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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.

 

Returning to the tips that the Admissions staff offered this summer at my request, Liz, Theresa, Laurie, Lucas, and Kristen build on Dan’s tip from last week.  As a reminder, I asked my Admissions family to complete the sentence, Something I would want Fletcher applicants to know is…

Liz: Use Your Resources

Liz WagonerAs an applicant to Fletcher, you likely have a lot of resources for gathering information about the School.  You may have personal connections (professors, friends, mentors) who suggest Fletcher as a good fit for your goals and interests.  You may also have access to our social media channels, this blog, for example! — not to mention Facebook, Twitter and even YouTube.  You also have our print publications (which you can download here) and the Fletcher website.  We even have a “frequently asked questions” section, which ideally will answer many of the questions you have.  Something, I’d like Fletcher applicants to know is that we hope that you’ll use these resources!  Of course we welcome questions by phone or email, but with all these good sources of information, a little “research” may help you find the answer to simple questions such as “when is the deadline?”  That way, when you do email us (which we hope you will) you can ask us questions that aren’t easily answered with a quick check of our website.  So please, if you can’t find what you’re looking for when gathering info about Fletcher, contact us!!  But don’t forget to use your resources first!

Theresa:  Prepare for your Admissions interview

TheresaOnce you’ve made the decision to visit the Admissions Office for an interview, there are things that should be top of mind prior to your arrival.  First, remember that you are coming to the Admissions Office for an evaluative interview — which means that, through your conversation, you are being evaluated.  While we are not expecting you to arrive dressed for a Hollywood red carpet event, we also think you can do better than showing up in athletic gear or sleepwear type clothing and sneakers.  The sweet spot is normally categorized as business casual — a step down from business formal but not completely casual.  My second suggestion, perhaps obvious, is that you should be prepared for the interview.  This means being ready to discuss the finer points of your background and experience.  Remember, too, that your résumé is a concise summary of your skills and experience and should not go much beyond two pages.  (If it’s currently significantly longer than that, you should seriously consider a revision.  Overly long résumés stand out for the wrong reasons.)  Last, try to relax.  There is no trickery involved in the interview.  We are genuinely interested in hearing about what makes you a good match for Fletcher!  And all of these tips apply to interviews via Skype, too!

Laurie:  The spring is a window of opportunity

Laurie HurleyThere is no question that the admissions process is time consuming and at times a bit overwhelming for both applicants and the Admissions Committee.  We know (and very much appreciate!) that applicants spend an enormous amount of time writing personal statements, chasing recommenders, taking standardized tests, collecting transcripts, and filling out forms.  As a result, there is a natural tendency to breathe a sigh of relief and take a break after submitting applications.  But don’t relax for too long.  What some candidates underestimate is the amount of time it may take to make a final enrollment decision.  The time in between submitting your applications and waiting to hear from schools is a tremendous window of opportunity to research and plan.  Admissions decisions are typically released in mid-to-late March and candidates have roughly a month to select the graduate program at which they’ll enroll.  That month often involves campus visits, many conversations and emails, tons of research, and ironing out financial aid details.  While this should be a time of happiness and celebration, I have often witnessed stressed-out admitted students who find themselves scrambling during this period.  Therefore, my advice to all candidates is to really take advantage of the down-time between submitting your applications in January and receiving your admissions decision in March, to continue your research, plan your finances, and be prepared to make an important decision.

Lucas:  Call on the experts to find the right fit

LucasSomething I would want Fletcher applicants to know is… one of the best ways to determine if our program is a good fit for your personal and professional goals is to hear from a variety of people with differing perspectives on Fletcher.  Current students, alumni, faculty, and staff members will all have unique insight into the Fletcher experience.  Just as our team evaluates each applicant to Fletcher, you should also use these and other resources to assess how Fletcher aligns with your personal goals, curricular interests, and professional aspirations.  Take advantage of a campus visit to grab coffee with a student and sit in on a class, or seek out alumni to shed light on their experience here!

Kristen:  There’s no such thing as a perfect applicant!

