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More on the Application Essays

With our Early Action deadline behind us and our January 5 (deadline with fellowship consideration) and February 5 (final deadline) deadlines approaching, we’d like to provide some more information on our application essays.

For general essay tips, we recommend checking out our blog entry on writing a strong essay.

For the MIA/MPA program applications, the following essays are required:

  1. Personal Statement
  2. Describe future self to future employer, or current self to future employer
  3. Optional Essay

A quick tip on the Personal Statement

In addition to sharing your personal story, this is an opportunity to indicate a clear trajectory for your professional and personal development. This is the chance to share how SIPA can fit into your path for moving forward. We encourage you to be as detailed as possible when writing this essay.

What to include on the Future Career Essay

The purpose of this essay is to provide a space for prospective applicants to identify their professional strengths and establish a ‘personal pitch.’

Imagine writing a short cover letter to your ideal employer.

  • What skills would you want to highlight?
  • What previous experience makes you an exceptional candidate?
  • What professional qualities do you bring to the table?

More on the Optional Essay

Please keep in mind that this is an optional essay. If you feel that you do not need this additional space, then do not feel obligated to fill in this space. However, if there is something you feel you could not express in other areas of the application, please use the optional essay to share this with the Admissions Committee. This is your opportunity to highlight what makes you unique as an applicant, or to offer greater detail into a part of your application that you feel you should address. We’re looking for the whole picture on our applicants, so the more information you provide, the better.

Our SIPA community prides itself in having a diverse student population, made of a myriad of personal and professional stories. We look forward to reading your essays and learning more about YOU!

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Mathematics? Language? A resume?

Even Albert Einstein said: “Do not worry about your difficulties in Mathematics. I can assure you mine are still greater.”

Our perceptions of our skills tend to skew left, and when we think about our math ability, we reflect on our confidence, and not our actual skills.

The SIPA Admissions office understands that applicants will have varied quantitative backgrounds and skills. We have designed an application that best allows you to demonstrate your quantitative competencies through the quantitative/language resume. Here, you can highlight experiences that have strengthened your math, economics, and statistics skills.

The core curriculum at SIPA requires the completion of rigorous quantitative courses and we want to make sure applicants provide as much information as possible about their quantitative aptitude, experience, and capabilities. This can include coursework in mathematics, statistics, economics, engineering, natural or computer science, etc. as well as the use of quantitative methods in a professional environment (paid, volunteer, or intern work is acceptable).

Perhaps you have worked as an accountant, bookkeeper, or balanced budgets in your professional experiences. Perhaps you served as treasurer of a student organization or used quantitative skills in a volunteer opportunity. These are experiences that you can include in the additional resume.

Is there an ideal quantitative background SIPA is looking for in an applicant?

Recently, we’ve received many questions about what makes an ideal quantitative background for a hopeful candidate.  While SIPA does not have a rigid answer, the Admissions Committee looks for evidence of a candidate’s ability to undertake quantitative coursework at the graduate level. Most successful applicants have completed at least two courses in economics (macro and microeconomics). Applicants lacking a quantitative background are encouraged to consider enrolling in mathematics courses above all else.

While the Admissions Committee does not require that each applicant have experience in all three areas (economics, statistics, and mathematics) to be admitted, extensive coursework in these areas definitely strengthens one’s chances of gaining favorable admission consideration.

For more on quantitative questions, check out our Frequently Asked Questions pages.

 

Things I Considered When I Was A Prospective Student

Prospective students are bombarded with information about why each graduate program is the best one out there. The campus is beautiful! The flexibility in the curriculum is unmatched! The alumni connections are sure to lead to employment! While some of this information was useful, it was important for me to view all of these selling points through a filter; what would be the best program for me?

