Go to a better blog!

You can find a better version of my blog at http://www.adammarkus.com/blog/.

Be sure to read my Key Posts on the admissions process. Topics include essay analysis, resumes, recommendations, rankings, and more.

August 30, 2008

Youtube Posts: Adam & Steve Interview Each Other

Adam and Steve are now posting videos at Youtube under the name "GradAdmissionsGurus," but anything we post there will be posted here. In the first two of the videos below, Steve interviews Adam. In the third, Adam interviews Steve. As you can see, we are going for that natural video blog look which is further facilitated by the use of Adam's mighty Xacti. We have not yet mastered the art of video, but thought these were not too embarrassing to show publicly.

Video 1: Adam
Adam discuss why he established this blog, its relation to his admissions consulting business, and why he asked Steve to be a contributor. NOTE: It seems to take longer for this video to load than the next two videos.

Video 2: Adam
Steve asks Adam a mean question about the low number of posts in August and the plan for the rest of the year. The post ends with Steve asking Adam about admissions trends in the US.

Video 3: Steve
Steve is interviewed by Adam about why Steve does admissions consulting, some of the methods Steve uses, and why Steve blogs with Adam.

Now that the introductions are over, our future videos will be more focused on specific admissions issues.

If you have comments about the videos, please either post a comment or email Adam at adammarkus@gmail.com. Yes, Adam knows he needs to go on a diet.

For more about Steve's consulting services, see http://hstevengreen.com/home.html. For more about Adam's, see http://adammarkus.com/.

-Adam & Steve
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August 27, 2008


I am now twittering. Since I will not bore you with my daily routine, you can expect references to articles, the occasional comment, and, if it is logistically manageable, Live Twittercasts from MBA admissions events. While you can find my latest posts on this page (look to your left), you can also do so by joining Twitter or going to http://twitter.com/adammarkus.

Questions? Write comments or contact me directly at adammarkus@gmail.com.
Please see my FAQ regarding the types of questions I will respond to. Before emailing me questions about your chances for admission or personal profile, please see my recent post on "Why I don't analyze profiles without consulting with the applicant." If you are interested in my graduate admission consulting services, please click here.
-Adam Markus
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August 26, 2008

Let me hear you! UCLA MBA Essays for Fall 2009

For its Fall 2009 application, the UCLA Anderson School of Business has done something completely unique in the annals of MBA application history (Please someone tell me I am wrong!). They now request that applicants provide a one minute audio response to one of three questions. While it is possible to opt out of this audio option, only someone wanting to commit "application suicide" would do that. WHATEVER YOU DO, MAKE A RECORDING. If your TOEFL iBT Speaking score is weak, this is your best shot at showing you can say something meaningful in one minute. Get a decent recording device, prep your answer intensively, and get this one right if you want to be part of the Class of 2009. After all, no other school asks this question, so UCLA admissions will be able to judge how much time and effort you put into their application. I have more to say about this question below.

Here are the questions and instructions taken from UCLA's website:

The UCLA Anderson Admissions Committee is interested in getting to know you on both a professional and personal level. We encourage you to be introspective, genuine, and succinct. We are more concerned with the content of your essays than their form or style.

All responses to essays must be on double-spaced pages that are uploaded in document form, except for Essay 4 for first-time applicants and Essay 3 for reapplicants, which may be submitted as an audio file instead. (Please note the word limits in parentheses.)

Four required essays:

1. How has your family and/or community helped shape your development? Please include information about where you grew up, and perhaps a highlight or special memory of your youth. (750 words)

2. What experience has had the greatest impact on who you are today and why? (500 words)

3. Discuss your short-term and long-term career goals. What is your motivation for pursuing an MBA now at UCLA Anderson? (750 words)

4. Audio or text: Select and respond to ONE of the following questions. We would like you to respond to the question by recording an audio response (up to 1 minute). If you are unable to submit your response via audio, then please upload a written response (250 words) instead. The supported file types for audio files are: .avi, .wav, .mp3, .wmv, .midi, .wma, .aiff, .au, .mp4

a. What does entrepreneurial spirit mean to you?
b. What global issue matters most to you and why?
c. What is something people will find surprising about you?

5. OPTIONAL: Are there any extenuating circumstances in your profile about which the Admissions Committee should be aware? (250 words)

The first thing you should notice about this set of questions is its emphasis on personality. It is fair to say that it is almost the total opposite of application like Columbia Business School's that has a focus on work-related topics. It would indeed be possible to write UCLA's entire set of questions without including a standard "leadership" or "greatest work accomplishment" essay. It is worth considering what UCLA says about its admission criteria:
The Admissions Committee evaluates applicants? prospects as leaders in management and their projected ability succeed in, benefit from and contribute to the UCLA Anderson MBA Program. Committee members carefully consider personal and academic background information, GMAT scores, TOEFL scores (for most international applicants), achievements, awards and honors, employment history, letters of recommendation, and college and community involvement, especially where candidates have served in leadership capacities. The Admissions Committee seeks to create a community of students who bring unique contributions from their diverse backgrounds and experiences and who will collectively enrich the educational experience.

UCLA is very focused on understanding your ability to make a contribution to their community. This very much at the center of the education they offer and how how they differentiate their program:

Student life at Anderson is exceptional, highlighted by:

I mention all of the above because I think it is quite helpful in understanding what UCLA is looking for: Highly collaborative, community-oriented individuals, who are great at networking. The Anderson School is also very focused on entrepreneurship. You should most certainly look at the Harold and Pauline Price Center for Entrepreneurial Studies webpage.

1. How has your family and/or community helped shape your development? Please include information about where you grew up, and perhaps a highlight or special memory of your youth. (750 words)
While UCLA does not ask a standard contribution question like Kellogg does, this question, which for years has been the "UCLA Question" should help admissions understand who you are and what you can bring to their community. While the question does not require to only focus on your youth, it certainly requires that you emphasize the past.

While there is the potential for overlap with Essay 2 (see below), I will suggest below about how you can avoid that.

Use this essay as way to help admissions understand who you are and where you come from. This might take the form of personality traits connected to your parents, values connected to the community you were raised in, and/or core skills that you can trace to your youth.

Given the length, I suggest providing two to four "stories" including at least one about yourself (a highlight or special memory) that will help admissions understand who you are. The other stories may be about you, your family, or other aspects of your background that will demonstrate who you are.

