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If you're thinking of applying to b-school this year, you have something right now that is more valuable than you can possibly imagine -- preparation time.  But we all lead busy lives -- what is the best use of that time?  What really matters, and how long will it take to do?

Article by Ben Feuer, Image by Moyan Brenn

We here at Forster-Thomas know that applying to any graduate program can feel completely overwhelming, with a hundred little things to take care of and not enough time to take care of it.  So what should you focus on and when?  Here's a cliff-notes answer to that important question.  Please note -- this is in no way intended to be a comprehensive list, but it should give you plenty to think about if you're trying to maximize your application's chances.


3 YEARS - Congratulations!  You're really into planning ahead.  Keep earning top grades at your school (or if that's too easy, transfer into a tougher school) and tackle meaningful leadership challenges in your clubs and organizations.  If you're early on in the workforce, start building the key professional contacts who can later serve as recommenders or write letters of reference for your target schools.

3 MONTHS - Depending on the relative strengths and weaknesses of your application, you could either focus on retaking your GMAT or taking your GRE (standardized test scores are important) or you could look to burnish your resume with meaningful leadership by founding a small business or taking on a big responsiblity for a nonprofit.

3 WEEKS -  Although this can be enough time to do a rushed GRE/GMAT retake, depending on when the tests are scheduled, perhaps the most important thing to think about with three weeks remaining is corralling your recommenders.  Hopefully they already know you're applying at this point, but it's a good time to put in a few gentle reminders, set up any necessary meetings to provide information or just catch up, et cetera.  

3 DAYS - Do a campus visit for the weekend!  Prepare by reaching out to students via Linkedin and asking pointed, thoughtful, comparative questions about their b-school experience thus far.  Invite them to talk about their favorite and least favorite aspects of what they do every day, and what parts of school they got the most out of.  Once you arrive on campus, take a lot of notes -- they'll help you when the time comes to write your "why school" essays -- and shake a lot of hands -- depending on the school, face-time with profs and admissions staff can help your chances of getting in quite a bit.

3 HOURS - Write a first draft of an essay.  Don't try to get it perfect your first time out of the box.  That isn't possible.  Just write something complete, authentic and honest with a clear plan in mind.  If you're going over three hours for your first draft, you're overthinking it!  Relax and wrap it up.  Then hand it to your brain trust (you do HAVE a brain trust, right?) and be prepared to be told it doesn't work at all.

30 MINUTES - Jot down five essay brainstorms for a particular prompt -- one-paragraph reminders of things you've done in the last three years or so.  You can also reformat your resume in 30 minutes, leaving plenty of negative space, compressing to one page, emphasizing recent employment and accomplishments, and purging things that aren't relevant for b-school like technical skills.

3 MINUTES - Take a deep breath and relax.  You've hit submit -- it's out of your hands now.  The best thing you can do is put it out of your mind and wait.


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

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An open letter to the students about to begin their first year of college in the fall, parents anxiously hovering over their shoulders, and anyone interested in claiming the crown of Westeros.

By Ben Feuer

Dear future scholars of the world;

Felicitations!  You've gathered up your admits and rejects, pored over the pile and decided where you will spend the next 4+ years of your life.  Along with your pencils and pens, you're likely to receive a boatload of 'helpful' advice about what the hot STEM majors are, which courses to take to maximize your earning potential, and how to navigate the sometimes hazardous world of first year course selection to maintain an A average.

Bully for all that.

But allow me to retort.  Instead of spending your next four years like Stannis Baratheon, hunched over a map and madly plotting away, spend them like Daenerys Targaryen spent her youth -- exploring and eventually conquering the free cities of the East.

I know, I know.  But think about it.  Stannis is a schemer -- he spends his days plotting away, eager to use any and all means at his disposal to get what he believes ought to be his.  Aside from making him pretty annoying to hang out with, this is a losing strategy long-term.  No one wants to side with the guy who's stuck in the past.  Daenerys, despite her tragic past, is firmly focused on the present.  Instead of making obvious power plays or cutting bad deals with black magicians, she roams the free cities and welcomes new challenges and experiences.

