From the monthly archives: November 2010

Not all students have as accurate a view on essays as Marc does, so I’m especially lucky that he volunteered to take on the topic yesterday.  There’s not much more I can add.  I’ve always thought that the question/prompt for the first essay (personal statement) is pretty clear.  To refresh your memory, we ask:

Essay 1: Personal Statement (600-800 words, single-spaced, Times New Roman 12 point font)
Fletcher’s Committee on Admissions seeks to ensure that there is a good match between each admitted student and the School.
Please tell us your goals for graduate study at Fletcher and for your career. Why is The Fletcher School the right place to pursue your academic objectives and to prepare you to meet your professional goals? Why have you selected the degree program to which you are applying?
If you are planning to pursue a joint degree, please be sure to address this interest in your personal statement.

Given the tips built into the question, applicants who follow Marc’s advice and ensure they answer the question should be in good shape.  Note that we also like to know the motivations behind your goals, and your preparation to achieve them — just be careful where you start.  It’s rarely a good idea to go back to when you were six.  On the other hand, it’s often the applicant’s experiences that make a personal statement interesting, so go ahead and include some key points from your back-story.

The other place to present interesting information from your personal history is the second essay.  We want you to view the second essay as a chance to round out the picture of you that we’ve developed from the rest of the materials in your application.  It can be nice when your second essay links in some way (however tangentially) to your interests, but it doesn’t need to.  We have certainly read some poor essay choices over the years, but we don’t have a preferred essay topic.

One last tip is that you should not waste space in either of the essays to explain a problem in another part of the application.  Use the “Additional Information” section to tell us that your study abroad grades are included on your university transcript, that your GRE scores aren’t what you hoped they would be, or that your maiden name is different from the name you’re using now.  You don’t have much “space” in the personal statement (600-800 words) or second essay (500 words maximum) and you don’t want to throw them away on routine business.

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I had an email exchange last week with a 2011 applicant and friend of the blog, whom I’ll call “Friend.”  I asked Friend if he had any suggestions for future blog topics, and he asked us to talk about the application essays.  Friend also mentioned that he had liked the previous post by Marc Frankel.  Lucky for me, Marc volunteered to take on the new topic, too.  Although Marc’s an application writer, rather than an application reader, I think he has hit the nail on the head.  Here’s his take on the essays:

A few weeks ago, on the blog, I provided a few pointers on the interview process and how to prepare for it.  Today, I’d like to do the same with the two essay questions Fletcher requires of all applicants.  (Note: PhDs and MIBs have a third required question, so if you’re applying for one of those two degree programs, please make sure you do the third one, too!)

The first thing I want to stress is that you need to answer the question being asked.  Question One asks about your professional goals and why the Fletcher School is the right place to achieve those goals.  Your #1 priority on this question must be to answer the question you’ve been asked.  A good way to ensure you’ve done this is to take the prompt off the top of the document, hand it to a friend, and see if he can guess what question you’re trying to answer.  If your friend guesses that the question asks about your summer internship, it’s a sign you need to review the topic and what you’ve written.

During their interviews, a few applicants have asked me about Question Two and whether there’s one question or another that Fletcher would “prefer” to see.  The answer is no.  The Admissions Office provides three options to give you flexibility to address what you want to write about, but there’s no wrong or right choice.

Another tip on Question Two is to read the top of the essay prompt and remember that it asks you “…to tell the Admissions Committee something about you that does not fit elsewhere on the application.” (My italics.)  This is your time to shine:  share something new about you with the Committee.  When I applied, I answered this question by writing about a research trip to Siberia during my senior year of college.  Before my trip, I heard many horror stories and cautionary tales of crime and corruption.  When I finally went, I dispelled each of those rumors for myself by actually meeting with local people.  The importance of seeing a remote place firsthand was a valuable lesson for me.  Given the limited space in an application, I could never have done justice to the significance of that trip anywhere but the essay.

The last thing I’d say (and yes, I know I wrote this in the interview blog post, too) is to be yourself.  Just like the interview, the essays are an opportunity to talk about yourself — who you are, who you strive to become through Fletcher, and why.  The only wrong answer is one that doesn’t accurately represent you.  A few hundred words isn’t a lot to express your career goals or the uniqueness of your life experience, but make sure to at least give the Committee a glimpse of who you are, beyond the test scores and GPA.

Good luck!

