The college admissions process is stressful in so many different ways. One of the biggest challenges for many college students is the sudden pressure to decide what they're going to pursue as a career. After all, students are quick to point out, I haven't really had a chance to try many things -- or maybe anything at all!  Why are schools asking me in supplemental essays what I want to study, and what I want to do with my life?  Is this some kind of test?

No, it's not a test. And no, you do NOT have to have, at age eighteen, a clear and firm idea of what kind of work you want to do after graduating. That said, for certain disciplines, it can be very helpful to have a general sense of what interests you, and which direction you want to take your career. 

But it's important to remember that nothing is final!  Just because you write about something in an admissions essay, or talk about it to an admissions officer, doesn't mean you're 'locked in' -- you always have the right to change your mind!


Here are a few common career paths we encounter at Forster-Thomas, including our advice on each.

IF YOU PLAN TO BE A DOCTOR, you need to start laying the groundwork even before applying to college. Medical school is unbelievably competitive, and most successful candidates are already shadowing and taking relevant coursework at sixteen or seventeen years old. If you're in this camp and applying to college, it's a good idea to let your school know what you're planning to do.

IF YOU PLAN TO BE A LAWYER, don't go into too much detail about it during your undergraduate application process. Express a general interest in law and justice, but leave it at that. And don't pursue pre-law as a major, it generally works against you, rather than for you. Philosophy, engineering and various liberal arts degrees are the most common feeders into law school.

IF YOU PLAN TO GO INTO BUSINESS, again, you don't need to go into very much detail while applying, nor do you need to write about what kind of business you want to pursue. It might be a good idea to join relevant clubs and fraternities shortly after getting on campus, though, since networks make business careers.

IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN THE ARTS, study whatever you like, BA or BFA, but create lots of really good work while you're in college, and take internships as a way to shake hands and start meeting people in your target industry. For classical musicians and theater types, there is some advantage to pursuing relevant BFA programs, although it is not decisive, and certain film BFA programs also confer professional advantages.

IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN STEM, the proof will largely be in your academic prowess and the history of things you have created and made, competitions entered, et cetera. These are very hierarchical, grade-focused fields, and so it helps to specialize early.

IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN A TRADE, such as ELECTRICIAN, PLUMBER or AUTO REPAIRMAN, your career path may not involve college at all. In that case, you definitely want to have a pretty clear idea of which trade you'd like to pursue and why you'll be good at it, since you'll probably have to spend a decent chunk of money on training, and it won't be transferable to any other profession.

IF YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU WANT TO DO AT ALL, you should start to try and figure it out. Undecided is OK, clueless is not. Narrow it down to three or four possible paths, without attempting to eliminate any, prioritize any, or choose between them.

IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN ANY OTHER CAREER, write briefly about it while applying, and indicate a relevant major preference if you have one. But don't get too specific, and be open to other possibilities that may arise along the way.

Need help crafting great college essays?  Let us know!


Monday, September 29, 2014

What should my recommenders talk about?

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Whether you are applying to an MBA, MFA or medical school program, you are probably wondering what to ask your recommenders to write about you.  Here's the answer.

By Ben Feuer

We've all lived through it -- the intimidating moment when your boss says, "You know I love you, Bob.  Just tell me what you want me to write for your recommendation and I will."  As if applying to school wasn't hard enough without this --

Never fear!  Although it sounds like a lot of work (and it is), there is a proven strategy for success that you can use.  This formula applies to any recommendation for any kind of school, and is easy to follow.

1.  Get the prompts.

The first thing you will have to do is get the prompts that your employers/peers/beach buddies will be answering.  After all, you don't want to write 500 words when they need 500 characters!

2.  Come up with three traits.

Choose three traits that you feel elevate you above your peers -- things that make you among the strongest in your peer group.  For every trait you select, pick one or two stories that exemplify this trait.  These should be stories where you added value to an organization or a relationship, cases where you went beyond your job description, or situations where you were the first or the best at something relative to your peers.  They should be stories your recommender remembers well.

Avoid using traits like hard-working, smart, competent, dependable -- these are extremely common, extremely bad choices that merely highlight how able you are to perform your current job, not how ready you are to take on the next one.  Here are some possible traits --


3.  Think about your weaknesses -- carefully.

Writing the positive side of the recommendation is the easy part.  Writing about your weaknesses is a little trickier, only because there are a few pitfalls to avoid.  First, don't universalize your weaknesses.  Confine them to specific instances and situations, just as you did with your strengths.  If they were corrected, explain, using examples to show how you have evolved since the 'old days'.  Second, avoid weaknesses that are too damning (uncontrollable temper or depression, resistance to authority, violence) or too lame (too hard-working, too eager to please).

One of the main tricks to writing a great 'weakness' recommendation is showing how you handle and internalize any feedback you are given, so be sure and give a lot of detail, more than you think you need, on how you respond to criticism and how you incorporate it into your behavior moving forward.


