By Ben Feuer, Photo by Susan Solinski

Top MBA programs are getting more competitive every year, and finance and consulting remain two of the most popular destinations for graduates. So what should you do if you are looking to transition into one of these areas from a startup, an engineering role or even a completely unrelated field?  It's a long road, but we're here to help!

The first step is to make the problem manageable. Break down your application into its four major components and think about each of them separately.

1. Your stats.
For those looking to enter finance from less quantitatively rigorous fields like marketing, Quant GMAT and demonstrated interest in key topics like Economics, Financial Accounting and Calculus are extremely valuable.  For tech nerds and Indian or East Asian applicants, it's equally important to show strong quant verbal and a dedicated interest in writing/literature topics.  In either situation, if your candidacy is weak in a core number (GPA, GMAT or GRE), consider taking outside courses or mini-MBA programs to boost your bona fides. Remember, stats show your ability to handle an MBA workload, and you can't get into school without them.

2.  Your essays.
Career shifters need to start working on their goals essays earl in the process. Why?  Because having a clear, concrete goal in mind is an absolute essential when you are looking to make a change. Schools want to see that you have thought your decision through carefully and that you are prepared to make the most of the contacts and education they can provide you with.
Another important reason? You need to be able to tell your recommenders why you want to get an MBA so they can know how to shape your recommendation letters accordingly.

For career shifters, goals should be --

Simple.  I want to go from branding to consulting. I want to go from back-room IT to finance. I want to go from trading to buy-side.  From A to B.

Specific.  You need to cite exactly what role you plan to fill and what firm you plan to do it at. Choose a firm that actually recruits at the school you are applying to, please.

EXAMPLE: Immediately after graduation, I plan to become a management consultant. My preferred firm is Bain, because in my view they are the best at balancing a thoughtful approach to charity work with traditional management consulting, and my background is in non-profits, so I would like to continue doing good even as I do well.

Achievable.  Don't say you want to go from a big law assistant right into a venture capital maven -- that's unrealistic and business schools won't want to take a gamble on you. Instead, say that your plan is to start out at a late-stage startup in a development role and then transition to venture capital.

3.  Your recommenders.
It is very important to prep your recommenders by having an extended conversation about your career plans and why an MBA is a necessary next step. They may not know (or care) about your future field, and therefore they may have no sense of what sorts of skills will be important in it. Your job is to explain that to them (and remind them of times when you demonstrated those qualities), so they can turn around and sell those qualities in your rec letter!

If you are getting a letter of support from a donor or prominent alum, make sure they know your professional plans as well. You don't want to risk putting them in an awkward situation!

4. Your resume.
There's an old saying that goes, "Dress for the job you want to have, not the job you currently have".  Never is that more true than on an MBA resume as a career shifter, where you are essentially selling yourself to the committee as a someone with great potential in a brand new field. Look at each job on your resume -- are you emphasizing the aspects of your job that relate to what you want to be doing, instead of the ones you happened to do a lot of in the past?

Often for a career shifter resume, the first bullet point under a job description will be something you did once, or maybe a couple of times, while your day to day responsibilites will be downplayed. That's because you're showing potential, not accomplishment, on this resume.

As always, don't underestimate the power of volunteering and school extracurriculars to boost your achievements and overall 'wow' factor.

*** *** ***

Career shifting isn't easy under any circumstances, but having a degree from Wharton or MIT in your pocket certainly can make it a smoother ride. Give yourself the best chance of getting into your top choice program by following these tips -- and if you want to know more, drop us a line!


By Ben Feuer, Photo by Marco Bellucci

Feedback. We all need it – if we’re smart, we’re always asking for it – but how good are we at actually using it? Here at Forster-Thomas our job is to give honest (sometimes brutal) feedback to people who are applying to school so they can do a better job of applying to school. Sometimes the job is easy – more often than not, it’s really hard. It all depends on what kind of guy (or gal, gender FTW) you have sitting across the table (or Skype-chat) from you.

The guy who knows he doesn’t know.

This is our favorite kind of guy to work with – he’s almost always smart, dependable and open because he knows who he is and why he’s here – he’s great at what he does, and he’s comfortable outsourcing what he’s not great at to others.

