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This week I carried on assorted email dialogues with Laurie when she was in Washington, D.C. and New York, Kristen while she sat in an overheated terminal at Houston airport on her way to Mexico City, and Jeff as he went to Los Angeles and San Francisco.  In fact, though Tracy and I were the only staff members on campus for the entire week, we all share a common challenge — keeping up with the flow of email.

My colleagues may be more successful than I in conquering their inbox each day.  For myself, I just can’t seem to answer all the questions as efficiently as I’d like, much as I attempt a daily triage to ensure I take care of as many as possible.  I start nearly every message with an apology for being so slow in responding.  Have you received one of those from me, dear blog reader?  You’re not alone.

I hope you’ll bear with me (and my Admissions pals) while we do our best to answer everyone in a timely way.  Remember that some of your questions require research.  Others could be quick if we didn’t first need to find your file.  Our intentions are good.  Some time soon, I’ll look at my inbox and find no unanswered messages.  Not today, mind you, but some time soon.

 

When my Admissions pals and I talk about our reading days, we tend to focus on the circumstances in which we read, rather than the work aspect of the day.  So what are we doing when we read an application?

First, a bit of background.  Applications are placed in file folders, with a different color for each degree program.  Green–MALD; blue–MA; red–LLM; yellow–MIB; grey–PhD.  (We’re also using pink (MIB) and purple (MALD) for Map Your Future applicants.)  They’re loaded into “ready-to-read” boxes, from which students grab them FIFO style (first-in-first-out).  When the student readers return the files, staff members can take them home.

Each application file is arranged the same way:  the readers’ notes sheet, the pages of the application form, résumé, transcripts, test score reports, personal statement, second essay, third essay (when applicable), additional information, recommendations, interview report, and correspondence.

Personally (and I think that most readers share my approach), I read the file from front to back, but I shift between pages as needed.  I start by looking at the first reader’s notes.  Then I review the application form.  If a student transferred schools or took more than the usual number of years to complete a degree, I’ll make a note.  If an applicant moved around a lot with her family, I’ll note that.  Otherwise, on to the résumé, where I read through and note the applicant’s job responsibilities, as well as hobbies and whatever else is included.

When I review a transcript, I do a combination of scanning and careful parsing.  I scan to see the overall pattern of grades, but then I zero in on a few semesters to see the type of classes and the results.  That works for most applicants, but I’ll slow down further if something jumps out at me.  The method is also challenged by certain education systems that can only be described as, well, stingy in providing information about the student’s results.  In those cases, I read all the information available and sometimes jump directly to academic recommendations (or the internet) for further elucidation.

Test scores usually correlate with grades, so I only spend a lot of time with the score reports when there’s something surprising.

On to the essays, where we’re looking for exactly what the questions request.  With the personal statement, we should be able to derive a clear sense of what the applicant wants to achieve at Fletcher and beyond.  We’ve tinkered with the question many times, and I feel that, “Please tell us your goals for graduate study at Fletcher and for your career” is as clear as it needs to be.  There are no specific expectations for the second essay — we simply want to know more about you.  I’ll make notes about the personal statement (what does the applicant want to do and how clearly can he describe it), sometimes quoting a line or two.  If the second essay does its job, I’ll add a comment on what I’ve learned.

In most cases, the recommendations tell us something we already know, but in more detail.  Good students tend to have good recommendations from professors.  People who have assumed increasing responsibility in the workplace tend to have strong professional recommendations.  But the letters are still important, as they provide detail and background that help us understand the applicant in greater depth than other sections of the application allow.  I love reading supportive recommendations — they’re filled with warm and fuzzy feelings.

The interview report provides a glimpse of how the applicant connected with a representative of the community.  Sometimes, the applicant will be clearer on goals in the application than the interview, and that’s a good thing — we know that there’s a lot of research going on through the fall, and we’re happy to learn that our applicants have taken time to clarify objectives and learn about Fletcher.

Finally, the additional correspondence.  Not much to be found in there, in general, but sometimes it will answer a question that comes up in reading the file.

So that’s how it goes — front to back.  The experience of learning about people one-by-one through their documents is a fascinating one, though it’s difficult to make the mechanics of paging through a file sound anything but dry.  Maybe that’s why, every winter, we write about our favorite teas for reading days, or what we’ve put in the crock pot.

