From the monthly archives: March 2012

The waitlist is its own big story.  It doesn’t have the good or bad news clarity of being admitted or denied, so how applicants see it depends on how they perceived their likelihood of gaining admission.  In any event, though we don’t have predictive powers to make everything clear, we can at least explain the process.

First, note that you have the support of the Admissions Office staff.  We all know well that waiting for a final decision from March into the summer, after already waiting from January to March, is challenging.  If you’re going to decide to keep your place on the waitlist, you’ll want to know what you’re getting into.

Next, 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 offers.

Then, the process:  We’ve made offers of a place on the waitlist to 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.  We’ll set aside the responses until after the May 1 deadline for future review, grouping the applications of those who want to wait (in alphabetical order — no ranking), ready for us to re-review them.

Meanwhile…we’re monitoring the responses of admitted students.  Some will say yes, and some will say no.  And even among those who say yes, some are 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 under 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.  Try to send it to us by May 1 (the deadline for deciding whether to stay on the waitlist), though you remain welcome to update your file as the spring goes on. The majority of the waitlist 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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So we tried something new this year, and it seems to have paid off.  Releasing all decisions by email kept the system from clogging up as persistently as in past years, and everything went more-or-less smoothly.  The best thing is that decisions went out well ahead of our absolute deadline of March 19.  We’re happy.

To applicants who were not admitted this year, I hope you will gain admission to another graduate school that suits your goals.  If, instead, you are thinking of reapplying to graduate school in the future, please take advantage of our offer of feedback on your application.  Contact us after May 1 with your request and we’ll get back to you with comments.

To applicants who were offered a place on the waitlist:  I’m sorry that we’re dragging the process out still further for you.  We’ll provide information in the next few days to help you make your decision on whether to remain on the waitlist.

To applicants who were admitted:  Congratulations!!  Today marks the annual pivot day, when you abruptly turn from waiting for decisions to gathering the information that will, in just over five weeks, guide you to your decision on where to attend graduate school.  Through the next month, you’ll be receiving information by mail and other media, and we’ll add as much detail and color as possible via the blog.

It’s exciting for us to have released the decisions.  On to the next phase of the annual cycle!

 

These final days before we release decisions provide an opportunity for me (on behalf of the Admissions Office) to thank our blog readers (and applicants in general) for interest in Fletcher.  We know how anxiety-inducing the application process can be, and how important the decision on where to attend graduate school will be, and it’s gratifying to know that you want to join our community.

Throughout the yearly admissions cycle, it’s our goal to keep our focus on applicants’ needs.  While there are undeniably times when we have to behave like the university administrators we are, I hope you have found that the information we provide (through the blog, on our website, via facebook, in our printed materials, at information sessions, etc.) is clear, timely, and honest.  If not, please let us know.

Much as I might wish we could admit all of my blog friends, I can more realistically say that I hope all readers end up with graduate school options that are satisfying and that will launch you on the career path you seek.  Meanwhile, thanks for reading, blog friends!

P.S.  Happy 160th Birthday, Austin Barclay Fletcher!

 

An aspect of writing the Admissions blog that continually perplexes me is timing:  When should I post certain information and how can I be sure that the people who need it will read it?  So even as we continue churning through the steps leading to the release of decisions, I’m going to take a big step backward and address a topic that I’ve covered before, but possibly at a time when no one was paying attention.

Last week, a reader posted a comment asking about our preference that applicants have some professional experience before they apply to Fletcher.  As opposed to most prospective students who ask what kind of experience is best, or how long they should work, or other practical questions, Zack asked why we have that preference in the first place.  Good question.  And since some applicants will soon receive a letter saying that, from our perspective, what separates them from admission is work experience, this might be a good time to explain our reasoning.

I see four intertwined reasons, relating to the application and beyond, for our preference.  The first is that people who already have a career trajectory will have an easier time transitioning to their post-Fletcher careers.  They’ll have professional contacts who can recommend them, workplace skills, polished presentations, and knowledge either of a sector or of content that will be relevant, even if they’re shifting careers.