Here was the criteria I used when deciding between schools:

Size:

Size mattered in my cost-benefit analysis of each school. To me, more people means more resources means more opportunities. I had been in a small undergraduate major in college, and I saw the limitations of small. Size also meant there was all-but-guaranteed…

Diversity:

Diversity in graduate school is not just a buzzword. It the unparalleled experience of having opposing viewpoints in a classroom and engaging with people who have fundamentally different worldviews. I wanted to be in a classroom with people who valued academics and good debate, but whose backgrounds differed from my own.

Location:

The old saying goes that the three most important things in real estate are location, location, location. So too, goes for the three most important things in my graduate school hunt. As an older twenty-something, I wanted to avoid the rural campus I loved as an undergraduate, and look for a cultural center that would keep me entertained seven days a week. Access to a thriving arts scene, a vibrant nightlife, and plenty of restaurants was important to me.

Internship Opportunities:

Sure, I was excited about the academic opportunities at these various schools, but what would really differentiate them for me was how internships complemented their curriculum. In my field (journalism) internships are absolutely paramount to finding employment. I needed a school that had access to a plethora of local companies that were willing to hire graduate students. Ideally, I also wanted a school that valued the intern experience, and gave students credit for this work.

Alumni Connections:

At most institutions, a public policy graduate program is only two years. But strong alumni connections endure, and provide a critical connection to the program for years to come. They also are invaluable resources with whom one can network and learn more about various career paths. If I planned to invest in my graduate school education, it was pivotal for the school to have a strong alumni base.

 

post contributed by Danielle Schlanger, MPA Class of 2014

The words you long to hear…

The first batch of decisions went out today.

You see in your inbox that there is an email from the SIPA Admissions Office.  You open it and follow the prompts to learn your status on your application.

You sit back as you read the words, Congratulations!!! You’ve been admitted to SIPA!

A sigh of relief and now the happy yet nervous jitters comes over you.  What do you do now?  Once you have taken some time to celebrate, consider these suggestions:

Thank those who helped you: While you did the lion’s share of the work, there are others who helped with your application and probably gave you lots of encouragement and support along the way.  Show your appreciation to family, friends, recommenders, or anyone who has assisted you in the application process.

Read thoroughly any admitted student information you are sent:  In your admissions letter you will be provided with information on how to access the “new student Welcome page”.  It is through this page where you will find all the necessary information about how to prepare for life at SIPA as well as how to join the many SIPA community gatherings happening near you.  But most importantly, in the Welcome page, there are a few time sensitive actions that need to be taken if you plan to enroll at SIPA.   Missing a deadline can make a difference, and can sometimes result in you not being able to register for classes. Throughout the summer, you will also receive newsletters about upcoming events including the mandatory Orientation.

Talk to your new classmates:  You will be invited to join the new student forum, created for you. This is a way to establish communication with other admitted and current students.  Getting to know some of your future fellow classmates before you enroll is always helpful.  You may even find your future roommate and best friend through these interactions.

One of the many benefits of coming to SIPA is that you are exposed to so many people from around the world, here in New York and  wherever you decide to go afterwards.  But it begins now.  Once you are admitted, you will begin to receive invitations to meet up with current students and alumni in cities around the world, we encourage you to take advantage of this opportunity — This is an excellent way to get the students’ and alumni perspectives of SIPA.  It is also a great networking opportunity.

Schedule a campus visit: If you have not visited us before, you may want to make some time for a New York City trip.  You’ll find a number of newly admitted students boarding a plane, a bus, or a train and making their way to New York for the Admitted Students’ Day on April 8th.  Mark your calendar and come join us for the day.

You can also schedule time to sit and observe a class at SIPA (if you come before May 9) or just walk through our beautiful campus located in a major metropolitan city — It’s hard to believe it once you step foot through the iron gates.  Needless to say, if you visit us, you will definitely meet students, faculty, and staff.  You may also set up an impromptu meeting with admissions staff if you have any questions, as no appointment is needed. Directions and travel information may be found on the SIPA page.

