From the monthly archives: March 2011

Native English-speaking Fletcher applicants can be organized by language proficiency into four groups:

1.  Those with essentially no foreign language skills at all.  It’s very rare that we admit someone in this group.
2.  Those with beginning-level skills in one or more languages.
3.  Those with intermediate-level skills in one or more languages.
4.  Those who are truly proficient in one or more languages.

I’m going to ignore group 4 for this post.  You don’t need me.

Those in the other three groups may have been admitted outright, or may have been admitted with the condition that you pursue a language program this summer.  If your admission wasn’t conditional, but you know in your heart of hearts that you won’t be able to pass the language exam, you may also want to pursue formal study this summer.  But what kind of program is the right kind of program?  I wish there were a formula I could share with you, but it turns out to depend on a collection of factors, such as:

What language do you plan to test in?
What is your level of proficiency?  (This is between you and yourself now — be honest!)
What skills do you need/want to focus on?
Do you want to study in a country where that language is spoken, or in your home country?
What’s your schedule for the summer?

Once you’ve figured out all that, you’ll want to look around for a program.  Maybe a two-month intensive program will be required.  Maybe a single upper-level course will be enough.  Maybe two weeks in the country where your language is spoken will refresh your speaking skills enough to get you through the exam.  We know what the requirement is, but we don’t have much information (besides your self-assessment) on your current skill level.

So let me use myself as an example.  If I were applying to Fletcher, I’d probably list all of the languages to which I have any exposure at all.  (O.K., I’ll leave off Italian, which is limited to some basic tourist phrases and the names of my favorite restaurant dishes — not likely to get me through the exam.)  The language section of my application would then look like this:

Spanish:  Speaking — beginning; Reading — beginning;
French:  Speaking — beginning; Reading — beginning;
Mandarin:  Speaking — intermediate; Reading (simplified characters) — intermediate;

It would be unrealistic for me to test in Spanish.  There’s only so far those residual skills from high school are going to take me.

I’ve given myself the same self-evaluation in French as in Spanish, but French would be a realistic testing language for me.  I have many more years of study, continuing through my first year of college.  But to test in French, I would definitely need a summer course, preferably in a French-speaking environment.  With reading and speaking practice (and a chance to refresh my listening comprehension), I feel confident I could study my way back to proficiency.

But almost surely I would test in Mandarin.  I studied in both the U.S. and China, where I lived for two years.  I visited a few years ago and was able to get around easily (though my vocabulary needed refreshing to capture technology terms).  Fletcher wouldn’t have made language study a condition of my admission, but I know I should brush up.  In this case, though, I wouldn’t need formal study.  A daily session with a newspaper and a dictionary will take care of the reading requirement.  I’d watch some Chinese movies or find online resources for radio or television shows, and by the first administration of the reading exam in October, I’d be all set.

So, incoming students, unless you’re truly proficient in reading and speaking a second language, consider what steps you need to take before starting your Fletcher classes.  There’s no one-size-fits-all approach.  Instead, you’ll want to consider your own starting point and make choices to ensure you’ll be proficient in both the reading and speaking of your chosen language.

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I’ve always appreciated hearing students describe the academic atmosphere at Fletcher.  We know how hard they work (guessing, based on the darkness of the rings under their eyes, which parts of the semester are the most challenging), but they always describe a collegial atmosphere in which they work hard for their own benefit, with no thought of holding back the other guy.

In this context, I enjoyed reading PhD student Erik encouraging students to let the Fletcher Graduate Writing Program help them.  Here’s the email he sent last week, in which he could hardly have been more supportive:

Dear Thesis-writers,

If all the recent talk about commencement is only making you more agitated about your unfinished thesis, this email is for you.  The Fletcher writing tutors are here to help.

Please consider stopping by the tutors’ desk immediately outside Ginn library sooner rather than later:  we are available every Monday through Thursday from 2-5pm (when school is in session).  You don’t even need an appointment.

