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Covering a few topics in one post, I want to catch up on some late-summer news items.
First, and most important to prospective applicants, is that our application for January or September 2013 admission is ready! Set up your account, and any information you enter on the application will be saved until you’re ready to submit it.
Second, and related to the first point, is that I want to highlight our new application deadline. If you have been thinking about Fletcher for a while, you’ll notice that we’ve moved our regular application deadline forward a few days to January 10. We didn’t want to ruin your New Year’s holiday, but we needed a little extra time to compile applications. Plus Mother Nature always seemed to find joy in complicating our work.
Next, we will now officially accept either official or unofficial transcripts for your application. Here are the new instructions for the uploading of transcripts, snipped straight out of the application instructions for each of the degree programs, which you’ll find to the right on just about all of the pages under Apply to Fletcher.
We think this change is going to make life easier for all of us, however it’s very important that you know that all enrolling students must have official transcripts in their file. The change in our policy relieves some time pressure, but you still need to ensure we receive an official transcript.
An aspect of writing the Admissions blog that continually perplexes me is timing: When should I post certain information and how can I be sure that the people who need it will read it? So even as we continue churning through the steps leading to the release of decisions, I’m going to take a big step backward and address a topic that I’ve covered before, but possibly at a time when no one was paying attention.
Last week, a reader posted a comment asking about our preference that applicants have some professional experience before they apply to Fletcher. As opposed to most prospective students who ask what kind of experience is best, or how long they should work, or other practical questions, Zack asked why we have that preference in the first place. Good question. And since some applicants will soon receive a letter saying that, from our perspective, what separates them from admission is work experience, this might be a good time to explain our reasoning.
I see four intertwined reasons, relating to the application and beyond, for our preference. The first is that people who already have a career trajectory will have an easier time transitioning to their post-Fletcher careers. They’ll have professional contacts who can recommend them, workplace skills, polished presentations, and knowledge either of a sector or of content that will be relevant, even if they’re shifting careers.
The second reason is that applicants who have the perspective gained through professional experience will be best able to crisply state their goals and the reasoning behind them. For example, many applicants tell us they want to work in the U.S. Foreign Service. Those who have already worked in an embassy (even if only through internships) will be able to provide a more nuanced vision of their future careers. Meanwhile, some applicants indicate an interest in the Foreign Service because they’re not familiar with the many other U.S. government agencies that have international content to their work.
The third reason is that the Admissions Committee is always looking for hints that the applicant really knows what he or she is getting into. Every year (I mean this…EVERY YEAR) we read personal statements that express a strong interest in a career in a geographic area that the applicant has never visited. (And often doesn’t have the language skills for.) The Committee is going to question the applicant’s chances of reaching that goal. Not to mention that, were the applicant able to reach the goal, he might quickly discover it doesn’t really suit him.
The fourth reason may have the most immediate importance for an incoming student, and that is the ability of each student to contribute inside and outside the classroom. If one student has nothing more than academic connection to (for example) refugee resettlement, while another student has worked for five years with a resettlement agency, there’s a real imbalance between what these two students offer to the community. The Admissions Committee tries to ensure that all students will have something to offer.
Other members of the Admissions staff might articulate the reasons behind the preference differently, but no matter how we as individuals think of it, we’ll still encourage applicants to obtain pre-Fletcher work experience. And to answer the questions we’re more often asked: The best pre-Fletcher professional experience will link to an applicant’s goals. How long it should last is however long it takes to maximize value from the experience. There’s no single answer to these questions.
All of that said, you’ll note that I use the word “preference” rather than “requirement.” This year (and every year), we’ll admit a small number of applicants direct from undergrad. Some of them will have packed their 22-ish years with summer internships, campus activities, Model UN, study abroad, and all the different possibilities available to someone who still hasn’t graduated. All these activities will collectively take the place of full-time professional experience, provided they can clearly articulate their goals. We’ll also admit a small number of people who don’t have quite as packed a résumé, but who are so accomplished academically that we know career doors will open for them. All-in-all, a sliver of the overall student population.
I hope this post makes it clearer why the Admissions Committee prefers pre-Fletcher work. If other interesting questions come in via the comments section, I’ll be happy to take another big step back and try to tackle them.
Never content to keep things simple, even when it comes to admitting applicants, our decisions include multiple options. The bottom line for all is: YAY! You’ve been admitted to Fletcher! Congratulations! But some of the offers of admission are accompanied by a condition, and today’s post is to clarify what those conditions entail.
The Admissions Committee looks at the materials in an applicant’s file and makes certain assumptions, some of which lead Committee members to suggest the applicant will need further preparation. We’ll make that preparation a condition of admission. The most frequently employed conditions require that, before starting Fletcher classes, the student should improve foreign language proficiency, improve English language proficiency, or improve quantitative skills (MIB students only).
We tend to be inflexible about the nature of the pre-Fletcher English training, for reasons I hope are obvious. (In case they’re not as obvious as I think, I’ll spell it out: No one can succeed in Fletcher classes with weak English skills.) There’s more flexibility around summer foreign language training, because the best program depends on the student’s choice of language and current ability.
