Currently viewing the category: "Paying for Grad School"

I’ve been very pleased with my new-this-year Student Stories feature on the blog.  An attentive reader might ask, “Why so pleased?  They haven’t been writing much lately.”  True, critical reader.  But here’s why I’m happy.  When I asked each of the students if they wanted to inaugurate this blog theme, they all said yes.  I appreciate enthusiasm — this was my first team and I didn’t need to go to my bench!  When I met with each writer for the first time, I emphasized that there are plenty of places on the Fletcher web site to read interesting, but formulaic, student profiles.  My hope was that we would work together to develop ideas for posts, and I have basically gone along with any idea they’ve presented.  Overall, I didn’t know what the feature would look like when we launched it in October, but I knew that all would be clearer by the end of the academic year, in May.

But back to the fact that the writing tends to arrive in spurts (after winter break, for example).  In this case, the reasons why they’re not writing may be as interesting as what they would have written.  Let’s start with Maliheh.  She emailed me an apology last week for not having submitted a promised post, but she really needn’t have apologized — I know exactly what she’s up to.  She’s processing the bounty of acceptances she has received to PhD programs around the country.  Was I surprised to learn of her success?  No I was not.  Maliheh is amazing.  Don’t tell her I said that — she’s also humble.

What’s Mirza up to?  He told me late last semester that he took on a research project that was intellectually satisfying, but used a lot of his time.  Then, over the winter break, he and his musical partner revived their duo, Arms and Sleepers.  They played some local gigs, and planned an amazing tour for Mirza’s spring break. In Europe or Russia?  Don’t miss this opportunity to catch a performance — who knows whether this tour will be their last.

(I’d like to add a little practical note here.  One of the reasons Arms and Sleepers is back is that Mirza realized his earnings potential is greater building on a past success than taking a part-time campus job.  Many students are able to do something similar — consulting part time for a past employer, for example.  File that away in your mental financial plan!)

Back to the writers.  Scott has promised me a piece very soon.  Not much more to say there.  Roxanne continues to be very busy on campus with the Storytelling Forum (the website includes more and more content) and a new series of conversations about gender issues (curricular and more broadly) at Fletcher.  Nonetheless, I arrived at work this morning and found an email from Roxanne containing her next post.  I’ll share it as soon as I can.

Which leaves Manjula who, though an alumnus now, was the student who made me think that following students’ stories as they pursued their individual paths through Fletcher would be a good idea.  Manjula has a million things going on connected to his organization Educate Lanka.  A lot of them are in the “we’re a finalist” or “just need to sign the contract” phase, so we agreed to hold off on an EL update.  But the organization more than keeps him busy, and any free moments can be spent writing for a larger audience on topics such as Unleashing Potential Through Education.

As much as Educate Lanka fills Manjula’s days, he still sets aside time for other activities, such as getting married.  He shared some amazing wedding photos with me.  I would love to post every single one of them — they’re that beautiful — but I’ll settle for just this one.

Manjula told me that the wedding outfits that he and his bride, Chara, wore are traditional in Kandy, the region of Sri Lanka that Manjula comes from.  He explained that Kandy was the last kingdom in Sri Lanka (Ceylon), and the traditional wedding attire derives from royal regalia.  He said, “The outfit I wore is called the Kandyan Nilame.  And Chara’s jewellery and the ceremony that we followed are also according to the Kandyan traditions.”

So, blog friends, that’s what my writers are up to.  Given their interesting busy lives, I’m happy to wait a little longer for their next posts.

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Just in time for those of you wisely calculating the financial resources you’ll be able to draw on for your graduate education, our friends at APSIA have created a new list of scholarship and fellowship opportunities.  Of course, incoming Fletcher students will also want to check the Fletcher financial aid page, too.

January 22 and, unless you’re aiming for one of the later (February 10 or March 1) deadlines, your application is in.  Perhaps you’re thinking that all you need to do now is to twiddle your thumbs while waiting for your grad schools to make a decision on your application.

If only Ernie were setting a good example for you.  In fact you can, and should, make this waiting time productive for yourself.

First, and most important:  you can develop your own financial plan.  The smart approach is to assume that your graduate professional school will not cover all of your expenses.  What resources can you draw upon?  What level of scholarship enables you to pursue your graduate school plans, and what level might cause you to push your plans back a year?  Are there external scholarships that could be right for you?  Sure, thinking this through will take some time.  But the risk of investing the thinking time is simply that Fletcher or another school provides you with more funding than your worst-case scenario, and you have greater resources than you expected.  Meanwhile, the upside is that you have the information in place to make your own decision on graduate school, after the schools have made their decision on you.

