Archive for Application Tips

A mid-November check-in: Snow, Virtual Info Sessions, Application Tips

Winter is Coming

It was the first snow of the season yesterday! Here’s a snapshot courtesy of first-year student @luzangil:

Unfortunately due to the snow causing transit issues, we did have to postpone the Diversity Spotlight event arranged with the SIPA Students of Color (SSOC). I’m so happy to see the level of interest in this event, and we’re so sorry for the inconvenience. Everyone will be notified once it’s rescheduled; in the meantime, learn a little more about SSOC’s most recent Identity @ SIPA panel.

Register for our Virtual Information Sessions

While we let everyone know about events on-campus here in NYC in case they’re able to attend, we’re aware that many of you are busy or live further away. With that, we have multiple virtual information sessions coming up that you should register for.

An exciting addition to these virtual events: SIPA’s Concentration Directors will be talking about their unique concentrations and what they look for in program candidates. There’ll be a chance for Q&A at the end, and this is a great way to get a detailed look at the nuances of what each concentration offers.

Application Tips

Finally, for those of you working on your Fall 2019 applications, here are blog posts addressing some common questions we’ve been receiving lately:

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.

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!

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.

"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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