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We’ve been hearing that people want to start applying to Fletcher, and they’re asking why we don’t have an application available.  The answer is that we’re still developing our new application system, but we’re on track to make it available in August.

Most of the change that this application will bring is going to be felt by the Admissions Staff.  We’ll be reading applications online for the first time!  But we’re confident that prospective students for 2015 are going to find the new application more friendly.  Among other improvements over our old system:  it will be harder to submit an application that is missing information.  Yep, that’s right — we’re creating an application that will help you avoid errors.  At the same time as we fully intend to kick off the new application in August, we also believe that it will be worth waiting for.

Meanwhile, I’ll point you back about a month to a post in which I provided the essay questions.  Feel free to sharpen up your #2 pencil and start writing.

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The Fletcher Admissions website currently has a page called Apply to Fletcher, but there’s no application to be found.  We usually keep the application up throughout the summer, but this year is different because we are in the process of transitioning to an entirely new application system.  ENTIRELY new!  Applicants should find the new interface to be far friendlier than the old one, and the Admissions Committee will be able to stop dragging applications around — everything will be found conveniently in the cloud.  As you can imagine, this is a big change for us.  I think it’s fair to say that we’re all excited but nervous about how the change will play out.

Meanwhile, for those who really wanted to get going on their applications, there’s one big piece of info I can share.  The essay questions will not be changing.  The two essays that are shared by all degree programs will be:

Essay 1: Personal Statement (600-800 words)
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.  Describe the elements of your personal, professional, and/or academic background that have prepared you for your chosen career path.  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 (500 words maximum)
Share something about yourself to help the Committee on Admissions develop a more complete picture of who you are.

That should be enough of an assignment to keep you busy until we post the link to the new application.  Even if you don’t want to start writing yet, you might like having a little extra time to think through your answers.

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We tinkered with our application essays this year.  Our intention was to ensure applicants would provide the information we need in the personal statement (Essay 1).  The unintended result is that we’re hearing a lot of questions about Essay 2.  For those of you who haven’t started the application yet, Essay 2 asks:

Share something about yourself to help the Committee on Admissions
develop a more complete picture of who you are.  (500 words, maximum)

What applicants are asking is what, exactly, we really want them to tell us in answer to Essay 2.  The implication of their question is that we’ve left the question too structureless.

As I’m sure savvy blog readers would expect, I’m going to tell you that there’s no correct or expected answer to the essay question.  And I’d understand if you roll your eyes while muttering blah, blah, blah in your heads.  But it’s true:  there’s no correct or expected answer to the essay question.

Still aiming to be helpful, I’ll suggest, instead, a way of approaching the essay.  Think about the information you have provided in your application through all its parts.  What dimension of you/your background might you still want to share?  That is, don’t view the essay as a throw-away, and use it to fill in some gaps left after the rest of the application is complete.

Elaborate on your international experience.  Share your thoughts on leadership.  Talk about your hobbies (assuming there’s a link to your international affairs interests).  Describe a challenge you have faced.  Tell us how you needed to learn Spanish to speak to your rescue dog.  Describe the importance of community to you.  Tell us how your family upbringing made you the person you are.  Provide more detail on the origins of your interest in international affairs.  Write about your quest to cook the perfect dish from a country you love.  Any of these approaches (and many, many others!) would be a nice addition to an application.

In past years, we’ve used essay prompts that resulted in a few interesting responses and a zillion similar ones.  When we asked applicants to describe an item of particular importance to them, nearly all the responses were:  passport, bookcase full of IR books, hiking boots, or backpack.  We moved away from questions that draw such responses because we really want to know about you — not about what you think we want to know about you.

So, friendly applicants, choose a subject that boosts your application and go for it.  There’s no correct or expected answer to Essay 2, and we’ll enjoy learning about what’s important to you.

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For those folks who want to get an early start on their applications for January or September 2014 enrollment, please note that the new application is ready and waiting for you!  And if you don’t complete the application in a single sitting, you will (of course) be able to save your work.

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Here’s a little update for readers planning to apply to Fletcher for 2014 enrollment.

First, you’ll want to note that the online application will be unavailable for most of August.  To be honest, this is a good thing.  There’s no benefit to starting now to fill in the blanks — wait until the new application is in place.

On the other hand, eager applicants might want to outline their answers to the essay questions.  As I mentioned earlier in the summer, we have (for the first time in many years) tweaked the questions.  We took one option from essay two and inserted it in essay one, leaving only one option for essay two.  In other words, here are the questions you’ll be asked to answer on this year’s application:

Essay One:  Personal Statement
Please tell us your goals for graduate study at Fletcher and for your career. Describe the elements of your personal, professional, and/or academic background that have prepared you for your chosen career path.  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? (600-800 words)

Essay Two
Share something about yourself to help the Committee on Admissions develop a more complete picture of who you are.  (500 words, maximum)

I’m happy to provide essay-writing tips.  Tell me (in a comment below) what you’d like to know!

