Article by Tom Locke, Photo by Matt Chan

As the Senior Interview Consultant for Forster Thomas, i have the good fortune of preparing droves of clients each year for those coveted “Invite Interviews.” And, most of the candidates I have the pleasure of prepping share some commonalities: most are excited, and rightly so! Most are wondering how they can be best prepared, and I get that. Yet, most are also absolutely freaking out. You know the type— they need to do their interview prep session 6 weeks before the interview. They send me, in advance, every essay they have written, not just for this application, and not even for all their applications. They send me every essay they have written since 8th grade. They want to know: Will we meet in person even though I am in Oklahoma and you are in New York?  If we skype, what should I wear for our skype session? What are the 20 most common questions that they are going to ask me? How long will the interview last? My friend said…, My boss, who went to HBS, told me…, I read online that…. The list goes on and on….and on. 

I am here to tell you three things:

1)    It’s going to be ok!

2)    I understand your angst

3)    YOU NEED TO STOP! NOW!

Now, let me address some of your specifics: it’s not practical or necessary to travel 1500 miles to do a prep session in person. Technology is wonderful. I don’t care what you wear for our prep session. I care what you wear to your interview. If I give you the 20 most common questions, I can promise you that: Stanford, or Harvard, or Kellogg knows what those questions are and they are going to ask you question numbers 21, 37, and 149. The interview will last as long as it lasts, and DO NOT READ INTO THAT. First of all, I have seen people have ten minute interviews and get in. I have also seen people have 2 hour interviews and get inexplicably dinged. And forget what your friend, your boss, your dad, or your milkman said. They know their experience, from one moment in time, at one school. And that probably will not apply to you!

So, what do you do? The best, most simple advice I can give you is this— TREAT IT LIKE A FIRST DATE. Treat it like a date with someone you met online.

Let’s just think about that for a second. You meet someone on Match or OKCupid or JDate or BDate or XDate or dateme.com and you scour each other’s profiles, determining if you each check enough boxes to go out with the other. Then, you use email, or maybe even texts, to determine if there is a bit of a connection there beyond those boxes. And guess what! There is. So, you both know a bit about each other, you both like what you have discovered, and now you are going to go sit across from each other, try to get to know each other, and determine if you each want to spend some more time together. Like, maybe the next two years.  And you know what? That is EXACTLY the way you should treat your MBA interview. Be focused on helping them get to know you, and be curious about them. And if you can be yourself? You will probably have more dates. If you try to impress them, or overprepare, or worry incessantly about things that don’t matter, you will not come off as AUTHENTIC and you will freak them out and you will not get another date, and you will not get into that school you have been dreaming about!

They will not ask you anything you don’t know the answer to. I repeat, you already have all the answers. You just need to be relaxed enough to let them out! Yes, there are things to think about in terms of approach, but the most important thing you can bring to an interview that nobody else in the world can bring…is YOU! Just like a date. So, if you are good at dating, relax. You’ll be fine! And if you’re not— get yourself out there in the dating game. It just might help your MBA interview.

Got questions for me?  Hit me up -- I'm around.



Article by Ben Feuer, Photo by Lillith

If there is one type of essay every college hopeful moans and groans about — it’s their Common App personal statement.  But the “why school” essays run a close second.  Everyone struggles with them.  Shawna, bright and funny with a GPA to die for, was aces when it came to writing about her background as a half-Filipina woman trying to find her way in a prejudiced society. But once it came time for her to do school research, she stalled out. It feels like hitting a single, not a home run, she told me. But I disagree --

ANYBODY can hit a home run with a “why school” essay — if she’s willing to put in the work.  

Writing a great school-specific essay requires a very different set of skills than writing a great personal statement, but both types of essay are important. You should always take them when you have an option, AND you should always write at or near the maximum word-count for Why School essays (unlike other types of essay, where it isn’t as important).  Here are some commonly asked questions about this essay type --

Why are schools so concerned with research?  

Don’t they already know what is great about their school?  Of course they do (although it never hurts to hear it again).  They’re asking because of something called demonstrated interest. Demonstrated interest is a fancy way of saying, how much do you really want to go to OUR school?  Did you pick us just because we’ve got a good ranking, or do you actually know something about how we work?  Have you visited campus?  Have you spoken to alumni?  Are you familiar with the enviroment?  Class size?  Cultural reputation, IE, what the students behave like and what they value?  Schools like DI. DI correllates to yield, and yield boosts rankings — and everybody likes high rankings.

OK, fine.  What am I even supposed to talk about?


The world is your oyster!  Here’s a partial list.  There are many more.

