Summer Reflections 2010 – Post #9

John Hughes just graduated from SIPA and during his second year of study worked in our office.  He is spending the better part of the summer in the office to assist with projects and help fill in for a staff member on maternity leave.  John is set up for a job in Washington, D.C. and will be moving there in August (our second largest alumni network in the world is in D.C if you were interested).

I asked John to reflect a bit on his experience as a SIPA student and contribute to the blog over the summer.  This is entry #9.


I thought I’d write a post on my experience with the Fellowship process at SIPA, since it is the reason why I am at the Admissions office now and the topic of fellowships is something that most incoming and prospective students are very interested in.

The Fellowship process at SIPA is fairly straightforward.  The majority of fellowship money is reserved for second-year students, meaning that only a small fraction (about 10%) of first-year students receive one.  These first-year fellowships are merit-based and come with no strings attached.  So, if you are lucky enough to get one you should be proud.  Second-year fellowships, however, do come with strings attached and are based on a combination of merit and need.

Early in the second semester of your first year SIPA will hold a fellowship information session for all first-year students.  In this the administration will explain the types of fellowships available and what one needs to be eligible.  In a nutshell, any student who scores above a 3.2 in his/her first semester AND has a demonstrable need is eligible.  The demonstrable need amount does not appear to be too narrowly defined, and just because somebody is borrowing the entire cost of attendance does not make him/her more eligible than somebody who is only borrowing $20,000 a year.  Thus, if you are borrowing any money at all and get above a 3.2 I believe you would be considered eligible.

Once you are deemed to be eligible you are given the opportunity to apply for 3 fellowships that interest you.  These fellowships fall into three basic categories:  First, there are Teaching Assistant (TA) positions in which second-year students are selected to lead optional help classes for all the first year core courses.  There are also TA positions for classes that fall outside of the core, but are still quantitative in nature, such as corporate finance.  To get one of these fellowships a student must have done very well in that class.

The second type of fellowship is a Program Assistant (PA).  These fellowships are administrative in nature, and are usually in one of the SIPA offices like Career Services, Admissions, Student Affairs etc.  There are also PA positions monitoring the computer labs.

A third type of Fellowship is the Department Program Assistant (DPA), which is like a PA but places students in academic offices rather than administrative offices.  For example, a student could work as the DPA in the Harriman Institute or for the International Security Policy concentration.  In addition to these three main types, there are also fellowships given to tutor first-year students who need help with econ or other difficult classes as well as a few other smaller fellowships.

The challenge in the fellowship process comes in what three fellowships students should choose.  Generally, if you choose a fellowship as your first choice and somebody else puts it as her second choice, and both of you are qualified, you would get the fellowship for ranking it higher.  Thus, in addition to merit and need, strategy plays a role in successful fellowship attainment.  For example, many students may place a TA role as high on the list because these fellowships pay the same as a PA fellowship, except that they are for only a semester as opposed to the entire year for a PA.

However, there are only so many econ (for example) TAships to go around, so you should really only choose this if you did very well in econ AND you like to teach it.  More commonly, many students will choose a PA in a certain SIPA institute or for a concentration (such as UN studies or International Finance) as they view this as a way to get to know professors in those offices and a way to help with the resume.  Though such thoughts may be valid, there are only so many of these to go around, too.  I knew many students who put the EPD first-year TAship #1 on the list.  Unfortunately, 50% of SIPA students concentrate in EPD and there are only 2 such positions available.

Now, this is not to say that you should not apply for whichever fellowships that interest you the most.  However, before doing so you should carefully consider your chances.  If you have never spoken with the Human Rights Concentration head you are unlikely to get the DPA in that office, for example.  Go for Fellowships that both interest and that you have a valid chance of getting.

Overall, the Fellowship process seems to work out well in the end.  Most of my friends at SIPA got one, and all were happy in their position.  I, for one, thoroughly enjoyed my Fellowship in the Admissions office.  There were 7 of us working here, and we spent most of our time helping to process the thousands of applications that you all send in.  We also had many opportunities to talk to prospective students about our experience at SIPA, and even got to be a part of the admissions committee that reviews applications each year (this is mostly faculty and staff, but each year a few select students are asked to read some applications).

The staff here is great, and made our time working here a breeze.  I chose the admissions PA as my top choice, as I thought my previous experience working with students would help my chances.  Whether this was true or not, I did get the fellowship.  As many of you know, the admissions staff even allowed me to stay on for a couple months this summer to help out, which has been the perfect situation for me as I’ve waited for my job to start in Washington.

Many students call us to ask why they didn’t get a fellowship in their first year because school x or school y gave them one.  Our response is always that SIPA gives most of its money to second-year students.  More importantly, the amount SIPA gives in the second year is often better than what a student is offered first year somewhere else (at least it was for me).  So, it can be a bit of a gamble coming without knowing whether you will get a fellowship your second year, but it is a gamble you can win.  I was fully aware of this when I came, and made sure I did well enough my first year to be eligible.  If you focus on your studies and on getting to know people in the offices that interest you, it’s likely that something will work out for you, too.