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Early Notification applications are in a range of states:  some are stuck in a box awaiting missing materials; others have already been evaluated and are on their way to final Committee review and processing.  The way that the calendar fell — with November 15 being a Monday, giving us only one pre-Thanksgiving weekend to read applications — I fear an end-of-process rush is in front of us.  But we’ll deal with that when the time comes.  First, it’s Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is just about my favorite day of the year, whether we’ll be celebrating with a crowd or a small group.  It’s the most inclusive of American holidays, and I enjoy hearing people’s plans, as well as how they adapt the holiday to their cultural traditions.  I also like to bake, and Thanksgiving provides a good audience for whatever I create.  So tomorrow I’ll spend the day with all the ingredients spread over my counter and a steady procession of pies and cakes going in and out of the oven.  We’ll have 11 family members and friends for dinner on Thursday and, in a still-evolving tradition, 13 for a post-movie dinner on Friday.

Later in the weekend, I’ll take time to review a small pile of applications.  Mixing Thanksgiving and applications has, of necessity, become my own annual ritual.  If your weekend may include both Thanksgiving and preparing an application to Fletcher, start by taking a little time to review the posts in the blog’s Admissions Tips category.

Please note that the office will be closed on both Thursday and Friday for the holiday.  We’ll all be back on Monday.  Have a great Thanksgiving!

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So I’m walking through the Hall of Flags, and I see what I think is a caterpillar creeping across a student’s upper lip.  And there’s another!  And another!  Either there’s a bizarre infestation, or it must be Movember, a multi-national campaign to raise awareness of cancers that affect men, using moustaches as the medium.

Fletcher men have jumped into Movember with both feet, raising awareness and money along the way.  According to my Movember expert, Patrick, there are two teams at Fletcher this year (one — Fletcher Fluff — mostly first-years, the other — Mustache Muchachos — mostly second-years).  He says they’ve engaged in friendly competition, but also worked together, including organizing a pub night that packed the place and raised about $530.

Amazingly, there are nearly 50 Fletcher men who are willing to endure the moustache-growing process, not to mention the pained reactions of friends and family to the upper-lip facial hair.  The teams have raised nearly $6,000 so far, with a goal to surpass last year’s $7,000.  I have to say that there are some very “interesting” (if you know what I mean) grooming decisions among this year’s moustache sporters, but it’s all in a good cause.  The rest of the community is pleased to root on the Movemberists and their creative approach to fundraising, even as we cringe when obliged to speak to the ‘stache.


Many students at Fletcher want to pack up their professional skills and move to a new sector for their post-Fletcher careers.  In today’s blog post, the Office of Career Services career coach for the private sector provides suggestions for making a transition to a private sector career.

Students who are interested in working in the private sector after graduating from Fletcher frequently ask about strategies to get there.  I believe one of the keys to success in transitioning from the non-profit or public sector to the private sector involves — and I know this is not rocket science — NETWORKING!!!  As a career-changer, you might be overlooked on paper.  Networking gives you the opportunity to interact with people one-on-one and sell your enthusiasm and transferable skills.  This is especially true in an economic climate such as the one we’re in now, but networking is essential under any circumstances.  In fact, we in OCS feel so strongly about the importance of networking that we devote an entire Professional Development Program (PDP) session to this topic. The PDP is very interactive and it gives students the chance to practice the program’s content.

So, back to networking….In addition to the practice opportunity offered during the PDP, I highly recommend that students do a “mock informational interview,” which allows them to practice with an OCS coach.  Students who have taken advantage of the mock interviews report that, as a result, they have felt more comfortable when networking.

The student-organized private sector career trip to New York is another great way to get started on the transition to the private sector, providing a forum for putting those networking skills to work.  The trip takes place in the fall — classes are canceled to make it possible for students to attend — and it includes a number of site visits to employers, as well as small-group lunches with New York-based alumni.

Finally, the Fletcher alumni network is an outstanding resource for Fletcher students interested a private sector career.  Fletcher alums are typically very happy to help students, as well as fellow graduates.  Just today I was speaking with an alumnus from the 70s about his plans to change jobs, and he mentioned how incredibly responsive and helpful the Fletcher network has been to him over the years.  I was pleased, then, to hear him say how important he feels it is to “give back,” and offer support to other alumni and students!  Assistance provided by fellow Fletcher graduates could take a number of different forms, including reviewing a résumé, assisting a student looking to get a foot in the door of the alum’s company, offering an introduction to someone else in the Fletcher network who might be helpful, or providing an “ad hoc” internship for the student.

