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Once again drawing ideas from the results of my little survey, today I’m going to talk about the application, and what a good application looks like. But first, exciting news! We have now officially launched our new online interviews! If you have already started an application, you’ll be given a link to access the interview site. Meanwhile, you can read all about it in this article from the Tufts Daily. I did a test interview myself. My suggestion: take advantage of the opportunity to record a practice video. I learned everything I needed to know by seeing my own mistakes in the test recording. (Note that there is no penalty to EN applicants who applied before we had the system in place. Those whose applications are deferred for reconsideration in the spring will be invited to submit an online interview.)
And now, turning to the application. The reader’s suggestion was actually to talk about what makes a good applicant, and I promise to return to that subject soon. But today, I want to talk about the application itself. The fact is that applicants who will apply in January can no longer make many significant changes to their credentials. Can you change your work history? Grades for your undergrad study? International experience? No. No. And no. So what power can you still exert over your prospects for admission? Well, you can make sure you submit a good application.
So what distinguishes a good application from a crummy one? Two key points. The first should be obvious, but apparently it isn’t: Follow the directions! Answer every question on the form thoroughly. Never (ever ever) say “please refer to résumé.” Be sure to list all your key professional experiences, even if they were unpaid. Don’t assume we don’t want to know about the two years you spent working in a laboratory when, by omitting this information, you make it appear you were unemployed for all that time. List your recommenders, even though you also need to register them through a separate part of the application. I could go on, but the point should be clear — complete every part of the application form with care.
And the advice is essentially the same for the essays. Follow the directions and make sure you have answered the questions. It’s very frustrating for Admissions Committee readers when they reach the end of the personal statement and still don’t know what the applicant wants to do at Fletcher and beyond. A frustrated application reader is bad news for the applicant. We know you want to recycle the same essay for different schools with different essay prompts. Go ahead and recycle selectively, but you still need to be sure to answer the question.
The second point may be slightly less obvious. Your application has many parts, all of which should work on your behalf. Make sure that each piece tells a little more of your story. Beyond the form itself, make sure your résumé is very clear. Avoid acronyms. We know that you know what your organization, Xybrav, does, but we don’t know, and you should tell us. Do you work for the UN agency UNRAITUSAL? Please remind us what that agency does. Remember that Fletcher is a multidisciplinary place — it’s not realistic (or in your interest) to expect everyone to be equally conversant in all areas. And please, I estimate that there are fewer than five applicants each year who need a résumé longer than about three pages. Carefully consider whether you are truly one of those five. (Hint: Is your graduation year 2011 or later? You do not need more than three pages.)
Make sure your recommendations are all written in English. I know that this is a genuine challenge for many of you, but I cannot guarantee your application will be reviewed by someone who speaks your native language. A letter written in a language no one on the Admissions Committee reads is a wasted letter.
If you’re going to upload your transcripts, ensure they will be legible for us, or we’ll need to contact you to send new ones. Will your transcript copy be covered with warnings that say the photocopy is unofficial? You may need to mail us the original. And way too many people ignore the requirement that they explain their education system’s grading, if it’s not on the 4.0 scale that is common (but not universal) in the U.S. Is your grade of 5 out of 6? Out of 10? Out of 12? Out of 20? All these options would reflect grading systems we have seen. Is your GPA of 1.3 as horrible as it looks in the U.S. context? Or is it as good as it looks in the German context? A passing grade in the U.S. is usually 65. Did your university follow the British convention, in which a 56 might be a good result? As many universities and systems as we know, it is a mistake for you to assume we know yours. If your transcript doesn’t explain it, you should!
Use your essays mindfully. Make sure the second essay tells us something that promotes your candidacy. We still talk about the essay (which, to be fair, was written in response to a since-abandoned prompt) that an applicant sent about how his life’s greatest challenge was getting drunk on his 30th birthday. Need I say more?
