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Thinking of applying for graduate school admission for 2018 (either January or September)?  It’s not too early to move beyond merely “thinking” to a more active phase.  And it’s time for me to give you a little guidance.

First, please note that the 2018 Fletcher application is not yet on the website and there is no value to starting to fill in the blanks and essays on what you’ll find there.  On August 1, we’ll take down the current application and replace it about two weeks later with the updated one.  But even as you hold off on starting to work on the application, you’re certainly free (encouraged!) to peruse the 2017 version and prepare the different elements you’ll need.  Just to get you started, here’s your list of what a 2018 application will include.

  • The form
  • Your transcripts (any transcript, including for a study-abroad semester, that is needed to give a complete picture of your undergraduate record)
  • Test scores (GRE or GMAT, and TOEFL or IELTS for non-native English speakers)
  • Your résumé
  • Two recommendations, with one from a professor who can reflect on your academic work.  Submitting a third recommendation is optional.
  • Two essays, one of which could be called a statement of purpose
  • A scholarship application, if you would like to apply for an award

We’re not changing our essay questions this year, so here’s what you’ll need to write:

□ Essay 1 (600-800 words)
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 dual degree, please be sure to address this interest in your personal statement.

Essay 2 (500 words maximum)
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.

For further details on all of that, including the variations (there are a few) for the different degree programs, check out the application instructions.

Those are the basics, but let me drill down a little bit on where you might direct your July/August energy.  It is not at all early for requesting recommendations.  Your recommenders will thank you if you give them extra time.  Remember that one recommendation should reflect your academic ability, while we’d generally suggest that the other should come from a professional context.  Most important for your application strategy: think about content the recommenders can add to your application, beyond the basics.  If you have worked at three organizations, but one organization was the most important to your future career, I’d suggest looking to that organization for your professional recommendation.  This is really common sense, but you’ll want to dedicate a few minutes to being common sensible.

Also not too early: lining up your standardized tests.  If you haven’t already taken the GRE/GMAT/TOEFL/IELTS, or if you know you want to retest, get your test date and start practicing.  Why should you practice?  Because familiarity with the test format will enable you to achieve your maximum score.  Being unfamiliar with the test will cause you to waste time and your score will suffer.

It doesn’t matter what country or profession you come from — there’s no reason why you can’t organize your academic and professional experience into a tidy résumé.  There are a zillion sample résumés online, and the format you’ll want is informative and easy to read.  Generally, you’ll list your experience in reverse chronological order (that is, starting with your current activity).  A résumé for a graduate school application should be between one and three pages long.  (I really like when they’re no more than two pages, but I’m feeling generous.  People have different experiences and some of those are hard to describe.)  Pulling together a résumé can take some time.  That’s why I’m suggesting you start now.  Once it’s done, you can tweak it or not, but at least you won’t be scrambling to write it on the day before the application deadline.

I’m going to offer more tips throughout the fall, but I’ll close with one last picky technical point.  You and we will all be happiest if you use only one email address when corresponding with us.  All your stuff goes into your “file” on the basis of your name and email address.  If you want us to be able to find things, don’t lead the system to misfile them.  Also, if you’re applying to graduate school (or a job, for that matter), it’s time to get yourself a professional sounding email address.  No more soccercraycray@hotmail.com.  Please.  Just some variation on your name.  Remember to check your email frequently after you start your applications.

That should do it for this time in the summer.  Note that I’ve given you three assignments: line up your test dates; request your recommendations; and pull together your résumé.  If you complete those three things by the end of July, you’ll be in a good position for the next stages of your application process.

 

We’re at that point in the year where our focus is squarely on current applicants for September 2017 enrollment — though we’re also looking forward to meeting our newest Januarians next week — and it can be easy to forget that lots of applicants are just starting their research into graduate school options.  Some time back, Laurie gave a presentation to undergraduates and suggested that future applicants should plan on a one-year application preparation timeline — 18 months if possible.  We know well that many people follow a much more compressed timeline, but that doesn’t mean that the early preparation wouldn’t be preferable for most.  To help out the (admittedly few) blog readers who may be planning September 2018 enrollment, I’d like to share Laurie’s suggested application timeline.  Here’s how she suggested organizing the different tasks ahead of someone new to the process.

