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I work pretty closely with applicants to the PhD program, and I should write more to help them.  The deadline for applications is December 20.  That’s a little less than three months off and, given the requirements of the application, it’s definitely not too late to get started.  There’s only one deadline each year, and only September enrollment is possible.

The PhD application requires all the usual elements (transcripts, test scores, essays, etc.), but applicants must also submit a master’s thesis (or major research paper) and a preliminary dissertation proposal.  While the proposal should be well developed, it’s understood that a student’s ultimate dissertation will reflect learning and growth from three semesters of Fletcher classes.  Though it is not required that applicants contact members of the Fletcher faculty before applying, I can say that nearly all of our successful applicants have done so.  Reaching out to Fletcher professors gives you a chance to confirm that your interests are aligned with theirs.  All admitted PhD students are assigned an advisor, and the expectation is that students will stick with that advisor all the way through.

Beyond that, most successful PhD applicants will include two recommendations from professors who can reflect on their work, and most will be asking professors from their master’s-level work to write the recommendations.

I should pause to note that applying directly to the PhD program requires a master’s degree.  Students without a master’s degree, or those who have a degree that lasted only one year, need to start with the MALD (usually) or MIB (also possible) degree.

We’ll be conducting two virtual information sessions, on October 15 and November 16.  There’s also more information that I can pass along.  If you’re interested, please contact us!

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Lost in the whirlwind that characterizes the start of the semester is attention to our applicants for January enrollment.  It just seems impossible that our first application deadline of 2015-16 could be less than a month away.  (I wrote that in mellow lower case, but what’s going through my head is “LESS THAN A MONTH AWAY!!!)

Though most students start their studies in September, there are lots of good reasons to think about January as a good MALD or MIB enrollment option.  The Januarian group tends to be (and remain, throughout their two years) very close.  It’s an instant peer group — far more manageable than the wave that rolls in each September.  The option to take two summers for internships also works well for students who are exploring more than one career path.  If those reasons, as well as the general timing, make sense to you, then it’s time to start your application.

There’s no time like the present, then, to share some tips with the applicants who may be our next crop of Januarians.  Because the application timeframe may creep up on you, just as it has for me, I suggest that you start an application right away, if you haven’t already done so.  You don’t need to do much with it yet, but make sure you know what will be required.  The essays are straightforward, but they may take you some time to perfect.  Don’t wait too much longer to start drafting them.

At last week’s APSIA fair, I was reminded how often we’re asked for our advice on how to put together a good application.  My best, if most basic, advice: Follow the directions.  Yep, if everyone followed this simple advice, we would see a lot more high quality applications.  More advice can be found in a post from last December.  And you should also check out our Application Boot Camp from last fall for more ideas.

Finally, if you hope to include an evaluative interview as part of your application, you need to schedule that now.  The first week of our interview calendar (which starts September 28) is nearly full already.  Whether you’re able to visit campus or you prefer to take advantage of the new Skype option, you’ll want to schedule your interview for before the application deadline of October 15.

We’re looking forward to reading some great applications in October!  As ever, if you have questions, be sure to contact us.

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Following a few weeks during which it received a refreshing, the application for admission to all Fletcher programs in January or September 2016 is now available.  Most 2016 applicants will greet this news with a shrug: they’re planning to apply, but the deadline seems so far away and they don’t see any special reason to do anything just yet.

I would encourage you to resist this line of thinking.  Instead, take a look at the application and note what’s involved.  You can work on it at whatever pace you choose, but you’ll benefit from knowing the requirements and the questions asked on the application form.  Once you’ve checked it out, you can start compiling the information you need.  As we get closer to whatever deadline you are aiming for, you’ll be glad to have moved ahead.


Would I prefer to be swimming at Walden Pond every warm summer day?  Yes, I would.  But I have to admit to a (perhaps nerdy) appreciation of summer Admissions work.  Without the volume of visitors or the pressure of application deadlines, we are left free to, well, get stuff done.  Thus the team sat down on Tuesday and collectively mulled the question of whether we should change the essays for the upcoming application cycle.  In the end we did.  Minimally.  So for those who are already thinking about such things, an advance look at the essays for January or September 2016 applications.

Essay 1: (600-800 words, single-spaced, Arial 12 point font)
Fletcher’s Committee on Admissions seeks to ensure that there is a good match between each admitted student and the School.  Please tell us your goals for graduate study at Fletcher and for your career.  Describe the elements of your personal, professional, and/or academic background that have prepared you for your chosen career path.  Why is The Fletcher School the right place to pursue your academic objectives and to prepare you to meet your professional goals? Why have you selected the degree program to which you are applying?  If you are planning to pursue a joint degree, please be sure to address this interest in your personal statement.

