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It’s December 31, the last day of 2014 and the day on which I’m going to beg applicants to resolve to be kind to themselves in 2015. Yes, the kind thing to do is to submit your application on a day that is earlier than January 10.
You can certainly make the choice to be that person who emails me on the morning of the 10th asking whether the deadline refers to the close of business or 11:59 p.m. (Or, we can skip that step — the deadline is 11:59 p.m. EST on the 10th.) Why, for the sake of all that is admission-worthy, would you do that? Instead, pick your own personal target deadline — January 9 at 1:00 p.m. sounds enticing — and submit the application then.
You may wonder what benefit there could be to submitting early, especially because an early application doesn’t increase your likelihood of gaining admission. The benefits are partly internal (your peace of mind on the 10th, when you know that your fellow applicants are super stressed) and partly practical. The 10th is a Saturday and the office will be closed. On the 9th, if you encounter any sort of technical problem, you’ll be able to call us and fix it. If you aim even earlier than the 9th — the 5th for example — you may even receive confirmation that your application is complete before other people have submitted theirs!
I hasten to add that you should not submit an incomplete or sloppy application ahead of the deadline, solely for that peace of mind that I referred to. I’m making the assumption that you’ve been working on this for some time, and all that’s holding you back is a vague sense that you shouldn’t yet press “go.” I’m here to tell you to do it! Submit that completed application, and then relax.
Tagged with: deadlines
The other day, Liz dug deep into the blog archives and found a post that is no less relevant now than it was in 2012. The post considered what a good application looks like, and I’m going to shamelessly draw from it today — not quite repeating it completely, but not writing something fresh, either. The office may be closed today, but I know that applications are still being prepared — here’s a little bit of help for you.
So what does make a good application? Naturally, the best applications will reflect strong academic potential, relevant and rich international and professional experience, and a clear focus for your graduate studies and beyond. Well, from where I stand in December, there’s not much someone can do to improve those credentials before applying by January 10. On the other hand, it’s really important for applicants to note that even the best of you can be bumped down a couple of notches with a sloppily constructed application.
Let’s talk, then, about those aspects of your application that you can still influence. 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. 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 (after all, that’s what I’m doing today!), 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 of the application 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 2013 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. And note that recommenders can also help you tell your story. Talk to them, and explain what would be helpful for them to say. Were you taking an impossibly heavy course load as an undergraduate? That’s a point that your recommender can make even more effectively than you can!
When you upload your transcripts, ensure they will be legible for us, or we’ll need to contact you to send new ones. Remember that what we want is a scanned copy of an OFFICIAL transcript. Not a copy that is covered with warnings that the photocopy is unofficial. 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 a maximum 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 awful 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?
Next, 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.
And, finally, both before and after you have completed the application (but before you submit it), review the application instructions. Make all needed 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.
All Early Notification applicants should know by now that decisions were released earlier this week. To those who were admitted, congratulations! I hope you’ll enjoy the extra time to plan for your graduate studies. You will be hearing from members of the Admissions staff to whom you can send your questions. We’re really happy to start growing the September 2015 entering class! All that said, this post is not so much for you.
Next, let me say that I’m sorry to bid farewell to a group of applicants who were denied admission. We always regret making these difficult decisions, but we hope it will help the applicants make their choices on where else they should apply.
This post is really for those applicants whose applications were deferred for review in the spring, a good news/bad news situation. The bad news is the lack of happy admissions news, but the good news is that you still have the opportunity to try to bring about happy news in March. Our Admissions Committee will gladly review an update to your application! But what makes a useful addition? Here’s a list of updates that we particularly value:
- An updated transcript that reflects grades received since you submitted your application;
- New standardized exam (GRE, GMAT, TOEFL, IELTS) score reports;
- A revised résumé that includes information on a new job position;
- An additional recommendation that sheds light on an aspect of your background you weren’t able to illuminate in other parts of the application.
Before I go on, I’ll emphasize that no one is required to submit an update. Not at all! But you are invited to submit one, and why would you turn down this opportunity?
What type of optional update is best for you? Well, the first thing to do is consider whether you have your own suspicions regarding weaker aspects of your application. Are those aspects something you can improve on? For example, did you decide it would be better not to mention the causes of your weak undergraduate semester? I’d encourage you to explain it, particularly if it pulls down your overall GPA. Did you indicate that your language skills are not strong enough to pass our proficiency exam? Send us information on your plan for achieving proficiency before the end of the summer. Did you mistype your years of employment at a certain job, making it look like you were there for two months, rather than four years and two months? You can make that correction now. And, if your GRE/GMAT scores were significantly lower than you expected, you may want to take the test again.
