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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.


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!

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Forster-Thomas takes a peek inside this year's LBS application and gives you insight on how to answer their questions.

By Ben Feuer

What are your post-MBA plans and how will your past experience and the London Business School programme contribute? (500 words)

This is a textbook 'goals' essay. Check out our previous posts on goals, or our book, for a sense on how to approach this. 

How will you add value to the London Business School community? (300 words)

This is another part of the same goals essay, focusing on your contributions to the school. Read our previous posts, and remember to use specific stories drawn from your life to support the points you make about yourself.

Is there any other information you believe the Admissions Committee should know about you and your application to London Business School? (400 words)

The prompt is completely open-ended, which means you can discuss anything you have not discussed elsewhere.  One strong approach is to focus on a 'defining moment' and how it shaped you as a person – it can be something that happened on the job, but often the strongest examples of these essays come from digging deep and getting personal – talking about real, meaningful challenges you face with family or friends. You can also consider using this for additional leadership material, or discussing diversity experiences, or talking about your values.


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

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Now live on Forster-Thomas's website are the prompts and deadlines for these four schools.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Stanford's evolving priorities

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Stanford is overhauling its curriculum and its approach to teaching business.  Here is why that matters.

By Ben Feuer

Those of you currently writing "Why Stanford" essays, take note of a new article published over at Poets and Quants.  The entire 4-page article is an intriguing read, but I think we both know that is not going to happen.  So in the interest of saving you time and effort, your good friends at Forster-Thomas have combed through the article to determine what the most important takeaways are in terms of your application strategy.

No more "cod liver oil" and "chocolate cake".  For those of you who still think of the first year as a grind through basics you already understand, and the second year as a chance to spread your wings, Stanford is trying to change all of that -- so you better be on-board.  Stanford now offers advanced options right off the bat–seven core courses taught at three different levels, basic, accelerated, and advanced, and three more courses offered at two levels of difficulty.

Advising is a work in progress.  Stanford has been experimenting for several years with different approaches to mentorship, recently shifting from formal advising relationships with faculty to staff advisors who can consult with students about what classes are best to take.  You should bear this in mind when discussing how you plan to get feedback on your curricular choices.

Video dominates classrooms.  An interesting tidbit for those trying to figure out how Stanford stands out from its peers -- they now employ video in a large number of their lectures and make the actual class time more about discussion and leadership development, also increasing interactivity.

Global is good.   "Our applicant pool is very global, with incoming classes of over 40% international. China, India, Brazil and Mexico have become big markets for us. We want to have a global pool of students coming in."

Entrepreneurship?  Kinda.  Last year, nearly one in five graduates–a record 18%–launched their own firms.  But Stanford wants to be seen as a strong general management program.  The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, huh?

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

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.

Monday, September 01, 2014

The no frills essay

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How is a big-box discount store like an application to a competitive school?  Read on and find out.

By Ben Feuer

In an intriguing profile, Businessweek analyzed the success of Costco, a company that pays well above industry average to its employees while charging much less than average for products.  How is this achieved?  The article goes on to describe a no frills approach from top to bottom at the company, with all the focus on delivering mission critical products to the consumer.  For a mature industry like brick and mortar retail, this is a great idea, focusing on what people care about the most -- quality and price.

Believe it or not, this is directly relevant to your job as an applicant to college, business school, medical school or law school -- you, too, can benefit from a 'no frills' approach, if you apply it to your essay writing.

So what is a no-frills essay, and why is it a good thing?  A no-frills essay focuses on the story or incident it is describing.  Like a great piece of reporting, the no frills essay gives all the necessary information to understand what happened in the story, and why it is important -- and nothing more.  This is much harder than it sounds.  It is depressingly easy to pontificate, generalize and speculate in essays, filling the word count without adding to the content.  Here are some powerful tricks that can help you trim the fat.

Are you describing simple things simply?  Think about your job.  I don't mean your title, your function, or the 8 million sub-headings and tasks it entails.  I mean the core, elevator pitch version of your job.  Do you make businesses run more efficiently?  Do you evaluate deals, judging them as good or bad for a company?  These functions are easy to understand, and described simply -- much better than company valuation in a mid-market private equity hedge bla bla bla, or operational efficiencies derived from careful analytics oh God please kill me now.  Think about it this way -- do you want to sound like a boring drone?  Of course not.  So simplify.