The second reason is that applicants who have the perspective gained through professional experience will be best able to crisply state their goals and the reasoning behind them.  For example, many applicants tell us they want to work in the U.S. Foreign Service.  Those who have already worked in an embassy (even if only through internships) will be able to provide a more nuanced vision of their future careers.  Meanwhile, some applicants indicate an interest in the Foreign Service because they’re not familiar with the many other U.S. government agencies that have international content to their work.

The third reason is that the Admissions Committee is always looking for hints that the applicant really knows what he or she is getting into.  Every year (I mean this…EVERY YEAR) we read personal statements that express a strong interest in a career in a geographic area that the applicant has never visited.  (And often doesn’t have the language skills for.)  The Committee is going to question the applicant’s chances of reaching that goal.  Not to mention that, were the applicant able to reach the goal, he might quickly discover it doesn’t really suit him.

The fourth reason may have the most immediate importance for an incoming student, and that is the ability of each student to contribute inside and outside the classroom.  If one student has nothing more than academic connection to (for example) refugee resettlement, while another student has worked for five years with a resettlement agency, there’s a real imbalance between what these two students offer to the community.  The Admissions Committee tries to ensure that all students will have something to offer.

Other members of the Admissions staff might articulate the reasons behind the preference differently, but no matter how we as individuals think of it, we’ll still encourage applicants to obtain pre-Fletcher work experience.  And to answer the questions we’re more often asked:  The best pre-Fletcher professional experience will link to an applicant’s goals.  How long it should last is however long it takes to maximize value from the experience.  There’s no single answer to these questions.

All of that said, you’ll note that I use the word “preference” rather than “requirement.”  This year (and every year), we’ll admit a small number of applicants direct from undergrad.  Some of them will have packed their 22-ish years with summer internships, campus activities, Model UN, study abroad, and all the different possibilities available to someone who still hasn’t graduated.  All these activities will collectively take the place of full-time professional experience, provided they can clearly articulate their goals.  We’ll also admit a small number of people who don’t have quite as packed a résumé, but who are so accomplished academically that we know career doors will open for them.  All-in-all, a sliver of the overall student population.

I hope this post makes it clearer why the Admissions Committee prefers pre-Fletcher work.  If other interesting questions come in via the comments section, I’ll be happy to take another big step back and try to tackle them.

 

No one on the Admissions team is afraid of a little brain-straining hard work, but this has been a long week.  Most of us worked last Saturday, and one day of recharging wasn’t enough to ease the sense that we’ve been here continuously since who knows when.  Still, it’s satisfying to move the process forward to the point where we can see beyond the boxes in the back office and imagine interactions with admitted students.  If we can only finish the rest of the tasks still in front of us…

Meanwhile, Fletcher life goes on, and the week has been filled with activities.  Just yesterday, two illustrious alums visited to chat about International Economic Policy for the 21st Century.  Later in the day, Fletcher Students in Security (FSIS) offered pizza and discussion of “From Cadet Grey to Army Green…Reflections of West Point Junior Officers Since 9/11.”  And today, Fletcher is the site of the Tufts 5th Annual China-U.S. Symposium — or, as the organizers like to call it:  塔夫兹大学中美关系年会.  (I can read that, so I know it says what it’s supposed to.)

If only there were more hours in each day.  Sigh.

But we’re keeping our noses to the grindstone and getting it done.  Attending lectures and symposia will need to wait a couple of weeks.

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Now that you’re all up to speed on admissions decision options, it’s time to turn to the other piece of information many applicants will receive when decisions go out — scholarship awards.

As you may have read or heard us say, Fletcher awards scholarships on the basis of merit and need to both U.S. and international students.  For a given level of merit (as determined in the admissions review process), the largest awards go to students with the greatest need.  There are no need-only scholarships, in that everyone who is admitted has merit.  But there are also no merit-only scholarships, except for commitments we have made to match grants from other organizations.

The award that an incoming student receives is renewable for the second year of Fletcher study.  There’s a renewal process, through which we double-check that students will be on campus taking the expected number of classes in each semester.  But students who remain in good academic standing can plan their second-year finances based on the knowledge their scholarship will be renewed.

