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Despite the looming application deadline (or, perhaps, because of it), the Admissions staff will be meeting off-site today to plan for the coming deluge and all that follows. Fortunately, Katherine thought ahead and has tips for those of you putting the finishing touches on your application.
The pace is really picking up here in the Admissions Office! Just as many of you are scrambling to pull together your applications by the big deadline — January 10 — we’re already busy processing the first waves of applications we’ve received. By now you’ve all heard your share of tips from other members of the Admissions Staff: Liz offered up suggestions on how to approach the new online interview, Christine gave her seasoned advice specifically for international applicants, and there’s even a blog category dedicated to Admissions Tips. As the admissions coordinator, I see every beautiful/messy/thorough/spotty application that passes through the office, so I thought I would offer up my advice on how to put all the physical pieces together to put forward your strongest possible application.
First, and you’ve heard this before, read the directions! It should be obvious from the application and the instructions exactly what you need to submit. The application inspector (Step 6) is a huge help. The instructions can be found in a lot of places, including here. (Read them now, even if you don’t plan on applying until next fall.) Remember to plan extra time for some pieces to reach us, such as test scores that need to come directly from the testing service.
Second, double-check your uploads! It’s rare that applicants submit two copies of their personal statement instead of both their personal statement and their essay, but it happens. Even more unfortunate is when an applicant uploads a draft of the personal statement, complete with comments we’re never meant to see.
Third, provide clear transcripts! We prefer to see a scanned copy of your official transcript as opposed to a printout of the online version. If, for some reason, you need to submit an online printout, please make sure it clearly states the institution you attended. We won’t give you credit for a transcript if it doesn’t have the school’s name! Remember to submit a transcript for each institution you listed on the educational institutions page (page 3 of the application form). And remember that, if we can’t read your transcript, your application will be incomplete and we are going to ask you for another one. Make sure it’s legible!
Fourth, use page 11! The Additional Information section is invaluable to you and to us. Use it to explain anything that may not be obvious in your submitted materials. Perhaps your study abroad semester is buried within a different school’s transcript. Perhaps you took a summer language course but it didn’t provide a transcript. Maybe you are currently enrolled in a class and the grade(s) will be available after our deadline. Don’t make us guess about these things — use the Additional Information section to tell us.
Fifth, make it clear who your recommenders are. There are two places on the application where you have to list their information: page 1 of the application form and step 5. Make sure that these sections match. If they don’t, I look like this: [imagine person sitting at a desk with a big speech bubble above her head filled with question marks].
Sixth, make sure your information is clean and clear. Capitalize your name. Spell out your street address. We know it’s a lot of work to put together a complete application: make it shine!
Seventh, don’t send duplicates. Feel free to upload an unofficial transcript if the official one is going to take longer to get to us. Please do not send us or email us all of the pieces that you already submitted online — if we are missing anything, we will notify you directly.
Eighth, standardized test scores are required. An application is incomplete without them. If you want your application to be complete, submit your official test scores. If you took them shortly before submitting your application, indicate your test date so that we can keep an eye out for them.
Ninth, try to get everything to us at the same time. We happily accept pieces, when appropriate, though mail and email, though in most cases you should be able to submit everything online. If we can pair everything up and complete your application at once, you’re golden! Having a complete file that follows the directions is a good way to indicate right off the bat that you’re prepared for the demands of a rigorous graduate program.
Finally, relax! If you’ve done all of these things, chances are you’ve submitted an excellent physical application. We look carefully at every application that comes in and we will assuredly reach out to you in the event we need anything. In this case, no news is good news.
Christine just handed me an idea (nay, a plea) for today’s post. She told me that, as the staffer who answers the questions of most callers and emailers (particularly while our student interns are in the middle of exams), she has been fielding endless special requests this week, mostly related to taking and submitting results for the GRE/GMAT. Requests such as: Can I submit scores late? Can I take the exam after the application deadline? Can you waive the requirement for me, because I haven’t studied for the exam? Or because I graduated from college many years ago?