It is not necessary to be explicit about how you might make a contribution at Anderson, but it is important that you tell stories and analyze them so that the adcom will really understand what you could contribute. Therefore, it is critical that you just don't tell stories, but you provide a very clear interpretation of them in order to highlight what makes you a unique individual.

You need to think carefully about what will work here. Always ask yourself whether what you are telling admissions will really help them understand why you should be a part of their community.

2. What experience has had the greatest impact on who you are today and why? (500 words)

As I mentioned above, there is the potential for overlap between questions 1 and 2 because it is certainly possible that the experience that had the greatest impact on you occurred in your youth, but even if that is case, I suggest you don't do that. Instead, think about Essay 1 as focused on your past and Essay 2 as focused on your present. I suggest you focus in Essay 2 on an experience that has a connection to your future professional objectives.

Think of Essay 2 as story that will serve as your bridge to the future you will write about in Essay 3. The possibilities here are great, but think about that one story that will really help UCLA know who you are. This essay could take the form of a leadership experience, a mistake that you greatly learned from, and/or an accomplishment.

Whatever you write about, keep in mind that "why" of the question is at least as important as the "what." Make sure that you provide a strong interpretation of why this particular experience has had the greatest impact on who you are.

3. Discuss your short-term and long-term career goals. What is your motivation for pursuing an MBA now at UCLA Anderson? (750 words)

As I mentioned above, this question is focused on the future. Rather than repeat much of what I have previously written about other versions of this question, I would suggest that you look at my analysis of Kellogg 1, Stanford GSB Essay B and Chicago GSB Essay 1 as much of what I write about those schools can be applied here.

A great Essay 3 will clearly answer the "Why now" aspect of the question without focusing too much on past experience. One core focus of this essay should be on how being a part of Anderson's Class of 2011, will contribute to your intended professional future. Make sure that your motivations for pursuing that future are clearly stated in this essay and perhaps explained further elsewhere in your essay set.

UCLA puts great emphasis on applicants demonstrating that they have become informed about The Anderson School, so I strongly suggest that you visit if you can, but at least attend one of their admissions events. Getting in contact with UCLA alums would also be helpful. At a minimum, learn as much as you can from their web page. You really need to convince adcom that you know what you need from UCLA for your future goals. If you have the word count do so, you may also want to address what you can contribute. Japanese applicants should most certainly take a look at The Japan America Business Association (JABA) page.

4. Audio or text: Select and respond to ONE of the following questions. We would like you to respond to the question by recording an audio response (up to 1 minute). If you are unable to submit your response via audio, then please upload a written response (250 words) instead. The supported file types for audio files are: .avi, .wav, .mp3, .wmv, .midi, .wma, .aiff, .au, .mp4

a. What does entrepreneurial spirit mean to you?
b. What global issue matters most to you and why?
c. What is something people will find surprising about you?

I have already mentioned that I COMMAND you to send them an audio recording! If you are technologically challenged, get someone's help. Unless you lack vocal cords, I am not sure what excuse you could have.

Basically they are asking you to write and deliver a one minute speech. Structure your answer so that you are clearly answering one of the three options and that you make a clear point. If you think about it, this is a great way to test an applicant's ability to say something meaningful in the amount of time that one might typically make a comment in a class. My suggestion is that you practice enough so that it does not sound like you are simply reading a piece of paper. Record yourself a few times until you are happy with the result.

a. What does entrepreneurial spirit mean to you?
As I mentioned above, UCLA has a strong entrepreneurial focus, so if your goals are specifically entrepreneurial, this is a great question to answer. My suggestion is to pick one or possibly two specific values or qualities and brief example to explain what entrepreneurial spirit means to you.

b. What global issue matters most to you and why?
For those with an international, environmental, or social responsibility focus to their personal or professional goals, this is a great question to answer. Keep in mind that the "why" is just as important as the "what," so don't become overly focused on the global issue itself. Make sure that adcom understands why this issue is so important to you that you are using one of your precious essay questions for it.

c. What is something people will find surprising about you?
This question is a great opportunity to balance out the rest of your application. Is there something really important about you that would not be clear from your application form, essays, resume, and recommendations? Is there something you really want to emphasize about yourself? Here is the chance to do that. Unless a professional topic would reveal something surprising about you, I don't necessarily think this question lends itself well to most work-related topics. Otherwise, the options here are wide open. As with option b., just make sure that adcom understands why this issue is so important to you that you are using one of your precious essay questions for it. Finally, make it surprising! If it is obvious from your application, it will bore them.

5. OPTIONAL: Are there any extenuating circumstances in your profile about which the Admissions Committee should be aware? (250 words)
This is a nice open-ended version of the standard "anything negative" optional essay. If everything is good, you don't need to write this one. If it is not, I suggest doing so. See my comments regarding Chicago GSB's optional question as they apply here.

Questions? Write comments or contact me directly at adammarkus@gmail.com.
Please see my FAQ regarding the types of questions I will respond to. Before emailing me questions about your chances for admission or personal profile, please see my recent post on "Why I don't analyze profiles without consulting with the applicant." If you are interested in my graduate admission consulting services, please click here.
-Adam Markus
アダム マーカス

UCLA カリフォルニア大学ロサンゼルス校 のビジネススクール

August 24, 2008


This is the second of two posts on writing statements of purpose by Steve Green. The first post is here. To learn more about Steve's graduate admission counseling services, please click here.

Below are some of my suggestions for writing a strong statement of purpose. Please read my previous post on SOPs before reading this one. The first four are based on my methods for reading client essays.

1. Make it believable: Do not exaggerate your claims or knowledge or try to make them sound “bigger” than what they are

2. Make it personal: Even someone who knows nothing about your field (which will include members of the adcom, as I’ll explain below) should be able to understand why it interests you and what you want to do in it. You should:

  • Select specific experiences from your own life and studies in order to…

  • Show how you came to wish to devote your career to a particular field

You should not:

  • Write a lecture about a particular topic in your field: this essay is first and foremost about YOU

3. Make it persuasive: The primary task of an essay is to convince the admissions committee to accept you. You should:

  • Demonstrate how you will be a successful graduate student

  • Show how you will achieve your post-graduation goals.

