Archive for Admitted Students Day

Why Human Rights and Humanitarian Policy concentration is the right “fit” for Jake Sprang MIA ’19

Thanks to SIPA student Jake Sprang MIA ’19, Human Rights and Humanitarian Policy concentration, for this guest post. You can read the case for the Urban and Social Policy concentration from Dylan Hoey MPA’19 here.

When I was applying to graduate school, I focused above all on finding the right “fit.” I was looking for a school and a program that merged my interests in human rights, international development and humanitarian response. When I came to Admitted Students’ Day, I had been accepted into SIPA to study Economic and Political Development, and was torn between three different universities. By the end of the day, I knew I would be going to SIPA and that I would be studying human rights and humanitarian policy.

During Admitted Students’ Day, I had the privilege of hearing from the directors of several of the concentrations. But, when I sat down in the information session with Professor Elazar Barkan and Susannah Friedman, Directors for the Human Rights and Humanitarian Policy concentration, everything clicked. Professor Barkan told the room that, when deciding which program to study, we needed to focus on what we wanted our professional identity to be. It was at that moment, I knew that being “development professional” wasn’t what I wanted. If I wanted to work in humanitarian response, I needed to study humanitarian response. That night, I switched to humanitarian policy, accepted my offer letter, and haven’t looked back. Since I made that decision, I have constantly been validated that I made the right choice for me. While there are many reasons why I’m proud to be in the HRHP concentration, there are three that stand out above the rest.

1. Human Rights and Humanitarian Policy gives students a more cohesive analytical framework that other concentrations. In HRHP, we learn about approaching human rights and humanitarian response from a rights-based approach. Simply put, when we study humanitarian response, we start by focusing on ensuring and upholding the human rights and dignity of people affected by complex emergencies. We focus on the rights they are denied and how we as responders must work with them to ensure their rights as individuals and a community are protected throughout all phases of response. This approach is incredibly unique at SIPA. While many concentrations, especially Economic and Political Development and the MPA in Development Practice, focus on building practical skills, they do not provide the cohesive strategy for analyzing problems that will be faced in human rights careers. It’s like have a bunch of tools without a toolbox. On the other hand, the HRHP program gives students both: the tools to implement humanitarian response, and the toolbox: the analytical framework of a rights-based approach.

2. Human Rights and Humanitarian Policy is the most flexible concentration at SIPA, allowing students to customize the program to their needs. One thing I love about the human rights and humanitarian policy concentration is the fact that I can build experience in the areas that most interest me. For example, if I want to learn about Water and Sanitation in Complex Emergencies, that class is an HRHP elective, cross-listed at the Mailman School of Public Health. Or, if I want to learn about the rights of Refugees, Forced Migration, and Displacement, I can take that course through the Institute for the Study of Human Rights. I can do the same with the Law School, studying Transitional Justice, or Gender Justice. And if I want to take a non-HRHP course, I have the space in my schedule, due to the flexibility offered by the program, which has less core requirements than other concentrations. HRHP gives me the opportunity to seek out the courses that interest me and develop the practical skills that I want to obtain. The program lets me choose the tools that I want in my toolbox.

3. I want my professional identity to be firmly grounded in Human Rights and Humanitarian Policy. At the end of the day, you need to pick the SIPA concentration that fits best for you. For me, I want to identify as someone working in the humanitarian field coming with a strong grounding in human rights. Designing humanitarian response programming is vastly different from development programming. To be a humanitarian, I realized that I needed to study humanitarian response. I’ve seen the importance of this professional identity through some of my cross-listed courses, with both development and humanitarian students. My colleagues have built an amazing set of skills for analyzing and designing international development programs. However, these skills don’t quite fit with the humanitarian field. It’s like asking a plumber to fix your roof. If you want to seek a career in human rights or humanitarian response, you need to make sure that you have the right tools and toolbox for the job. You can only get those through the HRHP concentration.

In closing, I want to make a small plea. When looking at the world today, it’s clear that human rights are under attack. The foundations of the human rights order developed after the Second World War is being eroded by the rise of nationalistic regimes across the globe. While this human rights system was and remains deeply, deeply flawed, it was the only system we had to protect vulnerable people from oppression and the deprivation of their rights and dignity. On the humanitarian side, things are equally grim. Mass displacement of people, driven by conflict, climate change, natural disasters and poverty is leaving millions of people in need of humanitarian relief. With the global North becoming increasingly unwilling to act, lower and middle-income countries are largely footing the bill. The need for humanitarian relief is greater than ever, and will only grow more and more pressing.

We need future policymakers who are passionate, intelligent and dedicated to addressing these growing challenges. Pick the concentration that fits best for you, but I know that I wouldn’t feel as fulfilled studying anywhere – or anything – else.

