The other day, Liz dug deep into the blog archives and found a post that is no less relevant now than it was in 2012. The post considered what a good application looks like, and I’m going to shamelessly draw from it today — not quite repeating it completely, but not writing something fresh, either. The office may be closed today, but I know that applications are still being prepared — here’s a little bit of help for you.
So what does make a good application? Naturally, the best applications will reflect strong academic potential, relevant and rich international and professional experience, and a clear focus for your graduate studies and beyond. Well, from where I stand in December, there’s not much someone can do to improve those credentials before applying by January 10. On the other hand, it’s really important for applicants to note that even the best of you can be bumped down a couple of notches with a sloppily constructed application.
Let’s talk, then, about those aspects of your application that you can still influence. What distinguishes a good application from a crummy one? Two key points. The first should be obvious, but apparently it isn’t: Follow the directions! Answer every question on the form thoroughly. Never (ever ever) say “please refer to résumé.” Be sure to list all your key professional experiences, even if they were unpaid. Don’t assume we don’t want to know about the two years you spent working in a laboratory when, by omitting this information, you make it appear you were unemployed for all that time. I could go on, but the point should be clear — complete every part of the application form with care.
And the advice is essentially the same for the essays. Follow the directions and make sure you have answered the questions. It’s very frustrating for Admissions Committee readers when they reach the end of the personal statement and still don’t know what the applicant wants to do at Fletcher and beyond. A frustrated application reader is bad news for the applicant. We know you want to recycle the same essay for different schools with different essay prompts. Go ahead and recycle selectively (after all, that’s what I’m doing today!), but you still need to be sure to answer the question.
The second point may be slightly less obvious. Your application has many parts, all of which should work on your behalf. Make sure that each piece of the application tells a little more of your story. Beyond the form itself, make sure your résumé is very clear. Avoid acronyms. We know that you know what your organization, Xybrav, does, but we don’t know, and you should tell us. Do you work for the UN agency UNRAITUSAL? Please remind us what that agency does. Remember that Fletcher is a multidisciplinary place — it’s not realistic (or in your interest) to expect everyone to be equally conversant in all areas. And please, I estimate that there are fewer than five applicants each year who need a résumé longer than about three pages. Carefully consider whether you are truly one of those five. (Hint: Is your graduation year 2013 or later? You do not need more than three pages.)
Make sure your recommendations are all written in English. I know that this is a genuine challenge for many of you, but I cannot guarantee your application will be reviewed by someone who speaks your native language. A letter written in a language no one on the Admissions Committee reads is a wasted letter. And note that recommenders can also help you tell your story. Talk to them, and explain what would be helpful for them to say. Were you taking an impossibly heavy course load as an undergraduate? That’s a point that your recommender can make even more effectively than you can!
When you upload your transcripts, ensure they will be legible for us, or we’ll need to contact you to send new ones. Remember that what we want is a scanned copy of an OFFICIAL transcript. Not a copy that is covered with warnings that the photocopy is unofficial. And way too many people ignore the requirement that they explain their education system’s grading, if it’s not on the 4.0 scale that is common (but not universal) in the U.S. Is your grade of “5″ out of a maximum of 6? Out of 10? Out of 12? Out of 20? All these options would reflect grading systems we have seen. Is your GPA of 1.3 as awful as it looks in the U.S. context? Or is it as good as it looks in the German context? A passing grade in the U.S. is usually 65. Did your university follow the British convention, in which a 56 might be a good result? As many universities and systems as we know, it is a mistake for you to assume we know yours. If your transcript doesn’t explain it, you should!
Use your essays mindfully. Make sure the second essay tells us something that promotes your candidacy. We still talk about the essay (which, to be fair, was written in response to a since-abandoned prompt) that an applicant sent about how his life’s greatest challenge was getting drunk on his 30th birthday. Need I say more?
Next, DO NOT WASTE SPACE in your personal statement or second essay addressing shortcomings in your application. Use the “Additional Information” section for that. And if you need to explain your grades or test scores, do not whine.