So how do we translate this diatribe from high fantasy to higher learning?  Here are a few ways to channel your inner dragon princess and approach college with an open mind and heart.

Avoid trendy courses.  I know, that "Twilight and 18th Century Philosophy" elective sounds totes dramatic, but you are wasting your parents' hard-earned money when you sign up for courses that teach you what you already know.  Instead, seek out your favorite professor's signature course, the one that he or she has been developing and shaping for years.  Explore his or her research topic.  Live inside someone else's brilliance for awhile - you'll be glad you did.  Seek out courses on subjects you know nothing about -- when you come into a class with a blank slate, you get a lot more out of it because your guard is down and your preconceptions aren't as limiting.

Build strong relationships with the right professors (and don't grade grub).  One of the most important things you do in college is learn how to build lasting relationships.  Although most of these are going to be with your peers, it doesn't hurt to have a few professors in your corner too.  It's important, however, to pick your allies wisely.  That hella popular prof that everybody loves is not going to remember you three years from now, whereas the charming, bookish, brilliant adjunct could be heading a department of his own in ten years.  Plus, a little bonus note on grade-grubbing; before giving a prof a hard time over your B+ (which I guarantee you earned), ask yourself this -- would I rather have a (likely useless) bickering session or a powerful positive recommendation and connections down the line?  Schemers brood over past wrongs.  Explorers bet on the future.

Don't be a dilettante -- but don't fixate, either.  Unless you're doing something incredibly rigorous like pre-med, don't be afraid to experiment with unusual classes.  This is particularly true for liberal arts schools and humanities majors -- you're not getting what the school has to offer if you don't play the field a little bit.  And by the way, this goes double for student organizations and clubs.  That said, you can go too far in this direction; always keep an eye on the requirements for your major and minor so that you aren't caught short in your final semester.  This is particularly true for students thinking about transferring at some point in their college careers -- get in touch with your school of choice to make sure your credits will carry over, and talk to your intended major to make sure they'll have you.

College can be a scary place (although Westeros is definitely more scary).  Nevertheless, when you make important educational decisions from a place of fear, bitterness or resentment, you're hurting yourself in the long run (and probably in the short run, too).  When it comes to your college plans, be a dreamer, not a schemer -- live big and fail big, because just like GoT, it's going to be over before you know it.

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The latest NALP report on salaries for first year lawyers was released yesterday, and even though the basics haven't changed that much since last year, it does show some interesting trends.  Here are a few of the most important new developments this year.


• 160,000 is still going to be the ceiling for most law students.  There are exceptions, but 160,000 is a typical big-market salary, with 39 percent of law firms offering at least that much (up from 27 percent last year).


• Salary compression from 1st through 8th year associates has continued to grow.  The typical associate can expect to earn around $6500 more every year until the 8th year, where salaries top out.  Many observers consider this silly, since more experienced associates offer much more value to the client than first years.

Also, for those of you who know nothing whatsoever about legal salaries, here are some things that have always been true (and still are).


• Smaller firms pay less on average than big firms.  Although there are a lot of exceptions out there, small firms do typically pay a little less than big firms -- about $21,000 less.  That's not small change.


• It matters where you go to work.  Bigger markets, like New York and San Francisco, offer more money than smaller markets like Philadelphia and Detroit -- that said, the cost of living is also higher, so ultimately the financial difference is less than you might think.


More details are available in the NALP Bookstore, if you are curious about a particular region, for example.

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Photo by English106, Article by Ben Feuer

 The new common application questions are out for 2015-2016 -- students and parents everywhere are wondering how to answer them.  This guide will help you get started!

The brand-new common application questions have been released into the wild!  First, a few ground rules.  Your word count should be between 250 and 650 words for each question.  Don't feel obligated to use every word -- but don't go over, either.  Double and triple-check your spelling and grammar -- don't get dinged on a technicality!  Read all of the topics and consider each of them before choosing which one you will answer.  Don't choose based on what story about yourself you feel like telling, or what you think the committee 'ought to know' about you -- instead, select a story where you grew, changed or evolved as a person.

And now, without further ado, the questions!

1.  Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

Read this prompt carefully.  This is a standard 'diversity' prompt -- which means it asks students to share some distinctive element of their background or upbringing -- BUT the wording is very strong.  Only choose this prompt if your background is so integral to your life that you really can't imagine writing about anything else.