Top professors (shared history, publications, work history, teaching reputation), student body (diversity, age, work history), recent alumni (willingness to communicate, quotes drawn from experience), advanced alumni (internships and placement), career services, industry strengths (sectors, disciplines), specialized majors, ability to cross-enroll, strength of cross-disciplinary opportunities, campus setting (proximity to family, friendliness, size, appearance), local opportunities (incubators, fellowships, internships, work-study, volunteering), clubs and organizations (duration, comparative strength, leadership opportunities, ways to grow or give back), conferences and campus speakers (relevance, reputation), entrepreneurial opportunities (competitions, incubators), classes (first year, second year, specializations), campus visits (info sessions, experience, sitting in on classes), family history (connections, early life)

I’m overwhelmed. Where do I start?

Start by creating a ‘headline’ for each of your target schools.  ALL of them, not just your favorite.  Summarize, in 1 or 2 sentences, what you think the unique fit is between yourself and the school. Treat these sentences as a hypothesis you need to prove.

Remember that your research will be more effective if you do early research into ALL your schools at once, or at least all the ones that have Why School essays. That way, you’ll have a basis for comparison (and a good school research point should ALWAYS be comparing one school to another, albeit not by name).

School research can be divided into three main categories.

  1. DEEP WEB RESEARCH. This should be the heart of your essay, as well as the meat and potatoes. Reading the school’s website is not a bad start, as it will give you a basic overview of what’s on offer. Keep an eye peeled for course listings, recent news events, maps and descriptions of important campus buildings, student run organizations, and other key terms.  Then take those terms and plug them right into Google, Youtube and Linkedin!  Yes, it’s that easy.  After reading 10-15 links on the things that interest you, you’ll understand it almost as well as someone at the school!  Statistical websites like College Factual are tremendously helpful here as well, as are blogs from current and former students, Vlogs, Instagram feeds – anything and everything is fair game. Cite a wide range of sources in your essay to show the depth of your research.
  2. TALK TO CURRENT/FORMER STUDENTS AND PROFS. Anyone more than 10 years out from graduation is not likely to be helpful, but more recent grads, particularly folks with similar backgrounds to you, are tremendous sources of information. But do your web research first, that way, you’ll be able to ask more specific questions. Remember, you’re trying to get interesting observations you can paraphrase, so if they’re speaking generally (or you’re not taking good notes) the whole thing will be a waste.  Don’t ask “How did you like the school?”  Ask “You took Professor Trelawney’s Divination II, right?  How did you like the reading material for that class, did you find it useful in your overall understanding of the degree?”  Focused questions result in focused answers. Better!
  3. DO A CAMPUS TOUR. Again, be prepared to take notes and take names. If you can’t get there in person, do a virtual tour. Note the date of your tour in your essay, sometimes that information comes in handy!

How many points should I be discussing?

A common bad strategy for this type of essay is overstuffing it with poorly supported points — referencing three classes in a row without explaining why any of them are necessary (or particularly strong at your chosen school), name dropping professors without explaining how their book on Cannibal Theory changed your life, using alumni quotes but providing no context as to their relevance.

Instead, make a few well chosen points and back them up.  What are the two or three things you, personally, MOST need from a college?  This, by the way, is ALSO the reason nobody can do this work for you. Ultimately, you’re the one who really knows your priorities and the things you most need in order to grow.

I wrote it, but I don’t like what I wrote. It feels general and vague. 

Every early draft of a why school essay shares the same pernicious flaw — blanket statements made without evidence (to back them up) or context (to explain why they belong in the essay).  So how do we fix these statements?  Watch the following bland comment transform into a great point — through action.

U.Chicago’s campus is very diverse.  Awful.  A blanket statement with nothing to back it up — not a shred of research or introspection.

When John Smith ’13 told me about U.Chicago’s diverse campus environment, I was very excited.  So-so — at least you spoke to (and quoted) an alumni.  But not much effort shown, nor much reflection on your own goals and needs.

When John Smith ’13 told me about U.Chicago’s diverse campus environment, I was very excited — my four years at Ball State proved to me that I thrive when I am learning from my peers as much as my professors.  Above average — not great.  Action taken, related it back to your own experience.  This is what I’d consider “bare minimum” for making a solid point as to why you and a school are a good fit.