If you’d like to discuss your thesis, consider the following in order to get the most out of your session:

1) Come prepared to discuss your topic, even if you’re in the early stages of formulating an argument.
2) Bring an abstract or detailed outline if possible.
3) Come with specific questions or problems you’d like to address.
4) If you have a long paper that needs work throughout, please select 4-5 pages that you’d like to examine with us in detail. We can then suggest how you might apply our suggestions to the remainder of the paper.
5) Don’t be shy! We are here to help, no matter where you are in the writing process.

Thank you,

Director, Fletcher Graduate Writing Program
PhD Candidate, The Fletcher School


No, this isn’t a case of Admissions staff amnesia.  Many admitted students, waitlisted applicants, and prospective applicants will pass through our neighborhood in the coming months, and you may be wondering just where, exactly, I am (or, more generally, Fletcher is).

Fletcher is on the Tufts University campus in Medford/Somerville.  Medford and Somerville are two of the small cities ringing the bigger city of Boston, and the border separating them runs right through Fletcher.  Though a lot of students live in Medford (and I have my hair cut there), I think it’s fair to say that for social activities, students are oriented toward Somerville and beyond.  Here’s how it looks on a map:

The marker is pointed at Fletcher, and you can see all the different towns that surround us.  Notice that a little map like this one can also include Logan Airport, as well as Mystic Lake (convenient for biking, swimming, etc.).  So I’m not going to argue that Fletcher sits in the center of a giant metropolitan area, but I can tell you that there’s a fantastic variety of easily accessed spots.  You want to shop for local produce at a farm, hang out at a beach, and dine downtown in a single day.  Go ahead and make your plans — it’s all doable!

When people talk about Boston, they sometimes mean the city alone, but they’re often referring to a broader area, which could include the inner-most neighbors or more.  The population of Boston proper is just under 600,000, about 20th by size in the U.S.  The population of Boston plus its nearest neighbors (including Medford and Somerville) is about a million, and “Greater Boston,” stretching out a little further but still within easy commuting distance, is about 5 million.  For a small city, we’re rich with universities, museums, theaters, restaurants, and all the trappings of urban life.  But being a small city, it’s also easy to head out of town and hike, bike, and otherwise recreate.

We’re often asked what it’s like to be a student here.  Personally, I think there’s a great balance between the opportunity to focus on student life on a leafy campus and access to those urban trappings only a short subway ride away.  The best of both worlds!

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The situation in Japan is still unfolding and, of course, people throughout the world are monitoring it and finding ways to help.  You might be wondering about the response of our students and alumni.

First, the students.  A few days before the spring vacation that ended with students’ return this morning, we received this email:

On behalf of those who are now working tirelessly at Fletcher to support Japan, we want to update our Fletcher community on the efforts that are now underway or being planned.

As everyone is aware, Japan has been suffering from the devastating tragedy of earthquakes and tsunami since last Friday.  That same day, Japanese students in the Greater Boston area, at schools including Fletcher, MIT, Harvard, and Boston University, gathered to discuss projects to help out the crisis in Japan.  At the meeting, we launched an organization called Action4JapanBoston, and we have started several efforts, including fundraising, bridging communication, and crisis mapping.

In this context, we, brothers and sisters at Fletcher, are now working on the two projects below:

First, as a part of the cross-university project, we are now planning fundraising activities to support Japan’s relief efforts through reliable agencies.

Second, we have organized Japanese students in the Boston area to work collaboratively on Crisis Mapping using, a site launched by people in Japan.  Fletcher has been instrumental in initiating this effort, with the rich experience from Ushahidi in Haiti and Libya being critical to its design and implementation.  We are grateful for those who have kindly helped us to get this project into motion.

We are deeply moved by all of your heartwarming messages and concerns about our families and friends in Japan. We hope to keep the Fletcher community updated on our ongoing efforts.

Thank you,
Fletcher Japanese community and friends

You can also find Action4JapanBoston on Facebook.

