Currently viewing the category: "Paying for Grad School"

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.

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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.

 

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 finaid.org, 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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It’s spring break for our students this week and the building is quiet.  Though students wandering into the office can distract us from our work, it’s generally a welcome distraction.  On the other hand, I need to motor through some tasks this week, and I’ll take advantage of the quiet.

Today I’m going to brazenly steal from myself, and re-post a list of questions (and their related answers) that come up each year.  Maybe one of these answers will help you as you scramble to collect all the information you need.  I’ll post more questions and answers as they come in throughout the spring.  For now, here we go:

Q: I would like to pursue a joint degree. Will Fletcher allow me to defer my enrollment?
A: Fletcher will approve a deferral of up to one year (two semesters) to allow students to start a joint degree at another institution. Prospective students needing more than one year before enrolling should plan to reapply. Anyone wanting a deferral needs to request one — it isn’t automatic — but you can submit your request by email.

Q: I’m not doing a joint degree, but I want to defer for other reasons.  Can I?
A: Fletcher allows deferrals for up to one year so that candidates can pursue professional opportunities.

Q: Tell me more about how to request the deferral.
A: Follow these instructions.

Q: The law/business/other school with which I want to pursue a joint degree is not on Fletcher’s list of “official” joint or dual degrees. How will that work?
A: Fletcher will work with you to arrange the joint degree that suits your career and study goals. The process is to transfer courses from your other program so that you also receive Fletcher credit for them.  When I speak to students putting together an ad hoc joint degree, I always suggest that they contact the registrar as soon as they enroll at Fletcher. You won’t be able to transfer in your first-year torts/finance/language class, but with careful homework, you will find classes that meet Fletcher’s requirements. (You should also be sure to work with the other school. Our experience is that many other schools are less flexible than Fletcher.)

Q: Can I make my decision after the deadline named in my admission letter?
A: No. There are many administrative reasons why Fletcher needs to know how many students will enroll, but we don’t expect you to care about that. On the other hand, we want you to remember that there are students waiting on the waitlist, and we hope you will respect their need for a speedy answer as to whether they will be admitted. We won’t know if we need to go to the waitlist until we have heard from the students we have already admitted.

Q: Do I really need to respond officially?  Can’t I just email you?
A: We enjoy your emails, but we really prefer you respond through the online system or with the enrollment reply form.  It helps us keep track of information.

Q: I hope to work when I’m at Fletcher. How can I arrange it?
A: There are many administrative jobs available each year at Fletcher, as well as elsewhere at the University. Fletcher jobs are usually “advertised” via a student email list. Jobs elsewhere at the University can be found through the Student Employment office.

Q: What about research or teaching assistantships?
A: These positions are arranged directly with the hiring department or professor. It can be difficult for you to arrange a teaching assistant position for your first semester, regardless of your qualifications, but there are often opportunities in the second semester. Many professors hire research assistants in the fall, so even first-year students will be eligible. Research assistants are paid an hourly wage, while teaching assistants are often paid per course. (Note that teaching assistants do not teach Fletcher students. Professors teach, but the assistants might arrange course materials or do other “behind the scenes” work.)

Q: How do second-year scholarships compare to those awarded to first-year students?
A: We know that there are schools out there that reserve much of their scholarship budget to distribute to second-year students.  That isn’t Fletcher’s model.  We split our scholarship budget between first-year and second-year students.  Students who remain in good academic standing can expect their awards to be renewed for the second year.  Students who do not receive a scholarship in the first year can also apply for a scholarship for the second year, but funding cannot be guaranteed.

Q: What classes will be offered in 2010-2011?
A: The schedules for next year aren’t set yet, but many courses are offered on a yearly basis.  You can see the class schedules for 2009-2010 on our web site.

Q: I was put on the waitlist.  Can I request feedback now?
A: Although the waitlist is not the same as being offered admission, it’s also not the same as being denied admission.  We only offer feedback to applicants once their applications are no longer active, which is not the case for those on the waitlist.  So that means we’ll ask you to make your own determination of what materials will help strengthen your application at this point.