When my best friend John Smith ‘20 told me about U.Chicago’s diverse campus environment (ranked 23rd in the nation by College Factual for its strong geographic and ethnic balance), I was excited, but skeptical — diversity can mean different things to different people.  So I went to see for myself, visiting on September 9th, 2017.  The info session was intimate — more so than any other I have attended — with a relatively select group of students offered full campus access.  Bob Davis ’12, my tour leader, was extraordinarily patient, walking me through U.Chicago’s outstanding array of clubs and societies, including the MSAC Committee. U.Chicago is one of the only schools I am considering that even offers a student-led Diversity Committee, much less one that advises faculty and university management on key outreach issues.  Outstanding.  The candidate walks us through his thought process — smoothly incorporating his actions taken (alumni interviews, campus visit, talked to tour guide for 1/2 hour) into a larger journey of how he came to fall in love with Booth.  We believe him.

Don’t fake it.  

I know, I know — you’re thinking, nah, that sounds too hard, or too expensive — I don’t want to Google-stalk a professor, or haunt an internet forum, or network on LinkedIn to meet alums from a school — I’m busy!  (as 1000 tiny violins play)  Campus visits, I’ll just make it up.  Ok, big boy, you do that.  And you might fool your parents, or even a peer reviewer or two.  But you won’t fool the experts, who have to read literally THOUSANDS of these things.  They know their own programs, and if you think you can generalize your way around campus — sorry, no.

You can’t have fit without a goal.

Your school may ask you “why us” but may not ask specifically about your goals.  Use one or two sentences to tell them about your goals for college.  Why?  Because if you don’t, how are you going to show that you are a good fit on campus?  People with dreams need help making their dreams come true.  Your goal and your past experience dictate what you need from the school. 

But be as specific as you can when it comes to your needs. Let’s say, for argument’s sake, you want to master leadership in college.  OK.  What aspect of leadership are you looking to develop?  Small teams?  Big teams?  Collaborating remotely?  Speaking in front of groups?  Setting long term visionary goals?  Achieving short term objectives?  By better defining your growth areas, you can focus more precisely on what the school has to offer you.  The same thing applies to every discipline you wish to develop — precise thinking and precise language will set you apart.

The end -- and the beginning.

That's it -- everything you know to write a great "why school essay.  It's not complicated -- but it's also not easy.  It takes time, and thought, to get it right.  Still, as with everything in this process, practice makes perfect -- so get to work on those drafts!

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





Article by Ben Feuer, photo by K.B.R.

School Nickname: Albert Einstein School of Medicine

Median MCAT: 515

Median GPA: 3.82

DeanAllen M Spiegel, MD

Prior to joining Einstein, Dr. Spiegel was Director of the National Institute of Diabetes & Digestive Diseases & Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) at the National Institutes of Health, the culmination of a distinguished 33-year-career at the NIH.

 

A member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, Dr. Spiegel earned his bachelor's degree summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Columbia University in 1967. He received his M.D. degree cum laude from Harvard Medical School in 1971 and completed his clinical training at Massachusetts General Hospital.

He began his career at the NIH in 1973 as a Clinical Associate in its Endocrinology Training program. He then served as a Senior Investigator in the Metabolic Disease Branch from 1977 to 1984. In 1985 he was appointed Chief of Molecular Pathophysiology, and then Chief of the Metabolic Diseases Branch. In 1990, he was appointed Director of the NIDDK's Division of Intramural Research. He served in these various capacities until his appointment as Director of the NIDDK in 1999. In this role, Dr. Spiegel had responsibility for a staff of 625 full-time employees and a $1.7 billion budget.

Details on the School: Highlights below

36 Global Initiatives, 20 Research Centers, and over $160 Million in NIH grants.

One need only look at the devastation caused by emergence of the Zika virus with resultant microcephaly in babies born of mothers infected during pregnancy to see that the concerted efforts of public health experts, virologists, immunologists and neuroscientists will be critical to preventing further tragic consequences. Einstein students trained by our outstanding faculty in some of our leading laboratories will be at the forefront of the research that ultimately makes the difference for this and other major health challenges. Just as infection with HIV was turned from a certain death sentence from AIDS to a treatable chronic condition, biomedical research will provide the answers to the major threats from Alzheimer’s disease, and currently poorly treated malignancies such as pancreatic cancer.

Top Residencies: 

Anesthesiology

psychiatry

emergency medicine

Internal medicine

Application: More here

Two-stage.  First stage MUST be done through AMCAS, with a deadline of October 15th.  There is also a secondary application that usually arrives between July and September.

It is rare that we admit individuals from foreign universities because the Admissions Committee does not have satisfactory means of evaluating premedical educaiton at universities outside of the United States and Canada.

Premedical Coursework

In response and to prepare applicants for holistic review that will evaluate, equally, their personal characteristics and academic readiness for medical school, the Albert Einstein College of Medicine has instituted a competency-based admissions process.

Applicants should know –

Chemistry, biology, physics, mathematics, and humanities & social sciences.

