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I had a great high school physics and chemistry teacher, Mr. Burdman, and he had a standard line of advice. When seeking the solution to a problem, Mr. Burdman would tell us to “Draw a picture” to reflect the facts we know. Using the Mr. Burdman method, I’m going to provide an answer to a question we commonly hear, “What type of work should I do/should I have done to be a competitive applicant to Fletcher?”
So we can start to answer this question by saying that the questioner wants to go from A to B, where A represents the start of her career:
The applicant thinks that B represents admission to Fletcher. But, dear blog readers, the applicant has it wrong. The picture, correctly drawn is:
Point A still represents the start of the applicant’s career, but B is the applicant’s career following graduate school. So what is the arrow? That’s Fletcher. In other words, studying at Fletcher is an opportunity to develop knowledge and skills that will take the applicant from one point to another, but admission to Fletcher shouldn’t be seen as an endpoint.
How is this relevant for blog readers who are planning to apply to Fletcher this year? Well, it should help you to frame your personal statement and second essay. The best experience leading up to the arrow (admission to Fletcher) will support you when you’re at B (your post-Fletcher career). Given the incredible array of post-Fletcher work our graduates pursue, is it any wonder that the experience that best supports an application would also be varied?
As an example, let’s consider two applicants, Tim and Jim. Tim wants a career in international energy consulting, while Jim is interested in international education. Generally speaking, Tim’s best pre-Fletcher experience would involve either the energy field or consulting. Jim’s would involve education, whether it’s within or outside his home country.
But what if Tim’s and Jim’s career goals were reversed? Would Jim’s teaching experience be equally relevant to a post-Fletcher career in international energy consulting? Well, it’s hard for me to say, but I’d advise Jim to use his essays to explain how his experience to date is relevant to his future work as a consultant. In other words, there’s no single Point B, so there’s also no path to Point B that works equally well for everyone.
When I talk to recent graduates, I advise them to find work that pushes them along the A-B continuum. For those who will apply this year, regardless of your Point B, be sure the Admissions Committee will understand how your experience, augmented by a Fletcher degree, will get you there.
With the November 15 Early Notification deadline less than three weeks away, it’s time for me to turn to tips. And to kick off the admissions tips for the year, I want to start with the solution to our perennial peskiest problem — applicants whose credentials are submitted under different names or multiple spelling variations of the same name.
If your name is now and always has been George Washington, you may have no idea what I’m talking about. But if you attended college several years ago and now go by your married name, we’re talking to you! It’s very important that you inform us that the transcript from your undergraduate university will reflect your maiden name. Of course, the same advice pertains regardless of your reason for changing your name.
Additional challenges for our application compilers?
Your full name is James William Fulbright, but everyone refers to you as William. Make sure your correspondence and documentation reflect your full name.
Your name is Gabriel Garcia Marquez. If we know you’re from a country that follows certain conventions, we’ll assume we should file your GRE scores under G for Garcia. But in the absence of such clues, we’re going to assume that your last name (surname) is Marquez. Into the M’s you’ll go.
Your Chinese name is presented surname before given name on your Chinese transcript, but will appear given name before surname on your U.S. transcript and test score report.
I could go on, but I hope you’re getting the point. If your name is going to appear with more than one spelling, or in more than one format, you need to let us know. Otherwise, what will happen is that your otherwise on-time application will be considered incomplete. We’ll tell you that something is missing, and you’ll scramble around to submit a replacement, which will also be filed incorrectly.
Keep us informed, and we’ll look forward to an admissions process free of name confusion!
Since my daughter Kayla occupies a lot of my mental space these days, I will continue to talk about her. This past weekend was supposed to have been her personal deadline for deciding whether to apply early decision (ED) to one college. Since the application creates a binding agreement between the applicant and the college, it’s not something that should be done on an impulse. If she were admitted, she would be obligated to enroll. She started the weekend fairly confident she would apply, but by Sunday she was wondering if she really had all necessary information. She’s going to think about it for another day. The application is due Tuesday, November 1, so her thinking time is limited.