What are you talking about?  When did the event you are discussing begin?  When did it end?  Who was involved?  What were their names?  Why is it important that we hear about this story?  What did you think at the time, and what do you think now that it is all over?  These basic questions are so often ignored in essays.  Don't fall into that trap.

Get to the point -- now.  Does your first sentence have a date, place and a simple description of what is taking place in the essay?  If the answer is no, you're doing it wrong.  Don't open with a quote.  Don't ease us into the story.  Don't generalize before you start.  Remember.  No frills.  Now apply this to every sentence, everywhere.  Done.

The next essay you write -- make it a Costco essay and not a Gucci.  A no frills approach will make them love you in the end.


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

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Tuck's two prompts this year are fairly standard-issue.  Here are some strategies to help you attack them. 


Please respond fully but concisely to the following essay questions. There are no right or wrong answers. We encourage applicants to limit the length of their responses to 500 words for each essay. Please double-space your responses.

1. Why is an MBA a critical next step toward your short- and long-term career goals? Why is Tuck the best MBA fit for you and your goals and why are you the best fit for Tuck?

A standard "goals" essay -- see any of our previous posts on goals, or our book, for a sense on how to approach this. 

 2. Tell us about your most meaningful leadership experience and what role you played. What did you learn about your own individual strengths and weaknesses through this experience?

A standard "leadership" essay -- see any of our previous posts on leadership, or our book, for more detail on how to attack this question.

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New schools are up on the Forster-Thomas website.  Check them out at the following links!

CMU Tepper (Carnegie Mellon)

LBS (London)

Cornell Johnson

UCLA Anderson

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The Spanish b-schools have released their applications, and with them, their essay prompts. Forster Thomas gives them the once over.

By Ben Feuer, photo by Yaniv Yaakubovich

IESE -- University of Navarra

1. "Tweet" your post MBA goals (280 characters)

In an attempt to be 'hip', a few business schools have recently reframed their short answers as 'tweet' essays.  Don't take the bait.  Seeing as IESE apparently doesn't know that a tweet is only 140 characters, they surely don't want your hashtags and abbreviations either.  Answer this as you would any other short term goal short answer question, focusing on practicality and immediate-post-MBA aims, given your past work history.

2. Describe a recent professional situation (1-2 years ago maximum) that demonstrates your fit with IESE's mission and values(300 words).

Developing leaders, strengthening organizations, improving society.  These are three primary facets of IESE's mission statement.   To answer this prompt, tell a short-form leadership story, ideally one that shows you transforming or improving an organization through communal effort.

3. I wish that the application had asked me... (200 word limit)

This is an open-ended prompt with a tiny word count.  As such, it might make sense to approach this as one might a "getting to know you" or "one thing to know about you" prompt, focusing on one intriguing, memorable aspect of your history or personality that is not covered anywhere else in the application, then finding a question that solicits that answer.

ESADE -- Ramon Llull University

Personal essays (each question is limited to 2000 characters including spaces, 30 lines approximately)
What makes you YOU?

Today there is a growing need for outstanding business leaders who excel in their field and adapt quickly to the changing needs of the market.

Companies look to us for future leaders - people whose expertise and entrepreneurial abilities are flexible and suit a variety of leadership roles. Your drive and motivation and the individual qualities that you bring to the table are your best selling points and are what will enrich your team members most.

It is this individuality, together with the diversity at ESADE and our commitment to leadership, innovation and entrepreneurship that make us what we are: a talent pool for the business leaders of tomorrow.

The following questions are designed to help us get a more complete picture of who you are and the impact that you will have both here at ESADE and on society after completing your MBA.

Please respond openly, explaining what makes you the person that you are and who you will become.

1. Which aspects have you improved on during your academic and professional career so far? Which tools or values have helped you achieve this?

This unusually worded prompt focuses on growth and learning, emphasizing the lesson as heavily as the story you intend to tell.  Begin by telling an important academic or professional story (including an extracurricular leadership story) and then take time to explain what important lessons you learned, and where you were able to apply them later on.

2. How will your background, values and non work-related activities enhance the experience of other ESADE MBA students and add to the diverse culture we strive for at ESADE? (Note: The goal of this essay is to get a sense of who you are, rather than what you have accomplished)

This is a background/diversity essay.  Successful responses to these types of prompts highlight important moments in your personal development (note that they ask that you avoid accomplishments and work activities), like a key relationship with a family member or a personal struggle of some kind.  It is also reasonable to discuss background, beliefs and upbringing in an essay of this kind, particularly if they show you to be a uniting influence of some kind.

