Archive for Academics

Your Frequently Asked Questions, Answered by Current SIPA Students!

Hello! The Admissions team would like to say congratulations to all Admitted Students! We have been receiving a lot of questions on a variety of topics, from housing options to SIPA’s quantitative coursework. We decided to compile our answers to some of your most frequently asked questions. Feel free to drop other questions in the comment!

What is SIPA’s quantitative coursework like? Will I be able to pass macro/micro economics?

Samantha: The quantitative coursework for the core courses at SIPA consist of three courses: Microeconomics, Macroeconomics, and Quantitative Analysis (statistics). Usually students take Micro in the fall semester, and Macro in the spring semester. However, Quant can be taken in any of the four semesters, but most students complete it in either of their first two. The workload is going to be a bit heavy, as you have homework, recitation, lecture and exams for all of these quantitative courses, but it’s all doable. You don’t need to be an expert in either of the three areas in order to do well in them, but getting in some practice before hand can’t hurt. In order to prepare yourself for the coursework I recommend completing the summer math tutorial SIPA provides, as well as attending the Math Boot-camp during orientation. However, If you’re still panicked about the fact that you’re going to see numbers and have instantaneously forgotten all the math(s) you’ve ever learned, remember you are going to be ok and I guarantee you will pass.

Julia: I would also say that the weekly homework are done in groups so some of the stress is shared. Many students don’t have an economics or statistics background (like me!) so you won’t be alone! The professors are also very approachable and helpful if you are struggling.

What is the SIPA community like as a whole? Or for a specific concentration?
Dylan: The SIPA community is generally very open and welcoming. Before arriving at SIPA, I assumed that most people would be very competitive and serious. While everyone here cares about their academics and career, I have found the opposite to be true; in general, people are very supportive and friendly. I think one of the other benefits of having such huge incoming classes is that you are always meeting new students. So on top of it being a friendly, collaborative environment, I’ve never really felt like I lacked opportunities to meet new people.

I’d say most people end up befriending people within their concentration. Makes sense right? You take a lot of classes with them, you probably end up at the same events, and you naturally share a lot of similar interests. As a USP concentrator, I met most of my USP friends my first semester and we’ve remained close since then.

What is the recruitment/job-hunt like at SIPA? Does the Office of Career Services, or SIPA in general, support students?

Julia: SIPA students have very diverse interests, so there isn’t a standard way students go through the internship or job search. When I was looking for my summer internship last year, I used the Office of Career Services internship database, which is a detailed account of all the internships previous students have done, to give me an idea what I could be interested in doing. I then applied for internships through the job/internship portal on SIPAlink. I would also say the info sessions that OCS organize are helpful as well. I just went to an ACLU panel discussion last week that was inspiring and exactly I needed to motivate me in my current job search!

What is something you wish you knew about SIPA before attending?
Dylan: I wish I knew more about cross-registration and dual-degree options at SIPA. That was more me not doing my due diligence on researching SIPA’s program offerings before attending, but it is something all students can do if they prepare in advance.

What has been the best/worst part of your time at SIPA?
Dylan: The best part has been developing my interest in anti-corruption policy and journalism. I came from a very theory focused Political Science background, and SIPA was the first place where I was able to really dive into policy.

Worst time has definitely been the quantitative coursework. I appreciate it and I begrudgingly recognize its importance. But it can be an enormous pain! That being said, everyone who comes to SIPA will pass the core quantitative classes. Do not fear!!

Julia: My best time was traveling with other Seeples on student trips. Last summer I went to Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, and this winter break I went to Israel. It’s a great way to learn more about the politics and history of the region, but also spend quality time with your fellow Seeples.

What are the housing options like in the Columbia area? How much can I expect to pay and where should I generally look?

Samantha: I would say that most students who do not get Columbia student housing generally live near or north of campus. Most of us live in shared apartments in Morningside Heights, Harlem, and Washington Heights. Living with roommates helps keep the cost down, and living near or north of campus is 1. Convenient and 2. More affordable. While rents vary, I say students usually pay anywhere from $900-$1500 a month in rent. The farther north you go from campus the less expensive apartments become, so if you’re looking to cut costs I recommend looking uptown. The benefit of living near campus is that it is close enough for you to walk to, so you wouldn’t have to pay for transit expenses to get to school like you might need to if you live further north.

