Personal Statement Tip: Our Response Defines Us

I am frequently asked how to deal with hardship, failure, or tragedy in essays. Tough subjects. An approach to these topics comes from an unlikely source: Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks of the United Kingdom.

In his essay "Remembering the Past to Build the Future," he invites the reader to " react to tragedy not as objects but as subjects, not as figures of fate but as masters of our destiny. We are not defined by what happens to us but by how we respond."

In your personal statements and application essays dealing with those tough times in your life, you need to provide some information about the difficulty, but only enough to give context and let the adcom understand your challenges. Focus on your response to those events. That focus will allow you to demonstrate strength, resilience, resourcefulness, and hopefully a host of other desirable traits. With the spotlight on your reaction, your story will evoke admiration as opposed to pity, an adcom response that bodes well for your admissions chances.

I would go even further and say that your response to success is highly revealing and perhaps defining. Did your team exceed goals and expectations? How did you react? Did you share the glory? Did you analyze the factors that contributed to your astounding success so that you could improve performance even more? Did you decide to apply those techniques to the NFP where you are volunteering? Did you learn from the experience?

The purpose of the essays is to introduce you to the adcom . Application readers want to know what makes you tick, what defines you. They will find that insight, that high definition, in your response to events, both the successes and the failures, the joys and the tragedies.

VA Boosts Number of Residency Positions

The AAMC announced over the weekend a significant increase in VA residency positions: 2000 new slots over the next 5 years, with 341 added in AY 2007-08. Here is the text of the announcement.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) plans to increase support for medical residency positions starting in the 2007-2008 academic year (AY). The graduate medical education (GME) enhancement initiative stems from the recommendations included in the September 2005 Advisory Committee on Veterans Health Administration Resident Education report. The report encouraged the VA to restore and maintain its historic support for 11 percent of the total U.S. resident physician positions. In recent years, the VA has averaged only 9 percent of the national total.

VA anticipates adding 2000 resident positions over the next 5 years at a rate of 300 to 500 positions annually. The VA reports that it has approved funding for Phase I (AY 2007-08) and approved initiation of Phase II (AY 2008-09). In the first round of the GME enhancement initiative, 341 new positions will be added across the country in July 2007. The next request for proposals will be issued in spring 2008.

According to Malcolm Cox, M.D., VA Chief Academic Affiliations Officer, "These positions will not only address VA’s critical needs and the looming U.S. physician workforce shortage, but will also provide flexibility in training in new specialties and new sites of care, such as community-based clinics. The availability of additional physician resident positions will also encourage innovation in education that is patient-centered and inter-professional in nature and that incorporates state-of-the-art models of clinical care, including VA’s renowned quality and patient safety programs and electronic medical record system."

Majority of Law Schools Use Highest LSAT score

According to the Daily Pennsylvanian, 74% of all law schools have decided to evaluate law school applicants based on their highest score. This change comes on the heels of an ABA policy change asking schools to report their matriculants’ highest LSAT score as opposed to the average score used previously by 87% of all law schools. That’s quite a switch.

While the change will mitigate the impact of the proverbial "bad day," schools still warn against trying to game the system by taking the LSAT endlessly until you get a high score.

My recommendation: Prepare for it and prepare well the first time. Take lots of practice exams. Aim to take it only once. If you have that bad day, then you have the option of a retake without the outcome being dragged down by the first score and without concern that an even worse day will further damage your admissions chances.

Q&A with Stephen Sacca, Director MIT Sloan Fellows Program in Innovation and Global Leadership

Aug. 4, 2010: We just posted a new interview with MIT Sloan Fellows’ Director Stephen Sacca. Please read the updated post because it has current information.

Last week I had the pleasure of talking to Stephen Sacca, Director of the MIT Sloan Fellows Program in Innovation and Global Leadership about the Sloan Fellows Program.

If you are a middle manager with more than ten years of impressive career growth and interested in accelerating that growth through an MBA or Masters in Management, then you should be very interested in this Q&A, especially the A.

Warning: This is a long post. 

How much experience do Sloan Fellows typically have?

The average age of Sloan Fellows at MIT is 38 with an average of 14 years of experience.

Sloan Fellows have at least ten years of full-time work experience, unless they are truly the exceptional of the exceptional, then we will consider them with only nine years. It happens rarely, but it does happen.

Are many Sloan Fellows sponsored?

Most Sloan Fellows are sponsored, and actually it is a key element for non-entrepreneurs. Sponsorship provides an independent endorsement of an individual’s capability and assists to maintain a fellows focus on the program during the 12 months they are at MIT. If a company is willing to invest in a candidate, it’s a sign of the applicant’s qualifications.

Historically 100% of Sloan Fellows were sponsored but with the integration of the Management of Technology Program in 2004; now about 70% are. 30% are self-sponsored – usually entrepreneurs. These entrepreneurs are frequently between ventures. They are the types who built a $5 million venture and sold it; now they want to build a $50 million+ enterprise.

