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Not every staff member sits alone with a cup of tea on a reading day. Dan is lucky enough to have the companionship of his photogenic buddy, Murray. Dan provided this report on a recent day of application reading.
When a reading day happens to fall on an utterly gross winter day like today — not cold enough for snow, but featuring a cold, driving rain throughout — staying inside, at home, feels like good fortune. There’s plenty to love about the work itself, too. As I’ve written before, it’s a humbling and rewarding experience to get a glimpse of things our applicants are doing, and to imagine these folks doing them as part of the Fletcher community. That said, I’ll confess that a full day of nothing but reading can be a bit of a slog for the sheer volume of the task. Every Fletcher application deserves full and close attention, so it’s important to take some mental breaks to stay fresh.
Regular blog readers know that a crucial part of my typical reading day is my wingman Murray. Being full of myself, I always assume it’s a treat for him to have some company on a day when he’d otherwise have considerably less. It also gives me a chance to observe up close the things that occupy his day. There’s sleeping, a few walks outside, the odd mouthful of kibble, and on a clear day, a steady rotation around the living room floor following the shifting patch of sunlight. In short, Murray’s life requires a multi-disciplinary skill set, which may sound familiar to a Fletcher applicant. On several occasions, in need of the aforementioned mental break, I’ve found myself evaluating his potential as a Fletcher applicant. A quick review of his case:
International experience: Murray originally hails from Atlanta, and while Boston and Atlanta can sometimes feel like different countries in my experience, this doesn’t strictly count as international. He’s spent considerable time in Canada, though, and is an eager beneficiary of the occasional piece of broccoli from Chinese leftovers. Bottom line: he could improve in this area, but he’s made some inroads.
Foreign language ability: It’s hard to judge what his native language is, to be honest. He’s not a great barker, though he displays a wide array of dialects including growl (just try to take his toy away), moan (usually when getting a particularly good belly rub), “boop” (my best transcription of the high-pitched sleep chirp he periodically emits, presumably when dreaming of large bowls of meat), and huff (we all drink water a bit too quickly now and then). The issue here is that Fletcher does not currently offer equivalency exams in any of these, so it remains a concern.
Professional experience: This is really an area of strength. In addition to being an accomplished napper, Murray has mastered several toy categories, among them ball, stuffed animal, treat-in-paper-towel-tube, and other kind of ball. He also exhibits advanced licking ability of the sort that can only be learned in the field. The one potential criticism here is that he may be too much of a renaissance man. Previous evaluators have noticed that he can be prone to easily losing focus and shifting interests rapidly.
Academic ability: Perhaps the biggest hurdle in his candidacy. As a dog, Murray has no traditional academic experience, although his “report cards” from the vet (a real thing, I swear) are consistently strong.
Murray’s prospects are ultimately uncertain, though you, applicants, should feel free to gauge yourselves against these criteria to see how you think you might measure up. He’ll be set either way, though, as he currently has a sweet rent-free living arrangement, and a basically full-time job. He can be my wingman anytime.
Tagged with: Murray
Yesterday was my weekly at-home application reading day. Reviewing applications is both engaging and exhausting. It’s not that the work is difficult exactly, but it does require close attention and consistent focus throughout the day. My Admissions pals and I have all found our preferred reading arrangements — whatever it takes to keep us moving through a virtual pile of applications. I nearly always read in my kitchen, and yesterday was no exception. Here’s how my day went.
7:30 — The house is mine. I already have Slate opened up and waiting for me. There’s a mishmash of applications in my queue (some put there by student readers, one MATA application (my second) that Laurie passed to me, some PhD applications that I need to check over for the basics), so I decide to start by reading everything in my queue before I grab more applications. I’m fueled by a nice cup of tea. A friend brought us tea from Sri Lanka and I’m enjoying drinking it from my new favorite tea mug that we picked up in London last month.
8:30 — I need a quick bit of movement, so I sprint upstairs to shift some clothes from the washer to the dryer. Then back to work. I’ve been sitting with my legs up and my computer propped on my lap desk (bought specifically for this purpose).
9:45 — I’m making pretty good progress, but I need to move. Time to put the computer on the kitchen table. I’ve been selecting the application I read by opening my queue, closing my eyes, swirling my mouse over the list, and clicking a name. Ultimately, it’s not too different from working through the list alphabetically, but it’s a more entertaining method.