Finally, DO NOT WASTE SPACE in your personal statement or second essay addressing shortcomings in your application. Use the “Additional Information” section for that. And if you need to explain your grades or test scores, do not whine.
Last, both before and after you have completed the application (but before you submit it), review the application instructions, which you can find to the right on this page for each program. Make the corrections before you submit the application so that you’re not one of those people who asks us to ignore something they’ve already sent.
There you go. Make us happy with a well-constructed application that tells your story in the best possible way. It will make us respect you as an applicant, and respect is a good thing.
I’m taking a class this fall. It isn’t a regular offering, but it’s taught by a professor at a nearby university, and I’d describe it as similar in workload to the classes I took in college back in the day. Why I didn’t think about homework before signing up is a little bit of a mystery. By the time the class met in September, I was already behind in the reading. I tried to catch up from the first week and didn’t do any of the reading for the second week. Then there were two weeks when we didn’t meet. Good opportunity to catch up, right? No. I was utterly undisciplined and was lucky to have finished the reading for the third class, having abandoned the idea of finishing the work for weeks one and two. I’m prepared for tonight, but I wouldn’t describe my preparation as thorough. Sigh. At least this experience allows me to connect with our sometimes-overwhelmed students.
Whenever I manage to do the reading, there’s another way in which the class connects to my work. As I’ve read, I’ve been contemplating the nature of academic writing. Must it have big multisyllabic words? Or can complex thoughts be expressed in clear language?
Regardless of my ability to achieve my own ideal when I write, I adhere to the concept that clear language is something to which we should aspire, and that use of big words should not be our goal. Why, then, do so many applicants seem to write a draft of their application essays and then randomly select words to which they’ll give the thesaurus treatment? It’s as if they ask, “Why use an ordinary word like ‘ordinary’ when we can substitute ‘quotidian’”?
Dear blog readers, I implore you to consider the readers of your application. We’re all educated people, and we won’t be won over by a thesaurusized essay. Instead, make your essays clear and straightforward. Use a ten-dollar word if it’s natural for you and suits your sentence, but don’t strive to do so because you think the Admissions Committee expects it. Your aim should be to make your experience and objectives clear to the Committee. As you put the finishing touches on your essays for an Early Notification application, or start the process of writing essays for a January application, keep this in mind: plain language can go a long way toward winning over your readers.
Personally, I don’t quite feel ready to start a new admissions cycle, but my foot-dragging doesn’t mean that we’re not there already. Members of our staff are already on the road, and I’ve answered quite a few questions from proactive 2013 applicants. Thus reminded that other people are thinking about their futures, now seems like a good time to offer a few suggestions. For those who are trying to gear up their own graduate school application process, what’s worth doing in the summer?
First, if now’s the best time for you to do your research, consider attending one of the fairs at which Fletcher will be represented, or join us for coffee, or come to campus for an information session and a look around. I always want to be honest and say that Fletcher is a much more dynamic place in September than in July, but schedules are what they are, and you shouldn’t skip a visit in July if it’s your only opportunity.
Second, you can kick off your application preparation. Don’t start the online application yet — the new app won’t be available until later this summer — but you can get ready. If you haven’t taken your standardized tests yet, get them on the calendar, and then start to practice for them. I generally think people don’t get smarter just because they study for the GRE, but they do become better prepared for the GRE — and that counts for a lot in a timed test. The more practice you do, the more confident you’ll feel in the test environment. Same for the TOEFL, IELTS, or GMAT.
And speaking of the GMAT, there have been some changes to the exam. If you’ve taken the GMAT before, you’ll want to make sure you know how it has changed. Fortunately for us, the changes are not as dramatic as those we endured last year with the GRE. No chaos expected.
Next, it’s a good time to pour yourself a nice glass of iced tea, park yourself under a tree, and think about why you want to attend a graduate professional school of international affairs. Most schools you’ll apply to will ask you about your professional and academic objectives, and you should have a nice crisp answer to the question, however it is worded. Also think about your personal story and what makes you prepared for graduate studies. Once you have it all thought out, you’ll be able to answer most of the essay questions you confront without much further thought.