Think of it this way -- if I dropped you in the middle of a steel mill right now and said, send the hot slag into the vibratory tumbler to de-burr it, then use the lathe to shape it as it cools and make sure to respect all the standard factory workload requirements (PS don’t cut your right hand off), you’d say, um, a little help please, a little clarification? In other words, you’d know you didn’t know, and you would make smarter decisions because of that.

If you just said to yourself, yeah, but applying to school isn’t like that, then you are not this guy. Admissions is exactly like that. Who makes the decisions? What are they based on? What are the big turn-ons and turn-offs of adcoms? You don’t know. That’s because they’re secretive, and they change pretty much every year as new deans come in and new university strategies take hold.

This guy knows he doesn’t know. That’s why he almost always gets what he wants in the end.

The guy who knows he doesn’t know, but pretends he knows.

But because of ego or anxiety (or more accurately both, since they’re two sides of the same coin), certain candidates decide their job is not to complete the admissions process but rather to game it. These people fixate on the one or two crumbs of information they do collect and (never bothering to independently verify it) decide it’s the most important thing they ever heard. We sometimes call this the ‘shiny’ effect.

“Someone secretly told me who went to U Chicago that the University really likes people with marketing background – shouldn’t I go back and rewrite my entire history to make it look like I know a lot about marketing?”

“Um, no, because you’re a finance guy and everything you’ve ever done proves that. Your job is to be the best you – remember?”

“Yeah but – my friend said!”

“And how many years has he spent on the admissions committee? How many applications has he read?”


This guy is so busy pretending to be a newly minted expert that he forgets to focus on his real job – being and knowing himself.

The guy who doesn’t know he doesn’t know.

One real application-killer is lack of self-awareness. You run into it all the time when you get to the interview stage, as anyone who’s been on the other side of that table will tell you. People will walk in that door convinced they have themselves (and you) figured out. Sometimes it really gets ridiculous – I’ve had candidates recount interviews to me where I had to tell them, “You just told your interviewer who he was and how to do his job. How do you think he liked that?” Answer – not very much.

it can be a huge problem with essays and recommenders as well. The guy who doesn’t know he doesn’t know has zero introspection skills. He’s never really thought about why he does what he does and he sees no reason to start now. Instead, he pulls convenient labels off the shelf (I’m a natural leader, I’m a team player, I’m a smart, confident empire builder) that he thinks will appeal to admissions. It's not that he’s lying – it’s more like he has a massive blind spot. He really believes he never had a drinking problem, and that he loves every member of his family equally, and that all his peers willingly defer to him all day.

The reason this guy is so hard to help is because he feels so comfortable in his ‘not-knowing’ situation. Unlike the previous two guys I described, he doesn’t even think he has a problem! Yikes.

What to do?

If you recognize yourself in one (or more) of these people, congratulations! You’re not guy #3. But no matter who you are, you still need honest, unbiased feedback if you want to present the best version of yourself to the admissions committee. No guy is an island – so don’t put yourself on one!


By Ben Feuer, Photo by Gabriel Millos

So you picked your topic, you worked over your language until it's flawless, but your essay still doesn't have that 'spark'.  You have two choices -- continue to revise, or start over with a completely new idea.  Most people find that prospect so terrifying that they never even consider it, but it is a viable option.  Sometimes writers (particularly beginning writers) simply fail on their first effort.  It's not a personal shortcoming, it just reflects how challenging the process of essay writing really is.

How do you know if you're better off submitting what you have, or starting over?  There's no definitive answer, but there ARE some helpful things to consider.

Brainstorm Early and Often

How can you know you've written the right essay if you haven't even brainstormed what other topics you might choose to write about?  One of the reasons people find rewriting from scratch so scary is that they don't know what else to write about.  Having arrived at a topic they consider 'suitable', they immediately throw away every other idea they had.  This type of 'convergent' thinking is very unproductive when it comes to writing essays, or creative writing more generally.  Usually, what's needed are fresh new ideas -- even if they don't result in completely rewriting the essay, they can offer a new perspective on the essay you already have.

Written brainstorms should be one or two paragraphs long, and should focus exclusively on 'the story' -- what, who, where and a lot of why.  It's doubly important to write brainstorms when it's just you working on the essays alone, because it will force you to remember details you wouldn't have retained otherwise.

Use Your Readers Effectively

Whether they're professionals or friends, your readers play an important role in evaluating your essays.  They're the objective third parties you need to make the best decision.  That said, it is very possible to listen TOO closely to notes and get lost in the weeds.