Note that this prompt also invites you to tell a story that is central to your identity -- that could be (for instance) a narrative about personal growth, or about an unexpected friendship or chance encounter -- again, so long as it is central to who you now are as a person, it's fair game.

2.  The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

If you're applying to a reach school, or if you're concerned about other areas of your application, this prompt is your chance to stand out from the crowd and make an impression.  Nothing grabs admissions officers' attention as quickly as a well-thought-out failure essay, particularly because most students run screaming from this kind of prompt.

So what makes a great failure essay?  We cover this at length in our book, but the fundamentals are this -- you need a singular, powerful failure narrative where you failed not just yourself, but others you cared about.  The failure must be absolute -- no saving the day at the last minute.  It must point to some underlying aspect of your character which you then identify (stubbornness, overcaution, arrogance).  You finish up the failure essay by telling a brief (50-100 word) anecdote about how you have changed as a result of this failure -- use concrete examples here!

3.  Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?

The flipside of the failure essay, the challenge (or as we call it, the leadership) essay is one of the most commonly seen essays on the common application.  If you have accomplished something that was exceptionally challenging for you and really shaped who you are as a person, this is your prompt.  If you are just looking to brag about your killer grade in that AP History class or your five goals in the championship bocce match, this is NOT your prompt.  Move along.

When thinking about challenges, students always want to focus on the external -- what happened and why it's impressive.  This is the wrong approach.  The important story to tell is how you GOT to the impressive result -- and what you thought about, did and said that led to that result.

Finally, remember that these types of stories work best and are most impressive when you're motivating other kids (or adults!) to excel -- contrary to what your lovin' mother told you, it ain't all about you.

4.  Describe a problem you've solved or a problem you'd like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma-anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.

This prompt is a somewhat unusual spin on a common theme of transformation and growth.  There is an obvious STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) spin to this question -- after all, a laboratory experiment or a planned course of study fits into this prompt very neatly.  But resist the urge to get completely technical and step outside your own experience!  Remember that whatever prompt you choose for your essay, the central figure in the story is you -- your challenges, your growth, your maturity.

This prompt also might be a good choice for students who have been fortunate enough to have interesting experiences in unusual places and contexts.  Worked on a social issue overseas?  Spent eight months living with the Amish?  Shadowed a researcher at CERN?  This could be your prompt.

5.  Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

Rites of passage can be fascinating topics for essays -- if they're handled well.  No one wants to hear about how grandpa cried at your confirmation -- snoozefest!  Becoming an adult is about accepting the responsibilities, limitations and joys of being human, and so should your essay.

The focus on a particular event is important.  It's very easy when writing an essay to drift from one subject to another, but great essays have a singular focus -- they're about one thing and one thing only.  In this case, the event or accomplishment in question and why it was the turning point in your journey from boy to man or girl to woman.


So there you have it!  Not so scary after all, huh?  Still, you probably have a lot of questions as yet unanswered.  Or maybe you have a draft all written up and you want some seasoned eyes to take a look?  If so, drop us a line -- we'd be happy to help!


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Below are the brand-new 2015-2016 Common Application essay topics!  For tips on how to handle these questions, check out our best practices blog.

Instructions. The essay demonstrates your ability to write clearly and concisely on a selected topic and helps you distinguish yourself in your own voice. What do you want the readers of your application to know about you apart from courses, grades, and test scores? Choose the option that best helps you answer that question and write an essay of no more than 650 words, using the prompt to inspire and structure your response. Remember: 650 words is your limit, not your goal. Use the full range if you need it, but don't feel obligated to do so. (The application won't accept a response shorter than 250 words.)

1. Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

2. The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

3. Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?

4. Describe a problem you've solved or a problem you'd like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma-anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.

5. Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

To get started, access the new Common Application.


Need help with your college application? We can help!  Schedule a consultation today.

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By Ben Feuer

Marc Longenecker '03, came to Wesleyan University intending to focus on physics, which had been his focus at Franklin high school in Somerset, NJ.  After taking “History of World Cinema to the 1960s” with then-faculty member Bob Smith, Marc fell in love with Wesleyan’s world-renowned undergraduate film studies program.

