From the monthly archives: October 2009

About a week ago, Kristen and I spoke to a group of Tufts undergraduate IR majors.  We brought along three “double Jumbos,” who could easily remember when they were undergrads, not necessarily knowing they would someday return to Fletcher.

One of those bright undergrads asked a question that I don’t hear as much as I feel I should:  Why would I pursue graduate work in international relations?  The context in which the student put the question was that while some careers require a graduate degree as a credential (such as a U.S. law degree or a medical degree), no such requirement exists for those who wish to be international affairs practitioners.

So it’s a really good question, and I asked Fletcher students to describe the thinking that preceded their enrollment.  Here are some of their answers.

Elise (first-year MALD student):  My recent position as representative of Project Syndicate, an international association of newspapers, was pretty ideal.  I was based in Prague, traveled to more than 30 countries for meetings with newspaper editors, and rubbed elbows with such bigwigs as George Soros, Peter Singer and Shashi Tharoor.  It was a difficult job to leave, but as we face pressing and complex global challenges, I feel that graduate study is necessary to more deeply inform my existing interests and prepare me for a meaningful career that will address those challenges.  Though a master’s degree isn’t a required qualification for many careers in international relations, I strongly believe that the skills and connections provided by the Fletcher experience will enhance my opportunities down the road and eventual job satisfaction.  I’m only two months into the experience, but I haven’t regretted my decision to come to Fletcher for one second.

Erika (second-year MALD student):  My goal is to be able to assess and deal with business challenges and opportunities that will help emerging countries achieve and maintain sustainable development in future years.  As an IR student, I hope to gain international knowledge and different perspectives from global students and professors about current trends, topics, and issues, especially in finance and economic policies.

Luis (second-year MALD student):  I chose a multidisciplinary IR degree because it gives you the ability to tailor your academic experience to your specific international career interests.  The international and multidisciplinary perspective changes your way of thinking and of analyzing problems, while giving you the flexibility to build on your areas of weakness.  Post Fletcher, I wanted to consult for an organization or government working to develop microfinance programs for demobilized combatants in conflict zones.  At Fletcher, I have been able to develop a framework for my future career through consulting and policy analysis courses, while improving my knowledge of the field through a series of microfinance, conflict, and development courses.

Chris (first-year MALD student):  When I was an undergraduate, I assumed I was going to earn a master’s degree in the future; it was just a matter of deciding which field to pursue.  After working for a couple of years in the private sector, and already having a bachelor’s degree in finance, I determined that pursuing an MBA was not the right direction for me.  When one of my coworkers left the company to pursue a PhD in political science, I started looking at international affairs programs.  I was drawn to Fletcher primarily because it offers International Security Studies and Pacific Asia as Fields of Study, something I’ve always had an interest in.  Location was a plus, too.  At the end of the program I’ll be able to combine my undergraduate studies with the Fletcher experience and have a greater diversity of skills and knowledge to use in pursuit of my career goals.  And I can say with confidence that, although I’m only half way through my first semester, I’ve made the right choice.


At our team meeting this morning (“team” being used loosely here, because four of us are in the office and three are on the road), I asked my admissions pals about the questions they’re hearing frequently while they travel around the country.  I wrote about testing last week (always a hot topic!) and this week I thought I’d focus on academic preparation.  Applicants often want to know if they have the “right” preparation for Fletcher.  Fortunately, there’s really no tidy path that applicants need to have followed.  This complicates our work, but it also keeps things interesting.  Here are a few of the key points we make in answer to the academic preparation question.

First — pre-Fletcher majors.  ALL majors welcome!  Though we certainly see lots of applications from undergraduate international relations majors, we don’t have a special preference for them.  We do like to see indication of both quantitative ability, and the ability to deal well with Fletcher’s heavy reading/writing load.  So you undergraduate English majors need to show us that you can handle numbers, and you undergraduate engineers need to show us that you can adjust to a very different type of out-of-class work than you may be accustomed to.  Beyond that, though, we have admitted students whose previous studies were in just about every discipline, from sculpture to veterinary medicine.

Next — pre-Fletcher economics preparation.  We do not require that you take economics before applying or enrolling…but…we certainly recommend it.  Basic micro and macro classes will go a long way toward helping you understand the economic themes that creep persistently into our lives.  Plus, under the heading of our breadth requirement, MALD students need to take both an economics class and a class in quantitative reasoning.  You’ll have the opportunity to test out of the basic classes, and many students prefer to take a higher level economics course while they’re here.