Another suggestion: If, upon reflection, your essay didn’t state your goals as clearly as you would have liked, send us a clarifying email! We won’t substitute it for your personal statement, but it will certainly be reviewed. This could be particularly helpful if you’ve taken steps to learn more about your ultimate career goal.
Possible additions to your application need not be limited to what I’ve listed above. The key question to ask yourself is: Does this actually add anything? If the information is already included in your application, then there’s there’s not much value in sending it again. That is, an additional academic recommendation will add little to an application that already includes three. On the other hand, a professional recommendation will add a lot to an application that only includes academic recommendations. Think it through before you flood us with info, but don’t hesitate to send us something that will give your application a happy bump.
Whether you were offered admission this week, or you were told we’ll reconsider your application in the spring, we look forward to hearing from you and to working with you during the coming months. Please be sure to be in touch if you have questions.
Tagged with: Early Notification
PhD applicants: You’re part of a small subset of our total group of applicants, but you certainly have the most complex application! Last week, our student interns were taking questions daily about the finer point of the process, but many questions revolved around the dissertation proposal requirement. Yes, we know that a formal dissertation proposal is often a post-coursework requirement in other PhD programs. In fact, that’s the case here, too. So what are we looking for in the proposal that should accompany your application? Well, let’s start with the instructions.
PhD Proposal (1,500 words maximum, single-spaced, Arial 12 point font)
Your PhD Proposal should include:
- A title
- A researchable topic: what question do you propose to study and what evidence are you bringing to bear?
- A brief overview of the literature of the field
- A short description of the proposed methodology for research: how does your research question fit into the existing body of scholarship? How do you propose to answer your research question? What methodologies do you propose to use?
The purpose of this preliminary proposal is to ensure there is a good match between the applicant’s interests and the expertise among the faculty at Fletcher. It’s expected that your interests will be refined as you complete classes for the program, but it’s also expected that the subject of your research focus will remain essentially the same.
The other most-often-asked question regards the master’s thesis. Again, let’s turn to the instructions:
MA Thesis or a writing sample of approximately 40 pages (in English)
Please upload a copy of your thesis to the online application. If your master’s program did not require the writing of a thesis, you can provide a substantial writing sample as a substitute, so long as you are the sole author.
There are two reasons behind this requirement. First, all Fletcher PhD students must complete a master’s thesis. If they haven’t done so in their master’s degree program, they need to write one while at Fletcher. Second, and more important for admissions purposes, the faculty on the PhD Admissions Committee want to see that you can make an argument and follow it through — the kind of research and writing work that you will need to do as a student here. As the instructions note, you can submit another research paper, but you’ll want to be sure that it’s a good representative sample of your best work. Often we’re asked whether a shorter paper will do the trick. Well, um, I guess…but do you want to be judged on the basis of a ten-page paper when everyone else is presenting 50 pages? Give it some thought and then try to find the best possible example of your writing.
Our online application system tells me that dozens of PhD applicants are in the process of completing their applications. With five days leading to the December 20 deadline, I hope these notes will be helpful for those who are wrapping up their materials.
Tagged with: PhD
Christine is one of the members of the Fletcher and greater Tufts team that has developed our new application. For our last day of Application Boot Camp, let her tell you about it.
After months of hard work, we are thrilled to announce that our brand new application is live! Why is this so great, you ask? The application is user-friendly, simply designed, and intuitive. There is no clunky interface loaded with instructions that seem to be in a foreign language. There is no formatting that looks like the application came straight out of the 1980s. Really, it is a dream, and I cannot wait for you to experience it for yourselves!
To enter the portal of excellence that is the online application, go to the Apply to Fletcher page on the Admissions site. When you are ready, click on the Start an Application button in the right hand navigation, follow the simple instructions to create a profile, and get started!
