Archive for SIPA

SIPA, I choose you!

Choosing the right graduate school is no easy feat. There are so many factors to consider that you end up going round in circles trying to prioritize A over B. Drawn a decision matrix? Pros and cons list? I’ve been there and totally feel your pain.

It’s especially hard when trying to make a decision blindly without knowing anyone who’s been there or if you’re like me, without even knowing or understanding U.S. higher education systems and what you should be looking for. I thought a lot about what experience I wanted at graduate school and most importantly, what I wanted to get out of it when I was deciding between schools.

Here were my 4 reasons for choosing SIPA from an outside perspective. These reasons are why I am now proud to call myself a Seeple:

#1 A student body with incredible diversity

The profile of students at SIPA is diverse, more so than most graduate programs. Diversity of thought, nationality and people was very important to me as I wanted to learn and meet people with different perspectives and experiences. As an MPA candidate, the citizenship of students is typically 60-70% international, which to me, indicated a diverse group of students. Other programs at SIPA also have a good range of diversity.

#2 A school with a global perspective

My long-term career goal is to move back to Southeast Asia which is why it was important for me to choose a school that had a global perspective. That said, I also choose to study in the US which is why it was important that the school had the right balance of both international and domestic courses and approaches. I was looking for a truly international setting from people to curriculum, and for courses to have an important global angle.

#3 A curriculum with hundreds of topics (that includes technology policy)

The course offerings at SIPA are extensive and covers almost any topic you might be interested in from an international and domestic perspective. This is great for people like me who is still undecided about a specific career path as breadth of classes can help me narrow down my options. Also, I was (and still am!) specifically looking to pursue more technology focused classes so the Technology, Media and Communications specialization really resonated with me. This focus on technology and technology policy was less evident in other schools.

#4 A location with unparalleled opportunities 

It’s undeniable that there is nowhere else like New York City as it really is where the world connects. Before moving to New York, I thought the claims that there’s nowhere like New York were overrated but having lived here for over a year now, it’s a hundred percent true. The city is constantly buzzing with activity – from career opportunities and networking events, to the latest Broadway shows and incredible food. The city has something for everyone and as a graduate student, I wanted to push myself and be open to new ideas and experiences, be it academic or social.

Most importantly, I would suggest thinking about the reasons that you’re going to graduate school and what you want to get out of it to help you choose the right school for you!

Five Things to Know About New York If You’ve Never Been Here

Note from Admissions: When Nabila, who is from Kuala Lumpur, told me that her first time in New York City was also her first day as a SIPA student, I was stunned. She wrote this about NYC in the fall semester. I was saving it for today, April Fools’. As someone born in New York, Nabila’s thoughts on this city made me laugh. She captures what I love about NYC with honesty.

Now that COVID-19 is impacting our city and community so hard, reading her words make me want to laugh and cry! I’m worried for my city – I think we all are – and this post lets me take a moment to appreciate the people who make up the heart of this city.

I hope this brings a little lightness to your day like it did for me, and that it lets you appreciate the people who are going out to keep everything running, as well as the people staying in to make it safer for everyone.

— Emily Tao, Admissions


Before starting school at SIPA, the only time I had been to New York was a 12-hour day trip from Washington, D.C. where I arrived way too early — so early that no tourist sites were open (pro tip: the Empire State building opens at 8am). I spent about half my time in Central Park (don’t laugh but that park is b-e-a-utiful). My knowledge of New York was based solely on television shows and movies — though I doubt that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the best benchmark of the city since it just kept getting destroyed. Looking at you Avengers!

I took the leap to come to New York because, well, it’s New York, and because SIPA is my dream school. I thought I knew everything I needed to know about SIPA and the city, so I didn’t bother joining any virtual sessions or doing any due diligence. Once I got here, I realized I was grossly unprepared to live in this city and that initial shock took some time to adjust myself to.

To help you not be me, here are five things you need to know about New York if you’ve never been here*:
*Actual New Yorkers may fight me on this 🙂 

#1 No, it’s not like Friends, Sex and the City or Gossip Girl
Sadly, your friends will most likely not be your neighbor (maybe, but really – no). If you’re lucky, they might live a 15-minute walk from you which is basically the same thing as being neighbors. Why?