Knowledge Competencies are most successfully attained by applicants who have had a minimum of three years of study toward a baccalaureate degree from an accredited college or university in the U.S. or Canada as well as 40 credit hours of science and mathematics, including advanced biology courses for which letter grades are available (not Pass/Fail, unless college policy), 40 credit hours of humanities and social sciences, and substantial experience in clinical, community, and/or research activities (as described above). Students who complete their science course work in a post-baccalaureate program must have completed at least 30 credit hours in a U.S.-chartered college or university whose grades can be reported and verified by AMCAS.

Previous Year Questions:

Albert Einstein College has a somewhat unusual secondary. It is a series of questions. If you answer no, no further explanation is required. If you answer yes, you must write 100-200 words explaining further.  Here are the 2015-2016 questions.  Your strategy with these questions, as well as the other short answers on the application, should be to be as clear and complete as the word count allows, without dwelling on or overemphasizing any particular point in an attempt to ‘sell’ yourself or show off.

***

Series of yes or no questions. Any ‘yes’ answer requires a brief 100 word explanation.

I have taken time off between high school and college

(Please explain your activities in detail, and your reasons for taking time off, and include dates)

I have taken time off during my undergraduate years

(Please explain your activities in detail, and your reasons for taking time off, and include dates)

I have taken off at least a year since college graduation

(Please explain your activities in detail, and your reasons for taking time off, and include dates)

I plan to take off this year, after just having graduated, while I apply to medical school.

(Please explain what you plan to do this year and please provide confirmation of your plans when they are complete.)

I have taken and received credit for online courses

(Please note that the College does not accept online courses that are not offered by (as opposed to, approved by) your undergraduate or graduate institution. If you have taken online courses, please indicate what courses, where they were taken, and why you elected to take the courses online.)

I have worked part- or full-time, for pay, during the academic year while in college.

(Please indicate when you worked, e.g., freshman year, what months of the year you worked, and how many hours. Briefly describe the work you did.)

I have applied to medical school previously

(Please list schools and year of application, and tell us what actions you have taken to improve your application.)

I have submitted an AMCAS application to Einstein previously

(Please keep in mind that if you completed two prior applications, you are ineligible for reapplication.)

(Please indicate whether you completed the application process for Einstein, the year(s) you applied, and whether you were interviewed.)

I am presently enrolled in the Sue Golding Graduate Division

(Please indicate the year you enrolled, when you plan to take your qualifying examination, and the name of your mentor/department. It is required that your mentor write a letter of recommendation on your behalf.)

I am presently enrolled as an undergraduate student at Yeshiva University

(Please indicate the month and year that you will graduate.)

I had been accepted to medical school previously but chose not to matriculate (Please indicate the name of the school, the year, and your reasons for not matriculating.)

I had been enrolled previously in a medical school

(Please indicate the name of the school, the dates of your enrollment, and your reason for leaving.)

I have not yet completed all of the competencies

(Please indicate what you are missing, and when and how you plan completion.)

I will have a Baccalaureate Degree by the time I matriculate in medical school

(Please indicate why you will not have your Degree.)

I am presently holding a deferred enrollment to a medical/professional school

(Please indicate where you are holding a deferral and why you are applying to Einstein now.)

I have received a grade of “F” during my college/graduate school years

(Please indicate the name of the course and the reason for the failure.)

I have received a grade of “D” during my college/graduate school years

(Please indicate the name of the course and the reason for this grade.)

I have received a grade of “W” during my college/graduate school years

(Please indicate the name of the course and the reason for this grade.)

I have received a grade of “I” during my college/graduate school years

(Please indicate the name of the course and the reason for this grade.)

I have transferred from one college to another during my undergraduate years

(Please explain why you chose to transfer, and indicate the names of the colleges involved.)

I have been the recipient of a warning notice for a non-academic issue that did not result in a disciplinary action

(Please explain when, where and why.)

I have been subject to a disciplinary action and/or an administrative action, expunged or not, while in school

(If yes, please answer the following questions.)

Expunged? No Yes

How many warnings did you receive prior to an action being placed on your record?

(Please explain how all of the above affected you.)

I have disciplinary charges pending

(Please explain in detail.)

I have been convicted of a crime

(Please explain in detail.)

I expect that there will be criminal charges brought against me which are now pending

(Please explain in detail.)

I have been prohibited or suspended from practicing in a professional capacity due to or as a result of alleged misconduct

(Please explain in detail.)

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



Article by Ben Feuer, photo by Rosemary Voegtli

There are literally thousands of secondary essays put out by medical schools each and every year. But most of those essays can be subdivided into specific categories and dealt with in groups. In this blog, we’re discussing the ‘practice’ category.