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We hear lots of questions about scholarships and how they’re awarded.  (It was the hot topic at Monday’s event.)  Must be time to shed a little sunshine on this murky topic.  Let’s start with the terminology.  When we, at Fletcher, talk about “scholarships,” we’re talking about the funds drawn from the Fletcher pot of cash — not loans, or any other type of financial aid.

Fletcher awards scholarships on the basis of need and merit together.  That is, there are no merit-only scholarships, and there are no need-only scholarships.  Merit is determined through the admissions process, and need is assessed when we review the two-page scholarship application.  For a given level of merit, the largest awards go to those with the greatest financial need.

(This is the moment to mention that we review scholarship applications after admissions decisions have been made.  Applying for a scholarship will not affect your admissions chances.)

We offer a few full-tuition scholarships, but we never “waive tuition.”  (In the end, what is a tuition waiver, anyway, except a full-tuition scholarship?)  Most Fletcher scholarships do not cover the full cost of tuition, and our students usually fund their education through a combination of personal savings, family contributions, the Fletcher scholarship, income earned while a student, loans, and external scholarships or fellowships.  Even students receiving a full-tuition scholarship will need to cover living expenses.

Different graduate schools have different scholarship/financial aid policies, and we’ve tinkered around with ours quite a bit over the years.  Is our current structure perfect?  Nope.  But it makes a certain sense.  We try to give students with financial need a start toward the cost of attendance.  It’s up to the student to line up the remaining funds.

Also up to the student is the task of finding teaching assistant, research assistant, or office positions.  The Admissions Committee doesn’t assign students to professors as research help.  The professors do their own hiring, and many Fletcher students are TAs within the School or in other units of the University.  To be honest, it’s very difficult to line up a teaching assistant position before you’re actually on campus, but some students will be TAs in their second semester.  Research assistant and office positions are advertised at the start of each semester, and are particularly readily available in September.

You may be wondering what you can do now to be sure you can afford graduate school.  The first thing you shouldn’t do is sit back (possibly biting your nails with worry) and wait until you have heard from all the schools to which you applied.  After admissions decisions are released, you only have a short time (about a month) to get all your financial ducks in a row.  Don’t miss the opportunity to do some research and planning now.  What personal and family sources can you draw upon?  Is there any scholarship or fellowship available to someone with your academic or professional or national background?  (These external scholarships are often for small sums, but every bit helps.)  Do a little financial analysis — how much can you afford to borrow?  Finally, it’s not too late to SAVE!  If there’s any way for you to put some money away each month, then do it!  Even if your savings only cover the cost of books, you’ll be glad to have the cash.

Since not all of our applicants and blog readers are U.S. citizens or permanent residents, I won’t say too much here about government loans and work study.  Just this:  if there’s any chance you’re going to want to apply for loans, you should complete the FAFSA, and now is as good a time as any.  That way, when the University informs you of your financial aid “package,” you’ll learn about loan funds in addition to the Fletcher scholarship.

Affording graduate study is a challenge.  Your first step toward meeting the challenge is a little advance preparation.

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Yes, it’s only July. Yes, it’s true that we should be able to rest our brains in the summer. Yes, I agree that heat and humidity are not conducive to productivity. But if you’re planning to apply to graduate school for January or September 2009 entry, it’s time to start thinking. Fletcher’s application deadline for January enrollment in the MALD program is October 15, less than three months away. And the Early Notification deadline for MALD, MIB, MA, and LLM September enrollment is only one month later. So what are you waiting for?

Now’s the time to: craft an interesting and informative personal statement; line up your recommendations; take standardized exams (GRE or GMAT, and/or TOEFL or IELTS) and ensure that scores will be sent to all the schools to which you’ll apply; explore external fellowships and other sources of funds that will enable you to afford graduate study; request transcripts (or at least find out the request procedure) from all the colleges or universities you attended; polish up your résumé, with the aim of transmitting the maximum information in the least possible space. And, of course, you want to be making good progress in refining the list of graduate schools to which you’ll apply.