And, finally, both before and after you have completed the application (but before you submit it), review the application instructions. Make all needed corrections before you submit the application so that you’re not one of those people who asks us to ignore something they’ve already sent.
There you go. Make us happy with a well-constructed application that tells your story in the best possible way. It will make us respect you as an applicant, and respect is a good thing.
No matter how much time the Admissions staff spends on the road, there are always a zillion locations that we don’t reach each year. To plug some of those gaps, our best ambassadors — our students — have volunteered to meet you over coffee. You can find the list of sites on our website. (Sites and details still being added.) Sign up, and take advantage of the chance to chat with a student in a casual setting over your preferred hot beverage.
Tagged with: Coffee Hours
With our general deadline coming up on January 10, the staff finds itself fielding more questions by the day. So that you’ll know which days will and which days won’t be good for getting answers to your questions, allow me to lay out the holiday schedule.
Today, Monday, December 22 — We’re Open!
Tuesday, December 23 — Open
Wednesday, December 24 — Closed
Thursday, December 25 — Closed
Friday, December 26 — Closed
Monday, December 29 — Open
Tuesday, December 30 — Open
Wednesday, December 31 — Open
Thursday, January 1 — Closed
Friday, January 2 — Closed
Monday, January 5 — Normal schedule resumes
Whenever the office is open, staff members will be answering phones and responding to messages in the admissions email inbox. If you write to one of us directly and we’re out of the office, we’ll respond to you after January 5.
All Early Notification applicants should know by now that decisions were released earlier this week. To those who were admitted, congratulations! I hope you’ll enjoy the extra time to plan for your graduate studies. You will be hearing from members of the Admissions staff to whom you can send your questions. We’re really happy to start growing the September 2015 entering class! All that said, this post is not so much for you.
Next, let me say that I’m sorry to bid farewell to a group of applicants who were denied admission. We always regret making these difficult decisions, but we hope it will help the applicants make their choices on where else they should apply.
This post is really for those applicants whose applications were deferred for review in the spring, a good news/bad news situation. The bad news is the lack of happy admissions news, but the good news is that you still have the opportunity to try to bring about happy news in March. Our Admissions Committee will gladly review an update to your application! But what makes a useful addition? Here’s a list of updates that we particularly value:
- An updated transcript that reflects grades received since you submitted your application;
- New standardized exam (GRE, GMAT, TOEFL, IELTS) score reports;
- A revised résumé that includes information on a new job position;
- An additional recommendation that sheds light on an aspect of your background you weren’t able to illuminate in other parts of the application.
Before I go on, I’ll emphasize that no one is required to submit an update. Not at all! But you are invited to submit one, and why would you turn down this opportunity?
What type of optional update is best for you? Well, the first thing to do is consider whether you have your own suspicions regarding weaker aspects of your application. Are those aspects something you can improve on? For example, did you decide it would be better not to mention the causes of your weak undergraduate semester? I’d encourage you to explain it, particularly if it pulls down your overall GPA. Did you indicate that your language skills are not strong enough to pass our proficiency exam? Send us information on your plan for achieving proficiency before the end of the summer. Did you mistype your years of employment at a certain job, making it look like you were there for two months, rather than four years and two months? You can make that correction now. And, if your GRE/GMAT scores were significantly lower than you expected, you may want to take the test again.
Another suggestion: If, upon reflection, your essay didn’t state your goals as clearly as you would have liked, send us a clarifying email! We won’t substitute it for your personal statement, but it will certainly be reviewed. This could be particularly helpful if you’ve taken steps to learn more about your ultimate career goal.
Possible additions to your application need not be limited to what I’ve listed above. The key question to ask yourself is: Does this actually add anything? If the information is already included in your application, then there’s there’s not much value in sending it again. That is, an additional academic recommendation will add little to an application that already includes three. On the other hand, a professional recommendation will add a lot to an application that only includes academic recommendations. Think it through before you flood us with info, but don’t hesitate to send us something that will give your application a happy bump.
Whether you were offered admission this week, or you were told we’ll reconsider your application in the spring, we look forward to hearing from you and to working with you during the coming months. Please be sure to be in touch if you have questions.