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When I made my annual plea for staffers to write about their reading days, Dan jumped forward to volunteer.  Which is excellent, because Dan has an adorable dog, and reading days are always enhanced by the company of an adorable dog.  Here’s how things went last week for Dan and Murray.

There are lots of nice things about a day at home reading applications.  Sleeping in a bit on a Wednesday is a treat.  I also find it easier to focus on reading closely without the intrusion of various other projects.  And when the weather reports in New England break out the phrase “bitter cold,” you know it’s a day made for staying in.  Bring it on, applicants!

Now about that “sleeping in.”  I live farther from Fletcher than some, so getting going at 7:30 feels almost like a weekend to me, though even our dog Murray isn’t awake yet.

Without fail, my first thought upon surveying a stack of applications is “this shouldn’t take too long.”  Doesn’t look like so much, right?

A few things to keep in mind:  1. Note that my application pile is considerably larger than the ones in back, which are my wife’s high school English portfolios, still to be graded.  To be fair, she’s been working through hers for the past several days, and each represents a semester’s worth of work.  But still, my pile is bigger, so I win.  2. You may have heard elsewhere that we read every part of the application.  Seriously.  We really do.  Some files go more quickly than others; while a decision is sometimes pretty easy to determine, many times I find myself picking through an application several times, and sitting and thinking about it for a few minutes before deciding.  The point is that this stuff takes a while.

Reading Fletcher applications is fascinating and humbling.  In the first few hours of my day, I’ve “met” World Food Programme staffers, Marines with multiple overseas deployments, fair trade researchers, clean energy specialists, a couple of Peace Corps volunteers, and an engineer focusing on post-Fukushima safety regimes, and I’m sitting here in sweats and a hoodie trying to avoid paper cuts.  Time for some breakfast, I think.

Reading days are all about pacing.  I like to make a bit of a dent in the day’s task before my first reward.  On a sub-zero January day, the menu choice is a no-brainer – an egg white, veggie bacon and cheese breakfast sandwich, and a coffee refill.  (Coffee isn’t part of the pacing/reward paradigm, if you were wondering.  It’s considered a reading day staple food, and therefore is available at all times.  This is cup #2). Applicants, I apologize for any errant grease stains I may or may not get on your files.

After another couple hours, it’s time for another break.  On these frigid days, poor Murray doesn’t get to go outside as much as he’d like (which, in a perfect world, would be always), but he still needs a stretch every now and then, and so do I.  It’s nice to take a breather, and having me energized and alert is to your benefit as an applicant.

Remember that cold I mentioned?  I wasn’t kidding.  Hard not to feel on your toes after a few minutes in this kind of weather – it’s a cold day out when even ice cream freezes.

Back at my reading station, I’m making progress.  While I read about the experiences of Supreme Court clerks, gender-based violence researchers, and youth NGO founders, Murray is hard at work on his own project: sunbathing.

I find it’s easy to lose track of time on reading days.  I can get into a groove and not realize that several hours have passed.  I don’t really notice that my pile is dwindling, until it hits me that I’m on my last application of the day.  Maybe it’s yours? 

I feel a nice sense of accomplishment, and in serious awe of our pool of candidates. Murray, on the other hand, is harder to impress. Looks like it’s time to suit up for another jaunt into the frozen outdoors.

 

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It’s Day One after the main application deadline: the printer is whirring and the files are forming.  As an annual service to our applicants and the Admissions staffers who would otherwise answer applicants’ questions, this post gives you the information you need to remain patient for a few days while we compile and process your application.  Please read it, and then, at the risk of sounding harsh, do not contact us for a few days.  Right now, it’s a challenge to put our hands on any particular application, but hearing that over the phone about your own materials is unnecessarily alarming.  Hold tight, and when you start to worry anew about whether you’ve done everything you need to, reread this blog post.  Meanwhile, here’s the rundown of what has happened since you submitted your application, whether you followed my advice and applied early or waited until 11:59 EST last night.

1.  Once you hit the online “submit” button, your application was “stamped” with the date and time.  The electronic application then waits within the Embark system for your registered online recommenders to do their work.  If all your recommenders have already submitted their letters, or if you haven’t registered any online recommenders, the application will be ready for us immediately, and we’ll upload it into our internal program.  (If your recommenders haven’t done their part, it’s your responsibility to remind them that the deadline has passed.)