  • Illustrate your fit with a particular program

  1. Make it easy to understand: Some of the adcom members who read your essay will be people who are not in your field of study. Therefore, you must write for an audience of non-specialists, which, frankly speaking, you probably are yourself. You should:

  • Strive for clarity: Make sure your real intentions are clear

  • Avoid jargon from your field

  • Write like you speak in a classroom: avoid slang as well as rarely used “impressive-sounding” vocabulary

  • Avoid humor, unless it is gentle and obvious (and even in that case have someone you trust read it to make sure they find it obviously, and gently funny.)

  • Avoid sounding angry, bitter, or vengeful, etc.

  1. Make it unique: As discussed above, you should organize your essay around demonstrating your distinguishing characteristics.

  1. NO EXCUSES! It is best to avoid discussing any potential weaknesses in your essay, particularly if they are in our GPA and or test scores. After all, the adcom will see these facts as well as read your SOP and will draw their own conclusions. They certainly do not need or want you to tell them, “My excellent test score and not GPA is the best indicator of my ability,” and, besides, the opposite could also be true.

Advising clients on their SOPs is my primary responsibility as an admissions consultant. I recommend that you consider working with me, or any of my highly qualified peers beginning with myself, or Adam. The advice of an objective, but experienced reader is invaluable when working on drafts of your statement of purpose. If you do not choose to work with a professional admissions consultant, I hope you will find someone who can read and comment upon your essay drafts regularly and honestly.

Good luck and remember: This process really will help prepare you for graduate school.

For questions regarding this post, please contact me at h.steven.green@gmail.com. To learn more about my graduate admissions consulting services, please click here.
- H. Steven ("Steve") Green, グリーン・ハロルド・スティーブン

大学院留学 カリフォルニア大学バークレー校 マクスウェルスクール シラキューズ大学 大学ケネディスクール


This is the first of two posts on writing statements of purpose by Steve Green. The second post is here, but read this one first. To learn more about Steve's graduate admission counseling services, please click here.

This post is for anyone applying to a graduate school program that requires a statement of purpose (also referred to as personal statement, statement of intent, etc.) For detailed advice on MBA essays, please read my colleague Adam’s many excellent posts on the subject. Additionally Adam has posted his analysis of the essay questions for Harvard Law School's LL.M. program.

In this post I provide detailed advice for how to write a strong statement of purpose (SOP). My advice is based on working with successful applicants to graduate programs in economics, electrical engineering international affairs, physics, public policy & administration, sports management, and statistics.

I will provide advice for master’s degree and for PhD applicants.

REMEMBER: You should carefully read the application instructions for each school to which you are applying. Depending on the school, the program and the field, there can be a wide variety of expectations about what applicants should write in the statement of purpose.

The statement of purpose for a graduate program arguably is the most important component of your graduate application.  Here’s why:

  1. The SOP is the only chance for an admissions committee (“adcom”) to see how you think, and how you write

  2. Great test scores & a great GPA will not be enough if your SOP is weak. On the other hand…

  3. A strong SOP can overcome weak test scores and/or a low GPA: The SOP is a way to overcome potential weaknesses in the objective components of your application by demonstrating, without you stating so explicitly, that one or more objective components of your application are not the best indicators of your abilities.

Think of the statement of purpose as your first writing assignment for graduate school: Everyone is asked the same question and evaluated by how much specific detail they can utilize to support a main point, and by how well they organize their thoughts.


I. Before writing

II. Understanding the statement of purpose

III. How to write a strong statement of purpose

I. BEFORE you begin writing the first draft of your SOP, you should do the following:

  1. Determine your specific career goals. For a way to think about that, see one of Adam's earlier posts.

  2. Prepare your resume or CV. See my earlier post on how to do so.

  3. Choose several accomplishments from your resume/CV to write about in your SOP (The number will depend upon the length of the essay.) Choose accomplishments that:

    • Illustrate the strengths that will help you to succeed in graduate school. These typically include skills in text and/or data analysis, organizing, time-management, leadership, communication and, writing, demonstrated academic excellence such as a high GPA and/or scholarships, among others.

    • Highlight different skills, i.e. do not use different accomplishments that illustrate the same strength.

  1. Decide how you can distinguish yourself. Assume that everyone applying to the same programs is as qualified as you. (After all, everyone who is accepted will, as will be many who are not accepted.)

What makes you unique?

    • Think about this in terms of marketing yourself: Figure out how to stand out in a field of qualified applicants. From my experience of working with successful applicants to graduate programs some possible unique selling points include international experience, such as working or studying abroad, extensive professional experience, internships as a university student, academic excellence, publications, and even unique post-graduation goals.

      • REMEMBER: The point of your SOP is to demonstrate in detail how what makes you unique will enable you to:

        • Succeed in graduate school.

        • Contribute to the value of your fellow graduate students’ education and, when combined with a degree,

        • Succeed professionally

  1. FOR PH.D. APPLICANTS: In addition to the points above, you will also need to describe a particular area of research you are interested in pursuing. For PhD programs, the SOP is also a test of whether you can at least formulate a research question. Many programs publish titles of the dissertations by successful graduates, which can give you an idea of the kind of research pursued in different departments.

    • Your goal is to show you seek to solve a particular problem or answer a particular question: You should not merely discuss some area of interest.

    • Be as specific as possible about what you want to research and study

    • Find out what each program expects from applicants in the SOP


First, read the sample SOPs below, which are taken from the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia and from the UCLA Master of Public Policy program. These SOPs ask for essentially the same information and are representative of graduate school SOPs universally: You will not find much variation in application essay topics BUT you should check each program’s procedures carefully.

  • Please describe how your academic, professional, and personal background has influenced your decision to pursue a graduate degree from SIPA. How and why will the pursuit of a degree at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs assist you in achieving your professional goals? Please be specific as possible concerning your goals and limit your response to no more than 850 words.

  • Write a Statement of Purpose describing your background, interest, and qualifications for the MPP program. If you use more than one page for your statement be sure to number the pages and include your name on each page. Your SOP should not be longer than 3 double-spaced pages or approximately 750 words. (UCLA’s MPP program)

Taking these SOPs as representative samples, we can break down the SOP into three core parts: your background, your interest in a program and your professional goals. In the second example above, “interest” can be interpreted to mean interest in the UCLA program as well as professional interests (i.e. goals) and “qualifications” means applicants should provide specific details about why they fit the UCLA MPP program.

I’ve divided the next three sections of this post into one each for the core parts.