Tagged with: Early Notification
I’m happy to introduce the first member of the Class of 2014 to report on his life after Fletcher. Keith Magnam jumped back into the workforce quickly after graduation, and has settled into his new life in Burkina Faso. Here’s his story on his first year post-Fletcher.
I remember the day that I received my welcome packet from Fletcher Admissions some two and a half years ago. It was a scorching hot, dusty day in the lazy town of Bobo-Dioulasso. Getting myself to the DHL office, which was tucked away on the edge of the city limits, was the first of many experiences that would show me just how unique a Fletcher education would be. It’s fitting that I received my packet while living as a Peace Corps volunteer in Burkina Faso. It was in the Peace Corps that I witnessed some of the deepest and most stagnant poverty that I had ever seen in my life. It was in the Peace Corps where I realized that international development would be the focus of the rest of my career. Being at the grassroots level, seeing the day-to-day lives of these amazing people and the struggles they encountered, I knew that I needed to go back to school in order to serve them in the ways they needed. Fletcher’s values, amazing professors, and tireless network of passionate and supportive alumni called to me across the globe. And so, in September of 2012, I had the immense pleasure of joining the Fletcher Class of 2014!
I spent my two years learning everything I could about development economics, the history and progress of international development, and the skills and techniques that would allow me to better design, monitor, and evaluate development interventions around the world. My last semester at Fletcher really made it clear to me where I wanted to be and what role I wanted to play in the field of international development. I took Econometric Impact Evaluation and Development Economics Micro Perspectives with Prof. Jenny Aker, and these two classes taught me how to approach developmental problems from a more efficient and multifaceted perspective. Professor Aker is so passionate about her work and has an unmatched ability to make these lofty theoretical ideas easily accessible and increasingly enjoyable to learn. I spent hours doing STATA work and reading econometric papers because I honestly wanted to. How often does that happen? Well, at Fletcher, all the time. The environment at Fletcher makes students want to excel and strive to be a leader in their field of expertise. It is a great combination of rigorous academics and a collaborative, convivial student body that creates the perfect little bubble in Medford/Somerville, MA where our world’s next leaders are created.
The summer between my first and second years was spent working with FINCA International in Kinshasa, helping them implement a nationwide household survey. My time as their summer fellow taught me a great deal about managing the implementation of a household survey, training and supervising teams of enumerators, and managing data collection in infrastructure-poor areas. This experience was made possible thanks to the generous financial and warmhearted support of the Blakeley Foundation, which sponsors Fletcher summer internships. Without that support, I could have never made the trip to the DRC, nor would I have been exposed to what it’s like to work in a fragile country setting. The experience had its fair share of challenges and security incidents, but Fletcher and the Blakeley Foundation provided me with overwhelming support and advice that helped make the trip a success overall.
Immediately after my time in Kinshasa, I took advantage of the flexibility within Fletcher’s curriculum to spend a semester abroad in Paris. This experience was priceless in that it helped me broaden my perspectives on international collaboration and different developmental paradigms, and of course, to continue to perfect my French while eating the best bread and cheese you’ll ever taste. It was a great opportunity to interact with some of the most influential actors in the development world and begin the work I needed to construct my thesis. I believe it is the combination of my coursework and my practical field experience that helped me get to where I am today.
I currently work for the World Bank Group as an Impact Evaluation Field Coordinator, working on their governance-related impact evaluations in Burkina Faso. I sit within a research group called the Development Impact Evaluation Initiative, whose goal is to increase the use of evidence-based policy-making through rigorous experimentation and evaluation. On a daily basis, I am holding meetings with local NGO coordinators, managing our data collection team, and liaising with national ministries. It is a never-ending whirlwind of project management and critical thinking that has allowed me to grow professionally much more quickly than I had anticipated. As my position sits at the crossroads between the research team, operations, human resources, and finances, I am forced to manage a diverse set of work streams simultaneously. I’m able to do so efficiently thanks to the breadth of skills I was able to acquire while at Fletcher.