Fall 2011 Admission Time Line and Welcome Page

The Admissions Committee continues to read/review at a fast and furious pace but we are happy to be nearing the end of the review process.  No decisions went out on Monday but our hope is to start publishing more today.  As always, check here for updates, however we cannot tell individuals when their decision will be ready to view.

I do want to provide those who have been admitted with a few reminders and give insight to those still waiting of what lies ahead in the future if you do receive an offer of admission.

First, please note that if admitted to SIPA you will be given a link to a Welcome Page in your admission letter.  The Welcome Page contains very important information regarding a variety of topics.  We have already received a large number of emails from admitted applicants with questions that are clearly answered on the Welcome Page.  We want admitted students to receive answers to questions as quickly as possible and reviewing the Welcome Page will most likely answer many questions admitted applicants might have.

For example, many applicants have emailed asking if they can interact with a current student.  The answer is yes and we make this easy by offering an internet message board that allows admitted applicants to interact with one another and with current students.   SIPA students will be on spring break from March 14th to 18th so traffic will likely be slow this week, however the board is live and waiting for admitted applicants to take advantage of.  How do you log in?  Details on are the Welcome Page.

Second, SIPA will host an Admitted Student Day on Tuesday, April 12th.  Admitted Student Day will take place on the Columbia Campus and it will be a full day event.  Professor Jeff Sachs will be giving a special talk during the lunch portion of Admitted Student Day.  How do you register?  Registration information is on the Welcome Page.  If you cannot attend, there are some resources available for those unable to attend . . . you guessed it, on the Welcome Page.

Third, May 2nd is the date by which admitted students must pay a deposit confirming enrollment for fall 2011.  The typical day is May 1st, but since May 1st falls on a Sunday we moved the response date to the next business day, Monday.

Fourth, a series of communications will be sent to admitted applicants and these messages will come from the address.  Please ensure that your email client is set to receive messages from this account.  Faculty, current students, administrators, and alumni will all be included in the communication chain.

Fifth, if you are admitted you will need to ensure that official academic transcripts and official test reports are in our office no later than June 15th.  We will work with admitted applicants to determine if official copies of these documents were already provided to us during the application process.  What address should you send them too?  The address is listed on the Welcome Page.

Last, unfortunately applicants placed on the waitlist are unable to participate in admission related activities until an admission offer is made.  More details regarding the waitlist will be published on this blog in the future.  We will begin to “work” the waitlist in April and this process will often continue into the summer.

Thank you for your attention . . . now back to Committee meetings . . .

Time Line

Now that I am into full on admission file reading mode I thought I would give a brief outline of the admission decision and enrollment time line.

First of all, not all admission decisions get sent at the same time.  In a perfect world we would like to release all decisions on the same day, however there are a number of files that take a bit longer to review and our fellowship meetings also take some time to coordinate and we do not want to hold up the release of decisions when the majority are ready to go.  Thus about 70% of decisions are sent at the same time and around 30% trickle out over time.

I know this is not ideal, but it is the way things are and I want to be honest and upfront about the process.  If your decision takes longer to receive it does not mean you did anything wrong, it just means some additional time was needed to reach a final decision.

When your decision is ready to view we will send you an email.  Paper letters for admitted candidates will follow a few weeks later, however we do not send paper copies of letters to candidates not offered admission or to candidates placed on the wait list.

The exact date that decisions will start to go out is not set yet but we hope to start very early in March. I will provide more information on the blog as time progresses so stay tuned.

Admitted candidates will be given a link to a Welcome Page with a great deal of information focused on assistance regarding the enrollment process.  For example, there will be a Message Board for admitted applicants.  The board will give admitted applicants a chance to interact with one another and with current students.

We will also be hosting an admitted student day on campus.  The date is Tuesday, April 12th and a registration link will be included in the Welcome Page.  It will be a full day event starting at 9:00 AM and concluding around 7:00 PM.

Admitted candidates will have until May 2nd to pay a deposit to reserve a seat in the fall class.  Those that pay a deposit must ensure that official copies of transcripts and test scores are submitted to SIPA no later than June 15th.  Many applicants already included our test score code when taking GRE, GMAT, and TOEFL.  Test scores are sent to a central Columbia University database and we will start to look for official reports after the deposit deadline passes.

Admitted candidates that uploaded copies of transcripts to the application site will have to have official transcripts sent to our office.  Official transcripts and test scores will become a part of your permanent academic record.

During the summer there will be a math tutorial.  The tutorial is Web based and all that is needed to participate is a computer with an Internet connection.  We encourage every admitted student to participate because getting off to a good start is key to your experience at SIPA.  Second year funding consideration is tied to first year GPA so achieving good grades in first semester quantitative courses is key.

Over the summer the blog will also play host to photo submissions from admitted candidates.  If you have great photos to share be ready to submit them and keep your camera at the ready over the next few months to capture great moments you might want to share.