  1. Your background:

You should:

  • Highlight only those factors from your professional, personal and academic background that are relevant to the task at hand (i.e. getting into a graduate program of your choice) and that reflect your strengths and the development of your interest in the field.

    • Decide what you will emphasize from BOTH your academic and professional backgroud

  • Be able to highlight at least one accomplishment from your academic background, whatever your major was. This can include an overall high GPA, high grades in courses related to your graduate study, participation in a selective seminar, academic awards or merit-based scholarships.

  • If you are currently working in your field, e.g. are already working in public service but seek and MPA or MPP then you should:

    • Highlight your specific professional accomplishments as well as relevant academic accomplishments

  • If you are currently working in a different field from the one in which you seek a graduate degree then, in addition to highlighting your academic strengths, you should discuss in detail how you achieved particular professional accomplishments. MOST SKILLS ARE TRANSFERABLE! Even if you are working in a field that is unrelated to the one you wish to enter after graduation, you probably use certain skills in your work that will enable you to succeed in graduate work.

    • AN EXAMPLE: One of my successful clients entered the graduate program of her choice in international affairs and diplomacy, although she had majored in communication in college and had worked for five years as an analyst for the financial arm of a major bank. She wrote in detail about how she achieved success in her work through superior analytical abilities and time-management skills and suggested she would apply these skills to her new interest of study.

  • If you are currently a university student, then emphasize your academic achievements in detail as well as any extra-curricular activities in which you developed skills relevant to graduate success. Even if the activity itself does not seem related to graduate study, such as a sport, or even a part-time job that you worked at for 20 or more hours weekly, the fact that you pursued it diligently while maintaining a high GPA says a great deal about your ability to manage your time, which is an important skill.

    • Current students should also discuss in detail activities such as internships, volunteer work, study abroad or workshops/events you organized or joined, e.g. Model U.N.

  • If you are applying for a PhD program then you should emphasize your interest in a particular academic subject in your field and how you came to it, i.e. focus on particular coursework or experiences that introduced you to the topic, cite specific authors if you can.

You should NOT:

  • Write a biography, chronology of your life or prose version of your resume.

  • Discuss anything prior to entering university UNLESS it is directly relevant to your current goals. FOR EXAMPLE: In my experience, some applicants to psychology programs write movingly and logically about the impact the mental illness or emotional troubles of someone they when they were younger knew affected their lives and their decision to enter the field. REMEMBER: If there is not a clear and continuous thread between the event and your decision to apply now, then NEVER talk about anything prior to your undergraduate studies.




  1. Your interest in a particular program

You should:

  • Specific courses, i.e. the skill & knowledge you need to achieve your professional goals

  • Dual-degree or interdisciplinary coursework opportunities

  • Unique opportunities outside the classroom, e.g. fieldwork, internships

  • The desire to work under the guidance of a particular faculty member (if applicable: This is often the case for PhD applicants but usually not for Master’s degree applicants.)


No graduate admissions committee will accept you if they do not believe you actually want to study at their particular program. TAKE THE TIME TO LEARN THE SPECIFIC ATTRIBUTES OF EVERY PROGRAM TO WHICH YOU PLAN TO APPLY

  1. Your professional goals

Here’s one-question, pass-or-fail test:

“After earning a degree in (field of your choice) I aim to begin working as

a/an _________ at _____________.”

If you cannot provide a job title and organization name above, then you have “failed” this test and may not be ready to apply to graduate school right now.

If you are applying to a 1-2 year graduate school program now, then 1-2 years from now (late summer, 2008) you will probably begin job hunting. If you do not have a specific career vision in mind right now, then you may not actually be ready to start graduate school.

Keep in mind that you are free to change your mind AFTER you are accepted, but right now you need to make a convincing case that the graduate degree is the next logical step to a specific career goal.

Graduate school reputations are not based not only on the caliber of students accepted to the school, but also on the career paths pursued by graduates.

In this part of your essay, you should:

  • Explain a specific job title, level of authority and name or type of an organization or institution where you wish to work

  • Illustrate that, combined with your existing academic/professional strengths, the degree AT THIS PARTICULAR SCHOOL is the best possible means to reach your professional goals

You should not:

  • Present vague goals, e.g. a plan merely “to work in the field of international development.”

  • Present lofty goals that are unrealistic for any new graduate degree holder, e.g. a plan to be the Secretary General of the United Nations immediately or within a few years of graduation



In my next post, I will discuss how to write a strong statement of purpose.

For questions regarding this post, please contact me at h.steven.green@gmail.com. To learn more about my graduate admissions consulting services, please click here.
- H. Steven ("Steve") Green, グリーン・ハロルド・スティーブン

大学院留学 カリフォルニア大学バークレー校 マクスウェルスクール シラキューズ大学 ハーバード大学ケネディスクール コロンビア大学の国際関係・公共政策大学院(通称SIPA)

August 22, 2008


This is the second of two posts on MPA/MPP Programs by Steve Green. To learn more about Steve's graduate admission counseling services, please click here.

To get the most out of this post, please read my previous post on applying to MPA/MPA programs, with particular attention to the section on getting started. You will make the best decisions about school selection only after you have a clear understanding of your specific strengths and needs (a process greatly facilitated by producing your resume or CV as I explain here.)

There really are no great shortcuts to the time-consuming process of selecting a graduate school that fits your needs. You are going to have to do extensive Internet searches as well as probably contact faculty and/or admissions offices at the programs that interest you, and, to the extent possible, talk to people in the field. With that in mind, here is how I suggest you determine where to apply:

  1. Where can you best acquire the skills you seek?

The field of public affairs has become highly specialized. The National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration lists 9 types of public sector-related master degrees as well as 17 areas of specialization. Such specialization is to your advantage as you can probably find a program to develop fully your particular interests, but it also means you will need to do a lot of pre-application research for programs.

While all accredited MPA/MPP programs train students in the same core competencies of the field, there are important differences across programs, beginning with the degree name itself! The Maxwell School at Syracuse University offers a Master of Public Affairs, but not degrees in public administration or public policy, per se. The Kennedy School of Government at Harvard awards an MPA to those already in the public sector and to dual-degree candidates, and an MPP for everyone else. Start with collecting information about the differences in degrees at different schools. Information you should collect includes:

  • Specializations and/or dual degrees offered

  • Core curriculum and possible electives

    • What level of proficiency is expected in economics, math and/or statistics? See my previous post for more about this.

  • Is a Master’s thesis required?

