Author Archive for Emily Tao

“I didn’t get the decision I wanted. What now?”

Decisions for Fall 2019 were recently released for Columbia SIPA, so by now you should know your SIPA admissions decision. I’m sure you went through a mix of emotions before and after checking your status page.

Whatever decision you received, here are some things that waitlisted candidates, and those who weren’t granted admission, should know going forward.

Reapply to SIPA

I’m putting this at the top of the list, because you applied to SIPA for a reason, and our community is made of committed candidates, students, alum, faculty, and prospective students like you. If you didn’t get the admission decision you were hoping for, we wholeheartedly encourage you to reapply to SIPA.

As a reapplicant, you will go by the same deadlines, fees and requirements as first-time applicants. A benefit is that you may reapply using the personal statement, reference letters, test scores and transcripts from this year’s application. As the essay questions change every year, you should submit new ones (and possibly new recommendation letters). When next year’s application goes live in mid-August 2019, email us at sipa_admission@columbia.edu with “Reapplicant Request to Use Past Materials for Your Name” in the subject line and specify which of your materials you want to reuse.

Details on reapplying to SIPA are here, and my piece of admissions advice for reapplicants is to take a critical look at your application and compare it against What We Look For. Looking at your application, maybe you’ll notice that your work experience isn’t quite relevant to what you want to study at SIPA. Maybe you’ll notice that you have no evidence of your quantitative skills in your application. This will help you focus on what you can work to shore up before the next application opens, like requesting quantitatively-heavy projects at work or taking an macroeconomics or microeconomics course.

The Waitlist

Admissions at SIPA is competitive, and our waitlisted candidates showed promise. While seats are limited and went to more competitive candidates, some of you will move to the admitted students list over the next few months.

SIPA does not rank the waitlist. Since the waitlist is not ranked, and the entire admissions process is holistic and reactive to the applicants we receive, it will take some time for the waitlist decisions to come out. You should know that we look over the waitlist starting in May and will release final decisions for waitlisted candidates over the summer. If you’re an international student, you’ll still have time to apply for a visa – just make sure you don’t procrastinate the process once you’re admitted.

Please do not email to ask if your status has changed. We promise that we have not forgotten about you, we’re just unable to provide periodic updates on your standing. Please only contact us if you have a specific request about your waitlist application, like updating your application or removing it from consideration.

Waitlisted applicants can send in updated test scores and transcripts. I want to emphasize that we’ll only review new supplemental materials so you can keep us updated on your academic and professional pursuits. If you’ve retaken the GRE/GMAT or TOEFL/IELTS/PTE, or you’ve taken or completed additional quantitative coursework, you can send that information to sipa_admission@columbia.edu by June 1.

Make sure you include the documents, your name and application number, and the subject line “Supplemental Waitlist Materials from Your Name” in the email. And because you want us to be happy, please send it all at once, and not piecemeal.

You can remove yourself from consideration for admission by emailing us at with your name and application number and letting us know that you’d like to be removed from consideration.

Requesting Feedback

Due to the volume of applications we receive, we cannot offer individual feedback. However, we recommend you review What We Look For in applications, and common feedback suggestions for applicants.

“Can I appeal an admissions decision?”

No – all decisions are final. The Admissions Committee reviews each application thoroughly and with great care; as such, there is not an appeals process.

Thank Yous

Chances are that you talked to a lot of people during the application process, from your recommenders to SIPA students and alumni, and perhaps even faculty. No matter the outcome, you should thank them all for their help. They invested time and effort into your future, and I’m sure they’re curious on how things turned out. Even if you weren’t admitted, this can lead to an opportunity for advice from someone with a different perspective, or suggestions on strengthening your application for next year.

Our Thanks to You

On behalf of the entire Admissions Committee, I want to thank you for your effort. We all got to know you through your application materials and it was an honor to read about your achievements and ambitions for the future.

If you ultimately decide to decline your admissions offer, remove yourself from the waitlist, or won’t reapply next year, please know that we hope you’ll continue to develop your academic and professional experience for whatever your future might hold.

I sincerely wish you all the best in your future endeavors.

Program Assistant Introduction: Samantha Taylor

Classes for the Spring 2019 term started last week and the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid is delighted to have a new program assistant with us this semester. You’ve already met Dylan, Julia, and Kier – now please meet Samantha. (And a big congratulations to Niara who just graduated, though we’ll still have a few admissions insights from her this semester!)


My name is Samantha and I am a second-year, MIA student here at SIPA with a concentration in International Security Policy and a specialization in International Conflict Resolution. I graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2013 with a dual degree in Political Science and Global Studies. In between graduating from undergrad and SIPA, I lived in Washington D.C. for four years where I first worked as an intern on Capitol Hill, and then as a legal assistant for Sidley Austin LLP in their International Trade and Arbitration division. After three years in the legal field, I wanted to transition into the policy field to better understand the implications of foreign policy on peacebuilding and conflict resolution. That is where SIPA came in, and now I get to learn about these implications while being taught by some of the leading minds in the field.