Fortunately, for those who are thinking of applying to Fletcher before the Early Notification (EN) deadline of November 15, there’s no need to feel Kayla’s level of worry. The application is non-binding, and while we certainly hope admitted students will want to enroll at Fletcher, you’re still free to apply to other schools. The only factor that you need to consider is: Will my application be complete by November 15? If the answer is yes, then there’s no reason not to apply.
On the other hand…there’s also no admissions advantage if you do apply. While there’s a perceived or actual advantage to applying ED for undergraduates, Fletcher is different. We carry a consistent set of standards from November through March, and (so long as you’re not a PhD applicant for whom the only deadline is December 20) you can freely choose the EN deadline or the regular deadline — whichever suits you best.
Today I’m going to talk about my daughter Kayla. At 6:50 this morning, she was galloping happily through the house, having just checked her latest SAT scores online. This is Kayla’s year to apply to college, and as much as my work helps me guide her through her process, the hyper-competitive field of undergraduate admissions helps me put the Fletcher process in perspective.
So Kayla’s a great kid, and a strong student, which means she hopes to attend one of the many East Coast colleges or universities with insanely low rates of admission. Once a school is admitting such a tiny portion of its applicants, there’s really no way to feel confident of one’s chances of admission, leading to endless worry for these 17-year-olds.
I see the Fletcher process as very different. I know that applying to grad school is stressful for many of our applicants, and I don’t want to imply there’s no reason to fret. Nonetheless, a key difference between us and undergrad admissions, is that Fletcher doesn’t look for reasons to turn away an otherwise qualified applicant. If you have strong academic potential, professional and international experience that supports your goals, and a clear focus, you’ll be admitted. I realize there’s still broad room for interpretation of those factors, but the bottom line is that good applicants are admitted.
Most of the schools Kayla is considering accept the Common Application, which includes a form and two essays. Then most schools have a supplemental application, on which the student can profess love for that particular institution. As Kayla has struggled with each of her essays, I’ve encouraged her to think about her application as a whole, and to ensure that each of its elements tells the colleges something new about her. Her main essay is about how she stumbled onto her academic/future-career focus. It’s written in a straightforward way that seems appropriate to me, but strikes her as dull. So I encouraged her to write a lively second essay (for which the required topic is the applicant’s most significant extracurricular activity). The supplemental application on which she has worked this week includes six short essays, and she has written about a different facet of her life in each one (including a paragraph about her insomnia).
Fletcher applicants should take the same approach. Your application includes a form, a résumé, your transcript(s), test scores, personal statement, supplemental essay (more than one for some of our programs — check the application instructions), and three recommendations. Were you a fantastic student? Your transcript and academic recommendation (as well as, probably, your test scores) will tell us about that part of your life. Thinking about the application as a whole, your remaining recommendations should tell us something new, probably about your professional experience. (The exception is PhD applicants, who should include two academic recommendations.) Even if you have two recommendations from the same area (two from your university, or two from the same employer), try to guide the recommenders to reflect on different aspects of your background.
This will be a long nail-biter of a year for Kayla, and I’ll do my best to support her through it. The Fletcher Admissions staff also aims to support our applicants. We want each of you to be the best applicant you can be. Spend some time on the Fletcher website and the Admissions pages. Learn as much as you can about the School, and consider where your background and our values intersect. Then, carefully put together your application. This year, more than most, I’ll be taking the applicant’s view of the process.
This year, the Fletcher admissions process will include a revised testing policy for MALD and MA applicants. While the new policy is sure to make a few people unhappy (and we have held off on making the change for just that reason), it actually affects a fairly small subset of our applicant pool. So here it is.
Starting with the October 15 deadline for applications for January admission, all applicants to the MALD and MA programs, whether they’re from the U.S. or another country, will need to submit results of the GRE or GMAT exam. Non-native English speakers, unless their university education was in English, will also need to submit results of an English language assessment exam (TOEFL, IELTS, or PTE). This has been the policy of the PhD and MIB programs for many years, so we’re bringing the MALD and MA expectations in line with these other programs.
