Archive for Admissions – Page 2

4 Tips to Ace the GRE

Julia Chung is born and raised in New Jersey, but hopes to be considered an honorary New Yorker. She is a second year MPA student concentrating in Urban and Social Policy and specializing in Technology, Media, and Communications. After graduating from Vassar College with a BA in Sociology and a minor in Asian Studies, Julia worked at various nonprofits in New York City on issues including housing, immigration, education, and civic engagement.

Taking the GRE can be a daunting experience! Here are some tips to help get through the studying and exam taking process!

  1. Know what you know and don’t know

After you do your initial practice exam, look at your results. Which section did you do better on? Which type of question in each section did you do better on? If you’re stellar on math, but struggle in reading comprehension, spend more time on reading comprehension and just do some refreshers for math. If you aced geometry, but bombed probability, you know what to focus on. We’re all busy folks so you don’t need to go through the whole 3,000 pages of the GRE prep book if you don’t need to. Focus on what you know and don’t know!

  1. Make your own vocabulary flash cards

Don’t just buy or print out pre-made flash cards. One of the best ways to remember vocabulary is actually taking the time to think about the definition in your own words. Also write down alliterations, synonyms, or personal associations to help remember the word. The more ways you think about the word, the better! Below is my example of a flash card:

Additionally, when studying your flash cards, try to learn 10-30 new words each day on top of reviewing older flash cards. Split your older flash cards into two piles: the cards you always get right and the ones that you sometimes struggle with. Review the former once a week and the latter pile every other day.

  1. Plan so there aren’t any surprises on exam day

Take some practice exams leading up to the exam. The exams are long and you may need to get used to sitting and thinking for five hours straight. But also consider taking the practice exam during the time you scheduled for the exam. For example, if you schedule the exam to be at 8AM, take the practice exam also at 8AM. This can help you know how your brain works at that time (eg: my brain doesn’t naturally function at its prime so early in the morning so it needs some training).

What I also like to do is find reviews of the test center on Yelp or Google reviews before signing up for the exam. Do people say it’s loud and they couldn’t concentrate? Was the bathroom too far so they couldn’t take a break? Was there no parking? Of course take each review with a grain of salt, but sometimes it’s good to know so there aren’t any surprises!

Pro tip: you can bring your own disposable ear plugs to the test!

  1. Take a break the night before the exam

At this point there’s nothing more you can do! So let your brain relax and just swim in all the vocabulary words. Bring a snack to the exam, take a deep breath, and have fun. It’ll be over in four hours!

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, so don’t get too excited and just leave!

Please note that SIPA admissions does not have a “minimum GRE/GMAT score.” The admissions committee reviews applications holistically, taking all application materials into consideration, including academic record, letters of recommendation, personal and professional life experience, among other qualifications.

Note from Admissions: SIPA requires either the GRE or the GMAT as an admissions requirement.

Niara’s advice on preparing for the GRE

A great piece of advice I received when I was first applying to graduate school was to book a date for the GRE as early as possible — this helps you plan ahead and outline what you need to study. But I also wanted to share some tips for the GRE from my own personal experience given that I took the GRE not that long ago.

Focus on your mistakes and what you don’t know

One of the best ways to improve your score on the GRE is to focus on the things you don’t know. This might sound obvious but there is a bit more to it, you have to really understand what you don’t know, meaning, it is very likely that you are making the same kinds of mistakes over and over again but not noticing a pattern. Effective GRE studying requires you to understand mistakes/errors, and your goal should be to not make the same mistake twice. I would even go as far as keeping an “error log” that tracks your mistakes based on content.  This should be your primary focus, studying from your error log and understanding why and how you are making those mistakes and then aiming to not make them again.

All practice should be timed

If you are one of the lucky people for who timing is never an issue then feel free to skip right ahead to the next section (what are you like, a genius, or something?). However, if you are a mere mortal, like me, then this piece of advice should come in handy: everything you are doing that is GRE-related should always be timed, always. If you are not timing yourself while you practice questions, it is basically like learning to fly an airplane by driving a car, which makes absolutely no sense! You want to recreate test-taking conditions as much as possible. The reality is you only have a limited amount of time to complete the test, so you need to get accustomed to answering questions in a timed setting.

No, you will not just “get it right” next time

That was way harsh Tai! But I have a point, I swear. If you are routinely making careless errors but disregarding them as silly mistakes, stop! Cease and desist! Basta! Para! These mistakes are communicating something, even if it’s a calculation error, it is something you need to be aware of. If you are making these mistakes now, studying in the comfort of your own home, you are very likely to make the same mistake on the actual test, because it’s timed and you’re under pressure and oh my god what were the Pythagorean Triplets?! The test itself can be nerve inducing, so you want to make sure you are as prepared as possible and reducing the number of careless errors when you practice.

Finally, and this might sound odd given what I’ve just said above, the GRE is just one aspect of your application. So yes, you should aim to do well, but it only tells a small part of the story.

Note from Admissions: SIPA requires either the GRE or the GMAT as an admissions requirement.

How to Ask for a Recommendation Letter

As part of the SIPA application, applicants are required to submit at two letters of recommendation. When it comes to submitting these letters, applicants often ask what makes a “good” letter of recommendation. Who should I ask? How do I approach a potential recommender? Well no more fretting. SIPA Admissions is here to help you answer all those questions with a comprehensive guide to letters of recommendation.

Who should I ask?

The SIPA application is looking for students who show an ability to thrive in a policy grad school and into their future careers. A letter of recommendation is the perfect submission for a person to help create that narrative for an applicant. The letter of recommendation should be completed by someone who knows an applicant’s ability and potential in the work place and academically. That person can be anyone who’s worked with you in a professional manner including former professors, bosses, colleagues, or even people you supervised. We don’t suggest that recommenders be people who know you personally but not professionally.

