College Admissions: Making the Final Decision

I’ve been working with a student I’ll call C.  She filed her applications on time, and come April 2nd, she found herself with several fat envelopes, financial aid packages and scholarships that kept her options open, and 29 days until the May 1st candidate reply date.

With three schools under serious consideration, C. is headed off to visit a campus or two.  At this point, it’s a given that each of her top choices offers strong academics, and lots of other opportunities.  It might be tempting for her to throw a dart at a map of the U.S., but I’m not encouraging it.

If this is your predicament, congratulations!  If you have the opportunity, go and visit your remaining choices.  Colleges welcome accepted students back to campus.  Take the tour, eat the food, attend a class.  When I’m on a campus, I often read bulletin boards and pick up a copy of the student newspaper.  A walk around the campus on Saturday morning can give you a sense of what students were up to the night before.  Are you intrigued by what you see?  Do the current students seem like copies of those you went to high school with, or are they altogether different?  Which environment do you prefer?

From an academic standpoint, colleges often talk about their class sizes, and accessibility of professors.  Dig a little bit deeper into the curriculum.  Is there a “core”? Is it rigid, or flexible? What types of classes will you be able to take as a freshman?  Are the classes seminars or lectures? Does much of the junior class depart for foreign lands? 

If you are also placing your name on a waitlist, it is important to put a place a deposit at ONE institution by May 1.  Doing so guarantees your spot in the class, and allows the college to begin preparing for your arrival – with residence hall space, advisors, and orientation.  Pay careful attention to the paperwork you submit, and be mindful of the deadline.  Should your waitlist choice call for you, you may forfeit your original deposit.  If you find yourself certain that you will not attend a college to which you have been offered admission, kindly let them know that you will enroll elsewhere.  Someone else is anxiously hoping to turn a waitlist offer into an admit.

In the end, your final choice is often a gut decision.  If you have a strong feeling, go with it.  And don’t look back.  You have four, maybe five years in front of you.  Make the most of them.

By Whitney Bruce, who has worked in college admissions since 1996. She has served as an Senior Assistant Director of Admissions (Washington U), Application Reader (University of Michigan), Assistant Director of College Counseling (private prep school in St. Louis), and an independent college counselor. She is happy to advise you as you apply to college.

HBS 2+2 2010 MBA Application Questions, Deadlines, Tips.

Harvard Business School 2+2 Program Essay Questions:

UPDATE: The tips for the HBS 2+2 2012 MBA Application are now available online. Please review the tips and post questions or comments to the new post.  Check out the entire 2012 MBA Application Tips series for more valuable MBA application advice.


The Harvard 2+2 application is online and the submission deadline is June 15, 2010. Harvard’s instructions and question are in black below; my comments and tips are in red:

HBS will accept either the GMAT or the GRE from 2+2 applicants. This year’s questions, are virtually identical to last years, as are my comments:


Required Questions:

1-What are your three most substantial accomplishments and why do you view them as such? (600-word limit)

This is practically Harvard‘s signature question. It has been around for years, and it goes to the heart of Harvard’s values. Harvard wants highly accomplished students entering its program. It wants leaders.

At least two of the three accomplishments should show leadership and/or teamwork with the emphasis being on leadership. I also like to have this essay show some breadth. My ideal would be to have one professional/internship, one community, and one personal accomplishment in this essay, but that breakdown is neither set in stone nor imperative.

2-What would you like us to know about your undergraduate academic experience? (400-word limit)

Optional for regular applications, this question is required for 2+2 applicants. When introduced, I thought this query was going to produce monotonous, boring pieces, but it didn’t. To my pleasant surprise, I reviewed several responses as part of our quality control program, and they were revealing, excellent essays. Your topics will clearly vary depending on your experience and the rest of your application, but my ideal answer will discuss a leadership experience from your undergrad career to show that you are a natural leader. Remember: HBS wants to develop leaders, not create them. It should complement your other essays and reveal another dimension to your personality and experience.

3-What have you learned from a mistake? (400-word limit) 

People of initiative err. They must learn from those mistakes to be effective leaders. A friend went to her daughter’s graduation and quoted the valedictory address, “In school you learn lessons and then take tests. In life, you have tests and then learn lessons.” If you view your mistakes as experiments, lessons, or tests, you can grow and make sure you don’t repeat them. Show HBS through this essay that you are the kind of person who learns from your mistakes.