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Every year we like to give blog readers a sense of how we use our “reading days.”  Though I always feel pretty worn out after reviewing applications intensely for eight hours, there’s no denyng the pleasures of working at home.  I asked Jeff to tell you about his reading day last week.

Unlike some of my colleagues who enjoy reading applications at local cafés, I prefer the comforts of my own home.  Staying at home is nice because I can lounge around in my pajamas all day, and also because I am much more efficient.  (In public, I have a hard time concentrating, as I am extremely nosey.)  Not needing to leave the house has other advantages, especially on those cold, blustery winter mornings; however, this wasn’t the case last Wednesday, when it almost hit 60 degrees in Boston.

I have a routine that I stick to each reading day, although this time I diverged a bit, in order to prepare dinner for the evening.  I woke up at 5:30 a.m. to prepare a crock pot recipe (Guinness Beef Stew) and to start a loaf of bread, so I wouldn’t need to cook at the end of a long reading day.  After that was settled, I perched myself in my usual spot — the breakfast bar that that adjoins my kitchen and dining room (sunny and bright).  My piles of applications were stacked, I had my favorite pen (Pilot G-2, Blue), and I had a hot latte (beverage preference dependent on time of day — latte, coffee, tea, or water).   This is the scene:

My dog (Sydney) usually doesn’t hang out in the kitchen, but she could smell that something was cooking, and it smelled good.  The mug featured is my favorite, which I purchased when I was in Shanghai recruiting this past September.  (If you happen to make your way to Shanghai, check out Spin for some great pieces and prices.)

Anyway, back to the reading.  It is great to have the opportunity to fully immerse myself in reading applications for an entire day.  In the office, there are constant interruptions, and I find it hard to get through more than a handful in a day (if that).  Learning about applicants’ interests and experiences is truly entertaining.  So many of you are doing such interesting work that I often find myself wanting to change careers, but alas, I will live vicariously through you.  Some of my favorite applications are from those who had previously applied and were unsuccessful in the admissions process.  It’s nice to see how these applicants have taken time to develop their professional skills and hone their career interests.

After hours of reading and snacking (and a walk to the park with the dogs to enjoy the near 60 degree weather), I completed my reading, packed up the applications to go back to Fletcher, and enjoyed a delicious dinner.  All in all, it was a good day.

Sydney and her friend, Baloo, hanging at Savin Hill Park.

 

I love going to the movies, and my husband, Paul, and I had a two-movie weekend, with our selections representing the yin and the yang of current offerings.  On Saturday, we went to Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (for which I settled into my theater seat, knowing I would need a post-film debrief to understand the plot), and on Sunday, we saw The Muppets (no debrief needed).  Suffice it to say, more Muppets than spies were happy at the conclusion of their respective films.

Back at work today, I find the Office of Admissions is also experiencing both yin and yang.  On the one hand, we’re moving into the frenzied pace that marks the heart of the admissions cycle.  There’s the application processing, which is building toward its annual crescendo.  With the new Map Your Future program, we’re also midway through an admissions mini-cycle, figuring out where to fit a January reading and discussion process, having promised MYF applicants a February 1 decision.

On the other hand are the tasks and projects that we expect to complete during the two months following Early Notification and leading to the January 15 deadline.  Our next opportunity to work at a reasonable pace doesn’t come until May, and most projects will be set aside for a while.  Next week we’ll all join in to process applications, with deadline-orientated activities dominating the rest of the winter and early spring.

Having said all of that, the concept of yin and yang calls for a balance between the two, and I appreciate the yin-yang balance of Admissions work.  I value the opportunity to pause, think, and complete long-term projects, but I also look forward to the four fast-action months when we’re getting to know new people through their applications, and to building the class we’ll meet in the fall.

 

I did not do a good job of lining up tales from the road this year.  I usually ask my Admissions peeps to write a little about what they’ve been up to, but the opportunity slipped by me.  Until, that is, Kristen’s final trip, which started well after everyone else’s had ended.  Lucky for me, she agreed to write this blog post:

Last week I returned from what was officially the last recruiting trip of our admissions “travel season.”  Talk to any admissions professional, and you’ll quickly find out that we have a love/hate relationship with the fall.  Most of us love being out on the road and meeting new applicants, but the pace can be frenetic and hard to manage with everyday work.  My own travel schedule was very manageable this year, but the last trip — to India — represented a significant undertaking.