Prepare to relocate: SIPA can help, but you will need to do a lot on your own.  Some campus housing is available, but do not wait until the last minute to inquire and apply. Campus housing is limited and priority is given to international students who are relocating from overseas.  We suggest completing the housing form as soon possible.  You may do this through the new student Welcome page.  The Office of University Housing can also provide guidance on the right neighborhoods for you to reside if you want a little more freedom and opt for the off-campus housing option.

Start working on your financial plan: Even if you are not relocating geographically, there is a lot to consider in this time-consuming process. Make sure to read all financial aid materials that you receive; especially make sure you are clear about your scholarship/ fellowship offer and if the award is for one year or two years of study.  If you need loan assistance, complete the FAFSA at www.fafsa.gov and be very careful to educate yourself about all that is involved before you sign any promissory notes (we have staff to assist you sipa_finaid@columbia.edu ). The FAFSA is for US Citizens and US Permanent Residents only so don’t complete it if you are an international student.  (See our FAFSA post.)

It may seem elementary, but it is amazing how many incoming students make false assumptions about the length of their non-loan-based financial aid. Be sure you have all the facts about tuition costs and financial aid before you enroll—you do not want any financial surprises.

Keep a list of suggestions: You will be exposed to the good and for some, not so good experiences before enrolling (at whatever school you choose). While things are fresh in your mind, make a list of suggestions and compliments to share with us before you enroll.  SIPA Admissions staff members are always looking for ways to improve our services.

Good luck with your decision and may you choose SIPA!

SIPA Decisions: What Happens If You Are Not Admitted

Each year, the admissions office receives thousands of applications for 400 spots. This means that unfortunately, we are in the difficult position of rejecting some qualified applicants who would surely add to the vitality of our community. Here are some of the reasons we did not accept applicants for this admissions cycle:

  • Not enough work experience: As we have emphasized, we really do look for applicants who have worked at least 2-3 years, preferably in a policy-related field. We have found that more experienced students are able to contribute their wealth of experience and knowledge with their classmates, which makes for a more well-rounded entering class.
  • Weak demonstration of quantitative skills: All SIPA students are required to take microeconomics, macroeconomics, and statistics as part of the school’s core curricula. Depending on one’s chosen concentration, he or she may have to take more rigorous quantitative classes. Because of this, it is critical that applicants demonstrate some proficiency or experience taking such classes.
  • Grades/GRE scores: We know that undergraduate classes may have been a long time ago, or that you didn’t have time to adequately prepare for the GRE. However, we have to take these records of your past academic achievement seriously, as they are oftentimes the best indicators of future academic success. While a low grade here and there is permissible, a smattering of poor classroom performances will force us to take pause.
  • Lack of English proficiency: We really value having a diverse student body, with roughly half of our students hailing from overseas. However, it is imperative that all of our students are able to take classes and communicate fluently in English. Oftentimes, we feel that a candidate has great credentials, but his or her English language abilities are not sufficient. This is reflected in a low TOEFL score, or poorly-written personal statement.
  • Unclear personal statement: This is arguably the most common reason we choose not to admit applicants. We regularly receive applications from great candidates who don’t seem to know quite what they want to do with their lives. This is okay! But…in order to maximize the value of a SIPA degree, we are really looking for students who are both driven and focused. Unlike one’s undergraduate years, where he or she likely had the opportunity to take classes in a host of subjects, time and space for exploration is far more limited in graduate school. We want students with concrete objectives and drive to take them where they want to go.  And we want SIPA to be the right place for you.

Again, we are sorry we can’t admit all of our wonderful applicants! We do encourage re-applying when one feels he or she is better equipped to attend, but we want to point out that there is a maximum of three times that one can apply to a specific degree program.

Unfortunately, we cannot provide immediate feedback on specifically why one’s application was not accepted (sadly our staff’s time constraints make this impossible right now).  But you are welcome to email us during the summer for specifics on how to improve your application.

Good luck!  And stay positive.

 

"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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