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It’s a cool and crisp morning — perfect for November — but I’m snug in my kitchen for a day of (mostly) reading Early Notification applications.  Before I get started on my reading, a quick blog note.

You know the old image of someone trying to make a decision with a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other?  Like this, for example:


I would like to volunteer to be your “deadline angel,” and if I’m to take my volunteer gig seriously, I cannot wait until January to start pestering you to get your application in before the deadline.  Rather, I want to plant the idea now that you should set a pre-deadline deadline for yourself.  January 1 would work.  Or earlier!  And then you need to work back from your personal deadline to create a plan for yourself.

Have you taken your standardized exams and had results sent to Fletcher?  If not, you should not wait another minute to schedule the exam.  Wait any longer and it will be difficult to book a convenient test date.  Depending on where you’re located, it may already be tricky.

Have you asked your professors and/or professional supervisors to write recommendation letters for you?  Nearly all the applications that linger in our “incomplete” bin in February are being held up by missing recommendations.  Ensuring those letters arrive on time is up to you, and you can ease the job for yourself by contacting your recommenders early to request their letters.

Essays can take a while to perfect.  Create a draft now, and continue to work on it.  Wait until January to write your first draft and it’s likely you’ll submit something you’re not happy with.  Every year we receive requests from applicants who want to continue revising their applications even after submitting them.  Ummm, no.  Sorry.  What you submit is what we review.  (Of course, if you have new test scores or course grades, we will certainly look at those.)

Is your résumé current and in good shape?  Two or three pages maximum, with education and professional experience both listed in reverse chronological order.  Other formats will not serve you as well for this purpose.

My decision to get a jump on the deadline reminders came to me last week when we had several calls from applicants who had waited until the last minute to book an interview appointment and could no longer arrange what they had hoped for.  There are still some on-campus interview appointments, but Skype interviews have been snatched up as quickly as we have created them (and we have, in fact, added a few for each week).  On the other hand, we had plenty of availability in October, both for October and for plan-ahead appointments in November/December.

I won’t go on, because the point is that you need to consider your own work habits and the requirements of the schools you’ll apply to, and then make a plan that works for you.  If you haven’t already made such a plan, your deadline angel suggests that you should not put it off any longer.

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I didn’t start the week thinking I would dedicate every post to Early Notification applications, but I was inspired by the ideas generated by my survey, so why not?  Today I’m answering a question about the first essay, though not exactly the way the survey respondent suggested (sorry…).

To refresh our memories, the prompt for the first essay reads:

Essay 1 (600-800 words, single-spaced, Arial 12 point font)
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?

You might remember from last summer that I wrote about how we ditched the term “personal statement,” because we felt we were inviting applicants to glue their personal statements from other schools into our application and, in the process, they failed to answer our questions.  I’m sure there will still be people who do that, but at least we’re not the ones leading them in that wayward direction.

To capture the Admissions Office’s thoughts on this essay, I decided to crowdsource my post.  Not quite a crowd, actually.  Just a cluster of Admissions pals — Dan, Liz, and Kristen.  I created two lists and noted my own thoughts and then they added theirs.  With these lists in hand, your objective will be to respond thoroughly to the question above, while keeping in mind the likes and dislikes of the Admissions Office application readers.

List 1: Things we like to see in Essay #1

  • The applicant has read the essay instructions (included suggested essay length) and responded to the questions.
  • The applicant’s career goals and objectives for study at Fletcher are clear and easy to find in the essay, not buried in paragraph 11.
  • The applicant has put some thought into why graduate school, why now, and why Fletcher is the best fit.
  • The applicant provides details on why Fletcher is a good match, so that the essay is Fletcher-specific, and doesn’t read like one written for another application.
  • The essay is not just a narrative version of the résumé, but a contextualization of information in the résumé and elsewhere in the application.
  • The essay is well written, with an authentic voice that hasn’t been edited so much that it no longer tells us about the applicant.

