Archive for Application Tips – Page 2

Struggling to plan for applications? Here’s my timeline.

Applying to graduate school can be daunting especially if you have work and personal commitments that make it hard to keep track of the what feels like an endless list of documents. Speaking from personal experience, it’s very normal to feel overwhelmed, especially when stress and anxiety start creeping in. To help you plan ahead, I wanted to share with you my personal timeline that helped keep me on track throughout the application process.

As an international applicant, I don’t think the process is too different from domestic applicants. For me, the biggest challenges were finding a GRE testing centre, managing the time differences for application/Q&As, and translating and notarizing documents where needed. For more tips on international applicants, check out Yiting’s post here.

My biggest challenge in meeting the deadline was for things beyond my control.  For example, recommenders must submit their Letters of Recommendation directly, so plan ahead to avoid added stress, especially if you have other commitments at the same time.

Phase 1: Plan ahead and map out a game plan

  • Essay questions: Spend some time thinking about these essays and draft a skeleton of key points. It’s a helpful tool for you to understand why you want to go to graduate school and what you hope to get it out of it
  • Professional Resume/CV: Pull out that old, dusty resume! Reach out to friends and colleagues for samples if you want some inspiration
  • Quantitative & Language Resume/CV: Think about what skills and experiences you have that can go into this. Identify if you have gaps and think about how to plug those gaps.
  • Letters of Recommendation: Identify 2 (or 3 if you prefer) professional contacts who can help create the right narrative for you
  • Academic Transcripts: Unofficial transcripts are fine when applying, but you may still need to reach out to academic institutions and send those transcripts. This is a quick and easy win!
  • GRE/GMAT: Get those GRE/GMAT books and start studying! I personally ‘started’ (by started, I mean I bought the books…) 8 months before the deadline but only geared up 5 months before (I took the exam 3 months before the deadline). This is because I wanted to focus the last stretch on essays without the added stress of exams. As an international student, my home country had limited places and seats where I could take the test, so booking a spot early helped me plan my studying schedule accordingly. Need more tips? Check out Niara’s advice on preparing for the GRE here.
  • For TOEFL/IELTS/PTE: Even though I’m an international student, I didn’t have to fulfill this criteria as my undergraduate degree was taught in English. Based on other Seeples experiences, the timeline with TOEFL/IELTS/PTE, is similar to the GRE/GMAT. As I don’t have personal experience, I have omitted this from the timeline.

Phase 2: Execution and keeping yourself on track

  • Essay questions: Draft out those essay questions! I recommend getting feedback from 2/3 other people to help you fine tune your messaging (and to keep to the word limit!) but wouldn’t go more than that as it can get very  daunting. It took me many drafts before I was comfortable enough to get feedback. I also ended up re-writing one essay so that I could better capture my thoughts. Keep in mind this could be a long process of reiteration. It’s different for everyone!
  • Professional Resume/CV: Clean up your resume/CV, get feedback from trusted friends or colleagues, and submit! That’s two ticks down, which is a great way to keep you motivated.
  • Quantitative & Language Resume/CV: I personally struggled with this and spent a lot of time thinking about what I should include. I ended up including everything I did at school and work that had a quantitative element (even if it was minor). A sample of the resume can be found here. Write that resume and submit. (Three things done!)
  • Letters of Recommendation: Reach out to recommenders and prep them! Once recommenders accept, share this useful outline to help them plan their letters. I also shared some key points and achievements that they may want to include. This approach does differ as every recommender has their own style. But don’t assume that they don’t need a little coaching to tailor their narrative for you, prepping your recommenders is key!
  • GRE/GMAT: Book your test date and study, study, study! I took the test during this ‘phase’ and it was a huge weight off my shoulders. 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.

Phase 3: The last mile and submission! 

via GIPHY

  • Essay questions: Final round of edits and click that submit button! By this point, you might be so tired of those essays, you’re just making unnecessary (and possibly detrimental!) edits.
  • Video essay: While this may seem terrifying, it’s only 120 seconds of your life! The video essay is available only after you submit your application and pay the app fee. More details on accessing it can be found here. The questions really range and I prepped for it by thinking about how I would best structure my answers to sound more confident and coherent. My only advice is breathe, be yourself and use those 60 seconds wisely!
  • Letters of Recommendation: Help recommenders by reminding them of the deadline and offering to help them with key points or messages. When they’re ready to submit, they should check their inbox and spam folders so that they don’t miss the link SIPA sends them. They will use this link to log in to the application system and submit their letter on your behalf. If they have issues with the online submission, they can contact sipa_admission@columbia.edu. Please remember that all letters should be on letterhead, signed and in English (or accompanied by certified translations). An applicant does not need to wait for recommenders to submit their information prior to submitting the application. There is no problem with an application being submitted before all of the recommendations have been submitted. The opposite is true as well – there is no problem with a recommender submitting a letter before the application is submitted
  • GRE/GMAT: If you’re still crunching for the GRE, that’s okay! You only need to submit self-reported test scores with the application by the deadline, so that helps ease the burden. Scores must be verified after admission to the program, but before your scores expire.

