Author Archive for Nabila Mohd Hassan

Why I applied ‘Early Action’

I applied Early Action to SIPA, where decisions are non-binding, in November 2017 to start in Fall 2018. I applied early because, quite simply, I wanted an early decision. More than that, I applied early action because my graduate school journey started way back in 2016. I started thinking about going to grad school in early 2016, and it took me a while to decide this is what I really wanted.

Applying Early Action was the best decision for me because…

It gave me a deadline and…

SIPA’s Early Action deadline is in early November (for Fall 2020, it is November 1, 2019!), which was the earliest of all the schools I applied to. I used this deadline as an ‘early EARLY action’ in my planning and figured if I worked towards SIPA’s deadline, I would be prepared for all other schools’ deadlines. It was helpful for me because I worked backwards from the deadline to fulfill the application checklist. The checklist is also quite similar for the other schools I applied to, with the difference being the essays. This helped me gather everything I needed pretty early on, which was a huge burden off because you’re working through that checklist. Working on the essays for SIPA’s deadline also helped me articulate clearly why I wanted to go back to school and what I hoped to accomplish. This made it a lot easier to write the other essays too.

I heard back super early…

Applying early action means you get a non-binding early decision! I heard back from SIPA right after Christmas, which was a nice way to usher in the New Year. The admission e-letter plays Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” (turn that volume up!) and has falling confetti. It was basically just perfect. (That added touch made me so happy like you can’t even imagine.) (Sad story but the SIPA decision email actually went to my spam so I actually saw it two days after it was sent, but that doesn’t matter. So worth it.) And it adds to the holiday festivity. Given that you hear back around 8 weeks after you apply, and because it’s around the holiday season, I was definitely preoccupied so I didn’t have any anxiety or stress while waiting to hear back. So apply early action because no stress, no mess!

Which means I could plan the next 8 months…

Hearing back by the New Year also gave me time to plan the next 8 months leading up to SIPA. It gave me space to plan time for family, holidays, boring admin like banks and visas, and more crucially, when to leave my job. I didn’t feel stressed that I had a hundred things to do before moving, and I had time to troubleshoot problems. SIPA requires that you provide official documents once you are accepted. While some institutions have this all figured out and you only need to click a button, others have a more complicated process that requires many emails, calls and mailing paper transcripts (and things can get lost in the mail – trust me on this), for you to complete this and get the verified documents check. Lastly, I received a conditional offer for SIPA, which meant that I needed to spend some time improving on my quantitative skills (read: I had to take economics classes). Again, the 8 months gave me time to plan ahead on how to meet this requirement. But conversely, if I had not been accepted, I would have had time to apply to other/more schools, reapply or figure out an alternative.

And gave me a sense of security. 

Once I heard back from SIPA, I felt relieved. I felt strangely secure that at least someone wanted me. This gave me the confidence to apply to my remaining schools because maybe they would want me to? Probably not but maybe. This security also meant that yes, I was going to graduate school and got me very excited!

Was Early Action the right choice?

Applying to grad school made me very nervous, anxious and scared because I felt all my hopes and dreams were on the line. Applying Early Action was absolutely the best decision for me. I felt hugely relieved once I applied because it was out of my control by then. Because I’m a planner and I liked having the extra time to figure out a game plan, the early decision helped. That said, there are people who applied at the very last minute, so I think it boils down to personality and your comfort with uncertainty.

So, what you are waiting for? Apply Early Action!

The Fall 2020 Early Action Deadline is November 1, 2019.

#UNGA 2019 Roundup

The U.N. General Assembly 2019 was on the 23 – 27 September 2019. It was a busy week as world leaders gathered in New York City for the 74th session of the #UNGA. 

This U.N. General Assembly comes during heightened tensions between the United States and Iran, and a worsening humanitarian situation in Venezuela. The war in Yemen as well the U.S. peace plan for the Middle East are likely to make headlines as well. UNGA also occurred days after millions of young activists and their supporters marched in thousands of cities worldwide to demand greater action on climate change. 

Nevertheless, the UN General Assembly hosts a much watched debate of leaders each year, and here at SIPA, it is a busy week for students, faculty and alumni alike.From interning to attending sessions at the UN and on campus, here’s a snapshot of what our Seeples have been up to this week: 

Supporting the Chilean Delegation for the UNGA

Martina Majlis, MPA ‘20, worked for the Chilean Delegation, specifically with Chile’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Teodoro Ribera, for the duration of the UNGA. She helped push forward the Minister’s comprehensive agenda, focused on addressing bilateral matters, deepened trade relationships and confronted regional issues, such as the crisis in Venezuela. 