2.  When your application (with online recommendations) is uploaded, you’ll receive an automatically generated email stating that we have received your application, and that you should wait ten business days before contacting the Admissions Office about any missing materials.  The email also provides you with a username and password to access the Tufts Graduate Application Management System (GAMS).  GAMS will be the best way to track your application.  We’ll also be posting decision letters to your GAMS account, so hang on to your username and password!  Remember that we don’t receive your application (and you don’t receive the email) if the application is stuck in Embark, waiting for recommendations.  And emailing a member of the Admissions staff will generally give you only the information you can access yourself through GAMS.  (After a few weeks, there’s more that we can do to help track materials down.)

3.   Uploaded applications are printed in batches.  Once we have the paper copy, we’ll create a file folder for you, giving you a tangible presence in the Admissions Office.

4.  Meanwhile, Admissions Office staffers will open the daily piles of envelopes holding test scores, transcripts, letters of recommendation from recommenders who weren’t registered online, etc.  We sort and file the mail.  If the application hasn’t yet been uploaded, the paper materials will “wait” for it to emerge from the system.

5.  Once we have your application in a file folder, we dig out the mail that has already been received for you and include it.  Then we manually update your record in the admissions system to show what materials have come in by mail.  You should track your application through GAMS, but we’ll also email you if there’s a document missing. This is the ten-day process I referred to in point 2 above.  If you’re not patient, GAMS will alarm you by indicating we haven’t received anything at all.  Until we manually process your application materials, the information in GAMS is not complete.  Keep on top of things, but remember that the registering of your materials won’t happen immediately.

6.  Your completed application is then given to Committee members to review, and you’ll receive your admission decision in late March.

Though the post-submit process hasn’t really changed for applicants or for the Admissions Office, we’re hoping that everything will come together more quickly than in the past, because we’ll be waiting for fewer transcripts.  In another few weeks, we’ll know what the impact of this year’s tweaks to our process will be.

The bottom line:  Make sure you monitor your application, but give us a little time to pull everything together.  In only about two weeks, everyone who has submitted all the materials needed for an application should find accurate and reassuring information on GAMS.

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Despite the looming application deadline (or, perhaps, because of it), the Admissions staff will be meeting off-site today to plan for the coming deluge and all that follows.  Fortunately, Katherine thought ahead and has tips for those of you putting the finishing touches on your application.

The pace is really picking up here in the Admissions Office!  Just as many of you are scrambling to pull together your applications by the big deadline — January 10 — we’re already busy processing the first waves of applications we’ve received.  By now you’ve all heard your share of tips from other members of the Admissions Staff:  Liz offered up suggestions on how to approach the new online interview, Christine gave her seasoned advice specifically for international applicants, and there’s even a blog category dedicated to Admissions Tips.   As the admissions coordinator, I see every beautiful/messy/thorough/spotty application that passes through the office, so I thought I would offer up my advice on how to put all the physical pieces together to put forward your strongest possible application.

First, and you’ve heard this before, read the directions!  It should be obvious from the application and the instructions exactly what you need to submit.  The application inspector (Step 6) is a huge help.  The instructions can be found in a lot of places, including here.  (Read them now, even if you don’t plan on applying until next fall.)  Remember to plan extra time for some pieces to reach us, such as test scores that need to come directly from the testing service.

Second, double-check your uploads!  It’s rare that applicants submit two copies of their personal statement instead of both their personal statement and their essay, but it happens. Even more unfortunate is when an applicant uploads a draft of the personal statement, complete with comments we’re never meant to see.

Third, provide clear transcripts!  We prefer to see a scanned copy of your official transcript as opposed to a printout of the online version.  If, for some reason, you need to submit an online printout, please make sure it clearly states the institution you attended.  We won’t give you credit for a transcript if it doesn’t have the school’s name!  Remember to submit a transcript for each institution you listed on the educational institutions page (page 3 of the application form).  And remember that, if we can’t read your transcript, your application will be incomplete and we are going to ask you for another one.  Make sure it’s legible!

Fourth, use page 11! The Additional Information section is invaluable to you and to us.  Use it to explain anything that may not be obvious in your submitted materials.  Perhaps your study abroad semester is buried within a different school’s transcript.  Perhaps you took a summer language course but it didn’t provide a transcript.  Maybe you are currently enrolled in a class and the grade(s) will be available after our deadline.  Don’t make us guess about these things — use the Additional Information section to tell us.

Fifth, make it clear who your recommenders are.  There are two places on the application where you have to list their information:  page 1 of the application form and step 5.  Make sure that these sections match.  If they don’t, I look like this: [imagine person sitting at a desk with a big speech bubble above her head filled with question marks].

Sixth, make sure your information is clean and clear.  Capitalize your name.  Spell out your street address.  We know it’s a lot of work to put together a complete application:  make it shine!

Seventh, don’t send duplicates.  Feel free to upload an unofficial transcript if the official one is going to take longer to get to us.  Please do not send us or email us all of the pieces that you already submitted online — if we are missing anything, we will notify you directly.

