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By Ben Feuer

Wharton, like most schools, has trimmed its essay offerings this year.  They are down to just one, and it is a variation on the time-honored goals essay.  Some things about Wharton from previous application years still apply in this one, though -- campus visits can still be a difference maker, as can any demonstrated interest in the target school.  Wharton wants to know why if selected, you will attend.

Required Essay Questions:

  1. What do you hope to gain both personally and professionally from the Wharton MBA? (500 words)

This is a lot to cover in just 500 words.  First and foremost, in order to properly answer this question you must identify what your professional goals are, and the way to do that is by starting off with a goals essay.  Write (briefly) about your short (immediately after business school) and long (~5 years after graduation) goals, but do not get bogged down in the details, and do not waste a lot of space talking about why you are a super qualified to attend, or all the awesome leadership experience you have had, or any of that -- Wharton didn't ask for it.  Instead, the second half (or more than half) of the essay should be focused on Why Wharton is the ideal fit for you.  Do research and campus visits, reach out to alumni and current students, whatever it takes to get interesting information about Wharton -- then tie those tidbits to your goals and ambitions.  And don't forget while you are doing this that Wharton asked about your personal goals as well -- don't shortchange those.  Talk about friends, family, and any social benefits you expect from your two years at Wharton.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Forever MBA

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We all know sometimes it FEELS like school never ends.  What if it actually never ended?

By Ben Feuer



Be honest -- when ranking business schools on a scale of innovation, Wharton is not at the top of the list.  Prestige and name recognition it has in spades, but along with that comes a bit of a prim and proper vibe.  You may have to change your tune now that a frankly revolutionary idea has come out of Pennsylvania.

Simply put, imagine a Wharton MBA ... who never graduates.  Imagine a business school running not on a 2-year immersion model, but a lifelong subscription model.  That is the disturbing and fascinating brainchild of Christian Terwiesch and Karl Ulrich -- ten months of immersive learning and networking, followed by a return to the workforce and an as-needed array of MOOCs, courses and meetings to round out the degree.

 
Is it a good one?  Possibly.  It has some obvious advantages.  Less time out of the workforce means less of a financial burden for students, who can return to the workforce more quickly.  But will they really have time for learning once they are working full-time jobs and raising families?  Will they even feel like they need it?  And what would the degree really mean if distance learning was a la carte?  Would it ultimately dilute the perceived value of the MBA still further, hurting students' job prospects?

All in all, the idea definitely needs more polish before it can shine -- but then again, no one is talking about implementing this right now.  This much is certain -- it's innovative.


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Monday, July 28, 2014

Why Failure Matters

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Learn to own your failures, or they will own you.

By Ben Feuer

 

Before I became fabulously rich and famous as an educational consultant and all my dreams came true, I had a dark past.  I made (gasp) short films.  Some of them were quite enjoyable.  Others, not so much.  Why I decided to make a terrible science fiction short film on a budget of $3, I will never know, but there exists actual documented footage of me forcing a man to climb inside a cardboard box and wave a light over his head, pretending to travel through time so he can go back and kill himself.

And before you ask, no, you can't see it.

Most people sitting down to write an essay have a block around failure.  Failure, the ugly stepchild of success, is something essay writers tend to flee from, even when they KNOW that exploring and understanding failure is important.

We all have different ways of avoiding it.  One of the most common ones I see is people claiming they 'just can't think of anything good'.  Like heck you can't.  These mortifying experiences will haunt you until the day you die.  You know exactly what they are.  You just ain't sharing the good stuff!

Some people are happy to show failure -- of a particular type.  The type where, at the very last minute, the day is saved through some fabulous deus ex machina.  This is another way of absolving oneself of responsibility for the failure.

We are in a renaissance of failure.  Self help books tell us to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and start all over again.  Failure is a good thing, as we are becoming more and more aware.  Entrepreneurs benefit from failure.  So do purveyors of cheap pizza.  There are conferences devoted to it.  It's a good thing.

So why are we still afraid to talk about it?

The problem is one of self-insight.  It is one thing to experience failure, quite another to learn from it.  Most people are perfectly good at failing, but lousy at recovering.  They never examine their failures closely to figure out what they might have meant.  Worse still, they abandon the field, giving up on things they're 'just not good at' (as though they knew).

So let me be the one to tell you.  No application to a top school is complete without a failure story.  You may not wind up telling it.  But you have to write it.   You have to figure out what it was, what you learned, and how you evolved as a result of it.  Don't wait.  Go write it now.  Your application will thank you.


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By Ben Feuer

Kellogg has finally released its essay prompts for this year, and you can read them right here on our website.  As with almost every other school this year, Kellogg has trimmed both word count and essay count.  The trend is shorter and sweeter, or as Kellogg admissions prefers to frame it, "a nice amount of space for an applicant to give a well thought out answer but not to feel constrained".  We will let you be the judge of that.

