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!

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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.

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Need help crafting great college essays?  Let us know!

Photo by FADY HABIB. Article by FORSTER-THOMAS, INC.

Article by Mark Puner, photo by Martin Fisch

As Forster-Thomas’s Chief Editor, I spend a lot of my time thinking about my limits. Word limits, that is. Contrary to popular belief, a genie will not appear in order to grant your every wish when you submit your personal statement at the exact word count. (Two myths debunked: genies aren’t real, word counts are.) But I will be singing your praises, or whoever else is helping you edit your essays.

Word counts are not an attack, a punishment, a test or a deterrent. Believe it or not, they’re actually helpful, once you understand why they exist. They’re forcing you to focus, to be judicious and selective about what you choose to say, and what you choose to leave out.

Consider the Common App’s maximum word allotment of 650 in terms of time, either 6:50 a.m. or 6:50 p.m. A train leaves the station at 6:50…

For STEM students:

If a train leaves the station at 6:50, it’s best to arrive early. This is an approximation of the train’s departure time. It does not account for the time you will spend buying a ticket, figuring out which track the train arrives on, or pondering multi-differential equations in the meantime.

For non-STEM students:

Get there early

For everyone:

Leave some cushion

As someone who has read your essay at every stop along the way, I invariably like the express version—the passion of your first draft combined with spit and polish that takes time to cull. Yes, this is easier said than done. No, this will not exceed 630 words. At 6:30 everyone can comfortably enjoy the ride to the next destination. No genies needed.

Have questions about how to get your essay down to size?  Contact me!


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It has become a truism in contemporary America that college students believe they are more prepared for the workplace than they actually are, according to their employers.  Whatever you might feel about vanishing on-the-job training and outrageous demands for entry-level work experience, the fact is that employers, and not students, decide where to set the bar.  Therefore, it is extremely important, both for getting your first job and for getting into graduate school, that you demonstrate a track record of the qualities employers want to see.  Here are a few big ones.

Problem Solving.  Most college courses expect you to listen to a limited range of problems and apply prescribed solutions to them.  The working environment, as students quickly find out, is an altogether different animal.  Tasks are open-ended, not self-contained.  Measurements of job performance are unscientific and qualitative — does your boss ‘feel’ like you did a good job?  When applying to graduate school, it is very important to use your essays, particularly those with a leadership or accomplishment angle, to demonstrate your ability to proactively find solutions to entrenched problems.  No one is going to be impressed by you doing precisely what was expected of you.  They will, however, be impressed by you seeing a problem, taking the initiative and solving it, despite whatever obstacles stood in your way.

Perseverance.  In college, if you’re not doing well in a class, you can appeal to a professor, leave a class and not bother with it, or find any number of other ways around the problem.  In the workforce, when you’re presented with a problem, walking away is not an option.  They expect solutions.  In your essays, be prepared to write candidly about mistakes you have made, failed approaches to solving a particular problem.  Then explain how you were able to adapt and ultimately overcome the difficulties you faced.

Comfort with people. 
Another thing conventional colleges do not train students in is how to most effectively collaborate with peers, bosses and employees — since the approach for each is different.  Some students are naturally thoughtful, inquisitve and courteous, but others, especially those with STEM backgrounds, may not be.  Between college and graduate school, it is expected that you will pick up on some of the basics of ‘getting along’ with others.  To be a strong leader, of course, you need to be able to motivate others in pursuit of a shared goal.  This is another vital aspect of any great leadership essay.

Of course, these are only a few of the many qualities employers and graduate schools look for in students, but they are some of the most important.  So start thinking about how you can adapt your leadership essays to highlight one or more of these qualities!

Got more questions?  Email us!


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Looking for that coveted 'admit' from your top MBA program of choice?  You'll need great essays.  Here are the five most important tips to remember.

By Ben Feuer

So, we here at Forster-Thomas have useful info all over our site about prompts, deadlines and best practices for particular schools and MBA essays.  But what if you're looking for something more basic, like how to approach MBA essay writing in general?  Well, we did write a book.  But say you're impatient -- which considering you're reading this on the internet, is a safe bet.  Here's the Cliff Notes version -- what you really MUST remember when writing your MBA essays.

1.  Show leadership.

So simple to read, so complicated to pull off.  There are two components there.  The first is leadership -- which means getting people other than yourself to work in conjunction with you toward a shared goal that you came up with.  One specific time when you transformed an organization or created one, a time when you were the first or the best at something important.  It can be professional but it does not have to be.  What it does have to be is SHOWN.  Walk us through leadership experiences step by step.

2.  Assume you are worthy.

Too many candidates try to use their essays to make up for perceived weaknesses in their candidacy.  Don't bother.  Schools will reject you outright long before they read your essays if they deem you unworthy of attending -- in fact, that's how the first 30-50% of applicants get cut.  If they are bothering to read your essays, it means you're worthy.  So focus on differentiation.

3.  Speak plainly and concisely.

Don't try to impress people with your fancy words and 'smarty-pants' writing -- you will just end up annoying them.  This is not a business document, and it is not for your boss or your savvy client to read.  Write as you would to a 7th grader who knows nothing about what you do except the absolute basics.  Spell out all your acronyms and define all your unusual terms.  Avoid run-on sentences, weasel wording (google it) and irrelevant horn-tooting.

4.  Read and answer the question.

Another simple one that oh so many candidates whiff on.  Read the prompt, word for word, and then read it again until you are SURE you know exactly what it is asking of you.  Don't be a politician, twisting their words to fit your agenda.  Answer honestly and directly, then use that answer as a springboard to tell an interesting, relevant story.

5.  Proofread your essays -- out loud.

This is an awesome trick that almost nobody actually does.  Print your essays out, stand in front of a mirror and read them to yourself.  I guarantee you will catch at least 4 typos.  Plus, if you stumble over a sentence or a concept confuses you, rewrite it.  If you're having trouble saying it, it's because you're having trouble reading it.

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So there you go, essay writing 101!  For much much more information on this topic, including answers to specific questions and prompts, check out our blog or contact us directly!