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Article by Ben Feuer, Photo by John M. Quick

For years, the MBA has been one of the most valued degrees in the American pantheon — and one of the most expensive.  Not anymore — at least not at Arizona State University’s Carey School of Business.  Today, Arizona State announced that it would offer free tuition for ALL of its MBA candidates this coming year, and that it hopes to continue this practice into the future for as long as it can afford to.  The plan is backed by a 50 million dollar gift to the school, and as far as we know, ASU is the first school ever to do this with an MBA program, traditionally a cash cow.

Unsurprisingly, the dean refers to diversifying inputs as one of the main reasons for taking this unusual step.  And that makes a lot of sense; after all, just about every highly ranked business school out there is trying to attract a more diverse student body, but the problem with diverse students is that they tend to have lower test scores and shallower pockets -- this should help bridge both gaps.  That said, the Dean's comment about diversifying outputs is much more interesting.  She makes the point that a lot of industries don’t yet value the MBA, for various reasons, which makes ROI justification tougher for a prospective student.  By lowering the cost of a highly ranked MBA to zero, the ROI changes, and students can afford to consider a much wider range of jobs when they graduate.

The dean views this tuition transformation through the lens of a pay it forward model — by giving the education away for now, she’s hoping for bigger, better donations down the line.  If the program makes anywhere near the waves it seems capable of making, she may well get her wish, and perhaps not only from students — other rich donors may take note of the move and try to do something similar at their alma maters.  One of the most interesting parts of this program will be seeing how far it spreads from here, and whether other schools try something similar.

Of course, there is a rankings play in all of this — Arizona State will most likely shoot up to the top of the value for money rankings, and since student reviews of their experience also strongly affect rankings, Arizona State’s spot in the US News should go up as well.  But truthfully, that’s beside the point.  The point is that, for a few short years at least, Arizona State is going to become one of the best low-cost MBA options on the planet, and there’s absolutely no reason not to take advantage of that fact.  We have been encouraging people to apply to this program for years -- now I have a feeling they're going to start listening.

Want to build a competitive Arizona State MBA application?  We can help you with that!

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By Ben Feuer, photo by Dan 4th Nicholas

Here is a question that might seem like a paradox but is nevertheless very important – what does the law actually have to do with law school applications?

At first blush the answer seems obvious.  Anyone who is interested in applying to law school ought to know a lot about the legal process, right?  Many people think so.  I remember a candidate I worked with a few years ago who was exceptionally proud of her work as a paralegal; she had assisted trial lawyers with important cases, and she felt that this qualified her to be a lawyer.

Unfortunately, this kind of thinking misconceives what law school is all about. The fact is, most of the people going to law school have not worked as paralegals, or in any legal capacity.  Many have not worked at all.  They don’t know a lot about how the legal process works.  Furthermore, applicants who attempt to project knowledge they don’t yet have come across pretentious.

That said, even in this day and age of less applicants, there are still a lot of people applying to law school for the wrong reasons. They feel, or at least appear to feel, that the law is just another job, and they take it no more and no less seriously than they would an application to be a Starbucks barista. That’s a big mistake, because the fact is, law is very distinct from other types of jobs and other types of careers in many important ways.

The law is more regimented and less entrepreneurial, especially at the higher tier schools. Students are following tracks that are often laid out for them years in advance, so you have to be comfortable with a lot of your life being planned out for you. The law is also, unsurprisingly, very interested in rules and ethics. If you are not detail oriented, if you are not fascinated by minor differences between the way one sentence is worded versus another, you’re going to have a hard time.

So how does that affect the most important part of the application process directly under your control, the personal statement? How are you supposed to write about the law and why it matters to you if you have no direct experience with it? The answer is actually simpler than you think, because you do have experience, it’s just not the experience you think you have.

Lawyers deal with fundamental issues such as access to justice, equality, fairness, thoughtfulness, and policy. Even though you haven’t yet been exposed to the law, you have felt its effect in your everyday life. Perhaps your father started a business. If so, he was exposed to one of the most complicated and most important parts of American law, governing Corporations and businesses. Every time you vote, you are reinforcing and exercising the legal right to a participatory democracy laid out in the Constitution. If you are involved with any sort of nonprofit, social justice, or identity politics movement, you know how difficult it can be to influence the system; that, too, is a legal challenge at times. Whatever individual challenges have defined your life, your task in writing the personal statement is translating those to explain their legal relevance.

