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If you are an MBA applicant looking for the next amazing entrepreneurship opportunity, forget Silicon Valley -- Beantown's where it's at.

By Ben Feuer

As someone currently living in Boston, I may be a little biased when I say this, but this city deserves more credit.  And perhaps it's finally getting it.  According to a new BBC article, Beantown may well be taking its rightful place beside New York City and Silicon Valley as an innovation hub. Not that that would be news to famous Boston innovators like Ray Kurzweil, innovator in OCR and music.  For them, this is merely an acknowledgement of what has long been true -- Boston is one of the most educated and intelligent cities on the planet.

Now, new tech companies like Spritz are choosing to make their home in Boston rather than flee to the West Coast.  Spritz, which promises to increase reading times by saving your eye the effort of scanning a page of text, has a cool tech demo on their homepage, and if it works, it could be particularly useful for our law students, who seem to spend half of their waking hours reading and taking notes.

Spritz, by the way, is from MIT.  MBA applicants take note -- if you have entrepreneurial ambitions and you have even a passing interest in tech, how can you NOT love this school?  And if for some reason you don't, you have more than 100 other options available to you.

Yeah, New York and LA are great.  But don't forget about Boston!

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Forster-Thomas looks into our admissions consulting crystal ball and lays odds on various possible outcomes.

By Ben Feuer

Here at Forster-Thomas we don't think of ourselves as inveterate gamblers, but that doesn't mean we don't lay wagers around the offices about what schools might do (or eschew) the following year.  Here are some possibilities and the odds we'd lay on each.

2:1 -- Odds that Stanford will keep its WMM Essay

This is as close to a sure thing as you can get in the world of MBA admissions, having been on Stanford's application for over ten years running.  Expect to see it again this year.

3:1 -- Odds that at least one of the big three will add an optional or required video essay.

Kellogg was the only top 10 MBA program to require a video essay last year.  Expect that to change.  Video is trending upward, so get your camera face ready.

5:1 -- Odds that Wharton will change all of its essays (again).
We really could as easily put this at 4:1.  Wharton has changed all of its essays both of the previous years, although it has kept its goals essay, in one form or another, each of those years (2013-2014 saw that essay take a personal as well as a professional spin).

10:1 -- Odds that HBS will reinstate its goals essay.

Harvard seems to like the goal right where it is -- as a short answer.  Admissions officers have previously stated that they are less concerned with what a candidate thinks he wants to do than with what he has done.  This is underscored by HBS having the youngest incoming class.

30:1 -- Odds that total allowed word count will increase at any school.

The trend is toward removing essays and lowering word counts as competition grows fiercer.  We expect to see this trend continue in 2014-2015.  More than ever, it is vitally important to distinguish yourself in a limited word count.

Well, there they are!  Our predictions.  Come back in six months and we'll see whether we are eating crow.

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  Tomorrow (March 11th, 2014), US News will release its full list of the highest ranked medical schools for research and for primary care.  Here's the preliminary list.

 By Ben Feuer


 On March 6th, US News released the list we have all been waiting for -- the new ranking for medical schools.  Of course, we here at Forster-Thomas take a dim view of the continuing global obsession with rankings -- after all, is the #23 school really turning out substantially inferior primary care physicians than the #16 school? -- but it is still a useful shorthand for those just starting out on their path to medical school.

 Well, not to steal their thunder, but here is the list.


Columbia University (NY)
Duke University (NC)
Harvard University (MA)
Johns Hopkins University (MD)
Stanford University (CA)
University of California—San Francisco
University of Pennsylvania (Perelman)
University of Washington
Washington University in St. Louis
Yale University (CT)
Michigan State University (College of Osteopathic Medicine)
Oregon Health and Science University
University of California—San Francisco
University of Massachusetts—Worcester
University of Michigan—Ann Arbor
University of Minnesota
University of Nebraska Medical Center
University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill
University of Washington

University of Wisconsin—Madison 

 Key changes from last year -- in primary care, #11 Michigan State University has climbed into the top ten, supplanting Colorado-Denver, and among research universities, Washington appears to have supplanted Chicago and Ann Arbor, which were last year locked in a three-way tie for #8 -- but since this is just a preliminary list, it is impossible to be certain of that until tomorrow.

 We look forward to the final list!

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Virtual reality entertainment, education and interactivity open up new possibilities for graduate school applicants. 

By Ben Feuer

The Oculus Rift, headed soon to a living room near you, is more than just another screen.  It is a virtual reality headset that also tracks your body movements.  In other words, it's interactive entertainment brought to a whole new extreme.

