Archive for decisions

Why I Chose to Apply to SIPA

Note from Admissions: The Spring application deadline is coming up, and we hope applicants feel like they’re making good progress with the admissions process. Current student Dylan Hoey has been in your position and reflects on why he applied to SIPA in the first place. 

We encourage you to reach out to us at the Admissions office if you have any questions about the application or just want to talk it over. And if you want to talk to Dylan or other SIPA students about their experience, we can make that happen.

Rodin’s “The Thinker” outside Philosophy Hall [Wikimedia Commons]

During undergrad, like most first year students, I was unsure of what I wanted to major in. At first I was confident that environmental science was the right choice. Within a semester, I was disabused of that idea. After taking an amazing introduction to international relations course, I thought I had settled on international relations. When my second year started, I changed my mind once again and declared as a Government and History dual major, which finally stuck. While I had formally decided on a major, my interest in other subjects did not wane. Thanks to a great liberal arts education, I was able to dabble in almost every major subject, from religious studies to mathematics. Throughout my undergraduate career, I developed an interest in urban studies, post-colonial history and theory, continental philosophy, and film, amongst others.

In turn, when I decided to apply to graduate school, I knew I wanted to be at a place that engaged all of these interests, while also providing me with a central skill set that would allow me to be successful in any industry. I knew that my ideal school would be in a large city, with plenty of extracurricular opportunities to pursue my interest in the arts. Naturally, that narrowed my list of schools down quite considerably.

SIPA had always been on my radar just based off its name recognition, but when I researched more into its curriculum and Columbia’s own resources, I became more and more interested in applying. First of all, I appreciated that SIPA stresses both theory and ‘practical’ applications of course material. As a future U.S. diplomat, I valued SIPA’s diversity, which is unrivaled. I also liked that SIPA has a distinctly international focus, with an emphasis on urban politics and culture. When I looked through SIPA’s course offerings and faculty, I was similarly impressed by the broad array of fields and disciplines represented. I remember also coming across a couple ‘superstar’ professors, including former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, former New York City Mayor David Dinkins and Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz. On more comprehensive faculty lists outside of SIPA, I saw that one of my favorite authors, Turkish Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk, was also listed as a member of Columbia’s faculty. Another search led me to discover that leading Indian post-colonial theorist Gayatri Spivak was a resident faculty member.

When I looked at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences’ website, I found that the events section was full of film series that I was interested, including a few where the directors themselves were there to answer questions. At the Journalism School, I saw Jelani Cobb, one of the New Yorker’s most prolific and insightful contributors, listed as a professor. While I was certainly drawn in by SIPA’s course offerings, I really fell in love with the idea of Columbia being a place of such great academic diversity. I knew that at SIPA I would receive a world-class education in policy analysis and public management; I had no doubts about that. But I relished the idea of being on a campus where it would be easy to meet people engaged in other fields, and to pursue a truly holistic education. When it was time to finally apply, I was excited at the prospect of enrolling at SIPA, an excitement that has never left me, even as a second year student now.

Another reason to choose SIPA

I came across an email while I was searching my inbox for something else and I decided to take a moment to dispel some rumors because there seems to be a lot of misinformation floating around. I know nothing about the specifics of other programs other than what I’ve heard through admitted students, but I do know a thing or two about SIPA.

First off, SIPA Professors are incredibly accessible. Like, amazingly so. In addition to an outstanding ivy league academic faculty, one difference between our Professors and some more remotely located schools is that a lot of our Profs are practitioners as well as lecturers. For example I have taken classes from the preeminent pollster in United States politics, a gender mainstreaming expert at UN Women, a human rights expert for the OECD and UNESCO, an Executive and Ernst and Young, and the Washington Post senior political reporter and those are just off the top of my head. (Keep in mind I focused on gender and domestic elections so you will have the opportunity to interact with the equivalent experts in your field.) Having practitioner professors is a huge advantage both in terms of the networking opportunities and because they can better prepare you for a career in the real world.