Several fortuitous accidents later, Marc has become an integral member of the faculty of Wesleyan’s film studies department.  As the Technical and Programming Director, Marc’s responsibilities at Wesleyan include overseeing the film series, maintaining and improving Wesleyan’s formidable arsenal of projection equipment, and teaching undergraduate classes on Frank Capra, Elia Kazan and the History of Television.

Ben Feuer at Forster-Thomas had the opportunity to sit down with Marc and quiz him about his role at the school, his philosophy of career success and the profile of a great Wesleyan film major (that’s what the department calls its students).

B: How did your college search go?

M:  I scored a 1560 out of 1600 on SAT, and I was valedictorian at my public school.  I applied to Yale, Tufts, William and Mary, Amherst, and Swarthmore, but Wesleyan was one of my top choices after I visited.  My school had a guidance counselor, but he was very little help — my parents hired a private counselor, which was tremendously helpful for me, because it let me know what options were out there for me.

B: And the film major?

M: I wasn't interested in film to begin with — although I may have heard about the film major before I applied, it was at best a contributing factor.  (B’s note: Wesleyan didn’t have the same reputation then that it does now, since alums Michael Bay, Joss Whedon and Alexander Payne have hit it big in Tinseltown.) I knew I wanted a liberal-arts school, but I didn’t want to give up sciences or humanities.  It was after I worked for the film series that I got really interested.

B: How did you wind up on Wesleyan’s film faculty?

M:  I became a graduate student and my role grew organically from there.  I’ve been at Wesleyan since I graduated.

B: What do you feel are the aspects of Wesleyan's film program that really stand out, pro and con?

M: Wesleyan as a school offers students the chance to test their limits and try new things in a relatively low-risk environment.  Rather than wasting time in grad school, or worse still on the job, doing things you don’t love, you can figure most of it out while you’re still in school. 

Despite its stature in the industry, Wes film is a small and interwoven department.  Everyone is involved with what everyone else is doing.  I think that’s something really special about us.

Wesleyan’s film program is a theory program, focused on Hollywood studio cinema.  We love foreign film, but for us, Hollywood is the creative apex.  A cinema that makes complicated things look simple.  Movies that are entertaining, but overwhelmingly sophisticated.  So you have to kind of love vintage studio films, or at least find them interesting.

Wes film focuses on where the technical meets the theoretical.  We’re very practical minded.  We try to extract meaning from the texts (the films) rather than imposing meaning upon them externally, like identity theory, for example.

B: There’s been a lot of talk lately that liberal arts education is dead.  What say you?

M:  I say nay!  Seriously, I wanted a liberal arts education, I got one, and I think it has real value.  The obsessively focused professional training program is great, but it’s reductive.  It can sometimes throw the baby out with the bathwater!  The liberal arts experience is the opposite — you’re up to your elbows in bathwater trying to find the baby.

Another great thing about liberal arts?  Double-majoring.  I mean sure, some double-majors are just lazy and noncommittal.  But the value comes if you can commit to BOTH majors.  I was a physics and film double major.  I worked in a lab AND ran a projector.  And you could say, oh, his physics training is wasted, he’s not using it in his job.  But I don’t feel like it was wasted at all.

B: Who is the ideal wes film student?

M: The ideal Wesleyan student figures out how to organize and combine things while caring about them very passionately. 

The ideal film major gets involved in things, is proactive.  We like our majors to try everything.  Serve on the film board, go to the series, commit to your classes, make films of your own.  It’s all there for you.  Take responsibility for your own education.  Understand that who you hang out with and what you choose to do and not do are part of that.  Don't be afraid of your own passions — pursue them, but not to the exclusion of everything else.

B: Have you noticed any trends in the types of students applying?

M: Yeah.  The increased availability of movies and the fact that Wes film’s profile keeps growing -- some students come in refusing to be taught.  They reject Hollywood and take a reductive, hip narrative -- popular cinema sucks, obscure, foreign films are what matters.  That’s obviously not going to work well with what we teach.