What else can you do?  The obvious:  Save your pennies!  If you have an income this year, you should be putting aside as much as possible for your upcoming student low/zero-income years.  No matter how large a scholarship you receive, you’ll be happy to have cash available to visit home/buy your friend a birthday gift/nurture your caffeine habits.  Trust me, every little bit helps.

How about academic preparation?  I’d suggest a little honest reflection on any weaknesses in your preparation for an international affairs program in the U.S.  If you’re a non-native English speaker, could your English skills use a boost?  If you’re a native English speaker, could your foreign language skills stand improvement?  In either case, learning a language is a slow process.  Start early.  How about those quantitative skills?  Whether you’re an economics whiz or in need of a brush-up, a little advance work can pave the way for your success.

I try to be nice in the blog, but occasionally I feel compelled to provide a dose of reality.  This is one of those times.  It’s never a happy moment when it becomes clear an admitted student hasn’t given any thought to how this whole grad student thing is going to come together.  With the application phase behind you, you have some time to get your ducks in a row.  Please don’t twiddle the next two months away.  Invest a little time now, and relax a little more in April.

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Continuing to draw on willing volunteers, today we’ll hear from Kristen, who provides useful information on research opportunities for Fletcher students.

Being an admissions person, I’m nosy by nature.  To enjoy reading applications, you have to be generally curious about what makes someone tick.  And because of this, I am currently reviewing not only our Fletcher applications, but two other sets of applications as well, both for funding for current students.

There are several sources of funding for current students looking to conduct their own research or community projects.  Several research centers, as well as the Dean’s Office, offer funding opportunities, and I work with two in specific:  the Institute for Business in the Global Context (IBGC) Fund and the Tisch Fund for Civic Engagement.

The IBGC fund awards up to $2,000 to students doing business-related research.  I’ve worked with this program since its inception several years ago, and truly enjoy seeing the ideas that our students are pursuing.  From market research on nutritional products in Tanzania, to executive interviews about transportation infrastructure in India, to urban slum innovation in Peru, these projects truly represent the interdisciplinary interests of our students.  It is very gratifying to help the students take their well-crafted and thoughtful project ideas out into the field, and then back to Medford, with interesting results.

I’m newer to the Tisch Fund, but find it similarly rewarding.  This Fund is oriented towards student groups looking to work together on community service projects, and we saw everything from a project by Engineers Without Borders in Uganda, to Urban Agriculture right here in Boston.  Very often, these teams comprise students from multiple Tufts grad schools, and it’s fun to see how they bring their various talents to each project.

Once at Fletcher, there are quite a few opportunities for you to take your ideas to the field, and it has been rewarding for me to be part of this process!

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Fletcher students pursue many different approaches when considering campus employment.  Some jump right into the job hunt.  Others hold off for a semester, to allow themselves some time to get oriented.  But whether a student is determined to work only as a research assistant, or prefers to check out books in the library, the fact is that working during the semester is part of many students’ reality.

For the last couple of weeks, job postings have been floating through my email inbox and I thought I would share a few with you, posted by three different offices.  NOT, it should be noted, because these precise positions will be open in the semester when you enroll.  Rather, it’s just a sampler of some of the positions that are available.   These are real jobs that were offered up this semester, though I took out the name of the professor.

Institute Research Positions
The Institute for Business in the Global Context (IBGC) and the Center for Emerging Market Enterprises (CEME) are pleased to announce eight student research positions for the Sovereign Wealth Fund Initiative (SWFI) and the Cost of Cash research project.

The Sovereign Wealth Fund Initiative (SWFI) examines the key cross-border issues faced by Sovereign Wealth Funds and other long-term investors (LTIs) and issues a monthly newsletter containing white papers, fund profiles, and thought pieces from the Fletcher community and beyond.

Positions available:
•    Research Assistant, Sovereign Wealth Fund Bulletin (1 position)
•    Research Assistant, SWFI-Monitor Transactions Database (2 positions)
•    Research Assistant, SWFI Asset Allocation Project (1 position)

CEME houses a research agenda exploring the “Cost of Cash” for consumers, merchants, banks and government. The study explores the costs and benefits of cash payments to various stakeholders in the economy: consumers, merchants, and institutions that offer a safe and stable supply of paper money.  The first year of the project, completed in August 2012, focused on the U.S. market, particularly the under and unbanked sectors. In 2012-2013, the project will expand to Mexico and Egypt, and potentially other markets globally.