Does this mean that, if we haven’t attached a condition, we’re absolutely sure your English skills are strong enough to cope with a heavy load of reading and writing? Not necessarily, and now’s a good time to work on those skills. Does it mean we’re sure you’ll pass the foreign language exam? Definitely not. Applicants who self-assess as having intermediate level proficiency might really higher or lower than that. Work on those language skills before enrolling! But, as I said, not everyone who needs some practice will be admitted conditionally.
Beyond the conditional admits, there’s one other complication to the admit category: Occasionally, we admit applicants to a program other than the one to which they applied. Most common example: You applied to the mid-career MA program, but you don’t have sufficient experience to be admitted. For the MALD program, on the other hand, you’re looking good, so we’ll admit you to the MALD! (There’s similar thinking behind offering MALD admission to a tiny number of PhD applicants who lack the master’s level study to enter the PhD program directly.)
Our process would certainly be simpler if there were only one type of admit, but the option to attach a condition to admission is the difference between admit and deny for some applicants. We would hate to turn away a highly qualified applicant who needs a little brush-up on English skills, but we would be obliged to do so if we couldn’t be sure he would pursue a language program.
The happy bottom line is that conditional admission is (once the condition is met) admission. And we’re convinced that fulfilling the condition will enhance the admitted student’s experience at Fletcher. So we’ll maintain our portfolio of admits, sometimes with conditions attached.
The work is proceeding apace here in the Admissions Office. Our workplace attire is sliding from business, to business casual, to nice casual, to…whatever. Meanwhile, I’ll keep moving up the spectrum of possible admissions decisions.
Continuing along the spectrum from deny to admit, the next decision category is the waitlist, which can be seen as an opportunity or a curse. Each year, after admitting a group of students, we’ll offer a place on the waitlist to another promising group — applicants whose credentials are solid overall, and yet just a little less solid than the applicants we’ve admitted. (A waitlist is what it sounds like — a list of people waiting for a place to open up in the entering class.) Some years, we draw a significant number of students from the waitlist. Occasionally, we don’t admit any. But most years we admit a few. That’s the opportunity part.
It can be hard for waitlisted applicants to get a handle on what this decision means for them, which is understandable. We’ve tried to help by creating an FAQ list. But even the FAQ list will leave waitlisted applicants wondering about their own prospects. The challenge is that, when decisions go out, we can’t even answer the most basic question: How many people are on the waitlist? And that’s because, in March, it doesn’t matter whether we make 10, 100, or 1,000 waitlist offers. What matters is how may people decide to accept a spot on the list. So let’s say we make 100 offers. If 60 people decide not to wait, then the relevant number is 40. We don’t rank our waitlist, and when it comes time to make an offer of admission, we go back to the applications and figure things out.
Applicants offered a place on the waitlist can take until May 1 to decide whether to wait. It would be very unusual for us to make an offer of admission before May 1 — most of our work with the waitlist takes place in May or June, though we’ll keep a list into the summer. That’s where the curse (or cursing) comes in. The waitlist involves, well, waiting.
All members of the Fletcher Admissions staff know that the extra waiting is unwelcome. But for some applicants who focus on the opportunity rather than the curse, the waitlist represents a final chance for admission.
One last thing: While we won’t provide feedback for applications still active on the waitlist, we will answer this question: Is there any further information that the Committee on Admissions would like from me at this time? That gives us a chance to check your application and see if the Committee wanted to see, for example, a higher TOEFL score. (Send the question by email, and mention that the blog told you to ask!) Even if the Committee didn’t want anything special, waitlisted applicants are invited to send us an update. New grades or test scores, an updated résumé, a link to a publication — any new information you wish to share will be welcome. I’ll post a bit more about this after decisions have finally been released.
As promised last week, I’m continuing to lay the groundwork for decision time (COB March 19) by devoting a few posts to Fletcher’s different decision options.
Today I’ll start with the bad news end of the spectrum. While I understand that applicants don’t want to prepare for the possibility of disappointment, I also know that once people receive the news, they’ll shut down their RSS feed and never read the blog again. (A fact that is both sad and understandable.) I need to seize this moment to share information.
The truth is that admitting applicants is the easy part of admissions work, and naturally we focus on the easy and fun. But denying admission is an inescapable aspect — the most challenging aspect — of what we do.
When we review applications, we’re looking for a combination of academic potential, professional and international experience, and clear goals for study and a post-Fletcher career. Applicants who are denied admission might be missing one or more of those elements, or they might be just a little weak in all of them, particularly compared to the overall qualifications of admitted students.
While it’s true that bad news is bad news, we do make one distinction among those who will not be offered admission this year. Some applicants will receive a letter saying that, though they look great overall, we really want them to gain some relevant professional experience, and it’s the work history that stands between them and the admission they hoped for. We’ll only use this “work deny” decision for applicants within about a year of their university graduation. (This year, that means 2011 and 2012 grads.) We encourage them to work for a couple of years, although (depending on their internship record), it could take more or less time for them to build their professional experience and become competitive applicants.
