Currently viewing the category: "Admissions Tips"

Swinging back to application-related topics, a prospective student asked me to write about the sort of information that should be provided to a recommender when requesting a letter.  GOOD QUESTION!  Applicants don’t always maximize the value of their recommendations.  For example, the best (i.e. most convincing) person to explain the reasons behind a student’s academic difficulties is a professor, but few applicants ask their professors to provide context on their overall academic record.

This summer, we’ve pulled together some suggestions for recommenders.  Eventually, the list will find a home on the website where recommenders can see it, but today’s post offers a sneak preview of points that could be helpful as you ask professors and supervisors to write for you.

First, though, some suggestions for you, as recommendation requester:

  • Tip #1 is to give the recommender plenty of time/warning to write the recommendation letter.  You can’t expect a high quality letter if you’re making requests two days before the deadline.  (Also be sure to make the deadline clear.)
  • Tip #2 is to share your résumé and your statement of purpose (first application essay) with your recommender.  The statement will tell your recommender what you hope to accomplish at Fletcher, so that the letter can be relevant to your goals.
  • Tip #3 is to provide your recommender with a little information about Fletcher.  Though many letters we receive each year were written by people whose names we see regularly, you shouldn’t assume that someone knows the school.  It’s frustrating for us when we read a letter about an applicant’s potential for law school.

And now, our suggestions for the recommender:

A typical letter of recommendation for a Fletcher application is between one and two pages in length.  A letter that is too short may provide insufficient detail, while a letter that is longer than two pages may be more than needed for the application.  Your letter will be of greatest value if you provide specific and targeted observations, particularly regarding your personal interactions with the applicant.

If you are writing about the applicant’s academic experience:

  • Indication of why a student succeeded (or failed) in a class is helpful. Even if it seems obvious that an “A” grade demonstrates the student’s strength, the context for the grade is useful.  The academic recommendations are among the few qualitative ways we have to understand a student’s academic capacity, and we appreciate understanding how a student excels (not simply that the student did excel).  It can also be useful when recommenders mention what percent of students get an A in the class.
  • Be sure to note it if a student took the time to get to know you outside of class (through research, office hours, etc.).  This is often a helpful indicator of how they will act in graduate school.

If you are writing about the applicant’s professional experience:

  • It is useful to know about the applicant’s progress in and contributions to your organization, rather than simply what position the individual held.
  • If the applicant performed any functions that are relevant to academic work, it is helpful if you bring them to our attention.  Some examples are research, writing, data collection or analysis, or work within a team.
  • An assessment of the applicant’s professional potential also contributes to our evaluation of the application.  As a professional school, we want to know that students will be able to achieve their career goals.
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Today is the last day of classes for the spring 2013 semester, and it’s also the last day of Fletcher classes for (Dear) Ariel.  There are many second-year students I will wish to thank in person or in the blog for their contributions to the community, and Ariel will be the first.

Ariel started work as an Admissions Intern in September 2011 and she is the quiet super-charged engine of the student staff.  There’s no task that she doesn’t complete efficiently, and that includes writing a Dear Ariel column.  A typical week had me sauntering over to her on a Tuesday at noon and asking if, based on questions turning up by email, she had any ideas for a blog post.  By 12:30, a perfect piece of writing was in my inbox.

Ariel’s final column today returns to the basics of advising prospective applicants.  Next year I’ll face the challenge of finding another writer who may come close to Ariel’s efficiency and skill.  For now:  Thanks, Dear Ariel!

Dear Ariel: Is my GPA competitive for Fletcher?

ArielEvery student admitted by Fletcher’s Committee on Admissions must be able to succeed in Fletcher classes, and the applicant’s academic profile is the most important aspect of an application.  But academic potential (which is indicated primarily by GPA, test scores, and recommendations) is still only one part of the application.  We seek students who, by virtue of their background, achievement, and experience, can contribute to the education of their peers and to the scholarship and practice of international relations.  Even a strong GPA, in the absence of international and professional experience, does not guarantee admission.  Since Fletcher students come from a broad range of educational backgrounds that utilize different grading scales, calculating an average GPA for all admitted students is impossible.  Among admitted students who attended colleges or universities using a 4.0 scale, the middle fifty percent of GPAs has fallen in the range of 3.4 to 3.8 in recent years.

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Even during the heart of the admissions process, applicants write in with questions about whether their applications are competitive.  Here Ariel makes a rare Tuesday appearance to lay it all out in the most basic way.

Dear Ariel: What are the characteristics of a successful MALD applicant?

