Archive for Application Tips

The January 5th deadline has passed. What happens now?

It’s Winter Break but January is a busy time for us here in the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid due to the influx of applications (and application-related questions!). We’re very excited to be reading your applications, by the way. But enough about us – I’d like to update you a little on what to expect.

I submitted my application by the January 5th deadline. What now?

Now, we ask for your patience! In the meantime, you can review the Admissions FAQs for peace of mind: “Decision notifications are posted to the application portal. You will receive an email when a decision is available. The Admissions Committee will begin reviewing fall applications starting in January once all required materials have been received. Fall decisions are communicated in mid-March.”

You can also check out the SIPA external funding sources page, either to explore what is available or start on gathering (more) resources for scholarships and funding.

I’m shooting for the February 5th deadline, what about me?

Make sure you have everything in order to take your shot for February 5th. This blog itself has many resources, so do dig around a little bit. At this point I encourage you to follow up with your recommenders if your letters aren’t all in. Remember that all application materials must be in by the deadline for you to meet that deadline; the Admissions Committee cannot review an incomplete application.

If you have questions about the application, remember that we are here to help you with this process. BUT – you will receive a faster response from us if you email sooner. As in, don’t wait until the last minute! It’ll be difficult for you AND us! Here are some tips to communicate with our office so you can help us help you. (And the #1 Last-Minute Tip before submitting: Proofread. Once you submit your application, you’ll be unable to make changes to it.)

What can I expect the next few months?

Other than decisions releasing sometime in March, we’ll also have Class Visits coming up in a few weeks for the Spring semester – we’ll send an email once that is available. We’ll be highlighting some SIPA student life events here on the blog, and welcoming a new Program Assistant as well.

I’d also still encourage you stop by an Information Session because you can get your questions answered in person with our admissions staff. You can also check out the Columbia University and SIPA campus areas to get a feel for the place. Even though it’s a little chilly here, campus is beautiful in the winter. (Check out @columbia.sipa on Instagram for more sweet views and SIPA community highlights!)

And if you can’t make it in person soon, register for our Virtual MIA/MPA Info Session this Thursday, January 17. Executive Director of Admissions, Grace Han, and Financial Aid Officer, Rory Placa, will give an overview of the SIPA programs and the application process, and you’ll have the opportunity to ask questions via online chat.

Use the optional essay to your advantage

Application deadlines are here, and the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid has been getting a lot of calls and emails lately. We’re glad you’re reaching out to us with your questions.

I’m choosing to tell y’all about something that has NOT been asked about, which is the optional essay.

[Before you get too far:  You are not required to write this! If you’ve said all you need to say about yourself as a candidate and you don’t have it in you to write more, that’s totally understandable! The optional essay is truly, Optional. And don’t feel guilty about being relieved that you don’t have to read the rest of this post.]

So why answer a question that hasn’t been asked? Because I think it’ll give some of you an advantage in your application. This is what the optional essay is in the application for: An opportunity to discuss something you weren’t able to address elsewhere; OR, an opportunity for you to explain a situation that needs more detail.

SIPA does not have an ideal model of an applicant. Our candidates come from more than 100 countries around the world, with a variety of undergraduate and graduate studies, career backgrounds, expertises, and aspirations. We value this diversity immensely because these differences enrich the class experience for everybody.

Instead, what the Admissions Committee looks for falls into the broad categories of: relevant professional experience; proven academic ability; quantitative coursework; and a passion for public policy and International Affairs.

Because there is no One Ideal Applicant, the admissions process is holistic – meaning, the Admissions Committee takes the whole of your application into account. We are looking at the gestalt of your application, if you will.

This is where the optional essay – and knowing what the Admissions Committee is looking for – comes in. Use the optional essay to explain any discrepancies or unique situations that you weren’t able to address anywhere else in the application. Is there something that you want to tell the Admissions Committee because it will add to you as a whole?

Tell us why you’d be a stellar policy candidate despite your previous studies being in something unrelated. Tell us why you’d come out on top of the core economics courses at SIPA despite the quantitative grades on your transcript not reflecting that. Tell us what unique perspective you can add to the classroom, even though you have an employment gap due to family reasons.