One year in advance:

  • Start researching schools.
  • Begin to track application deadlines and requirements.  (Build a spreadsheet.)
  • Investigate external scholarship opportunities.
  • Prepare and register for standardized testing.

Nine months in advance:

  • Continue school research.
  • Have your academic records translated if necessary.
  • Take standardized tests — be sure to list schools where you want the results sent.
  • Start thinking about potential recommenders, especially if you haven’t stayed in contact with professors from your undergraduate program.
  • Compile notes to be used as the basis of your essays and personal statements.
  • Apply to outside scholarships.

Six months in advance:

  • Update and clean up your résumé.
  • Retake standardized tests if necessary.
  • Prepare a general statement of purpose to be shared with your recommenders.
  • Finalize the list of schools you will be applying to.
  • Create a financial plan.

Three months in advance:

  • Start filling out applications.
  • Finalize your essays and personal statements.  (Proofread!)
  • Contact your potential recommenders.  (Provide them with your resume and statement of purpose.)

One month before the application deadline:

  • Finalize applications for admission and scholarships.
  • Check in with your recommenders.
  • Submit your applications before the deadlines.  (Waiting to the last minute will be stressful!)

After application submission:  Continue to learn about the schools you applied to.

That last point, of course, pertains to those of you who are applying this year!  Don’t wait until April to do your research.

 

We’re closing in on the last minutes before the January 10 deadline, but I might as well offer one last thought on application essays.

During our review of Early Notification applications, a few discussions returned to a similar theme — first put in words by Dan — that U.S. students have their undergraduate application process in mind when they write their essays, and they try too hard to “be unique.”  Working with high school students, as I occasionally do, I’ve always lamented that they sit down to write their essays with that impossible standard as their instruction.  Generally speaking, what does a 17-year-old know about being unique?

Fletcher applicants usually have a better sense of the world out there, but the “be unique” advice still doesn’t serve them well.  It occasionally leads to an essay with strange choice of content or an odd tone.  And it’s completely unnecessary.  The first essay should lay out in pretty plain terms what you hope to do at Fletcher and beyond.  The second essay offers a little more latitude for “uniqueness,” but you don’t need to bear that heavy burden when you think about what to write.  Instead, focus on a much more achievable objective: follow the directions.

The fact is that what impresses Admissions readers is a clear study/career plan, backed as necessary by prior experience.  Sure, we enjoy a heart-warming second essay, but there are many aspects of your background that you might want to share, and they aren’t all heart-warming.  And that’s fine!  Pick the topic that’s best for you, without trying to guess whether we’ve ever read an essay like that before.

In sum, be direct.  Don’t worry about being unique.  And use a thesaurus judiciously — don’t try to impress us with big words.  Follow those simple instructions, and your essays will make the case for you.

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Hey there friends.  I’m here for my annual sisyphean task of imploring you to avoid being among the zillion applicants who submit their applications on the January 10 deadline.

Sure, you don’t want to send us an application before it reaches its optimal state.  I get that.  But twelve days remain between you and the deadline, which is plenty of time to organize yourself to submit the pieces of the application under your control (i.e. not your recommendations) before the last minute.  If you were to click submit before we arrive for work on Friday, January 6, you would know by the end of the day what pieces of your application (if any) are missing.  Awesome, right?  On the other hand, if you submit your application in the seconds before the deadline of 11:59 p.m. EST (UTC -5) on January 10, you will wait in line until we have a chance to review your application.

There it is, my best advice for you.  Go ahead and listen to me.  Submit early and relax, deservedly smug in the knowledge that plenty of others will be stressing.

 

Gosh, I’m sorry to have missed posting on two days during such a busy time for applicants.  I’m going to try to make up for it today with a big fat application tip.