In this role, I have had to adapt to a complicated political situation as tensions rose over the past several months related to the ex-President’s attempts to extend his rule past the constitutional limits. After 27 years, the people of Burkina Faso had had enough and took a stand, demanding that Blaise Compaoré step down and allow a new era to be ushered in. Living through this chaotic situation, as it went from lazy streets to blackened skies and burning buildings, I have been reminded about the importance of the work that we, as Fletcher graduates, are doing every day. I have experienced first-hand a people’s frustration with the stagnation of their economy and the disparity that exists between the world’s richest and poorest populations, and their desire for change. If I took away one lesson from Fletcher, above anything else, it is that we are all in this together. Those of us who are lucky enough to be able to attend such a prestigious institution need to do our part to help the world move towards a better future. Whether that be through domestic policies targeting the racial inequalities of our own country, through the concerted efforts of the international community to put an end to extremism and violence, or by helping women create income so that they can feed their children, Fletcher was there to teach me and my fellow classmates. Fletcher will be there to continue teaching generations of bright, passionate leaders who will help drive our world to a better future.
I had an idea last year but didn’t quite succeed in implementing it. One major tweak later, I’m happy to write that I will soon start an occasional series of reports from members of the Class of 2014 on their life after Fletcher. Unlike my (lack of) strategy for the Class of 2013, which resulted in only three posts, last April I snagged volunteer writers before they could leave campus. Most have given me a date by which I can expect to hear from them, and I look forward to sharing these stories from our newest graduates about their move back into the working world and how they have applied their Fletcher educations.
The first report from First-Year Alumni will appear in the Blog tomorrow.
Tagged with: First-Year Alumni
The Fletcher community recently learned of the death of Alfred Rubin, a retired professor who taught here for many years. One of Prof. Rubin’s former students, Duncan Hollis, F95, who happens to be a professor himself now, made us aware of a lovely tribute he wrote for Opinio Juris, a blog dedicated to discussion of international law. He, and the Opinio Juris editorial board, kindly allowed me to reproduce his thoughts on the Admissions Blog. I hope you find his comments as touching as I did.
Alfred P. Rubin: The Best Professor I Ever Had
by Duncan Hollis
For those of us fortunate enough to end up with a career in international law, we all have our mentors, our guiding lights. Mine was Professor Alfred P. Rubin of the Fletcher School. He died last week. I write to express my condolences to his family and friends and offer a few words on his influence on my life as well as the whole Fletcher community, where he taught for 30 years. Simply put, I would not be an international lawyer — let alone a professor of international law — had Professor Rubin not pushed, encouraged, and inspired me onto my current path. He was the best professor I ever saw grace a classroom.
Truth be told, when I arrived at Fletcher in the Fall of 1993, I had no expectations of a career in international law. I had enjoyed studying it as an undergraduate at Bowdoin with Allen Springer (a former student of Professor Rubin as it turned out). But I’d applied to Fletcher to study Japan, not law; I had four years of Japanese language classes under my belt and had just finished a summer internship in Osaka. To complete my joint degree, however, I still needed four law-related courses. LAW 200: The International Legal Order looked interesting. I was a bit wary of an early morning class 3 days a week, including Fridays, plus an unusual year-long course structure. Still, Rubin’s classes were legendary so I decided to take it during my first semester.
In what was a trademark for his contrarian demeanor, Professor Rubin started off our first class with a simple, but powerful, challenge — insisting that there is no such thing as human rights. An Australian classmate took the bait, and responded that they must exist, to which Professor Rubin pushed back, asking if human rights existed as law or morality. That generated a fairly intense discussion on what law “is”, who should decide the law’s contents and by what processes. Fifty minutes later, I was hooked. LAW 200 became my favorite class. I would actually wake up happy on class days, eager to see what the morning’s discussion might hold — the Trent Affair’s illumination of customary international law, the divine law origins of treaties (which I’ve made use of subsequently), or one of my favorite cases, Mortensen v. Peters. We wrestled with the (in)consistency of the ICJ’s approach to the South Africa question, the meaning of “genuine and effective links” for citizenship, plus older chestnuts like the Lotus case. Along the way, Professor Rubin moved us beyond doctrine to legal theory, asking us to work through various iterations of positivist and naturalist methods in original and neo-formulations. We didn’t just read Hart, we went back to Kelsen (reading Kelsen being fairly atypical in American legal education).