List 2: Things we don’t like to see in Essay #1

  • The name of other schools that the applicant has neglected to swap out.
  • Proofreading errors.
  • Essays that start their narrative with the applicant at age six and build slowly from there.
  • Whining about grades or GRE scores.  Save explanations – no whining – for the Additional Information section.
  • Footnotes.  This is not a scholarly paper.  Find another way to incorporate the information you might have put in a footnote.
  • Fancy-shmancy highfalutin vocabulary words that the applicant has just discovered in the thesaurus (and may or may not use correctly).
  • Unnecessary name dropping (which is different from naming one or two Fletcher professors with whom you’d like to work).
  • Getting Fletcher’s name wrong or spelling it incorrectly.  It’s The Fletcher School or The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.  Not The Fletcher School of International Affairs.  And not Flechter.
  • Long quotations from inspiring historical figures.  We know they’re inspiring.  No need to reinforce.
  • Essays that ignore the word count limits.
  • Essays that could be for any school, lacking specifics.
  • Essays that tell us all sorts of stuff we already know about Fletcher, but don’t tell us much at all about you, the applicant.
  • Essays that are, by any standards, inappropriate.  (Sorry, I can’t provide any further details on this one.  You’ll need to trust me, and stick to the topic.)
  • Information that doesn’t jibe with other parts of the application, such as mentioning employers that aren’t listed on the résumé or application.

And that’s it.  The essay likes and dislikes of Liz, Kristen, Dan, and me.  While I hasten to add that most of the essays we read are anywhere from serviceable to terrific, I hope the list will help you avoid any pitfalls.

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Today I want to discuss the Fletcher application’s second essay.  The prospective student who raised the question on my recent survey (keep the suggestions coming!) asked: What are you looking for in the second essay? Are personal experiences and anecdotes welcome, or does it have to be more work-centric?

The first thing I need to say is that we have no special expectation for the content of the essay.  It truly is up to you, just as the essay prompt says:

Essay 2 (500 words maximum, single-spaced, Arial 12 point font)
To help the Committee on Admissions get to know you better, please share an anecdote, or details about an experience or personal interest, that you have not elaborated upon elsewhere in your application.

So my answer is that personal experiences and anecdotes are absolutely welcome.  Your essay does not need to focus on your professional life.

That said…your essay should support your application in some way, adding depth or detail about an aspect of how you meet the basics we seek in our admitted applicants (strong academic potential, relevant international and professional experience, and clear objectives for Fletcher study and future career).  As an example of the different forms this might take, while one strong second essay could discuss the applicant’s international life, another might describe the obstacles that stood in the way of living internationally and what the applicant has done to fill that gap.  Both can make terrific essays.

An essay that goes into detail about a professional experience can be a good way to use the essay space, as it allows you to tell us more than any of the other application questions permit.  But we would be very bored readers, indeed, if every essay focused only on professional experience.

Over the years, we have used many different essay prompts, including “your greatest challenge,” and “something you especially value.”  None of those prompts yielded consistently good essays, and we have instead gone toward the vanilla topic above.  But your response need not be vanilla.  Tell us something interesting and important about you, whether it relates to your work or not, and it will make a good essay.  Just remember that your objective is to use all the different application components (application form, essays, recommendations, transcripts, résumé, interview) to build your case.  Don’t lose the opportunity that the second essay provides.

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Sticking to nitty-gritty admissions subjects today, I want to address a question that came up not in my survey (responses still welcome!) but in yesterday’s online chat.  No one actually asked the question directly, so I’m going to need to frame it myself.  The question:  I’m racing to complete my application before the November 15 Early Notification deadline, and I’m worried that it won’t be as good as it could be.  What should I do?

The Early Notification (EN) deadline serves applicants well in offering them the opportunity to learn before the end of 2015 that they are admitted to Fletcher for the Fall 2016 semester.  Whether they use that information simply to bask in the glow of success or to start serious planning is up to them.  Students who aren’t admitted may be less satisfied with the result, but they can take the information and use it to shape the list of schools to which they’ll apply in January.  In other words, there are plenty of reasons you may want to aim for our Early Notification deadline to kick off your application process.