Because studying law can be so technical and challenging, another important thing the personal statement can do is show that you are dedicated to succeeding. Show the admissions committee that you are motivated to make the most of your time in school. I remember one girl writing vividly about her own attempt to found a nonprofit providing support to families with sick household pets.  After I read the statement, I was completely convinced that she would do well at law school, not because she had proven some obscure legal knowledge, but rather because she had shown a fundamental understanding of what law school was all about.

So when you sit down to write your personal statement, think about the moments in your life where you asked yourself these fundamental questions, and how you answered them. Think about what that says about who you are as a person. Those qualities are what will get you a great personal statement, and ultimately, a great legal career.

Have questions about your personal statement?  Let us know.

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Photo by Robert Higgins.

It isn’t the sexiest concentration out there, but there are few options more practical than a good old-fashioned MBA in project management.  It’s a growing field, highlighting business demand for so-called technocrats; professional managers who also know enough about technology to get projects done.  According to US News, project management skills like time management, the ability to implement strategic change, and cost management are in great demand.

Of course, many of the people who are interested in Project Management as a career are going to opt for the PMP test instead. 
  And there are a lot of advantages to this approach, IF you know for a fact that Project Management is your be-all and end-all.  It’s cheaper, quicker, and internationally recognized.

But if you need the network, career reorientation or entrepreneurial support that a good MBA provides while ALSO getting a grounding in project management, your best bet is probably to pursue both.  The good news is that many of the programs that are strong in project management don’t require an astronomical GMAT to get in.  This makes it all the more important that you get your story and your recommenders right, and indeed, we here at Forster-Thomas find that is what our candidates need the most help on.

Wondering which programs might be worth considering?  Here are a few of the strongest options out there that we at Forster-Thomas recommend, listed in order from the most selective to the least.  Note that in our experience, you'll need a pretty strong application for any of these schools, particularly with your essays and supplemental materials, to make it past the gatekeepers.

UC Davis

Acceptance Rate: 15 percent
Avg GPA: 3.27
Avg GMAT: 688

University of Western Ontario Ivey

Acceptance Rate: unknown

Avg GPA: unknown

GMAT: 655

George Washington University MS/MBA in Project Management

Acceptance Rate: 45 percent
Avg GPA: 3.24
Avg GMAT: 648

University of Texas San Antonio

Acceptance Rate: 38 percent
Avg GPA: 3.24
Avg GMAT: 581

American University Kogod

Acceptance Rate: 70 percent
Avg GPA: 3.0
Avg GMAT: 580

Interested in putting together a strong candidacy for one of these programs?  We can give you a free consultation and tell you where your application is strong and where it still needs work.  Good luck!

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Article by Ben Feuer, Photo by Evan 

Welcome to the Party

So you’re a little late.  Your job got busy, the deadlines came up sooner than expected, your first crack at the GMAT didn’t go as planned.  Not to worry — Round Two was created for folks like you!  The typical top ten MBA program takes anywhere from 40 to 50 percent of its class in round two with a similar volume of applications, although the exact numbers vary from year to year.  This means that all things being equal, your odds are slightly worse in the second round than the first, but the devil, as always, is in the details.

Characteristics of a Round Two Applicant

Round One is the ‘stats’ round; if you’ve got your bona fides all lined up, if your numbers are strong, if you have brand names all over your resume and gold-plated recommenders, you’re a round one candidate through and through.  The schools are going to use this round to fill out the heart of their program, shore up their numbers and make sure their basic food groups are covered.

Round Two is the ‘story’ round; it’s where the school starts to pick and choose, pull the folks with interesting backgrounds, fill in any gaps they may have after round one (if they’re short on a particular type of job background or ethnic background, for instance) and experiment.  If this sounds like you, you'll be better off waiting until Round Two to hit submit even if you are ready in round one.

The Strategy

What should you do if you're applying round two?  You have to think very hard about your essays and your recommenders -- for you, they're going to matter more than with the typical round one applicant.  Do you understand the overall narrative of your application, and how each of your recommenders fits that strategy?  Do you know how you're going to approach them?

As for essays, you have to start asking yourself some tough questions about your reasons for coming to business school.  What about you is particularly sexy for a top institution.  Do you have a really exciting entrepreneurial idea?  An unusual background — military, the arts?  Can you offer connections to (or insight into) a paritcular type of business that might be useful for your classmates to learn about?  Do you have a really amazing life experience that would make a great optional essay for HBS or Wharton?