3. What are your motivations in pursuing a full-time MBA at this point in your life? Describe your mid-term and long-term visions for your post-MBA career path. What is it about ESADE you think will help you reach your goals?

A standard "goals" essay -- see any of our previous posts on goals, or our book, for more of a sense on how to approach this.

4. Complete two of the following four questions or statements (1000 characters per response)
   a) I am most proud of...
   b) People may be surprised to learn that I...
   c) What has your biggest challenge been and what did it help you learn about yourself?

   d) Which historical figure do you most identify with and why?

Note that the limit here is 1000 characters, not 1000 words.  These are short responses.  A is natural fodder for a leadership story, B is another open-ended 'getting to know you' prompt (see above), C is a different approach to leadership, either through a setback or a failure, and exploring how you grew as a result of that setback or failure -- as with all stories of this kind, it is important to authentically 'own' and take responsibility for the setback/failure, and the potential impact on the organization, but it is also important to show how you have grown as a result of it.  Answers to D should use the historical figure as a jumping off point to discuss ways you seek to emulate that person, using concrete examples from your life, rather than focusing on the figure him/herself. ----

5. Please provide any additional information that you would like to bring to the attention of the Admissions Committee. This may include gaps in employment, your undergraduate record, plans to retake the GMAT or any other relevant information.

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

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 Here are MIT Sloan's essays for this year, along with our tips and tricks to help you ace them.

By Ben Feuer


Essay 1: The mission of the MIT Sloan School of Management is to develop principled, innovative leaders who improve the world and generate ideas that advance management practice. Discuss how you will contribute toward advancing the mission based on examples of past work and activities. (500 words or fewer, limited to one page)

This is a leadership essay, an opportunity to use specific stories from the past (three years) to talk about how you are preparing yourself to be an innovative leader, improving the world and advancing management practice.  It is worth noting that MIT asks for stories, plural, but only offers 500 words to write the essay, so your best bet is to focus on two stories. Remember that you do not have to limit yourself to talking about your job.  Do you have any interesting extracurricular stories to add?  Any personal leadership stories? When you write your essay, try to be specific with names, dates and places for clarity’s sake, and avoid jargon or heavily functional stories (the time I singlehandedly overhauled our backend system for handling orders) – focus on leadership, influencing and motivating people.

Essay 2: 

Write a professional letter of recommendation on behalf of yourself.  Answer the following questions as if you were your most recent supervisor recommending yourself for admission to the MIT Sloan MBA Program: (750 words or fewer)

How long and in what capacity have you known the applicant?

How does the applicant stand out from others in a similar capacity?

Please give an example of the applicant's impact on a person, group, or organization.

Please give a representative example of how the applicant interacts with other people.

Which of the applicant's personal or professional characteristics would you change?

Please tell us anything else you think we should know about this applicant.

All right, so there’s an obvious reason this prompt exists, and let’s get it out of the way right away – Sloan doesn’t want you writing your own recommendations on behalf of your supervisors.  Fair enough.  But you weren’t planning to do that anyway, were you?

As an essay, this is an unusual opportunity to ‘stand in the shoes’ of your current supervisor – literally.  You are supposed to ‘be’ your supervisor to answer this essay, by the way, not just some ‘generic’ supervisor.  Focus on finding specific stories and specific moments that highlight things you did exceptionally well.   If you do it right, this essay can be a fantastic complement to your actual recommendation, going into detail on things your supervisor did not have the space or inclination to highlight, and vice versa.

Optional Question

The Admissions Committee invites you to share anything else you would like us to know about you, in any format. If you choose to use a multimedia format, please host the information on a website and provide us the URL.

First of all – this is NOT a conventional optional essay.  Every candidate should answer this question.  This is an ‘open-ended’ essay, a prompt with no particular guidance, like Harvard’s and Booth’s.  Although you are free to write about whatever seems best to you, think carefully about this essay in the context of your overall application.  What is interesting about you, or important to you, that you have not had the chance to write about so far in your application?  Another clue to help you – since multimedia is an option, is there something you do or care about that have a visual component?  Finally, some simple warnings – avoid writing about travel or sports (especially so-called extreme sports like skydiving) because almost everyone applying will have a lot of these stories.  And don’t neglect the personal!  Essays about family experiences are often the most distinctive and revealing.



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