Making a career transition takes some effort, but with networking and the Fletcher network, a move to the private sector is possible, and is achieved by many members of every graduating class.

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Today’s post comes from the career coach for the U.S. public sector.  From the Admissions perspective, we know that many students start off with a vision of themselves in the most prominent agencies involved in international affairs (primarily Department of State).  Let’s hear how the career coach guides students to consider opportunities beyond the obvious.

Careers within the U.S. federal government continue to be an area where Fletcher graduates show particular strength.  Often when students arrive at Fletcher, they know they would like to work within the U.S. Foreign Service, intelligence community, or one of the federal agencies (Commerce, Energy, Treasury, USAID, etc.).  However, students quickly realize they need to focus further, as the roles and job opportunities within these agencies are as diverse as the academic interests of the Fletcher student body itself.

Our role in the Office of Career Services is to help students navigate these options with confidence and success.  We work closely with employers such as the CIA, Government Accountability Office, and Office of Management and Budget to understand each agency’s employment needs and then we coach students on how to be the best possible candidate for the job.  Most students meet with career coaches several times during their academic career – early in the fall to brainstorm possible best fits, and later in the spring to prepare for interviews that may lead to an internship or full-time position.  In the meantime, we work collaboratively on translating classroom knowledge into employer-relatable skills and achievements, with the aim of securing the job.

At Fletcher, strategic career coaching is augmented by deep career exploration through nearly 40 on-campus employer information sessions and the annual career trips to New York and Washington, DC.  A well-established OCS activity, the career trips offer students the benefit of attending some 30-plus career events in New York and over 60 events in D.C.  For first-year students, these events are great opportunities to hear from seasoned Fletcher graduates working at public sector employers such as the National Nuclear Security Administration, the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, or New York Police Department Intelligence, as well as other organizations that connect to their interests, such as the Council on Foreign Relations.  During both trips, many of the employers have active recruiting components, and every year students secure internships and full-time jobs as a result.

The Fletcher School is a great choice for career-minded students who are also looking for a rigorous academic experience.  Equipped with the expertise and support of OCS staff, graduates aiming for jobs in the public sector can look forward to fruitful and engaging careers in every part of government.

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Today is the deadline for Early Notification applications for September 2011 — kicking off the new admissions season.  We have our Committee on Admissions in place, including a crack team of student readers, and there’s already a box of application files ready for them to read.  In less than six weeks, all the complete applications will be reviewed by at least two readers and discussed as necessary by the Committee on Admissions.  It’s a rapid turnaround, but it gets us all in competitive application-reading shape.


Today’s blog post is from the OCS career coach for the nonprofit sector.  Fewer acronyms needed than for students looking at the International Organization sector, but greater emphasis on that summer internship. 

Last summer, over 40% of the Fletcher students who completed an internship did so in the nonprofit sector.  There are so many nonprofits (over one million in the U.S. alone), doing so many different things (ranging from CSR to education to health and nutrition), that there is sure to be an organization out there that matches your career interests.  In the current economy, many nonprofits are struggling with budget and staffing constraints and are therefore very open to hiring a Fletcher student who adds tangible and relevant skills (such as conducting a needs assessment, monitoring and evaluation, or grant writing), along with the passion for organization’s mission.  Another plus is that nonprofits are typically open to hiring graduate-level interns for field-based opportunities. Last summer, Fletcher students interned in over 50 countries ranging from Afghanistan to Malawi to Ecuador.

The challenge of completing a nonprofit internship is that they are all virtually unpaid.  Fortunately, though the total pool of funds may vary year-to-year, The Fletcher School offers a host of summer funding options to help defray some costs, including:

•    The Slawson Fellowship:  Each year three or four students receive $3500 to complete an internship in the nonprofit sector in a developing country.  The focus of this fellowship is to gain nonprofit management experience for a long-term career in the nonprofit sector.
•    The Blakeley Fellowship:  Each year 10 students receive $5000 to complete an internship in the nonprofit sector in a developing country.  The focus of this fellowship is to work in a nonprofit focused on microfinance, private sector development, public-private partnerships, small and medium sized enterprise development or NGO business development/project financing initiatives.
•    The Leir Fellowship:  In 2010, this fellowship awarded 17 students approximately $2800 to conduct a humanitarian assistance internship outside of the U.S.
•    Fletcher General Funding:  This fund is available to any student conducting an unpaid internship. In the summer of 2010, over 90 students received a general fund award and the average award amount was $1600.
•    Funding from outside sources:  Fletcher students who pursued nonprofit internships have been recipients of funds from outside sources, including the Harvard Program on Negotiation Fellowship and the Feinstein International Center Grants Program.