Whether sponsored or non-sponsored, the Sloan Fellow is seeking to accelerate career growth after an already impressive record of career progression.

Sloan Fellows can pursue an MS or an MBA? What’s the difference between the two degrees?

The MS requires a thesis; the MBA does not. The MBA is the overwhelming choice of fellows, as it is better recognized in the marketplace.

In any given year, 8-10 % of the class already has an MBA. These MBA’s are particularly interested in the leadership component of the program. They usually go for the MS.

What distinguishes Sloan Fellows from regular Sloan MBAs?

Experience and perspective. In virtually all instances, , regular MBAs are less experienced and so they are spending much of their time on career development and a significant motivation for pursuing the degree is earning the credential. The primary reason Sloan Fellows pursue the degree is to get an education. The learning is more important to them than the degree. They don’t need to get their ticket punched. The faculty particularly likes Sloan Fellows because they’re there to learn.

Since the majority of the fellows are sponsored and not looking for a job halfway through the year-long program, there is also little if any competition. And just in case some are competitive types, we tell them to “check competition at the door” when they arrive. Collaboration is key for success in the program.

Furthermore, in a sponsored setting like the MIT Sloan Fellows Program, the focus is on the coursework because they already have a job. Even the self-sponsored people want to take full advantage of the program and focus on it for the entire year. They have the experience and confidence in themselves to know that they can pick up their careers when they complete their degree, and they don’t need to start their next venture until after they finish the program.

Finally, Sloan Fellows are not eligible for career development services. Sloan Fellows are sponsored or are moving onto new ventures. In either case, it is expected that Sloan Fellows have the skills, confidence and resources to transition back into their career with relative ease.

I noticed the Sloan Fellows Program offers 1- and 2-year options. Who are those options for?

90% of participants complete the program (whether an MS or an MBA) in one year. We do have a flex option for those who will work and go to school while completing the program in two years. Participants in the flex program must live and work in the Boston area, because we are trying to build closeness among students. We want to build deep relationships within the class, and we can’t do that when classmates have conflicting and multiple commitments or are geographically distant. The flex option is still in a pilot phase.

What is the structure of the Sloan Fellows Program?

MIT Sloan Fellows Program is 53 weeks and 3 terms. First term (during the summer) is very intense. Boot camp, really. It provides academic preparation for the year and is the foundation for the whole program. All work in the summer is in teams, and we really want them to work in teams. The school picks the teams of 4 – people from different backgrounds and professions who must learn to come together and work together. After the summer, the fellows participate in the fall and spring terms, and other than core courses, are fully integrated into the MIT Sloan School with other students for their elective courses.

There are 100 Fellows in each class, and they are divided into two sections of fifty each. Sloan Fellows are required to take core classes, which are exclusively for Sloan Fellows. Sloan Fellows can also take electives at other schools within MIT and Harvard. The program allows cross registration at the Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and Harvard Business School.

This program is for people who recognize its rigor. It is an intense, practically-minded, and focused program.

It’s also a very global program, as it should be given its name. A high percentage of Fellows come from outside the US. Lab projects, specifically the Global Entrepreneurship course, require work abroad. With this program real companies seek students to solve a problem. In January, Sloan Fellows spend 3-4 weeks at the company’s site (at the company’s expense) to produce a solution and deliverable for the company. These projects are always international and frequently in a developing country. Furthermore, the thesis also allows for an additional international experience, depending on what the student decides to research.

MIT also offers Entrepreneurial lab and a Sustainability lab courses. All lab courses entail working on a project with real companies solving real problems.

Finally, all Sloan Fellows take three trips a year. One is to New York City, the second is to Silicon Valley or Washington DC, and the third trip is international. These trips have specific objectives, and Fellows participate in a meaningful way. They are not just a sightseeing lark. These trips are an essential part of the leadership component of the program, and they are included in the US$94,000 tuition (for the full time program).

“MIT Sloan Fellows Program in Innovation and Global Leadership.” That’s a mouthful. Why such a long name.

The name reflects the integration of two programs several years ago, but it really mirrors the values and essence of this program today. I wouldn’t give it up for the world, because it so clearly states what the MIT Sloan Fellows Program is about: Innovation and Global Leadership.

Innovation and entrepreneurship are critical components in the program. Business needs to look at innovation as an ongoing role and need in a company. We have several courses on innovation, and it is part of our core curriculum. It is also the focus of our Silicon Valley trip where Fellows meet with innovators and entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs.

If we are talking about leadership, and we teach it, our students need to talk to top leaders and learn from them. That’s the focus of the trip to Washington, DC, where Fellows may meet with leaders like Ben Bernanke.

What are the typical educational and professional backgrounds of participants in the Sloan Fellows Program?

25% enter with an engineering background.

25% enter with a background in business.

25% come from the sciences and social sciences.

25% come from assorted other fields including the humanities.