And one related note:  If you’re thinking of selecting Development Economics or one of the other quant-heavy Fields of Study, or if you’re applying to the MIB program, you should have some coursework in your background that will have prepared you.  Admissions Committee members feel uncomfortable when an applicant appears not to know what he’s getting into.

Last (for today, at least) — grades.  Regardless of where you have studied as an undergrad, higher grades are better.  Obvious, right?  We work with transcripts/grade reports from a zillion different systems, but we look for strong results no matter how you’re assessed.  On the other hand, we don’t limit our review of transcripts to the final result.  Oooooh no — that would be too easy!  We take a careful look at each transcript:  How are the applicant’s grades, class by class?  Were the classes challenging?  If the overall GPA is low, what can we note about the trajectory of grades — does it go up?  How did the applicant do in his/her major?

In other words, we give those transcripts a careful look!

Plus, we look beyond the transcript to ask:  What does the academic recommendation tell us about the applicant?  Has the applicant done any professional work that helps to fill gaps in the undergrad record?  What about post-graduate coursework?  We take all the information we’ve gleaned in answer to those questions, and form our impression of the applicant’s academic background.

So, whether your pre-Fletcher academic preparation is traditional or not, you’ll find students here whose background is like yours.


In general, I think our testing policy is pretty straightforward.  Native English speakers, or non-native speakers whose undergraduate education was in English, should submit a GRE or GMAT.  (GMAT for MIB.  GRE (generally) for PhD.  Both are equally fine for the MALD or MA programs.)

Applicants who don’t fall into one of those two groups (native English speaker, or educated in English) need to submit a TOEFL or IELTS score.  This is the one area where we have a firm cut-off:  100 on the Internet-based TOEFL (or 600 on the paper test), and 7 on the IELTS.  Any admitted student with a score that falls slightly short of the minimum will be asked to pursue an intensive English language program in the summer.  Even admitted students whose scores are close to the cut-off may be asked to pursue an English program to boost their skills.  After all, you’re just not going to succeed here at Fletcher if you don’t have the language skills to get you through the piles of reading, as well as the many social situations that require fluency.

What about an applicant who’s required to take the TOEFL/IELTS, but who also wants to show quantitative strength?  Submit a GRE or GMAT, too.  We won’t focus on your verbal score.  Ideally we’d see a score for a quantitative test from all applicants, but we’ve held off changing our policy because of the expense of the tests for our applicants.  Still, if you’re taking a GRE because another of your schools requires it, send it along to Fletcher!

Here’s one exception to everything I wrote above:  LLM applicants who are non-native speakers also need to submit a TOEFL or IELTS score, but the GRE/GMAT is optional for all LLM applicants.

Those few paragraphs cover virtually all of our applicants.  Still, we occasionally we hear from someone who doesn’t quite match either description.  For example, someone whose country has more than one official language, or someone who moved around a lot.  In these cases, it’s best to contact us, so we can consider your situation on an individual basis.  We don’t want anyone to do more testing than necessary, but we do want to see the relevant test results.

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Yesterday, I posted an entry on standardized tests, but I actually wrote it — and intended to post it — on Tuesday afternoon.  It was about 1:15 and I needed to leave the office in time to reach Boston College for a 4:30 information session, with a stop mid-route at Kayla’s school for parent-teacher conferences.  I proofread the post and hit “publish.”  The little “I”m working on it” swirly icon kept swirling.  And swirling.  And swirling.  Finally, a message about something-or-other “timing out.”  Aaargh.  Hit “publish” again.  This time, I’m packing up the things I need while the swirling carries on, but the result was no different.  Now I really need to leave, so (for insurance) I cut the blog text and pasted it into an email to myself, turned off the computer and left.  The draft was still there on Wednesday and the publish button was much more agreeable.

Last Friday was the deadline for students to apply for positions on the Committee on Admissions.  There aren’t many classes on Friday afternoon, so it’s completely understandable that students would leave the task to the last minute.  How could they know there would be a huge explosion and fire in Medford Square that knocked out electricity on campus until the next day?  Not a lot of printers will work without electricity.  While the applications reached us in time (and we were grappling with the black-out as well, so it was easy to sympathize), the students were sweating over it much more than they needed to.