Kristen ZI’ve been working here at Fletcher for over a decade now (yikes!), and through the process of reading lots of people’s stories, I can tell you that there’s no such thing as a perfect applicant.  Because of that, we don’t judge people against a single yardstick of perfection, but rather try to understand what makes YOU tick, and what qualities YOU bring to the table.  What this means is that while very, very good applicants may still have weaknesses, they don’t try to hide them or make excuses, but rather thoroughly and efficiently give us a straightforward explanation.  In many cases, the best applications aren’t fancy, aren’t overly sales-y, and don’t strive to make the applicants look perfect.  Rather, they answer the questions, provide the information, and show a thoughtfulness in explaining the many sides — professional, academic, and personal — of the applicant.  What am I trying to say here?  Don’t try to trick us or become someone you are not!  Be you.  That’s what we’re looking for in the application.

 

Every summer, I cook up some blog assignment for my admissions pals, generally designed to shed light on the people applicants will be interacting with throughout the year.  This year, I thought: what better way to have the staff introduce themselves than by offering a bit of advice.  So I gave them the prompt: Something I would want applicants to know is… And then I got out of the way and let them send me anything they wanted. 

I’m going to start with Dan’s advice, because it gets at the foundation of an application to Fletcher.  That makes sense, since Dan is our resident staff member/alumnus.  I’ll follow up next week with thoughts from the rest of the team.  Here’s what Dan wants you to know:

“International Affairs” is not a field.

DanAs you can imagine, there are certain application tropes we in admissions see frequently. Goals of working in the Foreign Service or the UN are common, as are formative brushes with seminal political and social moments (“I remember watching 9/11 on TV,” “I was studying in Cairo during the Arab Spring,” etc.).  These can be effective, or not; regular readers will know that the curious alchemy behind a strong application involves many ingredients, and that the same thing can strike different readers in distinct ways.  A familiar one I hereby discourage goes something like this: “I aspire to a career in the field of international affairs.”  What’s the big deal, you ask?  Isn’t Fletcher an international affairs school, after all?  Don’t you admissions types always harp on the importance of professional goals?  And aren’t you the guy who lets his dog read applications?

It is, we do, and he mostly writes blog posts (dogs are famously poor readers, and demonstrate questionable judgment).  The issue is that “International Affairs” is not itself a field, but rather an inter-related group of fields.  Microfinance, monitoring & evaluation, social entrepreneurship, development aid policy, national security law, international climate change negotiations, EU monetary policy, mobile banking, maritime policy, and nuclear non-proliferation are all fields (along with dozens of others) that have an equal claim for inclusion under the “international affairs” umbrella.  Essays that include phrases like “the field of international affairs” often signal that an applicant hasn’t quite identified a sufficiently specific set of interests or professional objectives that often translate to success both at Fletcher and with career development afterwards.  The fact that you’ve submitted an application tells us you’re interested in “international affairs,” but we want to hear more!  Tell us what field or fields interest you most, and try to identify some of the linkages between them.  This shows us that you’re ready to construct a coherent course of study from Fletcher’s famously flexible curriculum.  The more you can do so the stronger your case for admission, and the less you need to worry that your application is maybe being read by a dog.

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Here we are, with the general application deadline in clear view.  Unless you have already applied, you’re probably typing away, getting everything ready to submit by 11:59 p.m. EST (UTC-5) on Sunday, January 10.  (Yes, there are later deadlines, but they’re appropriate for relatively few applicants.)  Remember that, to meet the deadline, you need to submit all the parts of the application that you control.  DO NOT hold your application for recommenders or for test scores.  (On the other hand, do make sure your recommenders are well aware of the deadline.)  If you are still waiting for an official transcript to arrive so that you can upload a copy, send us whatever you have now, and send the official version when you receive it.

Remember to proofread your essays and double check that you have answered all the questions.  And then…click submit.  We’ll see you (more precisely, your application) very soon!

 

Let me say at the outset that we know the whole transcript requirement is easier for graduates from U.S. colleges and universities than it is for those from many other parts of the world.