Fletcher actively seeks to enroll a diverse class of students who have demonstrated academic excellence, have a wide range of personal, professional, and academic experience, and have a strong commitment to an international career. We seek students who, by virtue of their background, achievement, and experience, can contribute to the education of their peers and to the scholarship and practice of international relations. In general, applicants must demonstrate research ability and a strong familiarity with a second language, and hold a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent. All students must have proven English language proficiency. Fletcher students come from a wide range of undergraduate majors, including international relations and other social sciences, the humanities, business, and physical sciences and engineering. It is suggested (but not required) that students take microeconomics and macroeconomics prior to enrollment.

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This seems like a good time to provide an admissions process update.  As I’ve written before, the Fletcher Admissions Committee is reviewing cases every week — even as we keep reading.  Other schools may review all the applications in a series of end-of-process mega-sessions, but that’s not how we do it, and we still have several weekly Admissions Committee meetings left.  We also have a new crop of applications that arrived by the February 10 deadline.  Some have already been read, while others are waiting for those last recommendations or other credentials.

Even after all the applications have been reviewed, there’s a lot more work to be done, including scholarship consideration.  Personally, I don’t quite see the light at the end of the tunnel.  More of a halfway-there feeling.

This is also a convenient moment to answer a question that blog readers may be thinking, but aren’t necessarily asking.  That is:  I submitted my application in January (or November or February).  Is there anything I should be adding to it now?

The answer is that there aren’t useful additions now, with one big exception.  If you have new test scores, new grades for fall 2012 courses, or a résumé that reflects a new job, then I would encourage you to send them in.  You never know — the Admissions Committee may be holding on your application, in hopes that your most recent grades will arrive.  Or maybe that promotion at your job might be just enough to nudge your application toward admission.  So if you have new information in one of those categories, please send it in.

I also should say that some additional information is just not helpful.  Have you been kicking yourself since January 10 about a typo in your personal statement?  The best policy is simply to let it go.  Sending an updated personal statement, or a résumé with a new font but no new content, is not likely to boost your cause, and may have a negative effect.  So stop ruminating over a phrase that could have been worded more elegantly, and use your time to think through your financial plans, as well as to enjoy this quiet moment before grad schools start releasing decisions next month.

And now, I’m off to this week’s Admissions Committee meeting!


It took Ariel and me a couple of weeks to coordinate to start up for the spring semester.  Today, Ariel regretfully takes on a topic she covered in the fall.  Regretfully because so many people didn’t read it then.  It’s good info.  Please read what Ariel has to say.

Dear Ariel:  I submitted my application for the January 10th deadline.  Have you received by GRE scores yet?  My recommendation letters?  My transcripts?  Is my application complete?

Because we get a lot of mail and phone calls, the easiest (and fastest) way to find out if you have any missing items is to check our online application system.  After you submitted your application, you should have received an email with your username and password to login to the Tufts Graduate and Professional Schools Application Management System.  We like to call it GAMS for short.  If you didn’t receive this message, check your spam folder.  If you still can’t find the email, do not distress!  Just email us and we will send you a new username and password.

You can login to GAMS to check the status of your application, and also to see if you are missing any application materials.  To be extra sure you know if something is missing, we’ll also contact you to tell you what hasn’t arrived.

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Despite the looming application deadline (or, perhaps, because of it), the Admissions staff will be meeting off-site today to plan for the coming deluge and all that follows.  Fortunately, Katherine thought ahead and has tips for those of you putting the finishing touches on your application.

The pace is really picking up here in the Admissions Office!  Just as many of you are scrambling to pull together your applications by the big deadline — January 10 — we’re already busy processing the first waves of applications we’ve received.  By now you’ve all heard your share of tips from other members of the Admissions Staff:  Liz offered up suggestions on how to approach the new online interview, Christine gave her seasoned advice specifically for international applicants, and there’s even a blog category dedicated to Admissions Tips.   As the admissions coordinator, I see every beautiful/messy/thorough/spotty application that passes through the office, so I thought I would offer up my advice on how to put all the physical pieces together to put forward your strongest possible application.

First, and you’ve heard this before, read the directions!  It should be obvious from the application and the instructions exactly what you need to submit.  The application inspector (Step 6) is a huge help.  The instructions can be found in a lot of places, including here.  (Read them now, even if you don’t plan on applying until next fall.)  Remember to plan extra time for some pieces to reach us, such as test scores that need to come directly from the testing service.

Second, double-check your uploads!  It’s rare that applicants submit two copies of their personal statement instead of both their personal statement and their essay, but it happens. Even more unfortunate is when an applicant uploads a draft of the personal statement, complete with comments we’re never meant to see.

Third, provide clear transcripts!  We prefer to see a scanned copy of your official transcript as opposed to a printout of the online version.  If, for some reason, you need to submit an online printout, please make sure it clearly states the institution you attended.  We won’t give you credit for a transcript if it doesn’t have the school’s name!  Remember to submit a transcript for each institution you listed on the educational institutions page (page 3 of the application form).  And remember that, if we can’t read your transcript, your application will be incomplete and we are going to ask you for another one.  Make sure it’s legible!

