A good application

Once again drawing ideas from the results of my little survey, today I’m going to talk about the application, and what a good application looks like.  But first, exciting news!  We have now officially launched our new online interviews!  If you have already started an application, you’ll be given a link to access the interview site.  Meanwhile, you can read all about it in this article from the Tufts Daily.  I did a test interview myself.  My suggestion:  take advantage of the opportunity to record a practice video.  I learned everything I needed to know by seeing my own mistakes in the test recording.  (Note that there is no penalty to EN applicants who applied before we had the system in place.  Those whose applications are deferred for reconsideration in the spring will be invited to submit an online interview.)

And now, turning to the application.  The reader’s suggestion was actually to talk about what makes a good applicant, and I promise to return to that subject soon.  But today, I want to talk about the application itself.  The fact is that applicants who will apply in January can no longer make many significant changes to their credentials.  Can you change your work history?  Grades for your undergrad study?  International experience?  No.  No.  And no.  So what power can you still exert over your prospects for admission?  Well, you can make sure you submit a good application.

So 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.  List your recommenders, even though you also need to register them through a separate part of the application.  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, 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 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 2011 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.

If you’re going to upload your transcripts, ensure they will be legible for us, or we’ll need to contact you to send new ones.  Will your transcript copy be covered with warnings that say the photocopy is unofficial?  You may need to mail us the original.  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 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 horrible 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?

Finally, 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.

Last, both before and after you have completed the application (but before you submit it), review the application instructions, which you can find to the right on this page for each program.  Make the 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.

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