You’ve probably heard Fletcher or other admissions representatives talk about how we take a “holistic” approach to reviewing applications.  And probably you’ve thought, “Blah blah blah.  That’s what they all say,” or other such dismissive thoughts.  I hear you, dear blog reader.  Especially if you still bear the scars of the often crazy U.S. undergraduate process, you may believe that “holistic” is a word that admissions folks toss around to deflect eyes from our arbitrary cut-offs or nefarious deeds.

But I’m going to ask you to believe me when I say that we review all elements in an application, and that a trip through the Hall of Flags, if you were to survey the students hanging out there, would reveal very different profiles — a collection of profiles that a single set of criteria could never produce.

To demonstrate that we do, indeed, have some standards, here are two bottom line requirements.  The first is that everyone, EVERYONE, who is admitted must be able to succeed academically.  Not everyone is going to be at the top of the class, but the Admissions Committee cannot knowingly admit students who, it is clear, will not be able to complete their Fletcher classes successfully.  The second requirement is that non-native English speakers must have sufficient skills to function in an English-language academic environment.  In the case of this second requirement, we do have a cut-off of 100 on the TOEFL or 7.0 on the IELTS.  (Admitted applicants at or near that cut-off will probably be asked to pursue additional English study before enrolling.)

Let’s say that you believe us and our talk of holistic review.  How should you approach your application?  Holistically, of course.  You should take the time to think about the different aspects of your background that you want us to know about, and then you should select the application component that will be best for telling us about it.  The basic elements of the application are the form, essays, transcript, résumé, test scores, and recommendations.

Let’s start with that academic profile.  Naturally, the best way to demonstrate that you have strong academic potential is a successful undergraduate record, strong GRE/GMAT scores, and a nice recommendation from a former professor.  But not everyone has such a neat package.  A transcript with some blemishes will still be fine, combined with strong scores.  Middling scores will be o.k. when combined with a strong record.  Your recommendation can go a long way toward helping us understand anything that went wrong for you as an undergrad.  All of this is to say that the easiest applications for us to decide on are those in which all the academic pieces are perfect.  But most Fletcher students didn’t present perfect academic profiles, so don’t worry if you’re not perfect, but do give us something positive to work with.

Next, the essays.  Most of you will write two essays for us.  I won’t say much now, because we have provided all sorts of advice in the past.  But I’ll rehash the basics.

  • Make sure you answer the questions.
  • Don’t view the second essay as a throw-away.  It should be telling us something about you that connects, in some way, to your interest in international affairs.  (That’s still plenty flexible.)
  • Use the “additional information” section to explain anything unusual in your application.  Don’t waste essay space to tell us you did poorly in one semester.

Beyond those three points, read through past blog posts for more tips.

While the essays are the heart of the material you’ll prepare for us, you’ll want to use your résumé to help us understand your professional experience and trajectory to date.  If there’s a long time gap in your work chronology, you should explain it in the “additional information” section.  We ask about your work history in the application form, and we want you to complete that section carefully, but the résumé is a free-form location for you to highlight all of the skills you’ve gained and the locations where you have gained them.  Don’t simply attach any old résumé you have hanging around.  Instead, create one that will help you advance your application narrative.  More than one page is A-OK, but that’s not permission to stretch it out beyond what’s warranted.

As I’ve described in the past, we’re looking for international and professional experience that links to your goals.  If possible, your professional recommendation should be your supervisor at a relevant organization.  Sometimes people can’t ask for a letter from their current employer, and we understand that.  Make a note in the “additional information” section.

Finally, a word on the form.  Apparently I say too little about it because I can’t put my finger on an archived post that addresses it directly.  (Note to self — must fix that.)  Yes, it’s time-consuming.  Yes, it might be annoying and repetitive.  But you should still complete it with care.  Application readers start with the form, and by the time I have paged through all the information, I already have a pretty strong impression of an applicant.  Do you want that to be a positive impression?  Of course you do.  Answer each question carefully and make sure you’re not leaving a river of typos.

To wrap up, each element of your application deserves thought and care.  And each element can/should be used to cover an aspect of your objectives and background that you want to share with the Admissions Committee.  For more details on our views, check out the Application Boot Camp posts from a few summers back.