I don’t want to overwork you in the summer (assuming it’s summer where you are), so I’ll stop here for now. Just a little preparatory work that will help you out when it’s time to put together your applications.
Tagged with: Application
Trying to figure out where we are in the application review process, Laurie crunched some numbers yesterday. It seems that there are still 247 applications that were submitted by January 15 but aren’t complete. If your online recommenders submitted their letters (a necessary step before we can download your application), your file is nesting comfortably in a box, and our staff has sent you an email reminder about the missing materials. Please be sure to respond to the email. Is there a reason why your test scores, transcripts, or on-paper recommendations haven’t arrived yet? Tell us why. Can you offer a temporary substitute while we wait for the originals? It’s possible that, with such a placeholder, we’ll be able to go ahead and review your application.
On the other hand, if you know that your online recommender hasn’t submitted his/her letter, it’s probably time to unregister the recommender so that your application can leave cyberspace and arrive at our office. You’ll need to find another recommender, or ask the original recommender to email the letter to us. Even the best letter won’t have its maximum impact if it arrives a month late.
If you haven’t yet responded to your “missing materials” email, or for help with any of these issues, please contact us.
Listen up, last minute applicants. Unless you’re going to do yourself a favor and submit the application today, you’re going to be sending it along while no one is in the Admissions Office. Please don’t assume this means you have extra time — the applications are “date stamped” when submitted, and you should submit yours by 11:59 p.m. EST (GMT-5) on Sunday, January 15, if you’re interested in scholarship consideration.
But what happens if you have a technical problem on Sunday? Step one would be to consult the Application Support page of the Embark website. Maybe one of their FAQs will have the answer you need. As it happens, we virtually never hear that someone was unable to submit an application, so I’m sure you’ll be successful with a little perseverance. But if problems continue, send us an email. We’ll get back to you as soon as we can on Tuesday. Yes, that’s right — Tuesday — because the office, along with the rest of Tufts University, is closed on Monday for the Martin Luther King, Jr. public holiday.
Good luck, everyone. Looking forward to seeing your applications soon!
Could it be that my entreaty to applicants to submit their applications by January 3 yielded a favorable result? Well, I won’t overstate my own value in the admissions process, but there are certainly a lot of applications around. Mail has been flowing into the office. The application forms pour off the printer and go into a file folder. Some stop there for a while, but if the application matches the mail, a complete file may emerge. Some of those complete files have even been heading out to be reviewed by student Admissions Committee members.
On the other hand, there are hundreds of applications still in-progress on applicants’ computers, and I’m not looking to raise anyone’s anxiety. As much as we want to push the process along, you shouldn’t feel pressured to submit until you’re good and ready.
But what can you reasonably do on January 4 to improve your application? Can you make yourself smarter or more professionally accomplished? Probably not. Instead, you should focus on presenting yourself in the best possible way. Accurately complete all parts of the application. Be sure what you have written actually answered the question. Edit your essays. Proofread. Proofread again. Check in with your recommenders to be sure they have their instructions straight (and maybe you’ll find out they have already submitted their letters). Check over your résumé to be sure you’ve spelled out acronyms that won’t be familiar to those of us outside your industry or sector. Proofread.
In short, while we might all agree that applications are restrictive, you should still look at the form and additional documents as your opportunity to tell us who you are. Make good use of each part of the application. If you do, since we look carefully at every page in the file, we’ll soon develop a multi-faceted picture of you.
One last thing. Somewhere deep in the application instructions, we ask you to tell us about the grading system at your university if it doesn’t use a standard ABCDF four-point scale. Please don’t ignore this request. A short explanation will go a long way toward helping us interpret your academic record. If you have already submitted an application but you haven’t included the explanation, you are welcome to email it to us.