So, with Christine and all the applicants who take the exam in a timely way (and don’t make special requests) in mind, here’s the deal: Fletcher requires submission of GRE/GMAT scores because we find them to be a useful analytical tool, even though GRE/GMAT scores are never the sole basis for an admissions decision. Our expectation is that you will make your application complete as quickly as possible after the deadline. That is, you must submit the online application materials before the deadline, but supporting credentials (test scores, recommendations) can arrive a little bit later without having a negative effect on your application. Today’s date is December 13. If you’re aiming for the January 10 deadline, you have about three weeks to take the exam and still expect to complete your application in time.
(Note that, even within the structure outlined above, you can still see a typically Fletcher-ish flexibility. We could (but don’t) say we refuse to review an application if all materials don’t arrive by the deadline. We want to give our applicants every opportunity to put together a strong application. But that flexibility doesn’t extend as far as offering special arrangements to each of the thousand people Christine feels she has spoken to this week.)
Since many graduate schools have January deadlines, testing centers tend to be very busy this time of year. That is why, if you haven’t taken the test yet, you need to act RIGHT NOW and find a test date.
What happens if on January 10…January 15…January 20…February 1, your scores still haven’t reached us? Well, we’re just going to hold all your materials in a folder while we wait. Leaving your application in that endless purgatory is, let’s say, not a great strategy for obtaining admission.
As for all the other reasons people give for not wanting to take the exam (graduated long ago, math skills are rusty, etc.), I can only say that your fellow applicants would probably say much the same. No one likes taking these exams. We understand that. But like many unpleasant things in life, you simply need to do it. In this case, you also need to do it on our schedule — not because we seek to inconvenience you, but because not following our schedule may hurt your own chances of gaining admission.
On Saturday, October 27, my friend Joann was in her house, just north of New York City. She said to her son, Alec, that Hurricane Sandy was coming, and that they should submit all his college (undergraduate) applications RIGHT AWAY, so that they wouldn’t need to worry about the storm. Sandy arrived around mid-day on Monday (October 29) and knocked out Joann’s electricity until Friday, November 2, one day after the deadline that Alec needed to meet.
Dear blog reader, every year I beg applicants to submit their applications early. Do they listen to me? Well, some do. But 75% of our applicants do not. This year, I once again implore you to submit early, but if you don’t want to listen to me, then listen to Joann.
Lest I leave any doubt, I am not suggesting you submit an application that is incomplete or somehow wanting. Rather, I’m telling you to create a personalized deadline that is ahead of our deadline, and work back from there to ensure your application is perfect and complete. For example, if you’re aiming for our January 10 deadline, then:
January 3, complete the application form (short answers) while continuing to polish essays
January 5, add your essays to the application, and proofread everything
January 6, do something completely different that will clear your head
January 7, reread the application instructions and, with special attention to ensuring you have followed those instructions, review each part of your application
January 8, submit the application
January 9-10, in your head (not out loud, please), gloat about your timely application submission
If, like Joann and Alec, you’re concerned about the potential for technical problems, set your personalized deadline earlier than January 8, and start the final polishing earlier, too. The idea is to aim for a date that enables you to present a flawless document, but also leaves breathing room before the actual deadline. Remember, too, that meeting the deadline requires that you submit the online application (and included materials) by 11:59 p.m. EST (GMT-5) of the due date. If test scores or recommendations arrive slightly after the deadline, we’ll still consider your application to be on-time.
I assure you that this is good advice. But if you don’t believe me, ask Joann. Alec doesn’t yet recognize the value of his mother’s wisdom, but you can still learn from it.
Once again drawing ideas from the results of my little survey, today I’m going to talk about the application, and what a good application looks like. But first, exciting news! We have now officially launched our new online interviews! If you have already started an application, you’ll be given a link to access the interview site. Meanwhile, you can read all about it in this article from the Tufts Daily. I did a test interview myself. My suggestion: take advantage of the opportunity to record a practice video. I learned everything I needed to know by seeing my own mistakes in the test recording. (Note that there is no penalty to EN applicants who applied before we had the system in place. Those whose applications are deferred for reconsideration in the spring will be invited to submit an online interview.)