What we require is a scanned and uploaded copy of an official transcript.  You don’t need to mail us the official transcript (though you may, if you prefer), but regardless of the method of transmission, we want to see an official transcript, with the names of each class, the associated grade, the indication you actually graduated (or will graduate before August 2016), and the dates of your enrollment.

For most students, that means you will either scan the official transcript you already have, or you will need to request one.  And it also means that we don’t want you to send us an unofficial grade report.  Check the application instructions for additional guidance on the transcript requirement.

Experience tells us that nearly all applicants can submit the transcript we require.  Though the deadline is coming fast, you still have the time to line up the correct document and upload it shortly after you have submitted the application.  And we also know that there will be a very small number of applicants who truly can’t access an official transcript.  We will work with them.  But everyone else should scan and upload a copy of their official transcript.

 

Yes, sure, it’s a University holiday today, but I can still give you a link or two, can’t I?

You’re wrapping up your application, I hope, so let me point you to our latest word on the essays: our thoughts on Essay One and Essay Two.  While I’m at it, here’s everything else we’ve posted.

Happy writing!  Don’t forget to proofread!

 

Let’s talk about that deadline thing.  Yes, I know, you’ve got plenty of time before January 10.  Sure, the New Year’s holiday is coming up and you don’t want to work on an application on a special day.  And of course, you certainly don’t want to zap through an application loaded with errors.  On the other hand…do you want to submit your application on Sunday, January 10, along with nearly 1000 other people?  No.  You do not.

HomerSo let me, once again, assume my position on your right shoulder as your Deadline Angel.  Allow me to persuade you to submit your application ahead of the deadline.  Because January 10 is a Sunday, I would like to suggest Thursday, January 7 as an ideal day.  If you zap it through next week, you will soon know — before your less persuadable peers even click submit — whether your application is complete or if we need you to follow up with additional materials.  Won’t that be nice?  And won’t that be much nicer than potentially needing to wait until mid-January to know that we are unable to read your transcripts (or that there is some other easily fixable problem)?

Best of all, by submitting the application a few days ahead of the deadline, you ensure that you are not “that guy.”  You know, the guy who contacts us after the deadline and tells us he was confused as to whether we meant before or after midnight (we mean 11:59 p.m. EST (UTC-5) on January 10), or something else like that.  Don’t be that guy.

Finally, the materials due by the deadline are your parts of the application: the form, the essays, etc.  DO NOT hold your application to wait for recommenders or for test scores.  While we prefer to have everything in place before the deadline, your application will not be considered late because a recommender is still working on your letter.

Is that enough to convince you to submit early?  I hope so.  You’ll be happier if you do.  And we will, too.

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All Early Notification applicants should know by now that decisions were released last 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 2016 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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It’s a cool and crisp morning — perfect for November — but I’m snug in my kitchen for a day of (mostly) reading Early Notification applications.  Before I get started on my reading, a quick blog note.

You know the old image of someone trying to make a decision with a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other?  Like this, for example:

Homer

I would like to volunteer to be your “deadline angel,” and if I’m to take my volunteer gig seriously, I cannot wait until January to start pestering you to get your application in before the deadline.  Rather, I want to plant the idea now that you should set a pre-deadline deadline for yourself.  January 1 would work.  Or earlier!  And then you need to work back from your personal deadline to create a plan for yourself.

Have you taken your standardized exams and had results sent to Fletcher?  If not, you should not wait another minute to schedule the exam.  Wait any longer and it will be difficult to book a convenient test date.  Depending on where you’re located, it may already be tricky.

Have you asked your professors and/or professional supervisors to write recommendation letters for you?  Nearly all the applications that linger in our “incomplete” bin in February are being held up by missing recommendations.  Ensuring those letters arrive on time is up to you, and you can ease the job for yourself by contacting your recommenders early to request their letters.

Essays can take a while to perfect.  Create a draft now, and continue to work on it.  Wait until January to write your first draft and it’s likely you’ll submit something you’re not happy with.  Every year we receive requests from applicants who want to continue revising their applications even after submitting them.  Ummm, no.  Sorry.  What you submit is what we review.  (Of course, if you have new test scores or course grades, we will certainly look at those.)