More recently, I stumbled on the site of a Fletcher alum, Todd Wassel,  (who, it might be noted, used to work in the Admissions office).  Todd is well into his post-Fletcher career and, as a conflict resolution and human rights expert, is offering (via his web site, #Blog4Japan) his perspective and expertise on organizations supporting the Japanese people.  Check out his suggestions of worthy organizations, as well as his description of the event itself.


Veering away from useful information for a post, I thought I’d tell you about my lunch yesterday — not what I ate, but whom I ate it with.  Laurie and I both attended a luncheon for faculty and administrative staff members who have worked at Tufts for either 15 or 20 years.  Laurie was a 20-year veteran, and she achieved her status in a straightforward way — she took a job direct from her undergraduate studies here, and she never left.  Next thing you know, 20 years have passed.

My path was a little more zigzag:  took a one-year job, which lasted nearly 10 years, left for nearly two years, came back in a contractual set-up, finally was rehired in 2005, convinced the people who organize the lunch that this all adds up to 20 years, and attended.

A testament to the nice working environment we have here was the size of the Fletcher contingent.  Fletcher has grown in recent years, but is still quite a small place, which makes it surprising that there could be so many 15/20-year veterans.  In addition to Laurie and me, the 80-or-so person luncheon also included four other members of the Fletcher staff.  Fletcher is not only a happy place to be a student; it’s a happy place to work, too.


Admissions work, as you may have heard me say, is ultra-cyclical, but I still try not to repeat myself in the blog.  The exception comes in March and April, when I freely steal content from previous years.  Today’s stolen post covers the questions we answer most routinely for each year’s newly admitted students.  Here are the questions (and related answers) that may be on your mind.

Q: I hope to work when I’m at Fletcher.  How can I arrange it?
A: There are many administrative jobs available each year at Fletcher, as well as elsewhere at the University. Fletcher jobs are usually “advertised” via a student email list. Jobs elsewhere at the University can be found through the Student Employment office.

Q: What about research or teaching assistantships?
A: These positions are arranged directly with the hiring department or professor. It can be difficult for you to arrange a teaching assistant position for your first semester, regardless of your qualifications, but there are often opportunities in the second semester. Many professors hire research assistants in the fall, so even first-year students will be eligible. Research assistants are paid an hourly wage, while teaching assistants are often paid per course. (Note that teaching assistants do not teach Fletcher students. Professors teach, but the assistants might arrange course materials or do other “behind the scenes” work.)

Q: How do second-year scholarships compare to those awarded to first-year students?
A: We know that there are schools out there that reserve much of their scholarship budget to distribute to second-year students.  That isn’t Fletcher’s model.  We split our scholarship budget between first-year and second-year students.  Students who remain in good academic standing can expect their awards to be renewed for the second year.  Students who do not receive a scholarship in the first year can also apply for a scholarship for the second year, but funding cannot be guaranteed.

Q: I would like to pursue a joint degree. Will Fletcher allow me to defer my enrollment?
A: Fletcher will approve a deferral of up to one year (two semesters) to allow students to start a joint degree at another institution.  Prospective students needing more than one year before enrolling should plan to reapply.  Anyone wanting a deferral needs to request one — it isn’t automatic — but you can submit your request by email.

Q: I’m not doing a joint degree, but I want to defer for other reasons.  Can I?
A: Fletcher allows deferrals for up to one year so that candidates can pursue professional opportunities.

Q: Tell me more about how to request the deferral.
A: Follow these instructions.

Q: The law/business/other school with which I want to pursue a joint degree is not on Fletcher’s list of “official” joint or dual degrees.  How will that work?
A: Fletcher will support your efforts to arrange a joint degree that suits your career and academic goals. The process is to transfer courses from your other program so that you also receive Fletcher credit for them.  When I speak to students putting together an ad hoc joint degree, I always suggest that they contact the registrar as soon as they enroll at Fletcher. You won’t be able to transfer in your first-year torts/finance/language class, but with careful homework, you will find classes that meet Fletcher’s requirements. (You should also be sure to work with the other school. Our experience is that many other schools are less flexible than Fletcher.)

