Archive for Admissions

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!

Application submitted! What now?

So you’ve just submitted your application and, like I was, you’re probably dreading the thought of waiting for decisions to be released. March seems so far away right now, but it will come sooner than you think! While you wait, there are several things you can do to make productive use of the time and keep your mind occupied.

1) Take a break!

First off, congratulations on finishing the application process! I know from personal experience that writing and editing numerous essays, studying for the GRE, coordinating with recommenders, and gathering all of the other required documents is a significant, and sometimes stressful, task. Take some time to celebrate your accomplishment and relax. Emerge from your GRE studying cocoon and spend time with friends, re-engage with your hobbies, and stop thinking about graduate school for at least a week or two.

2) Have a backup plan

SIPA receives thousands of impressive applications each year. Unfortunately, this inevitably means that some applicants do not receive the decision they are hoping for, and therefore its vital that you have a backup plan in case SIPA is not in the cards this year. Take this time to think about your plan in the event that you don’t get admitted. Maybe you’ll want to stay in your current job for another year and reapply, or maybe you’ll spend the summer taking an economics course to strengthen your next application. Also make sure you don’t make any major life changes until decisions are released. Please don’t quit your job and move to NYC just yet! (We love to see the enthusiasm, but really, it’s a bad idea.)

3) Plan your budget

This is a great time to plan your budget for graduate school. Take the time to apply to outside scholarships and fellowships, and explore any other means of funding. Subscribe to the SIPA Admissions blog for updates on upcoming scholarship deadlines, research outside funding on the SIPA financial aid page, and read this great blog post on budgeting by the Associate Director of Financial Aid.

4) Visit SIPA

If you’re admitted, we highly encourage you to attend our Admitted Students’ Day in April. While you wait for your decision, however, please consider visiting a class if you find yourself in the NYC area. There is simply no better way to learn more about our academic programs, meet current students, and meet a faculty member. It’s also important to get a feel for the campus and the community, something that can’t be done through online research alone. Visiting SIPA made the decision to come to SIPA easy for me. I felt that the staff and students were extremely welcoming, the faculty were impressive, and that living in NYC would be an exciting adventure. The last year and a half has proved all of that to be true.

Why I applied ‘Early Action’

I applied Early Action to SIPA, where decisions are non-binding, in November 2017 to start in Fall 2018. I applied early because, quite simply, I wanted an early decision. More than that, I applied early action because my graduate school journey started way back in 2016. I started thinking about going to grad school in early 2016, and it took me a while to decide this is what I really wanted.

Applying Early Action was the best decision for me because…

It gave me a deadline and…

SIPA’s Early Action deadline is in early November (for Fall 2020, it is November 1, 2019!), which was the earliest of all the schools I applied to. I used this deadline as an ‘early EARLY action’ in my planning and figured if I worked towards SIPA’s deadline, I would be prepared for all other schools’ deadlines. It was helpful for me because I worked backwards from the deadline to fulfill the application checklist. The checklist is also quite similar for the other schools I applied to, with the difference being the essays. This helped me gather everything I needed pretty early on, which was a huge burden off because you’re working through that checklist. Working on the essays for SIPA’s deadline also helped me articulate clearly why I wanted to go back to school and what I hoped to accomplish. This made it a lot easier to write the other essays too.

I heard back super early…

Applying early action means you get a non-binding early decision! I heard back from SIPA right after Christmas, which was a nice way to usher in the New Year. The admission e-letter plays Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” (turn that volume up!) and has falling confetti. It was basically just perfect. (That added touch made me so happy like you can’t even imagine.) (Sad story but the SIPA decision email actually went to my spam so I actually saw it two days after it was sent, but that doesn’t matter. So worth it.) And it adds to the holiday festivity. Given that you hear back around 8 weeks after you apply, and because it’s around the holiday season, I was definitely preoccupied so I didn’t have any anxiety or stress while waiting to hear back. So apply early action because no stress, no mess!

