Archive for Admissions

Five Things You Should Know Before Submitting Your Application

For you applicants submitting in the next few days (Early Action for Fall 2019 is November 1st!), here are some last-minute application tips. Our Admissions Committee reads many applications during the admissions process, which means they notice when people make similar mistakes in the applications. Here are some general application tips for before you submit:

  1. Proofread. Make sure little things like, say, the name of the school, is spelled correctly. And if you’ve looked over your application hundreds of times, get a friend or family member to look it over.  A fresh pair of eyes can really help.
  2. We do not need your official test scores at the time of application submission. There is a place to self-report your scores on the application. Once you have been accepted, we will ask for your official report, but if you have submitted unofficial scores to us there is no need to contact our office to see if we have received a report for ETS.
  3. Answer the (required) essay questions. Some schools may offer an “additional information” question as an option to address special circumstances that may have affected your grades, scores or professional history. While this is one way to use this question, we really want to get to know all our applicants on a personal level, which is why answering the prompt – especially for the second essay – is required. (SIPA’s application does have an Optional Essay, which you can use to share that additional information.)
  4. We do not have a minimum GRE/GMAT score or GPA. SIPA is a competitive program and we encourage our applicants to do their best in the admissions process. But there’s no cutoff for GRE/GMAT scores or GPA, because many of our students are several years out of undergrad and have honed skills they may not have had five or ten years ago. The one exception to this is our hard rule in English proficiency tests (TOEFL/IELTS/PTE). As SIPA classes are taught in English there is a minimum level of proficiency necessary to participate and contribute. You can view the cutoff and preferred scores for the TOEFL/IELTS/PTE here.
  5. Do not waste words in your essays. It is hard enough to confine your professional experiences and goals to a 400-word limit, so you need to be strategic about the way you write. Do not waste essay space rehashing information that is available elsewhere in your application, for example your name or the grades you received as an undergraduate. In addition, we want to hear from you, not Gandhi or John F. Kennedy. If you choose to include a quotation in your personal statement make sure that it is necessary and supports your personal story.

We can’t wait to read your applications — good luck!

Reworked from this 2013 post.

Come meet our Admissions staff to get your application questions answered

Where will the Columbia admissions team be in the next few weeks? We’ll be traveling to you, available on campus, and connecting with you online.

We’re coming to you!

We’ve been traveling around graduate fairs speaking to prospective students (shoutout to the person in Seattle who recognized our names from this blog!) and would love to chat with you at an upcoming event.

The full calendar of off-campus recruiting events is available here, and below are a few highlights:

  • Oct. 22 – 25: Oregon and Washington
  • Oct. 29 – Nov. 1: Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana
  • November 6: APSIA Graduate School Fair – Madrid, Spain
  • November 7: APSIA Graduate School Fair – Paris, France
  • November 8: APSIA Graduate School Fair – London, UK

Virtual Info Sessions

While you may not be in an area that we are, we’d like you to know about it just in case you happen to be able to attend, or know of someone that would be interested. So for those of you who won’t be in the areas we’re traveling too, join the Executive Director of Admissions, Grace Han, and Director of Financial Aid, David Sheridan, for a Virtual Information Session focused on the 21-month full time Master of Public Administration and Master of International Affairs programs. You will have the opportunity to ask questions via online chat.

Are you coming to us in NYC?

  • Class visits are open for this semester. You can sit in on up to two classes and get a feel for the actual SIPA experience and community (and the beauty of NYC in the fall). If you’re unsure how to figure out the SIPA courses available, Julia provides a walkthrough here. You must register in advance for a class visit, so schedule it soon as spots can fill up quickly.
  • On-campus information sessions are available every month. Right now there are weekly info sessions for the MIA, MPA and MPA-DP programs. You’ll learn about Columbia University, SIPA, our curriculum and community, and get insider application tips from admissions staff. You’ll also be able to ask any questions you want about the application process. When their schedules allow, there’s also an optional tour of the International Affairs Building led by a current SIPA student, who can share their SIPA experience as well.

We’ll be in the U.S. PNW soon — and a Spring application deadline reminder

The Columbia SIPA admissions team is still traveling to attend various graduate school fairs around the world. We’ve met a lot of fantastic future candidates and are looking forward to talking to more of you!

If you’re unsure if you want to come to these (free!) grad fairs, remember that Just a few minutes of conversation could lead to an opportunity that’ll change the course of your career. Keep up with us on our Off-Campus Recruitment Events calendar.

And a reminder for you Spring applicants that the application deadline is October 15th, 11:59pm ET. If you have any final questions, you should reach out to us at the Office of Admissions on Monday. Best of luck!

Tips for Writing Your Personal Essays; Time to Find Your ‘Cornerstone’

As fans of HBO may know, Westworld has been one of the channel’s breakout shows in recent years, a brilliant, if not at times frustrating, mix of sci-fi and Wild West melodrama. The show takes place in the not too distant future, where humans have created robots that are practically indistinguishable from their creators. These robots are housed in a series of enormous, historically themed amusement parks that function as places of leisure and adventure for human guests. One of the more interesting concepts presented in the show is the idea of a ‘cornerstone’; in order to create believable backstories and personalities for the robots, human programmers imparted each AI with individualized memories, memories in which their whole character, and being, are derived from.

