The following post was composed by Brittney Bailey.
For those of you that have been admitted to SIPA, congrats! I know that many of you are in the midst of weighing the many pros and cons of each program to which you’ve applied. So I wanted to address one of the more common questions we get in Admissions from admitted students just to help some of you manage expectations and to get a better understanding of the SIPA experience. Incoming students always ask- what type of advising do students receive at SIPA? How much guidance is provided from faculty and staff?
First, I will say that no matter which way you cut it, I think that a masters program requires much more personal planning and less faculty assistance than an undergraduate degree. Nevertheless, in terms of advising, I do think that the SIPA program calls for very independent students. Perhaps this is due to the fact that SIPA tends to attract older students, who have presumably honed their skills to use resources, extract guidance and may be a lot clearer when communicating what they want out of the program. Or maybe it’s because of a general culture of independence within Columbia University. The school is large and located in the most metropolitan, “rough and tough”, city in the US. NYC demands a lot from its inhabitants and it makes sense that this same expectation would permeate the walls of this university. Whatever the reason, here are a few pointers that might be helpful when trying to maneuver through the advising process at SIPA:
Do Your Research
Although this seems like an obvious pointer, it’s definitely worth noting. Personal planning is the key to making sure that you can extract specific guidance from the resources around you, especially from the Deans who also serve as advisors. Most Deans are in charge of various administrative and operational duties around the school so they have limited time to devote specifically to advising. If you’ve done your own personal planning and can come to them with direct questions, it usually results in a much more fruitful advising session. For instance, this might seem a little extreme, but when I walked into my first meeting with a simple excel listing classes I wanted to take and what requirements they would fulfill, my advisor was ecstatic. He then walked me through the list, told me who I could speak with to clarify certain requirements, and it helped us build a solid rapport for future sessions.
Befriend the Deans and Support Staff
Again, speaking from personal experience, I’ve found that being close to SIPA administration not only helps with advising, but guidance overall. From facilities up to the deans, many of my questions on how to maneuver through the Columbia bureaucracy have been answered by someone who was not necessarily an advisor. Also, checking in regularly with the administration, even when it’s just to report concerns in a class, progress on a job search or something completely external from typical advising, really helps.
Sit Down with Professors
Although professors are not formally advisors, they are experts in their field that can guide you on what type of coursework would align with your planned career track. Also, I’ve found that when I have professor support for a class that doesn’t necessarily fall within the core requirements, it’s much easier to get SIPA advisors to find ways to apply the course to my degree program.
Use Your Biggest Resource- 2nd Years
Lastly, the biggest resource you can use in selecting courses and maneuvering through the day-to-day at SIPA are 2nd year students. 2nd years can tell you everything- which classes are the most practical or theoretical, which professors are great, which books to actually purchase, who to contact for summer internships and how to make the most use of the few elective courses you have. I know that this seems intuitive…but it’s probably one of the most under-utilized resources at the school.
Much like the “real world,” advising and building relationships with faculty at SIPA are really what you make of it.