Archive for Application Tips

The 2021 Columbia SIPA Application is Open

We are excited to announce that SIPA’s 2021 Application is officially live.  We strongly recommend providing yourself with ample time to prepare a complete application that best represents your academic abilities. To help you get started, we encourage you to consider the following steps:

1. Review the Application Requirements. Be sure to read through the checklist thoroughly. One important update to note for the 2021 application is the GRE/GMAT requirement. For more information, see this recent post.

2. Be mindful of deadlines. Our deadlines are final, so make sure you submit your materials by each respective deadline.

Program Term Early Action Fellowship Consideration Final Deadline
MIA, MPA, MPA-DP Spring 2021 Oct. 15, 2020
MIA, MPA, MPA-DP Fall 2021 (application available in Aug.) Nov. 1, 2020 Jan. 5, 2021 Feb. 5, 2021

3. Attend a Q&A session. The Admissions team is offering small-group sessions for applicants who need additional support in preparing their application materials. If you have specific questions about the process, you are encouraged to register for an upcoming session.

4. Look for funding! The best time to begin a financing strategy is now. It’s important to do this in tandem with your admissions application as many fellowships will require similar materials. Check out this database we’ve compiled.

5. Subscribe to the Admissions Blog. Our blog posts will give you tips and advice on essentially each part of the application.

Remember to allow your authentic voice to reflect in your application. We want to see your unique qualities shine through. Best of luck!

If you have any questions, email us at sipa_admission@columbia.edu.

Columbia SIPA Spring 2021 Application Now Live

We are happy to announce that our Spring 2021 application is live for our MIA, MPA, and MPA-DP programs. For the first time, we are enrolling a spring cohort for the MPA-DP program. While the application process can be quite overwhelming, here are some helpful resources to support you:

Application Deadlines

Program Term Early Action Fellowship Consideration Final Deadline
MIA, MPA, MPA-DP Spring 2021 Oct. 15, 2020
MIA, MPA, MPA-DP Fall 2021 (application available in Aug.) Nov. 1, 2020 Jan. 5, 2021 Feb. 5, 2021

Applications are due by 11:59 PM EST on their respective dates. Make sure you provide yourself ample time to submit and complete your application.

Application Requirements

For the 2021 academic year, the admissions office will be accepting applications without GRE or GMAT scores. Due to the global impact of COVID-19, applicants will be able to submit a waiver request to the admissions office. In doing so, it is crucial to note the Admissions Committee will rely more heavily on other areas of an application to determine academic preparedness. For more information on submitting a waiver, check out this blog post.

Next Steps:

We encourage you to familiarize yourself with SIPA and our application process prior to starting an application. The following resources will help answer and clarify any questions you may have.

If you are ready to begin, click here to start your application. If you have any additional questions, please contact us at sipa_admission@columbia.edu. We look forward to reviewing your application.

Roundup: Final reminders before the January 5th deadline

For those of you applying for the January 5th Fellowship Consideration deadline, you’re almost at the finish line! If you’re anxious about submitting, you may instead see the finish line coming at you. I’m here with a few final pieces of advice to help you along:

  • If you cannot submit your application by the January 5th deadline, there is also a February 5th deadline for the MIA, MPA and MPA-DP applications. Just know that January 5th includes consideration for SIPA fellowships, while February 5th is just consideration for admission to SIPA.
  • Don’t forget to make sure your letters of recommendation are submitted! You can submit your application before your letters are in, but we cannot review your application for admission if those recommendation letters are missing. Remember that we require two letters, and a third optional letter is allowed.
  • I love this student breakdown of the Video Essay, showing how four people prepared in different (but not wrong!) ways for the final part of the application. Here is a breakdown of the video essay from the Admissions perspective. Remember that the video essay is available after you submit your application and pay the application fee. I encourage you to not wait until the last minute for this, just in case you run into any technical issues.
  • Many of you have told us about being torn between policy and law school. Many SIPA students have been where you are. Read about how they thought about this big decision here.
  • Noticing that some of our SIPA students were absolutely going to Washington, D.C., after graduate school, I asked them – Why choose SIPA in New York if you want a career in D.C.? They had a lot of reasons.
  • I will never stop reminding people to make sure you wrote the correct school name in your essays, and double-check if you wrote “Colombia” or “Columbia”!