What attracted you to SIPA and Columbia University?

When I was making the decision to apply to graduate school, I made a list of all the things I wanted the program to have. I wanted to get both a theoretical and practical foundation regarding foreign policy; I wanted to learn from the leading minds in the field; I wanted to attend a place where I would have to work hard, but also could be socially engaged; and I wanted a program where my classmates would be from around the world and would bring new perspectives to policy discussions. SIPA and Columbia University, was the only school that had a blend of all of these elements, and this is what ultimately attracted me to the SIPA Masters in International Affairs program.

What experiences do you think prepared you to attend SIPA?

I believe my work and internship experience really prepared me for SIPA. These experiences made me passionate about pursuing a graduate degree at SIPA, and they also demonstrate that I had the skills to perform well in a working environment. Most students have three or more years of work experience before coming to SIPA, so my recommendation for future students is to get as much work or internship experience as possible. Even if future students are applying straight from the undergraduate level, any experience counts.

Did you have a lot of quantitative experience when you applied to SIPA? Why or why not? How did you perform in those classes?

When I was applying to SIPA, I had been out of school for four years and my job at the time did not have many quantitative elements to it. I kept asking myself: “Am I qualified enough?” If you are a prospective applicant with minimal quantitative experience and are looking to brush up on your quantitative skills before applying there are ways to do so. You can take a macroeconomics/microeconomics or statistics course through a local college, use online resources to practice basic quantitative skills, or see if you can jump on projects at work that have quantitative components. In order to familiarize incoming students with the quantitative methods used in its core curriculum, SIPA provides a math refresher course online over the summer, and while it is optional, I highly recommend reviewing it especially if you do not have a lot of quantitative experience. It really helped me brush up on the skills, and, despite my lack of quantitative experience, allowed me to create a foundation to do well in the quantitative courses that are a part of SIPA’s core curriculum.

What has been the most challenging part of your SIPA experience?

The biggest challenge has not been the coursework, the networking, nor the work life balance; but rather getting over the self-doubt that I acutely felt in my first semester. I constantly wondered: “How did I get in when my peers are uniquely qualified to be here?” This doubt resides in all of us but can oftentimes be hard to shake. However, once I dove in to my course work, became involved in some student organizations, and made some new friends, I slowly removed this layer of doubt and recognized I was exactly where I should be.

What has been the best part of your SIPA experience?

The best part of my SIPA experience has been the friendships and personal connections I have made while at SIPA. While SIPA and its coursework are unique and top-notch, it’s the people I have met that have truly enriched my experience. Through courses, student organizations, and winter-break trips run by SIPA students, I have made friendships with bright and passionate individuals from around the world. School can be stressful, but it helps when you have such amazing fellow SIPA classmates who are there for you when you need it.

 

The January 5th deadline has passed. What happens now?

It’s Winter Break but January is a busy time for us here in the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid due to the influx of applications (and application-related questions!). We’re very excited to be reading your applications, by the way. But enough about us – I’d like to update you a little on what to expect.

I submitted my application by the January 5th deadline. What now?

Now, we ask for your patience! In the meantime, you can review the Admissions FAQs for peace of mind: “Decision notifications are posted to the application portal. You will receive an email when a decision is available. The Admissions Committee will begin reviewing fall applications starting in January once all required materials have been received. Fall decisions are communicated in mid-March.”

You can also check out the SIPA external funding sources page, either to explore what is available or start on gathering (more) resources for scholarships and funding.

I’m shooting for the February 5th deadline, what about me?

Make sure you have everything in order to take your shot for February 5th. This blog itself has many resources, so do dig around a little bit. At this point I encourage you to follow up with your recommenders if your letters aren’t all in. Remember that all application materials must be in by the deadline for you to meet that deadline; the Admissions Committee cannot review an incomplete application.

If you have questions about the application, remember that we are here to help you with this process. BUT – you will receive a faster response from us if you email sooner. As in, don’t wait until the last minute! It’ll be difficult for you AND us! Here are some tips to communicate with our office so you can help us help you. (And the #1 Last-Minute Tip before submitting: Proofread. Once you submit your application, you’ll be unable to make changes to it.)

What can I expect the next few months?

Other than decisions releasing sometime in March, we’ll also have Class Visits coming up in a few weeks for the Spring semester – we’ll send an email once that is available. We’ll be highlighting some SIPA student life events here on the blog, and welcoming a new Program Assistant as well.