11:00 — I’m steadily whittling down the queue but I need to get up and move again. I put the kettle on, race upstairs to move the last of the washing to the dryer, sprint back down to make a pot of coffee while also eating a banana to refuel. I chose a thematic mug to boost my focus. Back to the queue.
12:23 — My queue is empty, and it’s time for lunch! I’ve read the 20 files I started with, made these notes on the blog, answered a few emails. Not a terrible pace, but not great either. Maybe lunch will invigorate me. Lentils and greens — not too photogenic, so I’ll spare you.
12:48 — Back to work. Loaded up my queue and ready to go. I also brewed a little more tea. The coffee was decaf, so there’s no danger that I’ll become overly perky as I read your applications!
2:38 — I motored through a batch of applications, but then I hit a wall. To reset, I washed all those dishes I had used earlier and changed venues — moved from the kitchen table to the counter. I often think it would be nice to read in a coffee shop or in our local library, but taking time to “commute” steals from reading.
4:38 — Exactly two hours since I made my last note. I’ve read about as much as I’m going to get to today, and I’ve had a nice “journey” through your stories. In just these few hours, I’ve read about applicants with roots or experience in South Sudan, Japan, Korea, India, Somalia, Israel, Kuwait, Indonesia, and many locations in the U.S. My applicants have been focused on education, security, humanitarian studies, the environment, negotiations, and just about every topic Fletcher offers. In other words, a typical reading day! And that’s why the work is energizing. At the same time as I’m tired of staring at my screen, I’m excited to connect with all these folks who could be walking in the Hall of Flags in September!
Tagged with: Reading Days
Though there’s a lot of overlap in the work done by each member of the Admissions team, we also have the projects that belong primarily to one or the other of us. For me, in addition to writing/editing the blog, that would include coordinating the Admissions Committee for the MALD and MA programs. The responsibilities start with hiring the students who sit on the committee (along with Dan this year) and continue through gathering feedback at the end of the process. Along the way, everyone plays a role. For example, Theresa ensures we’re fed and caffeinated (important!), Lucas “drives” the computer from which we see the application under discussion on the screen (and provides the behind-the-scenes details we need), and today, Liz is making it possible for one committee member to phone in. My most important role this morning was to pick up the cookies that will go with the coffee.
Bringing together a group of students, staff, and faculty is both easy and difficult. We all do our jobs, naturally. But what we want is for students to feel comfortable expressing their views to professors who may be teaching them on other days, and for the professors to value the students’ unique perspective on the community. A little conversation over coffee and lunch goes a long way toward bringing us together as more than a group of individuals. And now I’m off, cookies at the ready, for our first committee meeting of 2016-17.
Tagged with: Admissions Committee
The final trip of the Fletcher Admissions travel season was Laurie’s visit to Europe, which ended about two weeks ago. The greatest distance was covered by Liz, when Fletcher joined several other schools for a trip to Southeast Asia. Here’s her report, along with her photos.
In October, I participated in a great recruiting trip to Southeast Asia. I traveled with colleagues from Johns Hopkins SAIS, Columbia SIPA, and Georgetown MSFS. You may be wondering why we travel together, since we’re all competitors. The answer is that for over forty years we’ve traveled together to inform students about educational and career opportunities in international affairs. We know many students will end up applying to all four schools, and so we work together to get the word out about our programs and to recruit students from around the world.
Our first stop was in Singapore. We had a day to recover from our 27-hour flight across the world and so two colleagues and I decided to head over to Sentosa, an island just off Singapore. There are two ways to get to Sentosa: train or cable car. We decided to check out the cable car so we could really see the island.
Here are a few snaps from our trip:
We had great school visits at Yale-NUS and National University of Singapore — where I was thrilled to meet faculty of both schools who were Fletcher alumni! It was neat to tour the Yale-NUS campus, as it’s so new, and so lush with vegetation! From there we flew to Jakarta, Indonesia for visits at the EducationUSA Center (@America), meetings with LPDP (the Indonesia Endowment for Education) and school visits to the University of Indonesia and UPH (Universitas Pelita Harapan).