Life happens. The Admissions Committee are people too. They’re understanding and respectful. But sometimes there is nothing for them to take into account as a whole, if you are the only one who can provide the information and don’t do it.

Because each applicant is so different, we can’t possibly tell you what specific topic we’re looking for. I will just say: The optional essay is NOT another personal statement, or a place to rehash something already explained in your application. Perhaps it’s just a few paragraphs that can’t all “flow” together, and that is fine. Maybe your optional essay is just one sentence – we appreciate brevity.

Remember, the optional essay is not meant to trip you up, nor is it a ~secret admissions test~. It is simply an opportunity for you to address your situation(s) to the Admissions Committee that you weren’t able to in other parts of the application.

For another perspective, here is an overview of the Optional Essay from a student who went through the application process.

Wishing you all the best of luck!

Checking in as we count down to January 5th

There’s about 10 days until the January 5th application deadline, and I wanted to check in on how you’re doing.

Hopefully you’ve gotten your test scores, transcripts, and letters of recommendation squared away, as well as having the bones of your personal state and short essay together. Not there yet? Definitely follow up with your people again. Sometimes things fall through the crack, especially since we all get busy towards the end of the year. Revisit your essays with fresh eyes, and double-check that you answered the prompt. Take a step back to rethink thinks if you’re stuck.

Will you be writing an Optional Essay? It’s not necessary, just another avenue to address in more detail an aspect of your application. And as you know, the application requires a CV – not the standard one-page resume you’d use for a job application – as well as a quantitative/language resume. If you’re still unsure about what to include, read this breakdown here.

If you’re all the way at the end: Did you write “Colombia” or “Columbia”? And remember that the video essay is only available after you submit your application and pay the fee! You’re just two minutes away from the finish line.

Remember, if you’re really unsure about something, the Admissions office is your resource through this process. Reach out to us, especially if you can’t find the answer from a reputable source. We’re honest with you in that this process is competitive, but don’t throw away your shot by not even trying! Do your best to ensure your application can give an accurate picture of not just who you are, but who you want to be after SIPA.

As always, we’re wishing you the best of luck, and we look forward to reading your applications. And don’t forget to take time for self-care. (New York Therapy Dogs and SIPA Office of Student Affairs teamed up to bring some self-care-in-dog form to SIPA students during finals week this year.)

Energy & Environment Concentration Q&A

We’re just about halfway through our SIPA Concentration Webinar Series, where each Concentration Director gives an overview of their area of study, what they look for in strong SIPA candidates, and answer questions about their concentration. Professor David Sandalow and Concentration Manager Elora Ditton took the time to answer some extra questions about the Energy & Environment concentration from prospective students:

Q: Do you think the policy nature of the program would be valuable to someone who does not want to commit to only in the public sector? Are there any components of the program that address business concepts in energy and how they interact with policy?
A: Absolutely. Our graduates are equally employed by the private and public sectors. Particularly when studying energy and environment, it’s important to consider policy, business, technology and science and the interactions of these sectors. As such, our curriculum focuses on giving students a comprehensive understanding of how all the key stakeholders interact, while giving students the flexibility to cater the curriculum to their specific interests.

A handful of EE students come into the program looking for employment in the private sector, specific to energy. These students tend to take courses on financial modeling and markets related to energy, and intern at financial institutions or consulting firms.

With this said, you can’t work in energy and not know the regulatory policies that affect business decisions, and similarly, you can’t work in policy and not consider markets or the financial tools needed to fund projects/infrastructure. Considering this, though we are a policy school, many courses apply concepts from business/finance to energy issues.

Q: What are some of the career outcomes of SIPA EE graduates? Especially some of the climate policy graduates – do you see the majority of them working in NGOs, industry, finance, directly in governments, or some combination of these post-graduation?
A: A mix, particularly since we offer a broad range of courses which allows students to tweak the curriculum based on their career objectives.

For example, if a student knew they wanted to work in energy finance, we have a lot of courses specific to this (e.g. corporate finance, renewable energy project finance, international energy finance), so many of the students who go down this track end up in private sector jobs. If a student wants to focus in climate policy, we have equally the number of courses and opportunities here (e.g. climate change policy, environmental conflict resolution, environmental economics). These students might apply to be EDF fellows for an internship and may end up in local/federal government and/or NGO positions post-SIPA.