Of course, this immersive medium is a natural fit for film (MFA applicants, take note), and MBA students should always be hip to exciting new potential business ventures (VR streaming services, anyone?).  But if you do not see a potential for your future career in this, you're just not thinking inside the box.
Going to earn your architecture M.Arch?  You might wind up designing virtual environments in CAD that people can walk through from the comfort of their own homes.  Medical school?  How about immersive long distance video checkups on patients with limited mobility?  Journalists?  Maybe your next news piece will walk us through the middle of a conflict zone, sensing gunfire erupting all around us.  Psychologists?  You'll probably be stuck comforting the rest of us after we realize that we have no actual in-person experiences anymore.

The future is now!  Bottoms up, and when it comes time to write your personal statements and goals essays, take your blinders off, unless, of course, your blinder is an Oculus Rift.


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Friday, February 28, 2014

Can I Take My Drone to Class, Please?

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By Ben Feuer

Tech toys takes a sometimes serious, sometimes humorous look at the world of technology, and how it continues to interact with (and impact) the educational landscape.

HuffPo posted a new article on February 19th.  The topic?  New trends in tech for 2014.  Pay attention, all you budding entrepreneurs, because HuffPo has the down low on what's hot (hint … not this), and if you're planning to write your MBA goals essay on a technology topic, you should be aware of this stuff.

Most of the usual suspects are there: big data, smart objects.  But the one that caught my eye was drones.

Drones?  Really?

Can you imagine what it would be like if drones ACTUALLY caught on in 2014?  What if we all got our own personal drones, following us to school?  Imagine the possibilities!  They could --

– Carry our heavy books
– Fabricate doctor's notes
– Tase people who annoy us
– Surveil the laundry room, so you can finally find out who keeps stealing your detergent

That's it, I'm sold.  Drones in 2014?  Sign me up.  I mean seriously, what's the downside here?


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Thursday, February 27, 2014

How to Avoid Tedious MBA Jargon: Synergy

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There are certain terms MBAs use that, when seen in the proper context (real life), are meaningless.  In this series, we attempt to purge them from your vocabulary and provide useful alternatives.

Synergy, one of the most abused words in the English lexicon, started out life innocently enough as a way to describe a whole greater than the sum of its parts.  Its shocking rise in popularity since 1960 is due almost entirely to the rise of the corporation.  The word is synonymous with business.

Look out for “synergy” in your resume, accomplishment and leadership essays.  When you make your department more efficient, you are not “increasing synergy”, you're just making things work better.  New partnerships do not “create powerful interdepartmental synergies”, they improve the quality of your product or service, or they add a new one.  Worst of all is when people use synergy to describe relationships.  “I created a powerful new synergy between my previously feuding co-workers”.  No sir, you did not.  You got them to stop sending snarky emails back and forth.

Even if your usage of “synergy” is meaning-appropriate, consider whether it is context-appropriate.  Do you really want to address your reader with such formal, distant language?  Probably not.  

Forget synergy.  Instead, try its more homespun cousin, cooperation.

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This series looks at the world of admissions consulting through everybody's favorite lens – the list!

1. Men's Bobsled

A bunch of sweaty guys crammed way too close together, trying to move ahead as fast as possible without actually doing that much work.

Degree Awarded = MBA (Masters in Business Administration)

2. Ice Dance

A coterie of graceful, touchy feely people judged on seemingly arbitrary criteria, while simultaneously feeling ever so slightly inferior to their more famous sister discipline.

Degree Awarded = MSW (Masters in Social Work)

3. Curling

A stilted, deliberately confusing pastime that was once cutting edge, but now is performed only by rich people in obscure places.

Degree Awarded = PHM (Masters of Philosophy)

4. Ice Hockey

A group of men or women banding together by country and attempting to outrank everybody else.

Degree Awarded = MPP or MPA (Masters in Public Administration or Policy)

5. Cross Country Skiing

An exhausting, seemingly endless, shockingly repetitive activity resulting in a skill that is impressive, but ultimately not that interesting and not worth that much money.

Degree Awarded = Ph.D (Doctor of Philosophy) 

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No MBA applicant should be without a clear professional goal for their essay or application.

Every top MBA program, with the notable exception of HBS and MIT Sloan, has an essay that requires you to discuss your future professional goals. Unfortunately, a lot of business school applicants don’t yet know what they want to do (around 50% of the b-school candidates we see at Forster-Thomas—and 70% of those from finance backgrounds fit this mold). All they know for sure is that they no longer want to be doing what they’re doing right now. And since we all have friends who got into top business schools with ambiguous goals, you might ask: why can’t I just say that?

You can – but it would not be a good idea. Specificity is one thing that can distinguish your candidacy and set you apart in everyone’s eyes—especially admissions officers. When applying to business school—ANY b-school—there are bound to be successful applicants who buck the trend (those who have a perfect GMAT and whose last employer was David Loeb) and do just fine. You know, people who ignore every piece of advice out there and somehow still get that coveted Stanford admit. We here at Forster-Thomas like to call them “Easy A’s” (for easy admits, of course). Actually, we call them the exceptions that prove the rule. And the other thing, when they’re not looking.