You may be wondering why we have decided on this change. Often, the Admissions Committee finds itself in a complete muddle over an applicant who submits a transcript with minimal grades, or with strangely cryptic course names, or with an overall grade of 46 that recommenders tell us is a good result. We don’t expect the GRE or GMAT results to clarify everything for us, but we think they’ll help in a good number of cases. Finally, professors on the Admissions Committee have asked us to change the policy for several years.
The irony is that we require test scores from applicants who have graduated from the universities we know the best. If we ask for scores from a student with a 4.0 average in international relations at Tufts, why wouldn’t we also want that piece of information from someone who studied at a university we don’t know well in another country? As it happens, many of the applicants in the affected group tend to submit scores anyway, and even when they don’t send test results to Fletcher, they’re sending scores to our peers that require them. That is, they’ve taken the test and simply need to direct the score reports to Fletcher. So the policy change is significant, but the ultimate impact will be less so.
Here’s why we didn’t make the change earlier: We know that GREs and GMATs are expensive. But the cost is minimal compared with the expense of studying in the U.S. for two years. We know that, in some countries, the exams are not offered as often as they are in the U.S. Well…this will be a challenge, but we expect our applicants to plan carefully.
So, in the end, we decided that the values of fairness and clarity win out over the inconvenience that we know a small group will experience. Fortunately, I expect that the new policy will be a subject of conversation for only one year. After this, anyone doing careful homework on the admissions process will have at least twelve months’ notice and can plan accordingly.
I’ll close with the answer to one question that will surely come up. Yes — we will adjust our expectations, particularly on the verbal and analytical sections, for the non-native speakers. We’re already accustomed to making that mental adjustment, and now we’ll simply be doing it more frequently. If you have other questions about the change, please feel free to ask them as a comment to the blog, or email the office.
If you’re actually reading the Admissions Blog in the middle of summer, it may be because you’re a well-organized applicant. Or you may be a less-well-organized applicant who’s wondering what a well-organized applicant would be thinking about. Either way, I should reward your loyalty with a few suggestions for how you can ease your application season workload.
Start with your calendar, and consider if you’ll be able to meet up with Fletcher staffers on the road, or if you may want to visit Fletcher. Our interview and Information Session schedule for the fall is ready and waiting for applicants to grab the slots. You can sign up for an Information Session online, or you can email or phone us to arrange an interview. Note that we accommodate everyone who wants to attend an Information Session, but the interview schedule will fill up midway through the fall. If you have constraints on your time, I recommend you book your interview as soon as possible.
What else could you do? Register for the GRE/GMAT, or TOEFL/IELTS, or even take the exam now. There’s no special reason to leave it to November, and you’ll be relieved to have it out of the way.
Do you have your recommenders lined up? While summer may not be the best time to connect with your professors, it could be a good time to reach a former supervisor from your professional life. You’ll want to update anyone who’s writing on your behalf — send a résumé, and even your personal statement, so that your recommendation letters will reflect your current objectives, not your previous plan to go to locksmith school.
How about funding your education? If you know that you have the funds in the bank to pay for your studies, then you can check this one off your to-do list. For everyone else, now’s the time to start searching for scholarships. You should also be sure you understand the financial aid policies of the graduate schools to which you’ll apply.
Why not give yourself extra time to think about your application essays by starting on them now? Though you shouldn’t start to fill out Fletcher’s application form until the new version is ready next month, I can tell you that our basic essays aren’t going to change this year. The two essays shared by applicants to all degree programs are:
Essay 1 (Personal Statement): 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. Why is The Fletcher School the right place to pursue your academic objectives and to prepare you to meet your professional goals? Why have you selected the degree program to which you are applying? If you are planning to pursue a joint degree, please be sure to address this interest in your personal statement.
Essay 2: Choose one of the following essay topics to tell the Admissions Committee something about you that does not fit elsewhere in the application:
• Share something about yourself to help the Admissions Committee develop a more complete picture of who you are.
• Tell us more about how you first became interested in international affairs, or in pursuing an international career.
• Describe the elements of your personal, professional, and/or academic background that have prepared you for your chosen career path.
