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A good proportion of the callers and emailers we’ll hear from this week will be asking some variation of the question, “What will happen if my recommendation/test score/transcript arrives after January 15?” Ideally, all the bits and pieces of your application, including those that someone else needs to send on your behalf, will be here before January 15. But life is often less than ideal, and we’re used to that.
If you haven’t already submitted your application (note that there’s still time to adopt the Personal Deadline approach), just be sure that you submit all the components of the online application by January 15. (That is: the form, the essays, the scholarship application, and anything you need to upload, such as your résumé.) For the other materials, while we prefer that they also arrive by January 15, you can take advantage of a grace period until February 1.
I want to be sure that, in the process of answering one question, I don’t create ten others. What I’m saying is that if (for example) you took the GREs on January 10, and scores won’t arrive for another two weeks, you don’t need to worry — we’ll still consider your application to have arrived by the January 15 deadline, so long as you have submitted your part on time. Please don’t assume that I’m saying that everyone is free to submit all materials by February 1 just because it’s more relaxing.
The obvious reality is that we can’t process, let alone review, 1800 applications on the day they arrive. Pulling everything together takes time. So we’ll review applications in order, as they become complete, with the expectation that all materials will arrive by February 1.
And here’s one more answer to a question we’ll be hearing: January 15 means that the online application should be time-stamped January 15 by 11:59 p.m. U.S. Eastern Standard Time. But do yourself a favor, don’t wait until that almost-midnight hour.
We’re well aware that no one wishes to be in that winter middle ground of having an Early Notification application deferred for review in the spring. Nonetheless, you needn’t feel helpless. Instead, you should take the opportunity to update us. Since November, when you submitted your application, have you: completed a class (or classes); retaken a standardized exam; started a new job or internship; had your writing published; received an honor of any kind; or generally experienced a change in your profile that we should know about? Then please tell us. Send us your official transcript or test score reports, or mail a description of your new job or any of those other changes. We’ll add the new information to your application file, and it will be there for readers to see when your application is re-reviewed in the coming months.
Excuse my nosiness, but I’m wondering why you haven’t submitted your application yet.
Is it because you only recently decided to apply, and you’re still putting everything together? In that case, take your time — you have until January 15 at 11:59 p.m.
Is it because you’re waiting for some hidden voice to tell you that the time has come to hit “submit”? In that case, let me be the hidden voice: SUBMIT NOW!
Are you somewhere between the two? Then I want to suggest that you assign yourself a Personal Deadline before January 15, when (if past patterns hold) a thousand of your prospective future classmates will all finally decide to let their applications come through. We’re prepared for the paper. And for the constant hum of the printer (more of a “mmmmmswosh, mmmmmswosh”) as each page is printed and shoots out. And for the bags and bags of mail. Yes, we’re geared up and ready for the January 15 crush, so I’m not suggesting the Personal Deadline for our benefit. No, dear applicant, it’s for you.
Why? Well…first, because teeny little troubles turn into mega-hassles when you wait until the last minute. A half hour without internet access on January 3 is no big deal. A half hour without internet access on January 15 is reason to PANIC!
Also, if you submit your application on January 15, it will take a week to ten days before you can confidently check the Graduate Application Management System and expect to find useful information. Those 1,000 applications and all the transcripts, test scores, etc. that go with them need to be linked up, and that just takes time. Organization, and time. Organization, and time, and file folders.
If you adopt the Personal Deadline approach and submit your application on, say, January 5, we’ll have all your materials in a tidy folder within a couple of days. We make every effort to keep up with the paper flow, and we’re going to jump on the opportunity to put your file together.
So, please. Open up your calendar, be it electronic or paper. Turn to a convenient pre-January 15 page, and assign yourself a Personal Deadline. While your prospective future classmates FREAK OUT on the 15th, you can sip a frothy cappuccino and relax.
Maybe you have a few days off this week and you’re going to dedicate some time to completing your grad school applications. Here’s a little input on what you should keep in mind as you put those final flourishes on your application to Fletcher.
• The form: Answer (completely and thoroughly) the questions we ask. Please don’t refer us to your essay or résumé for information that belongs (in our opinion) in the form. If you have lived in too many countries, or speak too many languages, to fit all the information in the form, then list the most important information and include the rest in your résumé. Make sure that your abbreviations are easily understood. Shortening University to Univ, in the interest of space, will be clear to application readers. Abbreviating the name of your workplace to XLVPR will not.