That said, all SIPA Professors keep office hours and in my experience are extremely responsive over email even when they are traveling. Obviously this varies from professor to professor but in my experience the faculty at SIPA is not only interested with helping you develop academically through coursework but also in engaging with students on current events, or helping us develop outside projects. For example I  worked with one Professor to get my final paper from her class last year published in an academic journal. Honestly, I have been blown away with the availability and interest level of my professors. Everyone I have met seems genuinely interested in developing their students as their future colleagues. I can only imagine that either I was incredibly lucky or that “inaccessibility” is the kind of rumor that other schools spread because they can’t compete for faculty with the draw of an ivy league institution in New York.

Second, most class sizes are small. The one glaring exception is the Politics and Policy Making (for MPA’s) and Conceptual Foundations (for MIA’s) are plenary sessions for the degree so all first year MPA students take POP and all first year MIA’s take CF. Those also break down into weekly recitations of about 15 students. Other than that core courses tend to have about 20-30 students per section. For example, even though most students take micro econ at the same time, there are several sections for both the 4000 and 6000 level. (Some professors allow you to come to any section that meets that week which is good news if you, like me, are a perpetual late sleeper). All core courses also have recitations, professors office hours and TA office hours. My electives (which are MOST of my courses) have had about 8-15 students per class. Having a bigger school does not mean larger class size, it simply means that a wider variety of electives are offered, which to me is a HUGE ADVANTAGE. Again, giant class size seems to me like a misconception that exists at smaller schools.

We want happy classmates and I don’t want you to come here if SIPA is not the right fit for you, but I also don’t want you to miss out on a SIPA education for the wrong reasons.


posted by Nancy Leeds, MPA 2013 alumnae

Admission Decisions – The Wait List

Admission decisions for SIPA’s MIA, MPA, and MPA-DP programs will begin rolling out next week.  We thank all the patiently waiting candidates sitting by their computers.  It was a tough year reviewing application in terms of volume and system changes but we got through it and now we’re almost ready to release decisions — just making sure we’ve dotted our “i’s” and crossed our “t’s”.

But before the big release…  we thought we would share some thoughts about decisions coming out.

You’ve Been Wait listed….

For many, being wait listed to SIPA can be difficult to handle.  We understand how discouraging it can be to be placed on the wait list, especially if this is your first choice school.  However, it’s not all bad.

If you are wait listed, it means that your application shows promise but there were more highly competitive and qualified candidates than we have places for in the class.  There are just so many students we can admit into our class each year.

Please keep in mind that the Admissions Committee closely monitors the “wait-list” responses and sends updates to candidates.

Be aware however, that the number of candidates on the wait list can be rather lengthy. The wait list is not ranked and the Admissions Committee will review wait listed candidates based on documents already on file.  It is therefore not necessary to send additional documents for the Committee to consider.

While there’s no harm in inquiring about your status or other application issues, there is a fine line between what’s appropriate and overdoing it. The only liability is harassing the admissions office and having them make a note on your file to that effect.

We will move candidates off the wait list — just a matter of time.  Everyone on the wait list will receive a final decision by the end of the summer and some will be favorable decisions.

There is no guarantee that you will be admitted off the wait list.  If at the end, you are not offered admission into the program, it is helpful to reflect on your admission’s portfolio.

As for trying again, if a degree from SIPA remains in your educational plans, we recommend that you consult with one of our admission representatives to get feedback on how to strengthen your application for a future term.  In the majority of cases, we would recommend you wait an entire year before reapplying.

Good luck and stay positive!

Stick with it

At this point most prospective students have already accepted their offers.  If you are an incoming student, Mazel Tov!  After the long application and decision-making process I remember how good it felt to have a decision. There are still a few folks who have gotten decision extensions or who have (against protocol and inter-institutional agreement) put down deposits at more than one school.  Here are a couple of tips to help make it easier to decide:

Go where your heart is.  I know that is an extremely cheesy thing to say and I of all people am not sentimental about grad school, but you should go where you feel you belong.  Sure SIPA has superior faculty, the largest course selection, Ivy League name recognition and access to the resources of New York City, but we want people here who will take advantage of these things.  If (what I somewhat biasedly would deem) the obvious superiority of SIPA doesn’t do it for you the last thing we want is for you to come here and be unhappy.  On the flip side, if you feel SIPA is the right place for you but external pressures like family or a slight difference in funding are making you hesitate, I would encourage you to bite the bullet and come to Columbia. I will tell you that I am financing my entire SIPA education myself, save for my job in the admissions office, and I have not regretted it for one moment.