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.

If you have already prepared essays (not that likely, I understand, but just in case), I hope you’ll agree that the current prompts reflect only the slightest change from what we used last year.  In fact, there are only two differences:  1) We stopped calling Essay 1 a personal statement, in the hopes that people will actually read the question.  (Admissions tip:  Read the question before writing/uploading the essay.)  2) And we changed the wording for Essay 2 to give applicants slightly more guidance, without actually limiting the scope of what you can write about.

For the sake of completeness, I’ll also note the other essays that particular applicants need to submit.

Those who have applied before must submit the Reapplicant Essay.  (500 words maximum, single-spaced, Arial 12 point font)
Please explain how your candidacy has changed since your last application.

Those who are applying to the PhD program must submit the PhD Essay. (500 words maximum, single-spaced, Arial 12 point font)
Please explain why you believe a PhD from a multidisciplinary program in international affairs at a professional school, as compared with a doctorate from a conventional program in a single academic discipline, advances your intellectual and professional ambitions.

Those who are applying through our Map Your Future pathway to the MALD or MIB program must complete the Map Your Future Candidates Essay. (500 words maximum, single-spaced, Arial 12 point font)
What professional opportunities do you plan or hope to pursue during the next two years? What do you hope to learn and what skills do you hope to cultivate?

Finally, while not an essay, I’ll also include the prompt for Additional Information (single-spaced, Arial 12 point font)
Please provide any additional information that you would like to bring to the attention of the Admissions Committee. This may include information regarding your academic records, plans to retake standardized tests or any other information relevant to your application.  Please do not upload writing samples.

What common instructions could I provide for all of these essays?  First, there’s the aforementioned “read the question.”  We’re well aware that applicants are feeling the pressure of a big task, with deadlines, with which they want to be successful.  But that doesn’t mean that you can slap the same essay onto an infinite number of applications.  Sure, go ahead and grab paragraphs from a “master essay,” but be sure that those paragraphs meet your objective of answering our question.  Keep the length under the maximums, but don’t spend hours struggling to cut those last ten words.

Beyond those technical tips, a little content guidance.  Make sure it’s easy for tired readers of Essay 1 to identify your objectives.  If we need to read your essay over and over in search of your goals, then you have not really answered the question.  I personally like a crisp statement of goals in paragraph one or two.  Don’t make us dig.

Describing your goals means the essay will be essentially forward looking.  You’ll want to refer back to your relevant experience, but don’t allow yourself to be sucked too far back into your distant past.  If your distant past is highly relevant, then write about it in Essay 2.

All of this is WAY premature.  There’s no obligation to start your application this early.  (And, in fact, you won’t be able to access the application online until August.)  But if you’re in the process of gathering info and ideas, this post was for you.

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It’s December 31, the last day of 2014 and the day on which I’m going to beg applicants to resolve to be kind to themselves in 2015.  Yes, the kind thing to do is to submit your application on a day that is earlier than January 10.

You can certainly make the choice to be that person who emails me on the morning of the 10th asking whether the deadline refers to the close of business or 11:59 p.m.  (Or, we can skip that step — the deadline is 11:59 p.m. EST on the 10th.)  Why, for the sake of all that is admission-worthy, would you do that?  Instead, pick your own personal target deadline — January 9 at 1:00 p.m. sounds enticing — and submit the application then.

You may wonder what benefit there could be to submitting early, especially because an early application doesn’t increase your likelihood of gaining admission.  The benefits are partly internal (your peace of mind on the 10th, when you know that your fellow applicants are super stressed) and partly practical.  The 10th is a Saturday and the office will be closed.  On the 9th, if you encounter any sort of technical problem, you’ll be able to call us and fix it.  If you aim even earlier than the 9th — the 5th for example — you may even receive confirmation that your application is complete before other people have submitted theirs!

I hasten to add that you should not submit an incomplete or sloppy application ahead of the deadline, solely for that peace of mind that I referred to.  I’m making the assumption that you’ve been working on this for some time, and all that’s holding you back is a vague sense that you shouldn’t yet press “go.”  I’m here to tell you to do it!  Submit that completed application, and then relax.

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The other day, Liz dug deep into the blog archives and found a post that is no less relevant now than it was in 2012.  The post considered what a good application looks like, and I’m going to shamelessly draw from it today — not quite repeating it completely, but not writing something fresh, either.  The office may be closed today, but I know that applications are still being prepared — here’s a little bit of help for you.