DEFINITION OF THE PRACTICE CATEGORY

 

Any medical school secondary essay touching on a student’s ambitions as a doctor or plans for a future medical practice. Some of the prompts emphasize certain disciplines, others emphasize time-frames (10-15 years after graduation, for example), and other ask about the student’s degree of interest in research.

 

EXAMPLES OF SECONDARY PROMPTS IN THE PRACTICE CATEGORY

 

Are there any areas of medicine that are of particular interest to you? If so, please comment. 

 

The ultimate goal of our institution is to produce a population of physicians with a collective desire to improve health of all segments of our society through the outstanding patient care, research and education. In this context, where do you see your future medical career (academic medicine, research, public health, primary care, business/law, etc.) and why? Your answer need not be restricted to one category. If your plans require that you complete a dual degree program, please elaborate here. 

 

What medical specialty are you thinking about pursuing at this point?

 

Please describe the basic and/or clinical research fields that you think you might like to explore and/or develop expertise in during your MSTP training. To the extent that you have defined potential specific future clinical interests, please describe the type(s) of medicine that you might be interested in pursuing once you have completed the MSTP.

 

How will the University of Connecticut School of Medicine best serve your needs of becoming a physician or physician scientist?

 

What are your aspirations for your medical practice? Fast-forward to 15 years in the

future: where do you imagine yourself? 

 

TECHNIQUE FOR ANSWERING THE PRACTICE CATEGORY

 

Medical school secondary essays can be divided into two basic subtypes – narrative essays, which require the applicant to tell a story, and factual essays, which require the applicant to answer a series of factual questions.  The practice essay is a factual essay, so brainstorming should be centered around the specifics of the type of career the applicant wants to pursue.

 

Always answer this type of question narrowly. In other words, if a school doesn’t ask you what specialty you are interested in pursuing, don’t tell them. Answer only the questions you are asked by each school, as each wants to know a different set of things.

 

Although this type of essay is primarily about simple, direct factual answers to questions, it’s still important to have reasons and stories behind your choices. For instance, suppose you wanted to pursue a blend of research and clinical – why is it important to you to pursue both?  Or, say you wanted to start a practice in a small town – why would you prefer that to a big city?  By telling schools your reasoning, you invite them to engage with (and support) your way of thinking.

 

Remember that you are answering a question about the distant future, so it’s more important to have a clear emotional plan in your mind – the types of people you want to help, and why – than it is to have a perfected road map, which would have to change anyway.

 

***

 

Do you have more questions about this secondary essay, or about other secondary essays?  Feel free to contact us and we’ll be happy to help.



By Ben Feuer, photo by Steven Lilley

The 2017-2018 common application questions have been released into the wild. This year they’re pretty consistent with other recent years, but there are a few new twists, so read carefully.

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.

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 obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

The common App has softened this prompt, perhaps after a bunch of complaints of being triggered by even thinking about past failures … 😊  So now, you can write about a challenge, setback or failure. But guess what – you should still write about a failure. If you don’t feel up to it, or don’t think you have a strong failure to discuss, then call us. But seriously, if you don’t have a strong failure, you should pick another prompt, you certainly have plenty to choose between.

OTOH, 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 MBA admissions 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 questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome

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.  This, too, has been weasel-worded down to a softer “questioned or challenged”, but your story about that time you asked the teacher if you really had to sit at the front of the class all year is NOT good essay material, trust us.

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 question-writers are giving you a very big clue when they ask you to describe what prompted your thinking – they want to understand how your mind works. 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, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

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 became a period of maturation.

It’s also worth noting the emphasis on understanding others. Surprising or difficult events often deepen our ability to empathize with others’ struggles – if you have a story that involves learning to see the world in a new way, this could well be your prompt.

6. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more? [New]

This is a brand new prompt, for those of you who are just 100 percent not comfortable talking about yourselves in any way, shape or form. Now, before you breathe a sigh of relief and rush off to write yet another paean to microbiomes or Martin Luther King, let us insert a caveat. This is usually the wrong kind of prompt to choose. For most people, most of the time, you’re going to get an essay that’s dry, technical, and reveals nothing about the candidate – in other words, a waste of word count.

In order to write a good essay about an idea or concept, you have to loop in … feelings!  Yours and others.  Talk about the people who share your passion, or the ones who inspired it. Talk about the key moments in the development of your favorite obsession – how did it all begin, where do you see it going?  Relate it back to larger themes in your life. How has this experience helped you to grow and mature?

