GA Advice, 2018 Edition: How to prepare (or not)

The Graduate Assistants (GAs) who work in the Office of Admissions are a great resource for prospective students.  Not only do they have their own experience to draw on, but they have also learned about the experience of other applicants and incoming students through their work.  (Answering dozens of calls and emails each shift will do that for you.)  Two of the 2017-18 GAs — Brooklyn and Cindy — are newly graduated and have moved on to new vistas, while two — John and Cece — will return in September.  Before they all left campus in May, I asked for their tips for incoming students.  Today and later this week, I’ll share their responses, in Q&A format, starting today with the big picture.  (Note that there are some recurring themes, which should reinforce their importance.)

Q: Whether you did it or not, what would you suggest incoming students do to prepare for their Fletcher studies?

Brooklyn: I would suggest taking the time to study for the equivalency exams.  The two years at Fletcher go by fast and there is a limited number of credits you can take, so you do not want to waste them on classes that you have already taken.  If it’s been a few years since your last economics or statistics class, it might take a few hours of studying to prep for the equivalency exams, but it will be worth it when you can skip basic classes and take ones that are more focused and challenging.

Cece: Go through the course listing on the Fletcher website and map out your next one or two years very roughly.  I would suggest incoming students do that during the summer, as it can be overwhelming to select classes at the last minute and most students panic initially, even by sheer excitement about all the choices.

I would also recommend students orient themselves to the faculty, if they have not already, as making early connections with a faculty member from your field of study can really help you shape your academic experience and build a professional track for after Fletcher.  Student-faculty relationships at Fletcher can be very informal and professors and administrators really care about the success of their students.  Start the process of becoming familiar with Fletcher and the opportunities you may want to pursue once you are here.

Cindy: If you know that you might need to brush up on your second language skills, it’s better to do it early on than after your classes start.  Take some time over the summer to practice on your own or enroll in a class/program if you have the resources to do so.  Once classes start, try to take your reading and oral exams as early as you can, and definitely don’t leave them until your last semester!

Second, take some time to RELAX over the summer.  Read books that you haven’t had the chance to read, travel, visit family and friends, or take up a hobby.  Once school starts, your calendar will fill up very quickly and you will be incredibly busy with classes, meeting new people, exploring the area, and getting involved in Fletcher events and clubs.

John: While I don’t recommend planning out every facet of your Fletcher experience, I do think that it’s useful to consider the bigger picture of how Fletcher fits into your plans and where you want your degree to take you.  This answer will likely change during your time at Fletcher, but it’s a useful question that can help frame your experience and what you want to get out of it.

If you plan on taking equivalency exams for economics or quant in August, make sure to study a little bit over the summer.  The tests are offered during Orientation, when there are a lot of different activities happening, so it’s important to plan ahead.  I would also recommend brushing up on your language skills.  I remember thinking that I would have time during the semester to do this, but that hasn’t proven true thus far.  If you can get the requirements out of the way, you’ll save yourself a lot of hassle.

More than anything, I think it’s important to rest and recharge before you begin school again.  Transitioning to graduate school is challenging under the best of circumstances.  Give yourself space and time to tie up loose ends in whichever city you’re coming from, visit family and friends you haven’t seen for a while, and mentally prepare for the journey ahead.

Q: Whether you did it or not, what would you suggest incoming students NOT do to prepare for their Fletcher studies?

Cece: I would say do not NOT connect or NOT familiarize yourself with Fletcher, thinking you’ll figure it out all when you’re on campus.  Read all the materials the school sends, because it has a lot of useful information that you will need while transitioning to graduate school.  Even if you are a local student, still make time to orient yourself to Fletcher.

Cindy: Do not assume that you will come to Fletcher with your classes planned out for every semester.  It is good to do your research, chat with current or former students, and have a rough plan.  Every semester, however, has a “Shopping Day,” when you get to shop around for interesting classes, hear quick pitches from the professor about a particular class, and ask questions.  Almost every semester, I attended Shopping Day and changed my initial plans for what I thought I would be taking.

John: Don’t stress yourself out!  There are some things in your control and some things that are not.  For the things out of your control, don’t worry.  Everything will line up eventually.  In that same line of thought, don’t feel like you have to plan out your entire career at Fletcher.  You’ll probably change your concentrations, much less your class schedule, multiple times during your first semester.  That’s one of the benefits of having such a flexible Fletcher curriculum.  Additionally, Shopping Days at the beginning of the semester, where professors give a brief description of their course, is a great resource to get a better feel for which classes you’d be interested in taking.  All this to say, your schedule may come together last minute and that’s perfectly normal for Fletcher.

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