You should also have a good story worked up (at least in your own mind) about why you waited until Round Two — was it to shore up your numbers, secure your recommenders, make certain you really wanted to go to school this year?  You don’t need to write about it but it’s helpful to know.

Finally, be sure and use these extra months to shore up weak areas in your candidacy.  Do you have enough volunteer leadership?  Are you creating meaningful change anywhere around you?  Do you need to retake your GMAT?  Do you have enough quantitative coursework and background, or do you need to take a Microeconomics class to shore that side of your application up?

Common Pitfalls

Do you work in Private Equity?  Do you have a co-worker in your business who is also applying for the same slot?  If so, you’re in a race, since most of the top schools take a very limited number from any given firm in a given year.  Don’t wait unless you absolutely have to.

Don’t simply wait because you can, or because you’re busy.  Use that extra time to strengthen your application — time is precious, time before an application is twice as precious.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that, because Round Two is OK, Round Three is also.  Round Three, in most schools, is a much worse bet and should be avoided.

Round Two Neutral Schools
These schools generally offer no preference either way.

Chicago Booth

Round One Advantage Schools
These schools generally offer a slight preference to round one applicants.

MIT Sloan

Good Luck!

Now you know the basics of how to be a strong applicant for Round Two.  Have questions about your own application’s timing?  Contact us and I’ll be happy to help.

Ben Feuer is an educational consultant with Forster-Thomas, Inc.



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Photo by Patrick Breitenbach.

HBS recently launched a new podcast called Cold Call.  Disappointingly, at least in the first few episodes, the podcast itself is little more than an advertisement for the Harvard Business Review’s booming business in selling case studies at $5 to $9 a pop.  The format appears to be simple: they invite the professor to come on to the podcast, tease the story, and then say, ‘if you want to know how it turns out, buy our case study!’.  NPR ought to try this with its next edition of Serial.  It’s a conversation, not an account of what happened, so expect the podcasters to jump around from one subject to another.

Crass commercialism aside, HBS’s podcast does have a few interesting tidbits that are worth taking note of if you happen to be planning to apply to the school this year.  For one thing, you’ll learn a bit about the case study method, which is important to understand before you apply.  The case study method is anecdotal, for one thing — it is based on principles of storytelling, with the business leader as protagonist (this, by the way, is a great model for you to follow in your own essays about leadership). Another advantage is that you can hear from some actual Harvard profs and get a feel for what they might be like as teachers.  But thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, the way the teachers tell the stories implies what kind of abilities they’re looking for in a leader.

Gautam Mukunda, a former consultant (and Harvard student) and the author of a recent book called “Indispensable”, takes the lead on the first podcast, and it’s clear from his tone what he believes is important.  Transformative impacts, unconventional leaders and institutional morality are three of the qualities he highlights.  He likes leaders who come from unusual backgrounds.  He’s on the hunt for people who are exceptional, who buck the norm, and who make ethical choices, even when they’re hard.

Not only is this good advice for a business leader, it’s a good way to approach your candidacy.  How and where can you show your own willingness to buck trends, even in a small way?  Can you show that you resolved a challenging ethical dilemma successfully?  Can you write about a time when you learned from a failure?  What are your own case studies?  These are the questions you need to answer if you want to be considered Harvard material.

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The GMAT is an ever-evolving beast, and 2015 is no exception to the rule of change.  If you are applying (or reapplying) this year, there are several important changes to the methodology of the test that you should be aware of.

The first has to do with Score Preview and Cancellations.  Score Preview allows you to see your score on test day — If you feel you didn’t perform your best on that day, it is possible to cancel your GMAT scores.  That’s old news.  But here’s the new feature — it used to be that when you cancelled a score, it showed up as a ‘C’ on the score report that went out to schools.  As of July, The “C” that represents a candidate’s cancelled scores will not be shown on any future GMAT score reports generated by GMAC. This means that when a test taker cancels their score, only the test taker will know.

This is a big deal for applicants, who now have a level of fine control over how their GMAC report reads that they did not before.  Different business schools have different approaches to the GMAT — some superscore (taking the highest quant and verbal from different exams), some average all scores, and some take the single highest score.  Some factor cancellations into their decisions, and some do not.  By reducing the number of moving parts, candidates can help streamline their applications.