Admissions Boot Camp doesn’t lend itself to photos, but here’s one anyway — Fletcher on one of the beautiful days we’ve had this week. And now we’ll return to business…
There are a few elements of the application that allow you significant freedom to determine their content. The first (and most flexible) is your résumé — a great place to slip all sorts of information that you want to share with us. Naturally, you’ll include all the usual elements — professional experience, academic background, etc. — but you can add details that you can’t otherwise fit into the application. Some of this freedom comes from the amount of space you’ll have to work with. You don’t need to feel limited to a one-page résumé; up to three pages can be fine, though longer than that is usually a negative. You can then include descriptions (for example) of community work that is relevant to your application, or links to publications that you want us to look at, or a link to the website for your successful sideline knitting business, or a list of your relevant skills.
Use the résumé to help us understand your workplace, too. If everyone uses an abbreviation for your organization, the résumé is a great place to spell it out for us, and also tell us what it does. It’s really best to assume we don’t know — a lot of eyes will review your application, and it’s likely that someone will be seeing the name of your organization for the first time. If the organization provided great preparation for Fletcher, you’ll surely want to tell us about it — don’t leave us guessing what you did.
For those of you accustomed to a longer c.v., I’d encourage you to look around for a sample of an American-style résumé. It isn’t that we can’t deal with the c.v., but you’ll end up hiding some of the information you want to highlight. You’ll find a zillion samples online.
Another area of the application (or application process) that allows you significant opportunity to expand upon your background is the optional evaluative interview. I never know why people who live near Fletcher don’t at least try to schedule an interview. The face-to-face meeting really can only help your application, and you’ll have the opportunity to gather information that gives a boost to your essays. (In fact, I always suggest trying to schedule the interview before submitting the application. Leave the door open to learning something helpful during your visit!)
For those who are located farther away, we hope you’ll appreciate the option of participating in an interview via Skype. Yes, video conversations are a little awkward for all of us, but the interview will, again, only help your application.
Both the interview and the résumé are the finishing touches for your application, allowing you to flesh out the story you want to tell. As I suggested in my post about the essays, think about your application as a whole and slip the details in wherever they fit best. Your résumé or interview might just be the best place.
What role do recommendations play in a Fletcher application? Well, from Fletcher’s point of view, a useful recommendation sheds light on a particular phase of an applicant’s background. For example, the applicant’s transcript tells us that a student was successful as an undergraduate, but a professor’s recommendation can go much farther in telling us about the student’s experience. From the perspective of you, the applicant, a useful recommendation affirms that you’re terrific, but also adds detail about your academic or professional experience. Remember that we would like to see at least one letter from someone who can comment on your academic background. Ideally, one letter will come from a professional contact. The source of the third letter is up to you, but if you have been working for a while, a second professional recommendation makes the most sense.
Here’s a recipe for arranging supportive recommendations to accompany your application.
1. Choose your recommenders carefully. If they don’t know you well, they won’t be able to write a good letter. Ideally, this process will have started way before you find Fletcher’s online application, but if it didn’t, you can still make up for lost time.
2. Once you have selected the people you would like to ask for a recommendation, be sure to ask them directly if they can write a favorable letter. Some recommenders would rather write the letter than acknowledge to a former student or employee that they don’t have anything (or anything positive) to say. A useful technique is to invite them to tell you that now is an inconvenient time — suggesting that you understand they’re busy and they shouldn’t feel obliged to write. This little bit of diplomacy may go a long way in giving those you ask a gentle way to say no. We hate reading unfavorable letters that the recommenders should have declined to write. And, of course, some people are truly too busy at a certain time to take on the additional task. You want to be sure the letter will eventually arrive. Someone who agrees to write but never gets around to it isn’t much help to you.
3. Related to the above, ask early, to give the recommenders time to write the letter. You can keep an eye on their progress through the application management system. It’s up to you to provide the gentle reminders that the recommender may need.
4. When you ask the recommender to write a letter for you, provide as much information as you can. If it’s a former professor, send along a current résumé and maybe a piece of writing that you did for him/her. For both academic and professional contacts, in addition to the résumé, you might want to include a draft of your personal statement, so that they will know what you are planning for your future career. You should also provide a description of Fletcher (graduate professional school of international affairs) so that it’s clear what sort of degree you’re pursuing.
5. If there’s an aspect of your application that needs an explanation that you can’t find a place for, a good option may be to have your recommender provide it. For example, let’s say that you worked several years for a small organization. The recommender can tell us more about your employer than you have space for on your résumé. Another example: let’s say that your academic record was good, but you started off a little wobbly. Explain the situation to your academic recommender, and have him/her tell us about it. Your professor will be familiar with your university and can provide insight into your background.