  • Do students have to pass a comprehensive exam/s?

  • Time to completion of degree

  • Opportunities for internships or field work

  • Program affiliations with government offices, NPOs, NGOs, IOs

  • Required aptitude and skills tests (e.g. GRE or GMAT, TOEFL)

    • Minimum accepted test scores

  • Tuition

  • Costs of living

  • Scholarship and other funding opportunities for grad students

You should add or subtract any items to this list according to your needs.

With these topics to guide you, here are 3 good places to start your search (I suggest you read my notes next to each of them before you proceed to one of them):

  • NASPAA Searchable School Database: You can guide your search by selecting a degree type and area of specialization, as well as a US state if being in a particular region is a top priority for you. In fact, I recommend you break your search into more manageable parts by selecting a state. If you select ALL STATES you will get a very long list of schools.

When you visit a program’s website you will be able to learn details of the curricula, etc. You can also find links to information from the students themselves. For example, you can listen to a student at the Kennedy School of Government MPP program here.

Note that after you click on a school name you will be taken to a USN&WR page with contact information about the school. If you click on “Apply,” you will be taken to the program’s main page.

I saved the USN&WR ranking site for last because I want to say something about ranking and school selection. First, it is worth noting that 8 of the top 10 programs are NOT at Ivy League schools, though Harvard is second. I believe this outcome reflects a couple of facts, which you can read about at the end of this post if you are interested. Anyway, if you believe that whether or not an Ivy League school has a MPA/MPP program to be the most important factor, you may wish to examine the basis for that belief because, clearly, other schools have developed great MPA/MPP programs.

Program ranking is important: The USN&WR rankings are based on “responses of deans, directors, and department chairs representing 269 master's of public affairs and administration programs, two per school." In other words, the assessments of 538 professionals in the field probably mean something!

However, this does not mean that you should “chase” ratings, i.e. you should not base your decision entirely upon ranking such as deciding to apply only to the top five programs. Why not?

Why are 8 of the top 10 MPA programs at public universities? I believe the root of this answer is historically path dependent. Public universities were among the first to develop public affairs programs as the schools themselves were originally founded with more “practical” educational goals in mind (training students to become experts in various non-academic professions) than the classical education at the Ivy League schools through to end of World War Two. Furthermore, due to the high degree of specialization within the field of public affairs, particular departments at public universities have been able to develop niche expertise within a subfield of the discipline.


Fit is the most important criterion for selecting a graduate school – and for an admissions committee when selecting candidates. The pool of rejected applicants at the top MPA/MPP programs does not include only those with weak test scores, low undergraduate GPAs and/or poorly written essays. It also includes otherwise excellent candidates whose interests simply do not fit that particular program. Fit is the degree to which your strengths, interests and goals match a particular graduate program.

HOW DO I FIND MY FIT WITH A SCHOOL? First, go to the "GETTING STARTED" section in my previous post on the topic of applying for MPA/MPP programs and begin to assess your strengths and goals and start making your resume or CV.

Next, start looking for those programs that offer the most in terms of what you seek. “The most” may include any or all of the following; comprehensive core coursework, specialized programs (such as in environmental policy, urban planning, or international development, to name but three popular specializations among people with whom I’ve worked as an admissions consultant), internship opportunities, links to government, NGO, NPO or IO offices, or even particular scholars in your field.


While fit is important, the bottom line is that the bottom line is also important! In my previous post I provided links to information about public sector salaries and I noted that these are generally lower than in the private sector.

You are interested in working in the public sector so salary probably is not your primary professional motivator. Nonetheless, as I’ll explain, I think it is worth thinking about even for, nay, especially for people like you. Considering that someone with comparable training can earn more in the private sector, shouldn’t you seek to maximize your income after spending so much on your graduate educations?

One way to think about graduate school and salary is to think of the former as your investment and the latter as the return on that, i.e. the ROI. My colleague Adam has excellent information about ROI and the MBA degree that provides detailed information about average salaries of newly minted MBAs according to their institution.

I have not yet found information about average salaries for graduates based on program, but I think you should assume that, in general, grads from higher-ranked programs earn more, if for no other reason than that these programs tend to feed people into larger, higher profile public sector organizations. The best way to find out this information is to politely ask a faculty member or dean of a school to which you are interested in applying.

3. Where are the experts with whom I wish to work?

If you have been drawn into the field of public administration/policy by particular academic work, then you may wish to find out where the author(s) teaches. One important factor of fit includes the chance to work closely with an expert in your specialized interest. So, while searching programs, pay close attention to who is teaching in each program.

If you find someone you wish to work with, then you should:

  • Email that person, taking care to:

    • Write as concisely as possible

    • Include your resume or CV

    • Express your interest in the program in terms of:

      • A specific interest in something particular in the discipline (e.g. a database of environmental impact studies in the Willamette Valley in the state of Oregon)

      • The ability to work with this person, i.e. your wish to develop your expertise in the above interest under this person’s supervision)

    • Ask politely if he/she will be working with new students next year (i.e. the year you would start the program)

If there is not one person in particular whose work motivates you to the point that it is the main reason to apply that is fine. Master programs typically have high rates of turnover compared to PhD programs so there is little expectation that applicants seek an apprenticeship of sorts.

4. What can current students tell me about the program?

To the extent possible, once you have narrowed down your search to schools most likely to fit you, you should try contacting current graduate students. Many programs contain testimonials from students (such as the one at Harvard I’ve listed above) but it is safe to say you should not base your decision upon these.

Here’s what you can do:

  • Email current grad students: Many programs provide a link to a graduate student representative at their websites. If you contact these people with specific questions (i.e. do not ask, How do you like your program? Or, Is your program difficult?), then they will probably answer honestly, because they understand the position you are in now and because they have nothing to gain by presenting a falsely positive view of their program. If you cannot find a link to a graduate student address, then email or call the program’s office and ask if there is a graduate student representative you can contact.

  • Visit the school: Keeping in mind the costs, in terms of both time and money, that school visits consume, I strongly recommend visiting the programs that you are most interested in attending. Programs tend to be very accommodating to prospective applicants who visit them and will usually offer some or all of the following:

    • Time with a current graduate student, who will often provide a short tour of the campus

    • Time to talk to a faculty member and/or dean

    • The opportunity to visit a class

Some graduate programs will even invite those applicants they most want to attend their program.