We have also seen some people who want to start making films before they understand the language.  Aggressively pre-professional students who are worried about wasting money, wasting time.  I sympathize, but by doing it that way they’re wasting everybody’s time.  Why be at school if you have nothing to learn?

B: What should potential applicants do to make themselves more competitive?

M: Don't overload on film work in high school, but don't come in completely blind either.  It's a liberal arts school, so you have to strike a balance.  That said, getting admitted to the film major is fairly straightforward most of the time once you’ve been admitted to the school.  There are basic requirements you need to achieve.  We do also offer a minor.

B: Any last words of wisdom?

M: Caring about movies is important.  That might sound obvious, but you have to care about the medium itself, not everything that surrounds it, if you want to succeed at Wes.  There's a difference between liking film and being unable to stop doing it.

B: I guess you’re more of the latter.

M: Apparently.


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

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It’s so simple, so seductive.  Who knew that there was a way to acquire the prestige and earning potential of an elite, top three MBA program without the trouble of optimizing your grades, GMAT and resume? Apparently, Poets and Quants did, and they finally decided to share the method with the rest of us in their recent article about part-time MBAs, the so-called ‘secret back-door’ into top programs.

Let’s get one thing out of the way first. We here at Forster Thomas love part-time, evening, and executive MBA programs. Many of the people who work with us wind up going earning alternative MBA degrees at schools like Ross, Kellogg,, and Haas, for a range of reasons. Some have to balance work and family. Some don’t need as much preparation because they are further along in their careers.  Some just want to spend some time learning from (and with) Americans.

One thing all of our clients have in common, however, is that they do NOT attend a part-time program and then play act as though they were in the full-time program, posing pretentiously as ‘real’ MBA students and demeaning their classmates who ACTUALLY wanted part-time degrees in the first place.

There are lots of really good reasons not to look at the part-time MBA as ‘full-time lite’. The first one is a fairly obvious ethical one.  After all, every top business school prides itself on maintaining a high moral standard. How do you think they would feel if they heard you were deliberately misrepresenting your degree on your resume?

But perhaps you’re thinking, “Eh, what they don’t know won’t hurt them”.  Au contraire -- there are also a boatload of pragmatic arguments against doing this.  A big part of the MBA experience is networking, which requires making strong connections with like-minded people. Nobody wants to cozy up to the kid who claims a bunch of merits he didn’t earn – it just looks desperate.

Deception on a resume is also a terrible strategy when you’re trying to get hired.  Bulge bracket banks and top-tier PE and consulting firms have layer upon layer of interviews and HR.  You might be able to sneak your trick past a computer weeder, but when the hiring manager (who after all, is probably an alumna of one of these schools) sees what you tried to pull there’s no way she’s giving you the job. You have just proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that you are not worthy of her trust. 

Then there’s the matter of on-campus hiring and job fairs.  Most schools want to help their students get jobs, and some, like Kellogg and Ross, do a remarkably good job of it. But no school is going to want to help the student misrepresent his or her resume and thereby put the brand of the school itself at risk.

Trying to game the University system and spending a bunch of money on a degree in order to pretend you’re getting a different type of degree is stupid, short-term thinking. The smart move is to be true to yourself and your abilities, pick a program where you are going to mesh well with the other students, work hard alongside them, earn their trust, and go out and do great things together.  There is no secret backdoor into HBS – but if you’re looking to get kicked out the front door, lying is a great way to start.

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The more things change, the more things stay the same. If this is true of anything, it is true of the US News law school rankings.  Every school in the top 14 held its standing or gained ground, reinforcing the somewhat obvious fact that the rankings primarily reflect opinions already held about the schools by people who were influenced, among other things, by the US News.

They admit as much when explaining their methodology; 40 percent of the schools ranking is determined by peer review, AKA people’s opinions.  Can you really rely on a study that primarily relies on itself to form its opinions about something as complex and important as admissions?

Rather than offering meaningful reform or addressing law school's serious issues head-on, US News tries to make something headline worthy out of the fact that they changed their methodology a bit this year. Specifically, they weighted school sponsored jobs less heavily, a token nod to the continuing furor over the limited job prospects for graduating law school students. By using this tweak as their headline, the organization seems to be suggesting that they have acknowledged ongoing criticism that law school is useless below a certain tier.