And now, turning to the application. The reader’s suggestion was actually to talk about what makes a good applicant, and I promise to return to that subject soon. But today, I want to talk about the application itself. The fact is that applicants who will apply in January can no longer make many significant changes to their credentials. Can you change your work history? Grades for your undergrad study? International experience? No. No. And no. So what power can you still exert over your prospects for admission? Well, you can make sure you submit a good application.
So what distinguishes a good application from a crummy one? Two key points. The first should be obvious, but apparently it isn’t: Follow the directions! Answer every question on the form thoroughly. Never (ever ever) say “please refer to résumé.” Be sure to list all your key professional experiences, even if they were unpaid. Don’t assume we don’t want to know about the two years you spent working in a laboratory when, by omitting this information, you make it appear you were unemployed for all that time. List your recommenders, even though you also need to register them through a separate part of the application. I could go on, but the point should be clear — complete every part of the application form with care.
And the advice is essentially the same for the essays. Follow the directions and make sure you have answered the questions. It’s very frustrating for Admissions Committee readers when they reach the end of the personal statement and still don’t know what the applicant wants to do at Fletcher and beyond. A frustrated application reader is bad news for the applicant. We know you want to recycle the same essay for different schools with different essay prompts. Go ahead and recycle selectively, but you still need to be sure to answer the question.
The second point may be slightly less obvious. Your application has many parts, all of which should work on your behalf. Make sure that each piece tells a little more of your story. Beyond the form itself, make sure your résumé is very clear. Avoid acronyms. We know that you know what your organization, Xybrav, does, but we don’t know, and you should tell us. Do you work for the UN agency UNRAITUSAL? Please remind us what that agency does. Remember that Fletcher is a multidisciplinary place — it’s not realistic (or in your interest) to expect everyone to be equally conversant in all areas. And please, I estimate that there are fewer than five applicants each year who need a résumé longer than about three pages. Carefully consider whether you are truly one of those five. (Hint: Is your graduation year 2011 or later? You do not need more than three pages.)
Make sure your recommendations are all written in English. I know that this is a genuine challenge for many of you, but I cannot guarantee your application will be reviewed by someone who speaks your native language. A letter written in a language no one on the Admissions Committee reads is a wasted letter.
If you’re going to upload your transcripts, ensure they will be legible for us, or we’ll need to contact you to send new ones. Will your transcript copy be covered with warnings that say the photocopy is unofficial? You may need to mail us the original. And way too many people ignore the requirement that they explain their education system’s grading, if it’s not on the 4.0 scale that is common (but not universal) in the U.S. Is your grade of 5 out of 6? Out of 10? Out of 12? Out of 20? All these options would reflect grading systems we have seen. Is your GPA of 1.3 as horrible as it looks in the U.S. context? Or is it as good as it looks in the German context? A passing grade in the U.S. is usually 65. Did your university follow the British convention, in which a 56 might be a good result? As many universities and systems as we know, it is a mistake for you to assume we know yours. If your transcript doesn’t explain it, you should!
Use your essays mindfully. Make sure the second essay tells us something that promotes your candidacy. We still talk about the essay (which, to be fair, was written in response to a since-abandoned prompt) that an applicant sent about how his life’s greatest challenge was getting drunk on his 30th birthday. Need I say more?
Finally, DO NOT WASTE SPACE in your personal statement or second essay addressing shortcomings in your application. Use the “Additional Information” section for that. And if you need to explain your grades or test scores, do not whine.
Last, both before and after you have completed the application (but before you submit it), review the application instructions, which you can find to the right on this page for each program. Make the corrections before you submit the application so that you’re not one of those people who asks us to ignore something they’ve already sent.
There you go. Make us happy with a well-constructed application that tells your story in the best possible way. It will make us respect you as an applicant, and respect is a good thing.
I’m taking a class this fall. It isn’t a regular offering, but it’s taught by a professor at a nearby university, and I’d describe it as similar in workload to the classes I took in college back in the day. Why I didn’t think about homework before signing up is a little bit of a mystery. By the time the class met in September, I was already behind in the reading. I tried to catch up from the first week and didn’t do any of the reading for the second week. Then there were two weeks when we didn’t meet. Good opportunity to catch up, right? No. I was utterly undisciplined and was lucky to have finished the reading for the third class, having abandoned the idea of finishing the work for weeks one and two. I’m prepared for tonight, but I wouldn’t describe my preparation as thorough. Sigh. At least this experience allows me to connect with our sometimes-overwhelmed students.