I was really excited to travel to India.  I had been once before, in 2000 for the wedding of a friend.  Each time I mentioned this to anyone familiar with India, the refrain was always the same: “Wait until you see how it has changed!” I didn’t quite know what to expect, and I can’t say that I saw many changes, but I certainly experienced them.  Most notably, improvements to traveler infrastructure were apparent, and the whole trip was incredibly smooth and quite easy.  This growth in infrastructure represents why we choose to go to a country like India:  as the market develops, so does the number of qualified professionals seeking graduate degrees.  In recent years, we’ve seen an increase in the number of applications and enrolling students from India, so we felt it was time for a visit.  (A small footnote to say that that’s not the only basis for our travel — we also go to places from which we would like to see more applicants.)

A highlight of any Fletcher trip is the ability to interact with our alumni.  I was able to meet with some really inspiring Fletcherites, including one recent grad who is working at an innovative organization that uses rigorous and scientific impact evaluations to combat poverty; a current PhD student who is studying with a Boren Fellowship, and another who does very interesting work at the nexus of business and economic development.

Of course, these trips have their personal highlights as well.  For me, that’s always about the food.  I have to eat, right?  I had some really spectacular meals, and I was both heartened and disappointed to find out that one of my favorites was at a small chain that has an outpost in New York!  Disappointed to know that I chose so unadventurously, but heartened to know that when the Fall 2012 recruiting season rolls around, I’ll be able to hit an old favorite in New York.  It’s the glorious cycle of admissions.…

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The blog is flooded by spam comments every day.  They’re generally caught neatly by the spam filter, but some end up in my inbox.  An amusing one today, from someone named “Rolling Duffle Bags,” read, “I love your writing style.  MARRY ME!!”  Despite Duffle’s enthusiasm, I’m leaving the writing today to our returning Admissions interns.  Remember that these are the people who may be answering your calls or emails, or in the case of Caitlin yesterday, scrambling to keep up with all the questions at our weekly online chat.

Caitlin:

Hello again! I’m happy to be in my second year in the MALD program here at Fletcher, after an exciting summer interning in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.  I wrote last year that I was excited to be joining the diverse community at Fletcher, and I’m glad to report that my first year exceeded my expectations in almost every way.  I’ve met incredible people from all over the world and learned much more than I thought was possible from them.  Though it’s exciting to begin looking for jobs and thinking about my next steps, I’m already a bit sad that my time at Fletcher is halfway over!

My Fields of Study here are Human Security and International Negotiation and Conflict Resolution, and this year I’m trying to fit in a third — International Public and NGO Management.  I was lucky to be able to combine many of these interests this summer, while working on gender policy implementation and communications for the Millennium Challenge Corporation in Tanzania.  Back at Fletcher this year, I’m looking forward to organizing events as the UN Club co-President, continuing to volunteer with the Tufts University Refugee Assistance Program (TU-RAP), and, of course, working in the Admissions Office!  Best of luck to everyone with the application process!

Lauren:

Hi!  I’m Lauren, a second-year MALD student and intern in the Admissions Office. I’m originally from Colorado and spent a few years at the American Chamber of Commerce in Germany before coming to Fletcher.

After interning in Boston this past summer (which is beautiful that time of year!), with a non-profit focusing on engaging companies and investors on issues of sustainability and corporate citizenship, I’m getting back into the Fletcher routine:  Figuring out how to fit all those great, challenging classes into my schedule, interacting with professors and students who share their amazingly diverse experiences and knowledge, learning new skills and tools for my subsequent career, running to and from dozens of can’t-miss speakers and events on campus, catching up with friends and meeting new ones, writing my thesis on supply chain sustainability reporting and reputation management, and training for a marathon.  Whew!