Rent. People have very different budgets and that budget will take people all over the city. Life can be glamorous — hanging out in Lehman Library, sharing snacks from all over the world is glamorous — just not the way that TV does glamour. Having lunch on the steps at the Met? Definitely not. Everyone has very busy schedules and graduate students, I would argue, have 30-hour days. I have friends who juggle internships, part-time jobs, full 18-credit semesters and a thriving social life. Yes, they’re superhuman. Scheduling time to catch-up is a real thing and is really no different elsewhere, with the biggest difference being time taken thanks to public transport. Which brings me to…

#2 Everyone has a love/hate relationship with the subway 
When I first got here, I hated the subway because it’s confusing and always delayed and just so unpredictable.

“Why are some stations not connected for uptown/downtown? Why are there so many people here? I need to leave this station and walk to another ‘connecting’ station? Where can I find train time info? Where is that smell coming from? The B/C is delayed AGAIN? 15 minutes later and still no train. So much for being on time…”

Do I exaggerate? I think not. Ask anyone who lives here. ANYONE. After a year in the City, I still hate the subway but I hate it a lot less. I hate a lot less to the point that maybe I actually do quite like the subway? After visiting some other cities in the U.S. (Bay Area, I’m looking at you) the subway is definitely an old, rusty, sometimes smelly, game changer, and I would rather have it than not have it at all. Pro tip though, trust an actual New Yorker over Google Maps any day because they know the best way to game the system.

#3 The Empire State Building is really not that tall
If you’ve lived or visited any major city in Asia, be prepared to be underwhelmed by the skyscrapers here. Yes, New York has a lot of tall buildings, and yes they are clustered very closely together but compared to many major cities in Asia, the buildings don’t feel exceptionally tall. For reference, here’s a condensed (and selected) list of tallest buildings (excludes the UAE…) :

Shanghai Tower: 2,073 feet
Ping An Finance Center: 1.965 feet
One World Trade Center: 1,776 feet
Taipei 101: 1,667 feet
Petronas Twin Towers: 1,483 feet
Empire State Building: 1,454 feet

That said, the New York skyline is breathtaking an unbeatable and you will very likely travel far distances to get a glimpse of it. Don’t believe me? Google ‘best places to view the NYC skyline’ and I’m sure hundreds of results will show up, one of which is this link. What makes the skyline special is just the sheer number of buildings and the surrounding rivers that somehow reflect the sun at just the perfect angle.

#4 There is a never-ending list of things to do
New York is busy. Busy in the best way that word can be used to describe anything. There is always, and I mean always, something to do here. And what’s even better is that there is something for everyone. Literally. If you have a niche interest, do a quick search and you’ll find like-minded folks.

Interested in the arts, theater and culture? Broadway, museums, art shows. Interested in festivals? There are plenty in Central Park and Brooklyn in the summer. Sports? Yep, never-ending options. Parties? Indoors and outdoors. Glamping? Try Governor’s Island.

You’ll never hear any Seeple complain that they’re bored or have too much time in this city. Even SIPA has an endless list of events – from panels and networking sessions to student organisation socials and brunch. There is no such thing as being bored. Personally, I’m a huge foodie so I often travel outside of the SIPA bubble (the trek is real), to explore and find new places to eat. My all-time favorite place though is Central Park, there really is nowhere else quite like it.

That said, this also means that New York can get very crowded, depending on where and when. This might be the only city in the world where there are endless tourists regardless of season, rain or shine, winter or summer. Pro tip: Avoid Times Square because it is truly the worst place and is tourist central. Do it once, but don’t do it again. In fact, if you plan on having visitors, wait to go with them so you only need to go once.

