Who Should Not Apply to SIPA

A lot of my blog posts focus on the myriad of wonderful opportunities SIPA has to offer and how no matter your policy interest, the SIPA experience can make all your professional dreams come true! While this is certainly the case for a wide variety of people, SIPA is not the right fit for everyone. Below are examples of 5 types of people who should NOT be applying to SIPA.

  1. You have little or no professional experience. While it’s true that SIPA admits a small percentage (roughly 10%) of applicants directly from undergrad, these are people with significant work or internship experience.  Not only does a lack of experience diminish your chances of acceptance, but it’s not a good idea for you. One of the most important pieces of SIPA is gaining the skills and experience you need to propel you forward in your career, and if you haven’t even began a career, it’s hard to know what those are.  Additionally, a lot of the practical strategies as well as the more theoretical work we do in classes asks us to draw on previous work experience and apply case studies to our own work and life.  You won’t get as much out of your SIPA education if you don’t have these experiences to draw on.
  2. You have no idea what you want to do when you graduate.  Similar to the above, it’s difficult to use a SIPA education to move your career forward if you don’t know where you want to go. That’s not to say you need to know exactly what you want to do after SIPA but you should have a good idea of what you’re passionate about and the kinds of careers that might interest you.  If you are having trouble articulating this in your personal statement, perhaps you should think about gaining another year or two of professional experience before you apply.  A graduate degree is a big investment both in terms of time and money, so you want to make sure it’s something that you need, either personally or professionally, before you make that commitment.  Although many students get their second masters at SIPA, or do a dual degree program these moves are best planned strategically.  Think how frustrating it would be to spend two years at SIPA only to realize that what you really needed was a law degree.
  3. You have trouble interacting with people with different perspectives.  Even as public policy schools go, SIPA is remarkably diverse.  Not only does half of our student body come from non-US countries, we are economically and racially diverse even within our US population (and always striving to be more so).  Just as importantly we attract students with all different experiences and points of view.  If you cannot discuss hot button public or foreign policy issues, such as the Israel-Palestine conflict, domestic health policy and poverty alleviation with people who have drastically different opinions than your own without losing your cool, these are skills you need to hone before entering our program.
  4. You are interested in gaining a purely academic or theoretical background.  Our MIA and MPA differ distinctly from a Masters in Political Science.  There is plenty of opportunity to study theory at SIPA whether it be in international relations, education or just about any topic you can think of, but the programs at SIPA are primarily professional degrees.  Like an MBA or law degree, they are meant to prepare practitioners to work in their chosen field.  Although a limited number of SIPA students do go on to pursue PhDs, that is not what our programs are geared toward.  If you know right now you want to go into theory or academia, you might want to consider a Master degree in political science, economics or another field of interest.
  5. You are unwilling or unable to do the work.  If this seems to you like it should be obvious, it does to me too.  Yet we’ve gotten dozens of emails from applicants asking if we can waive graduation or admissions requirements, if they have to do a capstone workshop or if they can graduate early before they’ve even been admitted.  Although SIPA does offer advanced standing for students who already hold graduate degrees, we want students who want to be here.   I want classmates who want to be here. Even in classes that I dreaded taking and that didn’t apply directly to my job (hello econ!) I still learned something.  There’s a reason these courses are required.  Most SIPA students have significant professional experience so although your experience might be valid or great, it does not exempt you from jumping through the same hoops as your classmates.  If this work doesn’t appeal to you now or you don’t think you can make the time to complete the application requirements, what makes you think the work will be appealing or that you’ll have more time in the future?  There is no shame in researching a school’s curriculum and realizing it’s not for you.

These things all said, I do hope you apply.  SIPA can mean a lot of things to a lot of different students with a variety of goals and if it sounds like our school might be the place for you I invite you to explore this blog, our admissions website or to attend an information session and talk with us further!


Post contributed by Nancy Leeds.  Nancy is a MPA 2nd Year studying Urban and Social Policy/Management with a Certificate in Gender Policy