Myth Busters! 5 Common Misconceptions that Should NOT keep you from Applying

After my last post on who shouldn’t  apply to SIPA, I started to feel a little bit like a negative Nancy (get it?) so I thought I would share some misconceptions that people bring up during the application process that should absolutely not keep otherwise qualified students from applying.  Some of the misconceptions are about SIPA, but most are about the students themselves.  I hope this gives you a little more confidence as we near our application deadline.

Myth 1: I need a background in Econ to apply to SIPA.  SIPA is a quantitative heavy school and it’s a good idea to have some sort of math, statistics or economics background.  However, you don’t need to have economics courses on your transcript in order to apply.  If you are worried about your quantitative background you can show through professional experience or test scores that you are good with numbers and address the gap elsewhere in your application.  Once you are at SIPA we offer math camp and tutorials to help bring you up to speed.  If you have any sort of quantitative background and are willing to work hard once you get here, don’t let a lack of econ stop you.

Myth 2: SIPA is not for students focused on United States domestic policy and administration.  Because of SIPA’s stellar reputation as an international affairs school (it was built a year after the United Nations to serve as a feeder school to the UN), I was intimidated when I first considered SIPA for domestic policy.  The truth is that SIPA boasts some of the preeminent faculty and alumni in all fields of domestic policy as well as a close relationship with Columbia Law School, Business School, Journalism, Public Health, Social Work and Teachers College, all of which offer domestic based programs at the top of their fields.  Our New York City location means that thousands of domestic policy experts are within reach.  Last year I took a class in race statistics with Professor Ken Prewitt, the former director of the United States’ Census Bureau and our most popular urban policy class is taught by David Dinkins, the former mayor of New York.   SIPA alums run Habitat for Humanity New York City, Newsweek, and SIPA alum Bill DeBlasio is New York City Public Advocate and a leading 2013 mayoral candidate.

Myth 3: My test scores are too low to apply to SIPA.  GRE or GMAT scores are but one facet of your application.  SIPA does not have a “minimum” score to apply because we employ a holistic application process.  While our applicant pool is very competitive and we encourage you to do the best you can, if you have stellar work experience, solid undergraduate GPA, taken some quant courses, and supportive recommendations, you should not let less than perfect test scores hold you back.  If you are concerned about your test scores or any other aspect of your application, this is a great issue to address in your second personal essay.

Myth 4: I can’t afford it.  Graduate school is an investment.  If I told you I didn’t have to make sacrifices to be here, I would be low on funds and a liar.  At the same time, I’ve never doubted that it was worth it.  I’ve learned skills and had experiences during my time at Columbia that I simply would not have gotten any other way—or from any other school.  For example, next semester for my capstone project I will be part of a consultancy for UN Women focusing on political participation. (That means when I graduate and apply to jobs I will be able to list “consultant to the United Nations” on my resume!)  In addition, a SIPA education carries a stellar reputation and connects you to thousands of alumni and employers who will be eager to hire you upon graduation.

During their time at SIPA, most students take out loans, apply for external funding or work on campus (which is how I get to connect with you fine folks through the admissions office) to help defray costs. For United States citizens the government offers a student loan forgiveness program for graduates who make a career in the public or non-profit sector, as many SIPA graduates ultimately do.

Myth 5:  SIPA is too big! I’ll get lost!  While it’s true that SIPA is the biggest public policy/international affairs school in the world, this is a blessing, not a curse!  A bigger school means more resources.  SIPA’s size enables us to offer courses in every policy area from international security policy to United States arts education.  If you’re worried about finding your niche consider the fact that SIPA offers over 40 student driven clubs to choose from, a student newspaper, the country’s oldest Journal of International Affairs and policy and concentration based retreats.  Despite our overall size, our class size is small (two of my classes this semester have only 8 students) and our professors are incredibly accessible-and due to the school’s size there is more likely to be one you’ll want to connect with.  Although we are big for a public policy school, we are smaller than most undergraduate institutions and our campus really feels more like a community.