The rule of thumb is this -- pay a lot of attention to the big picture of people's advice (How did the essay make them feel about you?  Did it inspire trust, confidence, affection?  Was it confusing or boring?) and take the little picture with a grain of salt.  You don't need to worry about whether 'that sentence makes you look weird'.  You need to worry about the overall impression the essay is making.  Consensus matters -- independent opinions are valuable (which is why, at Forster-Thomas, we have many layers of people read the essays!)

Another rule of thumb with readers -- the better they know you personally, the less useful they are.  They've already formed opinions about you -- when they read your essay, it's going to be with those opinions (and that knowledge) already in mind.

Have High Standards -- Good Isn't Good Enough

When it comes to a decision to rewrite an essay, often the final choice hinges on your personal taste and standards.  Too many people are willing to sign their name to 'just OK' essays, send them in and hope for the best.  

A better approach is to look at the process as a process.  You have a time limit, and a finish line, but there's no award for finishing first (although with certain schools, like Columbia Early Decision, there is an advantage to early submitters).  The prize goes to the strongest overall application.  So if you don't love your essay, and you still have time to try again, you should probably try again.  If worst comes to worst, you'll always have your old essay to fall back on.

Operating without a safety net is always intimidating, but in the end, your essays and your application will be better because of the extra effort you took.  Stay focused and don't give up on the process!  As they're fond of saying on The X-Files, the truth is out there ...

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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. 

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Article by Evan Forster.  Photo by Ted Eytan.


A weird thing happened last week here at Forster-Thomas.  We were settling in for our usual Friday afternoon grind when we heard a strange sound -- my partner David thought it was a foghorn coming from the pier, but I knew better: It was a collective sigh of relief from 2000 Wall Street hopefuls who had just read the new Harvard Business School MBA essay prompt.  

 I could read their minds (I've been doing it for 20 years now) -- 

"Thank God, I don't have to face that crazy open-ended essay."  

"Thank God, they're not saying that scary stuff about already knowing everything about me."  

"Thank God, this is just like that Columbia essay my sister did a few years ago."  

"I can handle this."

We all chuckled a bit and went back to enjoying our appletinis.  

True, Harvard has opened the back door to rejection a little wider with this prompt, and a lot of applicants are going to waltz right in, rattling off laundry lists of accomplishments: mountains conquered, championships won, tests aced.  Cue the Legally Blonde references.

Now which of these people do YOU want to be?  Elle Woods or IQ 187?   Rattling off your bona-fides is like slapping your admissions officer in the face.  They can read.  They know who you are.  What they don’t know is how you operate. How you take on your community, your country, your world.


I'm going to introduce you to one of my favorite clients, Manolo.  But I'm going to do it Harvard style, by focusing on his passions and his transformation.

When Manolo came to the US, he didn't know a word of English.  (And before all you 'reverse racism' types start sharpening your pitchforks, he wasn't poor or raised by a single parent, he was just an immigrant.)  Manolo was a quick study.  He attended UNLV, where he was president of the Honors Society and found himself an internship at Goldman Sachs.

So with all that under his belt, you might think Manolo would be a little self-important, but actually, Manolo didn't want to talk about his accomplishments--he started asking me about Forster-Thomas’s nonprofit arm, Essay Busters.  Manolo desperately wanted to get involved with Essay Busters, but he couldn't do it over the summer; his internship hours were just too crazy.  I sort of shrugged my shoulders--I hear that kind of excuse a lot.

But I underestimated Manolo.  Within four weeks, he conceived of and laid the groundwork for Essay Busters: Nevada.  He engaged every club of which he was a member, securing funding, even working with the mayor of Paradise.  He lined up 32 potential mentors in four weeks.  From New York. While interning full time at Goldman.

What was that about your amazing 780 GMAT score again? Zzzzzzz.


If you want to go to HBS, you need to find that passion.  Where are you leading?  What are you creating?  If the answer is not screaming at you right now, you need to ask yourself, are you really HBS material?  

Choose something you are excited, almost desperate, to have others be a part of.  Then talk about it.  Perhaps you're paving the way for future female Wall Street CEOs.  Maybe you're an engineer working on ending the drought in California.  Or you're at McKinsey trying to create an entirely new private equity marketplace.  Whatever it is, you're up to something big, something that's going to transform the planet one day, and you're sharing the impact with everyone around you.  True transformation has a ripple effect.  

