concentrations, specializations, and co-curricular programs (oh my)

Let’s face it SIPA (School of International and Public Affairs) is a land of acronyms starting with the name itself. As if that didn’t make things confusing enough, every policy school has its own language when it comes to courses of study. Applicants frequently call the office wondering if they concentrate in Latin America or specialize in social policy (the answer is no to both, in my opinion) so I thought it might be useful to walk you through the difference between SIPA’s concentrations, specializations, and co-curricular programs.

SIPA offers six concentrations: Economic and Political Development (EPD), Energy and Environment (EE), Human Rights (HR), International Finance and Economic Policy (IFEP), International Security Policy (ISP), or Urban and Social Policy (USP). Energy and Environment, IFEP and USP offer two tracks each. For example my concentration is Urban and Social policy- Social track. Someone else might be International Finance and Economic Policy- Economic Policy.  Very loosely speaking, concentrations are the equivalent of undergraduate majors. All MPA and MIA students choose a concentration, except for students who are pursuing a dual degree.

Concentrations consist of five courses each. Some concentrations, for example Human Rights (HR) and USP, are extremely flexible allowing students to take one core course and then tailor the track to their interests through focus areas. Other concentrations, for example IFEP, are more structured and require students to fulfill five specific requirements from a distinct set of courses. When choosing a concentration, as either an applicant or a student, it is important to consider the skills you want to acquire during your time at SIPA and how you plan to market yourself afterward. If you need to gain a strong quantitative background, then IFEP might be the right choice for you. If you plan to market yourself as a Human Rights advocate, you might want to concentrate in HR. While students do not officially “double concentrate,” SIPA’s curriculum offers the flexibility to take courses outside of your concentration to gain additional skills or background in whatever area you choose.

In addition to concentrations, all non-dual degree seeking MIA and MPA students select a specialization. These would be the loose equivalent of an undergraduate minor. Specializations take one of two forms: regional (AfricaEast AsiaEast Central EuropeEuropeLatin AmericaMiddle EastRussia and the Former Soviet StatesSouth Asia or United States); or skill/policy based including, Advanced Policy and Economic Analysis (APEA),  Applied Science (AS),  International Conflict Resolution (ICR),  International Media, Advocacy and Communications (IMAC), International Organization (IO) and Management.  Students specialize in either a region or a skill/policy area, not both. The specialization requirements are three courses each so most students wind up fulfilling the requirements for at least one specialization just by following their own interests. Again, when considering a specialization students balance the skills and background they want to acquire while at SIPA with the ways in which they plan to market themselves post-graduation.  I will qualify for both a United States and Management specialization, but have chosen to specialize in management because I want to highlight expertise in organizational leadership as I apply to jobs. Any MIA or MPA student can concentrate or specialize in any combination, meaning that there are 180 possible combinations available to MIA and MPA’s alone!

Finally, we come to SIPA’s three co-curricular programs: Gender Policy (GP), Humanitarian Affairs (HA) and United Nations Studies Program (UNSP). Unlike concentrations and specializations participation in co-curricular programs is optional although from my personal experience, highly recommended! The three co-curricular programs are very different from one another in their requirements and you can find more about each program by clicking here. The co-curricular programs are extremely useful in establishing oneself as an expert if students plan to pursue post-SIPA careers in these specific fields. I will be able to list a certificate in gender policy alongside my MPA degree on my resume.  They tend to focus on gaining practical experience even more so than concentrations and are designed to give students a solid foundation and background in policy and practice in their professional field.   Anecdotally, I will share with you that the courses I have taken to satisfy the requirements for my Gender Policy co-curricular have been hands down my favorites at SIPA and have left me feeling confident and prepared to market myself as an expert in gender policy.

Incidentally, if you factor in our co-curricular programs, this brings the possible MIA and MPA combinations to 540! Whatever your policy interest there is a way to gain the skills you need here at SIPA.