If you visit a school prior to submitting your application, then you can mention specific things you learned from the visit that confirm your interest in the program. Visiting a program signals your seriousness as an applicant and is a great way for someone on the admissions committee to put a face and personality behind the information included in an application portfolio.

5. Choose your target schools

Applying to more schools than realistically fit you is a bad idea. Just how many programs should you apply to? That depends really on how many programs fit you. I suggest a three-level ranking for schools to which you apply:

  • Schools you are pretty sure will accept you

  • Schools you are less certain will accept you

  • Schools that will really difficult for you to enter

In one of these groups will be your “dream school,” the program you most want to enter. This list assumes that school is the most difficult to enter.

Only you know how well you can budget your time, but it is probably unrealistic to think you can submit applications, including essays, to more than 6-10 schools.

CONCLUSION: It’s about time!

It should be obvious from points 1-4 that selecting the best program will take time. Be sure to start your search NOW so that you can narrow your choice of programs as soon as possible in order to begin working on your statement of purpose (SOP), and soliciting letters of recommendation.

The SOP is the heart of your application. In my next two posts I will provide detailed advice for writing a SOP for MPA/MPP programs.

For questions regarding this post, please contact me at h.steven.green@gmail.com. To learn more about my graduate admissions consulting services, please click here.
- H. Steven ("Steve") Green, グリーン・ハロルド・スティーブン

大学院留学 カリフォルニア大学バークレー校 マクスウェルスクール シラキューズ大学 ハーバード大学ケネディスクール コロンビア大学の国際関係・公共政策大学院

August 18, 2008

Kellogg 2008-2009 MBA Essay Questions

Some thoughts on Kellogg's location: A highly biased commentary on why location matters.

Northwestern University has the good fortune to be located on one of the prettiest spots in Chicago. Unlike its neighbor to the south, the University of Chicago, Northwestern is located in the pleasant and safe town of Evanston. If ever there was proof that location impacts an institution, the placement of both of these schools certainly is that. I first became aware of this contrast 22 years ago when my parents moved from LA to Chicago. Since that time, I lived in downtown Chicago for over a year, in Hyde Park for about six months, and visited Chicago at least once a year.

The University of Chicago is an academic powerhouse located in a not so nice neighborhood with little to do in the way of fun except for buying books (Hyde Park has great bookstores!). Students at University of Chicago either live around the campus protected by a large private police force or decide to move North. Many of the GSB students live in downtown Chicago. I lived in Hyde Park and I can say that while I did go out at night, there was not much to do, especially once the bookstores closed. Chicago has many fine restaurants, but Hyde Park does not have them. Also, unlike the rest of a city well know for sports, the University of Chicago is not. As to bars, it has one good bar (there were two, but the other one, Cyril's House of Tiki, closed). The University of Chicago is an intellectually serious place and ideal for those who are looking for such an atmosphere. Personally, I like the atmosphere there and always enjoy visiting. One can find social life at GSB. On my visits to the GSB, I found it to be a friendly environment. Like the rest of the University of Chicago, the GSB is a great place to study.

Northwestern University is located in an affluent community with a large number of bars, a wide variety of restaurants, nice shopping (but not for books!), and, just for the record, a great dog beach (Evanston residents can use it for free, but my brother, a resident of the City of Chicago pays $100
a year for his dog's permit). Evanston is quite a pleasant place, but I never felt like it had the kind of serious academic atmosphere that one could find in Hyde Park, Berkeley, or Cambridge MA. It is too suburban for that. Northwestern, unlike its neighbor to the South, has a huge sports program (For more about that, see NUASports.cstv.com). With more to do, one can imagine it is harder to stay in the library at Northwestern than it is at the University of Chicago.

If you go to Kellogg, chances are extremely high that you will live in Evanston. Social life in Evanston is not limited to campus., but nothing can compare to the intensity of social life at Kellogg. The place simply is filled with people who are great communicators, friendly, outgoing, and able to thrive in a socially intense environment. If you are not that kind of person, don't apply there. If you are, it will be heaven. At Kellogg, they call it the "Kellogg Culture":

"Student culture at Kellogg is rich and multi-faceted, but a single principle ties it all together: teamwork.
Our students collaborate in the classroom (and outside it) to meet professors’ exacting standards. They organize conferences, chair student groups and invite distinguished leaders to speak on campus. They travel to nations around the world to complete coursework of their own design.
At Kellogg, you’ll form lasting social, intellectual and professional bonds with your classmates."

Kellogg's 2008-2009 Essay Questions for the Class of 2011 are specifically designed to help admissions determine whether you demonstrate the appropriate "scholastic ability, personal character, motivation, leadership ability, interpersonal skills, career performance and management potential."

(Please note: The questions were on the Kellogg site at http://www.kellogg.northwestern.edu/Home/Programs/FullTimeMBA/Applying.aspx, but were not there when I checked again today. I know that other admissions blogs have referenced the same page as well.)

The following instructions apply to the set overall;" All applicants are required to answer questions 1, 2 and 3 in addition to 2 of the essays in question 4. For questions 1-3, please limit responses to 2 pages.

1: Briefly assess your career progress to date. Elaborate on your future career plans and your motivation for pursuing a graduate degree at Kellogg.

Even with the absence of the "Why now?" aspect of the question, Kellogg's question is essentially the same question that Wharton asks. I think any brief assessment of career progress followed by an elaboration of future career plans and motivation for studying will necessarily have to explain why now is the right to obtain an MBA.

GAP, SWOT, AND ROI TABLE FOR FORMULATING GRADUATE DEGREE GOALSGap, >SWOT, and ROI analysis are great ways for understanding what your goals are, why you want a degree, and how you will use it. (Click here for the BusinessWeek MBA ROI calculator. Click here for a GMAC report on MBA ROI. )

(To best view the following table, click on it.)

How to use this table:

Step 1. Begin by analyzing your "Present Situation." What job(s) have you held? What was/is your functional role(s)? What was/are your responsibilities?

Next, analyze your present strengths and weaknesses for succeeding in your present career. REMEMBER: WHEN YOU ARE THINKING ABOUT YOUR STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESS DON'T ONLY THINK ABOUT WORK, THINK ABOUT OTHER ASPECTS OF YOUR LIFE. In particular, some of your greatest strengths may have been demonstrated outside of work, so make sure you are accounting for them.
Strengths: What are you good at? Where do you add value? What are you praised for? What are you proud of?
Weakness: What are you bad at? What are you criticized for? What do you try to avoid due to your own limitations? What do you fear?

