From the monthly archives: December 2009

Today’s my last day of work before I string together a few University holidays, a few vacation days, and a few Wednesdays off, that together carry me to January 4.  I’m looking forward to time at home with my family (my son will be back this afternoon), some movies and reading, and a few days in New Orleans.

If you’re an applicant to the PhD program, you’re probably finishing up your application so that it will arrive before the January 1 deadline.  If you’re applying to one of the other programs, you have extra time before the January 15 deadline, but remember that you don’t need to wait until the last minute!

Whenever your application is due, you won’t hear much from us during the weeks that follow.  The process of compiling, reading, discussing, and deciding on applications keeps us pretty busy.  I’ll post to the blog, but there won’t be as many email updates, etc., as you may have become accustomed to (for better or worse).  I’d like to describe it as a break from the stresses of applying to grad school, but I  know it can be an even-more-stressful period of waiting to hear.  Try to relax anyway!

I haven’t provided many application tips this year — I must be out of new ideas.  I encourage you to scroll through the posts archived in the Admissions Tips category.  There may be something useful there for you.

Please remember that the Office of Admissions will be closed on Thursday and Friday both this week and next.  Happy holidays to everyone!

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“Bay State of Mind,” a remix of the Jay-Z/Alicia Keys song, gives you all the geographic information you could need if you’re contemplating a move to Massachusetts.  The lyrics will also help you polish up your Boston accent.  Check it out — it’s wicked pissah!


I don’t work at Fletcher on Wednesdays, and this fall I’ve been spending part of my day off at our local high school, offering college essay tutoring to frantic seniors.  As challenging as grad school essays are, you have to sympathize with these kids who are instructed to “be unique” in 500 words.  Telling a 17-year-old to write something no other 17-year-old will write — that’s a recipe for stress.

The high school is very diverse with a large population of immigrants and first-generation Americans, and they have trouble seeing themselves as special, though they certainly are in general applicant pools.  (My favorite story was of the girl living with a pack of siblings and cousins from Mexico — they had been born in the U.S., and their parents sent them back for high school or college.  Somehow, her unusual living situation — ten kids in a house where the oldest was a 25-year-old — didn’t strike her as essay-worthy.)

My approach is to try to lower the pressure on the high schoolers by telling them that, though there are zillions of high school seniors applying for admission, “There’s only one you,” and that the key is to write something true to themselves.  This week, I had a follow-up session with a kid who answered the “who’s your role model” question by writing about his mother.  Of course, the mother in me can’t help but be touched.  The admissions person in me suspects there will be a lot of applicants writing about parents.  So we tied the content to his aspirations for college, and I think it worked pretty well.  Also important:  his mom liked the essay.  That was satisfying.

Applicants for undergraduate admission are essentially answering the question, “who are you?” At 17, many of them don’t really know the answer.

Applicants for Fletcher, at least in the personal statement, are telling us what they want to accomplish at Fletcher and beyond.  As you prepare for graduate school, it’s important that you know the answer.

There’s a big difference between undergraduate and professional school essays, but applicants of both types share the challenge of facing a blank computer screen and trying to lay it all out.  We know it’s difficult!  But without the essays, we would be making decisions only on the basis of dry facts, with no opportunity to shape a class of interesting people.  So, as you pour your goals and souls onto the page, I want to make sure you know how much we value the personal statements, the supplemental essays, and all we learn from them.  They’re the key to evaluating the match between you and Fletcher, and they’re the most interesting part of each application file.

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Like many of our peers, Fletcher has a second language proficiency requirement for our degree programs.  If you are a native English speaker, you will be asked to demonstrate proficiency in a second language as a graduation requirement.  If you are a non-native English speaker, educated in your native language, then your second language is English, and you don’t need to think about this any further.  For those who do need to think further, here’s a rundown of the language proficiency exam.

Within a few weeks of the start of classes, the School administers reading exams in a bunch of different languages.  The exam is routinely offered in Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Swahili.  Additional exams are offered when a student wants to demonstrate proficiency in a less-commonly selected language.

I’ve looked at the exams in French, Spanish, Italian, and Mandarin, and my reaction is that the level of the piece to be translated is appropriate.  That is, anyone would think that if you can’t translate something of that complexity, you can’t really call yourself proficient.  There’s no intention to trick you with arcane vocabulary, but the passage to be translated won’t be simplistic, either.

Following the reading exam, there’s an oral exam, which is a conversation with a tester.  They’re usually instructors from the University’s languages department, but arrangements can be made with testers based elsewhere, as required to ensure students’ needs are met.

A lively debate took place recently on the “Social List” (student elist) about the exam.  While I’m sure they didn’t intend to, the students laid out the challenge that we face in Admissions — that it’s very difficult to compare the apples and oranges of language study applicants present.  What results in a higher proficiency level, three years of university study, or one year living in a country?  Ultimately, the answer will depend on each individual, and the fair way of determining proficiency is to test for it.

Sometimes we’re asked whether students can be admitted if they are not proficient in any modern language other than English.  Ummmmm.  Well, generally, no.  If you have no exposure to a second language, you’re facing too great a challenge to overcome in two years when language study isn’t your focus, and we just can’t admit people who will never graduate.  On the other hand, if you have a reasonable grounding in a second language, and could brush up your skills with an intensive summer program, then we’ll make your admission conditional.

One last point.  It’s December, and our current crop of applicants won’t start their studies until September.  Do you need to brush up on your second language?  Why wait until April?  Start now, and tell us your plan.  Don’t waste the next nine months, when you could instead turn the language exam into a breeze by firming up your proficiency.