Again, preferably  have this essay reveal your mistake in a leadership role, and then applying lessons learned in a sphere of your life not covered by other essays. In the best HBS applications, each essay uncovers a different facet of the applicant and his or her experience. Together they paint a portrait of a dynamic, talented leader with initiative and exceptional ability.

Please also respond to one of the following (400-word limit each):

  • Discuss how you have engaged with a community or organization.

Harvard does not just want “engagement.” It desires leadership, impact and initiative. Look to team projects, sports teams, bands, clubs, and other organizational commitments where you have had impact.  Discuss your role and the results of your participation.

  • What area of the world are you most curious about and why?

The “why” part of this question is far more important than the “what.” In responding avoid boring declarative sentences like “I am most interested in Zimbabwe because…” Perhaps present symbols of the region, something personally meaningful to you that you can explain, or a story illustrating your interest to open your essay.

  • What is your career vision and why is this choice meaningful to you?

Harvard is one of the few, if not the only, top business school that has made the goals question optional. And even this one is a little different than the typical “What do you want to do and why do you want to do it?” The interesting twist to Harvard’s question is “career vision.” With Harvard’s focus on strategy, Harvard is asking you to develop your career strategy and discuss its importance to you. But don’t leave your answer on an entirely theoretical plane. Bring it down to earth with your plan for implementing that vision. In other words writing that you seek “a career leading an innovative enterprise, providing work-life balance, and allowing me the opportunity to contribute to my community” sounds great. But it will also sound a lot like other people’s visions. You need to have some idea of how to achieve that vision, define it more narrowly, and explain why it resonates with you.

For more on the concept of vision, please see “The Parable of the Three Stone Masons.” I believe that HBS is attempting to identify those who are like the third stonemason — perhaps with less religious fervor, but with well… that kind of vision. They are still working hard, with feet on the ground, but they radiate enthusiasm for a distant goal and pride in their ability to contribute to something much larger than themselves.

If you would like help with your Harvard 2+2 application, please consider Accepted’s essay editing and admissions consulting.

Other resources to help you with your Harvard Business School MBA application:

Final suggestion, actually from Dee Leopold, Director of Harvard’s MBA Admissions, watch the video Inside the HBS Case Method.

HBS 2+2 2010 MBA Key Application Dates:?

Application Submission: June 15, 2010

Interviews (on-campus and by invitation only): August 18 – 24, 2010

Admissions Notification: Early September 2010 ~ Helping You Write Your Best

Essays That Stick and AIGAC’s Graduate Admission Summit

I am a big fan of the book Made to Stick by the brothers Chip and Dan Heath. It has so much of value for anyone interested in communicating. I have decided to show you how to apply their six key principles to your application essays and personal statements in my webinar “Essays that Stick” which I am presenting on April 28 at 11:00 AM PT/2:00 PM ET/6:00 PM GMT as part of the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultant’s (AIGAC) first annual Graduate Admissions Summit. Please join me at this free webinar.

After you register for “Essays that Stick,” explore AIGAC’s Summit. No mountains to climb. No fees to pay. No travel involved. Just lots of great information from the thought leaders in graduate admissions consulting available at your computer. There are sessions and articles on dual degrees, test taking, law school admissions, business school admissions, medical school admissions, the TOEFL, international admissions, and more. The day starts at 5:00 AM Pacific Time with a presentation on identifying personal goals and continues throughout the day with a only a one-hour break. Presenters, all AIGAC members, are located in the US, Israel, Germany, the UK, Russia, and Japan. Most of the presentations are in English, but one is in Spanish and one is in Russian. There are chats, webinars, and articles. And it’s all free to you, the applicant.

Sign up for any webinars that interest you at the AIGAC Summit. Mark your calendar for chat sessions and new articles that will be posted on April 28.

By Linda Abraham, President and Founder of

Be Realistic About the Number of Schools that You Apply to

It is appropriate to apply to fifteen to twenty medical schools, but select them carefully. Talk to your pre-health advisor or use the MSAR to see which schools are the best for you to apply to, based on location, grades, test scores, type of teaching, tuition, and any other factors that are important to you.