Phew… that was a lot to digest but hopefully this helps. Everyone has their own journey and process when it comes to applying for graduate school so don’t be terrified if yours is different! Find your sweet spot but most importantly, plan ahead so that it doesn’t overwhelm you.

Good luck!

So many concentrations, so little time

An alum once told me that the best and worst thing about being at SIPA is the amount of choice we have. Those words could not ring truer today. Seeples are spoilt for choice when it comes to courses on offer, even more so when we have the opportunity to cross-register (in layman terms: take classes from other Columbia University schools).

It’s easy and tempting to want to do everything, but that quickly becomes overwhelming when you’re trying to juggle school, internship/work, student organization, school events, sleep and wellness, and having a social life.

When I first came to SIPA, I had no idea what my graduate school game plan was – what skills did I want to develop, what classes I wanted to take, what knowledge I wanted to get which would help me towards a meaningful career after graduation. I did the safe thing and opted for core classes in the first semester to buy myself some time. While you’re not locked into your concentration when you’re at school, it helps to have a clear idea of what direction you want to head in. Here are three tips to help you find what concentration/specialization works for you:

#1 Figure out your area of interest and choose a concentration that caters to it

AKA, why do you want to go to graduate school. By now, you may already be in the early stages of your personal statement, which has hopefully helped you think about what drives you and what your career goals are. There are six concentrations for both MIA & MPA degrees and each curricula has a different subject matter and focus. The focus of each concentration is quite self-explanatory as they are rather distinct – economic development, energy, human rights, international finance, international security, and urban & social policy.

Choosing a concentration does not restrict you from taking classes that might relate to other concentrations. Rather, it serves as a starting point to help you focus/tailor your graduate school academic life. One of the biggest concentrations is Economic and Political Development (EPD), which I belong to. I chose EPD (and stuck to it) because of the breadth of courses and the focus on development and emerging markets. As I hope to return to Southeast Asia, this emphasis on the developing world is important for me.

#2 Identify your specific interest or leverage your professional background to specialize

Choosing a specialization is SIPA’s way of helping you further focus your degree. Most people have one specialization but some do have two specializations, because why not. Specializations require less credits to fulfill the criteria compared to concentrations. But don’t fret because you only need one to graduate. If you’re unsure of how to choose, go with your gut because SIPA offers flexibility in changing your specialization. Management is a popular specialization because it offers a wide range of flexibility, especially if you’re looking to take classes outside SIPA. Some Seeples also specialize in a region. Some specializations such as Technology, Media and Communications (TMAC) are still broad and offer more breadth and further focus such as cybersecurity.

The tl;dr version is don’t stress because there is a lot of flexibility to explore and choose your specialization if you’re admitted. It might be more helpful to think about what geographic coverage you might prefer.

#3 Recognizing how much flexibility you want to pursue electives

Every concentration has different requirements and the amount of credits you need to take to fulfill that requirement. Concentrations such as EPD, Energy and Environment (EE) and the International Finance and Economic Policy (IFEP) may have more core requirements compared to others. This might limit your ability to take more electives and classes outside of SIPA, if that is what you are looking for, or if you’re not keen to take full 18 credit semesters. Some requirements may also be challenging to fulfill. For example, EPD has a second language requirement and language courses can be 4/5 credits. This might limit the number of electives you can take per semester if you are required to take language classes and cannot test out. Similarly, IFEP is a more quant-heavy concentration which requires satisfying more advanced economics and quantitative courses.

Think about the trade-offs of what experience you are looking for out of graduate school and how much flexibility you require for your own well-being.

Start early! Four things applicants should do now

The 2020 application is open, and we encourage all applicants to get an early start! While the deadlines for regular consideration are not until January 5, 2020 (for fellowship consideration) and February 5, 2020 (no fellowship consideration), applicants who apply by November 1, 2019 will receive early action consideration. Spring applicants have until October 15, 2019.

Whichever deadline you’re shooting for, starting now will make the application process much smoother.