We ended our trip in Bangkok, Thailand. Our time in Thailand was solemn, as His Majesty Bhumibol Adulyadej had just passed away. Because the trip had been planned well in advance, we still hosted events at Thammasat University, as well as with the U.S. Embassy, and were grateful for those who were able to join us, despite the timing.
Overall the trip was great! We got to eat some wonderful food, meet fantastic prospective students, and continue to spread the word about international affairs graduate schools!
Tagged with: Travel
Orientation wraps up today and classes begin next week. Faculty members have been spotted in the building, heading off to a meeting or joining new students for lunch. But for us, a key marker of the start of the fall semester comes next week, when the Admissions staff will start three months when, on most days, someone will be on the road.
Broadly speaking, we travel for three reasons. The first is to participate in graduate school fairs, generally all of those organized by APSIA and a few organized by Idealist or by business school-related groups.
Second, we travel to universities and other sites — throughout the U.S. and a revolving list of international destinations — with a few friendly peers. These “Group of Five” trips, including Fletcher, Princeton/Woodrow Wilson, Georgetown, Johns Hopkins/SAIS, and Columbia/SIPA, might find representatives of each school in a plane or a van together en route to a week of visits.
And finally, we’ll travel to a few universities or workplaces throughout the year, but not with any particular guiding structure. Sometimes a university invites us. Sometimes we want to learn more about a school whose graduates have applied in significant numbers.
Maybe we’ll be traveling to a site near you! You can find our travel schedule on our website. Check back often — the list is still skeletal, but we’ll be filling it in over the coming weeks.
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
As 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
Once 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
There 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
Something 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!
I’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.
As 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.
Tagged with: Murray
The final post in the series of advice from the Admissions Graduate Assistants asks for their most important overall suggestion.
Q: What one tip/suggestion would you provide to incoming students?
Ashley: I’ve seen many fellow students dive head first into every opportunity to get engaged that they could get their hands on. If you can balance it all, that’s great! There’s no shortage of ways to jump into student clubs and campus events or part-time jobs. But I’ve often found it better on my sleep and sanity to really dig in deep with a more strategic selection of activities. (It doesn’t hurt the narrative on your resume either).
Auyon: Explore the area around Fletcher, check out Cambridge and downtown Boston, and get familiar with the transport system. Don’t forget to relax before school starts!
David: Talk to second-year students and alumni about what their favorite classes were. They would love to share their experiences and they can also serve as a great resource at Fletcher.
Dristy: Don’t hesitate to ask questions, whether they are about courses, direction to classrooms, the Campus Center at Tufts, or the nearest water fountain. We have all been in the same boat and everyone at Fletcher is friendly and happy to help.
Moni: Come with an open mind and don’t take things too seriously. Some students arrive knowing their academic focus, having selected both Fields of Study. However, it is o.k. to take a class, attend an event, or have a moving discussion with someone, and realize that you may want to shift your focus to something more specific within your initial field or something entirely different. This can happen and it is great when you have such a huge support system, such as everyone in the Fletcher community, who can guide you along the way! As John Lennon used to say “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.”
We know that many incoming students are still actively making their housing arrangements, so today’s post of advice from the Graduate Assistants considers housing options.
Ashley: Once I’d found my roommates — one through a mutual friend, and another through a combination of the unofficial admitted student get-togethers in DC and the “I’m looking for a roommate” group spreadsheet — we decided on what we were looking for and set a time to visit Boston in person. From there, it was a lot of time spent scouring Craigslist, Padmapper, and the like… making a shared list, reaching out to realtors and landlords, sending locally based family to visit prospective units, and setting a schedule for our own visit here. In the end, one realtor actually led us to a place that wasn’t on our radar, but was perfect for us. All told, it took some extra elbow grease, but it did result in finding a great apartment!
Auyon: I did an extensive search, initially primarily on Craigslist and the Fletcher housing spreadsheet, but ultimately I had to go through a realtor using sites such as Zillow. Because I was looking for a one-bedroom apartment (I came here with my wife), my options were limited. In terms of the budget, the fewer the rooms, the higher the rent per person.
David: When I applied to Fletcher, I was living in the Czech Republic. To make life easier on myself, I decided to apply to Blakeley Hall and lived on campus for my first year. Blakeley is a community within the Fletcher community and it was a great way to get to know an awesome contingent of Fletcher students.