Finally, I’m going to throw it all the way back to September 2019 with advice on managing stress during the application process.

You are capable. You are smart. You got this. We look forward to reading your applications.

The Personal Statement: What We Look For

The personal statement is a common source of anxiety for applicants. We understand it can be difficult to articulate your past experiences, policy-related passions, professional goals, and how SIPA can help you achieve them in just 400 words. In this blog post, we’ll be anonymously reviewing two essays to give you some insight into how we think and hopefully help relieve some of that anxiety.

Prompt: Please elaborate on why you have chosen to apply to the MIA/MPA program. How will this program enable you to achieve your career goals? Describe your academic and research interests and career objectives.

Applicant 1:

This essay starts out with a personal anecdote about international travel. The first paragraph definitely grabs my attention, but the applicant loses me in the next paragraph by turning this into a creative writing exercise. It would have been far more effective to grab my attention with the first paragraph, and then immediately start telling me about their background, goals, and how SIPA fits into that beginning with the second paragraph. There is very limited space, so spending so much time telling a story is not the most effective.

The next two paragraphs continue to tell stories about international experiences with little substantive detail and a lot of platitudes.

Now in the fifth paragraph we finally seem to be getting somewhere. The applicant describes a professional experience, but this time they are more specific about their goals and what they accomplished.

The applicant concludes with only 3 sentences about Columbia and graduate school. This is the first time in the essay where I’m reading about how graduate school fits into their career, and it is very vague. This essay could be used for any school, and there is no detail about why this applicant wants to attend SIPA specifically.

There is also no detail about the applicant’s professional goals. The applicant simply tells us that they want to work in the foreign service. SIPA is a professional program and we want our applicants to have a clear, detailed understanding of how SIPA will benefit them in their potential career. It’s vital that applicants demonstrate that they’ve thought this through. Tell us very specifically what you want to do and what you hope to accomplish. The foreign service is very broad; the applicant does not even specify if they mean the U.S. foreign service. Tell us what region of the world or functional issue you hope to focus on and why you are passionate about it. If there are specific offices, embassies, or departments you’d want to work in, tell us that. The more detail you provide the more confident we are that you’ve thought through your path following SIPA.

Overall, this essay was not very effective because it told me almost nothing about the applicant and was not at all tailored to SIPA or even Columbia. Most importantly, the applicant does not answer the questions in the prompt.

Applicant 2:

This applicant begins their essay by stating their policy-related passion and how a degree from SIPA fits into that. This is a strong and direct opening.

In the next paragraph, the applicant explains the origin of this passion by describing the influence of their past experiences. They even briefly summarize the impacts of certain policies on this issue. They end the paragraph by stating their specific goals as it relates to this policy issue. I can sense the applicant’s passion.

By the third paragraph, the applicant is specifically articulating why SIPA is the right fit for them. The applicant mentions specific concentrations, specializations, and other aspects of the program that are unique.  This statement was clearly written for SIPA. The applicant even manages to slip in a mention of a specific professional accomplishment that is applicable to the program without simply repeating the information on their resume.

The applicant concludes with one sentence summarizing their interests and professional experience.

Overall, this essay effectively articulates the applicant’s passion for international affairs and public policy. It also answers the prompt and clearly demonstrates that the applicant has considered how SIPA fits into their goals. However, the essay is not specific about the mechanisms through which the applicant will achieve those goals. They do not describe their ideal career path with any specificity. The admissions committee does not expect that every applicant will have a perfect idea of what they want to do after SIPA, but they do want to see that you’ve thought about it and can articulate a specific potential career path. We want to ensure that you have enough of an idea to be able to spend your limited time at SIPA in the most beneficial way possible.

In short, ensure your personal statement clearly answers every question in the prompt, is specific to SIPA, and relates your personal story in a way that is relevant. Hopefully this will help you as you write (and revise!) your personal statement prior to our Fall 2020 deadlines. For more tips, we encourage you to read our other blog posts on What’s in an App: Personal Statement and How NOT to write your personal statement.

Surviving (and thriving) the Video Essay

Photo Credit

Remember: The video essay is available after you submit your application and pay the application fee.