How should I ask a recommender?

The ask can be the hardest part of the recommendation letter process. During the ask, you want to be able to provide your recommender with as much information needed to write a recommendation letter that shows why you would be a good fit for SIPA and your prospective career. So preparing for the information is just as important as actually asking. This can include information on the SIPA website on the type of student the school is looking for, information on the type of career you will be seeking after SIPA, and much more. It would also be helpful to provide your recommender with a resume when asking them to write a letter so can get the full breadth of who you are as a professional and see parts of your professionalism they may not get the chance to know in the aspect that they work with you.

So you’ve gathered all the information and now it’s time to actually ask your recommender to write a letter for you. When you ask, you can email but it may be better to meet with them in person so you can explain why you are asking them specifically, why you are applying to SIPA, and what you’re hoping to gain from SIPA that can bring you to your future career. No matter the medium of your request, be sure to explain your interest in the program and provide them with copies of useful information.

Reminding a recommender?

If a recommender hasn’t sent in their letter yet and it’s close to the deadline, it is always fine to remind them to send it in. You can send them an email and remind them of the date your application is due. Be sure to explicitly remind them that they have a recommendation letter to send. Feel free to have a few back up options for recommenders if you’re cutting it close on the application deadline.

Program Assistant Introduction: Niara Valerio

Niara Valerio, 2nd year MPA - IFEP & GPP student

Niara Valerio, 2nd year MPA – IFEP & GPP student

Class has officially started for the 2018-2019 academic year! With this semester, we have a brand new group of program assistants who will be assisting the SIPA Office of Admissions. We’ll be featuring our new PA’s over the next couple of weeks. For today’s post, let’s give a warm welcome to Niara Valerio!


Niara is a current graduate student at Columbia University studying International Finance and Economic Policy with a specialization in Gender and Public Policy. Niara grew up in New York City and completed her undergraduate degree at Harvard University where she studied Economics and Government. Prior to enrolling at SIPA, Niara worked as an Investment Intern at Women’s World Banking Capital Partners and served as Economic Affairs Adviser to the Permanent Observer Mission of the African Union. Niara has a strong interest in women’s economic empowerment and hopes to work for either a venture capital or private equity fund after graduation. She recently started her own ed-tech company, Purpose Tutors, which provides test prep and mentorship to underserved students in the South Bronx. Her hope is to gain the experience to one day start her own fund to invest in female and minority led companies.

What were you doing before you came to SIPA?

I was working as an Economic Affairs Advisor at the Permanent Observer Mission of the African Union to the United Nations.

What attracted you to SIPA and Columbia University?

I wanted to come to SIPA because I was attracted to all the different course offerings and how international the school is. I was especially interested in the Gender and Public Policy Specialization. My focus is on Women’s Economic Empowerment and I wanted to attend a school that allowed me to pursue my interests in both finance and gender.

Have you taken classes at other Columbia Schools?

Yes, I’ve taken several courses outside of SIPA, I took a class at the Mailman School of Public Health “Public Health and Abortion Policy” and one at the Institute for Research in African-American Studies (IRAAS), “Gender, Sexuality and Labor in the Caribbean.” I really valued the opportunity to get to know other students and professors within the Columbia community and outside of SIPA.

Did you choose to attend SIPA to change careers, or to gain experience in a career path you already had experience in?

A little bit of both, I already had some exposure to finance and economics prior to attending SIPA but I wanted to get more experience in Gender and Public Policy. I think SIPA is a great place to blend different interest areas because the course offerings are so diverse. You can really tailor your coursework to suit your own interests.

How did you obtain your internship?

My internship last year was with Accion EAST in their SBA Lending division, I actually applied via SIPA Link and heard back pretty quickly, I was offered the position on the spot, but I think I was very lucky in that regard, that doesn’t usually happen.

What has been the best part of your SIPA experience?

The people I’ve met for sure! I think SIPA attracts a really dynamic, interesting group of people with unique perspectives; you have the opportunity to be exposed to so many different cultures and backgrounds. I definitely appreciate how much I’ve learned from my classmates.

[Photo courtesy of Niara Valerio]

Three Tips for Efficient Communication with our Office

The Office of Admissions and Financial Aid is meant to be a resource for you as you go through the admissions process. Help us help you stay efficient in getting information by following these three tips for communicating with our office:

  1. Use the same name and email address each time. Whether communicating with us or opening an application, consistency is important for us to search and recall past communications to help you get what you need.
  2. Familiarize yourself with the Admissions FAQs. Have you ever been asked a question that the asker could have done a quick internet search to find the answer? We have! We love to speak with people and help them out, but we can get backlogged with questions that are clearly answered on the Frequently Asked Questions page. Those are questions that we collect directly from applicants like you, so chances are that you’ll find the answer to your question more quickly that way. (But we do answer all emails sent to our office, in case you’re wondering.)
  3. General professional email etiquette will speed things up. This includes using descriptive subject lines in emails, including your contact information in your email signature, and avoiding long emails. “Long” emails can be subjective, but if for example, we receive an email with multiple detailed questions, it’ll take us longer to dig through it. With that, you can consider breaking them into separate emails over a short period of time to allow us to respond more efficiently.

    Another email etiquette tip? Avoid copying multiple parties on the same email. I know when I see four other people copied on an email sent to me, I may just let someone else answer the email first, or it’ll spawn more emails itself as we all check who is going to take point on it. If you’re unsure who the email should go to, trust that the person you send it to will direct it to the right place!

Remember, we’re here to help you, and we love when you help us help you.

"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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