Source: Martina Majlis, MPA ‘20

Understanding the impact of public-private partnerships

Nayana Nagapurapu, MPA ‘20 and Victoria Zhang, MPA ‘20, attended “Advertising for Good,” an event organized by the Lion’s Share Initiative of the UNDP (where they previously interned!) that discussed how to effectively use advertising to improve biodiversity around the world. Speakers were from leading advertising firms like JCDecaux, Finch, and Mars Inc. They shared how as little as 0.5% of their ad spend helped save ecosystems in Sumatra and Africa. Nayana’s biggest takeaway? The Lion’s Share Initiative proved how impactful public-private partnerships can be.

Source: Nayana Nagapurapu, MPA ’20

Columbia University World Leaders Forum hosted a speaker on multilateralism and the rule of law

Amid backlash, Columbia University hosted Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, Prime Minister of Malaysia. President Lee Bollinger wrote that “public engagement can sometimes be difficult, even painful. But to abandon this activity would be to limit severely our capacity to understand and confront the world as it is, which is a central and utterly serious mission for any academic institution.” At the event, Tun Dr. Mahathir affirmed that affirmative action policy in Malaysia has helped many Malays succeed and prevented racial tensions, and he addressed regional cooperation. The event was widely attended by Seeples, including Perry Landesberg, MIA ‘20, Melissa Tan, MIA’ 19 and Nabila Hassan, MPA ‘20.

Source: Facebook/Dr Mahathir Mohamad

Learning about global governance from the NATO Secretary General

Perry Landesberg, MIA ‘20, attended NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg’s address to the Columbia community which focused on the maintenance of security in a changing world. Stoltenberg remarked on the disappointing state of NATO-Russian relations but concluded that NATO’s mission of security cooperation among democratic nations was as essential as ever. He answered audience questions on subjects such as Ukraine’s accession to NATO, the future of Afghanistan after NATO’s withdrawal, and NATO’s preparedness for cyber attacks. The event was part of the Blinken Lecture. 

Supporting the Digital Financing Task Force at UNGA

As part of the Digital Financing Task Force Secretariat, Ralph Chow, MPA ‘20, aided in the organization of a high-level Summit titled “Good Servant, Poor Master: Capturing the Promise and Managing the Risk of Financial Technology for a Sustainable World” during UNGA. The Summit was co-hosted by the Permanent Missions to the United Nations of the Republic of India and the Kingdom of Netherlands, and was co-sponsored by the MetLife Foundation. The Summit was well attended by representatives from Member States, the Private Sector, as well as United Nations agencies and other multilaterals. 

Source: United Nations Secretary-General’s Digital Financing Task Force of the SDGs

A conversation on climate change, COP25 and artificial intelligence

Columbia SIPA’s Latin American Student Association – LASA hosted Minister Andres Cuove, Minister of Science, Technology, Knowledge and Innovation for Chile. Minister Cuove is the first Secretary of this recently launched ministry. Pablo Jorquera, MPA ‘20, Treasurer of LASA, reflected that Minister Cuove shared the challenges he faced to create the institution as well as his experience in the 2019 Climate Action Summit and his plans for COP25 in Santiago. He also explained how Chile is creating a policy in science and deciding priorities to use the STI for development. 

Source: Pablo Jorquera, MPA ‘20

Dreaming big at the African Women on Board [AWB]@UNGA event

George-Ann Ryan, MIA ‘20, and her fellow board members at the Sadie Collective were invited to attend the AWB@UNGA event where they rubbed shoulders with the Vice President of the Republic of Liberia, Hon. Chief Dr. Jewel Howard-Taylor and other distinguished group of leaders, innovators and dignitaries from around the world. George-Ann met Oby Ezekwesili, Founder of Bring Back Our Girls, a movement advocating for the speedy and effective search and rescue of all abducted girls by Boko Haram. 

