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At our Admissions team meeting last week, I asked what I thought would be an easy question. I figured it would be nice to offer some application tips, and I asked my Admissions pals to suggest things that make them happy when they’re reading applications. Such a simple request! Or not! It turns out I had, instead, opened a big ol’ can of worms.
What I discovered is that, in some areas, our preferences are not in line. Interesting! I always assume that everyone will agree with me! (In a perfect world…) So today’s post will capture the points on which we achieved clear consensus, in hopes that blog readers who are starting or editing an application can benefit. And it isn’t that our points of disagreement result in differing application evaluations. Simply that what has another staffer smiling ear-to-ear may not affect me at all.
The part of the application on which we agree the most is the résumé. We all like to see a nice clean résumé, listing (in reverse chronological order) your professional and academic experience. Different settings call for different résumés, but the Admissions Staff all noted that we don’t need to see special colors, quotes from inspiring leaders, or your list of favorite movies. Stick to the basics and make it readable. (And then chat with me about movies after you’re admitted.) While we encourage you to keep the résumé to two pages, we won’t penalize you if you go over, so please, no teeny-tiny fonts. Check out these posts for more tips on the résumé.
Kristen went further to say that she’s happy when the employment information in the application and in the résumé match up. It’s so much easier to understand your story if you don’t leave us struggling to figure out whether your job lasted one year or one month.
Dan likes when applicants synthesize their interests and note the links between their experiences. It might be clear to you why you went from this to that, but if you don’t lay it out, maybe we won’t see the connection. When we do, we’re happy.
Next, Laurie mentioned, and we all agreed, that you should use the “additional information” section of the application wisely. DO use it to explain why your first undergraduate year resulted in such poor grades, or why your Peace Corps experience ended abruptly, or that you are planning to plug a gap and take economics in the spring. DO NOT use it to explain a single B on an otherwise perfect transcript, or anything else that really doesn’t need explaining and/or could be interpreted as whining.
Liz and I disagreed about what essay structure makes us happy. I personally like to see the applicant’s objectives right at the top. Liz likes when the applicant builds the narrative and states the goals later on. One thing we agree on — if you actually answer the question we’ve asked, your goals will be clear to us after we read the essay.
And speaking of essays, one of my pet peeves is when applicants are obviously using a thesaurus to make random word changes. Instead of, “I walked to the store,” the essay will say, “I perambulated to the emporium.” Sure, the essay is a type of formal document, but it calls for clear, personal writing — not someone else’s idea of fancy words. I try to keep this from being an annual theme, but perhaps I’ve written about it before…. For that matter, the Blog archive includes quite a few essay tips. Make sure your essays work together to tell us your story and to describe your goals, and we’ll all be happy!
Lucas mentioned that he likes when he sees all the information he needs in the transcripts. You should be including documentation of all courses that counted toward your undergraduate degree (and graduate degree, if applicable). We don’t need to see anything else. No certificates. No high school diploma. But we absolutely want to see grades from your semester/year studying abroad or from the first university you attended before you transferred. When all the details are included and clear, we’re happy.
Now that I’ve given you this list of what makes the Admissions team happy, I can also tell you not to worry that some strange unmentioned preference will doom your candidacy. That is absolutely not the case! My experience is that there’s a strong convergence of views on the quality of an application. The matter of our preferences relates more to the pleasure we take in reviewing it. There’s a certain satisfaction in seeing a nice clean application, but it’s the underlying qualities that result in a decision to admit an applicant.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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!
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.
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.
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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