The good news is that that's OK; b-schools don't necessarily expect that you're going to have the same goal going out as you do coming in. However, they do want to see vision, passion, and direction. And that’s pretty tough to demonstrate when saying, “I’m not exactly sure what I want to do.” So yes, you do have to have a specific professional goal. Here are three points to help you get there.

1. Don’t worry—you’re not signing a contract with the future. This isn't a business plan, and you're not going to be forced to sign in blood (with a few exceptions, like Wharton's Healthcare Management program—read the fine print!). This means that you should feel free to write about a possible goal you might pursue, as long as you’re genuinely interested in it and can write articulately about it.

2. Your goal must demonstrate a specific direction and vision for your career. Like Christine Sneva, director of admissions at Cornell’s Johnson School, says (along with just about every other admissions director at every other top school): “Please show you have a clear direction for your goal post-MBA.” In other words, even if you aren't 100% sure what you’re going to be doing 10 years from now, you need to show that you know how to get there. Say it’s you’re Sarah Jessica Parker, and you’re going in for an audition for the role of Carrie from Sex & the City. You wouldn’t stroll into the audition and say, "Hey, I'm really good. Take my word for it!” No, you would do an audition to show off your acting chops. Even if you had never seen a word of the script, you’d have a some other monologue memorized and prepared. If that monologue blows everyone away, the director will hire Sarah because if she can do that well, she can do his script well. The goals essay is an audition for your vision—can you conceptualize and plot out a long- and short-term career arc? Top B-schools want to see you think in concrete career terms.

3. Your goal has to make sense and be organic with who you are as a person. Sticking with our acting theme, Chris Colfer (the gay kid from Glee) would NOT be auditioning for Stanley in A Streetcar Named Desire. You got that, Stella? If you're a Quant Jock who has never cared about the triple-bottom line, don't rhapsodize about social entrepreneurship—your goal should inspire real passion in you. You need to love the concept of your goal and be able to talk with passion and persuasion about it—both in your essays and your interviews.

The goals essay is nothing to fear. In fact, once you write it, you may find yourself liking it so much you want to build your whole candidacy around it … an approach we heartily recommend.

--Ben Feuer

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In the MBA admissions game, there are no guarantees. Most elite business schools, including Stanford and Wharton, look favorably on reapplicants. They appreciate the persistence and commitment you have demonstrated to the MBA degree by applying again after you have already been rejected. At Forster-Thomas, we have an excellent track record helping reapplicants get into top b-schools. The way to win this game is simple; show them how you have enhanced your candidacy since last year. Here are some areas you can focus on.

1. GMAT. A higher GMAT score is one of the best ways to polish any candidacy… yes, even yours! Nothing says I’m ready for the intellectual rigors of Kellogg quite like a competitive GMAT. The exception to this rule is if you're already in the rarefied air of the 730+ GMAT range … if that’s the case, drop what you’re doing and email our office manager at info@forsterthomas.com RIGHT NOW, because that means your weakness lies in another area… almost certainly #2…

2. ESSAYS. Reapplications are divided between schools which require that you write a reapplicant essay and those which simply ask you to answer this year’s questions. This divide isn’t as meaningful as it seems at first, because either way, you still have to show them how you have grown from your failure to get in the previous year. Make a list. Take out your magic marker and scrawl on the kitchen wall all the things you have done since your applications went out last year. Make sure that numbers 1 through 5 are addressed somewhere in your application, either in your reapplicant essay, or worked into some of your other essays.

3. QUANT. If you're weaker in quant, take summer classes. The big four: Calculus, Statistics, Microeconomics and Financial Accounting.

4. JOB AND TITLE. Did the new year bring a new job, promotion, or title change? Perhaps one with expanded responsibilities or greater client facing exposure? If so, your essay practically writes itself.

5. LEADERSHIP. From the moment you get that ding in your inbox, take a hard look at all of your extracurricular engagements, including clubs and volunteer opportunities. Ask yourself, have I been capitalizing on my opportunities to lead in my communities? If the answer is no, get cracking, because this is one area that is entirely in your power to control.

6. ADD NEW SCHOOLS. Sometimes you have your heart set on a particular program and it simply doesn’t work out. Don’t despair … cast a wider net. There is a school for you--one that will get you all the success you want--and more research will help broaden your horizons. Fold in two or three schools that may be more of a target school, where your GMAT and GPA are more competitive.

Always remember, the moral of every great reapplicant story is the same: like Kelly Clarkson says, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” You didn’t get in last year, you understand why you didn’t get in last year, and you’ve committed yourself to strengthening your candidacy. Write this and your dream school is sure to look favorably on you. (But if you’re struggling, don’t be “Miss Independent” … just click on this link and contact us!)