Q: Can I make my decision after the deadline named in my admission letter?
A: No. There are many administrative reasons why Fletcher needs to know how many students will enroll, but we don’t expect you to care about that. On the other hand, we want you to remember that there are students waiting on the waitlist, and we hope you will respect their need for a speedy answer as to whether they will be admitted. We won’t know if we need to go to the waitlist until we have heard from the students we have already admitted.

Q: Do I really need to respond officially?  Can’t I just email you?
A: We enjoy your emails, but we really prefer you respond through the online system or with the enrollment reply form.  It helps us keep track of information.

Q: What classes will be offered in 2011-2012?
A: The schedules for next year aren’t set yet, but many courses are offered on a yearly basis.  You can see the class schedules for 2010-2011 on our web site.

Q: I was put on the waitlist.  Can I request feedback now?
A: Although the waitlist is not the same as being offered admission, it’s also not the same as being denied admission.  We only offer feedback to applicants once their applications are no longer active, which is not the case for those on the waitlist.  On the other hand, there may be one key item we want to see from you, and it is reasonable for you to contact us and ask directly if there is a particular item the Committee on Admissions would like to see.  If there is, we’ll tell you.  If there isn’t, we’ll leave it to you to decide what you should send to update your application.

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Last week I was abruptly reminded of the challenges connected to this time of year.  It should be that we feel bright and breezy, with all (or nearly all) applicants notified of their decisions and no more applications to read.  In fact, as soon as the decisions went out, the questions rolled in.  It’s quite natural that admitted applicants need to scramble for answers to questions that seemed only theoretical just a week ago.  So my typing fingers are warmed up and I’m tap-tap-tapping out the answers.

Some members of the Admissions team may be better at keeping up with email than I am.  But I’m going to throw everyone in the same bucket and say that sometimes we fall behind.  Please know that we’ll respond as soon as we can.  We’re just balancing emails and phone calls and visits — trying to get info out to everyone in a timely way.

With spring break this week, the School is super quiet, which gives us a chance to focus.  On the other hand, we need to travel farther to pick up lunch or a cup of coffee.  I’ll confront that problem later.  For now, back to the email inbox!


Yesterday’s post was the 500th for the Admissions Blog.  WOO HOO!  I wanted to celebrate yesterday, but there was real work to be done.

It’s hard to believe that the first post was way back in 2006.  Since then, the definition of “blog-worthy” has greatly expanded, so that a week in 2011 may include more posts than all of October 2006.  As blogger-in-chief, I’m fortunate that I don’t need to do all the writing.  Thanks to fellow staffers and students, there’s always something to share.

Looking forward to the next 499 posts.  When we reach 1,000, we’ll really celebrate!


We’ve been offering feedback to our applicants for quite a few years now, and we’ve moved from an informal call-me-and-I’ll-see-what-I-can-figure-out arrangement to more of a system.  And as the system has developed, so has the expectation on the part of the Admissions Committee that someone intending to apply a second time should ask what went wrong the first time.  If you weren’t admitted this year and you hope to reapply (and if you haven’t, in frustration, given up on the blog), I want to encourage you to ask us for feedback on your application.

Here are the rules.  After May 1, send us a feedback request by email with this information:

♦The semester/year for which you originally applied (for example, September 2011);
♦Any specific questions you have about your application or the process;
♦Your plans for the coming year;
♦The term for which you intend to reapply.

One of us will review your application.  We’ll read through everything in the file, but much of what we write will reflect the comments of the reviewers, not our own opinions.  We only offer opinions if we think there’s a key point that the reviewers didn’t note.