It is also important to consider applying to a wide range of schools. You might be surprised to be rejected from a school where your GPA and MCAT scores are higher than its average. On the other hand, one of your “reach” schools might see something unique about you or your application and accept you. A good mix might be to apply to both state schools and private schools where your statistics are competitive, and also to one or two “reach” schools. Stay away from applying to schools outside your home state if they only accept two or three out-of-state applicants per year.

According to the AAMC, 42,231 people applied to medical school for the 2008 entering class. 18,036 accepted students (42.7% of applicants) ended up enrolling at one of the 129 U.S. allopathic medical schools that then existed.

Additional Resources:

This is excerpted from 101 Tips on Getting Into Medical School by Jennifer C. Welch, who has served as the Director of Admissions at SUNY Upstate Medical School since 2001.

College Admissions: The Decisions are In

Some members of the class of 2010 are celebrating their acceptances tonight.  Others are re-examining their choices for next fall.  Yes, the Ivy League schools released their admissions decisions on Thursday afternoon.  For most of the group, applications were up, and accordingly, acceptance rates were down.  According to The Daily Pennsylvanian, the acceptance rate at the University of Pennsylvania fell to 14.2%, its lowest rate in history.  Last year, Penn admitted 17.1% of applicants.

Is it really becoming more difficult to gain acceptance to the more selective colleges in the United States?

Yes, they are admitting fewer students.  As a group, however, high school seniors seem to be submitting more applications than they did in prior years.  When I was a school based counselor, I encouraged my students to submit no more than eight applications.  Eight well- researched schools, with a range of selectivity, offered most students the opportunity to have a number of choices come April.  In recent years, perhaps due in part to the relative of ease of electronic applications compared to the typewriter, the increasing acceptance of the Common Application, and in part due to frenzy of the process, students have been submitting applications in greater numbers. Do you know students who have applied to a dozen or more colleges this year?  In essence, the arms race has escalated.  Yet each student can only attend one college the following fall.

Should you apply to many schools in order to enhance your chances of acceptance?  Most of the candidates applying to highly selective colleges are in fact, highly qualified for admission.  The component of your application that stands out in one admission committee might seem slightly less compelling to another. 

The increasing applications and decreasing acceptance rates do make it more important for you to put your best foot forward in each and every application.  Chart your academic course carefully, actively explore your passions, and write well.  Right now, each member of the high school class of 2011 or 2012 has an equal opportunity in front of the admissions committee.

By Whitney Bruce, who has worked in college admissions since 1996. She has served as an Senior Assistant Director of Admissions (Washington U), Application Reader (University of Michigan), Assistant Director of College Counseling (private prep school in St. Louis), and an independent college counselor. She is happy to advise you as you apply to college.

Part V: The Do’s and Dont’s of Audio and Video–Application Style

Here’s the final part of the series: Video, Let’s Get Technical

Imagine you’re a pro rock-climber, contemplating the 300-foot granite face looming above. To succeed, you need to visualize how you’ll make it to the top. It’s the same with video. Envision what you want to see on the screen, then plan, plan, plan ahead!


Like an essay or an audio clip, first write an outline and script.  With video, you will also create a pictorial guide called a storyboard.

Print out several copies of a template. Draw out each shot. It doesn’t have to be complicated at all. Use stick figures.  Just make a quick sketch to envision what you’ll see through the camera.

Each shot should last between 3 to 5 secs. Under three seconds, people might have a hard time grasping what is going on, and over 5 secs, people generally become bored.  When you’re speaking to the camera, however, you can hold the shot for a little longer–like 7-8 secs.  So for a one minute clip, you’ll need about 12-15 different shots. (EXTRA TIP: gives some great tips about choosing visuals for your script.)

Under the picture, write the portion of the script that you plan to say.

Variation of shots:  Sequence and distance

As you tell your story, make sure to show a sequence at various distances from the camera. For example, when filming the DJ sequence, you could start like this:

Shot 1:  Establishing shot of room with DJ equipment (The viewer can see your entire body, standing near the DJ equipment, facing a crowd)
Shot 2:  Medium shot. (Closer to the DJ booth. Midriff to just above your head with your hands visible on the turntable.)
Shot 3:  Close-up shot. (Your fingers on the turntable)
Shot 4:  Establishing shot again (This time with the camera behind your head capturing the silhouette of your back and the crowd dancing below you)

Shooting Tips

1.  Hold the camera steady.  For each shot, remain stationary and count for at least 10 seconds. You can cut the footage down later in your editing program to the appropriate length. Don’t zoom in and out.  For the interview portions, use a tripod if possible.

