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Studying International Security Policy at SIPA

Nabila recently provided some great advice on choosing your concentration at SIPA.  When I applied, there was no question that I was going to concentrate in International Security Policy (ISP). I was leaving the Army and was interested in continuing to work in the national security space, so it was a natural fit. But I suspect many of you have a wider range of interests or are interested in potentially pivoting to a new career path, and in those cases it’s so important to get a feel for the curriculum and culture of each concentration so that you can find your best fit.

I’m going to hopefully assist in that regard by giving you an overview of the ISP concentration and also dispel some pervasive myths and stereotypes.

Doesn’t everyone in ISP have military or government experience? Will I fit in?

The most common myth is that everyone in ISP is a veteran or someone who wants to follow a very defined path into the government. This couldn’t be further from the truth. As Leon Trotsky noted, “You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.” Whatever your career aspirations, security issues affect every sector and understanding issues of war and peace is essential to anyone that desires to one day lead in government, international non-profits, or even private sector companies. I have friends in ISP that have backgrounds as Army Special Forces Officers, private sector consultants, paralegals, diplomats, and human rights workers. And as far as coursework, the concentration requires no prior academic training in international security or any particular professional background. For more on the diverse backgrounds of ISP concentrators, read this great blog post by ISP graduate Samantha Taylor.

What career paths do ISP students pursue after SIPA?

ISP students are prepared for a wide range of career paths in U.S. and foreign government agencies, intelligence, think tanks, defense analysis, cybersecurity, consulting, journalism, legislative staffs, and international organizations. For U.S. students, the majority of these positions are in Washington, D.C., but there are increasingly opportunities in New York City as well, especially in cybersecurity.

What are the courses like?

Almost all of your ISP courses will be small seminars of 10-20 students. Columbia offers more courses in security studies than all but a few other universities, and SIPA and the Political Science department (you can take graduate level Political Science courses while at SIPA) have numerous full-time faculty members focused on security issues.  During your two-year program, there will be approximately 30-40 ISP courses to choose from. The courses cover a wide variety of areas including intelligence, cybersecurity, defense analysis, conflict resolution, peacekeeping, terrorism, and regional issues, among others. You can view the entire curriculum here, but the best way to see what ISP courses are like is to experience one for yourself. This semester, ISP courses available for class visits include War, Peace, and Strategy; Methods of Defense Analysis; Contemporary Russian Security Policy (taught by the former Deputy Assistant Director of CIA for Europe and Eurasia); Intelligence and War; and several others. Register for a class visit here!

What extracurricular opportunities does ISP offer?

The ISP concentration starts off the year with an annual fall retreat to a campground north of New York City. I went my first year, and it was a great way to meet classmates, second year students, and several professors. In the spring, the concentration usually takes one trip to DC or a military installation. Last year, the trip was a staff ride to Gettysburg and the U.S. Army War College led by Professor Stephen Biddle. There is also a spring crisis simulation held at SIPA and run by ISP students. Last year, students explored the conflict in Yemen in a realistic, one-day simulation.

There are also an unending amount of incredible guest speakers that come to Columbia, and many of those of interest to ISP students are hosted by the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies. Just in the past year, students have attended events with former Director of National Intelligence Jim Clapper, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, and former Deputy Secretary of State William Burns.

New Courses at SIPA: Military technology, private sector work, and social impact campaigns

SIPA is constantly expanding it’s curricula so that students are equipped with the tools they need to start solving pressing global policy issues. There’s a wide range of areas that SIPA students choose to go into, so here are some new course highlights from this semester. (No need for a TL;DR, these course highlights are just one minute long.)

