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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).
This week is slipping past me and I haven’t been able to make time to write. Plus, I’m short of inspiration, but my creativity block provides a good opening for a simple update. Readers at different phases of their application process may be waiting for us to provide information of some sort. Please find, below, a list (in no particular order) of things for which you may be waiting, along with a prediction of when your wait will be over.
If you’re waiting for news on the waitlist: I’m afraid I don’t have anything new to report, except that we’re going to contact everyone on the list to see who’s truly waiting. (Some people said in April that they’d wait, but they have made alternate arrangements by now.) We’ll be sending out an email within the next week.
If you’re waiting for our new application: It’s in the works and should be in place in August. If you’re planning to apply for January or September 2011 enrollment, please don’t start an application using the 2010 form. Wondering if we’ll be changing the essay topics? We’ve decided to keep the essays the same for master’s program applicants, but we have added an additional question for PhD applicants.
If you’re waiting for us to respond to your request for feedback: Please know that we’re working our way through the requests.
If you’re waiting for us to post our fall travel schedule: We should have a fairly complete version this summer, probably by the beginning of August.
If you’re waiting for this year’s reading lists on the admissions blog: While I pull this year’s list together, you can check out previous years’ recommendations within the Our Faculty page of the blog. (Scroll down and you’ll find lists for 2007, 2008, and 2009.) Professors have recently made some interesting suggestions, which I’ll post soon.
If you’re one of the continuing Fletcher students who still reads the blog (I know there are a few of you out there), and if you’re waiting for information on your scholarship for 2010-2011: We hope to notify students in the next two weeks. (Your award letter will be sent by email.)
Waiting for something not in the list? Let me know and I’ll try to get you the information you need.
I’ve been out of the office for a couple of days, and I’m doing the usual scramble to catch up. Before I let even more time slip away since we released decisions, though, I want to say a quick word on feedback for applicants who were not admitted.
Fletcher is happy to offer feedback for applicants who plan to apply again. We need a little time in the spring to take care of other admissions work, but after May 1, applicants who wish to know which aspects of their application need improvement can make a request by following this simple process.
Occasionally we’ll receive a note in December from someone who intends to reapply by the following January 15. Our feedback notes might be useful, but only if the faults in the application are limited to the essays or other aspects of the application itself. Beyond those simple fixes, there won’t be time to follow through. It’s frustrating for us to tell someone in December that they need to bolster their English proficiency, or gain more professional or international experience, or take additional classes to prepare for graduate study. There’s simply too little time to carry through. I would recommend that you request feedback at least six to eight months before your next application. Then you’ll have time to follow up.
We work in a suite of individual offices, public work spaces, and a common space in the back. Right now, I can’t hear a sound except for tapping on keyboards. With decisions released, we’ve all retreated temporarily to individual work — much of which is keeping up with the steady stream of emails from applicants who heard from us (or didn’t hear from us) on Friday. The phones are quiet now, but yesterday they were ringing off the hook (leading to more emails from people who couldn’t get through). Crazy!
It’s not that we don’t anticipate this sudden burst of correspondence. Before I left here on Friday, I cleared my desk and my email inbox. I even dusted (the desk, not the email)! But it still catches me by surprise when messages come in faster than I can zap out responses.
Here’s a bit of information that may help channel emails to a more appropriate time. Students who haven’t been admitted, and who decide not to attend grad school elsewhere, may want to know how they can improve their application. Fletcher is happy to offer feedback. In fact, when we review a second application, we’ll wonder why an applicant hasn’t been in touch. We just ask that you wait until May 1 to contact us. For now, you can check out the info on what to include in your request.
For admitted students, the next month or so will be a whirlwind, as you consider offers from different schools and start making plans to dismantle your current life and create a new one. We’re working as quickly as we can to help you in this process by answering your questions. Keep them coming, even if it makes life a little crazy!
I know, I know. Blog readers are the savvy applicants who don’t need to be reminded that Admissions Office life gets a bit crazy in January. But because I never know who will stumble over to this page, I might as well continue to share a few reminders.
Yesterday, I answered several emails from applicants who wondered if materials had reached us, and I know that other staffers answered many more such requests. When we can, we’ll try to take the time for a quick search so that we can provide a useful answer, but in the next few days it will become near to impossible — there’s just too much paper around here.
Other Admissions Offices may have systems superior to ours (I doubt it, frankly, but I’ll leave the door open to the possibility), but let’s say that Applicant X calls to ask whether we have received his transcript. Here’s a list of the places where X’s transcript might be:
◊The buckets of unopened mail
◊The pile of opened but unsorted mail
◊The two piles of alphabetically sorted mail — one pile for applicants whose applications are received, and the other for those still in progress (This latter pile is awaiting someone to put everything in a file bin, described next.)
◊The file bins of alphabetically sorted credential items — transcripts, recommendations, interview reports, etc. — waiting for applications
◊A folder containing an as-yet incomplete application
◊A complete-application folder waiting for someone to update the electronic record.
Once the electronic record has been updated, I can check there to see if the transcript has been received, so life is simpler, even if finding the application folder may become trickier. Folders travel a path from box to box, reader to reader, and pile to pile, before ending up in the final decision-related box.
So, Applicant X, and all the other applicants looking for transcripts, recommendations, etc., etc., please bear with us. Searching for a single piece of paper around here is like finding a needle in the not-so-proverbial haystack.
This weekend, Kayla (my daughter) and I are going to see In the Heights here in Boston. We’ve already seen it in New York, but decided to take advantage of its local visit to see it again. How does my theater-going connect to admissions? Now that I’ve been writing the blog for a few years, I’m conscious of repeating myself. But then I remind myself that the audience is new, even if the information isn’t. I’m confident the actors in In the Heights won’t simply refer me to the previous night’s performance; similarly, I shouldn’t always point you back toward previous posts. Sometimes, I’ll just repeat the information. And this is one of those times, because tracking applications is an annual topic of interest.
Once you hit “submit” to send your application our way (and out of your control), you’ll probably wonder what’s happening. Here’s a rundown of the behind-the-scenes action, much of which takes place simultaneously:
1. You hit the online “submit” button. Your application will be “stamped” with the date and time, and will wait within the Embark system for your registered online recommenders to submit their letters. If all your recommenders have 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.
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. This email also provides you with a username and password to access the Tufts Graduate Application Management System (GAMS). GAMS is the best way to track your application throughout the process. We’ll also be posting decision letters to your GAMS account, so hang on to your username and password!
3. Uploaded applications are printed in batches. Once we have the paper copy, we’ll create a file for you. (A big moment in the life of your application!)
4. Meanwhile, Admissions Office staffers cheerfully open a mountain of mail, which includes test scores, transcripts, letters of recommendation from recommenders who weren’t registered online, writing samples, 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 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.
6. Your completed application is then given to Committee members to review, and you’ll receive your admission decision in late March.
If the details only cloud the picture, let me give you the bottom line: Receiving online materials is the easy part for us. Connecting applications with the materials that arrive by mail is what takes the time. It’s a surprisingly labor-intensive process. Be sure to stay on top of the status of your application, but try to give us a little time to pull everything together. We need to pass through about two weeks of controlled chaos before order is restored to our back office.
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