Plan your life here.  Go on our course catalog and compare it to others. What classes would you take? What skills do you need to propel you forward? What kind of clubs would you join? Where do you want to go home to an apartment at night?  What special programs stand out that you would like to take advantage of?  You can check out career service histories and see where students have gotten internships. Envision your full life, academic, social, extracurricular at both schools and see which future feels brightest to you.

Talk to current students.  I talked to students at the two schools I was deciding between when I chose SIPA and it was a huge part of what sealed the deal for why I’m here.  I am AT the admissions office and I would love to talk to you about my SIPA experience, the good, the bad and the ugly.  Seriously I have a lot of work study hours to work off and it beats the heck out of filing things.  I have seen a lot of rumors floating around about our accepted students’ google group, some of which I can corroborate and most of which I can dispel.  I sincerely think that SIPA is the best foreign policy education you can get and will provide you with the most opportunity, but I also recognize that it’s not the best fit for everyone and I promise to be very honest in talking that through with you. You can email to find a time to coordinate with a current student or you can just call the office, we are around most days.

However you make your decision, it is important that you make it soon. Schools are waiting on decisions about funding so that they can make sure scholarships are allocated to students who truly want to be here. You also will need to start looking for apartments, filling out your FAFSA and planning your move for this exciting next chapter!  When it comes to choosing between top tier public policy schools there is no bad decisions.  (There are only better decisions, and that’s SIPA.)

In all sincerity promising to give you my unbiased opinions if you call,




Admission Decisions – Piles of Files

The most common question we are getting on the phone and via email these days is, “When will I find out about my admission decision?” In a perfect world I could tell you all the exact date and time, and I could also guarantee that every decision would be published on the same day. However, we live in the real world and not the perfect world.

The real admission world, just like the real policy world, can be a bit tricky. With numerous people reading files and some subcommittees meeting to discuss certain applications in more detail it is a balancing act.

When applications are confirmed as complete they are assigned to readers and begin the review journey.  Readers belong to three general groups: faculty, students, and administrators.  Each group brings their own viewpoint to the table so there is nice balance.

After the readers have filled out their review sheets and discussed their feelings about each candidate with other readers the files are divided into three major groups. Let me elaborate on the process by describing the following picture –

Pile #1 is representative of applications where there is unanimous agreement among Committee members. I would say that about 60-65% of applications fall into this group.

Pile #2 represents those where the reviewers of the file did not entirely agree and they have asked for additional review by a Senior Member of the Admissions Committee prior to making a final decision. Approximately 20-25% of applications fall into this category.

Pile #3 represents those who the readers believe should be considered for first year fellowship awards – approximately 15-20%. These files take longer to process because they have to go through additional rounds of meetings by the Fellowship Committee.

Reviewing applications is not an exact science and decisions may not go out in the simple 1-2-3 order described above, but this is generally how the process works. Rather than make the majority of applicants wait until the Committee has reviewed all of the files, we will start to send out decisions when the majority of decisions have been made.

Our goal is to start sending decisions in the first or second week of March.  We will inform you of when your decision is ready to view by sending you an email telling you to log in to the application site to view your decision letter.  I will also post an entry to this blog when the first round of decisions have been sent.

Admitted applicants will receive a paper copy of the same letter posted on the site a number of weeks later. Applicants who are not admitted will only see the letter on the application Web site; we do not send a paper copy of letters to those who are not admitted.

I hope this provides a bit of insight into the process and I will continue to elaborate on the process in the coming weeks.

"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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