We like to think that the essays are pretty straightforward. Use the Personal Statement to discuss your goals, and use the second essay to tell us more about you (which may include things you’ve done in the past).
So those are just a few basic suggestions of what you could get started on. Naturally, I also want you to enjoy the summer! But you can smooth the way for a stress-reduced application process if you get an early start on it.
We’ve been offering feedback to our applicants for quite a few years now, and we’ve moved from an informal call-me-and-I’ll-see-what-I-can-figure-out arrangement to more of a system. And as the system has developed, so has the expectation on the part of the Admissions Committee that someone intending to apply a second time should ask what went wrong the first time. If you weren’t admitted this year and you hope to reapply (and if you haven’t, in frustration, given up on the blog), I want to encourage you to ask us for feedback on your application.
Here are the rules. After May 1, send us a feedback request by email with this information:
♦The semester/year for which you originally applied (for example, September 2011);
♦Any specific questions you have about your application or the process;
♦Your plans for the coming year;
♦The term for which you intend to reapply.
One of us will review your application. We’ll read through everything in the file, but much of what we write will reflect the comments of the reviewers, not our own opinions. We only offer opinions if we think there’s a key point that the reviewers didn’t note.
Regardless of when you intend to reapply, I encourage you to request feedback this year. We received some requests last December for January applications. Unless the problem with an applicant’s first application was in the personal statement, what exactly can he do to improve his profile in only one month? So contact us this spring, and you’ll have some ideas to work with until you reapply. Until then, I’m sorry you didn’t receive admission this year, but experience tells us that many applicants will be successful in a future round. I hope we’ll see another application from you in the future.
Blog readers may be wondering how the application processing is going. And the answer is FANTASTIC! I’ve already noted that having Kartik, Lauren, and Caitlin in the office during the break was a gift, and we were in unbelievably good shape when the paper started to attack. Since Tuesday, we’ve been closing the office in the morning to minimize disruptions, and we’ve all alternated application processing with the other stuff for which we’re responsible.
At this point, broadly speaking, applications can be found in several different places:
1. Stuck in “the system” waiting for recommendations to be submitted.
2. On a table, waiting to be put in a file folder.
3. In a folder, waiting to be paired with transcripts and other materials we have already received by mail.
4. In a box, waiting for transcripts (or whatever) to arrive by mail.
5. In a different box, waiting for a student to read them.
6. In yet another box, waiting for a member of the Admissions Staff to read them.
7. On someone’s desk, waiting for final Committee discussion or processing.
We start reviewing applications as soon as they’re complete. The student members of the Committee on Admissions are all back in town now, and they have reading targets to meet. After they do their work, the Admissions staff can get started on serious reading — no more grabbing the occasional handful.
There are a few hundred files that we just formed today, and we’ll be updating each applicant’s information in the Graduate Application Management System. Until that batch was printed, we were up-to-date on all the updating. In other words, applicants whose materials have all arrived will be seeing reassuring information in a timely way on the Graduate Application Management System. Applicants whose recommendations or transcripts (or whatever) are lagging behind the application should continue to be patient.
Lots of snow all around, but we’re more-or-less back in business. Even without having missed a day of work yesterday, we are SOOOOO LUCKY this week to have our super student interns, Caitlin, Kartik, and Lauren, sacrificing their vacation time to help us out. They’ve been keeping the mail mountains to molehills, updating applications in the online system, and generally serving as the barricade separating us from nuttiness. But, with the application deadline coming on Saturday, we’re getting ready for chaos (of the controlled variety, we hope) next week.
Meanwhile, it seems that, for some applicants, completing the application is the easy part. The real stress comes during the post-submit information void — that stretch of time between hitting the submit button and learning that the application is complete. (It’s worth noting that the chaos and the duration of the void are intricately linked.) To try to ease some concerns, here is the blog’s annual rundown of what’s happening after you submit the application. Note that many of these steps are (thanks to the wonders of technology and human effort) taking place simultaneously:
1. You hit the online “submit” button. Your application will be “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.
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. 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 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.
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 will submit their applications within 48 hours of the deadline, 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.
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