Archive for decision

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!

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 Waiting is the Hardest Part

I do not think that Tom Petty has a graduate degree, however the chorus to his song “The Waiting” is appropriate this time of year.  The lyrics to the first chorus are:

The waiting is the hardest part
Every day you see one more card
You take it on faith, you take it to the heart
The waiting is the hardest part

I know that waiting to hear of an admission decision is hard.  Believe it or not, it’s hard for me too.  I would love to be done with the review process just as much as everyone would like to get an email from us.   As I have said before though, the coordination involved requires that we take a bit more time with some files than others.

I am happy to say that we have hit the 81% mark in terms of decisions being sent out.  This does mean that we still have a sizable chunk of files that we are working on.

One major piece of advice if you are still waiting is this – do not panic.  Do not read anything into receiving a decision a bit late.  It has to do with the internal process we use, not the applicants being reviewed.  So I ask you to have faith that we are working as quickly as we can, taking decisions to heart, and we will reveal your card soon if you have yet to hear.

Idioms and Admissions: Apples and Oranges

The earliest memory I can seem to muster of the idiom, “That is like comparing apples to oranges” is from high school. I can not remember if it was my personal finance teacher or my cross country coach, but it was one of the two (and comparing those two certainly is like comparing apples to oranges).

I remember being stumped by the idiom at first. I did not understand the context and asked around until some other examples finally brought the point home to me.

While Wikipedia delves into the validity of the usefulness of the idiom, to me the admission decision season provides a scenario where the idiom makes perfect sense.  Most applicants apply to several different schools and it is only natural not only to compare the characteristics of those schools, but the admission decisions of those schools.

When decisions go out each year applicants will often contact our office to discuss their SIPA admission decision. Statements and questions like the following are not uncommon:

  • I don’t understand why I was put on the waitlist at SIPA when I was admitted to all of the other schools I applied to. Can you explain why?
  • I received a fellowship offer from another school but not from SIPA. Why didn’t I get SIPA fellowship funding?
  • SIPA’s letter said that I should get more experience and apply again at a later time but other schools admitted me? Why?
  • My decision letter from SIPA said I could benefit from more quantitative preparation but I was admitted to other similar schools. Why is this the case?
  • My decision letter from SIPA said I could benefit from additional English language study but I was admitted to other U.S. programs. Why?
  • Why have I heard from other schools but not SIPA?

From an administrators point of view statements and questions like these are, well, like comparing apples to oranges.

If it were an apples to apples comparison, every single applicant would have had to apply to the same exact schools, have been read by the exact same committee, and the committees would need to share the exact same budget. Obviously this is not what happens.

Sure policy schools are similar in many ways. We have similar core classes, faculty that study, teach, and practice common subjects, and we seek to prepare students for similar careers. However, each school is quite different in many ways when it comes to shaping an incoming class.

Each school has its own unique Admissions Committee structure. Each school has its own unique applicant pool. Each school has a different fellowship endowment and can choose to use it in different ways. Each school has different donors who set different criteria for awards. Each school has its own time lines.

I am not going to pretend that by reading this entry all of your questions or concerns about admission decisions will be put at ease, but I hope it does provide insight into “the big picture.” Each policy school is different in its own way and will make decisions based on its history, goals, preferences and yes, limitations.

Thus, comparing a decision from one school to another is often like comparing apples to oranges.  I will attempt to address many of the questions posted in future entries, but for now I just wanted to provide a bit brief insight into the process from the prospective of someone on the other side of the process.

 

 

Inching Along

I know there are still many applicants anxious to receive an admission decision and the Admissions Committee is moving steadily along.  The first big “burst” of decisions that were sent (approximately 65% were sent out last Monday) represented hundreds of hours of review.  Even with over 7 weeks of meetings the Committee still needs additional time to complete the process.  As I have stated before, a lot of this has to do with the simple act of scheduling.  Getting Committee members together is a task in itself.

Since Monday of this week we have sent out another 10% of decisions so we have crept up to the 75% mark.  We are still deliberating on all three classes of admission offers:  admit, waitlist, and those we will be unable to offer admission to.

I’ll keep this entry short so I can get back to the file review 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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