There are two final points to make on this sad topic. The first is to emphasize that Fletcher welcomes applicants to reapply. Someone who applies unsuccessfully, smooths up some of the rough points in the application, and reapplies in a subsequent year, has shown determination and a strong interest in the School — two qualities we love in our applicants.
The second point is related to the first. Fletcher will provide feedback to applicants. If you’re planning to reapply, I encourage you to ask for feedback this spring. (That is, don’t wait until the month before your next application — you may want some time to make improvements.) We’ll accept feedback requests on May 1 (more on this topic later in the spring) and you’ll hear back from us within a month or so of your request.
The next post about the decision spectrum will describe the waitlist.
Even while Committees are still meeting and final applications are being read, we’re laying the necessary back-office groundwork. We started by testing applicants’ email addresses. If your application to Fletcher was complete as of yesterday (February 29), you should have received an email message from the Fletcher Admissions address. Messages that bounced back told us that the applicant either discontinued use of the original email address or, perhaps, entered it incorrectly on the application form. But if your application is complete, and you didn’t receive the email, please check your spam folder (and the settings for your spam filter). If you think there was a problem with your email address, contact us as soon as possible.
The second purpose of yesterday’s email was to tell applicants that decisions will be released by close of business on Monday, March 19. (We’ll do our best to release decisions for late deadline (March 1) applications, but we can’t guarantee the quick turn-around.) We hope that being a little more forthcoming than in the past about our decision release schedule will ease some nerves.
I also want to tell blog readers about a change to our procedure that we hope will play out in a positive way. This year, the email you receive by COB March 19 will provide your decision. Admitted applicants will still need to log on to GAMS for the details, but applicants who have not been admitted will learn their decision by email.
We know that we may hear a few complaints that email is a harsh medium for providing bad news, but we believe it’s better than our previous procedure, which required the applicant to go to GAMS for the decision. The result was that the system got jammed up, and some applicants were spending an hour trying to access GAMS, only to learn they were not granted admission. Seeking to prevent the irritation applicants felt last year, we’re trying something new, and we hope that even applicants who are disappointed with their decision will be happy to avoid the hassle of dealing with a balky system.
So there it is. We have just over two weeks to get everything together and out the door. Next week, I’m going to describe the different decision options — more groundwork to help the decision phase go smoothly.
Orientation started yesterday for a fresh crop of new students — a small group of Januarians. A student years ago coined our term for midyear additions to Fletcher, and it has stuck ever since. The Januarians will have three days of Orientation — a compressed version of the week of activities that precedes the start of classes for new students in September. (No special name for those students, beyond “Almost Everybody.”)
Newbies or not, it’s still very quiet around here. And while the Januarians may have arrived, most continuing students will be leaving town for several days of research and networking on the New York Career Trip organized by the Office of Career Services.
Normal Fletcher life will resume on Tuesday. Of course, normal life for most of Fletcher coincides with our zaniness, as we receive and compile applications for September enrollment.
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.
We try to keep our application requirements and policies clear, but there are always gray areas, some of which we discover only after launching a new policy. There’s nothing new about our requirement for an English language assessment as part of the application of non-native speakers, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some murky edges to it. The policy, in the wording of our application instructions, is:
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) where English was the language of instruction, you are required to take either the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), the International English Language Testing System (IELTS), or the Pearson Test of English (PTE). A score of 600 on the paper-based TOEFL, 100 on the Internet-based TOEFL (iBT), 7 on the IELTS, or 68 on the PTE is generally considered evidence of sufficient English language ability for graduate study at The Fletcher School.
Seems straightforward enough, but we continue to hear from people whose profiles make the policy seem less than clear. The first gray-area group includes those who study in their home countries, but English is the language of instruction When it comes to applicants (such as many from India) whose entire education was in English, there’s nothing to be gained by submitting a score report. The score is likely to be very high, but won’t provide any new information, and you can save a little money (and paper) when you don’t have a score report sent to us. On the flip side are those (such as many from Turkey), who have been taught in English only at the university level. Some of those applicants will still score relatively low on the verbal portion of the GRE or GMAT. In that case, they would certainly benefit from sending along a TOEFL/IELTS/PTE score.
Another murky area of the policy turns up when we make our admission decisions. Not infrequently, we’ll require supplemental English study from enrolling applicants who have scored a 102 on the iBT. The 102 should do the trick for them, but it may not if the subscores are uneven. We’ll worry about the ability to contribute in class of someone with top scores on reading and writing, but low scores on speaking and listening. We’ll also worry about someone whose conversation skills are strong, but whose reading and writing are weaker. Students need to succeed both in and out of the classroom.
As an applicant, you should follow the rules. If we don’t ask for a test score, you don’t need to send one. But…if you feel that a score on an English assessment will help clarify an aspect of your application, feel free to send it along. So long as your score is strong enough, you’re all set. Except…if your skills are not consistent across the four categories, in which case we may ask you to brush up before starting your studies. Clear or murky? How you see the policy probably depends on your background.
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