How do you manage time between classes and internships/work?

Dylan: This is a hard question to answer because it really depends on the classes I’m taking and the way assignments are structured for each class. Some weeks, I’ll have no assignments due besides reading for class. During those weeks, I obviously attend classes, work around 15 hours at SIPA Admissions as a program assistant, and do my readings either in the afternoon after classes or in between classes while I’m still on campus.

Other weeks, it’ll feel like my professors conspired to absolutely slam me with assignments. In those cases, I’ll usually plan on working 11am – 5/6pm-ish on weekends (at least) and then work in the afternoons after classes are finished and in between classes. If I’m particularly stressed with my program assistantship work, I may ask to take a few hours off and make them up at a later date. Most SIPA jobs are understanding and flexible with students.

A quick April update

We assume you’re all as busy as we are this April, so here’s a few updates on what’s been going on at SIPA:

Tomorrow is our Admitted Students’ Day event for the incoming SIPA Class of 2021. We’re excited to welcome them to Columbia University’s campus to meet the SIPA community of faculty, alumni, current and other admitted students! The Office of Admissions and Financial Aid will be closed tomorrow for the event, so please be patient with us if it takes a little longer to get back to your calls or emails.

Are you following @columbia.sipa on Instagram yet? Current SIPA students Kier Joy and Daniel White led a virtual tour of the International Affairs Building and led an admitted student Q&A. We’ll add their answers to Instagram soon, so here’s a sample: One admitted student asked “How does the size of the student body impact your ability to find community?”

  • Kier: “The advantage of being in a larger policy school is that there’s bound to be someone who’s interested in what you’re interested in! For example, I’m interested in the intersection of policy, blackness and America – so I created a WhatsApp group with black students at Orientation and got very involved with SIPA Students of Color on campus.”
  • Dan: “Classes are big enough to have discussions, but small enough that you can’t hide.”

To give prospective students a sample of the rigorous academics at SIPA, faculty members have been leading condensed virtual lectures and Q&As with prospective students. Thanks to all of you who joined in – we hope you learned something new! Here’s the first Faculty Webinar from Vice Dean Scott Barrett on “International Cooperation to Limit Climate Change.” Let us know what you think!

To those of you who have given feedback on what blog content you’d like to see, know that we have some SIPA students working on answering your questions. Wishing everyone a great week, and looking forward to meeting you admitted students tomorrow!

Next Steps for Admitted Students, Fall 2019

First, another congratulations to you on being accepted to Columbia SIPA! I hope you celebrated this achievement – it was a competitive applicant pool – and are now ready to go over a few things that every newly-admitted student should know. Top takeaways for you:

  • Check the Welcome Portal – a lot. Even if you’re not sure if you’ll end up here yet. Honestly, the Welcome Portal has everything you need regarding next steps. If you don’t want to read two iterations of this information, I would recommend the Welcome Portal.
  • Submitting your official documents and transcripts. This probably applies to you and is a new policy for SIPA.
  • Check your Status Page to avoid delays in registering for classes at SIPA.
  • Money, deposits and financial aid.

Check the Welcome Portal, even if you’re not sure where you’ll end up yet.

The Welcome Portal has everything you need regarding next steps. Even if you’re still deciding where you’ll be for the next few years, the Welcome Portal provides information to help you make that decision: about accepting your offer, upcoming deadlines, student housing information, and special events and webinars, including Faculty Q&As and Financial Aid advice.

The Welcome Portal also breaks down the following information about official transcripts, test scores, and other items that require a few extra steps for you to ensure you can start your school year off with no delays.

(For conditional admitted students: Some applicants were admitted on the condition that they take additional quantative preparation courses, or to enroll in ALP courses for the summer/fall, prior to enrolling at SIPA. Your overall application and achievements are admirable, and we believe you’ll be better equipped for success at SIPA by completing this coursework. Please check the Welcome Portal of the specific requirements and deadlines for these conditions.)