Working with the Private Sector for Development Outcomes

Military Technology Assessment

The Art of Creating Social Impact Campaigns

My Experience with Cross Registration

One of the great things about SIPA are the many course offerings across concentrations and specializations. Although the majority of students spend their first year focusing on the core curriculum, by your second year there are plenty of opportunities to branch out and take electives. One of the great things about SIPA is that it allows you to cross register at other schools within Columbia University. This is a really great add in because it allows you to mix and match across a variety of fields and courses. The process itself is fairly straightforward and varies between each individual school. For example, Columbia Business School offers two cross registration phases during the semester. There are a limited number of seats available for SIPA students in specific business school courses; however, there are a lot of courses to choose from. In my experience, you will generally get your first choice if you apply. SIPA students are able to cross register at several schools at Columbia University, including Teachers College, Columbia Law School, and the Mailman School of Public Health.

Overall, my experience with cross registration has been very positive. I’ve taken courses at the Mailman School of Public Health, the Institute for Research in African American Studies (IRAAS) and Columbia Business School. At IRAAS, I took “Gender, Labor and Sexuality in the Caribbean” with Dr. Pinnock. The course explored the concepts of gender, sexuality and labor and the historical and contemporary perspectives of work in an increasingly globalized society. Taking the course in my second year was really beneficial, as I’d spent my first year at SIPA focusing on the core curriculum and taking classes in my concentration, International Finance and Economic Policy, which gave me a strong background in macroeconomic theory and analysis. The course allowed me to combine my two interests, gender and economic policy and apply my coursework from SIPA in my final paper in the class, which was on Sex Work and the Dollarization of the Economy in Contemporary Cuba.

I highly recommend cross registration and taking advantage of the many courses across Columbia. It is especially important for those of us who are interested in public policy to gain a breadth of experience across a variety of sectors.

Note from Admissions: Graduate school is a big commitment and “fit” is hugely important. Take advantage of SIPA class visits and register here.

New Courses at SIPA: Urban Social Policy & Building Big Renewable Energy Projects

It’s been a busy few weeks for us at admissions. We’ve been speaking with a large number of you about what SIPA can offer, and many of our admitted students will learn just that at our upcoming 2018 Admitted Students’ Day on April 10th. As a reminder, the admissions office will be closed Tuesday for #ASDSIPA2018.

For those who aren’t in New York City, we’re happy to present a glimpse into these new courses at SIPA:

As usual, we encourage you to reach out to us if you have any questions about our innovative courses — and anything else on your mind. We’ll have more in our “New Classes” series soon, and in-person class visits are still available through this month.

We look forward to meeting you on Admitted Students’ Day next week!

SPRING 2014 APPLICATION

Last year we reopened the Spring term option for our MIA and MPA candidates interested in getting a head start to the year.  It was well received due to it’s smaller size and timing. With the success of the class and the number of interested prospective candidates, we will keep offering Spring admissions.  So if you’ve been worried that Spring would no longer be an option, don’t despair, it’s here to stay.

Our Spring candidates were a little older than our fall candidates and with that they came into the program with a bit more experience.  It probably also explains the preparedness for the ones we admitted and enrolled.  The shorter time line from when an applicant applies, receives an admission decision, deposits, enrolls for classes, and start classes calls for someone who knows what they want to study, have done their research on programs available in the spring, have visited the schools, spoken with admissions counselors, students, alumni, faculty, etc extensively, and have made financial arrangements to be here … all in a matter of a few short months.

So for all those who know that they want to be at SIPA and are ready to begin the next chapter of their lives… We offer you Spring 2014.  The application is available now — earlier than expected… if you’ve been patiently waiting (thank you) for the Spring application to open, you have to wait no more.  Click here and explore.

SIPA MIA/ MPA Spring 2014 Admission timeline:

  • August 6: Application goes live
  • October 15:  Application deadline
  • December 2: Decision Notifications; however, Spring applications are reviewed on a rolling basis, which means if you submit a completed application before the deadline, then you will receive a decision earlier — great for candidates who need to know sooner rather than later.
  • December 14: Deposit Deadline
  • January 15 & 16: Mandatory Orientation
  • January 21:  Classes begin

"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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