So there you have it!  Hopefully, this has made recommendations a bit less intimidating for you.  If you still have questions, feel free to contact me and ask!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Weird essays

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 Weird essays.  We have all read them -- not so much in terms of the structure or approach, but in terms of the content.  So are they a good thing or a bad thing?

By Ben Feuer



I had an interesting conversation with a client, Louie, the other day -- a typical I-banking/PE guy.  I was spending my time (as I so often do) trying to wring more personality out of his essays, which read like they were written by committee.  Louie, of course, fretted over every little trait I wanted to highlight, no matter how mild.  "Won't this make me look childish?"  "Won't this make me look goofy?"

"Of course it will," I answered.  "That's the whole point.  This is a personality game.  You can't win with your whole self tied behind your back."  Louie, like so many others, had worked long and hard to excel in his professional life, and he did not want to throw it all away by seeming out of step with the other lemmings -- while simultaneously fretting endlessly over differentiation, a prized bugaboo for nearly all applicants.

Well Louie, you can't have it both ways.  Hide if you must, but don't be surprised when you fail to make it out of your 'bucket' -- a little personality goes a long way.

A Darden professor, Martin Davidson, has been studying the effect of oddballs and outcasts on business for quite some time, and he has a new article in Businessweek discussing some of his findings.  He concludes that we undervalue oddballs in corporate environments.  Business school, in this regard, is very different.  B-schools WANT the mavericks.  They want the leaders.  So the same lockstep behavior that served you well in your previous life will not serve you well here, in your applications.

You can be like everybody else -- or you can set the building on fire.  Your choice.


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

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In this panicked season of candidates praying for admissions gold, it's a great time to reflect that, after all, an MBA isn't everything.

By Ben Feuer

Ok, I'm being a bit tongue in cheek (more than a bit?).  I know if you are reading this blog post, you probably already have your heart set on Stanford, HBS or bust.  And you know what?  More power to you.  That's a great dream, and those are great schools with lots of top notch opportunities should you attend one of them.

But there's more to life than a brand name on your resume, and so Forster-Thomas is taking a few minutes out of its day to present the counter-argument ... why a name-brand MBA might NOT be exactly what you need at this juncture.

1.  Many successful CEOs don't have one.  Consider this US News article -- of the top Fortune 100 companies, less than half of the CEOs had an MBA, and only HBS and Wharton were disproportionately represented on the list (8 and 4, respectively).

2.  Recruiters often have their own sets of concerns.  As this article from Business Insider reminds us, top recruiters have their own concerns which sometimes overlap with the concerns of b-schools, and sometimes don't.  They value work experience very highly, and see the value of going back to school as more contemplative, useful for certain types of work (and for networking).  Background discipline matters enormously.  Furthermore, they have their own opinions of what schools are really great, ranging from Kelley to McCombs to Darden.

3.  Startup CEOs often skip the MBA stage.  Since they start young and tend to focus on tech, many (but not all!) startup CEOs don't bother with an MBA.  As this rather vitriolic Fortune article reiterates, startups are about the product rather than the management know-how.

So are you convinced?  Going to give it all up and start an emu farm in Topeka?  Or a cozy corner-store bakery, perhaps?  No?  That's OK.  For investment banking, management consulting, private equity, venture capital, entrepreneurship, and a hundred other opportunities, a name-brand B-school is still a great way to go.

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

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Every year, NALP pulls the employment and salary statistics of law school graduates -- these are the most important developments this year.

By Ben Feuer

NALP's selected findings for the class of 2013 have been released, and they provide some fascinating insights on current trends in the overall law school community.  Bear in mind that this is broadly targeted information -- at your particular school, mileage may vary -- sometimes a lot.  Still, certain overall trends are easy to spot.

1.  2008 is not coming back.  If your interest in the legal profession is based solely, or even primarily, on the pre-crash salaries at big law firms, choose another line of work.  Like almost every field in this country, law is becoming more entrepreneurial and there is less tolerance for baby lawyers learning on big law salaries.

2.  Graduating classes are going to shrink.  Partly because of decreasing demand, law schools intend to cut their class sizes by 30% over three years.  This is a smart, responsible move on their part, but it will make top law schools more competitive for prospective students.

3.  Lawyer/entrepreneurs are on the rise.  There have always been a certain number of lawyers hanging out their own shingle after graduating law school, but that number is on the rise, and now stands at 4.8 percent for law jobs.  This is a good potential option for recent graduates seeking opportunities in the field.  On a related note, the percentage of lawyers employed in business has risen to 18.4 percent, an all time high.

4.  Academic jobs are rare -- and often part time.  Although "Law School Professor" is definitely a great gig, it is also very hard to come by.  Only 2.6 percent of all legal jobs were in academia in 2013, and of those, 39 percent were part time (read: adjunct).

5.  This is still a great field.  Overall unemployment for law school graduates stands at 12.9 percent.  High?  Yeah.  But the opportunities accrue disproportionately at the top end, and law is a very hierarchical field.  What does that mean?  It means that if you are a top student throughout school, law can provide you with a stable and lucrative career, which is more than can be said for many other degrees.


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