Whenever I manage to do the reading, there’s another way in which the class connects to my work. As I’ve read, I’ve been contemplating the nature of academic writing. Must it have big multisyllabic words? Or can complex thoughts be expressed in clear language?
Regardless of my ability to achieve my own ideal when I write, I adhere to the concept that clear language is something to which we should aspire, and that use of big words should not be our goal. Why, then, do so many applicants seem to write a draft of their application essays and then randomly select words to which they’ll give the thesaurus treatment? It’s as if they ask, “Why use an ordinary word like ‘ordinary’ when we can substitute ‘quotidian'”?
Dear blog readers, I implore you to consider the readers of your application. We’re all educated people, and we won’t be won over by a thesaurusized essay. Instead, make your essays clear and straightforward. Use a ten-dollar word if it’s natural for you and suits your sentence, but don’t strive to do so because you think the Admissions Committee expects it. Your aim should be to make your experience and objectives clear to the Committee. As you put the finishing touches on your essays for an Early Notification application, or start the process of writing essays for a January application, keep this in mind: plain language can go a long way toward winning over your readers.
Covering a few topics in one post, I want to catch up on some late-summer news items.
First, and most important to prospective applicants, is that our application for January or September 2013 admission is ready! Set up your account, and any information you enter on the application will be saved until you’re ready to submit it.
Second, and related to the first point, is that I want to highlight our new application deadline. If you have been thinking about Fletcher for a while, you’ll notice that we’ve moved our regular application deadline forward a few days to January 10. We didn’t want to ruin your New Year’s holiday, but we needed a little extra time to compile applications. Plus Mother Nature always seemed to find joy in complicating our work.
Next, we will now officially accept either official or unofficial transcripts for your application. Here are the new instructions for the uploading of transcripts, snipped straight out of the application instructions for each of the degree programs, which you’ll find to the right on just about all of the pages under Apply to Fletcher.
We think this change is going to make life easier for all of us, however it’s very important that you know that all enrolling students must have official transcripts in their file. The change in our policy relieves some time pressure, but you still need to ensure we receive an official transcript.
Personally, I don’t quite feel ready to start a new admissions cycle, but my foot-dragging doesn’t mean that we’re not there already. Members of our staff are already on the road, and I’ve answered quite a few questions from proactive 2013 applicants. Thus reminded that other people are thinking about their futures, now seems like a good time to offer a few suggestions. For those who are trying to gear up their own graduate school application process, what’s worth doing in the summer?
First, if now’s the best time for you to do your research, consider attending one of the fairs at which Fletcher will be represented, or join us for coffee, or come to campus for an information session and a look around. I always want to be honest and say that Fletcher is a much more dynamic place in September than in July, but schedules are what they are, and you shouldn’t skip a visit in July if it’s your only opportunity.
Second, you can kick off your application preparation. Don’t start the online application yet — the new app won’t be available until later this summer — but you can get ready. If you haven’t taken your standardized tests yet, get them on the calendar, and then start to practice for them. I generally think people don’t get smarter just because they study for the GRE, but they do become better prepared for the GRE — and that counts for a lot in a timed test. The more practice you do, the more confident you’ll feel in the test environment. Same for the TOEFL, IELTS, or GMAT.
And speaking of the GMAT, there have been some changes to the exam. If you’ve taken the GMAT before, you’ll want to make sure you know how it has changed. Fortunately for us, the changes are not as dramatic as those we endured last year with the GRE. No chaos expected.
Next, it’s a good time to pour yourself a nice glass of iced tea, park yourself under a tree, and think about why you want to attend a graduate professional school of international affairs. Most schools you’ll apply to will ask you about your professional and academic objectives, and you should have a nice crisp answer to the question, however it is worded. Also think about your personal story and what makes you prepared for graduate studies. Once you have it all thought out, you’ll be able to answer most of the essay questions you confront without much further thought.
I don’t want to overwork you in the summer (assuming it’s summer where you are), so I’ll stop here for now. Just a little preparatory work that will help you out when it’s time to put together your applications.