Is your résumé current and in good shape?  Two or three pages maximum, with education and professional experience both listed in reverse chronological order.  Other formats will not serve you as well for this purpose.

My decision to get a jump on the deadline reminders came to me last week when we had several calls from applicants who had waited until the last minute to book an interview appointment and could no longer arrange what they had hoped for.  There are still some on-campus interview appointments, but Skype interviews have been snatched up as quickly as we have created them (and we have, in fact, added a few for each week).  On the other hand, we had plenty of availability in October, both for October and for plan-ahead appointments in November/December.

I won’t go on, because the point is that you need to consider your own work habits and the requirements of the schools you’ll apply to, and then make a plan that works for you.  If you haven’t already made such a plan, your deadline angel suggests that you should not put it off any longer.

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I didn’t start the week thinking I would dedicate every post to Early Notification applications, but I was inspired by the ideas generated by my survey, so why not?  Today I’m answering a question about the first essay, though not exactly the way the survey respondent suggested (sorry…).

To refresh our memories, the prompt for the first essay reads:

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?

You might remember from last summer that I wrote about how we ditched the term “personal statement,” because we felt we were inviting applicants to glue their personal statements from other schools into our application and, in the process, they failed to answer our questions.  I’m sure there will still be people who do that, but at least we’re not the ones leading them in that wayward direction.

To capture the Admissions Office’s thoughts on this essay, I decided to crowdsource my post.  Not quite a crowd, actually.  Just a cluster of Admissions pals — Dan, Liz, and Kristen.  I created two lists and noted my own thoughts and then they added theirs.  With these lists in hand, your objective will be to respond thoroughly to the question above, while keeping in mind the likes and dislikes of the Admissions Office application readers.

List 1: Things we like to see in Essay #1

  • The applicant has read the essay instructions (included suggested essay length) and responded to the questions.
  • The applicant’s career goals and objectives for study at Fletcher are clear and easy to find in the essay, not buried in paragraph 11.
  • The applicant has put some thought into why graduate school, why now, and why Fletcher is the best fit.
  • The applicant provides details on why Fletcher is a good match, so that the essay is Fletcher-specific, and doesn’t read like one written for another application.
  • The essay is not just a narrative version of the résumé, but a contextualization of information in the résumé and elsewhere in the application.
  • The essay is well written, with an authentic voice that hasn’t been edited so much that it no longer tells us about the applicant.

List 2: Things we don’t like to see in Essay #1

  • The name of other schools that the applicant has neglected to swap out.
  • Proofreading errors.
  • Essays that start their narrative with the applicant at age six and build slowly from there.
  • Whining about grades or GRE scores.  Save explanations – no whining – for the Additional Information section.
  • Footnotes.  This is not a scholarly paper.  Find another way to incorporate the information you might have put in a footnote.
  • Fancy-shmancy highfalutin vocabulary words that the applicant has just discovered in the thesaurus (and may or may not use correctly).
  • Unnecessary name dropping (which is different from naming one or two Fletcher professors with whom you’d like to work).
  • Getting Fletcher’s name wrong or spelling it incorrectly.  It’s The Fletcher School or The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.  Not The Fletcher School of International Affairs.  And not Flechter.
  • Long quotations from inspiring historical figures.  We know they’re inspiring.  No need to reinforce.
  • Essays that ignore the word count limits.
  • Essays that could be for any school, lacking specifics.
  • Essays that tell us all sorts of stuff we already know about Fletcher, but don’t tell us much at all about you, the applicant.
  • Essays that are, by any standards, inappropriate.  (Sorry, I can’t provide any further details on this one.  You’ll need to trust me, and stick to the topic.)
  • Information that doesn’t jibe with other parts of the application, such as mentioning employers that aren’t listed on the résumé or application.

And that’s it.  The essay likes and dislikes of Liz, Kristen, Dan, and me.  While I hasten to add that most of the essays we read are anywhere from serviceable to terrific, I hope the list will help you avoid any pitfalls.

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