7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you've already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design. [New]

This is what we call an open-ended prompt. You can do whatever you want with it, which most folks find utterly terrifying. Not to worry – this should really be a last resort prompt if you have a fantastic essay already written that just doesn’t seem to fit any of the other prompts.

--

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!


By Ben Feuer. Photo by Morgan Sherwood

Every year, a few students get into schools (and newspapers) by writing totally unconventional essays. Essays that break the mold, that reinvent the basics, and that often completely ignore the question asked and the school’s requirements. But, hey, essays are an art form, and art is all about breaking the rules – right?

Sure. But there’s a smart way and a dumb way to take risks. And if you’re planning to be this year’s Ziad Ahmed and write that crazy, bare-your-soul tone poem in place of an essay, check out this advice first.

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SOME GROUND RULES

Don’t write a risky essay for a match or safety school – you’re better off simply taking your chances with a strong, compelling conventional essay and seeing how it goes.  You only write a risky, hail-mary essay for a reach school. 

You should always seek the approval and agreement of coaches, counselors and family members before embarking on a strategy.  Note that I didn’t say they have to approve of all your choices or your final draft – if you’re choosing to take a risk, do so by your own rules – but you should at least make sure you’re not missing something important or obvious before making a bold move. 

Make sure the ‘risky’ essay you’re writing is actually risky. A lot of the time, people think they’re being daring and original when they’re really just being derivative or obnoxious. Again, use your lifelines on the risky essay – not so people can tell you what to write, but so that you can gauge their honest reactions to what you have written.  And don’t copycat what got a lot of press last year. That’s the complete opposite of risky.

Don’t make your first-ever essay a risky essay. If you’re new to the essay writing game, start with some of the easier ones, and work your way up to the crazy ones.  That way, you’ll be sure of who you are as a candidate and what you have to offer before going off the deep end.

HOW DO I WRITE A RISKY ESSAY?

The whole point of risky essays is that they are cheeky, original and daring. So you should already have a pretty good idea of what you want to write about. If you don’t have a strong concept, why are you even considering a risky essay in the first place?

Now that you have your concept, make sure it aligns with all the other aspects of your candidacy. Consider Ziad Ahmed again (linked above) – he considered himself first and foremost a provocateur and activist, so his provocative, activism-themed ‘essay’ fit his candidacy to a T.  The purpose of an essay is to reveal who you are, to give the committee a strong sense of who they’re considering admitting. If you’re going to break the rules, you have to be giving them twice as strong of a sense.

Write your first draft quickly. Don’t slow down or give yourself too much time to second guess. Remember that a draft is just that, a draft. If it doesn’t work, chuck it and do something new instead. But trust your instincts. They’re what drove you to make this decision in the first place, so stick with them, and they’ll stick with you.

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Writing an essay, any essay, is hard, but writing a risky essay is four times harder. Like the best modern art, it may look simple, but the simple exterior conceals a lot of truth and authenticity (and hard thinking) beneath the surface. The risky essay is not for everyone – remember, for every one student who gets in this way, 1000 are getting in the old-fashioned way, by doing the work and answering the question asked. But if you’re a risk-taker, you’re not about playing the odds anyway, are you?


Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Shaping your essay-writing environment



Article by Ben Feuer, Photo by Tim Taylor

Many people underestimate the importance of environment when it comes to writing a great set of essays for college or graduate school. They figure, "I'll just squeeze this in when I can ... after all, what difference does it make when I do it, as long as I do it?"  Actually, it can make a huge difference!  How effective your writing sessions are, and how many new ideas you're able to come up with, is deeply impacted by the way you prepare for and spend your precious writing time.  So, since we're all writing veterans here at Forster-Thomas, we wanted to share a couple of our best tips with you.


Everyone has an optimal time of day for writing.  For some, it's the morning. For others, the evening. But you'll know you've hit your 'sweet spot' when your mind is at its clearest, and least distractable. This is the time when most of your best ideas are going to come.
Shut off distractions. Even one notification or alarm can take up to fifteen minutes to recover from. You'll get the work done a lot more quickly if you shut off all your dings, dongs and bleeps until you're done with the difficult work of crafting your first draft.
Create a pattern. Unless you're extraordinarily lucky, the muse isn't going to show up the first time you come calling for her. It often takes a few days of marinating on the problem, trying approaches that don't work, and fumbling with your own memories, before you're able to hit on the opening that 'feels right'.  So instead of setting aside a block of time on one day, set aside a little time, even a half-hour or an hour, over several days. Get used to getting into a writing mode.
Forgive mistakes. Writer-brain and editor-brain are two very different creatures.  You're going to be a lot happier with your results if you shut off editor-brain for awhile. You'll know him when you hear him, he's the one who second-guesses and nit-picks every idea you come up with. The problem with editor-brain early in the process is that it prevents you from completing a thought and seeing where it takes you. Even if the beginning isn't promising, the day's explorations may uncover a few gems. So just start where you start, and go where you go, and worry about cleaning everything up later.