Dear blog reader, you’re probably wondering why I’m telling these little stories.  The reason:  to remind you that there are forces beyond our control that occasionally pop up to thwart our wishes to meet a deadline.  So many of our applications come in date/time-stamped 11:59 p.m. on the day they’re due.  Please don’t do this to yourself.  The Early Notification deadline is November 15, but you really can send us the application on November 14.  Really.  Leave yourself a little time to solve any problems that come up.  Line up your recommendations and take your standardized tests well in advance of the deadline.  If nothing goes wrong, you still get to breathe easy.  If you hit a snag, you’ll be glad for the breathing room.

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Last week, my daughter Kayla took her first of (sadly) many standardized tests.  Up to now, she has taken the Massachusetts assessment tests that seem to be given to school children every-other-day from March to June each year, but this was her first of the fill-in-the-bubble college entrance exams.  Fortunately, the PSAT doesn’t count for much, particularly for 10th-graders like her.

We’re very aware, from both personal and professional experience, how annoying, daunting, nerve-racking, irritating, (fill in your choice of adjective here) the graduate-level standardized exams can be.  As I may have written before in the blog, when I started to work in admissions, I had hoped I’d find the GRE and GMAT to be useless.  As it turns out, I learned that the exam scores help us interpret the endlessly diverse education backgrounds reflected in the applications we receive.  Fortunately for applicants, we don’t have minimum acceptable scores, and we don’t assess applicants against the mean or some other statistical basis.  While (probably I don’t need to say this) higher scores are always better, we evaluate test results in the context of the applicant’s overall application.

So what’s a test-taker to do?  At a minimum, follow the advice I gave to Kayla:  prepare yourself by becoming familiar with the test format and the many different question types that tend to recur on exam after exam.  And you really should time your practice tests.  So often I hear that nerves and time-management difficulties are what kept an applicant from doing as well on the exam as he had hoped.  Whether you should study for months on end, or sign up for an expensive test prep class, is a judgment you’ll need to make, but I certainly believe it’s a mistake to hand over your money to the GRE or GMAT people and not try to do as well as you can.

And what about re-testing?  In general, for Fletcher anyway, there’s not much point in re-testing if your scores will only change by ten or 20 points.  (And that’s assuming they’ll go up — scores can also go in the other direction.)  But if you were sick on the exam day, or your car had a flat tire on the way to the test center, or any other circumstances prevented you from doing as well as you believe you could have, then consider taking the test a second time.

Once the tests are taken, make sure you  have had the scores reported to Fletcher, and then think about other aspects of your application.  I can assure you that we never make decisions solely on the basis of GRE or GMAT results.

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There are still a few members of Team Admissions to be introduced.  The as-yet-unpresented members of the student staff tell you about themselves below.

First in today’s line-up, Amy:

Welcome to the Fletcher Admissions blog. I wish I had had good Internet access during the application process, because once I discovered the blog (a few days before the application deadline), I found it to be really helpful.

I’m Amy, a first year MALD and the only “Double Jumbo” student worker in the Office of Admissions.  My concentrations are International Security and Human Security.  I’m one of those typical Fletcher students who hates the question “Where are you from?”  I was born in the U.S., but was raised in Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, and Thailand.

Before coming to Fletcher I served as a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer in Togo, West Africa.  I worked with an AIDS treatment and care center; however, my favorite Peace Corps memories are of the days spent on my front porch, watching my posse of small children being wowed by Pop Rocks and other care-package goodies sent by my friends and family.  I also worked with the World Food Programme in Timor-Leste developing monitoring and evaluation skills.

Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions. Good luck!

Next, David, the one student in the office who is studying in the MIB program:

Greetings!  Life at Fletcher has been busy since I first arrived on campus a little more than a month ago.  As a student in the MIB program, I can say that every one of my classmates represents an extraordinary and diverse foundation of business, language, and international experience.  I came to Fletcher after three years of work in operations and supply chain management for a major jet engine manufacturer.  In this role, I coordinated and managed production initiatives in South Korea and Israel.

While at Fletcher, I plan on studying strategic management and consulting, while concentrating on micro-finance projects.  Ideally, I’d welcome an opportunity to work with infrastructure development in Latin America and am confident Fletcher will give me the tools and experience to reach this goal.  I look forward to working with all of you in the coming months!

Continuing along in alphabetical order:  J.R.