The Spring semester brought piracy and thornier topics like recognition, succession, jurisdiction, and conflicts of law. A few years later, Monroe Leigh (who along with Cynthia Lichtenstein were my other early mentors) took me on as his associate in part because I’d invoked the Fruehauf case from Rubin’s class to advise a client. As the semester progressed, my classmates and I debated whether Professor Rubin’s tears in discussing the legality of the bombing of Hiroshima were real (they were) and marveled at how he cared about the “law” as a concept and detested hypocrisy in any form. None of us will ever forget how Rubin ended the year — re-enacting the scene from A Man for All Seasons where Sir Thomas More responds to William Roper’s call for an arrest even if it means cutting a road through the law to get after the Devil:
Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, And if you cut them down, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!
Two decades later, I’m still trying to figure out Professor Rubin’s secret ingredient — the persistent Socratic dialogues, the deep dives into doctrine, the marshaling of legal theory in concrete cases, or that undeniable passion for his subject-matter. It may have been something as simple as his gentle voice — a slight hesitancy in speech with an ever-present inquisitive tone. I confess that my study group spent hours imitating that voice (one of us who shall remain nameless with much success). We did so without any sense of hostility or meanness — but rather as a mark of our affection for his teaching and our sense that his class was a shared experience. And it was not by any means an easy one — the reading assignments were enormous with Rubin assuming we all knew the material so we could take the class discussion to a more critical level. I still have my notes (the only ones that I’ve kept). I was amazed to revisit them yesterday to see just how much we covered that year in history, doctrine and theory. I’ve never had another class like it.
Beyond the classroom, Professor Rubin was a thoughtful adviser. Conveniently located on the way to the cafeteria, his office door was always open. He welcomed students in to ask questions about class or the oft-discussed career question — “So, exactly, how does one become an international lawyer?” He never rushed students off (even if we’d interrupted one of his many Minesweeper computer games). I treasured those conversations, and the chance to soak in his knowledge, his experience, and his many, many books. I have a shelf-long collection of green volumes of the American Journal of International Law in my office today for no other reason than Rubin had one. In later semesters our conversations deepened and I gained insights into key sources and research methods. To this day, I’m reluctant to cite a secondary source when a primary one is at hand since I picture Professor Rubin watching over me and shaking his head, reminding me he expects nothing less.
I will always be most indebted to Professor Rubin for his willingness to go beyond advice to action. In the summer of 1994 I was (unhappily) a temporary secretary in Suffolk University’s physical plant. The job was in the sub-basement below the actual basement. It was hard to see how this was going to advance my dreams of becoming an international lawyer until I got a call from Jeffrey Bates, a partner at Goodwin Proctor at the time. Another former student of Rubin’s, he needed a legal clerk to do some research, and Professor Rubin had recommended me. Overnight, I transferred onto a large and intensive research project that laid the foundations for all that followed. I have no doubts that the Goodwin clerkship made it possible for me to join Steptoe and Johnson as an associate, which in turn led me to the State Department, and eventually Temple Law. All this from one recommendation by Professor Rubin (a recommendation I’d not even asked him to make). Nor am I alone in this experience. Generations of Fletcher students sought out the Rubin experience and found themselves entering the field of international law in one way or another. From that introductory class alone, four of us spent time in the Legal Adviser’s office at the U.S. Department of State; others ended up at the United Nations, in foreign ministries, and private practice. At least three of us followed his path into the academy to teach international law.
Having been a member of international law’s “invisible college” for a few years, I know that Professor Rubin was regarded by other law professors as an academic, known for his work on piracy and unilateral declarations, and some ferocious commentary from the floor at the American Society’s Annual Meeting. For my part, however, I choose to remember Professor Rubin as a teacher. In later years, we kept in touch until his health began to fail. He’d ask me to call him by his first name, Al. I couldn’t do it. He was and will always be my professor of international law. A gentleman, a scholar, but above all a teacher. May he rest in peace.
