From the monthly archives: February 2009
We’re not 100% done with our application reading, but there is unlikely to be enough to fuel any of us for a full day at home, so today was probably my last reading day until next winter. While I admit that it’s getting harder to keep still when confronting a pile of files, I will definitely miss my reading days. Just me, my Garfield pencil case, and a stack of applications, alone together.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve “met” talented people from around the world, all of whom hope to do interesting things when they complete their graduate studies. I’ve read a lot of essays about challenges, family heritage, and travels. I’ve read recommendation letters that are incredibly informative and deeply touching. I know how much time and energy goes into the creation of each page of an application.
The next few weeks will be filled with last bits of reading, and with processing — assigning decisions and scholarship awards, and packing up the materials for admitted students. I’ll try to post regularly to keep you aware of what’s going on.
Last week, we had visitors from England. My five-year-old niece, Ella, accompanied by her eight-month-old sister, her mother, and her grandmother, joined us for the February school vacation that coincidentally fell in the same week on both sides of the Atlantic.
On Saturday, Ella and I took a walk to Porter Square Books (my favorite local bookstore) so that Ella could choose something to read while waiting for her flight home. She enjoyed the store’s large post-inauguration display of books about our new president. Pointing to each book in turn, as only a five-year-old can do, she identified the person on the cover in a conflation of the names of the country and its new leader: AmericObama. AmericObama. AmericObama. AmericObama. AmericObama. And so on, until she was sure I was aware of the subject of every book on the rack.
A couple of days earlier, she had bought herself a fridge magnet with a photo of AmericObama and his family. The cashier asked if she knew who was featured in the picture. “The prime minister,” said Ella. Not bad, especially given that even many grown-ups may find it challenging to identify the British prime minister. (Quickly now, my fellow Americans — anyone coming to mind?) No Gordon Brown fridge magnets on U.S. refrigerators, I’m afraid, though Queen Elizabeth has a better chance. On the other hand, I’ve been visiting England regularly since the Reagan administration, and I don’t remember any Reagan, Bush 1, Clinton, or Bush 2 fridge magnets in the kitchens of friends or relatives. This is an unusual time for Americans, to have elected a president who is (at least temporarily) so admired in other countries. Even Tony Blair, in a parting comment when he spoke at Tufts earlier this month, congratulated the U.S. on the events of January.
We’re so wrapped up with applications, here in the Admissions Office, that it’s easy to forget that just outside our doors, Fletcher life is in full swing. If anything, it’s busier here in the spring than in the fall semester — but it’s harder for us to notice. Check out the calendar for listings of many of the activities going on each day.
One bit of news to pass along is that last week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that Fletcher’s Dean Stephen Bosworth has been named the special envoy to talks on North Korea. Check out the Tufts Daily report on the appointment.
Helping me ride out my creativity lapse is first-year MALD student Jessie Evans. You may remember reading about Jessie last summer, when she took her pre-Fletcher road trip. Today she updates us on her activities.
I’ve been meaning to take a break from the daily demands of school and life to write a short piece for the Admissions Blog; however, as with most Fletcher students, I hit the ground running this semester, and feel like I haven’t had the chance to catch my breath! Between practicing oral arguments with my teammates for the Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition, enduring freezing temperatures on the Fletcher Ski Trip to Maine, dancing the night away at Africana Night (one of Fletcher’s four awesome annual Cultural Nights) and preparing my résumé and setting up appointments for the DC Career Trip, I’ve hardly had time to see straight this past month, let alone sit down and reflect on my time here.
Oh yeah. And then there are my classes, too …
As I write, it surprises me to think it has been an entire year since I was admitted to Fletcher. Time has gone by so quickly! Shortly after I was admitted, I became friends with Aparna, another early admit student living in Boston. Over dinner one night, Aparna and I instantly connected. Within two weeks of our first meeting we concocted a plan to travel by car from London to Cameroon the summer before starting the MALD program, to raise money for an NGO working in Africa.
And off we went on our random summer adventure.
Three days before the Fletcher New Student Orientation, Aparna and I arrived back in Boston from Douala, Cameroon, exhausted. We did it! We drove 7,500 miles, experienced 10 amazing countries, and endured countless police checkpoints and border crossings. We camped our way down the continent, met hundreds of kind souls, and hosted a number of stomach viruses along the way.
