgment when deciding whether to calculate the arts into GPA – a student with a long list of music focused classes will probably have them added in, a math whiz with one random painting class probably won’t.  Lafayette believes that the arts should reflect passion – so they’re going to look more favorably on trends.  Swarthmore did not recalculate, but did cut the transcript down to core courses only.  Finally, Worcester Poly, a technical school, looked at math and science GPA exclusively.


This is another very common type of transcript.  Classes are ranked by difficulty (AP, honors, regular, remedial, etc) and then weighted accordingly – the more difficult the class, the more heavily it is weighted into the overall GPA.  Sometimes it can be difficult for admissions officers to know which classes a school considers honors (it may be a good idea for students to mention this on their application if the school uses weird lingo such as accelerated, enriched or enhanced, especially if the school is a small one).  American University indicated that they would not recalculate this type of transcript, but added that numbers alone were not decisive, trends would matter a lot.  WPI indicated that they would again recalculate for math and science only, but that they might weight differently based on their own preferences.  Technical schools like WPI are less interested in required courses.  They want to see students seeking out more STEM.  They prefer to see Calculus BC, for instance, and a steady trend of taking as many Calculus courses as possible.  They also like courses like “Robotics”, although sometimes it’s not clear if a course like that is rigorous or not – again, the school or guidance counselor can help clarify this kind of thing sometimes.  Lafayette added that in a transcript of this kind, they would prefer to see a well balanced student.

There are also oddballs that fall into this category – one panelist described a school that did not give out A-, B- etc, only A and A+.  In such a case, GPA is weighted differently – A+ is 4, A is 3.5, B+ is 3, etc., instead of the usual A+ is 4, A is 3.7, A- is 3.4, B+ is 3 etc.

All the panelists agreed that when they couldn’t make sense of a transcript, they weighted test scores more heavily in their decision.  This can be a plus or a minus for a student, depending on how he did on his ACT/SAT.


Religious schools and Jewish Day Schools often have dual curricula – one for religious instruction and one for secular instruction.  The transcript is then split in half, with grades for each half.  Some universities, like Michigan State, simply ignore the religious half.  Unless it’s history, they say, religion is not an academic discipline, and won’t be included in a recalculated GPA.  That said, even though it doesn’t factor into ACHIEVEMENT, it does get considered in RIGOR, since it’s another responsibility the student had to take on.  Other schools, such as Lafayette, calculated separate religious and secular GPAs and considered both when evaluating a student.


Many international schools, as well as a growing number of US schools, use the International Baccalaureate system, in which students are graded on a 1-7 scale, 1 being poor, 7 being excellent. 

Official- The IB’s Descriptors for 1-7




Minimal achievement in terms of the objectives.


Very limited achievement against all the objectives.  The student has difficulty in understanding the required knowledge and skills and is unable to apply them fully in normal situations, even with support.


Limited achievement against most of the objectives, or clear difficulties in some areas.  The student demonstrates a limited understanding of the required knowledge and skills and is only able to apply them fully in normal situations with support.


A good general understanding of the required knowledge and skills, and the ability to apply them effectively in normal situations.  There is occasional evidence of the skills of analysis, synthesis and evaluation.


A consistent and thorough understanding of the required knowledge and skills, and the ability to apply them in a variety of situations.  The student generally shows evidence of analysis, synthesis and evaluation where appropriate and occasionally demonstrates originality and insight.


A consistent and thorough understanding of the required knowledge and skills, and the ability to apply them in a wide variety of situations.  There is consistent evidence of analysis, synthesis and evaluation where appropriate.  The student generally demonstrates originality and insight.


A consistent and thorough understanding of the required knowledge and skills, and the ability to apply them almost faultlessly in a wide variety of situations.  There is consistent evidence of analysis, synthesis and evaluation where appropriate.  The student consistently demonstrates originality and insight and always produces work of high quality.

Unfortunately, some US schools do not use the IB system in the same way that international IB works – instead, they are using numerical GPAs AND 1-7 systems in a weird hybrid, kind of like this --

7 = 93

6 = 88

This creates massive confusion for adcoms.  The IB system is an alternative to 0-100 grading rubrics, and isn’t designed to be thought of as a numerical percentage in that way.  Cutoffs and the meaning of particular GPAs was totally unclear.  Therefore, for American IB schools that use this system, school profile becomes vitally important.


Some students transfer.  Others take community college courses to supplement HS courses.  Either way, those students are going to wind up with more than one transcript when they apply.

At American University, multiple transcripts triggered an automatic recalculation.  For some of the other schools, it was a judgment call, depending on how many classes were on the 2nd transcript and what they were.