When my Admissions pals and I talk about our reading days, we tend to focus on the circumstances in which we read, rather than the work aspect of the day. So what are we doing when we read an application?
First, a bit of background. Applications are placed in file folders, with a different color for each degree program. Green–MALD; blue–MA; red–LLM; yellow–MIB; grey–PhD. (We’re also using pink (MIB) and purple (MALD) for Map Your Future applicants.) They’re loaded into “ready-to-read” boxes, from which students grab them FIFO style (first-in-first-out). When the student readers return the files, staff members can take them home.
Each application file is arranged the same way: the readers’ notes sheet, the pages of the application form, résumé, transcripts, test score reports, personal statement, second essay, third essay (when applicable), additional information, recommendations, interview report, and correspondence.
Personally (and I think that most readers share my approach), I read the file from front to back, but I shift between pages as needed. I start by looking at the first reader’s notes. Then I review the application form. If a student transferred schools or took more than the usual number of years to complete a degree, I’ll make a note. If an applicant moved around a lot with her family, I’ll note that. Otherwise, on to the résumé, where I read through and note the applicant’s job responsibilities, as well as hobbies and whatever else is included.
When I review a transcript, I do a combination of scanning and careful parsing. I scan to see the overall pattern of grades, but then I zero in on a few semesters to see the type of classes and the results. That works for most applicants, but I’ll slow down further if something jumps out at me. The method is also challenged by certain education systems that can only be described as, well, stingy in providing information about the student’s results. In those cases, I read all the information available and sometimes jump directly to academic recommendations (or the internet) for further elucidation.
Test scores usually correlate with grades, so I only spend a lot of time with the score reports when there’s something surprising.
On to the essays, where we’re looking for exactly what the questions request. With the personal statement, we should be able to derive a clear sense of what the applicant wants to achieve at Fletcher and beyond. We’ve tinkered with the question many times, and I feel that, “Please tell us your goals for graduate study at Fletcher and for your career” is as clear as it needs to be. There are no specific expectations for the second essay — we simply want to know more about you. I’ll make notes about the personal statement (what does the applicant want to do and how clearly can he describe it), sometimes quoting a line or two. If the second essay does its job, I’ll add a comment on what I’ve learned.
In most cases, the recommendations tell us something we already know, but in more detail. Good students tend to have good recommendations from professors. People who have assumed increasing responsibility in the workplace tend to have strong professional recommendations. But the letters are still important, as they provide detail and background that help us understand the applicant in greater depth than other sections of the application allow. I love reading supportive recommendations — they’re filled with warm and fuzzy feelings.
The interview report provides a glimpse of how the applicant connected with a representative of the community. Sometimes, the applicant will be clearer on goals in the application than the interview, and that’s a good thing — we know that there’s a lot of research going on through the fall, and we’re happy to learn that our applicants have taken time to clarify objectives and learn about Fletcher.
Finally, the additional correspondence. Not much to be found in there, in general, but sometimes it will answer a question that comes up in reading the file.
So that’s how it goes — front to back. The experience of learning about people one-by-one through their documents is a fascinating one, though it’s difficult to make the mechanics of paging through a file sound anything but dry. Maybe that’s why, every winter, we write about our favorite teas for reading days, or what we’ve put in the crock pot.
This was my weekend for remembering that the Boston area can have a small-town feel. Everywhere I went, I ran into people: on Saturday at the winter farmers’ market (one of two in Somerville and Cambridge) and, later, at the movies; on Sunday, when we went to see Red at the SpeakEasy Stage Company and then at dinner, when we met Anne, one of last year’s Januarians, and her family. But funniest was bumping into both Laurie and Kristen at the mall yesterday, when we were all taking care of a few shopping errands.
Now we’re back to work and compiling applications is the theme of the day. We’re fortunate to have had a crack team of student interns working through the break, with the satisfying result that we’re up to date on processing mail (until a big bag of envelopes arrives later today). But just printing the applications that were ready on Sunday took two hours, and we know it will be days before all the materials in the office (the applications and their corresponding transcripts, etc.) will be united in a folder.