The board of The Sadie Collective at AWB@UNGA
Source: George-Ann Ryan, MIA ‘20

Georgian President Cites Dual-Nationality as Strength in Columbia Speech

President of Georgia (and Columbia alumnus) Salome Zourabichvili delivered a World Leaders Forum speech and explained her nation’s value to Europe as a cultural leader and a valuable testing ground for engagement with Russia. Perry Landesberg, MIA ‘20 reflects that President Salome Zourabichvili responded to students questions and she defended her government’s assistance to regional refugees and positions on breakaway regions. She also cited her personal history – having grown up in France and becoming a Georgian citizen in 2004 – as a strength in her previous career as a diplomat and foreign minister.

Source: Perry Landesberg, MIA ‘20

Learning about development and refugee resettlement from the President of Rwanda

On September 26, Shelina Noorali, MPA ‘20, had the opportunity to hear Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda, speak about development, refugee resettlement, technological integration and environmental conversation in the country. Students had the opportunity to engage in a Q&A session with the President. The panel was moderated by the Dean of Columbia SIPA, Merit Janow.

Source: Shelina Noorali, MPA’20

Exploring digital transformation as a sustainable development pathway

Nabila Hassan, MPA ‘20 along with other Seeples attended UNDP’s ‘Digital Future of Development’ event which explored how digital technologies enable breakthrough solutions to achieve Sustainable Development Goals, how trailblazers across sectors are shaping the future of development, and how the UNDP is hoping to put technology at the forefront of its efforts. 

Source: Nabila Hassan, MPA ‘20

Interested to learn more about International Organizations & UN Studies at SIPA? Find out more about how that specialization provides students with a roadmap of the international organizations that inform public policy and global action across borders here. You can watch this video to learn more about Seeples Day at the UN.

Struggling to plan for applications? Here’s my timeline.

Applying to graduate school can be daunting especially if you have work and personal commitments that make it hard to keep track of the what feels like an endless list of documents. Speaking from personal experience, it’s very normal to feel overwhelmed, especially when stress and anxiety start creeping in. To help you plan ahead, I wanted to share with you my personal timeline that helped keep me on track throughout the application process.

As an international applicant, I don’t think the process is too different from domestic applicants. For me, the biggest challenges were finding a GRE testing centre, managing the time differences for application/Q&As, and translating and notarizing documents where needed. For more tips on international applicants, check out Yiting’s post here.

My biggest challenge in meeting the deadline was for things beyond my control.  For example, recommenders must submit their Letters of Recommendation directly, so plan ahead to avoid added stress, especially if you have other commitments at the same time.

Phase 1: Plan ahead and map out a game plan

  • Essay questions: Spend some time thinking about these essays and draft a skeleton of key points. It’s a helpful tool for you to understand why you want to go to graduate school and what you hope to get it out of it
  • Professional Resume/CV: Pull out that old, dusty resume! Reach out to friends and colleagues for samples if you want some inspiration
  • Quantitative & Language Resume/CV: Think about what skills and experiences you have that can go into this. Identify if you have gaps and think about how to plug those gaps.
  • Letters of Recommendation: Identify 2 (or 3 if you prefer) professional contacts who can help create the right narrative for you
  • Academic Transcripts: Unofficial transcripts are fine when applying, but you may still need to reach out to academic institutions and send those transcripts. This is a quick and easy win!
  • GRE/GMAT: Get those GRE/GMAT books and start studying! I personally ‘started’ (by started, I mean I bought the books…) 8 months before the deadline but only geared up 5 months before (I took the exam 3 months before the deadline). This is because I wanted to focus the last stretch on essays without the added stress of exams. As an international student, my home country had limited places and seats where I could take the test, so booking a spot early helped me plan my studying schedule accordingly. Need more tips? Check out Niara’s advice on preparing for the GRE here.
  • For TOEFL/IELTS/PTE: Even though I’m an international student, I didn’t have to fulfill this criteria as my undergraduate degree was taught in English. Based on other Seeples experiences, the timeline with TOEFL/IELTS/PTE, is similar to the GRE/GMAT. As I don’t have personal experience, I have omitted this from the timeline.