On the other hand, there is no admissions advantage to applying early.  We look at the EN applications with the same standards and expectations that we will employ in reviewing the applications we receive in January.  So if you are concerned that you will submit a sub-par application, it may be best for you to pass on the EN deadline.  You can still submit your application well before the January deadline, but you don’t need to rush right now.

The exception to the above would be where you are submitting an application you are 100% happy with, but your GRE scores will arrive five days late.  Or one recommendation will arrive a little late.  Or you will be unable to upload your official transcript until November 17.  In those situations, go ahead and submit the application.  It takes us a few days to review each application and mark it as complete, and there will be no penalty for a late recommendation if your high-quality application arrives before the November 15 deadline.

Cutting corners to meet a deadline is something we’re all familiar with from our academic and professional lives.  But shortchanging yourself by doing less than your best when you race for a deadline, knowing there is another equally good deadline two months from now, is something you should think carefully about.

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On Friday, I sought inspiration from blog readers via a one-question survey and, as I had hoped, you delivered.  I now have fresh topics that I know will meet the needs of at least one reader each (and, I hope, more than that).  The first suggested topic I will take on is: Can you discuss the interview for the Fletcher School?  What will it cover and how should we prepare for it?

Let’s start with the basics.  To sign up for an interview, go to our online schedule, where you’ll see available appointments for both on-campus and Skype interviews.  Are you an Early Notification applicant?  So long as you complete your interview by Tuesday, November 24, we will ensure that the interview report will catch up with your application before the application review is complete.  (Yes, we usually recommend interviewing before submitting the application, but you can trust me that this will work.)  I hope that prospective students within about 200 miles will take the time to come to campus (a visit is still much more informative than a Skype interview), but we are excited about the number of locations from which applicants have been able to Skype in.  As I wrote earlier this semester, the Skype interviews have been an experiment, and now I can say that they have been largely successful.  (What hasn’t succeeded?  We’re never going to fix all technology problems, so instead we will make sure everyone’s expectations are in line with internet reality.)

I suppose we shouldn’t have been surprised that the Skype interviews have been very popular.  To accommodate last-minute Early Notification interviewees, I will tweak the calendar this week to add additional Skype interviews for next week and the week after.  If you haven’t been able to book an interview on a day that suits you, check again later this week.

Beyond the basics, then, how should you prepare for your Fletcher interview.  To register for a Skype interview, you will need to upload a résumé.  If you are coming over for an on-campus interview, please remember to bring your résumé with you.  We suggest business casual clothing.  Our student interviewers always appreciate an applicant’s professional approach to the interview appointment.  For further details on what to expect, I’m going to share the information that all interviewees receive once they have scheduled an appointment.  In our confirmation email, we note:


There’s one last important point that I need to emphasize.  Fletcher interviews are offered through December 11.  That is, the last day of the interview schedule falls nearly a month before the application deadline.  We are well aware that other schools/programs do things differently, but if you are interested in a Fletcher interview, now is the time to sign up for one.

I hope this information is helpful to at least the person who requested it.  Keep those suggestions coming on the survey and I’ll respond to as many as I can in the coming weeks.

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Though I was content to be the office slacker for a week, I finally put together the time and concentration needed to read a bunch of applications for January enrollment.  My limited sample included experienced professionals and compelling personal stories — exactly what makes reading applications so interesting.

Because the vast majority of our 2015-16 applicants have not submitted applications yet, I want to take a minute to share a tip.  More than a tip, it’s an annual plea.  Is it regarding some obscure aspect of the application?  Ummm, no.  Actually, my tip concerns just about the most fundamental aspect of applying.  And here it is: please answer the questions in the application form.

