What makes a good candidate?

Insider tips on what the SIPA admissions committee looks for in an applicant

There is no “perfect” candidate.  Many of our applicants are interested in advancing professionally within their field, while others are changing their careers entirely. Some have stellar academic records, and many have stumbled a time or two while in college. And every type of applicant has been admitted to SIPA. Thus, due to the diversity of our applicant pool, there are no firm requirements for applying (and that includes GPA, GRE/GMAT scores and work history).

For a general idea of what we look for in a candidate academically and professionally, read the following recommendations for making your application as competitive as possible.

Academic Background
As the photo in this post suggests, a strong quantitative skill set is possessed by SIPA’s most successful students. Thus, we’re looking for candidates who have strong grades in courses relevant to SIPA’s rigorous curriculum—like economics, statistics and mathematics—which suggests a candidate’s ability to undertake quantitative coursework at the graduate level. Specifically, the MIA and MPA degrees require coursework in economics, statistics and financial management.

In general, we prefer that applicants have completed at least two courses in economics (macro and microeconomics). Students who plan to pursue careers in development economics, quantitative policy analysis, trade, finance, environmental economics, energy policy or international banking are expected to demonstrate strong economic and quantitative preparation with calculus and an intermediate micro and macroeconomic sequence through previous undergraduate or graduate study.

Students lacking an economics background and who are interested in pursuing these fields are strongly encouraged to make up this deficiency before applying to SIPA. (Other recommendations include coursework in international relations, political science, foreign languages and history.)

All students at SIPA are required to complete coursework in economics, statistics and financial management as part of the core curriculum. Thus, we also recommend that applicants complete of a high-level math class and/or a statistics course. The lower level economics sequence at SIPA deals extensively with concepts covered in high-level algebra classes (i.e. Linear Algebra), while the high-level sequence deals with concepts covered in calculus-based math courses. Applicants lacking a quantitative background are encouraged to consider enrolling in mathematics courses above all else.

While we don’t require that each applicant have experience in all three areas (economics, statistics and mathematics) to be admitted, extensive coursework in these areas definitely strengthens your application.

You are not required to have a particular undergraduate major. However, students whose fields of study were far from the international relations or public administration fields are advised to address with extra care in their essay why they now wish to “change gears” and study at SIPA.

Professional Experience
It’s true that most successful applicants have at least three years of relevant work (or internship) experience under their belt when they apply to SIPA. But another five to 10 percent of accepted students actually have minimal experience, and come directly from undergraduate institutions. In those cases, the recent undergraduates had extraordinary academic records and a significant internship or study abroad experience.

Overall, both sets of applicants—the authority and the novice—have experiences that are relevant to their intended course of study at SIPA. For some that may include working at an international relief organization, while others intern at corporations with operations in the international sphere, or volunteer at a nonprofit agency with a mission focused on the human rights realm. So it’s impossible to make specific recommendations about what kind of work experience you should have before submitting an application. Our  applicants come from every corner of the globe with vastly different backgrounds and professional experiences. But they all have two things in common: their experiences relate to their intended field of study, and they’re passionate about the work they do.


We’re look for candidates with a desire to make a difference in the international and public policy fields. And at the end of the day, it’s important to highlight why you are interested in pursuing your degree at SIPA. So cater your academic and professional experiences as best as you can to reflect this.

We know your application will blow us away, and we’re excited to read it. Apply to SIPA now.