Currently viewing the category: "Fletcher’s Admissions Policies"

We’ve been offering feedback to our applicants for quite a few years now, and we’ve moved from an informal call-me-and-I’ll-see-what-I-can-figure-out arrangement to more of a system.  And as the system has developed, so has the expectation on the part of the Admissions Committee that someone intending to apply a second time should ask what went wrong the first time.  If you weren’t admitted this year and you hope to reapply (and if you haven’t, in frustration, given up on the blog), I want to encourage you to ask us for feedback on your application.

Here are the rules.  After May 1, send us a feedback request by email with this information:

♦The semester/year for which you originally applied (for example, September 2011);
♦Any specific questions you have about your application or the process;
♦Your plans for the coming year;
♦The term for which you intend to reapply.

One of us will review your application.  We’ll read through everything in the file, but much of what we write will reflect the comments of the reviewers, not our own opinions.  We only offer opinions if we think there’s a key point that the reviewers didn’t note.

Regardless of when you intend to reapply, I encourage you to request feedback this year.  We received some requests last December for January applications.  Unless the problem with an applicant’s first application was in the personal statement, what exactly can he do to improve his profile in only one month?  So contact us this spring, and you’ll have some ideas to work with until you reapply.  Until then, I’m sorry you didn’t receive admission this year, but experience tells us that many applicants will be successful in a future round.  I hope we’ll see another application from you in the future.

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“The Admits” comprise a family of variations on the theme of:  YAY!  You’re in!  There’s the ordinary admit, the King of Decisions — you’re in, and there’s no fine print!  But some of our admitted students will need to read the fine print, and today’s post is to help in deciphering it.

By “fine print,” I’m talking about conditions that we may attach to the offer of admission.  Conditions that, based on information provided by the applicant in the application, and our own best judgment, we believe will give the incoming student the best possible chance of academic success.  The most frequently employed conditions require that before starting Fletcher classes, the applicant should:  improve foreign language proficiency; improve English language proficiency; or improve quantitative skills (MIB students only).

A more substantive condition:  We’ll occasionally (a dozen or fewer people each year) admit applicants for a future class, asking them to obtain a year’s professional experience before they enroll.  These “delay admits” would be strong students, generally graduating this year, who will gain so much more from Fletcher if they have some work experience behind them, and they will be admitted for the September 2012 semester.

Not exactly a condition, but still in the admit family:  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 of 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 The Admits will carry on as a big happy family, sometimes with conditions attached.

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As promised earlier this week, I’m going to devote a few posts to the different decision options.

For our first class on Fletcher admissions decisions, I would like to start with the bad news.  Much as we like to focus on admitting students (which is the fun part of our Committee work), we regretfully acknowledge that not everyone will be admitted (which is the sad part of our Committee work).

The reasons why applicants aren’t offered admission are the flip side of why they are.  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 two 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.  We’re sorry to say good-bye to these applicants, but that’s the unfortunate reality of the admissions business.

For applicants who have been denied admission, it may be hard to look past the bottom line.  But from our perspective, we do make one distinction among students 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 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 2010 and 2011 grads).  We encourage them to work for a couple of years, although (depending on their internship record), it could take more or less time than that for them to look competitive.

There are two final points to make on this sad topic.  The first is that Fletcher welcomes applicants to reapply.  I’m often asked if we have a bias against second-time applicants.  Quite the contrary!  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.

Our next class will consider the waitlist.

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Excuse my nosiness, but I’m wondering why you haven’t submitted your application yet.

Is it because you only recently decided to apply, and you’re still putting everything together?  In that case, take your time — you have until January 15 at 11:59 p.m.

Is it because you’re waiting for some hidden voice to tell you that the time has come to hit “submit”?  In that case, let me be the hidden voice:  SUBMIT NOW!

Are you somewhere between the two?  Then I want to suggest that you assign yourself a Personal Deadline before January 15, when (if past patterns hold) a thousand of your prospective future classmates will all finally decide to let their applications come through.  We’re prepared for the paper.  And for the constant hum of the printer (more of a “mmmmmswosh, mmmmmswosh”) as each page is printed and shoots out.  And for the bags and bags of mail.  Yes, we’re geared up and ready for the January 15 crush, so I’m not suggesting the Personal Deadline for our benefit.  No, dear applicant, it’s for you.