Next, analyze the environment you work in right now. What opportunities exist for your growth and success? What threats could limit your career growth?

Step 2. Now, do the same thing in Step 1 for your "Post-Degree" future after you have earned your graduate degree. IF YOU CANNOT COMPLETE STEP 2, YOU HAVE NOT SUFFICIENTLY PLANNED FOR YOUR FUTURE and therefore you need to do more research and need to think more about it.

Step 3. If you could complete step 2, than you should see the "Gap" between your present and your future. What skills, knowledge, and other resources do you need to close the gap between your present and future responsibilities, strengths, and opportunities?

Step 4. After completing Step 3, you now need to determine how an MBA will add value to you. It is possible that an increased salary as a result of job change will be sufficient "ROI" for the degree to justify itself, but you should show how a degree will allow you to reach your career goals. How will the degree enhance your skills and opportunities and help you overcome your weaknesses and external threats? If you can complete Step 4 than you should be ready to explain what your goals are, why you want a degree, and the relationship between your past and future career, as well as your strengths and weaknesses.

The above table will also help you answer such common interview questions as: Where do you want to work after you finish your degree? Why do you want an MBA (or other degree)? What are you strengths? What are your weaknesses? What are your goals? Thinking about these issues now will help you to develop a fully worked-out strategy for how you will best present yourself both in the application and in an interview.

One very strong point of Kellogg is that it can be used for a great variety of purposes and offers a very flexible curriculum. The downside to this is that many applicants just see the options, but don't focus enough on what they need from Kellogg. Going through a formal process like the one I have outlined above will help you determine what you really need from Kellogg. The more specific you are about that, the better. Japanese applicants to Kellogg, should most certainly make full use of http://www.kelloggalumni.jp/kellogg_life/.

You need to make admissions excited about your future. To do so, you should think about whether your goals are compelling. Admissions committees ask applicants to write about their goals after graduate school, but can applicants actually know what will be on the cutting-edge in two or three years? While many applicants will be able to successfully apply with relatively standard goals ("I want to be a consultant because..."), try to go beyond the typical answer to make your goals compelling.

Be informed. Admissions needs to believe you know what you are talking about. If you are changing careers, no one expects you to be an expert, but you should come across as having a clear plan based on real research into your future. If you are planning on staying in your present industry, you should be well informed not only about the companies you have worked for, but about the industry as a whole. If you are not already doing so, read industry related publications and network.

Those who are changing fields should most certainly read industry related publications in their intended field. Think about conducting informational interviews with at least one peer-level and one senior level person in that field. Conduct a peer-level interview to get a good idea of what it would be like to actually work in that industry. Conduct a senior-level interview to get the perspective of someone who can see the big picture and all the little details as well.

Don't know anyone in your intended field? Network! One great way to start is through LinkedIn. Another is by making use of your undergraduate alumni network and/or career center.

LEARN WHAT IS HOT. No matter whether you are changing fields or not, learn what is hot now and try to figure out what will be hot by the time you graduate. Now, of course, this is just a plan and chances are that what is hot in your industry or field now may very well be cold in the future. The point is to come across to Wharton as someone who is not only well informed, but who has CUTTING-EDGE knowledge related to their goals. Some great general sources for learning what is hot:

From the Business Schools: Feed your brain with cutting-edge ideas from the best business schools in the world. Start with Kellogg Insight. Other great sources of information include Stanford Social Innovation Review, Harvard Working Knowledge, Harvard Business Review, Harvard Business School Publishing, University of Chicago GSB's Working Papers, The University of Chicago's Capital Ideas, Knowledge @ Wharton, and MIT Sloan Management Review.

You may also want to do a search on iTunes for podcasts: My favorites are Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders (from the Stanford School of Engineering, but totally relevant to the GSB), Chicago GSB Podcast, Net Impact, and Harvard Business IdeaCast. INSEAD, IMD, LBS, and Wharton also have podcasts. Kellogg, as far as I can tell, has no podcasts.

LinkedIn Answers: I would suggest that everyone join LinkedIn and make use of LinkedIn Answers. LinkedIn Answers is a great way to tap into cutting edge expertise (including my admissions advice!) Follow LinkedIn's rules and you will often be able to obtain excellent information.

Hoovers: For information about specific companies, Hoovers is just a great way to learn about key facts including competitors (a very useful way of knowing who else you might want to work for and to learn about an industry). While primarily focused on the US, Hoovers does have listings for companies worldwide.

Vault: For scope of coverage, this site is a must. Vault includes both career and admissions information. It includes both company specific and industry-wide information.

Other sources: Read magazines, websites, and books that relate to your intended field.

I think describing one's career progress is something many applicants actually have a great deal of difficulty with. The primary reason is that they don't actually think strategically enough about what they say about themselves. Interpret your career to connect it to your goals and why you want to go to Kellogg. Your resume will provide Kellogg with a description of your career, but in this essay help them understand what it means by interpreting your career for them.

When you initially write Essay 1, you might find that it does not seem to be coming together as a single essay. If that is the case, you might simply not be telling your story in the right way. The way you tell your story will depend on your situation. Applicants with extensive experience whose goals connect directly to their past experience will be telling a story based on continuity, while applicants looking to change careers will be telling a story based on discontinuity. A story based on continuity is often easiest to tell in a fairly linear way because the future is based directly on what happened in the past. By contrast, a story based on a discontinuity should be told to emphasize the need for the change In either case, it is critical to explain why you want an MBA from Kellogg.

2: Describe how your background, values, academics, activities and/or leadership skills will enhance the experience of other Kellogg students

Within the context of the Kellogg application, essay question 2 is really one of the most important places to show why you will fit into this intensely social environment where both personal initiative and the ability to work with others are highly valued. While it would be possible to write on professional topics here, I would suggest not doing so because you can easily do that in Essay Questions 1,3, and 4.

Kellogg is looking for students who will make a contribution. And this really makes sense because of the collaborative nature of MBA education. While professors play an important role in the classroom, students learn from each other on a continuous basis both inside and outside of class. It is no surprise that it is easy to find MBAs in record numbers on social networking sites like LinkedIn and Facebook because their education is very much one based on relationship building.