So there you have it!  A few simple, practical tips to make writing easier.  Of course, if you're still having trouble, you can always give us a call -- but then, you were already planning to do that, weren't you?

By Ben Feuer, picture by Harold Navarro

T.S. Eliot once referred to April as the ‘cruelest month’, but for many MBA applicants, that month is February. February, that blessed/accursed time of year when some applicants are celebrating their Round 2 admits, and others are curling up in little balls, wondering how things went so horribly wrong.

Obviously, the happy ones don’t need to read this blog, because they already know exactly where they’re going and what they’re going to be doing next year. But if you’re in that other camp – then this one is most definitely for you.

Step Zero, before you do anything else.  Stop catastrophizing.  Stop blaming yourself (or others).  And stop freaking out, your life has not ended.  Take a deep breath, soak in a bubble bath, get your nails done, spend a night drinking with your feet up watching “Love, Actually” / “The Expendables 2” / your narrative comfort food of choice.

Ok, now that you’re a little calmer, and ready to take on this process in a powerful, professional way –

Take stock.  What are your options?  Do you have interviews still pending?  Are you waiting on some decisions to come down?  Have you been waitlisted at some of your target schools?  List every result of your application other than a ding on a nice clean sheet of paper (if you’re into the whole ‘pen’ thing).

Adding to the list.  In addition to all of your pending opportunities, you have a few more options; round 3, rolling and European late rounds (which for simplicity’s sake I’m treating as a single entity, even though that encompasses a whole range of possibilities), and strengthening your application and re-applying next year.  Of course, you also have the option of doing specialty programs such as MM and MFin, but that’s a whole other ball of wax, and beyond the scope of this humble blog.

So what are the pros and cons of your various options?

Waitlist.  The waitlist is your bird in the hand – your last, best chance of getting into a target school this year.  Assuming you have already maximized your odds, there’s nothing more you can do except, well, wait.  The pros are obvious – if you get in, your troubles are over.  The con is that a waitlist can breed complacency.  You can’t afford to just sit back and hope things work out – you have to be proactive!  So waitlists are great, as far as they go, but don’t get hung up on them.

Admits from safety programs.  Congratulations, your safety net paid off, and you have been accepted by one of the schools you applied to.  Should you attend?  If you did this process the right way, you only applied to schools you had a very good feeling about, so I’m going to assume that you like the program in question.  So the choice ultimately comes down to cost/benefit.  How expensive is the program?  What are students doing after graduating – are they entering the fields and careers that interest you?  Are you communicating with alums and current students?  Do they seem friendly and eager to help you out?  How big is your appetite for risk, and how well do you like your current job?  These are some of the questions you’re going to need to answer before you can decide how to respond.

Round 3/European/Rolling.  Even in February, there are a range of schools you can apply to, including schools with late round 3 deadlines, European schools with year-round deadlines, and schools with rolling admissions.  This can be a good option if your safeties didn’t come through, or if you feel better about some of these schools than your safety school.  But it is expensive and time-consuming to apply, and at such a late date, all of these applications are going to be long-shots, even for schools you’re a pretty good match for otherwise – their classes are going to be mostly full by now.

Waiting a year.  If you’re on the young end (23-26) of MBA admissions, if you’ve recently been promoted or are expecting a promotion, if you like your current job, or if your appetite for risk/reward is high, then waiting may be your most appealing option.  MBA programs look favorably on reapplicants – IF they have taken concrete steps to strengthen their candidacies in the intervening year(s).  Promotions, increased responsibility at work, taking on more and better extracurriculars, retaking the GMAT or GRE, and taking satellite/extension courses on key mathematical and financial topics can all make you a more appealing applicant the second time around, as can networking and getting to know more people at your target schools.  This is the high-achiever, high-effort option, but hey, if you want to go for the gold, this is how it happens.

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So there you are – no matter what results you’re looking at right now, you have a wide array of options remaining for you.  So don’t get downhearted – get motivated.  Nodoby said this was gonna be easy.  And if you want more personalized feedback on why you were dinged or how you can improve your candidacy, contact us!



By Evan Forster, photo by Alan Light


Question: Isn’t spring of senior year party time?  

Answer: No Prince, this is not 1999!

Recently—and hardly for the first time—I received a phone call from a mom who went from excited to panic when her daughter was accepted early to college. In this case, I’m talking Vanderbilt.