Submit your Official Documents – This is really important!

When you review the Welcome Portal, you’ll see a section that outlines upcoming deadlines for the Application Checklist materials, also known as official documents. These are hard deadlines for the Admissions Office to receive your official documents, mainly transcripts and test scores.

I suggest you triple-check your Status Page to make sure all official Transcripts and Test Scores have been received by our office. If we don’t get these official documents by August 20, you will not be able to register for classes.

In the past few years, at least 90% of our accepted students did not submit all of their official documents to our office. This might be because you just haven’t submitted it because it wasn’t required until now. Another possibility is that items are sent to the wrong address or not delivered correctly, or for some reason the document submitted is not considered “official.” For example, even if you opened and scanned your official transcript from your college registrar, we cannot consider it “official” because it has technically been altered.

Check your Status Page

The last thing you want is a delay to starting off your school year, and that is easily avoided by checking in with the Status Page. This is where you’ll go to review your Application Checklist. Even though you’ve been accepted, there are a few items on the checklist that we need to finalize your academic record before August 2019. And if your record isn’t finalized, you won’t be able to register for classes during orientation. Don’t be that person!

Distinguishing if you’ve submitted your official vs unofficial documents can be confusing, so I’ll walk you through how to check this on your Status Page.

When you look at your Status Page, you see a green checkmark that indicates what we’ve received. Hover over this checkmark to see the pop-up text that will indicate if this item was “Received,” or we’ve only “Received Copy.”

An example of an official received item – hovering over the green checkmark shows a popup of Status: Received.

However, this applicant’s popup states “Status: Received Copy” next to their PTE Score Report. This means that their official test score has NOT been received by the Admissions office. (We’re sorry about this, we know it’s a hassle, but it’s a quirk of the system that we’re working with here.)

“How do I send in my official transcripts and test scores?”

All of this information is in the Welcome Portal (seriously, check it out if you haven’t already), but: Official transcripts and test scores must be on file by August 20, 2019. International students who won’t have conferred degrees until after the deadline should email us and we’ll make a note on their account.

There are extra requirements for students who attended Chinese institutions and students who attended a non-U.S. university. Specific instructions for all of this are, again, in the Welcome Portal.

A note on official test scores: If you truly know you sent us your official scores but we haven’t received them, there may be a workaround from re-ordering your test scores. Chances are your application name and email address are not recorded the same as the name and email address you registered to take the GRE/GMAT or TOEFL/IELTS/PTE with a few months ago. Thus, we couldn’t match the exam to your account because of the mismatch.

If that’s the case, contact the testing center and confirm your full name, date of birth and email address associated with your account. You’ll need to send us that information, along with the batch/cycle number and test registration number, for GRE and TOEFL scores; the appointment number and identification number for GMAT scores; or send us the official score report for IELTS/PTE scores.

Money, Deposits, and Financial Aid

Your enrollment deposit: You have until the date on your admission letter to accept your enrollment offer AND pay the $2,000.00 USD admission deposit. This deposit ultimately goes towards your tuition bill. While you don’t have to accept and pay the deposit at the same time, your deposit payment must be paid in full at once (so no partial payments). (UNIs will be generated within 1-2 weeks.)

Financial Aid and Fellowships: If you received a scholarship or fellowship, you will have received a separate notification letter about your funding along with your letter of admission. (Early-action candidates had to wait until now to learn about their funding status.)

All students, whether funded their first year or not, will be able to apply for second-year funding. Most of this funding is in the form of assistantships for second-year students who succeeded in their first year of studies. (You’ll learn more about these opportunities during the spring semester of your first year.)

We also encourage you to visit the Financial Aid page for more information about funding your education, which includes a database of external funding opportunities.