If you are considering a nonprofit internship, start the financial planning process early.  Some of the steps include creating a budget, researching the cost of living in the target country, and identifying inexpensive flight options.  Be on the lookout for the OCS summer funding information session, scheduled in the late January timeframe, to learn which funding options will be available for the summer when you’ll have your internship.

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As I mentioned last week, the staff of the Office of Career Services starts working with students almost as soon as they arrive.  While OCS initially takes the lead in kicking off the career exploration/job hunt process with each entering class, the relationship between OCS and individual students is best described as a partnership.  Students need to have a clear sense of their general direction — a realistic starting point to get things moving.  An early stage in the process is meeting with the staff member who serves as the “career coach” for the student’s preferred sector.

Today’s blog is the first of four reflections from the career coaches on their suggestions for students, based on their experience in that sector.  First up is the career coach for the International Organization sector.

Fletcher graduates have a long tradition of pursuing work in the International Organization (IO) sector, either directly after graduating or, often, down the line after gaining experience in a targeted field.  If you are interested in working for an IO, obtaining a summer internship with your target organization is the best “foot in the door.”

I recommend starting the internship search early as competition is fierce.  In the fall semester, the OCS hosts “sector weeks.”  During the IO sector week in September, we offered information sessions at which we provided general overviews of recruitment channels, including the timeframe for pursuing an internship, recruitment programs for full-time employment, the skills necessary to enter the field, as well as the organizations that have hosted Fletcher interns in the past.  In addition, representatives from IOs visit campus to explain their recruitment processes in greater detail.  (During IO sector week, students heard from the World Bank and UNDP.)  The information provided in these sessions is a great starting point for your search.

Identifying contacts and beginning to build your professional network are also very important parts of the internship search process.  While most IOs have formal internship programs, a majority of Fletcher students identify their IO internship through personal contact with a hiring manager working in their area of interest.  To help you with your search, OCS maintains an internship database, through which you can learn about past internships and then contact students who had an interesting experience in order to learn more.  We also maintain contacts and job/internship postings in Fletcher Career Central, our online database.  And, the New York and Washington, DC career trips are fantastic opportunities to connect with alumni working in the field, both through formal information sessions and through independently organized informational interviews.

In the summer of 2010, students who employed this strategy found internships with OECD, IOM, the United Nations Secretariat, UNDP, UNESCAP, UNRWA, UNHCR, UNCDF, and UNESCO.  (If you don’t know these acronyms, I recommend that you start researching now, as acronyms are a common part of the IO lexicon.)  In addition to doing excellent work, these students learned how their organization functions, what types of positions are commonly available, and the culture of the organization.  They were also able to make an objective assessment of the skills they need strengthen to be competitive candidates for full-time employment within the IO.

When it comes to full-time employment, the ability to draw upon the networks developed during the internship is crucial to success. Often, IOs hire short-term consultants for a specific project or task and these opportunities are rarely published.  One must have an “inside” contact to help.  Short-term contracts are the most common entry point for Fletcher graduates.  Seven 2010 graduates obtained short-term contracts with the World Bank in Washington, DC after graduation, for example.

Once you are at Fletcher, you will have the opportunity to meet with alumni, faculty, staff, and students who bring knowledge of these areas, based on their experiences, to help you with your career goals.  While an IO career is challenging to break into, Fletcher alumni who have found their way into an IO have been very satisfied with the experience, and we look forward to working with you to help you meet your career goals!

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In just a few minutes, I’m going to head downtown to hear a presentation on the new GRE format  that will be introduced in August.  I hope to return from the meeting with a handle on how this will all play out, and I’ll share the details with the rest of the staff.

This year’s applicants don’t need to think (or even know) about what’s coming.  From what ETS is saying, next year’s applicants will want to decide whether to take the exam in its current format or to wait until the new format is rolled out.  One thing we can already tell you — Fletcher will accept scores from either format, and we will continue to accept scores from the current format for as long as you can arrange an official score report.

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