Currently viewing the tag: "Application form"

Gosh, I’m sorry to have missed posting on two days during such a busy time for applicants.  I’m going to try to make up for it today with a big fat application tip.

You’ve probably heard Fletcher or other admissions representatives talk about how we take a “holistic” approach to reviewing applications.  And probably you’ve thought, “Blah blah blah.  That’s what they all say,” or other such dismissive thoughts.  I hear you, dear blog reader.  Especially if you still bear the scars of the often crazy U.S. undergraduate process, you may believe that “holistic” is a word that admissions folks toss around to deflect eyes from our arbitrary cut-offs or nefarious deeds.

But I’m going to ask you to believe me when I say that we review all elements in an application, and that a trip through the Hall of Flags, if you were to survey the students hanging out there, would reveal very different profiles — a collection of profiles that a single set of criteria could never produce.

To demonstrate that we do, indeed, have some standards, here are two bottom line requirements.  The first is that everyone, EVERYONE, who is admitted must be able to succeed academically.  Not everyone is going to be at the top of the class, but the Admissions Committee cannot knowingly admit students who, it is clear, will not be able to complete their Fletcher classes successfully.  The second requirement is that non-native English speakers must have sufficient skills to function in an English-language academic environment.  In the case of this second requirement, we do have a cut-off of 100 on the TOEFL or 7.0 on the IELTS.  (Admitted applicants at or near that cut-off will probably be asked to pursue additional English study before enrolling.)

Let’s say that you believe us and our talk of holistic review.  How should you approach your application?  Holistically, of course.  You should take the time to think about the different aspects of your background that you want us to know about, and then you should select the application component that will be best for telling us about it.  The basic elements of the application are the form, essays, transcript, résumé, test scores, and recommendations.

Let’s start with that academic profile.  Naturally, the best way to demonstrate that you have strong academic potential is a successful undergraduate record, strong GRE/GMAT scores, and a nice recommendation from a former professor.  But not everyone has such a neat package.  A transcript with some blemishes will still be fine, combined with strong scores.  Middling scores will be o.k. when combined with a strong record.  Your recommendation can go a long way toward helping us understand anything that went wrong for you as an undergrad.  All of this is to say that the easiest applications for us to decide on are those in which all the academic pieces are perfect.  But most Fletcher students didn’t present perfect academic profiles, so don’t worry if you’re not perfect, but do give us something positive to work with.

Next, the essays.  Most of you will write two essays for us.  I won’t say much now, because we have provided all sorts of advice in the past.  But I’ll rehash the basics.

  • Make sure you answer the questions.
  • Don’t view the second essay as a throw-away.  It should be telling us something about you that connects, in some way, to your interest in international affairs.  (That’s still plenty flexible.)
  • Use the “additional information” section to explain anything unusual in your application.  Don’t waste essay space to tell us you did poorly in one semester.

Beyond those three points, read through past blog posts for more tips.

While the essays are the heart of the material you’ll prepare for us, you’ll want to use your résumé to help us understand your professional experience and trajectory to date.  If there’s a long time gap in your work chronology, you should explain it in the “additional information” section.  We ask about your work history in the application form, and we want you to complete that section carefully, but the résumé is a free-form location for you to highlight all of the skills you’ve gained and the locations where you have gained them.  Don’t simply attach any old résumé you have hanging around.  Instead, create one that will help you advance your application narrative.  More than one page is A-OK, but that’s not permission to stretch it out beyond what’s warranted.

As I’ve described in the past, we’re looking for international and professional experience that links to your goals.  If possible, your professional recommendation should be your supervisor at a relevant organization.  Sometimes people can’t ask for a letter from their current employer, and we understand that.  Make a note in the “additional information” section.

Finally, a word on the form.  Apparently I say too little about it because I can’t put my finger on an archived post that addresses it directly.  (Note to self — must fix that.)  Yes, it’s time-consuming.  Yes, it might be annoying and repetitive.  But you should still complete it with care.  Application readers start with the form, and by the time I have paged through all the information, I already have a pretty strong impression of an applicant.  Do you want that to be a positive impression?  Of course you do.  Answer each question carefully and make sure you’re not leaving a river of typos.

To wrap up, each element of your application deserves thought and care.  And each element can/should be used to cover an aspect of your objectives and background that you want to share with the Admissions Committee.  For more details on our views, check out the Application Boot Camp posts from a few summers back.

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Though I was content to be the office slacker for a week, I finally put together the time and concentration needed to read a bunch of applications for January enrollment.  My limited sample included experienced professionals and compelling personal stories — exactly what makes reading applications so interesting.

Because the vast majority of our 2015-16 applicants have not submitted applications yet, I want to take a minute to share a tip.  More than a tip, it’s an annual plea.  Is it regarding some obscure aspect of the application?  Ummm, no.  Actually, my tip concerns just about the most fundamental aspect of applying.  And here it is: please answer the questions in the application form.

I know that the application form can seem tedious or repetitive, but the questions are there for a reason.  When you don’t answer them, you can leave us wondering about holes in your background narrative.  We might find ourselves asking: What accounts for this long gap in time?  At what level are your foreign language skills?  In what years did you live in the country of your birth before you emigrated?  What is/was your parents’ work, and what led them to move the family for part of your childhood?

Beyond the fact that Admissions Committee readers are left with questions, by not completing the application thoroughly, you are giving up an opportunity to tell us the maximum amount about yourself.  I do understand that there may be questions that strike applicants as excessively nosy — and skipping those questions remains an option — but we ask for a reason and we do appreciate it when the application is complete.

So there it is, my annual plea.  Take the time to complete the application as thoroughly as possible.  The Admissions Committee members who read your story will appreciate it.

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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.

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