Fletcher has always believed that it’s in the interest of admitted students to have upfront information on their scholarship awards for both years.  It’s important for incoming students to have a complete financial plan (which, it should be clear, doesn’t mean waiting until year two to see what happens).

Separate from the scholarship award are student loans.  For U.S. students and permanent residents who have completed the FAFSA, the University’s Student Financial Services office will, in early April, email details of the complete financial aid package, including loan availability and work study funds.

One last note — many Fletcher students work as research or teaching assistants, but the Admissions Committee doesn’t make those arrangements, and scholarship awards carry no RA or TA obligations.  (We don’t presume to know how you’ll want to spend your out-of-class time.)  Once students arrive in the fall, there are opportunities to find campus work, whether you want to share your expertise in political science or sociology, or hand out reserve reading materials in the library.

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Never content to keep things simple, even when it comes to admitting applicants, our decisions include multiple options.  The bottom line for all is:  YAY!  You’ve been admitted to Fletcher!  Congratulations!  But some of the offers of admission are accompanied by a condition, and today’s post is to clarify what those conditions entail.

The Admissions Committee looks at the materials in an applicant’s file and makes certain assumptions, some of which lead Committee members to suggest the applicant will need further preparation.  We’ll make that preparation a condition of admission.  The most frequently employed conditions require that, before starting Fletcher classes, the student should improve foreign language proficiency, improve English language proficiency, or improve quantitative skills (MIB students only).

We tend to be inflexible about the nature of the pre-Fletcher English training, for reasons I hope are obvious.  (In case they’re not as obvious as I think, I’ll spell it out:  No one can succeed in Fletcher classes with weak English skills.)  There’s more flexibility around summer foreign language training, because the best program depends on the student’s choice of language and current ability.

Does this mean that, if we haven’t attached a condition, we’re absolutely sure your English skills are strong enough to cope with a heavy load of reading and writing?  Not necessarily, and now’s a good time to work on those skills.  Does it mean we’re sure you’ll pass the foreign language exam?  Definitely not.  Applicants who self-assess as having intermediate level proficiency might really higher or lower than that.  Work on those language skills before enrolling!  But, as I said, not everyone who needs some practice will be admitted conditionally.

Beyond the conditional admits, there’s one other complication to the admit category:  Occasionally, we admit applicants to a program other than the one to which they applied.  Most common example:  You applied to the mid-career MA program, but you don’t have sufficient experience to be admitted.  For the MALD program, on the other hand, you’re looking good, so we’ll admit you to the MALD!  (There’s similar thinking behind offering MALD admission to a tiny number of PhD applicants who lack the master’s level study to enter the PhD program directly.)

Our process would certainly be simpler if there were only one type of admit, but the option to attach a condition to admission is the difference between admit and deny for some applicants.  We would hate to turn away a highly qualified applicant who needs a little brush-up on English skills, but we would be obliged to do so if we couldn’t be sure he would pursue a language program.

The happy bottom line is that conditional admission is (once the condition is met) admission.  And we’re convinced that fulfilling the condition will enhance the admitted student’s experience at Fletcher.  So we’ll maintain our portfolio of admits, sometimes with conditions attached.

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The work is proceeding apace here in the Admissions Office.  Our workplace attire is sliding from business, to business casual, to nice casual, to…whatever.  Meanwhile, I’ll keep moving up the spectrum of possible admissions decisions.

Continuing along the spectrum from deny to admit, the next decision category is the waitlist, which can be seen as an opportunity or a curse.  Each year, after admitting a group of students, we’ll offer a place on the waitlist to another promising group — applicants whose credentials are solid overall, and yet just a little less solid than the applicants we’ve admitted.  (A waitlist is what it sounds like — a list of people waiting for a place to open up in the entering class.)  Some years, we draw a significant number of students from the waitlist.  Occasionally, we don’t admit any.  But most years we admit a few.  That’s the opportunity part.