2.  Position of people in the camera
.  When you are speaking to the camera, shoot yourself straight on–like a news reporter.  


This is a nice shot because I’ve centered myself in the middle and the camera is capturing a shot just over the top of my head. I look like I’m about to speak directly to you.

EXTRA TIP: If you are using a camera with a built-in microphone, this is also a good distance to stand for the interview portion, as you’ll be close enough for the camera to pick up your voice.  Stand too much farther away, and it may be hard to hear you.


Too much space over my head in the camera frame.


Way too much space over my head and I’m not centered.


Make sure you and any other camera operator use headphones to verify the sound is being recorded. 

If you’re outside, stay conscious of your surroundings.  If a car goes by while you’re trying to talk, wait until it passes.  If you’re trying to speak where there is loud music, choose another place. It may drown out your voice and make you hard to hear. Or, you can record your voiceover in a quiet place and edit it over the music.


Don’t spend lots of money on equipment.  There are several inexpensive options for video:

1. Borrow a friend’s equipment or use a smartphone.  Just make sure that you know how to upload the content of the camera into an editing program.  Here’s how you can enter your iPhone footage into iMovie.

2.  Buy a Flip camera.  Here’s a link about how to capture footage into iMovie or Moviemaker.

3.  Here are a couple of how-to videos for editing with iMovie or Moviemaker.

Final Tips

You could possibly shoot the whole thing by yourself, but I wouldn’t recommend it.  Have someone else film the portions where you are looking directly into the camera, then takeover for the other parts.

Practice and memorize what you are going to say directly to the camera.  If you’re not good at memorization, narrate the whole thing–until the end. Make sure you include a small snippet where you are directly addressing the audience.

Above all, remember to smile.  This will naturally increase your energy and make you pleasant to watch. 

Have fun and happy shooting!


By Michelle Stockman, who worked in the Columbia Business School admissions office, has a Masters in Journalism from Columbia, and has assisted clients applying to top business schools since 2007. When not advising Accepted’s clients, she is a multimedia producer with works published by Agence France Presse,,, the Times of India, and Hindustan Times. She is happy to help you with your application.


Spreading Your Wings Near and Far

This is the third in a series of posts which discuss factors in making a college list.

When I applied to college, my parents were quite open-minded.  Quite frankly, my mother told me I could look at any colleges I wanted, as long as they weren’t in California and New York City.  It seems the extremes of those locales were just a bit of a stretch given my small-town South Carolina upbringing.

Geography can be an easy way to pare down your options, and I’ve frequently worked with students who have begun the process with a map.  On the map, they’ve drawn a circle with a four hour drive radius.  Without your own car on campus, keep in mind that four hours from home is an eight hour trip for the driver.  It is a doable one-day trip.  Beyond four hours, one can make the argument that distance from home becomes less relevant and maybe then, it’s time to place more importance on other factors.

It’s possible to stay right in your hometown for college, yet still have a new and different experience.  Your hometown can look quite different when you share it with fellow students who didn’t grow up there.  If you have the opportunity to live on campus you can pretend that you are anywhere you want.  The key to success in this is defining your relationship with your family.  Are you going to come home for dinner every Sunday night?  Is it ok to bring dirty laundry home with you when you come for dinner?  Have a parent-student conversation about everyone’s expectations, and you might find that distance from home and independence need not go together.

 By Whitney Bruce, who has worked in college admissions since 1996. She has served as an Senior Assistant Director of Admissions (Washington U), Application Reader (University of Michigan), Assistant Director of College Counseling (private prep school in St. Louis), and an independent college counselor. She is happy to advise you as you apply to college.


MBA Applicants: 3 Ways to Back Up Your Social Enterprise Goals

They want to save the world.

That’s what a lot of my MBA clients say they want to do, by leading a tech-based effort to bring education to rural areas or launching a groundbreaking non-profit or running the emerging economy practice of a top consulting firm. Not surprisingly, it’s an especially common goal for MBA applicants from fast-developing countries like China, India, and Brazil. And I don’t doubt that social enterprise is a sincere objective for most applicants who state this goal.