One other useful tidbit -- although the questions are different this year, Kellogg stresses that the themes are the same.  They still view team skills and resilience as very important qualities in developing leaders.  So when you set your pen to paper to answer that first prompt about a challenge you have faced, remember that the size and intensity of the challenge really matters if you are planning to craft a compelling response.

The video essay also survives for another year -- once again, candidates will have twenty seconds to prepare a response, but this year, they will have only sixty seconds to answer.  But don't worry, you are not supposed to feel constrained there, either.  For more information on how to ace the video essay, check out this great video from Forster-Thomas interview skills expert Tom Locke.

1. Resilience.  Perseverance.  Grit.  Call it what you will…. Challenges can build character.  Describe a challenging experience you’ve had.  How were you tested?  What did you learn? (450 words) 

This is what we at Forster-Thomas call a "setback" essay.  It's a kissing cousin of the "failure" essay, which you can read all about in our book.  In fact, you could answer this prompt by writing a failure essay as well, and for certain candidates (particularly those that come across too shiny and well-manicured in their resume and professional experience) it can be really nice to have that humanizing element, especially for a more socially adept student body like Kellogg's.  Just remember the two most important elements of a failure essay -- that you own the failure and take responsibility for it, and that you show us how you learned from it going forward.

But back to the setback essay.  Setback essays are about something you were trying to achieve, be it personal or professional, when ONE SPECIFIC obstacle came up and prevented that from happening.  That obstacle can be concrete (a hurried deadline) or more ambiguous (your boss's controlling attitude stifling innovation), but in order to answer the question, you must write about how you RESPONDED to the crisis -- or as Kellogg puts it, how were you tested and what did you learn?  And of course, you finish up by telling the reader what happened to the project or relationship.  Did it work out?  How?  Are there any relevant metrics?  Was the achievement a first of its kind for that setting?


2. Leadership requires an ability to collaborate with and motivate others.  Describe a professional experience that required you to influence people.  What did this experience teach you about working with others, and how will it make you a better leader? (450 words)

This is a standard 'leadership' essay (covered in our book), meaning that the focus should be on a specific, single event that took place over a well defined period of time (a month, two weeks, et cetera) where some organizational goal needed to be achieved.  In the best leadership essays, the candidate identifies the problem, finds a solution, lobbies to have it implemented and then sees it through to a successful conclusion, creating legacy going forward.  The bigger and more diverse the team, the more important and powerful the leadership experience.

Please note that Kellogg asks you to focus on professional experiences here.


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We all know it when we see it (or think we do).  But do we know how to use it, and how not to?

By Ben Feuer

Bullshit, or BS, as it is affectionately known, seems to be undergoing a kind of renaissance lately.  Respected schools like USC Marshall conduct studies which are then misinterpreted and used to make clickbaiting articles (like this one!) proclaiming to the heavens the value of powerful sounding vagaries.

A lot of people (including some of my clients) enjoy proclaiming with great confidence that they 'don't do bullshit'.  A lot more people (including some of my clients) announce that everything they are saying is 'just bullshit', then say it anyway, as though that was somehow going to improve my impression of the bullshit they are about to say.

We all know too much BS is a bad thing.  So what value (if any) does it have in an essay?  Are we all writing it, to a lesser or greater degree, and some of us are just better at it than others?

The answer is no, but if you're convinced the answer is yes, nothing I'm about to say will change your mind.  For those of you willing to learn a little bit about how language works, read on.

BSing consists of saying things you do not believe are true.  In your essays, you should not be writing things that are not true.  Therefore, there should be no BS in your essays.

That's the black and white answer.  Now for the shades of gray.

Some people have truths that, for one reason or another, simply MUST be evaded or omitted when they write their essays.  An essay is not meant to be 'full disclosure', it is meant to give an accurate portrait of you as a candidate.  So if there is a non-representative but utterly damning fact about you, well, it might be a good idea to choose not to talk about it.  BS?  Of course not.  This is just common sense, and most people intuitively get this.

Going deeper into the rabbit hole, things get more complicated.  Some candidates have a story they're dying to tell but no space in which to tell it.  BS allows them to shift the 'question' to suit their packaged answer.  You see politicians do this all the time.  It doesn't work for them and it will not work for you.  Answer the essay question, even if it means giving up on your 'favorite' story.

Some people have big, complicated ideas and work histories and very limited word counts to explain them.  In these situations, you must simplify things.  Simplifications are not BS -- if done well, they clarify a point you're trying to make, not obscure it.  The problem comes when they are done poorly.  The fact is, it is really hard to make a big idea simple without destroying it.  Simplifications that rely on jargon "make you sound stupid", to quote the Marshall professor who commissioned the study.  Simplifications must use simple, plain language that speaks to emotions rather than to facts.  