Positions Available:
•    Qualitative Researcher, Cost of Cash Mexico
•    Quantitative Researcher, Cost of Cash Mexico
•    Qualitative Researcher, Cost of Cash Egypt
•    Quantitative Researcher, Cost of Cash Egypt

Student Intern — Capital Campaign & Development Initiatives
Student Assistant position available in Fletcher’s Office of Development and Alumni Relations, specifically working with the Capital Campaign and Development Initiatives.  Approximately 8-10 hours per week.  Responsibilities will include: responding to general inquiries from alumni; writing and proofreading content for various electronic and print publications;  letter writing, research, database activity and capital project management assistance.

Applicants must pay high attention to detail; have strong writing skills, interest in fundraising and ease liaising with faculty, alumni and staff are all important. Must be able to commit to a structured weekly/monthly work schedule, with some flexibility.

Research Assistantships
A professor announces the availability of a number of research assistantships. Four positions are available in an international comparative research project that examines the impact of the fusion of nationalism and religion on the dynamics of conflict and on human suffering. Research assistants will help in examining a particular case, conducting literature surveys, writing summaries, helping to organize international seminars and workshops.  Research assistants will be invited to participate in a work/study group on the fusion of religion and nationalism in the spring.

Now that you’re all up to speed on admissions decision options, it’s time to turn to the other piece of information many applicants will receive when decisions go out — scholarship awards.

As you may have read or heard us say, Fletcher awards scholarships on the basis of merit and need to both U.S. and international students.  For a given level of merit (as determined in the admissions review process), the largest awards go to students with the greatest need.  There are no need-only scholarships, in that everyone who is admitted has merit.  But there are also no merit-only scholarships, except for commitments we have made to match grants from other organizations.

The award that an incoming student receives is renewable for the second year of Fletcher study.  There’s a renewal process, through which we double-check that students will be on campus taking the expected number of classes in each semester.  But students who remain in good academic standing can plan their second-year finances based on the knowledge their scholarship will be renewed.

Fletcher has always believed that it’s in the interest of admitted students to have upfront information on their scholarship awards for both years.  It’s important for incoming students to have a complete financial plan (which, it should be clear, doesn’t mean waiting until year two to see what happens).

Separate from the scholarship award are student loans.  For U.S. students and permanent residents who have completed the FAFSA, the University’s Student Financial Services office will, in early April, email details of the complete financial aid package, including loan availability and work study funds.

One last note — many Fletcher students work as research or teaching assistants, but the Admissions Committee doesn’t make those arrangements, and scholarship awards carry no RA or TA obligations.  (We don’t presume to know how you’ll want to spend your out-of-class time.)  Once students arrive in the fall, there are opportunities to find campus work, whether you want to share your expertise in political science or sociology, or hand out reserve reading materials in the library.

If you’re actually reading the Admissions Blog in the middle of summer, it may be because you’re a well-organized applicant.  Or you may be a less-well-organized applicant who’s wondering what a well-organized applicant would be thinking about.  Either way, I should reward your loyalty with a few suggestions for how you can ease your application season workload.

Start with your calendar, and consider if you’ll be able to meet up with Fletcher staffers on the road, or if you may want to visit Fletcher.  Our interview and Information Session schedule for the fall is ready and waiting for applicants to grab the slots.  You can sign up for an Information Session online, or you can email or phone us to arrange an interview.  Note that we accommodate everyone who wants to attend an Information Session, but the interview schedule will fill up midway through the fall.  If you have constraints on your time, I recommend you book your interview as soon as possible.

What else could you do?  Register for the GRE/GMAT, or TOEFL/IELTS, or even take the exam now.  There’s no special reason to leave it to November, and you’ll be relieved to have it out of the way.

Do you have your recommenders lined up?  While summer may not be the best time to connect with your professors, it could be a good time to reach a former supervisor from your professional life.  You’ll want to update anyone who’s writing on your behalf — send a résumé, and even your personal statement, so that your recommendation letters will reflect your current objectives, not your previous plan to go to locksmith school.

How about funding your education?  If you know that you have the funds in the bank to pay for your studies, then you can check this one off your to-do list.  For everyone else, now’s the time to start searching for scholarships.  You should also be sure you understand the financial aid policies of the graduate schools to which you’ll apply.