Let’s back up just a little.  Her daughter, Felicia, was no clear admit; she had some difficult times in 9th and 10th grades, but she pulled it together as the semesters went on so it wasn’t an outrageous idea to apply early to Vandy—her number one choice. When she got that fat acceptance packet, we all did the happy dance. And then, a day later, I got the following call from her mom:  

“What if Felicia doesn’t keep her grades up this spring? I’m worried she’s not keeping her grades up."

Let me answer that in simple terms by showing you the letter I sent to all of my college candidates and their families:

Dear Felicia,

I know it’s very exciting to know you’re going to Vanderbilt this fall! You worked your ass off and got in, and the crew at Forster-Thomas is incredibly proud of you.

BUT it’s not over yet. The admissions office is keeping track of what you’re doing, and there was some fine print in your acceptance letter: Your acceptance is contingent upon your continuing high grades and activities. If you suddenly make straight Bs or (god forbid) worse, you are putting your acceptance in jeopardy! We’ve actually seen this happen before, where an acceptance was revoked or someone was put on probation before they even got to school. You don’t want that to be you.

So, keep those grades up, and keep being the marvelous person who we enjoyed working so much with! We want to know what’s going on with you for the rest of the year, and beyond! We are so proud of you and what you’ve accomplished, and working with you has been AMAZING. 

And be prepared: In the fall, your whole life is going to change—and you’re going to LOVE IT. 

Please let me know you got this email, and keep us in the loop with any questions.

Best,

Auntie Evan

This advice about keeping your grades up affects you not only if you applied early, but also to those of you who are still waiting on that fat envelope. Ignore this advice at your own peril. You certainly don’t want any college saying “Bye Felicia!” 


Article by Ben Feuer, photo by jarito

What to write about?  Many people find this the most intimidating question of all when they first sit down and get to work.  After all, most people know (or think that they know) how to string a few words, paragraphs or sentences together.  But it can be very hard, living in the moment, to have any sense of what the key themes are in your life, let alone how they’ve changed or evolved over time.

And yet, those are precisely the questions you need to answer, and answer with precision, if you want to write a great personal essay for college, graduate school, your next New York Times opinion piece or anything else.  Personal essay writing, or short stories drawn from your life experience, follows many of the same rules as all good writing.  You need to know what you’re trying to say, why you’re trying to say it, and how your audience is likely to approach your work.  You need to have patience with ideas and themes as they develop, rather than settling for the first thing that comes into your head.  You need courage to face the times when you get stuck, or just can’t think of anything to say.

So are there any tricks, tips or ideas that can help you generate new topics, or new approaches to old topics?  Fortunately, the answer is yes!

Get a fresh perspective.  If you’re stuck, ask a friend or a relative, a mom or a dad, someone who knows you and your topic pretty well, for advice.  Don’t show them your essay or tell them what you’re planning to do – that might pollute their own memory.  Just ask them, in an open-ended way, to share their experiences and memories about a certain time or topic.  You’ll be surprised to learn that their memories often differ substantially from yours, both as to what happened and how people felt about it at the time, and they just might inspire something you didn’t consider earlier.

Take advantage of flow and focus.  Before you write, read something that inspires you for fifteen minutes – some writing you consider top-notch (and something that is in the same style as what you intend to do).  Then take a deep breath and forget it – after all, you’re not trying to copy, just feel motivated.  Once you’ve got your motivation, work in silence or with some light background noise (classical music works well for me) in a concentrated block of approximately 45-50 minutes, taking breaks not to think about other things, but to perform mindless tasks like stretching, taking out the garbage or shaving.  Approaching writing in this manner will clarify your intentions and help you to write exactly what you are thinking in that moment.

Start over.  It takes distance to evaluate writing, and if you’re trying to evaluate your own writing, that can be particularly hard to achieve.  So once you’ve finished a draft, pat yourself on the back and go do something else for a day or so.  Then return to it and try to figure out what you were writing about, what you were saying.  Force yourself to sum up everything you ACTUALLY WROTE (rather than what you were intending to write) in a sentence.  What message have you conveyed with these words?  Is there growth, progression, change?  Does it start quickly and end with a fun surprise or an emotional payoff?  If your sentence doesn’t correspond to what you were imagining (or if you’ve since come up with a better idea), start the process over fresh with a brand new document, rather than trying to rewrite.  You can always mix and match your favorite parts later.

Of course, there are many other things you can do to improve your ability to write on themes, but these are a few of the most helpful core ideas.  If you’re still struggling and want some guidance, feel free to reach out to us – we’re always happy to help.