I know that the application form can seem tedious or repetitive, but the questions are there for a reason.  When you don’t answer them, you can leave us wondering about holes in your background narrative.  We might find ourselves asking: What accounts for this long gap in time?  At what level are your foreign language skills?  In what years did you live in the country of your birth before you emigrated?  What is/was your parents’ work, and what led them to move the family for part of your childhood?

Beyond the fact that Admissions Committee readers are left with questions, by not completing the application thoroughly, you are giving up an opportunity to tell us the maximum amount about yourself.  I do understand that there may be questions that strike applicants as excessively nosy — and skipping those questions remains an option — but we ask for a reason and we do appreciate it when the application is complete.

So there it is, my annual plea.  Take the time to complete the application as thoroughly as possible.  The Admissions Committee members who read your story will appreciate it.


I work pretty closely with applicants to the PhD program, and I should write more to help them.  The deadline for applications is December 20.  That’s a little less than three months off and, given the requirements of the application, it’s definitely not too late to get started.  There’s only one deadline each year, and only September enrollment is possible.

The PhD application requires all the usual elements (transcripts, test scores, essays, etc.), but applicants must also submit a master’s thesis (or major research paper) and a preliminary dissertation proposal.  While the proposal should be well developed, it’s understood that a student’s ultimate dissertation will reflect learning and growth from three semesters of Fletcher classes.  Though it is not required that applicants contact members of the Fletcher faculty before applying, I can say that nearly all of our successful applicants have done so.  Reaching out to Fletcher professors gives you a chance to confirm that your interests are aligned with theirs.  All admitted PhD students are assigned an advisor, and the expectation is that students will stick with that advisor all the way through.

Beyond that, most successful PhD applicants will include two recommendations from professors who can reflect on their work, and most will be asking professors from their master’s-level work to write the recommendations.

I should pause to note that applying directly to the PhD program requires a master’s degree.  Students without a master’s degree, or those who have a degree that lasted only one year, need to start with the MALD (usually) or MIB (also possible) degree.

We’ll be conducting two virtual information sessions, on October 15 and November 16.  There’s also more information that I can pass along.  If you’re interested, please contact us!

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Lost in the whirlwind that characterizes the start of the semester is attention to our applicants for January enrollment.  It just seems impossible that our first application deadline of 2015-16 could be less than a month away.  (I wrote that in mellow lower case, but what’s going through my head is “LESS THAN A MONTH AWAY!!!)

Though most students start their studies in September, there are lots of good reasons to think about January as a good MALD or MIB enrollment option.  The Januarian group tends to be (and remain, throughout their two years) very close.  It’s an instant peer group — far more manageable than the wave that rolls in each September.  The option to take two summers for internships also works well for students who are exploring more than one career path.  If those reasons, as well as the general timing, make sense to you, then it’s time to start your application.

There’s no time like the present, then, to share some tips with the applicants who may be our next crop of Januarians.  Because the application timeframe may creep up on you, just as it has for me, I suggest that you start an application right away, if you haven’t already done so.  You don’t need to do much with it yet, but make sure you know what will be required.  The essays are straightforward, but they may take you some time to perfect.  Don’t wait too much longer to start drafting them.

At last week’s APSIA fair, I was reminded how often we’re asked for our advice on how to put together a good application.  My best, if most basic, advice: Follow the directions.  Yep, if everyone followed this simple advice, we would see a lot more high quality applications.  More advice can be found in a post from last December.  And you should also check out our Application Boot Camp from last fall for more ideas.

Finally, if you hope to include an evaluative interview as part of your application, you need to schedule that now.  The first week of our interview calendar (which starts September 28) is nearly full already.  Whether you’re able to visit campus or you prefer to take advantage of the new Skype option, you’ll want to schedule your interview for before the application deadline of October 15.

We’re looking forward to reading some great applications in October!  As ever, if you have questions, be sure to contact us.

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Following a few weeks during which it received a refreshing, the application for admission to all Fletcher programs in January or September 2016 is now available.  Most 2016 applicants will greet this news with a shrug: they’re planning to apply, but the deadline seems so far away and they don’t see any special reason to do anything just yet.

