Gosh, I’m sorry to have missed posting on two days during such a busy time for applicants.  I’m going to try to make up for it today with a big fat application tip.

You’ve probably heard Fletcher or other admissions representatives talk about how we take a “holistic” approach to reviewing applications.  And probably you’ve thought, “Blah blah blah.  That’s what they all say,” or other such dismissive thoughts.  I hear you, dear blog reader.  Especially if you still bear the scars of the often crazy U.S. undergraduate process, you may believe that “holistic” is a word that admissions folks toss around to deflect eyes from our arbitrary cut-offs or nefarious deeds.

But I’m going to ask you to believe me when I say that we review all elements in an application, and that a trip through the Hall of Flags, if you were to survey the students hanging out there, would reveal very different profiles — a collection of profiles that a single set of criteria could never produce.

To demonstrate that we do, indeed, have some standards, here are two bottom line requirements.  The first is that everyone, EVERYONE, who is admitted must be able to succeed academically.  Not everyone is going to be at the top of the class, but the Admissions Committee cannot knowingly admit students who, it is clear, will not be able to complete their Fletcher classes successfully.  The second requirement is that non-native English speakers must have sufficient skills to function in an English-language academic environment.  In the case of this second requirement, we do have a cut-off of 100 on the TOEFL or 7.0 on the IELTS.  (Admitted applicants at or near that cut-off will probably be asked to pursue additional English study before enrolling.)

Let’s say that you believe us and our talk of holistic review.  How should you approach your application?  Holistically, of course.  You should take the time to think about the different aspects of your background that you want us to know about, and then you should select the application component that will be best for telling us about it.  The basic elements of the application are the form, essays, transcript, résumé, test scores, and recommendations.

Let’s start with that academic profile.  Naturally, the best way to demonstrate that you have strong academic potential is a successful undergraduate record, strong GRE/GMAT scores, and a nice recommendation from a former professor.  But not everyone has such a neat package.  A transcript with some blemishes will still be fine, combined with strong scores.  Middling scores will be o.k. when combined with a strong record.  Your recommendation can go a long way toward helping us understand anything that went wrong for you as an undergrad.  All of this is to say that the easiest applications for us to decide on are those in which all the academic pieces are perfect.  But most Fletcher students didn’t present perfect academic profiles, so don’t worry if you’re not perfect, but do give us something positive to work with.

Next, the essays.  Most of you will write two essays for us.  I won’t say much now, because we have provided all sorts of advice in the past.  But I’ll rehash the basics.

  • Make sure you answer the questions.
  • Don’t view the second essay as a throw-away.  It should be telling us something about you that connects, in some way, to your interest in international affairs.  (That’s still plenty flexible.)
  • Use the “additional information” section to explain anything unusual in your application.  Don’t waste essay space to tell us you did poorly in one semester.

Beyond those three points, read through past blog posts for more tips.

While the essays are the heart of the material you’ll prepare for us, you’ll want to use your résumé to help us understand your professional experience and trajectory to date.  If there’s a long time gap in your work chronology, you should explain it in the “additional information” section.  We ask about your work history in the application form, and we want you to complete that section carefully, but the résumé is a free-form location for you to highlight all of the skills you’ve gained and the locations where you have gained them.  Don’t simply attach any old résumé you have hanging around.  Instead, create one that will help you advance your application narrative.  More than one page is A-OK, but that’s not permission to stretch it out beyond what’s warranted.

As I’ve described in the past, we’re looking for international and professional experience that links to your goals.  If possible, your professional recommendation should be your supervisor at a relevant organization.  Sometimes people can’t ask for a letter from their current employer, and we understand that.  Make a note in the “additional information” section.

Finally, a word on the form.  Apparently I say too little about it because I can’t put my finger on an archived post that addresses it directly.  (Note to self — must fix that.)  Yes, it’s time-consuming.  Yes, it might be annoying and repetitive.  But you should still complete it with care.  Application readers start with the form, and by the time I have paged through all the information, I already have a pretty strong impression of an applicant.  Do you want that to be a positive impression?  Of course you do.  Answer each question carefully and make sure you’re not leaving a river of typos.

To wrap up, each element of your application deserves thought and care.  And each element can/should be used to cover an aspect of your objectives and background that you want to share with the Admissions Committee.  For more details on our views, check out the Application Boot Camp posts from a few summers back.

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