Here are the first four things you should do:

  1. Create a checklist

As you research your graduate school options, it’s important to consolidate all of the application requirements and deadlines into a checklist to keep you on track. I used a simple Excel spreadsheet to track my progress on each of SIPA’s application requirements and assigned myself a deadline to complete each of them. It can also be helpful to share your goals with a friend or family member who can help keep you accountable.

  1. Schedule the GRE/GMAT

Schedule your exam date now! I scheduled my GRE as soon as I started studying and it really helped motivate me to stay on track with my study plan (especially with the prospect of the $205 test fee going to waste). I also recommend taking the exam as early as possible so that you have time to retake it if you are not satisfied with your score the first time. SIPA will consider your highest scores.

  1. Contact potential recommenders

Begin contacting potential recommenders now to give them plenty of time to write a strong letter of recommendation. SIPA requires two letters for the MIA/MPA application, but applicants can submit up to three letters. It is a good idea to have 3-4 recommenders in mind just in case something falls through with one.

  1. Start drafting your personal statement

The personal statement is a vital part of your application because it tells the Admissions Committee how your past experiences prepare you to succeed at SIPA and how you plan to have an impact after graduation. Starting this early allows you to carefully research the academic and extracurricular opportunities available at SIPA so that you can articulate specifically why you are a good fit for the program. You’ll also definitely want time to have a friend or mentor review your personal statement. They can help you spot grammatical errors, and they also may have a great suggestion for something you should include about yourself.

Taking these four steps now will give you a great head start on the application. We wish you the best of luck as you complete your application!

Ten Tips on Managing Stress During the Application Process

Thanks to Melanie Pagan, Assistant Dean for Student Affairs and Wellness at the Office of Student Affairs (OSA) at SIPA, for this post in response to Patricia H. Dean Pagan earned her MSEd in Higher Education Administration at Baruch College’s School of Public and International Affairs and has more than 10 years of experience in higher education supporting undergraduate and graduate students at various institutions including Yale University, Connecticut College and Columbia University. Her pronouns are she/her/hers.

Submit your idea for a blog post here.

Applying to graduate school can be as stressful as much as it is exciting. It’s normal for one to experience anxiety at some point of the process but there are ways to manage that stress while (and after) you apply. Here are my ten tips on how to stay relaxed, productive, and positive during the application process.

Tip #1: Start Early!

Graduate school applications can be quite involved. At SIPA, application requirements include a personal statement, letters of recommendation, official transcripts, the GRE/GMAT or TOEFL, and a video essay. Each of these requirements can take some time to complete so starting early can not only help you feel less stressed, but it will allow for any potential bumps in the road that could derail the process.

Tip #2: Get organized.

In addition to starting early, getting organized is key to managing anxiety while applying. Regardless of how many programs you are applying to, there is a lot of information to keep track of. Whether you use pen and paper or digital organization system, my suggestion is to create a grid with each school, their requirements and deadlines. When I applied to master’s programs, I used a notebook where I created a grid with each school’s application components and checked off things as I completed them. I also added deadlines to my calendar on my phone and set reminders for a week and a day before a deadline.

Tip #3: Take Breaks.

Although it may be tempting to spend all your time on your application or power through it due to time restraints, it’s important to take breaks for yourself (and for your application). Rest your eyes of the blue light from your computer screen. Step away from your writing for a bit. This allows you to come back with a fresh perspective. Your best work comes from your best self and taking a break helps. Take a walk, listen to music, dance at home, have dinner with a friend, watch an episode (not the entire series) of your favorite show.

Tip #4: Sleep, Eat, and Stay Active!

When we are stressed, we sometimes neglect the things that our body and mind need like drinking water, sleeping well, eating well, and staying active. In addition to taking breaks, it is important that you participate and maintain healthy habits. Unhealthy behaviors like sleep deprivation, remaining inactive for days at a time and drinking a lot of coffee can lead to burnout, forgetfulness, and loss of creativity.

Tip #5: Seek Support from Friends and Family.

Talk to your support system. Whether is it a friend, a coworker or a family member. Let them know if you feel overwhelmed or stressed. They’ve supported you through other stressful times and they will do so again.

Tip #6: Talk to a Counselor, Advisor or Mentor.

Talking to a professional counselor, trusted advisor or mentor can also be helpful, especially if you do not have someone in your support system who has gone through the graduate school application process. Talk to your therapist, reach out to mentor at work or a college advisor from your undergraduate studies. They can help you with any anxiety that you are experiencing and can share with you any advice they might have.

Tip #7: Limit the Amount of People You Have Look at Your Application.

