Do I have enough “Professional Experience” to apply?

The Fall 2013 admission deadline is quickly approaching.  Our inbox are receiving more emails and our phones are ringing frequently with questions.  In the final weeks before the application deadline, we have been posting comments on some of the more popular questions, such as GREs, letters of recommendations, and essays.  We will continue to discuss other topics of the application so stay tuned.  Today’s topic is on the importance of pre-SIPA professional experience.

Why is working before SIPA so important?

SIPA is a professional school.  By this we mean that classes, extracurricular activities and student initiatives are generally tailored towards the professional, pre and post SIPA world.  The richness of the school consists precisely on the professional diversity of its student body – from social entrepreneurs in Rwanda to management consultants in NYC or government officials in Mexico – SIPA students bring with them infinite wisdom on how things work out there.

Having been part of the professional world will not only give you great stories for all of your fellow classmates to benefit from, but you will also find how much more practical value what you learn can have.  Sometimes it is not until you are sitting in a project management classroom that you realize how much dealing with a particular client taught you, or until you take statistics for the first time that you think about how much more you could have done in your work if you had knowledge of Stata.

How much is too little?

How long do you need to have worked in order to fit well at SIPA?  Well, it depends.  Sometimes it is not about the years that you have worked, but what is it that you did and what was your impact.  It doesn’t always have to be a formal full time job.  Internship and volunteer experiences that have been significant enough to shape who you are and why you want to come to SIPA also count.

On average, the Admissions Committee likes to see students with at least one or two years of professional work experience, but often more is better, so our student body usually stands somewhere between 3 and 5 years of pre-SIPA work.  The more the better because you will have had more time to experience, think, and be certain that SIPA is what you want.

Some applicants manage to get to this stage at a younger age; every year the Admissions Committee admits a small number of applicants who recently graduated.  This impressive bunch usually makes up 10% of the incoming class, and they tend to be students that despite their young age have taken advantage of volunteering, travel and internship opportunities extensively and come across to be very confident about why SIPA is the right next step for them.

So if you are one of those young applicants doubting if you should apply or not, sit down, take a pencil and reflect upon the experiences you have had as a student, intern or volunteer.  You will be able to get a sense of whether or not you have a shot of being one of the 10% admitted .  As a final piece of advice, if graduate school is truly what you want, be confident that you will make it happen, sooner or later.