But often, they don’t have much to back it up.

Sure, they may have some volunteer experience or have led a project in an emerging economy. But many applicants have this kind of experience. So how do you differentiate yourself if you have these kinds of goals, which are becoming increasingly common? In other words, how do you back up your social enterprise objectives in a sea of those with similar goals?

Here are three ways:

1. Use your experience. The best way to prove you’re serious about something is to show that you’ve already done it. This doesn’t mean you have to have launched a successful non-profit on your own, but it’s ideal if you have some background in social enterprise. This might mean a leadership role with a non-profit or NGO, or at the very least some volunteer experience. Or it could be that you’ve led community service efforts for your company. If you don’t have much to say about such experience, it’s not ideal. But don’t despair: you can start getting involved in volunteer efforts (ideally, pursue those connected to your goals as directly as possible) and talk about how you hope to expand this in the near future, being as specific as possible. Sure, it’s not as ideal as having done it already, but it’s better than nothing, right?

2. Paint the picture. As often as not, my clients say they have social enterprise goals but fail to detail these sufficiently. It’s hard for admissions committees to take you seriously if you can’t paint the picture. I devote a whole blog post to this topic, but it’s pretty simple: talk about the kind of work you want to do and the regions/communities you will target, in the context of both short- and long-term goals. Use statistics related to key trends and examples of existing companies/non-profits in your target space wherever possible.

3. Connect to the school’s offerings. It’s great if you have some social enterprise experience and paint a clear picture of your goals. But it’s not enough. As a last step you have to connect your aspirations to the program you’re applying to. What classes will help you address any skills/perspective gaps? What social enterprise clubs and activities (including study trips to your target regions) will help you put what you’re learning into action? What kind of contributions can you make in these activities, leveraging your past experience? What kind of leadership role will you take? Answering these questions in your essays and interviews will go a long way to differentiating you.

We’re happy to help you back up your social enterprise goals with compelling specifics like these. ~ Helping You Write Your Best


Grad Application Preseason 5: Lining up Letters of Rec and Searching for Fellowships

These are also steps that you can start working on well ahead of next winter’s application deadlines.

If you’re still in college, contacting professors to be your recommenders will be straightforward; the benefit of doing it early is that the ones who work in your field will be able to give you advice about programs to consider, and might be able to introduce you to their colleagues who are doing research in your area of interest. If you’re out of school, try to make contact with professors you had good relationships with: for doctoral programs, in particular, you’ll need the majority of your letters to be academic references (rather than professional).

You can start early by discussing grad school with your faculty mentor(s), and later on, give them a portfolio of information to help them write the letter (a list of the schools you’re applying to, a draft of your SOP, etc). If it’s been a while since you took their class, it can be helpful to supply a copy of a project you completed for them—but in any event, try to meet with them in person if possible, and give them sufficient time to write your letter (a month is good). Follow up with a gracious thank you note.

You can also start learning about graduate funding opportunities right away. Find out about what kind of funding packages are available at the schools you’re considering. Do they fund MA/MS students, or just PhDs? What percentage of students is offered funding each year? Is there funding for international students? Does the school offer advising to help students apply for national grant programs like the NSF? Will you be considered for Teaching Assistant positions automatically, or must you apply?

Research your funding options and stay organized!

 By Dr. Rebecca Blustein, author of Financing Your Future: Winning Fellowships, Scholarships and Awards for Grad School, Rebecca is available to help you write clear essays and personal statements that communicate and persuade.


Do Not Contact Your Interviewers to Find out “What Went Wrong” if You Are Denied Admission

Sometimes medical school interviewers are not members of the medical school admissions committee, and while they do offer their recommendations to the committee, they many not be present or part of the actual voting process when the decision on your application is made. The committee looks at the big picture and takes everything into account – grades and MCAT scores, extracurricular activities, clinical exposure, research experience, work-related experience, letters of recommendation, interviewer ratings, and the overall competitiveness of the applicant pool that year. To find out how to strengthen your application, it is probably best to talk to your pre-health advisor or a member of the medical school admissions staff, if the school offers such advisement.

Additional Resources:

?This is excerpted from 101 Tips on Getting Into Medical School by Jennifer C. Welch, who has served as the Director of Admissions at SUNY Upstate Medical School since 2001.