Sharing some insights on application review

We’re not yet midway through the application review process, but I want to offer some insights that may be reassuring while applicants for September enrollment await the decisions they’ll receive in March.

When the MALD/MA Admissions Committee met last Friday, we considered the case of an applicant who did poorly as an undergraduate but subsequently went on to a successful multi-year career.  The applicant had strong GRE scores and glowing recommendations.  (No surprise — there were no academic recommendations.)  Chances are good that we’ll review an application that fits that general description at every meeting this year.

When we review applications, we are always looking for background and credentials that are well laid out on our website.  The goal is “to enroll a diverse class of students who have demonstrated academic excellence, have a wide range of personal, professional and academic experience, and have a strong commitment to an international career. We seek students who, by virtue of their background, achievement and experience, can contribute to the education of their peers and to the scholarship and practice of international relations.”  That’s both super-specific and, it could be argued, equally vague.  I generally tell applicants that the bottom line is that students must be able to succeed at Fletcher, and that’s true!  But then what do we make of the applicant described above?

Or how about another application from Friday.  The applicant had a nearly perfect undergraduate record and test scores, but won’t graduate until May and, predictably, has limited professional experience.  We’ll see applications like this one every week, too.  As a professional school, we strongly value pre-Fletcher work experience — it supports the development of a student’s objectives and is a key factor as they seek a post-Fletcher job.  But brilliant students generally find their way through the career definition and search process, even if they do need a little extra support from the Office of Career Services.

In both of these cases, the Admissions Committee decided to offer the applicant admission.  Admissions people always say they employ a holistic system of review.  The opportunity for Fletcher to admit both of the applicants described here depends on it.  If we were to impose cut-offs — whether logical or arbitrary — one or both of these applicants wouldn’t be admitted.  Instead, the Hall of Flags is sprinkled with people of both types.

Students who went to U.S. colleges and universities often worry that the graduate school admissions process will be the same as it was for undergrad.  I’m happy to say that it isn’t.  Applicants who can objectively be described as qualified for Fletcher, demonstrating all those qualities outlined above, will be admitted.  Fortunately, there’s also room in the class for some students who are missing a few of the qualities.  So long as we can see a pathway for their success, we can go ahead and offer them admission.

I hope that this mid-process pause will help reassure some applicants that they can stop trying to figure out our average GPA or GRE scores.  Reviewing Fletcher applications is too complex for us to rely on numbers alone.

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