But being realistic, I know you’re primarily concerned with the progress your own materials are making. So here’s a summary of how everything happens. Note that many of these steps (some done by machine and others by humans) are taking place simultaneously:
1. You hit the online “submit” button. Your application was “stamped” with the date and time, and will wait within the Embark system for your registered online recommenders to submit their letters. If all your recommenders have already submitted their letters, or if you haven’t registered any online recommenders, the application will be ready for us immediately, and we’ll upload it into our internal program. (If your recommenders haven’t done their part, it’s your responsibility to remind them that the deadline has passed.)
2. When your application (with online recommendations) is uploaded, you’ll receive an automatically generated email stating that we have received your application, and that you should wait ten business days before contacting the Admissions Office about any missing materials. (Note that this means that you don’t receive the email if the application is still waiting for recommendations.) The email also provides you with a username and password to access the Tufts Graduate Application Management System (GAMS). GAMS is the best way to track your application throughout the process. We’ll also be posting decision letters to your GAMS account, so hang on to your username and password!
3. Uploaded applications are printed in batches. Once we have the paper copy, we’ll create a file folder for you. (A big moment in the life of your application!)
4. Meanwhile, Admissions Office staffers will risk paper cuts and worse while they open an endless stream of envelopes holding test scores, transcripts, letters of recommendation from recommenders who weren’t registered online, etc. We sort and file the mail. If the application hasn’t yet been uploaded, the paper materials will “wait” for it to emerge from the system.
5. Once we have your application in a file folder, we dig out the mail that has already been received for you and include it. Then we manually update your record in the admissions system to show what materials have come in by mail. You should track your application through GAMS, but we’ll also email you if there’s a document missing. Emailing a member of the Admissions staff will, at this point in the process, give you only the information you can access yourself through GAMS. And I want to stress here that the aforementioned ten business days are the period during which the humans will be entering information into GAMS. Keep on top of things, but remember that the registering of your materials won’t happen immediately.
6. Your completed application is then given to Committee members to review, and you’ll receive your admission decision in late March.
The bottom line: Pressing submit is the easy part for you, and receiving online materials is the easy part for us. The challenge is that most applicants submitted their applications during this past weekend, and it will take us a couple of weeks of mad scrambling to clear the instant backlog and create a thousand-plus application files.
Be sure to stay on top of the status of your application, but try to give us a little time to pull everything together. By early February (only two weeks away, though we know it can feel like forever), everyone who has submitted all the materials needed for an application should find accurate and reassuring information on GAMS.
Could it be that my entreaty to applicants to submit their applications by January 3 yielded a favorable result? Well, I won’t overstate my own value in the admissions process, but there are certainly a lot of applications around. Mail has been flowing into the office. The application forms pour off the printer and go into a file folder. Some stop there for a while, but if the application matches the mail, a complete file may emerge. Some of those complete files have even been heading out to be reviewed by student Admissions Committee members.
On the other hand, there are hundreds of applications still in-progress on applicants’ computers, and I’m not looking to raise anyone’s anxiety. As much as we want to push the process along, you shouldn’t feel pressured to submit until you’re good and ready.
But what can you reasonably do on January 4 to improve your application? Can you make yourself smarter or more professionally accomplished? Probably not. Instead, you should focus on presenting yourself in the best possible way. Accurately complete all parts of the application. Be sure what you have written actually answered the question. Edit your essays. Proofread. Proofread again. Check in with your recommenders to be sure they have their instructions straight (and maybe you’ll find out they have already submitted their letters). Check over your résumé to be sure you’ve spelled out acronyms that won’t be familiar to those of us outside your industry or sector. Proofread.
In short, while we might all agree that applications are restrictive, you should still look at the form and additional documents as your opportunity to tell us who you are. Make good use of each part of the application. If you do, since we look carefully at every page in the file, we’ll soon develop a multi-faceted picture of you.
One last thing. Somewhere deep in the application instructions, we ask you to tell us about the grading system at your university if it doesn’t use a standard ABCDF four-point scale. Please don’t ignore this request. A short explanation will go a long way toward helping us interpret your academic record. If you have already submitted an application but you haven’t included the explanation, you are welcome to email it to us.
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