With everything moving so fast, it won’t be long until I’ll be back out in the “real world.”  With my Fields of Study in International Business Relations and Communications (and maybe a third in Energy and Environmental Policy if I’m feeling ambitious next semester), I aim to work in corporate citizenship for a consumer-facing company.  Continent, country, city:  All TBD.  But no matter where I end up, I know the Fletcher community will continue to support and inspire me.  In the meantime, if you have any questions about my experiences or anything Fletcher-related, please feel free to contact me!

And, Kartik:

Hi, my name is Kartik!  I am a second-year MALD student at Fletcher and an Admissions intern, and my Fields of Study are International Resource Policy and Global Political Economy.  I’m mainly interested in the geopolitical and economic issues related to oil and gas.

I’m a member of the leadership committee of the Fletcher Energy Consortium and was involved in organizing the Tufts Energy Conference last spring, which was attended by more than 200 people and had 30 speakers on issues of interest in the energy sector, including the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.  I have grown up around the world, in India, Saudi Arabia, Japan, and France, and I’ve lived in the U.S. for the last decade.  Before coming to Fletcher I was working as a electricity policy consultant in Boston.  This past summer, I interned at an energy and political risk firm where I learned a lot about global gas production, delivery, and demand.

 

Today, we’ll meet Katie, the third (and last), of the new Admissions interns.  She’ll describe a little of the adventure she experienced in her pre-Fletcher months. Next week, I’ll reintroduce the interns who are continuing students.

Hey!  My name is Katie (pronounced the French way) and I am a first-year MALD student.  I am at Fletcher because I’m very curious about the fields of Human Security and NGO & Public Management.  I am Lebanese Egyptian, born and raised in Cairo.  Before coming to Fletcher, I had an eventful few months.  Here’s what happened:

January 2011:  I am working full time as a legal officer, focusing on resettlement cases, in an NGO called Africa and Middle East Refugee Assistance.  I am also studying to complete my Master of International Business Law at the Pantheon Sorbonne Institute in Cairo University.  My (super beautiful) niece is born, and I start showing photos of her to anyone who comes my way.  People are getting really worked up a couple of streets away from my office, in some Tahrir Square; they’re blocking the traffic circulation.

February 2011:  My boss invites us to all go to Tahrir, since it’s not safe to ask our clients to come in, and we can’t focus on work anyway.  Meanwhile, final exams for the first semester are postponed indefinitely.  Some days later, the only president I had ever known decides to step down, and it’s a New Year’s Eve kind of celebration in all the streets of Cairo.

March 2011:  I get admitted to Fletcher!  More celebration.

June 2011 to August 2011:  The beginning of the end of my life in Cairo, final exams and thesis writing, and then a trip to Bali for an annual meeting with an international peace-building organization I volunteer for.  Finally, at the end of August, I move into Blakeley Hall!

Despite being far from Egypt, I felt at home at Fletcher right away.   Between the exciting stories my fellow Fletcherians tell, and the numerous courses to choose from, I feel like a kid in a candy shop!

 

At the beginning of each academic year, the Admissions Office pulls together a team of interns to support our work.  These industrious students answer phones, reply to emails, give the occasional tour of the building, lead information sessions, and sub for interviewers who thoughtfully decline to share their germs with applicants.  Less interesting, but most vital (particularly in January), they open mail, date stamp, alphabetize, staple, file…file…file…file…. We couldn’t do everything without them.  So let’s have them introduce themselves.  Next time you phone the office, you’ll know a little more about the person at the other end of the line.

First, Hillary, who actually started her work here during the summer after she relocated to the area.

I started my post college career at an investment consulting firm in Cambridge, MA.  After two years of spreadsheets, I left to join the Peace Corps in Benin, where I served as a small-enterprise development volunteer.  In Benin, I worked mostly with rural women’s groups and helped to set up microfinance groups.  I arrived home in May and started working at the Fletcher Office of Admissions in July.  I am a Boston native and I am so happy to be back in the area after two years abroad.  At Fletcher, I am studying International Business Relations and Development Economics and I hope to work in emerging markets investing.

Next, Ariel:

Hi!  My name is Ariel and I’m a first-year MIB student, new to Fletcher and the Admissions Office.  Originally from North Dakota, I graduated from high school in a small suburb of Los Angeles.  I attended American University for my undergraduate studies and spent time living and studying abroad in Cairo, Egypt and Madrid, Spain before coming to Fletcher.

