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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.

 

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!

 

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