• The essays: Again, follow the directions. Make sure you have answered the questions. Keep to the word limits — we’re not going to count them, but we’ll know if you give us 1200 words instead of 800. Editing is a life-skill.
• Your résumé: No matter how many pages of activities and awards an applicant submits, it’s rare that anyone needs more than three pages to share information that is relevant to the admissions process. Think it through carefully — if you overload us with information, we may not be able to pick out the truly important stuff.
• General: Do provide the materials/information we request, but don’t provide materials/information we don’t request. No high school transcripts or diplomas. No videos. Please.
Most important of all: Please remember that if you go by more than one name, tell us clearly! Don’t make us try to figure it out, because the result may be that your application appears incomplete, when everything is actually in the Office, distributed among different files.
Those are the big points that come to mind right now. Take a look through the Admissions Tips category for other ideas that I haven’t included here.
Applications to the PhD program are, without a doubt, the most complex each year — both for the applicants, and for the Admissions Office and PhD Committee on Admissions. In addition to the usual stuff (form, essays, transcripts, etc.), PhD applicants need to submit a dissertation proposal and master’s thesis or extended writing sample.
Because so much material needs to be compiled, we’ve adjusted the application deadline twice in recent years. First we went from January 15 to January 1. This year, we moved it up again — to December 20. Having the extra time to collect and review all necessary materials helps assure us that we’re giving every application the consideration it deserves.
Not all students have as accurate a view on essays as Marc does, so I’m especially lucky that he volunteered to take on the topic yesterday. There’s not much more I can add. I’ve always thought that the question/prompt for the first essay (personal statement) is pretty clear. To refresh your memory, we ask:
Essay 1: Personal Statement (600-800 words, single-spaced, Times New Roman 12 point font)
Fletcher’s Committee on Admissions seeks to ensure that there is a good match between each admitted student and the School.
Please tell us your goals for graduate study at Fletcher and for your career. Why is The Fletcher School the right place to pursue your academic objectives and to prepare you to meet your professional goals? Why have you selected the degree program to which you are applying?
If you are planning to pursue a joint degree, please be sure to address this interest in your personal statement.
Given the tips built into the question, applicants who follow Marc’s advice and ensure they answer the question should be in good shape. Note that we also like to know the motivations behind your goals, and your preparation to achieve them — just be careful where you start. It’s rarely a good idea to go back to when you were six. On the other hand, it’s often the applicant’s experiences that make a personal statement interesting, so go ahead and include some key points from your back-story.
The other place to present interesting information from your personal history is the second essay. We want you to view the second essay as a chance to round out the picture of you that we’ve developed from the rest of the materials in your application. It can be nice when your second essay links in some way (however tangentially) to your interests, but it doesn’t need to. We have certainly read some poor essay choices over the years, but we don’t have a preferred essay topic.
One last tip is that you should not waste space in either of the essays to explain a problem in another part of the application. Use the “Additional Information” section to tell us that your study abroad grades are included on your university transcript, that your GRE scores aren’t what you hoped they would be, or that your maiden name is different from the name you’re using now. You don’t have much “space” in the personal statement (600-800 words) or second essay (500 words maximum) and you don’t want to throw them away on routine business.
I had an email exchange last week with a 2011 applicant and friend of the blog, whom I’ll call “Friend.” I asked Friend if he had any suggestions for future blog topics, and he asked us to talk about the application essays. Friend also mentioned that he had liked the previous post by Marc Frankel. Lucky for me, Marc volunteered to take on the new topic, too. Although Marc’s an application writer, rather than an application reader, I think he has hit the nail on the head. Here’s his take on the essays:
A few weeks ago, on the blog, I provided a few pointers on the interview process and how to prepare for it. Today, I’d like to do the same with the two essay questions Fletcher requires of all applicants. (Note: PhDs and MIBs have a third required question, so if you’re applying for one of those two degree programs, please make sure you do the third one, too!)
The first thing I want to stress is that you need to answer the question being asked. Question One asks about your professional goals and why the Fletcher School is the right place to achieve those goals. Your #1 priority on this question must be to answer the question you’ve been asked. A good way to ensure you’ve done this is to take the prompt off the top of the document, hand it to a friend, and see if he can guess what question you’re trying to answer. If your friend guesses that the question asks about your summer internship, it’s a sign you need to review the topic and what you’ve written.
During their interviews, a few applicants have asked me about Question Two and whether there’s one question or another that Fletcher would “prefer” to see. The answer is no. The Admissions Office provides three options to give you flexibility to address what you want to write about, but there’s no wrong or right choice.