I’d also still encourage you stop by an Information Session because you can get your questions answered in person with our admissions staff. You can also check out the Columbia University and SIPA campus areas to get a feel for the place. Even though it’s a little chilly here, campus is beautiful in the winter. (Check out @columbia.sipa on Instagram for more sweet views and SIPA community highlights!)

And if you can’t make it in person soon, register for our Virtual MIA/MPA Info Session this Thursday, January 17. Executive Director of Admissions, Grace Han, and Financial Aid Officer, Rory Placa, will give an overview of the SIPA programs and the application process, and you’ll have the opportunity to ask questions via online chat.

Use the optional essay to your advantage

Application deadlines are here, and the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid has been getting a lot of calls and emails lately. We’re glad you’re reaching out to us with your questions.

I’m choosing to tell y’all about something that has NOT been asked about, which is the optional essay.

[Before you get too far:  You are not required to write this! If you’ve said all you need to say about yourself as a candidate and you don’t have it in you to write more, that’s totally understandable! The optional essay is truly, Optional. And don’t feel guilty about being relieved that you don’t have to read the rest of this post.]

So why answer a question that hasn’t been asked? Because I think it’ll give some of you an advantage in your application. This is what the optional essay is in the application for: An opportunity to discuss something you weren’t able to address elsewhere; OR, an opportunity for you to explain a situation that needs more detail.

SIPA does not have an ideal model of an applicant. Our candidates come from more than 100 countries around the world, with a variety of undergraduate and graduate studies, career backgrounds, expertises, and aspirations. We value this diversity immensely because these differences enrich the class experience for everybody.

Instead, what the Admissions Committee looks for falls into the broad categories of: relevant professional experience; proven academic ability; quantitative coursework; and a passion for public policy and International Affairs.

Because there is no One Ideal Applicant, the admissions process is holistic – meaning, the Admissions Committee takes the whole of your application into account. We are looking at the gestalt of your application, if you will.

This is where the optional essay – and knowing what the Admissions Committee is looking for – comes in. Use the optional essay to explain any discrepancies or unique situations that you weren’t able to address anywhere else in the application. Is there something that you want to tell the Admissions Committee because it will add to you as a whole?

Tell us why you’d be a stellar policy candidate despite your previous studies being in something unrelated. Tell us why you’d come out on top of the core economics courses at SIPA despite the quantitative grades on your transcript not reflecting that. Tell us what unique perspective you can add to the classroom, even though you have an employment gap due to family reasons.

Life happens. The Admissions Committee are people too. They’re understanding and respectful. But sometimes there is nothing for them to take into account as a whole, if you are the only one who can provide the information and don’t do it.

Because each applicant is so different, we can’t possibly tell you what specific topic we’re looking for. I will just say: The optional essay is NOT another personal statement, or a place to rehash something already explained in your application. Perhaps it’s just a few paragraphs that can’t all “flow” together, and that is fine. Maybe your optional essay is just one sentence – we appreciate brevity.

Remember, the optional essay is not meant to trip you up, nor is it a ~secret admissions test~. It is simply an opportunity for you to address your situation(s) to the Admissions Committee that you weren’t able to in other parts of the application.

For another perspective, here is an overview of the Optional Essay from a student who went through the application process.

Wishing you all the best of luck!

Checking in as we count down to January 5th

There’s about 10 days until the January 5th application deadline, and I wanted to check in on how you’re doing.

Hopefully you’ve gotten your test scores, transcripts, and letters of recommendation squared away, as well as having the bones of your personal state and short essay together. Not there yet? Definitely follow up with your people again. Sometimes things fall through the crack, especially since we all get busy towards the end of the year. Revisit your essays with fresh eyes, and double-check that you answered the prompt. Take a step back to rethink thinks if you’re stuck.

Will you be writing an Optional Essay? It’s not necessary, just another avenue to address in more detail an aspect of your application. And as you know, the application requires a CV – not the standard one-page resume you’d use for a job application – as well as a quantitative/language resume. If you’re still unsure about what to include, read this breakdown here.

If you’re all the way at the end: Did you write “Colombia” or “Columbia”? And remember that the video essay is only available after you submit your application and pay the fee! You’re just two minutes away from the finish line.

Remember, if you’re really unsure about something, the Admissions office is your resource through this process. Reach out to us, especially if you can’t find the answer from a reputable source. We’re honest with you in that this process is competitive, but don’t throw away your shot by not even trying! Do your best to ensure your application can give an accurate picture of not just who you are, but who you want to be after SIPA.

As always, we’re wishing you the best of luck, and we look forward to reading your applications. And don’t forget to take time for self-care. (New York Therapy Dogs and SIPA Office of Student Affairs teamed up to bring some self-care-in-dog form to SIPA students during finals week this year.)

"The most global public policy school, where an international community of students and faculty address world challenges."

—Merit E. Janow, Dean, SIPA, Professor of Practice, International and Economic Law and International Affairs

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