#5 Re-adjust your understanding of time and distance 
When I first moved here, a friend from home gave me the helpful advice that 30 minutes is close after I complained that it took me 20-25 minutes on the C train to Midtown. You heard it here first. THIRTY MINUTES IS CLOSE. I thought she was mad. But now I get it. It took me a while but eventually I understood what she meant. 30 minutes is close and totally manageable in this city because you need to travel that distance to get anywhere, to see anything and to actually explore and enjoy the city. So the next time someone says they live all the way downtown, don’t freak out. Instead, embrace the opportunity to explore a new area and plan your trip so you can go with friends or watch some Netflix on your commute. I promise, that 30+ minute trip will be worth it!

BONUS!!! #6 That grad school life in New York City 
There is nowhere else you should do grad school but New York. Trust me on this. I visited other schools since I’ve been here and really, I couldn’t imagine not being in this city and what it has to offer especially as a grad student. Because New York is such a hub, we have an abundant amount of job prospects and opportunities. In the City (and beyond SIPA), there are plenty of panels, talks, coffee chats, meets up and networking sessions all year round. There are also plenty of opportunities to work part-time (could lead to that dream job! Or maybe supplement income!) and also meet people from different backgrounds. And this ranges from public to private sector opportunities because NYC has the UN but it also has Wall Street so really, NYC is as diverse as it can be. Whatever you’re looking for, this city has it all because New York is always THE stop on people’s list to visit/host an event/find opportunities. Also, there’s that saying that you should live in NYC at least once when you’re in your 20s, so you know you have to do it!

Lastly, you might get to New York and feel completely underwhelmed like me but rest assured that it only gets better from there on out. Don’t trust me, check out the 101 things to love about New York City here.

New York, I love you 3000.

Experiential Learning at SIPA

The objective of the Master of International Affairs (MIA) program at SIPA is to ensure “students acquire the substantive knowledge, practical skills, and real-world experience to address the big issues of international affairs.” But how does that work in practice? What kinds of experiential learning opportunities does SIPA provide to truly immerse students in international affairs?

First off, I’ll dispense with the most well-known factor. New York City is incredibly diverse and is home to numerous organizations that play vital roles in international affairs and public policy. SIPA students have countless opportunities to interact with these organizations via internships, guest speakers, conferences, site visits, and career panels. Not to mention that at SIPA you’ll be surrounded by classmates from over 100 countries and will gain immeasurably from those diverse perspectives in the classroom.

Beyond that, here are 4 less well-known experiential learning opportunities at SIPA:

  1. Global Immersion Courses

Just this year, SIPA inaugurated a new series of Global Immersion Courses that will enhance the MIA curriculum by providing students the opportunity to explore vital global policy issues firsthand. The first course in this program was titled Beyond the ‘Refugee Crisis’: Refugees in Turkey and Global Public Policy. Students in the course spent 10 days in Turkey taking classes on refugee policy and meeting with policymakers, journalists, multilateral organizations, and refugees. Upon returning to NYC, the course met four additional times during the Spring 2020 semester to further study the issues the students experienced firsthand in Turkey.

SIPA plans to offer additional courses in this innovative format covering additional issues and regions of interest to students. You can read more about SIPA students’ experience in this course here.

  1. Treks

Treks are student-organized trips to various countries that generally occur during the winter or spring breaks. These trips often include a mix of sightseeing as well as meetings with policymakers and business leaders. Past treks have included Korea, China, Taiwan, Israel, Japan, Singapore, Palestine, and Peru. There are even some domestic treks to explore certain industries or policy issues, such as the energy trek to Houston and San Francisco.

Treks have provided SIPA students with enormously valuable firsthand experience with pressing global issues. Amira Dhalla (MPA ’20) had this to say about her experience:

“Attending PalTrek was life-changing and moving. I am beyond thankful to the deeply connected and committed group of students from SIPA who opened their ears and hearts to those in Palestine while engaging and learning among eight days of nonstop events. While in the West Bank we discussed pressing human rights issues, practiced heartfelt allyship for communities, experienced a wondrous culture, and witnessed relentless resilience. All of which would never have been possible within the constraints of a classroom.”

