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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!
With the deadline coming on a Friday this year, I thought it would be helpful to tell you what to expect after you submit an application, even if you haven’t yet submitted yours. As I wrote earlier this week, we’ve been keeping up with the applications that were submitted ahead of the deadline, and the printer is churning out the ones that arrived overnight. We’ll keep going until 5:00 p.m., but any further compiling of applications will wait until Monday.
In other words, we won’t be updating applications over the weekend. But even when we’re back in the office on Monday, we need to ask you to remain patient for a few days while we compile and process your application.
By “patient,” I mean: Please don’t contact us on Monday to ask about an application that was submitted today! Everything will come together very soon, so hold tight, and when you start to worry anew about whether you’ve done everything you need to, reread this blog post. Meanwhile, here’s the rundown of what happens when an application is submitted, whether you followed my advice and applied early or will wait until 11:59 EST tonight.
1. Once you hit the online “submit” button, your application is “stamped” with the date and time. The electronic application then waits within the Embark system for your registered online recommenders to do their work. If all your recommenders have already submitted their letters, or if you haven’t registered any online recommenders, the application will be ready for us immediately, and we’ll upload it into our internal program. (If your recommenders haven’t done their part, it’s your responsibility to remind them that the deadline has passed.)
2. When your application (with online recommendations) is uploaded, you’ll receive an automatically generated email stating that we have received your application, and that you should wait ten business days before contacting the Admissions Office about any missing materials. The email also provides you with a username and password to access the Tufts Graduate Application Management System (GAMS). GAMS will be the best way to track your application. We’ll also be posting decision letters to your GAMS account, so hang on to your username and password! Remember that we don’t receive your application (and you don’t receive the email) if the application is stuck in Embark, waiting for recommendations. And contacting a member of the Admissions staff will generally give you only the information you can access yourself through GAMS. (After a few weeks, there’s more that we can do to help track materials down.)
3. Uploaded applications are printed in batches. Once we have the paper copy, we create a file folder for you, giving you a tangible presence in the Admissions Office.
4. Meanwhile, Admissions Office staffers will open the daily piles of envelopes holding test scores, transcripts, letters of recommendation from recommenders who weren’t registered online, etc. We sort and file the mail. If the application hasn’t yet been uploaded, the paper materials will “wait” for it to emerge from the system.
5. Once we have your application in a file folder, we dig out the mail that has already been received for you and include it. Then we manually update your record in the admissions system to show what materials have come in by mail. You should track your application through GAMS, but we’ll also email you if there’s a document missing. This is the ten-day process I referred to in point 2 above. If you’re not patient, GAMS will alarm you by indicating we haven’t received anything at all. Until we manually process your application materials, the information in GAMS is not complete. Keep on top of things, but remember that the registering of your materials won’t happen immediately.
6. Your completed application is then given to Committee members to review, and you’ll receive your admission decision in late March.
The bottom line: Make sure you monitor your application, but give us a little time to pull everything together. In only about two weeks, everyone who has submitted all the materials needed for an application should find accurate and reassuring information on GAMS. So long as you submitted the application by the deadline, you can relax for a few days while we do our work.
So often we’re asked a question that can take two forms, depending on who’s asking:
1. What type of work should I do after completing my undergraduate degree to prepare me for Fletcher?
2. Does my professional experience make me a good candidate for admission to Fletcher?
As I’ve written before, there’s (alas) no correct answer to these questions. The professional experience that will be valuable for one post-Fletcher career may not help to advance another. Nonetheless, though there’s never going to be a tidy answer to pass along, that doesn’t mean I can’t guide you toward a better understanding of why such brief questions elicit such unwieldy responses. To do so, I thought I’d connect readers to sources on the blog and elsewhere through which you can see for yourself the diversity of our students’ pre-Fletcher experience.
I’ll start off my experience round-up by pointing you toward several blog features. First, there are the Five-Year Updates. In these posts, alumni describe their paths to and through Fletcher, and you can see how they have brought together their pre-Fletcher work and Fletcher studies to launch new careers. There’s also the growing feature on First-Year Alumni. Naturally, these graduates don’t yet have the perspective of their fellow alums who graduated earlier, but you might like to see how everything (Fletcher and pre-Fletcher experience) comes together directly after leaving Fletcher. I’ll be adding more posts from our 2013 graduates throughout the coming months. Finally, there are the posts in the Student Stories feature. Although the writers this year and last cover an assortment of topics, each of them provides an introductory post.
Beyond the blog, there are many student profiles on the Fletcher website. You can find a selection of students who entered in 2011, 2012, and 2013, as well as recent alumni. If you prefer, you can also access profiles by degree program on the MALD, MIB, MA, LLM, and PhD pages.
With the application deadline coming up on Friday, maybe this is an odd time to be providing information like this. On the other hand, I know that applicants’ questions on their credentials don’t actually stop when they submit the application. Maybe this isn’t such an odd time after all.
Do I need to say anything that the title of this post doesn’t already say? A little context, maybe?
Every year, the majority of our applicants wait until the last (or nearly last) minute to submit their applications. Meanwhile, as the clock ticks down, they anguish, stress, and contact the office to ask for a clearer definition of “January 10 deadline.”
Seriously. I’m asking.
Why would you risk the anxiety and hassle (and potential missed deadline) involved in waiting until the very last minute? And why take the time to ask whether a January 10 deadline means by close of business or before midnight?
Today is December 23. Eighteen days remain before January 10. Use 17 of them industriously, and you will not need to contact us for clarification of the deadline.
So, yes, dear blog readers, I am imploring you to do something good for yourself. Please submit your application before the deadline. Not so early that it’s incomplete, mind you, but early enough that you can relax while imagining other people’s frenzy on January 10.
And for the record: applications must be submitted by 11:59 p.m. EST (GMT-5) on January 10.
Tagged with: deadlines
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