But if they have acknowledged that criticism, their fix is a fig leaf at best.  The table they show indicates that the problem is widespread – top ranked schools like U. VA Law employ nearly 17 percent of their own graduates each year.  The proportions for Emory and William and Mary are even more striking; more than a quarter of students are employed by the University at both schools.  This fact does not, however, seem to have had much effect; UVA and Emory held steady at #8 and #19, and William and Mary, the biggest offender, dropped only five spots down to #29.  Since US News does not give numerical values for its rankings, it’s hard to know whether this represents a big jump or a small one.

All in all, the new rankings do not change the equation much for students thinking about applying this year. If you get into a top 14 school, or even the top third, law school can definitely work for you, provided you work hard after you are admitted and graduate in the top half of your class.  But if your only admits are at schools like Brooklyn or Loyola, you are probably better off re-applying next year or choosing another career path.

Disagree?  Have questions?  Contact us!

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By Ben Feuer (educational consultant, Forster-Thomas, Inc.)

Frank Bruni’s feel-good, think-bad article this past weekend was a good read, and an even better reminder of how entrenched the mindset of elitism is in 1% America. By unconsciously focusing on those who already have been given so much and nevertheless feel entitled to more, Bruni illustrates all too clearly the dividing line in this country between privilege and poverty, opportunity and despair.

His basic point is sure to inspire sympathy in anyone who has ever been spurned; IE, anyone, and by reminding parents that a top tier college is not the be-all and end-all of achievement, Bruni offers a dose of common sense for Times-devouring tiger moms with zero perspective.  Bruni takes a shot at everyone’s favorite straw man, the opaque and depressing college admissions process, calling it fatally flawed. Of course it is, if you believe that the purpose of college admissions is to give every elite applicant from Exeter and New Triers a free pass to the next level, which it certainly doesn’t.  (By the way, whether or not your child went to Exeter, if he has his or her own room, you are officially in this elite world.)  In fact, the reason many students find college admissions daunting is because this is the first time they are facing a bar that they cannot easily clear simply by virtue of token effort and fortunate birth.  The really revealing part of the article, actually, is the examples themselves that Bruni uses to make his point.

The truth is, admissions is flawed, but not the way Bruni says it is.  Colleges are still doing a horrible job of providing equal access to all worthy students.  In Bruni’s article, Peter Hart and Jenna Leahy felt out of place when they didn’t get into top schools.  The fact is, the admissions process does a pretty good job of comparing and contrasting people who go to Exeter – – there was probably a good reason, like Jenna’s subpar SAT and Peter’s apparent lack of ambition and maturity on paper, for their rejection. This is an example of the process working the way it is supposed to work; the college passed on Peter and Jenna and instead gave those seats to students that had earned them, hopefully a student from a disadvantaged background whose life will be immeasurably improved by an elite university education.

It is both easy and comforting to blame the system that denies you access – and it’s nice to have a friend at the times to give your venting a megaphone.  Imagine, however, that instead of facing that rejection once, at age 18, you faced it from your mother at age three, who didn’t want you, or from a series of foster parents who turned you over to the state one after another.  Imagine people distrusted you and assumed the worst of you simply because of the color of your skin or the way you dressed.  Imagine going to bed hungry every night and still being expected to finish your homework (with no parents around to help).  For too many Americans, THAT is still the reality they face every day.  College and graduate school applicants sometimes complain that their lack of adversity hurts them on their essays and applications, as indeed it does. They never seem to think about what it’s like to actually live through that adversity that reads so well on those applications. 

The more pertinent question, and the one Bruni completely fails to ask, is why the only way to validate a perceived failure (not getting into a brand name school) is by telling a later success story involving the same brand names that were the villains of the first story. Hart didn’t get into Harvard undergraduate, but then got into Harvard business school, thereby ‘proving them wrong’.  Jenna’s ‘failure’ to get into Emory was redeemed by earning a spot at Teach for America. 