Another big change is that the wait period between exams has been shortened from 31 days to 16 days.  For most applicants, this is a huge bonus — more time to cram before the first attempt, less time to ‘forget’ inbetween exams.  But be careful — you’re still limited to no more than five attempts in a twelve-month period, and with these new rules you can reach that limit pretty quickly!

Both of these changes should make the GMAT a little less intimidating, but it’s still a challenging exam, especially on the quantitative side, where huge volumes of overseas test takers have been driving percentiles down farther and farther.  An elite quant percentile of 80+ is harder to attain now than it has ever been before, which is why schools are relying more heavily on raw scores and becoming a little more forgiving on the 80th percentile rule of thumb.  That said, it’s never been a hard and fast rule — what kind of candidate you are and what background you come from play a big role in how your quant score is assessed.

Have more questions?  We’re here for you!  Contact us for more information.

Photo by Ryan McGilchrist.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Does my MFA film program require the GRE?

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By Ben Feuer, Photo by Ryan McGilchrist


Many prospective film students are intimidated by the idea of taking the GRE — the good news is that at this point in time, the vast majority of top MFA film programs no longer require it.  Here’s a list, accurate as of 2015, about which schools need the GRE and which do not.

USC: only for PH.d
Columbia: No
NYU: only for PH.d
Chapman: The GRE is required if your cumulative GPA from your degree granting undergraduate school is under a 3.0. A minimum score of 153 on the verbal section and 4.5 on the analytical writing section is required.
UT Austin: GRE is required for everyone.
Cal Arts: No
Emerson: Optional for Film&TV Writing, No for Media Art
FSU: No for production, Yes for Writing

Have more questions about the MFA application process?  Drop us a line.

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How to get in: USC School of Cinematic Arts 

Article by Ben Feuer, Photos by Ben Feuer (except the one of Sean Connery, obv)


Let’s get this straight right off the bat -- USC is not your father’s film school.  Even if your father is Sean Connery.



In our August 13th 2015 visit to USC’s campus and conversation with admissions counselor Lucy Leon, we covered the gamut of USC’s exciting, dynamic and sometimes dizzying set of new horizons and opportunities, and we’re here to give you the straight scoop on what the Trojans have been cooking up.

More than any other MFA/PH.d program in the United States, USC is tuned in to the rapidly evolving media landscape.  Although they still retain a dominant position in the (Hollywood) filmmaking pantheon because of the size of their alumni network (12,000+ at last census, including hundreds of prominent directors and writers), USC’s eyes are clearly trained on what they consider to be the future: episodic, new media and interactive.

One great example of this is USC’s allowance for interdisciplinary study – you can cross-enroll in any of USC’s 7 majors, which means even if your focus is game design you can pick up a bit of cinematography along the way.

USC’s screenwriting program is becoming more and more television oriented, following both students’ taste and the overall job market.  That said, if you’re still a feature-head no one is going to stop you from doing your portfolio that way, it’s just less common than it was when spec scripts were selling in the high six figures on a semi-regular basis.

USC was never a particularly strong independent cinema program, and despite their prominent featuring of Fruitvale Station director Ryan Coogler in their promotional videos, USC is not going to be a place where you develop your independent voice as a writer – it’s too regimented, too busy and far too technical a program for that.


The gaming division, on the other hand, has a decidedly indie vibe, with Jenova Chen https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jenova_Chen one of the more notable graduates.  The emphasis is on fun and storytelling, and the interactive divisions, especially the newest one, Media Arts and Practice PH.d (which focuses on embedded / infotainment content and experimental interfaces), receive a lower volume of applications and are more high-touch than their filmic counterparts.

If all this choice seems a little overwhelming, then you’re getting an excellent sense of how the program can be for younger and less focused students.  This is NOT a place for people looking to ‘find their way’, particularly at the MFA/PH.d level.  Students should come in with a game plan and be prepared to make a lot of noise to get their needs met – with a massive 1700 students enrolled, USC is not going to cater to individuals as well as a smaller program like AFI, USC, or Columbia.

There’s also one more touchy subject to bring up – money.  USC is extremely cagey about how much film students spend ON TOP OF TUITION, partly because it varies student to student, but mostly because the raw facts are shocking.  Class fees range from $25 to $150 per class, production courses carry an insurance fee of $1000 per semester (very approximately) and incidental project costs on class films range from $500 to $1000 per semester, although many students spend more.