Tuition, Fees, and Billing: Columbia University releases an annual estimated cost of attendance, which you can view for the 2019-2020 year here. Your tuition bill will be generated closer to the start of the academic term. You also have the option to set up a payment plan or coordinate your payments with a third-party sponsor. For more information on that process, browse the Student Financial Services website. (Note: The Office of Admissions & Financial Aid is not involved in this process.)

Contact Us

If you need anything give us a call or send an email. If you’re an admitted student with specific financial aid or fellowship inquiries, please email them with a descriptive and informative subject line to sipa_finaid@columbia.edu. Admissions questions can continue to go to sipa_admission@columbia.edu or sipa_new@columbia.edu.

You should also follow us on Instagram @Columbia.SIPA to share your admissions story and connect with future classmates!

And once again, congratulations to our admitted students!

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt: MPA/MIA v. JD

This piece was co-authored by Julia Chung, my fellow program assistant at the Admissions Office.

RBG
Image result for shrug emojiMadeleine Albright

For those of you who don’t know the International Affairs Building, where SIPA is housed, is directly attached to Columbia Law School. It is a very subtle reminder of the decision we, Julia and Samantha, made two years ago before they started graduate school. Julia, studied for the LSAT for a year after graduating undergrad, fully anticipating a career in law. Samantha, worked as a legal assistant for three years at a law firm in Washington, D.C., and similarly thought law was in her future.

Today, both Julia and Samantha are SIPA second-year MPA and MIA students respectively, and both made the crucial decision to pick graduate school over law school. We recently had a conversation about the decision to go with public policy instead of a legal degree:

Why did you want to go to law school in the first place?

Julia: In undergrad I thought that if I wanted to do public service and civil rights, the path was a law degree. I thought that to make the change I wanted to see in the world, I needed to do it through litigation. With this limited perspective on career paths, I studied for the LSAT in my senior year in undergrad and the year after graduating. (As a side note, my family told me that because I was good at arguing, I should be a lawyer. Don’t think that was sound career advice though!)

Samantha: I wanted to go to law school because I wanted to work in policy, and had met a lot of people in the industry, who happenstance all had law degrees. I thought that was the way it worked. After I graduated undergrad, I took a job with a law firm in Washington D.C. in order to gain experience in the field. It was sort of a test run, which I recommend everyone interested in law do before deciding on whether to go or not. It was long hours, a lot of work, but I loved it. Despite the intensity at times, the experience really made me think the life was for me, but I still was not 100% sold. I wanted to do policy, and I had yet to work with someone that was doing work in that realm.

What changed?

Julia: After taking the LSAT, I spoke to a Vassar alum who was a lawyer and he said: Only go to law school if you actually want to practice law or if you have $150k to spare. He said that I seemed to have passions other than law and I should pursue those first. Taking that advice and knowing that my heart was in civil rights, I started working at a community-based organization in Flushing, Queens, doing civic engagement work. After two years of working with many lawyers, I decided that the great work they did was not for me. I realized that law wasn’t my tool to make the changes in the world I wanted to see. I didn’t want to be worrying about legal precedence or writing briefs. I wanted to be more on-the-ground and not limited to finding solutions through law.

Samantha: A coworker was talking to me about how he was going to graduate school for a degree in international affairs, and this really piqued my interest. I started researching graduate institutions around the world, to see what kinds of programs were out there for international affairs and security policy. That’s when I came across a couple of schools whose programs really spoke to me. I ended up speaking to one of the partners I worked for about my career trajectory, and he told me not to go to law school unless I was 100% sure it was for me. He also said that we no longer live in the days where you need a law degree to inform policy. Since I was not 100% sure of whether law school was for me, despite my experience, I chose to apply to graduate school.

Why did you choose Columbia SIPA?

Julia: I looked at graduate school to switch career paths. I wanted to shift from community organizing to something else, even though I wasn’t sure exactly what “something else” was when I applied to graduate school. I came to SIPA because it is a full-time program that is academically rigorous with a strong student community, and has a strong Urban and Social Policy program with practitioners teaching courses. I sat in on Mark Steitz’s “Data Driven Approaches to Campaigns and Advocacy” and knew instantaneously that SIPA was right for me. I knew that SIPA would teach me the hard skills I needed to take the next step in my career.