So what does make a good application?  Naturally, the best applications will reflect strong academic potential, relevant and rich international and professional experience, and a clear focus for your graduate studies and beyond.  Well, from where I stand in December, there’s not much someone can do to improve those credentials before applying by January 10.  On the other hand, it’s really important for applicants to note that even the best of you can be bumped down a couple of notches with a sloppily constructed application.

Let’s talk, then, about those aspects of your application that you can still influence.  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.  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 (after all, that’s what I’m doing today!), 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 of the application 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 2013 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.  And note that recommenders can also help you tell your story.  Talk to them, and explain what would be helpful for them to say.  Were you taking an impossibly heavy course load as an undergraduate?  That’s a point that your recommender can make even more effectively than you can!

When you upload your transcripts, ensure they will be legible for us, or we’ll need to contact you to send new ones.  Remember that what we want is a scanned copy of an OFFICIAL transcript.  Not a copy that is covered with warnings that the photocopy is unofficial.  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 a maximum 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 awful 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?

Next, 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.

And, finally, both before and after you have completed the application (but before you submit it), review the application instructions.  Make all needed 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.


All Early Notification applicants should know by now that decisions were released earlier this week.  To those who were admitted, congratulations!  I hope you’ll enjoy the extra time to plan for your graduate studies.  You will be hearing from members of the Admissions staff to whom you can send your questions.  We’re really happy to start growing the September 2015 entering class!  All that said, this post is not so much for you.

Next, let me say that I’m sorry to bid farewell to a group of applicants who were denied admission.  We always regret making these difficult decisions, but we hope it will help the applicants make their choices on where else they should apply.

This post is really for those applicants whose applications were deferred for review in the spring, a good news/bad news situation.  The bad news is the lack of happy admissions news, but the good news is that you still have the opportunity to try to bring about happy news in March.  Our Admissions Committee will gladly review an update to your application!  But what makes a useful addition?  Here’s a list of updates that we particularly value:

  • An updated transcript that reflects grades received since you submitted your application;
  • New standardized exam (GRE, GMAT, TOEFL, IELTS) score reports;
  • A revised résumé that includes information on a new job position;
  • An additional recommendation that sheds light on an aspect of your background you weren’t able to illuminate in other parts of the application.

Before I go on, I’ll emphasize that no one is required to submit an update.  Not at all!  But you are invited to submit one, and why would you turn down this opportunity?

What type of optional update is best for you?  Well, the first thing to do is consider whether you have your own suspicions regarding weaker aspects of your application.  Are those aspects something you can improve on?  For example, did you decide it would be better not to mention the causes of your weak undergraduate semester?  I’d encourage you to explain it, particularly if it pulls down your overall GPA.  Did you indicate that your language skills are not strong enough to pass our proficiency exam?  Send us information on your plan for achieving proficiency before the end of the summer.  Did you mistype your years of employment at a certain job, making it look like you were there for two months, rather than four years and two months?  You can make that correction now.  And, if your GRE/GMAT scores were significantly lower than you expected, you may want to take the test again.

Another suggestion:  If, upon reflection, your essay didn’t state your goals as clearly as you would have liked, send us a clarifying email!  We won’t substitute it for your personal statement, but it will certainly be reviewed.  This could be particularly helpful if you’ve taken steps to learn more about your ultimate career goal.

Possible additions to your application need not be limited to what I’ve listed above.  The key question to ask yourself is:  Does this actually add anything?  If the information is already included in your application, then there’s there’s not much value in sending it again.  That is, an additional academic recommendation will add little to an application that already includes three.  On the other hand, a professional recommendation will add a lot to an application that only includes academic recommendations.  Think it through before you flood us with info, but don’t hesitate to send us something that will give your application a happy bump.

Whether you were offered admission this week, or you were told we’ll reconsider your application in the spring, we look forward to hearing from you and to working with you during the coming months.  Please be sure to be in touch if you have questions.

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PhD applicants:  You’re part of a small subset of our total group of applicants, but you certainly have the most complex application!  Last week, our student interns were taking questions daily about the finer point of the process, but many questions revolved around the dissertation proposal requirement.  Yes, we know that a formal dissertation proposal is often a post-coursework requirement in other PhD programs.  In fact, that’s the case here, too.  So what are we looking for in the proposal that should accompany your application?  Well, let’s start with the instructions.

PhD Proposal (1,500 words maximum, single-spaced, Arial 12 point font)
Your PhD Proposal should include:

  • A title
  • A researchable topic: what question do you propose to study and what evidence are you bringing to bear?
  • A brief overview of the literature of the field
  • A short description of the proposed methodology for research: how does your research question fit into the existing body of scholarship?  How do you propose to answer your research question? What methodologies do you propose to use?