Regardless of when you intend to reapply, I encourage you to request feedback this year.  We received some requests last December for January applications.  Unless the problem with an applicant’s first application was in the personal statement, what exactly can he do to improve his profile in only one month?  So contact us this spring, and you’ll have some ideas to work with until you reapply.  Until then, I’m sorry you didn’t receive admission this year, but experience tells us that many applicants will be successful in a future round.  I hope we’ll see another application from you in the future.

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All of us on the Admissions staff have a soft spot in our hearts for the applicants on the waitlist.  We’re well aware that waiting for a final decision from March into the summer, after already waiting from January to March, is challenging.  And waiting isn’t for everyone.  But for those who want to hang in there, or for those who are trying to decide what to do, I have some details for you.  (You’ll also receive information by email.)

First, the prospects.  Nearly every year, we’ve made offers of admission to applicants who have remained on the waitlist:  only a few people in some years, but as many as 20 in others.  In my long Fletcher admissions life, there was only one year in which we didn’t make any admission offers to applicants on the waitlist, and that year we offered places in the following January’s entering class to a few of them.

Here’s the process:  We’ve made offers of a place on the waitlist to applicants a group of applicants to all the master’s-level programs.  For the next six weeks, the waitlist won’t be the focus of much of our attention, but applicants will be making their own decisions on whether to continue to wait.  Many will decide to turn down the offer — they’ll attend another graduate school or, maybe, continue to work.  Responses have already poured in, but the deadline isn’t until May 1, when we’ll set aside the applications for future review.  (And I should note that the applications are in alphabetical order — we don’t “rank” the waitlist.)

Meanwhile…we’re monitoring the responses of admitted students.  Some will accept the admission offer, but they’re organizing joint degrees, or balancing educational goals and professional responsibilities, and they’ll decide to defer enrollment for a year.  As these fine details of the enrollment situation unfold, we’ll go to the waitlist to admit the students we need to fill the September class.

So what can you do, once you’ve confirmed that you’ll wait?  We invite you to update your application with carefully selected materials.  Here is my annual list of suggested additions to waitlisted applications:

1.  Any update to basic application credentials:  Grades for newly completed classes, new test scores, an additional recommendation from your university or workplace, written by someone who knows you well and who can add a new perspective on your background.  (Please read that last sentence carefully.  You won’t gain much from a recommendation (however positive it might be) that covers the same ground as your previous three recommendations.)  You can also update your résumé, or send a copy of a newly published article.

2.  A brief essay to complete the sentence, “When I wrote my essay, I wish I had said….”  Do you have a better sense of your academic and career goals than you did in January?  If so, fill us in!  (Keeping your response to about 500 words is a good idea.)

3.  A visit to Fletcher.  We don’t offer formal interviews during the spring, but we’ll certainly meet with you if you happen to be able to visit.  The best time for an appointment is late April to early May.  We’ll try to accommodate you whenever you are here, but we’d appreciate it if you could hold off until after April 15.

4.  Anything else that you would have put in your application if the instructions had been written differently.  While I discourage you from sending a research paper or thesis (and I say this because I know that many applicants would like to send us additional reading materials), there may be something that you wished you could have included.

5.  Information that helps explain the gap or shortcoming that you feel may be holding your application back.  You may not have chosen to address it in your application, but now would be a good time to explain those crummy grades from your first undergraduate semester, or your limited international experience, or whatever else is a weakness in your application.  And a weakness you have noticed is probably one we’ve noticed, too.

You can send a short update by email, but please use postal mail for anything more substantive.

Historically, we have admitted students from the waiting list as early as late April (only once or twice) to early August (also rare).  The majority of the waiting list activity will take place from early May to the end of June.  It’s always our goal to sew everything up as quickly as possible — both for your sake and for ours.

Last, the scholarship question.  At the same time as I can’t guarantee we’ll have scholarship funds remaining in late May or June, I can say that we generally have had some money to work with.  Remember that the applicants who decide not to enroll are often returning scholarship funds, too.

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