Samantha: I chose SIPA because I felt the MIA program and the International Security Concentration would provide me with both the theoretical and practical foundation I needed to pursue my future career goals. I also liked the fact that SIPA’s cohorts are very diverse, and that I would be studying with students from all around the world. I felt very welcomed at SIPA when I came to visit during the application process.  I think I had some preconceived notions of what SIPA and Columbia University in general were going to be like; however, everyone was very welcoming and I just had a feeling that I was in the right place.

How will an MPA/MIA degree work towards your future?

Julia: I came to SIPA knowing that I needed more hard skills – policy analysis, data analysis, memo writing, program evaluation, etc. SIPA provided those hard skills and the opportunity to explore different policy areas. I came to SIPA only interested in civil rights, but will be leaving in May with knowledge on urban sustainability, design thinking in the public sector, and technology used in international crisis response. I think my MPA degree prepares me to think critically on today’s most pressing issues, but also gives me tools and the network to be able to address them. I also think that with a MPA degree, I have more flexibility to create the career path I want than I would have if I went to law school.

Samantha: I believe the MIA will help me in my future endeavors because it helped me develop both hard and soft skills which can be applied to the jobs I am seeking in the foreign policy and international security fields. In law school I would not have been required to take a quantitative analysis course, or a cyber-security course, and I think these courses have really helped inform the way in which I evaluate the world around me. While law school would be useful in terms of understanding legality and jurisdiction for policy, I believe the MIA program has given me the opportunity to think critically about current international security policy issues, in order to better understand the nuances the make them complex and challenging to resolve.   

Do you have any regrets about your graduate school decision?

Julia: None – I’m excited to graduate and put all that I’ve learned to test!

Samantha:  I have no regrets about choosing to get my MIA at SIPA.  Every now and then I do think about law school and reflect back on when I made the decision to not pursue a JD. I remember where I was in life, and what career goals I had at the time that made me think I was not 100% ready to get my JD. If you asked me today if I think law school is in my future, I would say “yes.” But if you asked me if I could go back in time and remake the choice between and MIA and JD again, would I choose differently? I would say “no.” This has been a life-changing experience for me, and I would not change a thing.

Look, if you are a prospective applicant of SIPA and you still can’t make a choice, feel free to call or drop by the Admissions office and talk to a current student or Admissions Officer.

And don’t worry, if you decide that you want both an MPA/MIA and a JD, you can also apply for a SIPA/Law School dual degree. For more information, you can take a look at the website here.

Course Recommendations by Concentration and Specialization

If you’re in NYC and have some time to visit SIPA, sit in on a class! As some of you have read in my self-introduction, the class I sat in on way back in Spring 2017 was what made me send in that deposit and come to SIPA. Here are some second-year students’ recommendations for which classes to sit in by concentration and some specializations! While not all of these classes may be available for Spring 2019, this is a good framework to consider what you want to explore.

CONCENTRATION

Economic and Political Development

“As an EPD student specializing in Sub-Saharan Africa, I vividly recommend Yvette Christianse’s “Unheard Voices” class. Professor Christianse manages to blend emotions and knowledge. She listens to and cares about all her students. Attending this class enables you to combine creative writing with literary reviews. Contrarily to previous “African” classes I attended, Yvette Christianse manages to make a distinction between all Sub-Saharan African states and to develop strong arguments on each region, while remaining intrinsically open-minded about students’ perspectives and opinions.” — Claire Pictet

Energy and Environment

“I would definitely recommend ‘INAF U6326: Renewable Energy Project Finance Modelling.’ It’s a 1.5 credit course that does not require a finance background. The course-load is heavy, but definitely a worthwhile learning experience. Students can gain a snapshot of the contracts, financial models and risks associated with renewable infrastructure projects. The financial modelling skills are very practical and marketable for various careers opportunities in the energy sector.” — Katie Choi