6. Send a thank you note after the recommender has written the letter. Send another thank you note after you have received your admissions decisions. I hope that your attention to Application Boot Camp will bring you great results in the admissions process, but the reality is that you may be admitted to some programs and not admitted to others. Send the thank you note regardless of how successful you were. You may need that recommender again. Whether you do or not, sending the thank you is just plain good manners.
In case it’s still unclear, I’ll close by saying that you’ll never be able to completely control the content of your recommendation letters. But putting thought into the selection of your recommenders, and effort into informing them about your background and plans, gives you your best chance of ensuring your letters will be supportive and will meet the needs of your application. Finally, if your recommender is unfamiliar with the process, consider pointing him/her to a previous post that we wrote with recommenders in mind.
As I mentioned last week, Application Boot Camp is a joint effort between my Admissions pal, Christine, and me. Today, Christine gives you the skinny on test scores and transcripts.
Test scores and transcripts are two key parts of your application, and they can take time to prepare. Let’s start by delving into what standardized tests are required.
All MALD, MA, MIB, and PhD applicants are required to submit scores from either the GRE or GMAT exam. Fletcher does not use cutoffs for GRE or GMAT scores, as we review all applications holistically and the scores are just one part of the overall application; however, they are an important part, and should be taken seriously. Preparing for the tests can be time consuming and some locations do not offer testing days as often as others.
A good strategy for picking a test date for the GRE or GMAT is to work backwards from the application due date. Pick a test date early enough for the scores to arrive by the deadline, but also leave yourself time to at least familiarize yourself with the exam format (or even put in some serious review). Do you want the option of taking the exam twice? Be sure to factor in the extra time for two exam dates. For applicants who have taken the tests more than once, we look at the highest score from each section. Additionally, we require official test score reports that must be sent to us directly from the testing service. This typically takes about two weeks, so if you are planning to apply by the January 10th application deadline, you should have your scores ordered by the end of December. GRE and GMAT scores are valid for five years — after that you will not be able to order an official score report.
International applicants for all programs (including the LLM) may be required to take the TOEFL, IELTS, or PTE in addition to the GRE or GMAT. You must submit this additional test if your native language is not English and you have not earned a university degree (undergraduate degree, or graduate degree lasting two or more years) in which English was the language of instruction. A score of 100 on the Internet-based TOEFL (with sub-scores of 25 on each section), 7 on the IELTS (with sub-scores of 7 on each section), or 68 on the PTE is generally considered evidence of sufficient English language ability for admission to Fletcher. As with the GRE or GMAT, it does take some time for these test scores to reach us, and you should plan accordingly.
TRANSCRIPTS are another central part of your application as they provide us with insight into your prior academic work. A transcript is required for all previously attended undergraduate or graduate institutions. (Note that we do not need high school results, regardless of where you attended high school.) Transcripts are required for study-abroad semesters if the grades and course names do not appear on your home institution’s transcript. If you transferred schools during your studies, you will need to provide transcripts from both the transfer school and graduating school. Additionally, if your transcripts are not in English they will need to be accompanied by a certified English translation. This means you cannot translate it yourself! You will need to take the transcript to a certified translator, and then submit to Fletcher both the original transcript and the translation, accompanied by the translator’s signed and stamped declaration of a true translation. A bank, post office, or university may be able to help you find translators.
Unlike test scores, transcripts can be uploaded to your online application and do not need to be mailed to us in hard copy. (We actually would prefer not to receive any hard copies at this stage!) You will need to upload a scanned copy of your official transcript. We cannot accept a copy of your unofficial online print-out. Like test scores, transcripts can take time to obtain and we would recommend that you start gathering these as soon as possible.
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.
Applicants, listen up! My Admissions pal, Christine, and I have been cooking up a week of tips and suggestions to help you as you think about your application to Fletcher for January or September 2015. We’ll be running through all the key parts of the application and we strongly encourage you to pay attention!
Christine and I have been thinking about this little feature since the summer began, actually sitting down to write it only last week – yes, even we procrastinate! We’re calling it Application Boot Camp, and here’s the schedule:
Monday: Writing good essays
Tuesday: Test scores and transcripts
Wednesday: Arranging for supportive recommendations
Thursday: Finishing touches – interviews, résumés, and other things under your control
Friday: Using the online application
The posts will be tagged so that you can read them now and refer back later on to double check that you’re following our instructions.
See you at Boot Camp on Monday!
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