One of the chief functions of an MBA admissions committee is to select people who will be good classmates. The director and the rest of the committee have done their job properly if they have selected students who can work well together, learn from each other, and if these students become alum who value the relationships they initially formed at business school.

There are a number of ways of trying to determine whether someone really "fits" at a particular school, but certainly the most direct thing to do is just ask. One way they ask is by asking applicants why they want to attend as in Essay 1. It is clearly important that an applicant know what kind of ROI they are expecting from their MBA and they can show why a particular program can provide it. Another way is to ask applicants what they can contribute. One way I like to think about contribution questions is to use a matrix such as the following:


I use the above matrix for all types of contribution questions, modifying the categories to fit the question. When it comes to contribution questions, I think it is important to tell specific stories that highlight specific ways you will add value to your future classmates. Sometimes people write about contributions that don't have any really clear added value and these by definition are not contributions. Yes, you may love reading science fiction in your spare time, but it is only a contribution if your experience of reading science fiction can be shown to add value to your classmates (Financial forecasting?).

Given that Kellogg gives you up to two pages, my suggestion is to actually use this space not simply focus on one thing. Focus on at least two and probably more like three or four different contributions you will make. When you think about what to select here, closely consider what you are writing in the other essays and use this space to help Kellogg learn even more about you. Given that essay questions 3 and 4A are focused on leadership experiences,do not duplicate the same topics in 2.

Finally, keep in mind that the first person at Kellogg to read your file will likely be a student member of the admissions committee: "Files are typically reviewed first by a student member of the admissions committee, then forwarded for additional review by staff members, including the Director of Admissions." Therefore explaining how you will contribute to your fellow students is no hypothetical issue.

3: Describe your key leadership experiences and evaluate what leadership areas you hope to develop through your MBA experience.

Given the importance that Kellogg places on leadership in teams, I think you should think about your leadership capacity and/or potential not only in relation to your future professional objectives, but to your ability to be a leader at Kellogg.

You will need to focus on more than one story as the question specifically asks for you to do so. I suggest focusing on two to three key experiences.

I have developed the following grid to help you outline leadership stories. The categories this grid employs may go beyond any particular schools essay requirements. Filling it out completely will help you write about your leadership in a way that will help convince admissions of your leadership potential.

How to use the grid:

1. Decide on a specific story.

2. Identify the most significant things you did in the situation, these are you action steps.
3. For each action step identify:

  • What skills or qualities you demonstrated to complete this step.
  • The strengths you demonstrated to complete this step.
  • The kind of leadership you demonstrated.
  • What you still need to learn about leadership.
4. Think about the results and identify how they relate to your action steps. So, at minimum, you should be able to state the impact on others and/or yourself.

5. After completing the chart you will see that some aspects of your action steps may be repeated. If there is a total duplication and nothing new is shown, either you need to redefine the action step or you may decide not to focus on it very much.

6. Once you think you have two to four fully worked-out action steps for two to three stories, start writing your essay.

7. Next start re-writing. Eliminate duplicate points made between action steps. Make choices about what parts of each action to step to highlight. Given that there are usually word limits, you will have to make some decisions about what to include. Simply providing a description of your actions, is not enough. Consider what it signifies about you. Consider what your actions reveals about your leadership potential.

8. Make sure that each story focuses on a different aspect of leadership. By all means, make sure that at least one of your leadership experiences relates to teamwork.

Finally, thinking and writing about leadership is an important part of preparing for interviews because you can be certain that you will have to talk about leadership. So, you might find that the parts of the outline you jettison now will become valuable when you will want to have alternative stories for your Kellogg interview.

4. Complete 2 of the 3 essays. (two to three double spaced paragraphs for each question). (NOTE: Kellogg originally asked for two paragraphs on their website, but the online application says 2 to 3 paragraphs)

Kellogg gives you options of how to proceed with this. Regarding length, two or three paragraphs is ambiguous, so I suggest writing about half to slightly less than one page per question.

4A - Describe a time when you had to motivate a reluctant individual or group.

This is likely to a leadership story and could easily be like Essay 3 in terms of its structure. I suggest that you try to make sure that there is no significant overlap in content between what you write here and what you write in Essays 2 or 3.

Motivating others is a key capacity for anyone who wants to lead others. Showing your ability to do so, will give admissions a greater understanding of your ability to successfully lead others. I don't suggest writing about a failure story here. I do suggest that you be as specific as possible about what you did to motivate an individual or a group.

If you methods for leading others have been based on simply making commands or otherwise using a hierarchical basis for getting others to ask, I suggest you don't answer this question as it may endanger your chances for admission. A consensus based approach is much more likely to make for an effective story here.

4B - I wish the Admissions Committee had asked me…..

Here you can write about anything you want. I don't suggest using this as a place for simply explaining something negative like a bad GPA, instead provide admissions with greater insight into who you are. Use this question to balance out the rest of your application by discussing some aspect of who you are that has not been sufficiently focused on. Specifically ask yourself, "What else can I tell Kellogg that help them understand why they should admit me?"

4C - What do others admire about you?

This quite an interesting question as it gives you the opportunity for analyzing yourself from the perspective of other people. Like with 4B, think of this as an opportunity to write about some aspect of yourself that has not been emphasized elsewhere in the application.

I suggest you focus on a specific value, action, or personality characteristic. Explain who admires you for it and why they do so. This is a great opportunity to interpret yourself. In addition to being an indicator of your awareness about how are you are perceived by others, this question will also help admissions understand what you are proud of. Think deeply and consider carefully what you write here.

4D - For re-applicants only:
Since your previous application, what are the steps you’ve taken to strengthen your candidacy?

Reapplicants should read my previous post on reapplication. Use this space to specifically explain what has improved about you since you last applied. You can certainly mention improved test scores, but I would not use an entire paragraph for it. Typical topics include: development of a new skill, promotions that your potential for future success, involvement in an extracurricular activity, learning significantly more about Kellogg, and why your goals discussed in Essay 1 now are better than the ones you presented last time.

Finally, sorry about the delay in getting this post up. I should be on more normal blogging pattern for the rest of the month.

Questions? Write comments or contact me directly at adammarkus@gmail.com.
Please see my FAQ regarding the types of questions I will respond to. Before emailing me questions about your chances for admission or personal profile, please see my recent post on "Why I don't analyze profiles without consulting with the applicant." If you are interested in my graduate admission consulting services, please click here.
-Adam Markus
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