The industries most represented in the Sloan Fellows Program in Innovation and Global Leadership: IT, manufacturing, government, and bio-tech/pharma.

What do you want to see in an applicant?

We want high-achievers, people of confidence who will stay focused on the program and not get distracted.

We want:

  • Demonstrated leadership in the past.
  • Highly motivated people.
  • Self-actualized people. People who can look in the mirror and be satisfied with what they see. Confident, but neither complacent nor arrogant

What about academics? The GMAT?

The undergrad transcripts are the primary means of demonstrating intellectual ability. The GMAT is helpful, but not always required, unless the applicant’s undergrad performance was poor or not representative.

How would you distinguish the Sloan Fellows Program from an EMBA program, or would you?

I would and do. Two key differences:

  1. Many EMBA programs are MBA-lite. The Sloan Fellows Program is an extremely rigorous program.
  2. The Sloan Fellows program, unlike most EMBA programs, is a full-time program. It takes people out of their current environment so that they can reflect on what they have done, without distraction.

What are the differences between Stanford’s and London Business School’s Sloan Fellows Program and the MIT Sloan Fellows Program?

  • MIT has the most experienced, most sponsored cohort . London’s and Stanford’s cohorts are slightly less experienced or do not possess the same level of sponsorship.
  • LBS and Stanford are shorter, requiring only two terms over 10 months. Without the summer term, the likelihood of developing deep bonds among the fellows may be less prevalent.
  • Because of the summer term, MIT Sloan Fellows can take roughly twice the number of electives, which is an important feature to permit tailoring their experience to meet their future career objectives
  • All three programs are from outstanding schools, but each emphasizes the overall characteristics of the institution of which it is part.

Is the MIT Sloan Fellows Program in Innovation and Global Leadership as elitist as it sounds?

We want exceptional people. Period.

If a company says, “We don’t normally sponsor, but this person is so special that we will sponsor,” that applicant is gold. That’s the kind of person we want: Gold.

MBA Admissions News: Hiring, Waitlists, Quant Help

A few interesting items on the MBA admissions scene

  • Businessweek has published a valuable survey of top b-school waitlist practices in “How to Survive the Waitlist.” Not surprisingly, the first rule cited by BW is the inverse of the first of The Nine Mistakes You Don’t Want to Make on an MBA Waitlist..
  • Dr. Peter Regan of Tuck and MBAMath wrote me this week about a blog that he has launched, He started this blog with a series of posts on the steps applicants can take to prepare for the quant demands of b-school. He is also asking for applicant and student input on this question. I have been very impressed with Dr. Regan’s work and if you have any concerns about your quant skills, this blog could be of tremendous assistance to you.
  • And the hiring news just gets better and better reports BW in “Forecast: MBA Hiring Up Again”:  “An improved economy, business growth and employee retirement all contribute to this escalating demand for newly minted MBAs.”  The article reports that MBA hiring in 2007 is expected to soar 22.1% over 2006, which wasn’t too shabby either. Manufacturing is reporting the largest increase in hiring (32.4%) . The service sectors anticipate a 15.4% increase. In the article recruiters agree that the market hasn’t been this good, from the student perspective, since 2000.

Save During’s Holiday Sale

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There is something for every applicant on this list and it’s all 25% off through December 15, 2006

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Johns Hopkins Gets New B-School

Johns Hopkins University announced the formation of a new School of Business and School of Education after receiving a $50 million gift from W. P. Carey  through the W. P. Carey Foundation. (The Carey Business School will be the second Carey Business School. The University of Arizona’s Business School is also named for Carey)

A few other interesting tidbits about the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School:

  1. It will launch with a total of $100 million in funding. The Carey gift is to be matched by another $50 million in gifts, some of which have already been pledged.
  2. The business school will build on Hopkins impressive strength in health care and joint programs offering  combined master’s/MBA programs in biotechnology, public health and nursing. Look for more innovative programming focusing on healthcare and business.
  3. Carey also plans to offer a five-year B.A.-B.S./MBA option for liberal arts and engineering majors from the university’s undergraduate programs.

Penn’s Early Applications Drop 2.5 %

The Pennsylvanian reports that early applications to Penn dropped 2.5% from last year’s level. 4,001 applicants submitted applications by the early application deadline, down from last year’s 4,120 applications. Admissions director Lee Stetson said the drop was neither significant nor unexpected, given the surge of early applications last year and the consequent selectivity last year.

Penn expects to admit 20-30% of the early applicants. 

Insead Extends Round 2 Deadline until Friday Dec. 8

Insead’s application processing service ran into technical problems, which have since been resolved. Nonetheless, Insead is extending its Round 2 deadline to Friday December 8.

Dean Patrick Harker to Leave Wharton

Wharton Dean Patrick Harker is leaving Wharton to become the president of the University of Delaware, effective July 1, 2007. Wharton will organize a search committee to find a replacement for Dean Harker as soon as possible. For more on Dean Harker’s departure, please see "Just In: Dean Harker to Leave Wharton."