Why?  Well…first, because teeny little troubles turn into mega-hassles when you wait until the last minute.  A half hour without internet access on January 3 is no big deal.  A half hour without internet access on January 15 is reason to PANIC!

Also, if you submit your application on January 15, it will take a week to ten days before you can confidently check the Graduate Application Management System and expect to find useful information.  Those 1,000 applications and all the transcripts, test scores, etc. that go with them need to be linked up, and that just takes time.  Organization, and time.  Organization, and time, and file folders.

If you adopt the Personal Deadline approach and submit your application on, say, January 5, we’ll have all your materials in a tidy folder within a couple of days.  We make every effort to keep up with the paper flow, and we’re going to jump on the opportunity to put your file together.

So, please.  Open up your calendar, be it electronic or paper.  Turn to a convenient pre-January 15 page, and assign yourself a Personal Deadline.  While your prospective future classmates FREAK OUT on the 15th, you can sip a frothy cappuccino and relax.

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Applications to the PhD program are, without a doubt, the most complex each year — both for the applicants, and for the Admissions Office and PhD Committee on Admissions.  In addition to the usual stuff (form, essays, transcripts, etc.), PhD applicants need to submit a dissertation proposal and master’s thesis or extended writing sample.

Because so much material needs to be compiled, we’ve adjusted the application deadline twice in recent years.  First we went from January 15 to January 1.  This year, we moved it up again — to December 20.  Having the extra time to collect and review all necessary materials helps assure us that we’re giving every application the consideration it deserves.

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Fletcher has had an Early Notification application process for many years now, but we’re shaking things up this year.  For the first time, our decision options will include admit, defer the application for further review in the spring, and deny.  We had previously had all sorts of administrative and programmatic reasons why we didn’t deny applicants in the fall.  No point going into them now, but I’ll explain a bit about our change of mind.

Last year, we came to the conclusion that it was in the interest of our Early Notification applicants to provide a clear answer if we knew they would not, in the end, be admitted.  Some prospective students whose applications were deferred to spring were investing time and energy in promoting their cause — time and energy that might more productively have been poured into applications to other schools.

But having decided on a change to our practice, the new process has still been a learning experience for us.  In particular, we hadn’t originally planned to offer “work deny” decisions, but in the end, we decided to do so.  So here are the specifics of the decisions.

On the good news side:  An offer of admission!  You’re welcome to confirm your enrollment now, but you’re not obligated to do so until the spring.  Admission may be made conditional on completion of (for non-native English speakers) an English program or (for native English speakers) on foreign language study.  Note that there’s certainly no reason to wait until the summer to brush up foreign language proficiency.

On the other end of the spectrum are the decisions to deny (straightforward, if sad) or “work deny” (which means that applicants look solid overall, but need some professional experience).  Applicants who are denied admission in the Early Notification process can request feedback according to standard feedback protocols, but cannot reapply until at least next fall for January 2012 enrollment.

Finally, there are the applications that we’ll defer for reconsideration in the context of the entire applicant pool.  Those applicants will receive a final decision letter in March.  If your application is deferred, note that you’re encouraged to provide updates on any changes to your credentials (test scores, grades, professional experience) since you first applied.

Two last points.  The first is that many, or even most, of the applicants who will not be offered admission could be admissible in a future year.  They could improve their test scores, work a few more years, take some graduate level courses that show their potential to succeed at Fletcher, improve their English or foreign language proficiency, or simply do a better job on the application so that we can really figure out who they are.  We’re glass-half-full people, and we can see potential in all our applicants.  But we also have the task of finding the best matches between the School and incoming students, and that inevitably leads to denying admission to some.

My last point, and a very important one:  NO! We are not releasing decisions right away.  You know they’re coming in December, but we’re not yet done with the final decision-making or processing.  I’m just providing this information now so that curious applicants can prepare themselves.

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In just a few minutes, I’m going to head downtown to hear a presentation on the new GRE format  that will be introduced in August.  I hope to return from the meeting with a handle on how this will all play out, and I’ll share the details with the rest of the staff.

This year’s applicants don’t need to think (or even know) about what’s coming.  From what ETS is saying, next year’s applicants will want to decide whether to take the exam in its current format or to wait until the new format is rolled out.  One thing we can already tell you — Fletcher will accept scores from either format, and we will continue to accept scores from the current format for as long as you can arrange an official score report.

