It’s About the Story

One of the most common questions we receive centers around the question of what could be called “eligibility” for our program. I completely understand where applicants are coming from regarding such questions, but I do want to emphasize that the Admissions Committee at SIPA does not use any sort of formula to admit students. The process of evaluating applicants for admission is very holistic and we look at each part of the application.

Besides possessing a college degree, there are no specific criteria for admission. There are surely things applicants can do to strengthen their candidacy for our program but we do not require a specific GPA, certain test scores, a particular major, or a certain number of years of work experience. We get questions such as the following all of the time:

  • I studied a major unrelated to what I wish to study at SIPA. Does this disqualify me from admission?
  • I have not taken an economics class, does this mean I have no chance of being admitted?
  • I have only worked for one year, does this mean I will not be admitted?
  • I did not score well on the GRE/GMAT – does this jeopardize my candidacy?
  • The work experience of I have does not really relate to my proposed field of study, is this a problem?
  • Is it worth my time to apply based on my background?
  • There certainly are generalizations that can be made about the majority of those who are admitted to SIPA. The average age of an admitted SIPA applicant is approximately 27. However we have had students as young as 21 join us. The majority of applicants that apply to SIPA have completed a microeconomics and macroeconomics class. Is it a requirement that all applicants have completed such a sequence prior to being admitted? No.

    I do not want to sound like a politician who is dancing around the question and I understand the desire applicants have for “concrete” answers, but admission decisions really come down to an applicant’s story – a story the encompasses each and every part of the application.

    In the past I worked for a school with a strong focus on arts, entertainment, music, and media. One faculty member left an impression upon me because he constantly stated something along the lines of the following:

    “The success of a movie has everything to do with the story. You can have the best actors, the best special effects, the best soundtrack . . . but without a good story such resources just go to waste.”

    Something similar can be said about applicants.  Some applicants possess very relevant experience but are unable to bring everything together in their application.  This may result in a scattered application with no real discernible theme or story.

    On the other hand, there may be an applicant with seemingly unrelated experience and a major that was far afield from what they wish to study at SIPA, however s/he does a superb job of making sense of all of the parts by weaving all of the parts of their application together into a compelling story.  This might be accomplished through the choice of recommendation writers, compelling volunteer work, and a focused personal statement.

    The personal statement really is the “glue” that holds the entire application together.  We would love to interview each candidate for admission but are unable to do so.  Thus your personal statement is where we get to know you.  It is divided into three questions and in question #1 you really should focus on your passion, future goals, what you hope to gain from SIPA, and what you will contribute to SIPA.  Questions 2 and 3 are wide open, but you should write wisely and try to include information that contributes to the story you are trying to convey in your application.

    In sum, there are general characteristics that we look for in an applicant, but in the end a compelling story, mixed with evidence of academic and professional competence that will allow one to handle our curriculum, is really what helps an applicant to stand out.

    One final note, some applicants have questions concerning our desire to see evidence of success with quantitative methods/economics at the undergraduate level.  Why is this important?  Well all SIPA students, regardless of degree or major, are required to take a full year of economics, a quantitative analysis class, and a financial management class.  As you might imagine, those with little to no previous experience in these areas would likely struggle greatly with our curriculum.   Also, second year fellowship consideration is tied to academic performance in the first year of study and a certain way to disqualify oneself from fellowship consideration is to do poorly in these classes, which are all first year requirements.  Thus, we do like to see evidence in an application of success in classes that relate to quantitative methods.