My name is J.R., and I just started studying here at The Fletcher School.  I’m originally from Cleveland, Ohio — and have a lot of Cleveland pride — but as there aren’t too many international opportunities in “the Cleve” these days, I haven’t lived there for a long time.

After I graduated from college, I enrolled in an intensive summer Mandarin Chinese Language Program at Middlebury College, and then moved to China.  I spent the next eight months teaching English and trying to learn Chinese in Beijing.  Eight months of teaching English seemed like enough, so I quit and began a three-month solo backpacking trip through Western China and Burma.  I spent my second year in Beijing as a paralegal and, after sticking around for the Olympics, moved back to the U.S.

While at Fletcher, I’m interested in studying U.S. foreign policy, Chinese foreign policy, and the potential sources of cooperation and conflict between these countries.

And, finally (last but not least), Virgínia:

Oi! my name is Virgínia and I am a second-semester MALD student from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  This is my first semester working in the Admissions Office, and I am looking forward to meeting and learning about the many amazing applicants. It will be inspiring to see that the next generation of students is equally astounding and accomplished as my class.

My fields of study are International Business Relations and Development Economics, and I am considering self-designing a field in International Training and Education.  I have been involved in the International Business Club, Latin American Group, Global Women, and the International Development Group.  When I have  free time I try to play a little bit of tennis or soccer, and dance Salsa with the Fletcheros.

This past summer I was an instructor of English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) in a summer school program for middle school and high school students in New Hampshire.  It was a very rewarding job, but whether this new experience will lead me to a career in an academic setting is still in the air.  After Fletcher I hope to work in a setting where I can interact with a diverse body of people on a daily basis while promoting development internationally and locally.

So that’s our student staff!  Contact the Office by phone or email, and it just might be Amy, David, J.R., or Virgínia who answers your questions.


Today, October 15, is the deadline for applications for January enrollment at Fletcher.  So while it marks a point of completion for those who have now submitted their applications, the day also represents a starting point for those of us in Admissions.

During the next few weeks, we’ll be pouring over January 2010 applications (while also pursuing travel and other fall activities), and then we’ll confer with the Admissions Committee to make decisions.  No rest for us then, because November 15 will bring the next set of applications — Early Notification for September 2010 enrollment.  EN decisions are generally made by the end of the year, but then PhD applications (January 1) and general applications for September enrollment in the other programs (January 15) roll in.

This is the work we look forward to all year.  The chance to “interact” with applicants through their applications and beyond, as prospective students make their decisions on where to pursue graduate study.

So here we go!  The 2009-2010 application reading and review period begins today.


In summer 2008, Hania worked in the Admissions Office before she had even formally started as a Fletcher student.  We have been so lucky to have her help in the office throughout the last year-plus, and here she tells us a little of what she has learned.

Hello again, everyone! You may (or may not) remember me from my blog entry last summer when I was full of anxieties, hopes, fears, and great expectations, just before beginning my first semester at Fletcher. Luckily, my great expectations were met, my fears and anxieties were quelled, and my hopes and ambitions have only grown.

If I had to use one word to describe the feeling of being a returning second-year MALD at Fletcher, it would be “comfortable.”  Throughout the course of the year, Fletcher has transformed into an environment where I can feel at ease and even at home. That’s the strange thing about the graduate experience: you go from being an apprehensive “freshman” to a seasoned “senior” in just one year. The new first-year class has come along to remind us of what it was like in the beginning — the blur of new places, faces, and names, and the dizzying attempt to find your niche at Fletcher. But they will soon learn, as I did, that it gets easier, better, and more familiar in a short amount of time.

Throughout the course of last year, I made a lot of great memories:  dancing the Salsa (in front of all of my peers) in the Latin Club’s “Fiesta Latina” cultural night, helping to organize Mediterranean Club’s “Med Night,” attending lectures organized by the Fares Center (including a talk by Tony Blair), and meeting and greeting a number of successful alumni and Fletcher guests on our career trips to New York and Washington, DC. I also went on a Fletcher ski trip to Sugarloaf Mountain in Maine and found I could enjoy myself in an environment that I NEVER thought I would survive.  (Coldest place I’ve ever been!)  And all of this is only a small percentage of the innumerable activities that go on around Fletcher throughout the year.