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For the past two years, the University has been gearing up to comply fully with a new Massachusetts privacy law, designed to ensure that businesses and other organizations properly handle personal information identifying their customers.  For its part, Fletcher has had offices with such information develop and document systems to protect it.  Let’s just call it an Admissions nightmare.  But with the knowledge and support of others at Tufts, along with our own privacy expert, Roxana, we have been figuring things out.

The range of fixes we’ve put in place range from the complex (scrubbing our computers of personal information) to the annoying (razoring Social Security numbers off of test score reports and transcripts).  But even as we maintain heightened vigilance (!) around the information that flows into the office, there’s one thing that you, as an applicant, can do.  Please don’t put your Social Security number onto each page of your essays.  Unfortunately, we don’t have a way to prevent them from printing, and we’ll need to obscure the number or cut a hole in the paper on which they’re printed.  Putting your name on the essay is a great idea.  More than that is not necessary, and may even be unhelpful.

So far so good on our compliance with the law, despite our information-driven work, and not nearly as disruptive as we had once feared.  And it’s good news for our applicants — regardless of whether you’re from Massachusetts or elsewhere in the world, our compliance with “201 CMR 17.00: Standards for the Protection of Personal Information of Residents of the Commonwealth” will protect you, too.


Last spring, Peter received a request from a professor at a college whose alums frequently apply to Fletcher:  What suggestions might the Admissions staff pass along to professors or other writers of academic recommendations?  Believe me, we jumped into action!  It’s impossible to read recommendations without developing opinions on them.  As a recommendation requester, how can you use these suggestions?  I’ll be honest — I’m not sure.  I think it’s going to depend on your connection to/relationship with the recommender.  For example, if there’s an anecdote that you would like shared (tip #9), be sure to mention it to the recommender.  So here, for you to use as seems appropriate, are our recommendations for recommenders:

1.  Be honest with the student if you can’t write a supportive letter.  We always feel bad for applicants who have a particularly negative recommendation, as they will never know, and that just doesn’t seem fair.

2.  Review the applicant’s résumé and discuss his/her objectives and goals, so that the letter can be targeted, instead of generic.  Knowing a tiny bit about Fletcher helps, too.  (For example, despite the formal name of the School, we are not a law school.)

3.  Ask the student if there are aspects of his/her academic background that could use a little explanation.

4.  If your school or program is not well known to the wider world, introduce it.  But don’t use up too much of the letter’s space on the introduction if the result will be that the student is barely described.

5.  Use sparingly comments such as “one of my top five students in 25 years of teaching.”  (Thus, they are taken more seriously when used).  On the other hand, it is useful when recommenders mention what percent of students get an A in the class.  (Reading “Only 10 percent of the class received an A” helps us put grade inflation in perspective.)

6.  Indication of why a student succeeded (or failed) in a class is helpful. Even if it seems obvious that an A demonstrates the student’s strength, it’s helpful to learn why. “Earning an A in this class demonstrates that so and so wrote well/conducted high quality research/solved problems in a creative way/spoke up a lot in class.”  The academic recommendations are one of the few qualitative ways we have to understand a student’s academic capacity, so it is helpful to understand how a student excels (not simply that the student did excel).

7.  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.

8.  A letter shorter than a full page may be too short.  Longer than two pages may be too long.

9.  Anecdotes are nice!  Adds flavor to the letter.

10.  Avoid proofreading errors.  It’s easy for us to read past the problem (calling Richard “Robert,” or mentioning SIPA in a letter for a Fletcher application), but it does make us wonder how much the recommender has tailored the letter to the applicant.

And that’s it:  Our Top 10 List of Recommendation Recommendations.  With thanks to David Chioni Moore for giving us the idea of collecting them.

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Every September, there comes a day when I’m surprised to realize that the application deadline for January MALD admission is less than a month away. How can that be? We only just started the semester! Despite my schedule disorientation, we’ll be ready for those applications!

The question I’m asked most often about January admission is how it compares to September admission. And the answer is…they’re pretty much the same. Admittedly, we receive far fewer applications for January admission than September (by an order of magnitude), but we admit only a small group of students. So the “odds” are about the same, and the bottom line is that we still seek students who are academically talented and professionally experienced. After all, we want them to slip seamlessly into the student community — by February they should be indistinguishable from students who entered in any semester before them.

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