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Last fall, I invited readers to suggest topics for the blog.  I think I covered them, more or less, except for one.  An applicant asked whether there are aspects of international applicants’ backgrounds that the Admissions Committee finds difficult to understand.  I would say that there are, fortunately, few issues that fall under that heading, though we certainly benefit from having Committee members who bring geographic diversity to our conversations.

Though I missed my chance to answer the question last year, I’m here with a response for this year’s applicants.  If I were to tell readers what element of an application is likely to tie us up for a little extra time, it would be the undergraduate transcripts.  Most, but not all (I’m looking at you, Hampshire College), U.S. colleges and universities issue a similar looking document, generally grading on a four-point scale.  Even for those few colleges that use a different system, we’re familiar enough with them that we can easily make the adjustment.  Transcripts from Japan, France, Korea, and China are equally straightforward, even if they don’t use the four-point scale.

But that still leaves many countries to confuse us, which is why we ask applicants to explain their university’s grading system.  Not everyone does a good job with the explanation.  In that case, we might do some research, possibly going as far as contacting the applicant to ask.  In any event, we won’t make a decision on the application until we’re confident we know what we’re looking at.  Even with some grading systems we see frequently, such as that commonly used in the U.K. and universities worldwide that follow the same system, we need your explanations!  Guide us to a thorough understanding of one of the most important elements in your application.

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Through several information sessions that I ran in the past few weeks, my travels in September/October, and the emails I’ve received, I’m very aware of the broad span of preparedness where we find our applicants in the fall.  Some folks have already submitted their applications and may have been thinking about graduate school for a year or more, having gathered ample data on their different options.  Others have started their search more recently, but they will still have time to prepare themselves to put together a strong application in January.

Are you in the latter group?  Let me provide you with some points that you can add to your personal graduate school roadmap.  Though most of our travel is behind us, we’re still offering on-campus and virtual information sessions that will help you fast-track your research.  Check our calendar for everything on offer for the next month or so.  And note that we’ll be participating in an APSIA Online Admissions Fair next week on November 16, through which you can gather information on Fletcher and our APSIA friends, too.

I don’t need to tell you that Fletcher has plenty of information on our website, as do our peers.  Try to understand the different programs and find the best match for your objectives.  Also on Fletcher’s website, information on the application process.  Start creating a timeline so that you’ll be able to complete your applications with minimal stress.  Contact us with your questions that aren’t answered on the website.

 

Only eight days until the November 15 Early Notification deadline.  As there are hundreds of applications awaiting submission (most of which won’t turn up here until January) and only 15 ready for review, I’ll guess that this is still a good time to point you toward past blog posts about application essays.  You may already have noticed that we have a whole category-worth of Admissions Tips.  And then there’s a tag that captures everything we’ve written about the essays.  For all the TLDR folks out there, I will summarize all the many posts this way:

Read the essay questions/topics.  Write the essays.  Follow the instructions regarding word count etc. (knowing that your essay will not be truncated if it goes a word over the limit, but we’ll know if it goes 100 words too long).  Review what you’ve written and check that you’ve answered the question.  Ask someone else to review what you’ve written and check that you’ve answered the question.  Proofread.  Be sure you haven’t left in a reference to another graduate school.  (Yes, it happens.)

That’s it — the secret sauce.  Of course, if you comb through all the posts, you’ll gather other details and also learn about my personal pet peeve: highfalutin vocabulary that randomly drops into an otherwise ordinary essay.

I’m sure I’ll have more to say about essays before the January deadline, but I hope today’s brief post will arrive at the right time for November 15 applicants in the proofreading phase, and will also set January applicants up to start their writing.