There’s good information about the language exam on the web site, including the different levels of proficiency.

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Drawing on cross-registration options, exchange programs, and thesis research, Fletcher students put together all sorts of individual curricula that aren’t described neatly within our Fields of Study list.  There are a few relatively commonly pursued topics that generally involve multiple “homes,” and one is humanitarian studies.  A new web page, pulled together by Fletcher and Friedman School staff, outlines the program options nicely.


Among the thousands of scholars, politicians, and activists currently in Copenhagen is a group of Fletcher students and professors connected with The Center for International Environment and Resource Policy.   Learn about their experience from the blog to which the students are contributing.  Also check out the details on the New England contingent (including Odette and her “bake sale for good”).

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Laurie, Peter, and Jeff are at a full-day meeting today, which leaves the office quiet, particularly since the students who are in the building are hidden somewhere, preparing for exams or writing papers.  While I’m thinking about how quiet Fletcher will be during the next few weeks, I should give you a run-down of the Admissions Office schedule.

This week (December 14 to 18), we’re open every day during normal office hours (9:00 to 5:00).

Next week (December 21 to 25), we will be open during normal hours on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.  The office (along with the rest of the University) will be closed on Thursday and Friday.  Just about all of us will be taking at least a day of vacation, so you may receive an “out of office” message if you email us directly.  We’ll get back to you!

The week of December 28 to January 1, the office will again be open during normal hours on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and closed on Thursday and Friday.  Note that applications to the PhD program are due on Friday, January 1. While it’s true that we won’t see them until we’re back at work on Monday the 4th, the applications will be stamped with the date/time of submission.

The week of January 4 to January 8, the office will be open.  Visitors may want to note that there will be very few students at the School during that period.

I don’t expect any changes to this schedule, but I’ll certainly update the blog if we close the office at any additional times.


Today’s the last day of classes for the fall semester.  There are fewer classes on Friday than Monday through Thursday, so many students have already called it a wrap.  But that doesn’t mean they have no reason to head to campus.  On the contrary:  this afternoon, Fletcher will say farewell to the graduating Januarians with a reception.

I think I remember who first coined the term “Januarian” to describe students who start their studies off-cycle in January.  At any rate, once someone started using it, the term stuck, and it seems a good description of the class.  It implies a certain differentiation, when in fact the students are the same as those who start in September, except they start in January.  That is, a distinction that’s not much of a difference.

There have been a few years with tiny Januarian groups, leaving them a little lost in the sea of students.  In general, though, we have from 15 to 30 incoming students each January.  Just enough to support each other as they jump into an academic year in full swing, but few enough that the term Januarian maintains its cachet.

The  incoming 2010 Januarian class will include a few under 20 students.  The ever-on-the-ball Jessica Smith has already invited them to join the annual Fletcher ski trip, and we in Admissions know our newest students will be well cared for by current first- and second-years.

The departing Januarian class includes one of our valued office staffers — Divyesh.  I haven’t seen Divyesh all that much this semester — our schedules may not match, but I think the main reason is that he has been tied up with finishing his thesis.  And finding a job.  And planning a wedding.  But I’ll miss our conversations about the television show Friday Night Lights (he’s from Texas, while I just like a good story), among other topics.

Good luck to Divyesh and all the departing Januarians!

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I always find Fletcher to be an exciting place to work.  In general, the liveliness of the students is energizing, and their dedication to service is motivating.  I only say “in general” because, during weeks like this one, the students are a little less lively than usual.  Classes conclude on Friday, and exams loom on the horizon.  Our staffers and interviewers all seem to be hanging in there, but some of them look a little more tired or rumpled than they did during the free-and-easy first weeks of the semester.

Balancing the student fatigue is more news than usual on the local/global scene.  That is, one of our locals is making global news.  Fletcher’s dean, Stephen Bosworth, is heading to Pyongyang for talks with North Korean leaders.  It’s always interesting to read a newspaper report detailing the whereabouts of our colleagues — bringing to life that balance between classroom learning and practical application.


Continuing on the essay theme from last week, first-year MIB student, Vincent, makes a link between his pre-admission essays and his post-enrollment writing.  (Note that MIB applicants submit three essays with their application.  I wouldn’t want MALD, MA, LLM, or PhD applicants to panic when they read what Vincent has written below!)

Where it all began..

How the tables have turned!  This time last year, I was starting to put the finishing touches on my applications; this year, it’s the finishing touches on essays of a different kind.

As I think back on it now, writing those application essays may have seemed tedious, but was by far the best part of the application.  Those essays are the beginning of an education from Fletcher.  They forced me to identify what it was I wanted from a graduate school, and more importantly, why I would want that school to be Fletcher.  Admission is a two-way street; it needs to be a match for both sides.  I think this point sometimes gets lost in the maelstrom of schools and application deadlines, but it’s an important thing to remember.

As each week at the School flies by, I think back to those essays.  The personal statement, the dual perspective of business and international affairs, and the chance to tell the Committee on Admissions about yourself, each one hits on an aspect of what it is to be a student at Fletcher.  I can’t remember how many hours I spent editing and rereading those essays.  I’m sure I pulled out a few more hairs than I would have liked.  But now, as I edit and reread course essays at the end of my first semester, I’m very happy I put the time and effort into those my application essays a year ago.  Those three essays put me on the right track to prepare for life at Fletcher.  I hope they will do the same for you.

In case anyone’s worried, my hair has grown back.


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