It’s important to reach out to people you trust to look over your application. They can help you with writing edits, studying for the GRE/GMAT and/or TOEFL/IELTS/PTE or give you feedback on your video essay. However, try to limit how many people you have look over your essays, especially as you are making final edits. It can cause unnecessary stress and lead you to feel overwhelmed right as you are getting ready to hit submit. Additionally, if you have found a GRE or TOEFL study course/books that work well for you, do not look into new programs or testing techniques right before you take the exam. Stick to what you know works and go into the exam room with confidence.

Tip #8: Keep Yourself Occupied While You Wait.

Once you have submitted your application, find ways to keep your mind occupied as you wait for a decision. This was especially important for me when I submitted my graduate school applications. I reached out to friends I hadn’t seen in a while and attended events I had to skip while studying for the GRE. I also started going to the gym more which helped tremendously as endorphins help you feel happy and stay positive.

Tip #9: Resist the Temptation to Constantly Check Your Email (or call the Admission Office)

It is so easy to constantly check your email, especially now that our inbox is literally at out fingertips. One way to help with the temptation of constantly checking your email is to disable email notifications on your phone. This is a general tip I give to anyone trying to have a better work-life balance, but it is also helpful during the waiting period. Admissions offices will mostly likely not email you after business hours, so limit checking your email to that time frame and turn off the notifications that make you run to your phone with every “ping” you hear. This also goes for constantly checking graduate school forums or calling the admissions office repeatedly. Be patient. The admissions office will reach out in due time.

Tip #10: Most Importantly, Remain Positive!

You are smart, capable, and have so much to offer. You will find the right graduate school match and you will go on to be successful in whichever program you pursue. If you shift your thoughts towards gratitude, you will be in a better mood through out the day and sleep better. Stay positive. You got this.

3 Tips for Adjusting to the Grad School Grind

Thanks to Hon W. for submitting this blog topic. Submit your idea for a blog post here.

The average age of a SIPA student is 27, which means most of us have had at least a few years of work experience before starting school. While we made the decision to go back to school for our Master’s, there’s little that can prepare you for going back to school.  There are some students who make the adjustment from work-life to school-life seamlessly. There are others, like myself, who found it a bit challenging.

When you’re working you have deadlines and short-term projects, and you don’t always have to work on the weekends or past 5 PM. But when you get to SIPA, you are running a marathon. You have to make it through midterms and finals, and you may have to study on weekends or until 11 PM (this depends on the diligence of the student). So naturally, when you’ve been out of academia for a minute, the adjustment back into it can be hard to grapple with.

Here are my top three tips for those thinking about applying to, or arriving at SIPA from the working world.

  1. Be prepared to play the long game and train yourself to study again. School is hard, and it’s okay to admit that. It’s important to be honest when you need help, and to seek assistance. Professors don’t want you to be overloaded to a breaking point, so if you’re feeling overwhelmed I recommend you communicate that to them. Generally, they’ll work with you to find a solution. Also, make an effort to train yourself to study again. As one professor said to me my first week at SIPA, “If you’re reading every line of the assigned readings, you’re doing it wrong.” Remember this, because there is no way you can do 600 pages of reading a week with everything going on. To strike a balance, I recommend forming study groups, or reading groups with classmates to divide up the work. This really helps if you’re taking a reading intensive course such as “War, Peace, and Strategy” (get ready, all those ISPers out there).
  2. Make a schedule similar to that of the one you maintained when you were at work. A lot of fellow classmates told me one way they adjusted to school-life was by making a schedule that mirrored the one they had prior to SIPA. They stuck to working hours from 9AM-6PM, and this included classes, recitations, and study/homework hours. This helped them think of school like work, and therefore, they were able to maintain a healthy work-life balance. I failed to do this my first semester and wish I had, because I think it would have forced me in to a school=work mentality that I just didn’t come into grad school with.
  3. Cut yourself a break, and make sure to factor in “Me Time.” Taking time for yourself is important in preventing burnout. Plan time for you to workout at Dodge Fitness Center (or another gym), carve out time to not work on at least one day during the week (for me it was Saturday), or simply make time to go see New York. Getting out of the SIPA bubble is beneficial for a student’s mental health, and can really help put things in perspective. It’s also a great way to connect with fellow classmates outside the classroom.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of things a student coming back in to academia can do to adjust, but these are the main ones I think a lot of us talk about most. Finally, everyone reacts differently to re-entering academia, but we all come out the other end with a Master’s degree and a boatload of experiences. Now that I find myself back in the working world, I feel I have the necessary toolset I need to get to that next level — one that wouldn’t have been possible unless I went back to academia and to SIPA.

"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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