Forster-Thomas essay coach Ben Feuer shares his tips on how to answer the Wharton essay questions for the class of 2015

Wharton’s MBA application essay questions have changed this year, but the underlying message remains the same: show us why you’re a good fit for Wharton, and get us excited and engaged with what you have been doing and what you plan to do with your life (both personally and professionally). Remember that these essays are about more than just repeating bullet points from your resume, or talking points from your interview checklist. You have to infuse the essays with your personal feeling—the essence of YOU.

1. How will the Wharton MBA help you achieve your professional objectives? (400 words)

At first blush, this might seem to be a standard “goals” essay, sharing what you want to achieve in your career and why you need an MBA to go do it. But as always, a close reading of the prompt provides important clues about what kind of answer Wharton is looking for. Note, for example, their shift from a single, all-encompassing “goal” to the more moderate “professional objectives.” This isn’t an invitation to check your passion at the door, but it is a reminder that this essay is about putting forward exciting possibilities, not set-in-stone business plans. And the prominent mention of a Wharton MBA in the prompt suggests that you should be paying even MORE attention than usual to the program details that attract you to the school. Try to connect every point you make about your future career back to the Wharton experience. Find the line of continuity between what you have been doing, what Wharton will teach you to do, and where that will eventually take you.

2. Select a Wharton MBA course, co-curricular opportunity, or extra-curricular engagement that you are interested in. Tell us why you chose this activity and how it connects to your interests. (500 words)

This essay invites you to dig deep into one thing—JUST ONE—that excites you about the Wharton experience. There are a few effective ways to approach this question. One would be to focus on a course that is the perfect bridge between your professional experience thus far and your future professional goals. With only 400 words in the previous essay to talk about your goal, you can use this essay as a chance to better draw those connecting lines between yourself and Wharton. You could also talk about a course or co-curricular that connects to one of your greatest passions and describe how learning more about it would inform your professional development. However, it seems to this Essay Coach that an equally viable path for many candidates will be extracurriculars. Talking about a club, and your contributions to it, gives you the opportunity to really put yourself in the middle of something exciting that is already taking place on campus, and envision yourself in a leadership role. It also gives you a chance to refer back to similar positions you may have held in the past. What would you keep? What would you change? What would you disrupt? The world is at your fingertips.

3. Imagine your work obligations for the afternoon were cancelled and you found yourself "work free" for three hours, what would you do? (500 words)

At its heart, this is a passion essay (see Chapter 15 of The MBA Reality Check), a question has circled around from school to school over the years—because it is, well, a good way to get to know the real you! For those of you who are feeling a little creative, this is your chance to really get the admissions officers excited about having you around. Don’t take the easy way out. Don’t talk about going to see your family, or going to see that new movie that’s in theaters. Instead, write about something that is unique to you, that allows you to explore a side of yourself they might otherwise overlook. Something surprising. Maybe even something a little bit dangerous. Just because this is business school doesn’t mean you have to be all business, all the time! What are your passions? Your secret fascinations? I know what I would do: pull out my laptop, listen to a few Broadway show tunes and get inspired. To some people they may scream dorky, but I have always been fascinated by the evolution of story in song. Your turn! Go off script! Start sharing, and you’ll eat up those 500 words in no time—and admissions will eat you up! But don’t forget to tie it back to a broader point about your candidacy overall—you don’t want this essay to stick out like a sore thumb.

4. "Knowledge for Action draws upon the great qualities that have always been evident at Wharton: rigorous research, dynamic thinking, and thoughtful leadership." - Thomas S. Robertson, Dean, The Wharton School. Tell us about a time when you put knowledge into action. (500 words)

This scintillating quote from the Dean of the Wharton School, Thomas S. Robertson, invites you to explore a leadership or accomplishment experience (yes, just in case you didn’t recognize those clues in the quote about “research, thinking and LEADERSHIP,” this is a leadership essay)—but with a twist! This leadership experience must begin with knowledge, something you know that others do not. Often this will come from specialized workplace knowledge; you may be the Excel genius of your office, or maybe it’s sales…or yodeling. Whatever the knowledge may be, this is a great place to address it. Make sure it ends in action, positive change that transformed a group or organization. The more exciting and “disruptive” this change, the better. The harder it was to implement, the better. But the key thing to remember is that it must begin with knowledge; whether you acquired that knowledge through research, deep thought, or dumb luck*, doesn’t matter—something you knew sparked you to get off your butt and lead!

*Seriously, it’s fine if you encountered your knowledge via dumb luck; after all, Auntie Evan claims that most of his best lines were overheard in an elevator. Just make sure you’re honest about it being dumb luck, and you’ll be fine.

Need help digging down deep to write amazing MBA essays? Call Forster-Thomas at 212-741-9090 or click here to set up a free candidacy assessment.