That was clear with Manolo.   He made those around him better.  Find what you have to share--find a way to make those around you better.

Mark my words: Manolo will be invited to interview at HBS in the fall.  And it won't be because he's well-connected, because he's the right color, or because he has an amazing GMAT or "perfect background" (whatever that is).  It will be because he demonstrated an ability to transform himself and the desire to help others do the same in his home community of Las Vegas.

That's introducing yourself -- Harvard style.

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Photo by English106, Article by Ben Feuer

 The new common application questions are out for 2015-2016 -- students and parents everywhere are wondering how to answer them.  This guide will help you get started!

The brand-new common application questions have been released into the wild!  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.

And now, without further ado, 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 failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

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 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 challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?

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.  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 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 or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

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 was the turning point in your journey from boy to man or girl to woman.


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!


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For all of you prospective MBAs about to send in those applications, we made a list and checked it twice to cover all of the little things you might have overlooked.  Check it out and make sure that you haven't left any opportunities on the table.

Do all of your schools have all of your transcripts and your GMAT or GRE scores?
Have you taken the TOEFL, if necessary, and submitted your score?
Are your transcripts official?  Do they have to be?  
Are your transcripts in sealed envelopes?  Are they in English?
Have you converted your high school and college GPAs to 4.0 standards?

Do all of your recommenders know all of the schools you are applying for?
Have you provided an up-to-date resume and bullet points about your strongest characteristics?
Have you followed up to courteously remind them about deadlines and answer any questions they may have?
Have you coordinated any special letters of recommendation you may be receiving, and made certain they are only going to your top choice school?
Do you have a recommendation from your current, direct supervisor?  If not, have you explained why not in your optional essay?

Are you sure you have answered all the essay questions?
Did you answer them at the correct word, page and character counts?
Have you fully answered every question?  Read each prompt closely and address every aspect of every question.  Leave nothing out.
Are your essays too long or too short?  Do you need to add or subtract material anywhere?
Do you need to write an optional essay explaining away grades, test scores or gaps in employment?
Have you double-checked your schools’ formatting and uploading requirements?
If you are repurposing material from one school for another, have you double-checked to make sure you did not accidentally leave in another school’s name?
Have your essays been proofread carefully?

Have you visited every campus you possibly can?
When you visited, did you take careful notes of names, dates and places for later use?
Did you make good use of all your salient research either in your essays or elsewhere in your application?
If you were not able to visit, did you attend an ‘info session’?  Did you ask questions?  Did you take note of who was offering the info session?
Have you spoken to current and former students, received specific and revealing quotes about each of your target schools, and made use of them in your essays?


Have you scheduled an interview for schools that allow you to interview, like Tuck and Kellogg?
Have you begun to practice your interview answers for basic questions like career goals and leadership experiences?
Are you familiar with the common prompts for video essay questions?  Have you thought loosely about answers?  No scripting!

Are all the dates, times and job functions accurate and clear?
Are your descriptions of your work appropriate for b-schools?  Do they highlight leadership and accomplishments rather than job functions and experience?
Is your resume one page?
Are there any formatting inconsistencies?  Has it been proofread?
Do you need to adjust your resume for different schools to account for certain factors (like working with an alum or on a particularly relevant project)?  Have you done so?

Have you skipped over any portions of the application?  if so, return to them now.

Did you answer every short answer question with complete and satisfying detail?  Did you include all the necessary names, dates and places?

Did we miss something?  Let us know!

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A great educational consultant doesn’t do the work for you. He (or she) pushes you—like a tough athletic coach—to go from good to GREAT in all aspects of your candidacy.

By Evan Forster

Lebron James has undeniable natural talent. He couldn’t be less than “good” at basketball if he shot the ball from his couch with his other hand wrapped around a Pringles tube. But if you want to be Major League, you need someone outside your own mind and body to push you to a new level.

Sammy’s application to MIT Sloan’s MBA program is an excellent example. I enjoyed Sammy’s optional personal expression essay. It was clever, well-produced, and bold. And yet it was missing something crucial.