The purpose of this preliminary proposal is to ensure there is a good match between the applicant’s interests and the expertise among the faculty at Fletcher.  It’s expected that your interests will be refined as you complete classes for the program, but it’s also expected that the subject of your research focus will remain essentially the same.

The other most-often-asked question regards the master’s thesis.  Again, let’s turn to the instructions:

MA Thesis or a writing sample of approximately 40 pages (in English)
Please upload a copy of your thesis to the online application.  If your master’s program did not require the writing of a thesis, you can provide a substantial writing sample as a substitute, so long as you are the sole author.

There are two reasons behind this requirement.  First, all Fletcher PhD students must complete a master’s thesis.  If they haven’t done so in their master’s degree program, they need to write one while at Fletcher.  Second, and more important for admissions purposes, the faculty on the PhD Admissions Committee want to see that you can make an argument and follow it through — the kind of research and writing work that you will need to do as a student here.  As the instructions note, you can submit another research paper, but you’ll want to be sure that it’s a good representative sample of your best work.  Often we’re asked whether a shorter paper will do the trick.  Well, um, I guess…but do you want to be judged on the basis of a ten-page paper when everyone else is presenting 50 pages?  Give it some thought and then try to find the best possible example of your writing.

Our online application system tells me that dozens of PhD applicants are in the process of completing their applications.  With five days leading to the December 20 deadline, I hope these notes will be helpful for those who are wrapping up their materials.

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Christine is one of the members of the Fletcher and greater Tufts team that has developed our new application.  For our last day of Application Boot Camp, let her tell you about it.

After months of hard work, we are thrilled to announce that our brand new application is live!  Why is this so great, you ask?  The application is user-friendly, simply designed, and intuitive.  There is no clunky interface loaded with instructions that seem to be in a foreign language.  There is no formatting that looks like the application came straight out of the 1980s.  Really, it is a dream, and I cannot wait for you to experience it for yourselves!

To enter the portal of excellence that is the online application, go to the Apply to Fletcher page on the Admissions site.  When you are ready, click on the Start an Application button in the right hand navigation, follow the simple instructions to create a profile, and get started!

Make sure to review the application instructions before diving in!  And please feel free to contact us with your questions as you go along!

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Cabot Intercultural Center

Admissions Boot Camp doesn’t lend itself to photos, but here’s one anyway — Fletcher on one of the beautiful days we’ve had this week.  And now we’ll return to business…

There are a few elements of the application that allow you significant freedom to determine their content.  The first (and most flexible) is your résumé — a great place to slip all sorts of information that you want to share with us.  Naturally, you’ll include all the usual elements — professional experience, academic background, etc. — but you can add details that you can’t otherwise fit into the application.  Some of this freedom comes from the amount of space you’ll have to work with.  You don’t need to feel limited to a one-page résumé; up to three pages can be fine, though longer than that is usually a negative.  You can then include descriptions (for example) of community work that is relevant to your application, or links to publications that you want us to look at, or a link to the website for your successful sideline knitting business, or a list of your relevant skills.

Use the résumé to help us understand your workplace, too.  If everyone uses an abbreviation for your organization, the résumé is a great place to spell it out for us, and also tell us what it does.  It’s really best to assume we don’t know — a lot of eyes will review your application, and it’s likely that someone will be seeing the name of your organization for the first time.  If the organization provided great preparation for Fletcher, you’ll surely want to tell us about it — don’t leave us guessing what you did.

For those of you accustomed to a longer c.v., I’d encourage you to look around for a sample of an American-style résumé.  It isn’t that we can’t deal with the c.v., but you’ll end up hiding some of the information you want to highlight.  You’ll find a zillion samples online.

Another area of the application (or application process) that allows you significant opportunity to expand upon your background is the optional evaluative interview.  I never know why people who live near Fletcher don’t at least try to schedule an interview.  The face-to-face meeting really can only help your application, and you’ll have the opportunity to gather information that gives a boost to your essays.  (In fact, I always suggest trying to schedule the interview before submitting the application.  Leave the door open to learning something helpful during your visit!)

For those who are located farther away, there’s really no reason not to do an online interview.  Yes, being recorded is a little awkward for all of us, but some nice crisp answers to our questions will, again, only help your application.  (Embedded in the mostly technical instructions for recording your online interview is the information you’ll be asked for.  Don’t say we didn’t prepare you!)

Both the interview and the résumé are the finishing touches for your application, allowing you to flesh out the story you want to tell.  As I suggested in my post about the essays, think about your application as a whole and slip the details in wherever they fit best.  Your résumé or interview might just be the best place.

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