Human Rights and Humanitarian Policy

“I would recommend ‘Politics of History and Reconciliation’ with Professor Barkan. The class is about historical memory and the extent to which it plays a role in grappling with atrocities and human rights abuses. Sessions are always very animated, and almost every topic we look at– from collective trauma, to the interplay between court cases and historical records– inspires real-time reflection and debate. It is also a great class to take if you want to take a look at human rights and their violations over time from an unorthodox perspective.” – Amir Khouzam

International Finance and Economic Policy

“For IFEP students interested in taking specific regional banking class, i would recommend taking up ‘European Banking INAF 6021’ with Prof. Irene Finel-Honigman. Professor Honigman provides great insight into European banking history with her vast knowledge on the region. The class will consist of weekly discussions on specific European countries and their banking industry. There will also be a few cases on the large European banks and how they are crucial to the world economy. And if you are lucky enough, there are several guest speakers that come to the class to further enrich the students’ knowledge.” — Panji Caraka Djani

International Security Policy

“‘Methods of Defense Analysis (U6825): Defense Policy Analysis’ is one of the most important skills sought by employers in the Defense and Security sector. The Methods of Defense Analysis course is designed to teach students the skills necessary to handle the responsibilities of an entry-level defense analyst within the government as well as think-tanks. The course emphasizes research design and defense analysis methodologies and throughout the course, students will conduct a number of case studies published by various think-tanks. The course also affords students an opportunity to apply the basics of quantitative analysis to a course relevant to the ISP concentration. Of equal importance, the course professor, Dr. Stephen Biddle, is an accomplished academic and an amazing professor that makes a tough subject enjoyable.” — Clayton J. Dixon

Urban and Social Policy

“One of the more unique courses at SIPA, ‘GIS For International Studies’ helps students develop practical skills with Geographic Information Systems (GIS), Global Positioning Systems (GPS), and remote sensing technologies. The class is fairly hands on and has some real applications for policy analysis and practices at global and also regional levels. Particularly recommended for those interested in land use, population trends, and urban planning.” — Molly Dow

SPECIALIZATION

Gender and Public Policy

“‘HPMN P8578 Money, Politics & Law: Public Health & Abortion: I chose the course because I had no context or knowledge of abortion policy in the United States beyond what I’d read in the media, or what I knew about Roe V. Wade. The class was incredi’bly informative and probably one of the best classes I took at Columbia. The history of abortion policy extends far beyond Roe. V. Wade and the course explored every aspect of abortion policy from a political and legal perspective. I highly recommend this course, though it is only offered in the Fall semester. I loved the class so much I briefly considered going to law school because of it (very briefly).” — Niara Valério

International Organization & UN Studies

“The class (‘Governance and Management in the UN System (INAF U8560)’) taught by Professor Bruce Jenks exposed me to the managerial and administrative aspects of the United Nations. It was an eye-opening class for me that offered more realistic views on the Organization’s function and working methods. It also forced me to think about innovative and feasible ways to transform the UN to respond to today’s complex challenges worldwide. With his incredible expertise, knowledge, and experience having worked in UNDP, Professor Jenks provides honest perspectives on the future of the UN–and multilateralism–in this class. And I believe this class is one of the most critical classes for anyone aspiring to work for a multilateral organization to take to think beyond theories and to prepare themselves to tackle real-life challenges in a practical manner.” — June Ban

Technology, Media, and Communications

“The Technology, Media and Communications Specialization provides students several different paths to study the increasingly relevant and headline defining policy issues connected to how technology is impacting our media and politics. For those interested in cyber-security issues, a great way to be introduced to the topic is through Professor Healy’s ‘Dynamics of Cyber Power and Conflict,’ where he teaches about the national security threats, challenges, and policy responses to a major cyber incident. Additionally, for students interested in media and communications, ‘Media Campaigning and Social Change,’ taught by Professor Anya Schiffrin, the director of the program, examines how media, social media and NGOs can take on a campaigning role in raising awareness about social problems and holding authorities accountable.” — Shalaka Joshi

Class visits for the Spring 2019 semester are now open, and you can sign up here! This blog post may help you with decoding SIPA courses.

"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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