Once simplified, stories can often read rather abrupt and lifeless.  This is where detail comes into play.  Detail makes stories feel real and lived-in, so details (metrics, dates, facts) are vital to telling a compelling story.  This is a key way readers unconsciously distinguish BS, however well written, from reality.  Even if it means you have to say less, say it with enough detail to be convincing, but not so much as to be overwhelming.  Pick and choose your most valuable details.

Hopefully this helps draw something of a line in the sand distinguishing BS from effective (and necessary) self-promotion and self-explanation.

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It's a red letter day at the FT offices -- new essays and deadlines have been released!

By Ben Feuer

Our essay guide was just updated with four new schools -- NYU Stern, UVA Darden, U. Michigan Ross, and UNC Kenan-Flagler.  Check out the prompts and deadlines at the following links!

http://www.forsterthomas.com/essayguide/nyu_stern_2014_2015
http://www.forsterthomas.com/essayguide/uva_darden_2014-2015
http://www.forsterthomas.com/essayguide/uofmichigan_ross_2014_2015
http://www.forsterthomas.com/essayguide/unc_kenanflagler_2014-2015

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An article raises key questions about where MBA essay prompts have been, and where they are headed.

By Ben Feuer

Bloomberg Businessweek has a fantastic article today about why certain questions have survived in the process, and why others change every year.  The whole article is worth a careful read if you are planning to apply to business school this year, but here are a few of the highlights.

1.  If a question stays every year -- it's because the school likes the question.  Obvious?  Perhaps.  But Booth's Powerpoint essay, or Kellogg's new video essay, or Stanford's What Matters Most essay have become synonymous with the schools themselves.  Admissions officers believe (correctly!) that if you cannot figure out a way to answer these questions, these schools are not right for you.  And conversely, if you have a great answer to these questions, you might just be a great fit at these schools ...

2.  Authenticity is the goal.  All MBA candidates want to 'force' a fit between themselves and their target school.  It's only natural -- you want them, so you want to make them want you.  As anyone who has frequented eHarmony can tell you, life doesn't work that way -- but if you put yourself out there, you just might get lucky!  Safe, rote and formula responses are a recipe for rejection, as these admissions officers are eager to remind you -- it's part of why they shake up the questions each year.

3.  Video's relevance is on the rise.  It's a teleconferencing age, and b-schools are recognizing that.  Yale and Kellogg both have video components to their applications this year, and FT's crystal ball predicts this trend will spread.  Schools like the spontaneity of the video responses (and they like not having to read another essay).
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It's a red letter day at the FT offices -- new essays and deadlines have been released!

By Ben Feuer

Our essay guide was just updated with four new schools -- Duke Fuqua, Yale SOM, Berkeley Haas, and UPenn Wharton.  Check out the prompts and deadlines at the following links!

http://www.forsterthomas.com/essayguide/duke_2014-2015
http://www.forsterthomas.com/essayguide/yale_2014-2015
http://www.forsterthomas.com/essayguide/ucberkeley_haas_2014-2015
http://www.forsterthomas.com/essayguide/wharton_2014-2015

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Mood is an important factor in writing great essays.

By Ben Feuer



Well, folks, it's getting to be that time of year again -- that time when young people's thoughts turn to top schools, and their fingers turn to keyboards to start tapping away at those admissions essays.  Some of you are probably excited to be finally getting started, but that excitement will soon fade when you are faced with an intimidatingly empty page.

A fascinating recent study examined people's emotional states while browsing Facebook, and found that the moods of their online 'friends' could easily infect them -- a viral mood state, if you will.  Aside from how mind-blowing it is that that is even possible, this should illustrate to you just how easy it is for people to drift into a state of anxiety or depression when faced with an intimidating task like writing an essay.

Your emotional state matters when you write -- your environment, how much sleep you've gotten, how well fed you are -- and it can have a big positive (or negative) impact on what you choose to write and how well you do it.  Since projecting confidence and contentment unselfconsciously is important to successful essay writing, take whatever necessary precautions you have to to make sure you write at a time and in a way that is conducive to doing your best work.

Here are a few tips we here at Forster-Thomas have found useful when we put pen to paper.

Keep a schedule.  Don't try and 'squeeze' your writing in whenever you can -- dedicate a time in advance when you know you will be writing and prepare yourself mentally and emotionally.

Don't try to write for long periods if you are not used to it.  Your productivity will decline precipitously if you try to 'binge write'.

Be well fed and well rested.  Really!  Mood and state of mind matters.

Don't write distracted.  Pay attention to what you are trying to say -- re-read what you write aloud.  Does it actually say what you meant for it to say?

Every writer has his own secret bag of tricks to lure his muse out of hiding.  These are a few of ours.


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