Then there’s the thesis.  It’s not uncommon to hear of USC students spending $15,000 to $50,000 on their thesis films, and every year someone will break the bank and spend $100,000 or MORE (West Bank Story and Turbo being two notable examples).  No one is saying you HAVE to spend this kind of cash – USC discourages it – but the fact is that it does provide a competitive edge, so students keep doing it.  USC offers ‘modest scholarships’ (their words, not mine) based on need only, and production costs are not covered, so be aware before you enroll that you must pay to play.



USC is one of the most selective institutions out there for film, with admits ranging from 9% to about 25% depending on your choice of program.  Production is the most competitive, naturally.

The GRE is not required for MFA programs. For MA and PH.d programs, however, it is required and plays an important role in the admissions process.

All recommendations are now submitted digitally.  One should be academic, the rest are your choice.  Keep them to one page maximum or expect them to be ignored.  As is always the case with recommendations, distinctive and thoughtful comments from someone who knows you and your work well are more important than industry position or name value.

Your portfolio is, of course, the heart of any MFA application, and Lucy says that admissions counselors like her don’t review applications at all at USC – the faculty go through every single one.  That’s impressive.

Excerpts, trailers or reels are NOT a good idea for video samples, because USC wants to judge your storytelling capacity more than your technical chops as a filmmaker – they consider it more relevant.  You can submit a longer video sample than five minutes, but admissions only requires faculty to watch up to 5 minute mark, and overall it’s a bad idea to submit more.

Writing samples form another important component of the application.  For more information on how to create great writing samples, check out my previous publication in IECA.

Lucy was down on the general admission interview, although she did one herself – she feels it’s only a good idea if you interview well.   YMMV.



If you have questions, USC provides Ms. Leon’s email address at the link above – or, of course, you can always talk to us

By Ben Feuer, Photo by Chris Hsia.

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The Robert H. Smith school at Maryland is doing some innovative things to boost its appeal in a competitive field of top MBAs. Here are some essential facts about UMD’s program —

200 Full-Time Students, Selectivity ~25%.
Ranked #41 US News, #27 P&Q Composite.
Average Undergrad GPA 3.33, Average GMAT 662
Students enrolled at the Robert H. Smith School of Business can get hands-on experience in financial trading and e-commerce at one of the schools Netcentricity Laboratories, great for supply chain and operations junkies or infotech specialists.  They can also try securities analysis and portfolio management through the Mayer Fund.  The school is strong in Entrepreneurship, Logistics, and Information Systems.  In terms of employment, The Smith School feeds strongly into the DC / Mid Atlantic region.  Top fields of employment include consulting, financial services and consumer products, and top employers include Deloitte.

Thinking about applying to Smith? Schedule a free consultation to find out how we can help you.

In the first year, students focus on Globalization, Entrepreneurship and Technology — these are the core areas of study.  There are a few electives availalbe outside of those concentrations, however.   The second year becomes more flexible — students even have the option to take courses at other programs in the area, should they so choose.  The program is 21 months long, but there are opportunities to accelerate.

One of our favorite aspects of UMD is its inventive ‘ambassador’ program — via its website, the Smith School allows students to directly to reach out to a hand-picked set of MBA Ambassadors with similar career goals and interests.  Kudos to the Smith School for making it easier for students to learn about how their individual educational needs are going to be met.

Another fantastic resource are the Smith student blogs, where individual students give a blow-by-blow account of their time at the school.

The Smith school offers a range of entrepreneurship opportunities — one interesting one is Pitch Dingman #pitchdingman, which has prospective CEOs clambering on board a terp bus to try and raise interest in their ideas.

On the negative side, Smith’s web presence for alumni is fairly limited, with few opportunities offered, and the description of student-run clubs is sketchy at best, with no links to events or recent speakers.  

Overall, though, we're happy to list the Robert. H. Smith school among our top choice programs in the Mid Atlantic/DC region.

Admissions: 301-405-2559

Email: mba_info@rhsmith.umd.edu

Website: http://www.rhsmith.umd.edu/

Apply Online: http://www.rhsmith.umd.edu/apply.aspx

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 By Susan Clark.  Cartoon by Frits Ahlefeldt.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

This essay is NOT:

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


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

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

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


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

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


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