Which means I could plan the next 8 months…

Hearing back by the New Year also gave me time to plan the next 8 months leading up to SIPA. It gave me space to plan time for family, holidays, boring admin like banks and visas, and more crucially, when to leave my job. I didn’t feel stressed that I had a hundred things to do before moving, and I had time to troubleshoot problems. SIPA requires that you provide official documents once you are accepted. While some institutions have this all figured out and you only need to click a button, others have a more complicated process that requires many emails, calls and mailing paper transcripts (and things can get lost in the mail – trust me on this), for you to complete this and get the verified documents check. Lastly, I received a conditional offer for SIPA, which meant that I needed to spend some time improving on my quantitative skills (read: I had to take economics classes). Again, the 8 months gave me time to plan ahead on how to meet this requirement. But conversely, if I had not been accepted, I would have had time to apply to other/more schools, reapply or figure out an alternative.

And gave me a sense of security. 

Once I heard back from SIPA, I felt relieved. I felt strangely secure that at least someone wanted me. This gave me the confidence to apply to my remaining schools because maybe they would want me to? Probably not but maybe. This security also meant that yes, I was going to graduate school and got me very excited!

Was Early Action the right choice?

Applying to grad school made me very nervous, anxious and scared because I felt all my hopes and dreams were on the line. Applying Early Action was absolutely the best decision for me. I felt hugely relieved once I applied because it was out of my control by then. Because I’m a planner and I liked having the extra time to figure out a game plan, the early decision helped. That said, there are people who applied at the very last minute, so I think it boils down to personality and your comfort with uncertainty.

So, what you are waiting for? Apply Early Action!

The Fall 2020 Early Action Deadline is November 1, 2019.

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!

Why I Chose SIPA

I remember receiving the email on my decision like it was yesterday. I was sitting in my undergraduate institution’s computer lab, lazily scrolling through my email account, looking for a message a professor sent me earlier that week. Then I saw the subject line from SIPA Admissions; I froze for a second and then clicked on it. I had trouble remembering my account password and after a few anti-climatic minutes of picking my brain for my password, I eventually got into the system. I was greeted by streaming confetti down my screen and an audio clip of Frank Sinatra singing “New York, New York”. I had been accepted.

If I said that letter didn’t factor into my decision I would be lying! But in reality, Columbia was one of my top choices, if not my top. By the end of the admissions cycle, I was debating between two programs. One, an elite urban studies school located in the heart of one of America’s great cities. The other was SIPA. I went back and forth. I made charts and attempted to map my decision, listing pros and cons to every program and institution. I thought about how my degree would be perceived and the name recognition for both. I considered the reach of both programs alumni networks and looked over the biographies of dozens of professors I was interested in taking classes with.

After many days of deliberation, I ultimately decided on SIPA because of something I touched on in an earlier post; that is, out of all my options, SIPA seemed like it would provide the most comprehensive and interdisciplinary education I could find. Both programs are comparable in terms of reputation and both have very strong urban studies programs. However, I felt like SIPA’s ‘global’ and international curriculum provided me with more opportunities to take classes outside of my comfort zone, and to find synergies between my own areas of interest and entirely new subjects. I appreciated that the majority of my peers would be international; I knew that their perspectives in the classroom and outside would be invaluable as a future diplomat. I also liked that SIPA offered numerous opportunities to take classes at many of Columbia’s prestigious graduate schools, including the Journalism School and Teachers College. On a personal level, I relished the opportunity to attend events at these elite institutions and to be able to interact with a range of professors, like Sunil Gulati, the ex head of the U.S. Soccer Federation, to former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter. Relative to other locations, I knew that access to NYC and its immense social and cultural offerings would also further my education, and my personal growth.

When I fully realized that by attending SIPA I was really gaining access to all that Columbia offers, from its world class libraries to its world class faculty, I came to a decision very quickly. Before I accepted it officially, I played “New York, New York” once more on the acceptance letter portal just for fun and then I made one of the best decisions ever; I clicked the button to begin the enrollment process!

"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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