It can be hard for waitlisted applicants to get a handle on what this decision means for them, which is understandable.  We’ve tried to help by creating an FAQ list.  But even the FAQ list will leave waitlisted applicants wondering about their own prospects.  The challenge is that, when decisions go out, we can’t even answer the most basic question:  How many people are on the waitlist?  And that’s because, in March, it doesn’t matter whether we make 10, 100, or 1,000 waitlist offers.  What matters is how may people decide to accept a spot on the list.  So let’s say we make 100 offers.  If 60 people decide not to wait, then the relevant number is 40.  We don’t rank our waitlist, and when it comes time to make an offer of admission, we go back to the applications and figure things out.

Applicants offered a place on the waitlist can take until May 1 to decide whether to wait.  It would be very unusual for us to make an offer of admission before May 1 — most of our work with the waitlist takes place in May or June, though we’ll keep a list into the summer.  That’s where the curse (or cursing) comes in.  The waitlist involves, well, waiting.

All members of the Fletcher Admissions staff know that the extra waiting is unwelcome.  But for some applicants who focus on the opportunity rather than the curse, the waitlist represents a final chance for admission.

One last thing:  While we won’t provide feedback for applications still active on the waitlist, we will answer this question:  Is there any further information that the Committee on Admissions would like from me at this time?  That gives us a chance to check your application and see if the Committee wanted to see, for example, a higher TOEFL score.  (Send the question by email, and mention that the blog told you to ask!)  Even if the Committee didn’t want anything special, waitlisted applicants are invited to send us an update.  New grades or test scores, an updated résumé, a link to a publication — any new information you wish to share will be welcome.  I’ll post a bit more about this after decisions have finally been released.

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As promised last week, I’m continuing to lay the groundwork for decision time (COB March 19) by devoting a few posts to Fletcher’s different decision options.

Today I’ll start with the bad news end of the spectrum. While I understand that applicants don’t want to prepare for the possibility of disappointment, I also know that once people receive the news, they’ll shut down their RSS feed and never read the blog again.  (A fact that is both sad and understandable.)  I need to seize this moment to share information.

The truth is that admitting applicants is the easy part of admissions work, and naturally we focus on the easy and fun.  But denying admission is an inescapable aspect — the most challenging aspect — of what we do.

When we review applications, we’re looking for a combination of academic potential, professional and international experience, and clear goals for study and a post-Fletcher career.  Applicants who are denied admission might be missing one or more of those elements, or they might be just a little weak in all of them, particularly compared to the overall qualifications of admitted students.

While it’s true that bad news is bad news, we do make one distinction among those who will not be offered admission this year.  Some applicants will receive a letter saying that, though they look great overall, we really want them to gain some relevant professional experience, and it’s the work history that stands between them and the admission they hoped for.  We’ll only use this “work deny” decision for applicants within about a year of their university graduation.  (This year, that means 2011 and 2012 grads.)  We encourage them to work for a couple of years, although (depending on their internship record), it could take more or less time for them to build their professional experience and become competitive applicants.

There are two final points to make on this sad topic.  The first is to emphasize that Fletcher welcomes applicants to reapply.  Someone who applies unsuccessfully, smooths up some of the rough points in the application, and reapplies in a subsequent year, has shown determination and a strong interest in the School — two qualities we love in our applicants.

The second point is related to the first.  Fletcher will provide feedback to applicants.  If you’re planning to reapply, I encourage you to ask for feedback this spring.  (That is, don’t wait until the  month before your next application — you may want some time to make improvements.)  We’ll accept feedback requests on May 1 (more on this topic later in the spring) and you’ll hear back from us within a month or so of your request.

The next post about the decision spectrum will describe the waitlist.

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At home, with my daughter Kayla in the same uncertain state of waiting as Fletcher applicants, we try not to talk much about the coming admissions decisions.  At work, of course, it’s all decisions all the time.  This morning I’m heading to the final meeting of the full (students, staff, and professors) meeting of the Committee on Admissions.  After this, we’ll convene subsets of the Committee as needed.  (Much less fun than the full harmonious bunch that has been meeting since January.)

But even at work, I’m aware that there is exciting stuff happening just beyond the wall of my office.  One news tidbit I received recently pointed me toward the fine writing currently on the Fletcher Forum web site.  No longer limited to a print journal, the Forum now offers a showcase for a greater range and number of articles, with the ability to react to news in a timely way.

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