Age and the Application Process: Youth Considerations

I apologize in advance for the length of this entry, however I think it is important as the questions addressed come up quite frequently.  I wrote it while on a long train ride recently.  If you are still in school or have less than two years of work experience, this entry should provide some helpful information and insight.

Each application season one of the most common inquires we receive is something along the lines of the following:

“I see that your Web site notes that the average age of a new student at SIPA is 27 but I am young and motivated and wish to apply to your program.  I believe that I am a wonderful fit for SIPA and have performed well in school and have participated in activities outside the classroom.  Can you provide advice on how as a young applicant I can put together a competitive application?  Further, as a younger applicant, is it worth my time to apply to your program?”

This question is often accompanied by a résumé, a list of activities/accomplishments, or a personal story about commitment to the intended field of study.

Let me start by stating that the Admissions Committee looks for the same thing all applicants, regardless of age.  We seek to answer two basic questions when reading applications:

1)    Is the applicant prepared/capable of performing well in our rigorous curriculum?

2)    Is the applicant a good fit for our program?  This roughly breaks into whether the application as a whole provides a clear idea of what an applicant wants from our program, what s/he will add to our program, and the contribution s/he hopes to make after leaving our program.

Our goal is to admit applicants who are able to address the points above in a convincing manner, regardless of age.  However, to provide some context let me elaborate on some of the characteristics concerning our typical applicant pool.  Roughly 70% of those that apply to our program are 25 years of age or older.  These individuals usually have 2-3 years worth of full time work experience.

Those who are able to focus full time on work after leaving school have a few things in their favor.  One is the ability to contribute professional experience to the classroom environment at SIPA.  In a professional program like ours, faculty will often ask students to integrate their personal experience into classroom work and assignments.  Two, full time work helps individuals to learn more about what they want to do, and equally as important, what they do not wish to do.  Thus, applications from those who have been out of school for a few years allow an applicant to speak from experience and not just desire and short term experiences such as internships.

Because of the value of experience, applicants that apply during their senior year of college or those with little work experience certainly increase the chance of being admitted if the résumé shows a history of interesting experiences.  To state it another way, we are looking for applicants that are unusually mature compared to others in the same age group.  Examples of such experience/abilities can include:

  • Internships
  • Volunteer Work
  • Student Leadership
  • Study Abroad or time spent working/volunteering abroad
  • The ability to speak multiple languages
  • Focused academic/professional projects
  • A gap year between high school and college, or during college

In sum, we are looking for experiences outside of the classroom that help to demonstrate maturity and focus and as a result will create a rich learning environment at SIPA.  Just as our students wish to learn from faculty members with experience, our faculty look for students who will be able to create synergy in the classroom and increase the value of group projects that are integrated into our curriculum.

Regarding preparation for our core curriculum, we do pay particular attention to quantitative training/experience.  The reason for this is that our core curriculum requires a full year of economics, a quantitative analysis class, and a financial management course.  We feel that in order to succeed in these courses, applicants need some previous experience or demonstrated ability with quantitative methods.  This can be demonstrated through coursework, professional experience, and standardized testing.  Courses in the following areas can help to demonstrate quantitative competence:

  • Mathematics
  • Statistics
  • Quantitative Analysis
  • Economics
  • Science/Engineering coursework

Some younger applicants will also ask about the relevance of academic major/minor.  The Admissions Committee is more concerned with fit and competence than academic major, but it is true that young applicants with a major that is seemingly unrelated to the proposed field of study at SIPA face stronger scrutiny in the admission process.  Thus, young applicants with a major that is somewhat related to the proposed field of study at SIPA are more likely to receive favorable consideration by the Committee.

Let me address a few other common follow up questions from younger applicants.

“Is it possible for you to tell me my chance of being admitted by reviewing my materials before I apply?”

We are unable to tell anyone their chance of being admitted because the admission process is relative.  Each year hundreds of applicants apply and thus the pool is different each year.  There is also turnover in the Admission Committee each year.  The best thing you can do is closely review our FAQ page and put together the most competitive application possible.

A competitive application is one where all of the parts fit together.  By this I mean your personal statement, letters of recommendation, résumé, etc. should all combine to tell the story of why an education at SIPA will allow you to accomplish your goals and how your experience to date has prepared you to succeed in our program.

As a younger applicant, is it worth my time to apply?

In one sense there is never a bad time to apply to SIPA.  If you think you are ready and you want to go for it, nothing should stop you.  One reason I say this is that the Admission Committee does not look down upon or penalize applicants that are denied who choose to reapply at a later time.  As a matter of fact, the Committee sometimes encourages applicants that are denied to reapply at a later time.  Admission to SIPA in quite competitive and often times the Committee will encourage applicants to pursue additional experience or coursework and reapply.

Do you treat domestic and international applicants differently in the admissions process?

Just like the Admissions Committee looks for the same qualifications in an applicant regardless of age, we look for the same things regardless of whether a student is domestic or international.  Of course applicants that do not speak English as a native language must submit an English langauge test result.  The Committee also understands that domestic applicants may achieve higher scores on the GRE.  This is one reason we do not publish average GRE scores.  Each applicant is different and we do not have any GPA or test cutoffs or recommendations.

Many international applicants will also state something like the following:

I think the Committee should understand that in my country a Masters degree is required to apply for jobs, and yet your program prefers applicants to have professional experience.  It is hard for me to get professional experience in my country without a graduate degree.  Does the Committee take this into consideration?

The Committee does understand that this “Catch 22” exists, however we are concerned most with creating the best learning environment possible at SIPA. Our advice is to try to get as much experience as you can outside the classroom while pursuing your undergraduate degree.

In the end please realize that the Committee does not set a limit on the number of people we will admit from certain age groups.  We simply look for the most qualified applicants.  The reality is that the majority of those that apply have experience and it is thus statistically more difficult for those with little or no experience to gain admission.  Each year 5-10% of those that enroll in our program do come directly from college so a small percentage is able to convince the Committee of preparedness for our program.

If you feel you are ready, please do apply.  There is no downside to doing so because we will not penalize you if you choose to reapply at a later time.