My daughter Kayla, under pressure both internally generated and externally imposed by her mother, submitted the last of her college applications early last week. A brief family celebration marked the final application fee payment. Now she can start to track the applications and ensure they’re complete, followed by sitting back and relaxing (until it’s time to fret about the results).
Dear blog reader, do you envy Kayla? Why not join her? If you submit your application by January 3, we’ll have two work weeks before the January 15 deadline in which to unite your application with test scores and other materials. In fact, so long as your online recommendations have been received, you’ll be able to monitor your file’s completion before our more, well, deadline-pushing applicants have even submitted theirs.
(And if your recommenders haven’t yet submitted their letters, the fact that your application is waiting for them may just be the little nudge they need.)
To be sure, I’m not telling you to submit essays that you haven’t had time to proofread, or transcripts that will be updated in just a few days. If there’s a reason why your application will be better or more complete on January 15 than it is now, then you should certainly wait. But I know there are a lot of you out there, who either aren’t yet feeling much time pressure, or who actually have all the essays written and forms complete, but simply can’t bear to press the button.
Do it, intrepid applicant — take the plunge and submit the application. Start the year off right.
Decisions on our Early Notification applications went out on Friday, and we’re receiving questions on what it all means. If you’ve been admitted, congratulations! I’ll assume you don’t require much more explanation. On the other end of the happiness spectrum, for the second year, we denied admission to some applicants and, when appropriate, informed the applicant that the missing piece is professional experience. We always feel some regret in denying applicants, but we hope it will help applicants make informed decisions on where else they should apply.
That leaves those whose application was deferred to the spring round. These applicants will have their credentials reviewed again in the context of the larger application pool. Applicants who were deferred are invited to update us on changes to their status. New grades or test scores definitely should be submitted. An additional recommendation or a new résumé that sheds light on your recent activities can also be valuable. The bottom line is that you’re welcome to update us, but please be sure that whatever you send is really an update. If the same information is already in your file, there’s little to be gained from sending it a second time.
The deadline for PhD and Map Your Future applications is tomorrow, so the Admissions Office is making a quick shift of focus. If you have further general questions about the deferrals, please include them as comments below. If general themes emerge, I’ll address them in an additional blog post.
I had my reading day at home on Thursday, which was, overall, blissful. I started off a little slow, but soon got back into a groove and motored through a big pile of applications. Along the way, I noticed a particular phenomenon that I want to bring to your attention (in order to convince you to avoid it). I read several applications that included detailed information about the applicant’s job experience — information that, nonetheless, left me in the dark.
If I wanted to, I could be uninformative, too. For example, instead of wearing down my typing fingers, I could list my employer as “FSLD/TU.” My résumé could note that I have “transmitted actionable information to customer base via social media.” Neither is wrong, exactly, but the résumé would be much more helpful if it said that I work at the Fletcher School and I write a blog for the Admissions Office.
When you prepare the résumé to accompany your application, remember that your reader is in a different part of the country/world and works in higher education. If your organization goes by a name that doesn’t hint at its mission, please give us some clues. Just a few words (in common English) about what it’s all about will go a long way. And even if everyone in your industry knows exactly what V2RRX means, when you apply to grad school you’re not writing for people in your industry. Please provide a hint as to V2RRX’s meaning.
It’s always possible that applicants are trying to obscure the nature of their work, but that wasn’t my assumption on Thursday. It’s more likely that they didn’t stop to consider that a résumé written for one audience won’t be as useful for others. If you haven’t yet submitted your application, please be sure that it includes clear information about the nature of your work.
Continuing to explore the commonalities between undergraduate and grad school admissions processes, I’ll point you toward a New York Times education blog post on cutting an application essay down in length. Though Fletcher doesn’t limit you to 500 words in the first essay, you’d be surprised how many people find it challenging to state their purpose in even 800 words.
In case you’re curious, we do not count the words in each essay. But read enough writing on the same theme and you, too, would quickly develop a sense of what’s too short and what’s too long. My recommendation: Practice pith! Our tired eyes will appreciate it. Word count: 107.
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