Fourth, use page 11! The Additional Information section is invaluable to you and to us.  Use it to explain anything that may not be obvious in your submitted materials.  Perhaps your study abroad semester is buried within a different school’s transcript.  Perhaps you took a summer language course but it didn’t provide a transcript.  Maybe you are currently enrolled in a class and the grade(s) will be available after our deadline.  Don’t make us guess about these things — use the Additional Information section to tell us.

Fifth, make it clear who your recommenders are.  There are two places on the application where you have to list their information:  page 1 of the application form and step 5.  Make sure that these sections match.  If they don’t, I look like this: [imagine person sitting at a desk with a big speech bubble above her head filled with question marks].

Sixth, make sure your information is clean and clear.  Capitalize your name.  Spell out your street address.  We know it’s a lot of work to put together a complete application:  make it shine!

Seventh, don’t send duplicates.  Feel free to upload an unofficial transcript if the official one is going to take longer to get to us.  Please do not send us or email us all of the pieces that you already submitted online — if we are missing anything, we will notify you directly.

Eighth, standardized test scores are required.  An application is incomplete without them.  If you want your application to be complete, submit your official test scores.  If you took them shortly before submitting your application, indicate your test date so that we can keep an eye out for them.

Ninth, try to get everything to us at the same time.  We happily accept pieces, when appropriate, though mail and email, though in most cases you should be able to submit everything online.  If we can pair everything up and complete your application at once, you’re golden!  Having a complete file that follows the directions is a good way to indicate right off the bat that you’re prepared for the demands of a rigorous graduate program.

Finally, relax!  If you’ve done all of these things, chances are you’ve submitted an excellent physical application.  We look carefully at every application that comes in and we will assuredly reach out to you in the event we need anything.  In this case, no news is good news.

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Yes, I’m happy to repeat myself.  Please do yourself a favor and submit the application before the deadline.  If we receive it by Tuesday, you’ll receive swift confirmation and a friendly note if any materials are missing.  Submit on Thursday and, well, get in line behind the other 1000 people.  Strap on your thinking cap.  Finish those essays.  Fill in the form.  Upload the uploadable.  Submit.


Whether you’re celebrating a holiday at this time of year or not, it’s always a good time to receive a gift, right?  We agree, which is why Liz has pulled together tips that will help you through the (optional) online interview process.  This is the first year we’ve offered online interviews and, if we’re going to draw accurate conclusions from our experiment, we need applicants to submit high quality interviews.  Without further ado, here is Liz’s gift for you:

Fletcher online video interviews:  How to prepare
We recently launched our optional Interview Stream online video initiative and we’ve already started receiving submissions.  A big thank you to those who have already sent us videos!  We’re reviewing them currently, and we’ll note that you didn’t have these tips when you submitted them, so not to worry!  For those who haven’t yet taken advantage of this special opportunity, we thought it would be helpful to share some tips and tricks on how to prepare.

As you would for the on-campus interview option, take some time to prepare for your interview.  The technology enables us to provide an online interview experience that mirrors an on-campus interview reasonably well, and the questions asked are quite similar to those you could expect if you visited Fletcher.  You should be prepared to talk about your résumé, your previous work experience (internships and professional experiences), your interests and professional goals, and why Fletcher is a good fit for them.  By answering these questions, you can show the Admissions Committee a little more about who you are and what you will bring to the Fletcher community.

Some additional tips:

  • Learn More!  From the interview sign-in page, click the Learn More button, which leads to a host of helpful features including the opportunity to test your technology (microphone and camera), and tips and tricks on how to select and light the setting in which you are filming.  Most important, it will give you a practice question so you can familiarize yourself with the technology and how it works.  Take some extra time to explore this helpful section.
  • Be specific!  In answering the questions, don’t assume the person watching your video has your résumé in hand.  Use some of the time allotted to highlight your experience.  Use the full name of organizations or companies you’ve worked for, and use titles to help us understand your roles.  It’s important to create a clear picture of who you are and what you’ve done.
  • Use your time wisely!  As noted in the instructions (found on page 13 of the online application), you have two minutes to answer each question.  You may be concerned that this isn’t enough time, but you should be able to adequately answer each question and provide specific examples.  (Tip:  You have an opportunity for a “do-over.”   Use your first try at each question as a practice to help you prepare your thoughts.)
  • You have options!  As noted above, you do have the chance to re-record your response to any of the questions asked.  However, once you have moved on to the next question, you cannot go back to previous questions.  After each question is asked, you will begin recording your answer almost immediately (there is a countdown clock).  Once you’ve finished recording your answer, you can either review your response, re-record your response, or press continue to move on to the next question.  You can see right on the screen how many tries you have left, so make sure you know when you are recording your final try.
  • Wait until the end!  After the final question is asked and recorded, Interview Stream must upload the video into our system.  This will happen as the closing video plays.  You will receive an email confirmation to let you know it has been submitted.