PhD applicants: You’re part of a small subset of our total group of applicants, but you certainly have the most complex application! Last week, our student interns were taking questions daily about the finer point of the process, but many questions revolved around the dissertation proposal requirement. Yes, we know that a formal dissertation proposal is often a post-coursework requirement in other PhD programs. In fact, that’s the case here, too. So what are we looking for in the proposal that should accompany your application? Well, let’s start with the instructions.
PhD Proposal (1,500 words maximum, single-spaced, Arial 12 point font)
Your PhD Proposal should include:
- A title
- A researchable topic: what question do you propose to study and what evidence are you bringing to bear?
- A brief overview of the literature of the field
- A short description of the proposed methodology for research: how does your research question fit into the existing body of scholarship? How do you propose to answer your research question? What methodologies do you propose to use?
The purpose of this preliminary proposal is to ensure there is a good match between the applicant’s interests and the expertise among the faculty at Fletcher. It’s expected that your interests will be refined as you complete classes for the program, but it’s also expected that the subject of your research focus will remain essentially the same.
The other most-often-asked question regards the master’s thesis. Again, let’s turn to the instructions:
MA Thesis or a writing sample of approximately 40 pages (in English)
Please upload a copy of your thesis to the online application. If your master’s program did not require the writing of a thesis, you can provide a substantial writing sample as a substitute, so long as you are the sole author.
There are two reasons behind this requirement. First, all Fletcher PhD students must complete a master’s thesis. If they haven’t done so in their master’s degree program, they need to write one while at Fletcher. Second, and more important for admissions purposes, the faculty on the PhD Admissions Committee want to see that you can make an argument and follow it through — the kind of research and writing work that you will need to do as a student here. As the instructions note, you can submit another research paper, but you’ll want to be sure that it’s a good representative sample of your best work. Often we’re asked whether a shorter paper will do the trick. Well, um, I guess…but do you want to be judged on the basis of a ten-page paper when everyone else is presenting 50 pages? Give it some thought and then try to find the best possible example of your writing.
Our online application system tells me that dozens of PhD applicants are in the process of completing their applications. With five days leading to the December 20 deadline, I hope these notes will be helpful for those who are wrapping up their materials.
Tagged with: PhD
Here’s some news from the Fares Center for Eastern Mediterranean Studies, a Fletcher research center. The center has a new director, Nadim Shehadi, and here’s what we learned about him in the announcement of his appointment:
For the past 30 years, Nadim Shehadi has been involved in directing and organizing research activities, both academic and policy oriented, principally at St. Antony’s College Oxford where he was director of the Center for Lebanese Studies and as an Associate in the Middle East Program at Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs.
He has extensive experience working in the Middle East and North Africa including Lebanon, Syria, the Palestinian Authority, Jordan, and Libya. He has advised EU governments, European Institutions, and international donors in drafting foreign policy and assistance strategies for the Middle East and North Africa. He has been a visiting fellow at the Aspen Institute in Washington, DC and also at the Fares Center in the spring of 2012.
Shehadi is frequently in the media, has written for publications such as The New York Times and The Guardian, and has a number of publications and edited books. He speaks French and Arabic and holds a bachelor’s degree in political economy from the University of Kent and a master’s degree in development economics from the University of Leicester.
This is especially good news, in that it follows an extended search. Sounds like the wait yielded a new director who will bring much policy and academic experience to the Fares Center.
Fall semester classes wrap up today. It already seems quieter in the building than a few days ago. Tomorrow and Thursday are “reading days,” and exams run from Friday through next Thursday. But we don’t fool ourselves — students will start peeling away from campus as soon as this weekend, and next week we’ll be seeing a tired-looking skeleton crew of a student community. That’s not to say that everyone who leaves campus before the final day of final exams has actually submitted all necessary assignments; students have the option of completing research papers or take-home exams from the comfort of their home country, family’s living room, or vacation destination.
This semester has blazed by! It doesn’t seem like three months have passed since the summer, when the staff was last toiling away in a quiet building. But students will be back in a month, and they’ve earned their break. We’ll just need to look forward to their return.
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