Why not give yourself extra time to think about your application essays by starting on them now?  Though you shouldn’t start to fill out Fletcher’s application form until the new version is ready next month, I can tell you that our basic essays aren’t going to change this year.  The two essays shared by applicants to all degree programs are:

Essay 1 (Personal Statement): Fletcher’s Committee on Admissions seeks to ensure that there is a good match between each admitted student and the School.  Please tell us your goals for graduate study at Fletcher and for your career. Why is The Fletcher School the right place to pursue your academic objectives and to prepare you to meet your professional goals? Why have you selected the degree program to which you are applying?  If you are planning to pursue a joint degree, please be sure to address this interest in your personal statement.

Essay 2: Choose one of the following essay topics to tell the Admissions Committee something about you that does not fit elsewhere in the application:
• Share something about yourself to help the Admissions Committee develop a more complete picture of who you are.
• Tell us more about how you first became interested in international affairs, or in pursuing an international career.
• Describe the elements of your personal, professional, and/or academic background that have prepared you for your chosen career path.

We like to think that the essays are pretty straightforward.  Use the Personal Statement to discuss your goals, and use the second essay to tell us more about you (which may include things you’ve done in the past).

So those are just a few basic suggestions of what you could get started on.  Naturally, I also want you to enjoy the summer!  But you can smooth the way for a stress-reduced application process if you get an early start on it.

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Applicants and incoming students often ask about the opportunity to find teaching assistant positions while at Fletcher.  One of our newly-minted alumni, Amy Patanasinth, shares her reflections on working as a teaching assistant this past semester.  As you’ll see, she has followed the common protocol of using TA as a verb, with TAed being the past tense.

This past spring semester, I was a Teaching Assistant with the History Department.  I TAed for Professor Jeanne Penvenne’s course “Historical Perspectives on Contemporary African Crises.”  As a double Jumbo, I had stayed in touch with some professors from my days as a Tufts history and international relations major, and one of them recommended me for the TA position.  For most Fletcher students, the best way to find a TA position is to email the chair of the department in which you’re interested.  Fletcher students have TAed for the History, Political Science, and Peace and Justice Studies departments, among others, in the past.  Different departments have different application processes; however, most consist simply of sending off your resume — be sure to highlight any teaching experience you may have.

At Fletcher, one of the areas that I studied was Africa, so the course was a great fit.  I was responsible for a quarter of all of the grading for a 74-person class and for holding weekly office hours.  Since I couldn’t attend the class sessions (due to a conflict with one of my own classes), the office hours were a great way to connect with really bright undergraduates.

TAing was a lot of work, and the timing (my last semester at Fletcher) may not have been the best for me (though professors seem to prefer second-year students).  Still, I really enjoyed working closely with the professor, and I learned a lot.

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If you’re expecting to take loans to pay for graduate school, in particular if you are a U.S. citizen or permanent resident planning to take federal loans, here’s an important bit of information to keep in mind.

After Fletcher makes a scholarship award (and notifies an admitted student of both the admission decision and the award amount), we provide that information to the University’s Student Financial Services office.  There, using information from the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), the SFS staff “packages” each student for scholarship and loans, based on the University’s calculation of a budget for Fletcher study.  The budget includes tuition, fees, health insurance, room and board, books, and incidental expenses.  The budget is standard for all students, though it can be adjusted slightly if a student has an unusual expense related to study (such as the need to replace a broken computer).

What the budget cannot be enlarged to include is repayment of consumer or credit card debt.  These expenses can’t be financed through scholarships or U.S. government loans.  So, as part of the process of preparing for graduate school, you should be paying off your debt now, with the goal of starting your studies debt free (and preferably with some cash in the bank).

As a final note, though different schools will approach the process differently, the general story is the same.  Monthly repayment of consumer debt or credit card debt cannot be included in the budget for study.

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I’ve added a new category to the blog page.  Organizing posts on the topic of Paying for Grad School seemed long overdue.  Just knowing the category is there might prompt me to write more on the topic, and not necessarily only about Fletcher policy.  Sometimes it will be more along the lines of, “Stop ignoring this big issue.  Let’s talk about it.”

And here’s the first bit of info.  A short while back, the Admissions staff sat down with our contact in the University’s Student Financial Services office.  She helped us understand better how she puts together a student’s overall financial aid package.  (Within Fletcher, we only award Fletcher scholarships, and have no official responsibility for loan programs.)  She said she often refers students to, specifically because of the site’s useful calculators.  Check it out soon!  If you’re just getting started on applying to grad school, now is also the perfect time to start thinking about how you’ll pay for your education.

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