Phase 2: Execution and keeping yourself on track

  • Essay questions: Draft out those essay questions! I recommend getting feedback from 2/3 other people to help you fine tune your messaging (and to keep to the word limit!) but wouldn’t go more than that as it can get very  daunting. It took me many drafts before I was comfortable enough to get feedback. I also ended up re-writing one essay so that I could better capture my thoughts. Keep in mind this could be a long process of reiteration. It’s different for everyone!
  • Professional Resume/CV: Clean up your resume/CV, get feedback from trusted friends or colleagues, and submit! That’s two ticks down, which is a great way to keep you motivated.
  • Quantitative & Language Resume/CV: I personally struggled with this and spent a lot of time thinking about what I should include. I ended up including everything I did at school and work that had a quantitative element (even if it was minor). A sample of the resume can be found here. Write that resume and submit. (Three things done!)
  • Letters of Recommendation: Reach out to recommenders and prep them! Once recommenders accept, share this useful outline to help them plan their letters. I also shared some key points and achievements that they may want to include. This approach does differ as every recommender has their own style. But don’t assume that they don’t need a little coaching to tailor their narrative for you, prepping your recommenders is key!
  • GRE/GMAT: Book your test date and study, study, study! I took the test during this ‘phase’ and it was a huge weight off my shoulders. And don’t forget, when you complete the exam, you have five schools you can send your scores to for free! If you’re set on SIPA, send it to 2161. It costs $27 to send it later.

Phase 3: The last mile and submission! 

via GIPHY

  • Essay questions: Final round of edits and click that submit button! By this point, you might be so tired of those essays, you’re just making unnecessary (and possibly detrimental!) edits.
  • Video essay: While this may seem terrifying, it’s only 120 seconds of your life! The video essay is available only after you submit your application and pay the app fee. More details on accessing it can be found here. The questions really range and I prepped for it by thinking about how I would best structure my answers to sound more confident and coherent. My only advice is breathe, be yourself and use those 60 seconds wisely!
  • Letters of Recommendation: Help recommenders by reminding them of the deadline and offering to help them with key points or messages. When they’re ready to submit, they should check their inbox and spam folders so that they don’t miss the link SIPA sends them. They will use this link to log in to the application system and submit their letter on your behalf. If they have issues with the online submission, they can contact sipa_admission@columbia.edu. Please remember that all letters should be on letterhead, signed and in English (or accompanied by certified translations). An applicant does not need to wait for recommenders to submit their information prior to submitting the application. There is no problem with an application being submitted before all of the recommendations have been submitted. The opposite is true as well – there is no problem with a recommender submitting a letter before the application is submitted
  • GRE/GMAT: If you’re still crunching for the GRE, that’s okay! You only need to submit self-reported test scores with the application by the deadline, so that helps ease the burden. Scores must be verified after admission to the program, but before your scores expire.

Phew… that was a lot to digest but hopefully this helps. Everyone has their own journey and process when it comes to applying for graduate school so don’t be terrified if yours is different! Find your sweet spot but most importantly, plan ahead so that it doesn’t overwhelm you.

Good luck!

So many concentrations, so little time

An alum once told me that the best and worst thing about being at SIPA is the amount of choice we have. Those words could not ring truer today. Seeples are spoilt for choice when it comes to courses on offer, even more so when we have the opportunity to cross-register (in layman terms: take classes from other Columbia University schools).

It’s easy and tempting to want to do everything, but that quickly becomes overwhelming when you’re trying to juggle school, internship/work, student organization, school events, sleep and wellness, and having a social life.

When I first came to SIPA, I had no idea what my graduate school game plan was – what skills did I want to develop, what classes I wanted to take, what knowledge I wanted to get which would help me towards a meaningful career after graduation. I did the safe thing and opted for core classes in the first semester to buy myself some time. While you’re not locked into your concentration when you’re at school, it helps to have a clear idea of what direction you want to head in. Here are three tips to help you find what concentration/specialization works for you:

#1 Figure out your area of interest and choose a concentration that caters to it

AKA, why do you want to go to graduate school. By now, you may already be in the early stages of your personal statement, which has hopefully helped you think about what drives you and what your career goals are. There are six concentrations for both MIA & MPA degrees and each curricula has a different subject matter and focus. The focus of each concentration is quite self-explanatory as they are rather distinct – economic development, energy, human rights, international finance, international security, and urban & social policy.

Choosing a concentration does not restrict you from taking classes that might relate to other concentrations. Rather, it serves as a starting point to help you focus/tailor your graduate school academic life. One of the biggest concentrations is Economic and Political Development (EPD), which I belong to. I chose EPD (and stuck to it) because of the breadth of courses and the focus on development and emerging markets. As I hope to return to Southeast Asia, this emphasis on the developing world is important for me.