“Long-time” readers of the Fletcher admissions blog know that my son went through the college admissions process this past year. Smartest thing he did was to write his essays last summer. It’s a good strategy at the grad school level, as well. No matter whether you’re a college senior, a Peace Corps volunteer in a remote location, or a young professional in a demanding job, you’ll improve your results if you get a start on writing your essays while you have time to think — ahead of the pressures of application deadlines.

Which leads to the application itself. We make revisions to our application each summer. The new application will be up and accessible from the website by mid-August. But I can tell you now that the personal statement topic has not been changed. So why not get started on it?

Finally, yet another reminder to schedule your interview appointment (if you plan to participate in one) as soon as possible. Beat the rush and send us a request now.

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My son just had his last interview on Saturday. Otherwise, he’s enjoying the quiet period between submitting applications and hearing back. It’s one point in his application year when not stressing is definitely the way to go.

But what about applicants to grad school? Relaxing a bit is well within your rights! After all, once you’re absolutely sure that all materials (test scores, recommendations, transcripts, etc.) have been received by Fletcher and the other schools to which you have applied, there’s not much you can do. The grad schools all have their own processes and you can’t make them go any faster.

But there’s one thing that you can and should do, which is to take any steps necessary to ensure the financial viability of your proposed study. Yes, Fletcher and our peers offer full-tuition scholarships to some of our students. But most APSIA schools are, at best, not routinely waiving tuition for all students. Maybe Fletcher’s admissions committee will consider you to be a top applicant and offer you a sizable scholarship – but you don’t have that information yet. How will you finance your studies if you aren’t offered the level of scholarship assistance for which you had hoped?

So now is the time to save your pennies, ask family members for support, research loan possibilities, and search for external fellowships. If you wait until April, you will have a painfully short time to pull everything together. We see it year after year – otherwise wonderful applicants who have not considered how much it will cost to (among other expenses) move out of their current home, travel to their graduate school, buy a computer and books, rent an apartment, and, of course, pay tuition. There’s no avoiding it – graduate study is an investment, and now is the time to prepare to invest.

 

About a year ago, an incoming student asked us if Fletcher would match his AmeriCorps Education Award. With so many students who have service experience, and so many alumni in public service, forming a connection with AmeriCorps seemed like an obvious step for Fletcher to take – but somehow it hadn’t yet been taken. A bunch of conversations and some research later, I’m happy to announce three new partnerships for Fletcher. Formally or informally, we are connecting with key organizations through which our students pursue service opportunities before starting their graduate studies.

For September 2007 incoming students, Fletcher is officially among the schools that match the Segal AmeriCorps Education Awards, and we will provide the match for as long as the student is studying full-time at Fletcher. The match amount (generally $5,000 per year) will serve as the base for the AmeriCorps alum’s scholarship, and additional funds could be awarded following our usual review, which considers both need and merit. You can find Fletcher listed on the AmeriCorps web site, among the grad schools that have pledged to match this post-service benefit received by AmeriCorps members.

We didn’t stop with AmeriCorps – and looked next at how we might connect with Teach For America. We will award a scholarship of $5,000 per year to Teach For America alumni who enroll at Fletcher, and these students will also be eligible for additional funds based on need and merit. You can find Fletcher listed among the Government and Public Policy schools on the grad school partnerships page of the Teach For America web site.

Finally, we considered the service organization that is best-represented among our students: the Peace Corps. Every entering Fletcher class has a half-dozen or more returned Peace Corps Volunteers, and we count on them to bring passion and experience to the classroom. Although the Peace Corps doesn’t have a partnership program precisely like those of AmeriCorps or Teach for America, Fletcher will offer the same $5,000 per year base scholarship to returned Peace Corps Volunteers.

We’re very much looking forward to the opportunity to recognize the service experience of our students. If you have questions about Fletcher’s connection to any of these programs, please contact me directly.

 

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