Today I’m going to talk about my daughter Kayla. At 6:50 this morning, she was galloping happily through the house, having just checked her latest SAT scores online. This is Kayla’s year to apply to college, and as much as my work helps me guide her through her process, the hyper-competitive field of undergraduate admissions helps me put the Fletcher process in perspective.
So Kayla’s a great kid, and a strong student, which means she hopes to attend one of the many East Coast colleges or universities with insanely low rates of admission. Once a school is admitting such a tiny portion of its applicants, there’s really no way to feel confident of one’s chances of admission, leading to endless worry for these 17-year-olds.
I see the Fletcher process as very different. I know that applying to grad school is stressful for many of our applicants, and I don’t want to imply there’s no reason to fret. Nonetheless, a key difference between us and undergrad admissions, is that Fletcher doesn’t look for reasons to turn away an otherwise qualified applicant. If you have strong academic potential, professional and international experience that supports your goals, and a clear focus, you’ll be admitted. I realize there’s still broad room for interpretation of those factors, but the bottom line is that good applicants are admitted.
Most of the schools Kayla is considering accept the Common Application, which includes a form and two essays. Then most schools have a supplemental application, on which the student can profess love for that particular institution. As Kayla has struggled with each of her essays, I’ve encouraged her to think about her application as a whole, and to ensure that each of its elements tells the colleges something new about her. Her main essay is about how she stumbled onto her academic/future-career focus. It’s written in a straightforward way that seems appropriate to me, but strikes her as dull. So I encouraged her to write a lively second essay (for which the required topic is the applicant’s most significant extracurricular activity). The supplemental application on which she has worked this week includes six short essays, and she has written about a different facet of her life in each one (including a paragraph about her insomnia).
Fletcher applicants should take the same approach. Your application includes a form, a résumé, your transcript(s), test scores, personal statement, supplemental essay (more than one for some of our programs — check the application instructions), and three recommendations. Were you a fantastic student? Your transcript and academic recommendation (as well as, probably, your test scores) will tell us about that part of your life. Thinking about the application as a whole, your remaining recommendations should tell us something new, probably about your professional experience. (The exception is PhD applicants, who should include two academic recommendations.) Even if you have two recommendations from the same area (two from your university, or two from the same employer), try to guide the recommenders to reflect on different aspects of your background.
This will be a long nail-biter of a year for Kayla, and I’ll do my best to support her through it. The Fletcher Admissions staff also aims to support our applicants. We want each of you to be the best applicant you can be. Spend some time on the Fletcher website and the Admissions pages. Learn as much as you can about the School, and consider where your background and our values intersect. Then, carefully put together your application. This year, more than most, I’ll be taking the applicant’s view of the process.