I would encourage you to resist this line of thinking.  Instead, take a look at the application and note what’s involved.  You can work on it at whatever pace you choose, but you’ll benefit from knowing the requirements and the questions asked on the application form.  Once you’ve checked it out, you can start compiling the information you need.  As we get closer to whatever deadline you are aiming for, you’ll be glad to have moved ahead.


Would I prefer to be swimming at Walden Pond every warm summer day?  Yes, I would.  But I have to admit to a (perhaps nerdy) appreciation of summer Admissions work.  Without the volume of visitors or the pressure of application deadlines, we are left free to, well, get stuff done.  Thus the team sat down on Tuesday and collectively mulled the question of whether we should change the essays for the upcoming application cycle.  In the end we did.  Minimally.  So for those who are already thinking about such things, an advance look at the essays for January or September 2016 applications.

Essay 1: (600-800 words, single-spaced, Arial 12 point font)
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, single-spaced, Arial 12 point font)
To help the Committee on Admissions get to know you better, please share an anecdote, or details about an experience or personal interest, that you have not elaborated upon elsewhere in your application.

If you have already prepared essays (not that likely, I understand, but just in case), I hope you’ll agree that the current prompts reflect only the slightest change from what we used last year.  In fact, there are only two differences:  1) We stopped calling Essay 1 a personal statement, in the hopes that people will actually read the question.  (Admissions tip:  Read the question before writing/uploading the essay.)  2) And we changed the wording for Essay 2 to give applicants slightly more guidance, without actually limiting the scope of what you can write about.

For the sake of completeness, I’ll also note the other essays that particular applicants need to submit.

Those who have applied before must submit the Reapplicant Essay.  (500 words maximum, single-spaced, Arial 12 point font)
Please explain how your candidacy has changed since your last application.

Those who are applying to the PhD program must submit the PhD Essay. (500 words maximum, single-spaced, Arial 12 point font)
Please explain why you believe a PhD from a multidisciplinary program in international affairs at a professional school, as compared with a doctorate from a conventional program in a single academic discipline, advances your intellectual and professional ambitions.

Those who are applying through our Map Your Future pathway to the MALD or MIB program must complete the Map Your Future Candidates Essay. (500 words maximum, single-spaced, Arial 12 point font)
What professional opportunities do you plan or hope to pursue during the next two years? What do you hope to learn and what skills do you hope to cultivate?

Finally, while not an essay, I’ll also include the prompt for Additional Information (single-spaced, Arial 12 point font)
Please provide any additional information that you would like to bring to the attention of the Admissions Committee. This may include information regarding your academic records, plans to retake standardized tests or any other information relevant to your application.  Please do not upload writing samples.

What common instructions could I provide for all of these essays?  First, there’s the aforementioned “read the question.”  We’re well aware that applicants are feeling the pressure of a big task, with deadlines, with which they want to be successful.  But that doesn’t mean that you can slap the same essay onto an infinite number of applications.  Sure, go ahead and grab paragraphs from a “master essay,” but be sure that those paragraphs meet your objective of answering our question.  Keep the length under the maximums, but don’t spend hours struggling to cut those last ten words.

Beyond those technical tips, a little content guidance.  Make sure it’s easy for tired readers of Essay 1 to identify your objectives.  If we need to read your essay over and over in search of your goals, then you have not really answered the question.  I personally like a crisp statement of goals in paragraph one or two.  Don’t make us dig.

Describing your goals means the essay will be essentially forward looking.  You’ll want to refer back to your relevant experience, but don’t allow yourself to be sucked too far back into your distant past.  If your distant past is highly relevant, then write about it in Essay 2.

All of this is WAY premature.  There’s no obligation to start your application this early.  (And, in fact, you won’t be able to access the application online until August.)  But if you’re in the process of gathering info and ideas, this post was for you.

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