Eighth, standardized test scores are required.  An application is incomplete without them.  If you want your application to be complete, submit your official test scores.  If you took them shortly before submitting your application, indicate your test date so that we can keep an eye out for them.

Ninth, try to get everything to us at the same time.  We happily accept pieces, when appropriate, though mail and email, though in most cases you should be able to submit everything online.  If we can pair everything up and complete your application at once, you’re golden!  Having a complete file that follows the directions is a good way to indicate right off the bat that you’re prepared for the demands of a rigorous graduate program.

Finally, relax!  If you’ve done all of these things, chances are you’ve submitted an excellent physical application.  We look carefully at every application that comes in and we will assuredly reach out to you in the event we need anything.  In this case, no news is good news.

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Christine just handed me an idea (nay, a plea) for today’s post.  She told me that, as the staffer who answers the questions of most callers and emailers (particularly while our student interns are in the middle of exams), she has been fielding endless special requests this week, mostly related to taking and submitting results for the GRE/GMAT.  Requests such as:  Can I submit scores late?  Can I take the exam after the application deadline?  Can you waive the requirement for me, because I haven’t studied for the exam?  Or because I graduated from college many years ago?

So, with Christine and all the applicants who take the exam in a timely way (and don’t make special requests) in mind, here’s the deal:  Fletcher requires submission of GRE/GMAT scores because we find them to be a useful analytical tool, even though GRE/GMAT scores are never the sole basis for an admissions decision.  Our expectation is that you will make your application complete as quickly as possible after the deadline.  That is, you must submit the online application materials before the deadline, but supporting credentials (test scores, recommendations) can arrive a little bit later without having a negative effect on your application.  Today’s date is December 13.  If you’re aiming for the January 10 deadline, you have about three weeks to take the exam and still expect to complete your application in time.

(Note that, even within the structure outlined above, you can still see a typically Fletcher-ish flexibility.  We could (but don’t) say we refuse to review an application if all materials don’t arrive by the deadline.  We want to give our applicants every opportunity to put together a strong application.  But that flexibility doesn’t extend as far as offering special arrangements to each of the thousand people Christine feels she has spoken to this week.)

Since many graduate schools have January deadlines, testing centers tend to be very busy this time of year.  That is why, if you haven’t taken the test yet, you need to act RIGHT NOW and find a test date.

What happens if on January 10…January 15…January 20…February 1, your scores still haven’t reached us?  Well, we’re just going to hold all your materials in a folder while we wait.  Leaving your application in that endless purgatory is, let’s say, not a great strategy for obtaining admission.

As for all the other reasons people give for not wanting to take the exam (graduated long ago, math skills are rusty, etc.), I can only say that your fellow applicants would probably say much the same.  No one likes taking these exams.  We understand that.  But like many unpleasant things in life, you simply need to do it.  In this case, you also need to do it on our schedule — not because we seek to inconvenience you, but because not following our schedule may hurt your own chances of gaining admission.

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On Saturday, October 27, my friend Joann was in her house, just north of New York City.  She said to her son, Alec, that Hurricane Sandy was coming, and that they should submit all his college (undergraduate) applications RIGHT AWAY, so that they wouldn’t need to worry about the storm.  Sandy arrived around mid-day on Monday (October 29) and knocked out Joann’s electricity until Friday, November 2, one day after the deadline that Alec needed to meet.

Dear blog reader, every year I beg applicants to submit their applications early.  Do they listen to me?  Well, some do.  But 75% of our applicants do not.  This year, I once again implore you to submit early, but if you don’t want to listen to me, then listen to Joann.

Lest I leave any doubt, I am not suggesting you submit an application that is incomplete or somehow wanting.  Rather, I’m telling you to create a personalized deadline that is ahead of our deadline, and work back from there to ensure your application is perfect and complete.  For example, if you’re aiming for our January 10 deadline, then:

January 3, complete the application form (short answers) while continuing to polish essays
January 5, add your essays to the application, and proofread everything
January 6, do something completely different that will clear your head
January 7, reread the application instructions and, with special attention to ensuring you have followed those instructions, review each part of your application
January 8, submit the application
January 9-10, in your head (not out loud, please), gloat about your timely application submission

If, like Joann and Alec, you’re concerned about the potential for technical problems, set your personalized deadline earlier than January 8, and start the final polishing earlier, too.  The idea is to aim for a date that enables you to present a flawless document, but also leaves breathing room before the actual deadline.  Remember, too, that meeting the deadline requires that you submit the online application (and included materials) by 11:59 p.m. EST (GMT-5) of the due date.  If test scores or recommendations arrive slightly after the deadline, we’ll still consider your application to be on-time.

I assure you that this is good advice.  But if you don’t believe me, ask Joann.  Alec doesn’t yet recognize the value of his mother’s wisdom, but you can still learn from it.

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