The heart of the application to Fletcher is the essays — both the personal statement and the second essay.  Through the essays you give us your pitch for how you’re right for Fletcher and Fletcher is right for you.  I’d hazard a guess that all graduate schools would say roughly the same thing.

How should you approach writing the most important element of an application that may influence the trajectory of your professional life?  Despite the weightiness of the situation, my first suggestion is always the same:  Read the questions carefully and FOLLOW THE DIRECTIONS.

The two essays required for all Fletcher applications are:

Essay 1: Personal Statement (600-800 words)
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.  Describe the elements of your personal, professional, and/or academic background that have prepared you for your chosen career path.  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.

Essay 2 (500 words maximum)
Share something about yourself to help the Committee on Admissions develop a more complete picture of who you are.

I acknowledge that these questions can seem challenging, but I also think that they’re straightforward and appropriate for an application of this sort.  Moreover, from vast experience, we know that applicants who organize their thoughts carefully will be able to stay within the word limits.  For the Personal Statement, the inability to write 600 words may indicate that you haven’t thought through your objectives clearly enough; more than 800 words means you need to use your favorite method for trimming back what you have written.

If you read the essay prompt carefully, you’ll note that the Personal Statement starts by asking you to look ahead to your time during and after Fletcher.  The other questions incorporated within the prompt are there to guide you to provide the details needed to convince us that your objectives are realistic and carefully considered.  (What is it about your background that makes your goals achievable?)  It will almost surely be a mistake if you start your narrative way back in your childhood (unless you quickly skip from age 6 to age 18).  Your professional trajectory probably didn’t begin until you were at least in your undergraduate studies.  Think carefully about the elements you want to include — make your essay a convincing argument, not a basket full of random thoughts.  (And leave off the footnotes — this isn’t a research paper, and you should include your definitions and references (if truly necessary) in the body of the essay.)

That second essay question — so vague and unhelpful, right?  Well, maybe.  But here’s how you should approach it.  Before you start writing, think about all the other information that you’ve already loaded into your application.  What else can you say that will add to your argument that you’re a good match for Fletcher and your future career?  There’s no universal best answer to the question, but a poor choice of topic is one that doesn’t link in any way to your goals, your background, or the special qualities you would bring to Fletcher.  Remember that we love enrolling a diverse group of students.  Help us understand who you are.

Beyond all of the above, it’s really important (and presumably obvious) that you need to check over your writing. There’s no excuse for misspellings, and we cringe when we read the name of one of the other fine schools of international affairs that an applicant forgot to swap out when using the same essay for multiple applications.  (Huge frown for that scandalously common error!)

An interesting annual observation is that many admitted students do a much better job of articulating their goals in March conversations than they did via the application in January.  I’m going to guess that this is, in part, because they didn’t take enough time to prepare their essays.  So my final word of advice is to start early.  Think through your objectives and how you want to express them.  Write a first draft and let someone else read it.  If your goals aren’t clear to your first reader, they won’t be clear to us either.  When you have a final draft, triple check it for stupid (and not-so-stupid) errors.

And those are my tips for the essay.  All common sense, really, but critical for convincing the Admissions Committee that your objectives and Fletcher are the perfect match.

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2 Responses to Application Boot Camp, Day 1: Writing convincing application essays

  1. Hi Peter,
    I can say that we’ve been using the same questions for several years, and the most recent changes were to the wording of the questions themselves, not what we were expecting from applicants. That said, I would be doing you a disservice if I were to guess what we’ll be doing a year from now. I’m sure you can’t lose by thinking carefully about what you want to accomplish in your graduate professional studies, and if you can write clearly about your goals, you’ll be able to write a good essay, regardless of the question that Fletcher or another grad school asks. Feel free to email me (fletcheradmissions@tufts.edu) if you have other questions.
    Jessica

  2. Peter Gladbach says:

    Hi Jessica,

    Thank you for the extremely helpful blog entry. I am wondering whether these application questions will remain the same for the next application cycle (2015-2016)?

    Best,
    Peter

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