An aspect of writing the Admissions blog that continually perplexes me is timing: When should I post certain information and how can I be sure that the people who need it will read it? So even as we continue churning through the steps leading to the release of decisions, I’m going to take a big step backward and address a topic that I’ve covered before, but possibly at a time when no one was paying attention.
Last week, a reader posted a comment asking about our preference that applicants have some professional experience before they apply to Fletcher. As opposed to most prospective students who ask what kind of experience is best, or how long they should work, or other practical questions, Zack asked why we have that preference in the first place. Good question. And since some applicants will soon receive a letter saying that, from our perspective, what separates them from admission is work experience, this might be a good time to explain our reasoning.
I see four intertwined reasons, relating to the application and beyond, for our preference. The first is that people who already have a career trajectory will have an easier time transitioning to their post-Fletcher careers. They’ll have professional contacts who can recommend them, workplace skills, polished presentations, and knowledge either of a sector or of content that will be relevant, even if they’re shifting careers.
The second reason is that applicants who have the perspective gained through professional experience will be best able to crisply state their goals and the reasoning behind them. For example, many applicants tell us they want to work in the U.S. Foreign Service. Those who have already worked in an embassy (even if only through internships) will be able to provide a more nuanced vision of their future careers. Meanwhile, some applicants indicate an interest in the Foreign Service because they’re not familiar with the many other U.S. government agencies that have international content to their work.
The third reason is that the Admissions Committee is always looking for hints that the applicant really knows what he or she is getting into. Every year (I mean this…EVERY YEAR) we read personal statements that express a strong interest in a career in a geographic area that the applicant has never visited. (And often doesn’t have the language skills for.) The Committee is going to question the applicant’s chances of reaching that goal. Not to mention that, were the applicant able to reach the goal, he might quickly discover it doesn’t really suit him.
The fourth reason may have the most immediate importance for an incoming student, and that is the ability of each student to contribute inside and outside the classroom. If one student has nothing more than academic connection to (for example) refugee resettlement, while another student has worked for five years with a resettlement agency, there’s a real imbalance between what these two students offer to the community. The Admissions Committee tries to ensure that all students will have something to offer.
Other members of the Admissions staff might articulate the reasons behind the preference differently, but no matter how we as individuals think of it, we’ll still encourage applicants to obtain pre-Fletcher work experience. And to answer the questions we’re more often asked: The best pre-Fletcher professional experience will link to an applicant’s goals. How long it should last is however long it takes to maximize value from the experience. There’s no single answer to these questions.
All of that said, you’ll note that I use the word “preference” rather than “requirement.” This year (and every year), we’ll admit a small number of applicants direct from undergrad. Some of them will have packed their 22-ish years with summer internships, campus activities, Model UN, study abroad, and all the different possibilities available to someone who still hasn’t graduated. All these activities will collectively take the place of full-time professional experience, provided they can clearly articulate their goals. We’ll also admit a small number of people who don’t have quite as packed a résumé, but who are so accomplished academically that we know career doors will open for them. All-in-all, a sliver of the overall student population.
I hope this post makes it clearer why the Admissions Committee prefers pre-Fletcher work. If other interesting questions come in via the comments section, I’ll be happy to take another big step back and try to tackle them.