After my first year, I moved into a house with four close Fletcher friends. Our house is one of the four “color houses” that host some of the social events for Fletcher students. I would advise those looking for housing to try to reach out to second-year Fletcher students, as many of them are graduating and their off-campus housing will be available.
Dristy: I found my housing on Craigslist — a great place to find rooms and apartments in the area, but it’s definitely important to be very careful and strategic in vetting out spam postings.
Moni: I, unfortunately, did not have much time to look for housing since I left my job shortly prior to starting Fletcher, but applied for Blakeley housing my first year and got a spot! Friends of mine who looked for housing mentioned that the Admitted Students Facebook page served as a great source for finding housing options, since current students post listings. Admitted students also organized a Google Doc with what they were interested in renting and paired it with available options. There are many options around campus and many wiling students in the community to help out! Another added incentive to connecting with current or graduated students is that houses usually come furnished, since they are passed down from one student to the next, and it makes the process easier when picking what to go for.
As important as it is to have some tips on what to do as a Fletcher student, it can be equally helpful to know what not to do. Today, the Graduate Assistants provide their tips along those lines.
Q: Whether you did it or not, what would you suggest incoming students NOT do before starting their Fletcher studies?
David: Do not feel that you need to have all the details about graduate school and the future figured out before you arrive for Orientation. You will find that Fletcher is not only a great place to further develop your current interests, but also to discover new ones.
Dristy: It is exciting to think about classes and all the interesting things you are going to learn at Fletcher, but I would suggest incoming students not worry about having to figure out classes for the fall semester or how you would fulfill the breadth and depth requirements. Shopping Day, when many professors give brief introductions to the courses they will offer that semester, is incredibly helpful for learning more about the course and the professor, and also helps a lot in making decisions about what classes to take.
Moni: It is tempting to get a head start on readings for classes you plan to take. However, use this time wisely and refine other skills that will serve you well during your time at Fletcher. Spend time with family and friends — don’t go crazy trying to beat the curve.
Ashley: Don’t forget to take a little time off, if you can. Though that month-long backpacking trip around Asia won’t be a possibility for everyone, taking even a week (or at least a long weekend) before settling in at Fletcher is a pretty vital opportunity to recharge the batteries and clear your mind for the rewarding and exciting – but often exhausting and stressful – adventure that is grad school.
Auyon: Don’t narrow down your options in terms of courses and fields of studies before starting at Fletcher and before talking to professors, your advisors, and other students (especially second years).
Q: What is something that you worried about that you found you didn’t need to worry about?
Moni: Completing all the readings, for all my classes, all the time. It is very hard to do so and you exclude other options of analyzing the readings more in depth and grasping ideas by other means. Life at Fletcher is great, but very busy. So if you cannot cover all the readings, organize study groups with students in class and split up the readings. This is a way to provide summary reports of all the readings and then discuss in the group setting, before class, some of the main points and theories covered. You may also find it incredibly helpful as it helps shape the discussion once you are in class. Adapt and overcome!
Ashley: Don’t worry too much about making ALL of your BEST friends in the first week, or even in the first few months. Just like any new relationship, it will happen, but it will happen organically. You’ll have plenty of people to hang out with until it really clicks — this is the Fletcher Community after all — and some of those folks will end up being your best buds here at Fletcher and beyond. But don’t be intimidated or overwhelmed with expectations.
Auyon: I worried about the challenge of grad school studies more than I needed to. If you are on top of things — you do the readings and assignments, prepare for and contribute to group meetings/projects, talk to the professors and TAs, actively seek help when you need if from classmates and others, and are organized about your schedule and time (highly recommend using google calendar) — you will be fine!
David: I thought that I needed to have my life figured out by the time I arrived at Fletcher. I realized that I was one of many who had an idea of what I wanted to do, but definitely did not have every step of the way planned out. During my time here at Fletcher, I found that my interests also grew and transformed, and so did my plan for post-Fletcher.
Dristy: I was worried about going back to student life after working as a professional for almost four years, but I realized that it is a fairly common concern that most of us have. Although the first few weeks required some discipline, soon enough, I easily adapted to the student mode and started enjoying doing the long list of required readings and writing papers for class. It may take time to adjust at the beginning, but the pace of coursework picks up very fast, and we adapt pretty quickly. So, definitely no need to worry about that!
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