Another tip on Question Two is to read the top of the essay prompt and remember that it asks you “…to tell the Admissions Committee something about you that does not fit elsewhere on the application.” (My italics.) This is your time to shine: share something new about you with the Committee. When I applied, I answered this question by writing about a research trip to Siberia during my senior year of college. Before my trip, I heard many horror stories and cautionary tales of crime and corruption. When I finally went, I dispelled each of those rumors for myself by actually meeting with local people. The importance of seeing a remote place firsthand was a valuable lesson for me. Given the limited space in an application, I could never have done justice to the significance of that trip anywhere but the essay.
The last thing I’d say (and yes, I know I wrote this in the interview blog post, too) is to be yourself. Just like the interview, the essays are an opportunity to talk about yourself — who you are, who you strive to become through Fletcher, and why. The only wrong answer is one that doesn’t accurately represent you. A few hundred words isn’t a lot to express your career goals or the uniqueness of your life experience, but make sure to at least give the Committee a glimpse of who you are, beyond the test scores and GPA.
Most of our on-campus Information Sessions are conducted by current students, but a member of the staff joins the conversation to discuss admissions issues. Way back in September (seems so long ago…), there weren’t many admissions/application-specific questions for us. With the application deadline for January 2011 enrollment already passed, and the deadline for Early Notification applications (November 15) almost upon us, attendees are more plugged in, and they have many questions, a few of which will be like “What exactly do you mean on question #6 of the application?”
There are definitely parts of the application that may seem tricky, given a mismatch between the applicant’s experience and the constraints of the form itself. For example, some people have more travel, or more professional positions, than we include room for. But that doesn’t mean that there’s some hidden agenda behind the way we pose the questions. For most applicants and most problems with the application, here’s what I suggest.
Approach the application with the assumption that the Admissions Committee is trying to gather information that it needs, while also giving you an opportunity to present many different facets of your background. Yes, the online system constrains us from offering space to list all 11 languages you speak. (That’s where the résumé and the “additional information” section of the application step in.) But, as you figure out how to squeeze your life into a multi-question form and two essays, you’ll find that a little common sense will take you a long way. Answer the questions in the way and location we ask. Give careful thought to whether the additional information you want to add will actually enhance our understanding of you or your background. You may find that what fits into the form is sufficient, but if not, use one of the free-form sections of the application to complete the information.
Every spring, once the initial application frenzy has eased, we notify applicants whose files are incomplete. A good number of them will respond that they are very confident they submitted all needed materials. In those cases, our minds jump to the leading suspect lurking behind this situation. And what is this Number One Suspect? Having more than one name appear on the different credentials that, together, constitute the application file. You may be wondering how this could happen, and here are some examples of the causes of this wrinkle:
◊You attended college, got married and changed your surname, and you’re now applying under your married name, while your university still issued transcripts under your maiden name.
◊Your university used a Romanization different from your preferred spelling of your non-Roman-alphabet language.
◊ETS incorrectly assumed that your first name is your last name (Donovan George or George Donovan).
◊Your transcript was issued with your Chinese (or other) name, but you applied using your preferred English name (Wen Jiabao might prefer Jake Wen).
◊Your full name includes both your parents’ last names, but you generally use only one of them, or it simply isn’t clear that the second-to-last name is the one under which to file your materials (Gabriel Garcia Marquez should be filed under G, not M).
◊You’ve always used your middle name as your first name, though your original given name appears on official documents.
But the real cause of the problem is that some applicants who experience the above situations DON’T TELL US ABOUT IT! (I’m yelling with frustration now, in case you wondered how to interpret the upper-case.)
Let’s go, people. If you know that more than one name or spelling of your name will appear on your credentials, tell us about it. And I don’t mean a sentence at the very end of your personal statement. No. I mean: Call us, email us, pester us, and otherwise ensure that we are aware of the problem. Once we know, we will look through our files under both D (Donovan) and G (George) and bring all your materials together. Never tell us (or slip the information deep in your application), and the Ds and Gs will never be united.
Now that I have completed my rant, I look forward to hearing (in a timely way) from everyone who will have multiple names on application credentials. Problem solved.
January applicants (whose applications are due on October 15) and eager beaver applicants for September 2011 enrollment will be happy to know that our new application is up.
If you’re not feeling ready to jump into the application, you may still want to breeze over the application instructions for the program to which you plan to apply (available at the bottom of this page).
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