  1. Capstone Workshops

The capstone workshop is a key part of the core curriculum for the MIA, MIA, and MPA-ESP. These workshops provide students the opportunity to immerse themselves in a consulting project for an external client. Some workshops provide opportunities for domestic or international travel to meet with clients or conduct research. Clients have included US and foreign government agencies, New York City government offices, the United Nations, the World Bank, think tanks, non-profits, and private sector companies. This semester, for example, SIPA students are researching sovereign liabilities for JP Morgan, advising NYC Cyber Command on responding to cyber incidents, and evaluating cash transfer programming for Mercy Corps. Check out more about capstone workshops here.

  1. Language Circles

If you’re looking for a way to practice your language skills outside of the classroom, many of Columbia’s language programs offer informal language circles to practice conversation. These voluntary, informal meetings are meant to facilitate speaking practice for students at all levels of the language. The Middle East Institute, for example, hosts a weekly Arabic language circle, and the French department offers weekly sessions of their Café Conversation program. Even if you aren’t taking formal language courses while at SIPA, these discussions can be a great way to connect with the community and immerse yourself in the language.

Top 3 Resources for Getting Through Social Distancing

Among the many messages you may be getting from friends and family (some real and some annoying WhatsApp forwards that are clearly fake), it can be quite hard to take care of yourself. Because we’re all checking emails and the news (and Admissions emails!) for updates, we thought we would provide you with some things to get you through the self-quarantines and the social distancing.  

  1. Exercise and Self-Care Apps

The Nike Training Club offers some free at-home workouts that you can do with body weight or resistance bands. If you like working out with others, try video calling a friend to do the same workout (or if you’re like me, do a work out with your mom!)

During this time Headspace, a meditation facilitation app, is offering free sessions under the title “Weathering the Storm.” For those of you who need to relax but need some guidance, this might be a good way to get started on relaxing and going to your happy place through peaceful meditation.

The Blogilates YouTube channel has plenty of strength and high intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts (including a newly released Quarantine Workout Calendar…. bless). Come out of quarantine snatched or just ensure that your health doesn’t suffer from eating all your social distancing snacks within the first three hours of the first day.

Also, take time out to twerk. Dancing gets your heart rate up and makes you joyful. 

Disclaimer: Any product mentions are not endorsements, but only sharing some alternatives to the endless hours of Netflix binge-watching!

  1. Preparing for Graduate School

Now is a great time to prepare for your exciting time in the Fall. While there are many uncertainties right now, you should be excited about the prospect of next semester at SIPA! A lot of you have questions regarding your visa status as you decide to pursue graduate school at SIPA. All of your questions should be directed to Columbia’s Office of International Students and Scholars. They have updated information on the current health situation and should have resources to answer your questions during this challenging time.

  1. Have a Virtual Party!

This is definitely a strange time we live in, but we shouldn’t cease our social interactions. Students across the world are throwing virtual happy hours, dinner parties, lunch sessions, calling each other, and making a concerted effort to stay in touch. Every day I make it a point to call two friends to check in and say hello. While a lot of us are still working remotely, cutting out the commute time really leaves us with some extra time to make sure we’re getting our fill of social interaction. Check in on your extrovert (and all other) friends!

To Dual-Degree with an MBA or not? MBA vs. MIA/MPA with IFEP

For the people wanting to steer their careers toward economics and finance, a huge question appears very often…..Should I get an MBA?

Then, for those wanting to steer their careers toward economics and finance AND applying to SIPA, a similar question appears……Should I get an MBA OR an MIA/MPA and concentrate in IFEP?

Now while I can’t make the decision for you on which degree to pursue, I can walk you through how I and a fellow SIPA classmate, Laila Fouad went about our decision to get a MIA/MPA in IFEP instead of an MBA. We’ll also be joined by another SIPA classmate, Leslie Conner-Warren who is also a dual degree MIA/MBA student.

Did you want to go business school and if so, why?

Steven: For me, foreign affairs/diplomacy/global policy have been fields that I have wanted to build a career in so that put automatically put my mind towards an international affairs school. I did think about going to business school but only for a couple of days. The idea of an MBA never really interested me. The material that was covered in an MBA program is useful and definitely interesting but I wanted to learn some of that but apply it in a policy context and learn more political economy.