MIT Sloan’s optional essay allows the applicant to create something original, something that reveals his or her personality.  Sammy made a video, a clever takeoff of Apple’s “I’m a Mac, and I’m a PC” commercials, explaining that he was no typical finance guy in the way that Macs aren’t typical computers. In making good points about who Sammy is, it did exactly what that essay is supposed to do, no more and no less.  AND THAT WAS THE WHOLE PROBLEM.

At Forster-Thomas, we refer to the upper echelon of elite schools as the Major Leagues of Admissions—Harvard College, Columbia Medical School, Haas B-School, Stanford Law, USC Film.  We do that for a reason.  It takes something special to make it to the major leagues.  Talent is a given.  Most people applying to those schools have talent.  Effort matters—a lot—but not all effort is created equal.  Some effort is wasted on things that don’t count.  That’s why major leaguers need COACHES.  You know, that guy on the sidelines in a suit or uniform (or in the case of Bill Belichick, a grungy hoodie) screaming at you to slide or bunt or whatever it is you do in baseball.  You need someone to take your clever essay ideas, your interesting interview responses and your competent resume from “effective” and “polished” to “authentic” and “compelling.” 

In Sammy’s case, his optional personal expression essay was missing that one, teeny-tiny, indispensable ingredient: HEART. While the Forster-Thomas crew enjoyed and nodded at the video when we saw it, a day later, none of us could recall a thing about Sammy—other than the fact that he’s not a PC.  And that is a BIG, BIG problem. If I don’t remember Sammy, neither will the adcoms.

While Sammy had worked with us on his applications to other schools, he did MIT Sloan on his own.  Imagine if he had had someone there to push him, to make him sweat the small stuff.  Imagine, if instead of a perfect Mac, we saw a guy who showed off two amazing things about himself like his academic ability and a great club he led. And then imagine Sammy stops. He looks down, and then back up at the camera and says, “Wait. I don’t wanna put anyone else down—not PC or anyone.” And then he reveals something not so great—like his struggle organizing thoughts, a truth about his insecurity about transitioning from law to business. And then he asks MIT for help giving him the life his really wants. And maybe he cuts to this part when he’s “backstage,” setting everything up. See?  It not only takes it past the clever “Mac/PC” commercial, but it humanizes him. Now MIT doesn’t just like Sammy. MIT remembers Sammy. We all do.  

That’s what a strong, experienced, savvy educational consultant does. He or she takes you from D-League to Major League—by helping you find and express your HEART, not just your resume.  Odds are, Sammy considered doing something personal and warm—but rejected the idea. Without someone to give him permission to get real, he backed off because admissions is scary. The more your put yourself on the line, the harder it is if you get rejected.

You may be Superman, but you have Kryptonite buried somewhere in your candidacy, and it will suck all the power out of it if you let it.  We all have a blind spot—you, me, everybody.  We all need a coach to be great.

I have a confession to make: I have a bit of an ego.  That is why it is extra hard for me to admit what I’m about to admit: I’m not a Mac.  I’m not slick, or polished.  I wake up every day and ask myself, “Was I a phony yesterday? Does anyone really care what I have to say today?"

That fear is not “slick” or “polished”—it’s just the truth.  My media consultant, Hank, otherwise known as my personal pain-in-the ass, is my secret weapon that never lets me merely be good. He helps me be great. That’s why I hire him.  And that’s why you should hire us, or another educational consultant that is the right fit for your personality and needs.

You worked hard to give yourself a shot at a top program or school.  Why settle for second best in your candidacy and your applications, the final and most telling stage of the entire process?  That’s why you need a GREAT educational consultant.  The good news is, I have a couple suggestions about where to start looking.  HECA, IECA ... I'm looking at you!

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Are you struggling mightily to finish an essay for a particular prompt or school?  Sometimes the problem is not where you wound up, it's where you started.

There comes a moment in every writer's life (usually fairly early on) when she is forced to step back, assess her work with a cold, dispassionate eye, and say, calmly and confidently, "This is crap."  This is usually a bittersweet moment, coming as it does after hours (days?) of staring at a screen, fighting to make the words on the page suck less.

Sometimes the revelation comes in a more public (but equally upsetting) context -- you show it to your mom, or your best friend, and that doe-eyed, pitying look comes over her face -- oh, sugar, really?  That old story about the lawnmower again?  I hated that when you wrote about it for COLLEGE!