How does this relate to the SIPA application? Well, bear with me now. When I first began applying to SIPA, I spent many hours thinking about what to write, and more importantly, which parts of my personal experiences were relevant and worth including. Sometimes I felt like it was best to start with my early childhood in rural New England, growing up traveling between small communities, an experience that first sparked my love for country and our nation’s natural beauty. Other times I felt like I should begin with my incredibly diverse high school in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where I first realized I loved learning about other cultures and identities. When anxious about writing something too ambitious and personal, I decided to talk about my time working for refugee resettlement organizations in Chicago and Istanbul, and how these professional experiences informed my interest in diplomacy and human rights.

After many days of brainstorming and reflecting on what truly motivated me, I knew I had to get at the root of these experiences, and what binds them together. Personally, my thoughts always returned to my mother, who often raised me on her own. Similarly, all of my thoughts were colored with a deep sense of pride in my community and a belief that I must work to represent disadvantaged peoples in everything that I do. Using these two qualifiers, I was able to strip away the extraneous parts of my narrative that sounded good on paper, but weren’t essential to my own story. In doing so, I was able to clearly articulate why I wanted to attend SIPA, and what had driven me to become a U.S. diplomat; that is, a real desire to represent all Midwestern people, and to share our culture and story with communities abroad, through relationships predicated on mutual respect and understanding.

If you are interested in SIPA, you have already demonstrated a baseline desire to improve yourself and to accomplish whatever personal or professional goals you have set for yourself. Therefore, when thinking about how to write your personal essays, I suggest that you also engage in a similar exercise of self-reflection, in an attempt to find your own ‘cornerstone’. By boiling it all down, you will be able to more clearly state your interest in attending SIPA, and your motivations for applying. It will also allow you to parse through your experiences, and similarly decide which ones are essential for telling the story that will give admissions officers an idea of who you are.

Start by writing down the experiences that come to mind when you think about why you’ve chosen to apply to SIPA, or what inspired you to undertake the career path you are on now. Rely on your intuition, and include things that you feel are important, even if they may not make sense to someone else, or seem appropriate to write about on your application. Once you’ve given it enough thought, go back through what you’ve written and begin thinking about what underlying ideas, principles, or experiences connect these seemingly disparate thoughts. Hopefully, you will arrive at an understanding of what truly motivates you, while also narrowing down the experiences you want to draw on while demonstrating your preparedness for SIPA. While difficult, I suspect that the clarity gained from this exercise will make writing your essays much easier and may perhaps serve you well in your own day-to-day life!

Why I Chose to Apply to SIPA

Note from Admissions: The Spring application deadline is coming up, and we hope applicants feel like they’re making good progress with the admissions process. Current student Dylan Hoey has been in your position and reflects on why he applied to SIPA in the first place. 

We encourage you to reach out to us at the Admissions office if you have any questions about the application or just want to talk it over. And if you want to talk to Dylan or other SIPA students about their experience, we can make that happen.


Rodin’s “The Thinker” outside Philosophy Hall [Wikimedia Commons]

During undergrad, like most first year students, I was unsure of what I wanted to major in. At first I was confident that environmental science was the right choice. Within a semester, I was disabused of that idea. After taking an amazing introduction to international relations course, I thought I had settled on international relations. When my second year started, I changed my mind once again and declared as a Government and History dual major, which finally stuck. While I had formally decided on a major, my interest in other subjects did not wane. Thanks to a great liberal arts education, I was able to dabble in almost every major subject, from religious studies to mathematics. Throughout my undergraduate career, I developed an interest in urban studies, post-colonial history and theory, continental philosophy, and film, amongst others.

In turn, when I decided to apply to graduate school, I knew I wanted to be at a place that engaged all of these interests, while also providing me with a central skill set that would allow me to be successful in any industry. I knew that my ideal school would be in a large city, with plenty of extracurricular opportunities to pursue my interest in the arts. Naturally, that narrowed my list of schools down quite considerably.

SIPA had always been on my radar just based off its name recognition, but when I researched more into its curriculum and Columbia’s own resources, I became more and more interested in applying. First of all, I appreciated that SIPA stresses both theory and ‘practical’ applications of course material. As a future U.S. diplomat, I valued SIPA’s diversity, which is unrivaled. I also liked that SIPA has a distinctly international focus, with an emphasis on urban politics and culture. When I looked through SIPA’s course offerings and faculty, I was similarly impressed by the broad array of fields and disciplines represented. I remember also coming across a couple ‘superstar’ professors, including former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, former New York City Mayor David Dinkins and Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz. On more comprehensive faculty lists outside of SIPA, I saw that one of my favorite authors, Turkish Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk, was also listed as a member of Columbia’s faculty. Another search led me to discover that leading Indian post-colonial theorist Gayatri Spivak was a resident faculty member.

When I looked at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences’ website, I found that the events section was full of film series that I was interested, including a few where the directors themselves were there to answer questions. At the Journalism School, I saw Jelani Cobb, one of the New Yorker’s most prolific and insightful contributors, listed as a professor. While I was certainly drawn in by SIPA’s course offerings, I really fell in love with the idea of Columbia being a place of such great academic diversity. I knew that at SIPA I would receive a world-class education in policy analysis and public management; I had no doubts about that. But I relished the idea of being on a campus where it would be easy to meet people engaged in other fields, and to pursue a truly holistic education. When it was time to finally apply, I was excited at the prospect of enrolling at SIPA, an excitement that has never left me, even as a second year student now.

"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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