More than one admissions officer commented that they don’t like to see students taking community college courses when the same courses are offered at the high school.  To them, it looks like a dodge, and they will weigh that into their admissions decision.

Online courses and transcripts were viewed in a similar light – were you taking it because it was easier, or because there was no similar course offered at your high school?  Name recognition matters with online courses a lot.


There are actually a lot of reasons a student may have no letter grades on his or her transcript.  Some elite private schools like St. Anne’s don’t provide letter grades – instead, they provide massive written evaluations.  This is understandably a bit exhausting for admissions officers – 200 pages of written evaluations PER STUDENT – so they skim and focus on the negatives – are there any trends of problems or recurring issues with the student?  At schools that offer narrative evaluations, profile becomes very important – what percentage of students go to 4-year college?  Adcoms care about that a lot, particularly with the more obscure schools.

Some other reasons a student might not have letter grades include studying abroad, home schooling, medical leave and attending an alternate school within the public high school.  As long as there is a good REASON for it, this doesn’t hurt a student at all.  But it DOES mean that standardized tests, recommendations and essays are going to carry a LOT more weight.


Schools are pretty understanding about issues with the transcript.  Their overall attitude is that problems come up, and as long as you explain them on your application, they’re not going to hold it against you.  Depending on how good your reason is, they might actually consider it a plus.  The exception to this is academic discipline, which always looks bad, although again, cheating is much worse than an accidental drinking violation.  Unexplained missing grades also look very bad.  As Swarthmore put it – all these things are flags, but not necessarily red flags.  They may be green flags – good things!


Overall, the panel came back time and again to a few key factors in admissions decisions: love, rigor, and story.

LOVE: Schools want to know why you chose them.  Those with good reasons to attend particular schools get into those schools.

RIGOR: Numerical GPA is important, but it’s also more or less cut and dried (except for recalculation).  Rigor is highly subjective and determining rigor is a big part of Adcom’s job.

STORY: Again and again, schools said that the REASON things happen matter as much or more as that they happened.  As one officer put it, “Don’t let us guess – explain it.”

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Photo by Jed Record, Article by Ben Feuer

UNC Kenan-Flagler, one of the top business schools in America, doubles down on its commitment to private equity by creating an institute devoted to business data analytics and research.  We analyze aspects of the press release below -- to read the release in full, just follow the links.

The University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School has launched the Institute for Private Capital (IPC).

“Our mission is to promote a deep understanding of the role of private capital markets in the global economy, which is not widely understood,” said Douglas A. Shackelford, dean and Meade H. Willis Distinguished Professor of Taxation at UNC Kenan-Flagler.

This seems like a lure for Private Equity types.  After all, who else in the business world spends inordinate amounts of time fretting over the behavior of closely held middle market firms? 

The IPC will create databases, produce research and develop curriculum and educational initiatives, which are of great interest to both academic and industry leaders.

“We will create and share the data and knowledge that are missing today,” said 
Gregory W. Brown, professor of finance and director of the IPC. 

Databases of private equity and closely held companies?  Aside from the potential creepiness factor (do you really want UNC knowing about and profiting from your business’s vital signs?) this could certainly be a useful resource, not just to schools but to researchers at firms as well.  The IPC’s website claims that the data will be made available specifically to academic researchers, but it also states that Burgiss, a private company known for data analytics, holds the database.

The database will cover private capital investment – such as venture capital funds, buy-out and growth capital funds, hedge funds, debt funds, real estate funds, natural resources funds, and closely held and family businesses. 

Pretty much speaks for itself – a clearinghouse for data on VC, PE and medium sized business.

“Since private capital constitutes the majority of global capital, IPC research will have a significant impact on practice and policy, and will spur curricular innovations nationally and internationally.”

Although some reference is made to benefits ‘trickling down’ to students, there is no explicit talk of new courses or professor hires – it seems like the educational benefits of the IPC will be secondary at best.

IPC will work with a global team of faculty from other top universities, leading industry practitioners and key policy makers.

In the past, that has included faculty from Booth, Darden, Said and Fuqua, among others.


A word on funding – the database is funded by Steven F. Maier, an adjunct UNC professor who created the UNC Treasury management program, via one of his nonprofit foundations, the UAI Foundation.  The same foundation also created PERC, another UNC program.  In 2011, UAI appears to have paid $120,000 to fund PERC – on the scale of business school, this implies that these programs are relatively inexpensive to run, although there could well be more money coming in from other directions.

All in all, the announcement seems to be a fairly positive move – it is true that publicly held corporations attract much more press, and that much more information tends to be available for those types of corporations.  But there is a lot that is left unsaid in this press release, so in the end, it will come down to the details.  From our standpoint, the key unanswered question is, how specifically will the IPC improve MBA experiences, outcomes and recruitment opportunities?