Thanks to the career trip to Washington, DC, I was able to meet with people in various organizations that interested me. I scheduled my informational meetings and interviews, and secured my summer internship at a non-profit where I spent the summer doing research for my thesis and producing reports for them. Meanwhile my friends were scattered all over the globe for the summer: Israel, Syria, Kenya, Germany, … and the list goes on.  It was very hard to keep in touch with everyone, but such is the life of a Fletcher student. We are, after all, jetsetters by nature.

I’m now back at Fletcher, meeting with professors and excited to begin the thesis-writing process. I’m also trying to squeeze in as many extracurricular activities as possible, as I did last year, but time management is proving a bit more difficult this time around. Nevertheless, the plan is still to perform at Med Night, participate in SIMULEX (a major crisis management exercise in which participants assume the roles of national policy makers in an international scenario for a weekend), and complete a Mediation Practicum certificate, all while attending classes and showing up twice a week to my job at the Admissions Office to interact with stimulating prospective students like you!


In my basement sits an artifact of a bygone era:  the shortwave radio that accompanied me to China in the early 80s.  Whether I was listening to Voice of America, the BBC, or even Armed Forces Radio (broadcasting from Saipan), it was my lifeline, connecting me to news and music from the rest of the world.  When I returned to the U.S., I frequently listened to Chinese broadcasts via shortwave to keep up my language skills.

A few years later, the shortwave remained useful for my husband, Paul, and me, when my brother-in-law played in a band that could sometimes be heard on the BBC’s John Peel Show.  (Check out the band, BOB, on Youtube — great song and a video with all the production value an 80s indy band could muster.)

Of course, it’s hard to imagine that a shortwave radio serves as a lifeline for anyone these days.  Whether you want to connect yourself to somewhere you’ve been, or somewhere you’re going, there are endless options for you!

Applying to Fletcher and want to learn more about the Boston area?  Check out The Boston Globe, WBUR, the Somerville Journal, or even the “sports hub.”  Want to know more about the University?  Read the Tufts Daily or listen to University radio station WMFO.  Chances are you don’t have the time to explore all these sources, but there’s no shortage of information out there to help you make an informed choice on where you’ll pursue graduate study.  All without listening to a shortwave radio.


When Roxana hires student staffers, she tries to bring in first-year students who may stay with us for two years.  We have three second-year students on the staff this year.  Today, we hear from two of them, and the third will have something to say next week.

First, Jessie:

Hello Fletcher prospectives! I’m a second-year student in the MALD program.  I have a strong interest in issues involving terrorism and WMD, which stems from the two years I spent working in the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs, prior to coming to Fletcher. I am taking courses in Security Studies and Southwest Asia/Islamic civilization, which I hope someday to parlay into a job in the U.S. government or a think tank focusing on security policy.

Jessie was an active volunteer for us last year, but this is her first year on the student staff.

And Kristin:

Hello!  This is my second year working in the Admissions Office, and I love it!  I’m one of three second years in the office, but I’m the only one who still lives in Blakeley Hall, the on-campus housing for Fletcher students.   I work here in the office taking phone calls, responding to emails, and answering any questions that prospective students may have.

Before coming to Fletcher I was studying International Business and African Studies at Howard University in Washington, DC.  After about a semester at Howard, I decided that the private sector probably wasn’t going to be my career field of choice, but I still wanted to develop business skills and then apply them to the public sector.  I pursued a number of U.S. Government internships:  I interned for the Department of Energy, Department of Defense, and Department of State, ultimately deciding that I wanted to have a career in the Foreign Service.  So, I applied for and was fortunate to receive the Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Fellowship, supporting graduate study for students interested in pursuing a U.S. Foreign Service career.

Like all other MALD students, I’ve chosen two Fields of Studies.  Already having a background in business, I decided to pursue fields in which I had no experience but would be useful for my future career.  I’m concentrating in International Security Studies, Negotiation and Conflict Resolution, along with a self-designed field in Religion and Politics.   I’m still working on developing a thesis topic, but with the deadline for my thesis proposal approaching, I plan to write on the role of religion in both conflict and peacebuilding.

With that in mind, I spent the summer working in the Economic Section at the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi, Vietnam.   While at the Embassy I worked specifically on trade, serving as one of the leads on the Deputy U.S. Trade Representative’s visit to Vietnam, and also studied Vietnam’s agricultural trade and its rapid economic development.  It was a wonderful experience, and has proven to be very enlightening as I study Development Economics with Professor Steven Block.

I’ve had a great experience at Fletcher thus far and look forward to speaking with all of you who are interested in applying!


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