We hope you enjoy this new option for interviews!  Please don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions.

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Christine, the (relatively) new face of the Admissions Office, has prior job experience that is very helpful to our international students.  So let’s hear what she has to say!

In my past life as a visa coordinator, I gathered some information that international students may find useful.  With the application season fully upon us, I wanted to take a moment to share some tips for your application and (looking ahead) the visa process.  Here goes:

  • Certified English Translation:  You may be asking yourself, “What does this mean?  I can speak, read, and write English, so why do I need someone else to do it for me?”  The short answer is that your translation needs to be done by someone with an official stamp and/or contract, so that we know the translation is accurate.  Certified translators, like notaries public, have passed an exam to keep their standing, and will offer you the most comprehensive and accurate translation.  The best way to find a certified translator in your area is to do a search online, or ask a local bank, post office, or attorney’s office, as they will often utilize translation services.  When submitting documents that have been translated, please make sure to send us both the original and the translation!
  • Notarized Documents:  For your transcript, if you do not have access to the official document (because many schools will not issue more than one), please make sure to have a copy made and notarized.  Notarizing your documents provides verification that the information is accurate and official.  Finding a notary now will also save you concerns during the visa process, when you will be required to submit notarized documents.  As with certified translation, do a search online, or ask a local bank, post office, or attorney’s office.
  • Financial Aid vs. Proof of Funds:  I have received quite a few questions about the difference between the Fletcher Financial Aid Application and the proof of funds process. The main difference is that the Financial Aid Application provides Fletcher with general information about your current financial standing so that we can make scholarship awards, which we base on both merit and need. Proof of Funds is for the visa process, which requires accurate and official information on your finances.  Although some universities request a Proof of Funds form as part of the application process, Fletcher does not follow that procedure.  More information about Proof of Funds and the visa process will be sent to admitted students from Fletcher’s International Student Advisor.
  • Time: While this may seem obvious, make sure that you leave enough time to mail any needed documents to us.  To avoid the worry and expense of overnight shipping, put your materials in the mail extra early.  Look online for average mail times, or check with FedEx/DHL for estimated arrival dates.

As always, feel free to call the Admissions Office or email us with specific questions. Best of luck with your application!


Christine just handed me an idea (nay, a plea) for today’s post.  She told me that, as the staffer who answers the questions of most callers and emailers (particularly while our student interns are in the middle of exams), she has been fielding endless special requests this week, mostly related to taking and submitting results for the GRE/GMAT.  Requests such as:  Can I submit scores late?  Can I take the exam after the application deadline?  Can you waive the requirement for me, because I haven’t studied for the exam?  Or because I graduated from college many years ago?

So, with Christine and all the applicants who take the exam in a timely way (and don’t make special requests) in mind, here’s the deal:  Fletcher requires submission of GRE/GMAT scores because we find them to be a useful analytical tool, even though GRE/GMAT scores are never the sole basis for an admissions decision.  Our expectation is that you will make your application complete as quickly as possible after the deadline.  That is, you must submit the online application materials before the deadline, but supporting credentials (test scores, recommendations) can arrive a little bit later without having a negative effect on your application.  Today’s date is December 13.  If you’re aiming for the January 10 deadline, you have about three weeks to take the exam and still expect to complete your application in time.

(Note that, even within the structure outlined above, you can still see a typically Fletcher-ish flexibility.  We could (but don’t) say we refuse to review an application if all materials don’t arrive by the deadline.  We want to give our applicants every opportunity to put together a strong application.  But that flexibility doesn’t extend as far as offering special arrangements to each of the thousand people Christine feels she has spoken to this week.)

Since many graduate schools have January deadlines, testing centers tend to be very busy this time of year.  That is why, if you haven’t taken the test yet, you need to act RIGHT NOW and find a test date.

What happens if on January 10…January 15…January 20…February 1, your scores still haven’t reached us?  Well, we’re just going to hold all your materials in a folder while we wait.  Leaving your application in that endless purgatory is, let’s say, not a great strategy for obtaining admission.

As for all the other reasons people give for not wanting to take the exam (graduated long ago, math skills are rusty, etc.), I can only say that your fellow applicants would probably say much the same.  No one likes taking these exams.  We understand that.  But like many unpleasant things in life, you simply need to do it.  In this case, you also need to do it on our schedule — not because we seek to inconvenience you, but because not following our schedule may hurt your own chances of gaining admission.

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