The Video Essay component of the application process can seem terrifying, but fear not because we are here to help! At this point, you might feel both relieved at having submitted your application and tired that there’s the final final step to complete the application. We’ve been there and totally get it. It’s 100% normal!

In writing this post, we found that each of us prepared for the video essay differently, which means there is no one ‘right’ way to prepare as everyone has their own process when it comes to it. We brainstormed on what we felt worked and also what we wish we had known when we were preparing.

Here are the main steps we took to prepare for the Video Essay:

Prepare like it’s an interview…or a first date – George-Ann MIA ’20

The video essay is a conversation between yourself and the Admissions team. There’s no judgement or pressure to be uber gregarious. Instead, prepare to chat about anything from pressing current affairs issues to your favorite flavor of ice cream. Read some news articles about current affairs, write and practise some talking points about yourself, relax, and, most importantly, be yourself.

Unlike an interview, there’s no expectation for you to be fully kitted out in a suit and tie — dressing comfortably is fine. Just remember that this is an externally facing video so wear something that you’d be comfortable wearing meeting new people.

Give yourself time – Stuart MIA ’20

Remember, you can only start the video essay after completing the rest of the application, so it’s important to give yourself plenty of time prior to the application deadline. As with anything, technical issues are certainly a possibility, and you don’t want you to be stressed about missing the deadline.

One thing that all of us did early in the process was test our microphone and camera. I personally used Skype to test everything prior to even accessing the video essay, but you will also do this in Testing Mode within the video essay application. I also made sure the lighting was good and the microphone could clearly capture my voice (try to complete the essay in an area with limited background noise or use a headset). Looking and sounding my best helped improve my confidence, and I’d certainly recommend starting early as one of the best ways to make your video essay experience go smoothly.

If you do encounter technical issues, don’t panic, you’re not the only one. First, follow the steps outlined here to try to troubleshoot the issue. If that doesn’t resolve your issue, contact the admissions office immediately and they can provide further assistance.

Take It Easy – Steven MIA ’20

So, I did the exact opposite of what George-Ann said and got decked out in a suit and tie (oops) and it was completely unnecessary (still looked good, though). I got way too amped for my question and almost stumbled out the gate. If I were to do it over again I would:

  • Breathe and take a couple of seconds to read the question.
  • If it is a policy question you know well, don’t try to jam all your knowledge into the video. Just answer the question and tag on anything extra after if there’s time.
  • If it is a policy question you don’t know much about, focus more on what you have heard and what you think about it, or possible future developments of the topic.
  • If it’s question about yourself, don’t overthink it, just speak calmly and slowly. Don’t be too concerned about providing the “right” answer.

Make those 60 seconds count – Nabila MPA ’20

Yay, you’re ready to do that Video Essay! Once you’re done with Testing Mode, click the green READY button. This will give you your official prompt question. You will have 60 seconds to prepare for your answer so use those 60 seconds wisely! But, no pressure. Really. No Pressure.

When I was preparing for the video essay, the general consensus on graduate school forums is that there is no one type of question. So I figured I should think about how I can best tackle any answer that comes my way, since the questions can really range from Brexit to the ideal SIPA student. My solution was to focus on structure, structure, structure. The general framework I used is a high-level essay structure. Effectively, a clear and concise 30-second elevator pitch that answers the question.

When answering my question (Sadly, I forgot the question the moment I was done with the video essay because, adrenaline), I listed 3 points/ideas as a starting point and built it up by including examples to support those points. While I was tempted to go into a lot of details, I felt that the more ideas I had, the less clear my answers would be since 60 seconds goes by so quickly. You’d be surprised how much you can get done in 60 seconds when you need to! After that I took a deep breath to calm my nerves, and to remind myself to speak slowly, as I watched the seconds countdown to deliver the answer.

Lastly, remember there’s more to the application than your Video Essay. The video essay is just one component of the application and it provides the Admissions Committee a sense of who you are given there is no opportunity for interviews. So just remember this is not the do-or-die factor for your application.

Good luck!

Want more resources?
Click here for a walkthrough of how to access the app and what it looks like, see this post.
Click here for a post on what to expect in the Video Essay.

"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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