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With just over two weeks until the November 15 Early Notification deadline, this post is best timed for applicants aiming for a January 10 application, but it wouldn’t surprise me if some EN folks are still engaged in a back and forth with their recommenders, so…

If you’ve maintained your relationships with past professors and supervisors, lining up a recommendation shouldn’t be too difficult.  But making the recommendation work well for you is a larger task.  Step one, naturally, is the request.  If you can speak directly to your recommender, that’s great!  If you’re relying on email, do your recommender (and, by extension, yourself) a favor: include information in your request that will help the professor or supervisor write the letter.  For your academic recommendation, you might attach a piece of writing you did for that professor.  Your transcript will give the professor a sense of your complete academic record.  If your #1 essay (the one that’s a statement of purpose) is ready to share, you could attach that.  Definitely include your résumé.  All of these will help get the letter writing started.  For a professional recommendation, obviously the writing and transcript aren’t as helpful, but the other items would be.

Because you want every element of the application to support your candidacy, once a recommender has agreed to write a letter for you, tell the writer about your objectives and how the recommendation can support your application.  Important (if obvious) note: That’s not the same as writing it yourself!  But I find that a lot of applicants throw away too much of the recommendation’s value by not offering guidance to the writer.

You’ll want to give your letter writers some time to write the letter, and you may need to follow-up to be sure the letter is submitted before the deadline.  We won’t penalize you if your letter writer is late by a few days.  But if your letter writer delays too much, your application will languish in a virtual box, regardless of when you’ve submitted your materials.  Stay on top of this, and if your writer seems unable to find the time, get in touch with us — we’ll tell you how to swap one recommender for another.

And now, two additional resources.  First, you can check out what we’ve written about recommendations in the past.  Second, you can refer your letter writers to a page on our website that gives them further information on how to write a helpful letter.  Keep in mind that, while many professors churn out dozens of letters each year, your workplace supervisor may never have written one before.

And while I’m thinking of it, I’ll highlight one particular point from that information page.  “A typical letter of recommendation for a Fletcher application is between one and two pages in length. A letter that is too short may provide insufficient detail, while a letter that is longer than two pages may be more than needed for the application.”  This is especially valuable guidance for those who haven’t written letters before, or those from other cultures where a shorter or longer recommendation may be the norm.  Help your recommender understand that the letter is for a U.S. graduate school, and a single paragraph won’t support your candidacy as well as a more detailed letter would.

Last, but definitely not least important: Keep your recommenders posted on the process!  Thank them for writing when the letter first goes in, when you’ve submitted all your applications, and when you hear back from your graduate schools.  Writing a good letter takes time; updates and thanks are the least you can do to “repay” the writers.

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Lucas and I staffed the Fletcher table at yesterday evening’s Idealist grad school fair, so I thought I would write about one of the themes that emerged from the questions I heard.  Naturally, there were all the usual GRE-related queries, as well as conversations about application deadlines and other nitty-gritty topics.  But the one that I’ll comment on today has to do with the link between pre-Fletcher professional experience and post-Fletcher goals.

There are two ways to talk about this.  One is a theme that I’ve covered in the past — that Fletcher is a great place, but if the distance between your current work and your ultimate objectives is more of a canyon than a gap, then additional steps beyond a graduate degree may be required.  I’m sure I’ll discuss this again this fall, so I’m going to move on for now.

What I wanted to say today is that too many folks can’t see the value of their own professional experience.  Maybe they don’t like their current job.  Or maybe they like what they’re doing, but it isn’t what they had hoped to do, and they’re looking to Fletcher to put them back on their path.  In either case, if you — dear reader — are one of those people, I’d encourage you to think about discrete skills and knowledge that you’ll be taking away from your work.  Don’t worry that you didn’t land the ultimate international affairs position when you completed your undergraduate studies.  How many people do that?  (I’ll tell you — not too many.)  Instead, find the threads that you’ll be weaving together with your Fletcher education before you search for your post-Fletcher work.

The irony is that the questions I’ve received along these lines lately — both at the fair and in a recent on-campus conversation — have come from people with interesting and meaty experience.  They’ve really thrown themselves into something special, but because they’re looking for a shift, they’re having trouble seeing the benefit of what they’ve done.

Naturally, there’s still the challenge of identifying the types of organizations that will value your prior work, but that’s something that the Office of Career Services can help you with once you enroll.  For now, your task is to take a new approach to thinking about your experience so that you can make a compelling case for yourself in your graduate school applications.

 

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