My prior work experience was in marketing roles at SAP, the major enterprise software company, and Lufthansa German Airlines.  As a Thomas R. Pickering Graduate Foreign Affairs Fellow, I’ll be joining the Foreign Service and working for the U.S. State Department after graduation.

At Fletcher, I’m specializing in Strategic Management & International Consultancy and International Negotiation & Conflict Resolution.  I’m excited to work in the Admissions Office this year, and I look forward to hearing from you during the application process!

More introductions to follow, later this week.

 

Now that my post yesterday (or, more significantly, Roxana’s email to everyone on our list) has generated a lot of interview traffic, today’s blog will turn to Information Sessions for prospective students. Kristen and I spent a good bit of time this past summer thinking about what we should be including in an Information Session, resulting in a significant overhaul of session content.  Here, Kristen shares her thoughts with the blog:

As I led one of the summer’s Information Sessions, I thought it would be a good idea to share a little about what an Information Session feels like from the perspective of the Office of Admissions.  Easier said than done, it turns out, as I sit here thinking about how to articulate our ambivalent relationship with these Admissions Office fixtures.

On the one hand, an Information Session is exactly as the title implies:  a set block of time when we get to dump on you, the unsuspecting visitor, hundreds of bits of information, some relevant to you, some not.  Many of the details (degree requirements, application deadlines, extracurricular offerings) are available on the web, but sometimes people just find it more digestible when offered orally.  As such, dry though it may be, we try to be as comprehensive as possible about our six degree programs, 22 fields of study, three divisions, 550 students, 175 courses … you get the picture.  It can be lengthy (and this is the part we don’t love!), but we hope to provide enough relevant information so that a German interested in the LLM, a Japanese applicant to the MA, and a Bostonian interested in the MALD all get what they came for.

To complement all of this detail, we do our best to describe the character of the School (and this is the part we love!). You learned on the website that 45% of our students are international?  Well, let us tell you how that plays out in the classroom and what it means for your learning.  We mentioned our 30+ student clubs?  We’ll also talk more about how the active extracurricular life colors students’ Fletcher experience.  We really hope to give you a sense of what makes Fletcher tick.

Being able to pack all of this — both the facts and the fun — into one hour can be a challenge. We try to ensure we’re consistent about the information we present, but much depends, of course, on the presenters. During the academic year, most of our Information Sessions are given by a small team:  a pair of current students does the bulk of the work, and an admissions team member will present about the admissions process itself.  We find that this combination works well, as we all speak to what we actually do and know best.

Now, what does all this mean for you, visitors?  First, come prepared to listen.  It might seem like we talk a lot — and we do! — but if you know what you are listening for, there’s a good chance you’ll get what you need.  Second, come with questions.  We really, really appreciate when those questions might be of interest to the group as a whole (or at least much of the group).  Questions about how scholarship aid is determined?  Perfect!  On the other hand (much as we want you to head home with the information you need), a highly individual question on your personal qualifications might be best left to a follow-up email or individual conversation with an admissions counselor.

We really appreciate the time that our visitors take to get to know the School.  We realize that, for many of you, a visit entails taking a day off from work, traveling a distance, and planning out a schedule.  We want to reward those efforts  by helping you get the information you need.  Thanks for visiting!

 

Today is, by far, this year’s busiest day for Fletcher Admissions visits.  With two staffers making multiple stops, and one (me) parked at an Idealist Fair, you can meet us at a total of seven different locations:

William Jewel College
Liberty, MO

University of Kansas
Lawrence, KS

Washburn University
Topeka, KS

University of Maine
Orono, ME

Colby College
Waterville, ME

Bowdoin College
Brunswick, ME

Boston IDEALIST Fair
Boston University

With only five locations on the schedule, tomorrow will be comparatively mellow, but extends our geographic reach:

Drake College
Des Moines, IA

Grinnell College
Grinnell, IA

Bates College
Lewiston, ME

University of New Hampshire
Durham, NH

Shanghai APSIA Fair
Fudan University

Twelve locations in only two days must be about the most we’ve ever done.  But, if none of these twelve spots is near you, check our travel calendar for information on other visits coming up in the next few months.

 

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