Today I want to discuss the Fletcher application’s second essay. The prospective student who raised the question on my recent survey (keep the suggestions coming!) asked: What are you looking for in the second essay? Are personal experiences and anecdotes welcome, or does it have to be more work-centric?
The first thing I need to say is that we have no special expectation for the content of the essay. It truly is up to you, just as the essay prompt says:
Essay 2 (500 words maximum, single-spaced, Arial 12 point font)
To help the Committee on Admissions get to know you better, please share an anecdote, or details about an experience or personal interest, that you have not elaborated upon elsewhere in your application.
So my answer is that personal experiences and anecdotes are absolutely welcome. Your essay does not need to focus on your professional life.
That said…your essay should support your application in some way, adding depth or detail about an aspect of how you meet the basics we seek in our admitted applicants (strong academic potential, relevant international and professional experience, and clear objectives for Fletcher study and future career). As an example of the different forms this might take, while one strong second essay could discuss the applicant’s international life, another might describe the obstacles that stood in the way of living internationally and what the applicant has done to fill that gap. Both can make terrific essays.
An essay that goes into detail about a professional experience can be a good way to use the essay space, as it allows you to tell us more than any of the other application questions permit. But we would be very bored readers, indeed, if every essay focused only on professional experience.
Over the years, we have used many different essay prompts, including “your greatest challenge,” and “something you especially value.” None of those prompts yielded consistently good essays, and we have instead gone toward the vanilla topic above. But your response need not be vanilla. Tell us something interesting and important about you, whether it relates to your work or not, and it will make a good essay. Just remember that your objective is to use all the different application components (application form, essays, recommendations, transcripts, résumé, interview) to build your case. Don’t lose the opportunity that the second essay provides.