In other words, where students end up post-SIPA is largely determined by what their focus is during their time here. A benefit of SIPA EE is that we have the courses/curriculum to support a broad range of interests and outcomes. It also depends on if students are trying to stay in the U.S. or are going to work internationally (particularly for placement in government and the political landscape for climate policy).

Here are a few examples of recent employers: Rystad Energy, NYSERDA, International Finance Corporation, Connecticut Green Bank, Lazard, Bloomberg, Citibank, UNDP, The World Bank, Deloitte, Accenture, McKinsey & Company, ICF, ConEdison, GE, PG & E, EDF, the Earth Institute, the Nature Conservancy, WWF, ExxonMobil, CohnReznick Capital, Powerbridge, US DOE, USDS, and more…

Q: Hi there, can you talk about how the EE concentration would vary from the MPA-DP program? How does it break down within the MPA and MIA tracks? On a different note, I notice many policy professionals have a law degree. Please convince me that SIPA is a better option! Thanks so much!
A: The MPA-DP program is going to give you more exposure to hard sciences while EE focuses more on quantitative skills (e.g. economics, financial modeling, etc.). There will be more flexibility to fine-tune the curriculum to your interests in the MIA/MPA track whereas the DP curriculum is pretty set.

MIA/MPA gives you tools to design, incentivize, implement, and assess policies so you have more flexibility in application of the degree over a law degree, which is going to give you a very specific skill set. It really depends on your career goals and what you think makes the most sense for you.

Also, you can take law classes as a SIPA student! Environmental Law, for example, counts towards our EE policy requirement.

Q: Can you talk about SIPA Energy and Environment concentration as it relates specifically to energy in international development?
A: SIPA in general offers many courses in international economic and political development, and in EE, you will consider sustainability and other geopolitical and security issues related to energy and the environment.

Q: Is it difficult to catch up in SIPA for the Science and engineering part? I have not been exposed to professional undergraduate environment and energy knowledge.
A: Nope! We have many career switchers where this is their first exposure to energy and/or environment. Our classes are designed to give you the basic technical and topical foundation to address energy and environment with a policy and/or business application. With that said, since we are a policy school, though some of our courses expose you to science and technology, none of our courses are solely in the hard sciences or engineering (though you have access to these types of courses through the other schools at Columbia).


Two Admissions reminders for you Fall 2019 applicants:

1. It’s less than a month until the January 5th application deadline, and we have a few more admissions information sessions before then:

2. For those who want to hear straight from the Concentration Directors, here are the final webinars coming up:

Thanksgiving Holiday Schedule and Post Roundup

In observance of the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday, the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid will be closed starting tomorrow, November 21, at 2pm ET, and will be closed Thursday and Friday. We’ll reopen as usual on Monday, November 26.

While we’re out, we’ll leave you with some resources to help you out with your application. Here’s a roundup of the most popular blog posts from the last few days:

  • How NOT to write your personal statement – The essay topics will change but the advice won’t. Advice highlight: “There’s nothing that upsets people more than when someone asks a question they could’ve easily found the answer to with a 30-second Google search.”
  • Here’s a few Do’s and Don’ts on Your SIPA Application – Some good overall pointers as you go along preparing for applications. Advice highlight: “We understand that most applicants are also applying to other graduate programs in addition to SIPA, however, it is important applicants are diligent and address their essay to the correct school. The last thing that you want to happen is to submit a very generic essay and then address it to the wrong school.”
  • What’s in an App: admissions video essay – Remember, the video essay will be available to you after you finish the rest of the application and pay the application fee. Advice highlight: “This isn’t the be-all-end-all deciding factor for your admissions decision. This component provides the Admissions Committee a sense of who you are in person as well as your thought process and how you respond to questions.”
  • Preparation for grad school app – Past student (and now alum!) Nancy Leeds shares advice she wished she’d received when going through the process that you’re going through now. Advice highlight: “Visit the campus. Trying to distinguish between schools from their websites and viewbooks is kind of like online dating – you won’t get a real feel for them until you meet them in person.”

We hope you all have a chance to share a meal with your loved ones this week, be it family or friends. Happy Thanksgiving!

"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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