Look, I'm not going to sugarcoat it because it's kind of my job not to.  You wasted a bunch of time.  In your defense, it probably wasn't your fault.  But still, you might as well have spent that time listening to "All About That Bass" on repeat.  Because that's a thing people do.  Anyway, what's done is done.  The question is, what do you do now?

There is a simple way of doing triage when your essay is on life support -- vital signs that can tell you if your idea needs CPR or a shallow grave.

1.  Does it have juice?  Is there any actual emotional resonance to the idea for you?  Do you care about the subject matter, the people involved, the revelations?  Even with the most technical and business-minded essays, this is still a vital component, and if it isn't there for you, it certainly won't be there for anybody else.

2.  Is it honest and revealing?  Did you wind up contorting a few too many facts to make yourself look good?  Are you making a big deal of something that -- really, truly -- wasn't that important?  Are you showing the committee who you are, or who you want them to think you are?  And if you are applying some spin, is it at least convincingly backed up by evidence?

3.  Does it answer the question?  This is a simple one, but important nevertheless.  You'd be amazed at how many essays take on a life of their own independent of the prompt they are supposed to be answering!  So before you sink more hours into your magnum opus, be sure it is actually giving the school what they asked for!

If your answer to more than two of these questions is no, it's time to start over with a brand new brainstorm.  If you don't know how to do a brainstorm -- well, we'd be delighted to help.  But you can't start the future until you let go of the past.  Yoda said that.  I think.

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A fascinating new Poets and Quants article explores the best and worst things about top MBA programs from the point of view of perspective students.  How can this help you with your applications?

Poets and Quants released an interesting article last week quoting students' real impressions, positive and negative, of their schools.  We here at Forster-Thomas decided to translate that into all-important "fit",  which many schools consider one of the most important factors in a candidacy.  How can you present yourself as a good 'fit' for a target school?  Use these helpful tips!

HBS.  HBS is a great fit for outgoing, self-confident, diverse students with proven leadership ability, either in their workplace or extracurriculars.  Harvard is looking for exceptionally strong academic performers, partly because their quantitative coursework is considered questionable by some, and partly because they can.  HBS is very large, so you have to prove that you have the ability to stand out from the pack, or at least be comfortable getting lost in a crowd a little bit.

Stanford.  GSB is looking for people with diverse work backgrounds (IE not just entrepreneurs ...) and inclusive, humanist personal attitudes.  Stanford is extremely academically rigorous, and although entrepreneurship is far from the only thing to do at Stanford, the large amount of available opportunities mean that self-starters, team-builders and natural leaders with warmth and kindness are bound to be looked on favorably.

Booth.  Chicago is a top-notch conventional business school, feeding a lot of banking and consulting, but very interested in out-of-the-box thinkers with unconventional backgrounds and ideas looking for a fresh start or a new direction.  Creativity is important, as is the ability to make friends quickly and securely.

Wharton is the oldest and most academically rigorous of the top programs, with an excellent (if occasionally a bit stodgy) reputation.  Wharton's quantitative demands are high and it focuses on finance, although entrepreneurship is on the rise there.  A strong Wharton candidate will present a stellar work and academic history and a reasonable ability to 'make nice' socially.

Kellogg.  Northwestern is a friendly school with a true Midwestern feel, a strong marketing reputation, and a collegial and supportive student body.  It can be a bit slow paced and does not have the fanciest facilities, but there are tremendous experiential learning opportunities for self-starters and a tight-knit alumni network for glad-handers.

Columbia.  A top-notch school with unparalleled industry access.  Driven students and strong multitaskers fit well here.  There are a wealth of opportunities, but this can overwhelm certain students.  Columbia has at times been seen as stern and a bit unwelcoming, and is consciously making efforts to counter that impression.

Tuck.  Dartmouth is perhaps the most close-knit school among the top MBAs.  There is a certain sense of cloistered isolation from the world, which strengthens that impression even further.  Ability to play nicely with others is tremendously important here.  Academic requirements are a little more relaxed than at some other top schools, with more allowance given for interesting work history and overall fit.

Duke.  Fuqua is an approachable, slightly easygoing MBA experience, a particularly strong choice for future consultants.  Emphasis is placed on gentility and the ability to fit in with the relaxed, thoughtful culture.  The '25 Random Things', in particular, is a strong indicator of a prospective student's ability to laugh at himself a little.

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