Jumping right into Fletcher post-Africa adventure, I was thoroughly impressed with the fantastic professors and dynamic classes. However, the most sustained amazement I have felt at the School since starting last September, is with my classmates. I’ve never met such intelligent, humble, and hilarious people. Now I know why Aparna and I hit it off so quickly — Fletcher attracts and admits absolutely awesome people.
I sit in class in complete awe of my classmates — my friends — as they weave together the reading assignments, the professors’ comments, and their own past experience to tell tales that make the topics we discuss come alive. I’ve never been surrounded by such a high concentration of thoughtful, smart, and creative people.
This summer, I won’t be driving across any continents, but I will be working, testing out some of my newly acquired skills as an intern. Perhaps my internship will involve some camping and stomach bugs. Or maybe it will involve enduring the heat and humidity of a DC summer. I don’t know yet. What I do know for certain is that I am reserving a few weeks for another summer adventure. It may not be as complicated as the epic journey of the summer past, but it most certainly will involve Aparna and a big group of my cherished friends from Fletcher.
On Monday, Kate wandered into my office and found me slumped in my chair. “I really want to post something to the blog, but I can’t think of a thing to say,” I whined. Kate wisely suggested some timely news about the final deadlines, which also led me, yesterday, to think that an overview of the process could be useful.
Before Kate’s useful suggestion, the other idea tossed out was to find a way to link Sunday’s Grammy Awards to Fletcher Admissions. There’s a challenge! I suppose there’s the international origins of the musicians. (“Good year for the Brits,” says my British-born husband. “Jazmine Sullivan should have won!” says my dual citizen daughter.) In particular, there’s MIA, with her Sri Lankan roots. I’ve mentioned before in the blog that all of us in Admissions have a special interest in Sri Lanka, thanks to our beloved former student staffers. (You’ll always be part of Team Admissions, Nirmalan and Sudila!!). But that’s about the limit of my ability to connect award shows to our community.
This fall, Kristen met with a few new MIB students who were talking about the blog. One said that he found it useful, but “sometimes it wasn’t about admissions.” That’s true, past and current readers. Sometimes there’s just nothing new to say. This is the time of year when we just slog through our work. Each morning I pull on presentable but comfortable office clothing, knowing that I will be glued to my applications/desk/computer all day. Few meetings or anything else that would draw us out. Just slog away. Creativity? Out the window. All in the name of a good cause, though — getting decisions out on time! And it’s not like there’s no joy in the process.
Despite the creativity freeze, part of the original motivation to start an admissions blog was the knowledge that the period between January 15 and April 1 is nerve-wracking for many applicants. You want to start making your plans, but you don’t know what to plan for. Where will you be going? When will you need to be there? We understand, and though we can’t work any faster than we already are, we’ll do our best to reassure you that we’re working hard!
Schedule note: The University will be closed on Monday for the President’s Day holiday. (Admissions Committee student and staff members will be reading applications anyway!)
We’re approaching the midway point in this year’s admissions season, and it seems like a good time to run though the process with you.
As you know, application forms come into our office through the on-line system. For a few weeks, our back office was the site of piles of paper and mountains of mail. Today, though, all I see are boxes and boxes of files. Some applications haven’t yet been read, some have been read once, and others have been read twice. Roxana has been uploading new applications that arrived before our late deadline, and there are others that have been in the office for a while and are nearly complete but, well, not complete yet. We work with the applicants to complete them, which often means advising them to chase a missing transcript or set of test scores.
Once a file has been reviewed twice (usually by a student first, and a staff member second), it receives the appropriate amount of discussion by the full Admissions Committee, and then sits for a while in a new box. Its new box location depends on the final decision we believe is likely for that application. Over time, Laurie gives all the applications a last review, and notes the final decision. Along the way, if it seems necessary, one of us may read an application just one more time.
By the end of the first week in March, we will be done reviewing nearly every application. At that point, we do some clean up (making final decisions on a few stragglers), and turn our attention to scholarship awards. Then, it’s on to the final processing, including preparing decision letters and admissions packets. This is the point when we know applicants are on pins and needles waiting for us, but we won’t send out the decisions until we have made sure that everything is perfect. It’s a tense couple of weeks — we want you to receive your decisions as soon as possible, but errors just aren’t acceptable to us. So…we’ll all sweat it out a little.