Those are the major time line dates and resources to be aware of for now.  Stay tuned to the blog for more as time progresses.

Recent Questions

A few applicants have submitted inquiries regarding the application review process. Here are answers to some of the questions that have come in recently.


Does the completion date of my file impact the admission decision?

. . . or stated another way perhaps . . .

Why is my application not complete yet?

The answer to the first question is “No.” The date a file is completed has no impact on the decision process. The process of completing files in the office is time consuming and we appreciate your patience as we work quickly to make sure everything has been received so that we may forward the file to the Committee for review. If we are missing any required documents we will let you know.

So in response to the second part of that question, we are working as quickly as we can but still have several hundred applications that are waiting in printed batches to be reviewed.

When/how will I find out about my decision?

Our goal is to make decisions available in early March. We do not send out all decisions at once. As much as we would like to send all decisions at once, some files take a bit longer to review than others and we do not wait until a decision has been made on every file before starting to send decisions. When your decision is ready to view you will receive an email from our office letting you know. The email will instruct you to visit the application site to view your decision letter.

I will post updates on the process on this blog so please make sure to subscribe to the blog by entering your email into the Feedburner box in the right hand menu or add this blog to your RSS reader.  I will elaborate more on the topic of informing applicants of decisions as we draw closer to releasing decisions.

Are interviews a part of the admission process?

With thousands of applicants applying from all over the globe, it is not possible for the Admissions Committee to conduct interviews with applicants. In rare cases I may be asked to follow up with an applicant regarding a detail in their application.  This contact would come in the form of email.

Thus, after you receive an email from us noting that your file is complete, you likely will not receive another email from us regarding your file until a decision has been posted.  When the decision is posted you will receive an email indicating such.

Will there be an opportunity for admitted applicants to visit SIPA?

SIPA will host an Admitted Student Day on Tuesday, April 12th. It will be a full day event open to all applicants admitted to SIPA for the fall 2011 semester. We also have information sessions each Monday at 6:00 PM and Friday at Noon, with exceptions for holidays. If you wish to register for an information session, you may send an email to

Registration for the Admitted Student Day on April 12th will take place after admission decisions have been made. Registration for Admitted Student Day takes place on a secure Web page and admitted applicants will be given access to this page (information will be in the admission letter).

I received an email noting my file was forwarded to the Admissions Committee, but I have more information that I would like to include in my file, can I send it to you?

The application review process at SIPA is paper based. All of the required documents are placed in a file and that file then is sent to Committee members for review. Although we know what individuals are reviewing particular files, it is not possible for us to quickly track down files once they are batched and sent out for review.

As you might imagine, it would not be possible for members of our staff to try to track down a file to add additional documents as this would be incredibly time consuming. If you submitted all of the required documents and your file is complete, the Committee will have the information it needs to make a final decision.  If we feel we need more information or need to clarify information submitted we will contact you.

What size of class does SIPA plan to enroll?

The typical incoming class size for the MIA, MPA, and MPA-DP programs is around 475 students (all three programs combined).  Final enrollment goals may adjust slightly as time progresses, but at this point this is a good estimate of the number of students we will enroll for fall 2011:

  • MIA: 260 students
  • MPA: 180 students
  • MPA-DP: 35 students

Again, these numbers are estimates only and may change based upon a variety of factors the Admissions Committee takes into consideration.

How does being an international student affect my consideration for SIPA fellowships?

First let me say that fellowships at SIPA are mainly reserved for second year students. Unfortunately we are only able to offer roughly 10-15% of first year students fellowship funding. Approximately 70% of second year students that qualify to apply (by obtaining at 3.4 GPA at SIPA) receive a second year award and the average award is roughly $20,000.

Second, SIPA fellowships are not based on citizenship. We have one fellowship budget and it is used to award funding to qualified applicants, no matter the country or origin or citizenship. Therefore, citizenship has no impact on the fellowship process at SIPA.

How dry are your hands?

Okay, no one actually asked that question, but with the amount of paper I have been handling I almost feel like I have chalk sticks for fingers my skin is so dry.

Message Board and Admitted Student Day

The admitted student Message Board is now live.  Today I sent all admitted applicants an email with details and the same information is also detailed on the Welcome Page referenced in the admission letter.  Applicants who receive an admission letter going forward will be able to view the instructions for logging in to the Message Board on the Welcome Page.

I do wish to stress the importance of reading the instructions carefully prior to registering.  You will need to register and once you have, you will receive an email message with a confirmation link.  You will not be able to participate until you have checked your email and clicked on the confirmation link.  All of this is detailed in the instructions.

Also, as a reminder, admitted applicants can also register for Admitted Student Day scheduled for Tuesday, April 13th.  Information on registration is contained in Welcome Page referenced in admission letters.  Admitted Student Day is open to admitted students (we are unable to accommodate guests) and registration is required.

"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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