#2 Identify your specific interest or leverage your professional background to specialize

Choosing a specialization is SIPA’s way of helping you further focus your degree. Most people have one specialization but some do have two specializations, because why not. Specializations require less credits to fulfill the criteria compared to concentrations. But don’t fret because you only need one to graduate. If you’re unsure of how to choose, go with your gut because SIPA offers flexibility in changing your specialization. Management is a popular specialization because it offers a wide range of flexibility, especially if you’re looking to take classes outside SIPA. Some Seeples also specialize in a region. Some specializations such as Technology, Media and Communications (TMAC) are still broad and offer more breadth and further focus such as cybersecurity.

The tl;dr version is don’t stress because there is a lot of flexibility to explore and choose your specialization if you’re admitted. It might be more helpful to think about what geographic coverage you might prefer.

#3 Recognizing how much flexibility you want to pursue electives

Every concentration has different requirements and the amount of credits you need to take to fulfill that requirement. Concentrations such as EPD, Energy and Environment (EE) and the International Finance and Economic Policy (IFEP) may have more core requirements compared to others. This might limit your ability to take more electives and classes outside of SIPA, if that is what you are looking for, or if you’re not keen to take full 18 credit semesters. Some requirements may also be challenging to fulfill. For example, EPD has a second language requirement and language courses can be 4/5 credits. This might limit the number of electives you can take per semester if you are required to take language classes and cannot test out. Similarly, IFEP is a more quant-heavy concentration which requires satisfying more advanced economics and quantitative courses.

Think about the trade-offs of what experience you are looking for out of graduate school and how much flexibility you require for your own well-being.

Program Assistant Introduction: Nabila Hassan MPA ’20

Nabila Hassan was born and raised in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. She is a second-year MPA student concentrating in Economic and Political Development and specializing in Technology, Media and Communications. After graduating from the University of Edinburgh with a MA in History and Politics, Nabila worked in communications in Malaysia focusing on social impact, public sector client communications and digital communications.

What were you doing before you came to SIPA?
Before SIPA, I spent three years at McKinsey & Company in Malaysia with the integrated communications team in Southeast Asia and then Asia. During my time there, I had the opportunity to work on client projects with public sector and government-linked companies which re-energized my ambition to contribute to change both in Malaysia and in the region.

What attracted you to SIPA and Columbia University?
A former colleague attended SIPA a few years ago and encouraged me to apply. I dug deeper into SIPA’s curriculum, faculty and student profile and it quickly became my dream graduate school. Knowing that I would return to Southeast Asia, I wanted to attend a school with immense diversity – from its people and thinking to the breadth of classes and faculty expertise. SIPA also has a healthy balance of classes that teach practical skills, which is useful regardless of what industry you pursue after school. Location was most definitely a helpful deciding factor – there’s no other city like New York and the abundance of opportunities that exist here.

Did you choose to attend SIPA to change careers, or to gain experience in a career path you already had experience in?
I chose to attend SIPA to change careers or rather, to focus my career. My previous role was in communications and I would like to move towards a technology policy role which will both leverage my prior experience while at the same time be a shift towards a more specific policy career. So I guess it’s a little bit of both!

Do you feel like you have gotten to know some of the faculty members?
Yes! The faculty members that I have gotten to know at SIPA are incredible and extremely thoughtful! They have given me career and academic guidance and have proactively shared opportunities that fit my interest. As I completed my undergraduate degree in the UK, I wasn’t sure what to expect of the education system in the US. I find the approaches very different as the US takes a more hands-on approach to education, and there are efforts to link you into the broader college community.

What most surprised you about SIPA after you arrived?
How fast orientation ended and the first day of classes arrived! The first few weeks at SIPA was overwhelming because it took time to adjust to being a student again while at the same time juggling classes, add/drop period (this was not a thing in the UK!), attending socials and making friends. What surprised me the most are the incredible people here who constantly create an inclusive and welcoming environment.

Did you have a lot of quantitative experience when you applied to SIPA? Why not? How did you perform in those classes? 
I applied to SIPA with very limited quantitative experience that I struggled with writing the quantitative resume, primarily because I did not use those skills after high school. Studying for the GRE helped build that confidence and I also took a college-level online introduction to micro- and macroeconomics which helped me better prepare for those classes at SIPA. While I was initially apprehensive about any quantitative class, they have all turned out to be very valuable and it will most definitely be useful regardless of what job you wish to pursue post-SIPA. Strangely enough, Quantitative I was my favourite class last year, and I hope to take Quantitative Analysis II in the Spring.

"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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