Every day of the work week, at least one member of the staff is at home reading applications. The student members of the Admissions Committee rush in and out grabbing and returning files. Each week, we add a big pile of applications to the workload of the professors on our Committee. Everything is moving right along. When I look at what we need to do, I feel tempted to worry that we’ll never finish it. But I’ve been through this before and, somehow, it always gets done.
A reminder for those of you looking at our “late” deadlines: Application materials for the MALD and MA programs are due Tuesday, February 10 (with no scholarship consideration). For the LLM program, materials are due March 1 (with no scholarship consideration). And for the MIB program, materials are due on March 1(with limited scholarship consideration).
Please keep in mind that the turnaround on these late applications is very quick. You should already have arranged for us to receive your transcripts and test scores, and you should make double sure that your recommenders have submitted their letters.
One of the things I like best about the admissions season is the annual opportunity to work closely with the students on our Admissions Committee. Six or seven student members join us each year, and we try to pull together a group that represents what Fletcher is about. Being on the Committee is a ton of work, and the students are super diligent. We want them each to read about 300 files. (Don’t tell anyone I said this, but 300 turns out to be a challenging target. They usually end up reading about 250.) They’re compensated for their reading, but not for the weekly four-hour meeting when we discuss applications. We provide a very basic hour of training and a simple handbook, and then we throw them in the application pool to see if they can swim. They often tell us it takes nearly an hour to read the first application. By the end of the process, they’re more efficient, but three to four per hour is often the maximum.
As staff members, we have perspective on the year-by-year applicant pool. The professors know the type of student who tends to do well in their classes. But the student Committee members bring something really special. They’re the ones who can tell us who, day-by-day, is going to bring a special quality that they know will be valued by the student community.
It’s an annual special moment the first time that the professors explicitly turn to the students for their perspective. We’re peers around the table, but the meetings are a disruption of the usual academic pecking order. On some topics, the students are the experts, and the professors and staff are there to learn from them.
Every year, from January to March, each of the Admissions staff members needs to read as many applications as possible, while also doing a normal job’s worth of other tasks. Peter’s known to squeeze files into the course of his day, but most of us rely on reading days (Thursday, for me), when applications are pretty much all we think about. Last Thursday was my second reading day of “the season.” Here’s a sense of how the day went.
My husband is away in California and my daughter, Kayla, has gone to school early to attend a meeting of the Global Awareness Club, so I have a quiet house and a clear kitchen table, and I’m ready to begin. I grab my bag of files. This bag is not a fashion statement (I received it years ago at a conference) but it has the capacity to hold 50 applications and keep them nice and dry. The bag weighs about 20 pounds when it’s full — manageable, and yet I tend to tilt toward the shoulder I’ve hung it on as I carry it around.
Like anyone doing repetitive work, I have my routines. I start the day with the applications arranged in groups of five (about one hour’s reading) on the right. The files I have read go on the left. (I cheated a little yesterday and gave myself a head start of four files.) I take out my office supplies, which I store in a Garfield pencil case. (It’s an heirloom, passed from my son to my daughter to me.) The case carries all the tools of my trade: a blue pen, a red pen, a pad of sticky notes, and many heavy-duty rubber bands. Ready to go. My goal: 40 applications within 8 hours. On second thought, better start off with a cup of mint tea.
Need a change of venue. Move upstairs for a while. Look at email, but don’t answer anything. Carry on reading.
I’m keeping a pretty good pace. In fact, I read six applications between 10:00 and 11:00, so I rewarded myself with a banana.
The pile on the left is growing nicely! I need a break, and I’m ready for lunch. Heat up some of the vegetable stew I made the other day from the contents of my CSA share, and toast a slice of When Pigs Fly bread. Highly restorative! Back to work at 12:30.
Doing good. Keeping the pace. Now I’m going to really push so that I can finish around the time Kayla comes back. Need to block out distractions!!
WOO HOO! 41 applications read! The right-hand pile is gone, and the file bag is reloaded.
Now, you may be thinking, “How do I know you pay attention to the applications while you’re trying to meet your speed targets.” You’re right, skeptical reader. Some files go by in a flash, while others are more complicated and take longer to read. Sometimes it’s a simple question of the amount of paper in the application, while other times I need to think a little harder about where an applicant falls in the admit/deny continuum. But at the end of the day, after so many reading days, I can almost always count on completing 40 applications within eight hours. I just need to keep distractions to a minimum.
I’ll keep reading a few files here and there throughout the week, but the next big effort will be on Thursday. I’m looking forward to it!
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