And then to add to the absurdity, YCombinator, as elite a brand as can be imagined, makes itself look good in Bruni’s article at the expense of elite Stanford, a sophisticated piece of social engineering from a brand that has proven itself very adept at self-promotion. We’re so elite, founder Altman argues implicitly, that we don’t need elites. We MAKE them.  Bruni lets him get away with that, but I won’t.  Colleges, despite their flaws, provide training, education, history and jobs to those who need it.  Elite accelerators, whose successes can be counted on the fingers of one hand, take advantage of groupthink and elitism to promote themselves, selling prestige for marketshare while perpetuating the type of vicious cycles that Stanford, at least in part, is trying to stop.

What is this article supposed to prove, Frank?  If you have enough advantages, one failure isn’t going to kill you?   By that logic, ALL the seats at Harvard should go to the underprivileged – after all, when they miss the cut, they don’t go to private school – instead, they take two years of community college (if they’re lucky) and go to work to support their mothers, wives and children.  Elite schools aren’t just about bragging rights for the 1% -- they also offer crucial, life-altering opportunities for the lucky few that manage to run the gauntlet of poverty. And the sad fact is, neither service could exist without the other, at least not in our current system.

So what should we do?  I’d need another thousand words at least to answer that question.  For now, it’s enough to shine a spotlight on the problem and remind people that it’s rude to demand seconds when there are others at the table who haven’t been fed at all.   

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With the usual fanfare, US News has released its 2016 Graduate School rankings.  What are the most important takeaways this year?  Here's one -- we need a more sophisticated method of evaluating our education.

Here we go again.

With the release of its 2016 graduate school rankings, the US News and World Report sets the merry-go-round awhirl once again with breathless murmurs about who’s up and who’s down (answer; no one relevant) and the usual circular debates as to why a few lower tier schools have leapt around the rankings like overcaffeinated gymnasts.  Yes, it’s the same data as last year, folks, all laid out in a tidy, digestible table so that people can know, to a numerical certainty, just how superior they are supposed to feel to the person sitting next to them.  Isn’t that a relief?

Well forgive us for speaking truth to power (it’s kind of our thing), but we here at Forster Thomas feel compelled to break the orthodoxy and say, in no uncertain terms, the unspeakable –

Do we really care anymore?

After the first few weeks of click frenzies die down, will these rankings really tell you anything about your target school the last five years of rankings did not? Do they illuminate, in any meaningful way, the graduate school process?  After all, most top MBAs already know what schools, or at least what universe of schools, they’re applying to.  For them, year-to-year rankings don't matter much.  If Stanford takes first three years running, or HBS drops to 8th place, that might turn some heads, but little changes?  Not really.  

Case in point: Columbia hasn’t ranked higher than 7th for five years, yet many people choose Columbia over MIT, Kellogg, and Booth despite what the rankings say.  The same goes for NYU and Duke over Darden and Ross, probably because of the schools undergraduate prestige and name recognition, although that hasn't yet helped Yale, which is now tied with Fuqua and is solidly in the top 14, despite having the lowest employment numbers by a fairly wide margin.

On the whole, the US News rotisserie simply reinforces the prejudices applicants already carry around inside their heads. The methodology, after all, is largely based on reputation. Is it any surprise that creating a ranking system that reinforces reputation essentially operates as a self-fulfilling prophecy?  And lest we forget, that reputation knife cuts both ways.  If US News shakes things up too much, they'll look out of touch (imagine if Darden jumped to #4), but they have to reshuffle the chess pieces to make headlines. 

Stanford displacing HBS at #1 headlines, but it doesn't make change.  Alternate ranking systems in recent years have tried to do just that, upsetting the orthodoxy completely.  We have covered some of the most interesting ones right here on our blog. There have been some attempts to calculate value for money, and to more heavily weight employment numbers.  Certain ranking systems emphasize international prestige, which can be important for students who want their degree to translate overseas. 

Why does an organization with US News’ resources try, for instance, interviewing all the deans of the schools, or making an in-depth examination of faculty or the effects of cluster size on student learning? Then, at least, each year’s rankings would tell us something new -- augmenting the previous year’s knowledge rather than supplanting it.

But the US News rankings, at least for business school, are still trapped in a world where the most valuable currency is chatter, and superficial metrics take the place of serious, in-depth investigation of the schools.