The Class Rundown

A common question applicants have is, “What are classes at SIPA like?” I posed this question to current SIPA student Carrie Dorn and she graciously composed the following post . . . no test or paper required, just enjoy!


With all of the activities and events that are happening at SIPA every day, sometimes current students forget to discuss the most important aspect of our graduate school lives–what we pay the big bucks for–our classes!  If you’re wondering about the class experience at SIPA, I’ll try to describe it here.

SIPA is unique in that it offers a flat-rate tuition fee, allowing flexibility in how you structure your workload and schedule each semester.  Full-time students take 12-18 credits per semester, which translates to 4, 5 or 6 classes.  Most students stick with 4 or 5 classes per term, but the amount of work you take on is up to you!

The first-year core classes that you take in Economics, Quantitative Analysis, Management, and Financial Management generally take place in the 4th floor classrooms that accommodate 40-70 students.  The material is presented in lecture format and though the classes are fairly large, students can always participate and ask questions.  Each core course has a corresponding recitation section that meets for about 2 hours each week.  Recitations are taught by 2nd year students who are Teaching Assistants (aka TAs) who have aced the class in a previous semester and can generally be considered experts on the course topics.  The TAs are one of your greatest resources.  They also hold weekly office hours and can provide guidance when it comes to homework, course material and projects.

The same is true of the MPA’s Politics of Policymaking (POP) course and the MIA’s Conceptual Foundations of International Politics (CF), which are also held in large lecture halls.  When all MPAs and all MIAs gather together for the class once a week, it’s nice to get to know the other students in your program.  For POP and CF, the recitation sections are divided into very small groups with 10-20 students each.  In this forum TAs and students can analyze readings in depth, discuss material presented each week, and practice applying theories with case examples.

With some of your core requirements finished, eventually you will be able to take concentration and specialization courses. Many of these classes are held in the smaller rooms, in a more intimate setting focused on class discourse.  In these seminar courses, faculty members have a chance to get to know you personally and they also provide an ideal environment for you to learn from the professional experiences of your teachers and colleagues.  These are often held in classrooms on SIPA’s upper floors…so you will be joining the rush hour crowds at the elevators.  (From experience I’ve learned that taking the stairs is always faster than the elevator…for floors 5 through 9 at least…and it’s also good to get some exercise as you make your way to class.)

In both large and small classes, there is always the opportunity to get to know your professors and have them recognize you.  You can stand out as a star student by participating in class– professors appreciate enthusiastic volunteers– and taking the initiative to meet with them outside of the classroom.  Teachers are also open to hearing student feedback, and particularly in seminar classes, they may adjust the course content to meet students interests.  All professors offer weekly office hours to meet with students about course material or professional advising.  Many students find that when they have made an effort to seek advice from a faculty member, they have been offered assistance in connecting with internships, jobs and other resources.  You also might find common interests with SIPA faculty when you run into them at lectures and events.

Getting ready for the first day of classes each semester can be exciting and a little anxiety-producing.  Even though you’ve studied your schedule, you still may get lost and walk around in circles looking for your class on the 4th floor …which most of us still do after 2 years.  (If you haven’t noticed yet there are plaques around the 4th floor walls that list the classrooms numbers, that you can glance at as you walk by, without having to venture down each hallway.) You may wonder if you’ll see any familiar faces in class.  You’ll consider if you’re better off sitting in the front rows with your pen and paper in hand or trying to hide out in the back of the classroom with your laptop.  Soon enough you’ll be settled into a seat, starting your first SIPA class!