Laila: Even though I had worked in a more corporate field before, I was never interested in getting an MBA. I wanted a degree that had a solid academic and theoretical aspect, as well as practical implications. At the same time, I was more interested in policy and world affairs, since that is more closely linked to what I want to do after graduation. I also wanted more focus on economics and analytical skills, and so thought the MPA was a better choice.

Leslie: I actually didn’t start out as a dual degree student. During my first year at SIPA I grew an interest in the technology industry, especially in tech policy, and I thought an MBA would be a beneficial added perspective in pursuing that as a career after SIPA. I applied to CBS during my second semester at SIPA, and completed my first semester at CBS this fall.

How is business school different from SIPA?

Leslie: There are lots of differences, and pros and cons between the two. Firstly, I think the business school core curriculum is very structured. At SIPA, you are able to choose which courses fulfill certain core requirements, but at CBS there is just one course per core requirement, although the topics are similar between the two. I think for those interested more in the policy making side, the SIPA Economics core would serve you better, but for those interested in the more technical business skills the Finance and Accounting courses at CBS are very beneficial. Socially, the MBA program is structured more around “clusters” which are cohorts, whereas at SIPA the social scene is more structured around student organizations.

Why SIPA?

Steven: Being a native New Yorker, I always wanted to come back home. I also wanted to improve my economic analysis skills while have the flexibility to pursue courses in other areas such as security and energy. Along with this, SIPA has a good balance of coursework that focuses on hard skills and other coursework that focuses on soft skills. Also, I had heard great feedback about the alumni network and the students here and wanted to be a part of that. With all of this combined, I had to choose SIPA.

Leslie: For me, growing up attending little Model UN conferences in a small state, this was exactly how I pictured what I wanted from my education. A school where you can learn about and from people from every corner of the globe has been an absolute gift in my life.

Laila: SIPA provides a good balance of theoretical and practical. At the same time, the course offering is so diverse that you can tailor your degree any way you like. I have been able to take a good balance of advanced economics and quantitative courses, as well as more applied courses in financial policy or emerging markets. The faculty is also excellent, and was a motivating factor behind choosing SIPA at the end.

What do you believe an MIA/MPA degree can give you that an MBA can’t or vice versa?

Steven: I believe it that a MIA/MPA degree gives me more flexibility in terms of being able to go into private or public industry.  This is not to say that one can’t go into public with a MBA but for me, there was no desire for me to get an MBA. I wanted to get a deeper understanding of policy and SIPA was a better fit for me for that.

Leslie: SIPA offers an incredible opportunity to examine the issues of any industry or public policy field in a completely unique way. In my business courses, I am often able to contribute perspectives from the political and regulatory sphere to our discussions, and many of my MBA classmates want to join the discussions and student group events at SIPA for this reason.

Laila: More focus on the public sector and policy sphere. I also think courses at SIPA help you understand the key concepts behind some of the world’s most pressing economic, financial, and institutional issues, whereas an MBA would more likely take them at face value.

Any regrets?

Steven: No, I’m happy with the choice I made. I got a good balance of policy and business skills such as fundamental accounting, corporate finance and budgeting. If there is any other business skills I want to learn, I can always go to Lynda. In terms of SIPA, I would’ve taken some more time in my first semester trying to plan classes but everything worked out fine.

Leslie: Absolutely not! The dual degree is a great way to get two perspectives and double the number of interesting people you can meet at Columbia. An extra year felt like a huge mental barrier for me in the beginning, but I know it will be worth it in the long run.

Laila: Not planning out my courses from Day 1! I had a general idea of what I wanted to take and figured it out at the beginning of each semester. Totally fine, but a more comprehensive plan from the beginning may have given me better direction. Also, more networking!

Look, if you are a prospective applicant of SIPA and you still can’t make a choice, feel free to call or drop by the Admissions office and talk to a current student or Admissions Officer.

Y no te preocupes (and don’t worry), if you decide that you want both an MPA/MIA and a MBA, you can also apply for a SIPA/Business School dual degree. For more information, you can take a look at the website here.

"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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