Archive for Fall 2017

What’s in an App: Professional Resume

Written by Kier Joy, MIA ’19

Professional resumes can often confuse SIPA applicants. There’s so many different ways to do a resume: chronological, targeted, functional, and combination. And a quick google search on which one to do for a graduate school application and how to do them best will give you dozens of sites with conflicting advice on what’s best. This blog post will help applicants with what exactly the SIPA Admissions Board is looking for in a professional resume. So no worries on the conflicting Google advice, this article is here to save you from the stress and confusion.

The Type of Resume

At SIPA, we would like our applicants to have around 3-5 years of work experience. In order to properly assess this timeline of work experience, it’s best for the admissions board to see a chronological resume, in which they can see the “story” of your work experience. To do a chronological resume, each subsection should begin with the most recent experience and end with the experience furthest in the past. For example, professional and relevant experiences that you are currently doing should be listed at the top of your relevant experience subsection. Experiences you’ve done in undergrad should be listed toward the bottom of the subsection, should you include those experiences.

Length

You’ll often hear that resumes that are longer than 1 page just get thrown in the trash. That’s not the case for grad school applications and definitely not for your SIPA professional resume. This resume can be longer than one page because the admissions board would like a full image of your work and educational history. This often requires resumes that are longer than one page. Now, with this being said, the resume doesn’t have to include every single responsibility and achievement ever earned in the dozens of professional experiences an applicant may have. Be succinct and concise but don’t feel as if you must limit yourself to one page.

Format

Because length is not a large issue, your resume should be at a legible font. I suggest something like Times New Roman or Helvetica at font size 10 or 12. Margins should be set at .5. This fills up the space while allowing for the page to not look crowded. Any room after a line can allow for more information to detail experiences.

Subsections

Basic Information

The basic information on your resume should include your name in bold and all caps. It should also include an accessible email, address, and phone number. It should be very simple and not stylized in any fancy way. Play with bold and italicized formatting to get an even and professional look, but never do too much.

Education

Education is the first subsection of your resume. This section should include the previous university(s) you’ve attended, along with the degree obtained, graduation date (or time span spent at university), GPA, and where the university was located.

Relevant Experience

The next subsection, and arguably the most important, is the experience. The relevant experience section should give us the most in-depth look into your experiences and how they relate to your academic interests and potential SIPA experience by describing all the relevant positions you’ve held in past jobs, internships, or volunteer experiences. In bullet point format, you should describe each experience and the major achievements made while in the positions. Some simple tips to make these descriptions best is to always start off your bullet point with resume action verbs and quantify your accomplishments. We recommend having about 2-4 bullet points per position.

Skills

Another subsection of a professional resume includes are skills. This can include anything from language skills to technical skills. Applicants often include any skills on statistical programs such as R or Stata. Applicants can also give the admissions board an idea of their language skills in this section by listing what language ability they may have. I suggest keeping the skills to something relevant and also don’t list skills that are commonly expected from most, such as proficiency in Microsoft Word.

Following these tips will help clear the confusion that may come with building a professional resume. Upload yours when applying to SIPA and give the Admissions Board a crystal-clear image of what you have to offer to SIPA and Columbia University.

What’s in an App: Optional Essay

As you sit staring at your computer screen, you glance at the clock, it’s almost 2:30 AM. You have just enough time to finish up your SIPA application, and get some sleep before your 9AM staff meeting. Is it really necessary to complete the optional essay? It has the word OPTIONAL in it after all. Is the option of doing it really worth an extra couple hours of sleep?

Something along the lines of the hypothetical above has played out in many a SIPA Applicant’s mind. What is the utility of completing the Optional Essay?

The answer is that the Optional Essay gives you the most optionality in furthering your SIPA application. The primary purpose is to address an aspect of your application that you feel may require a more in depth explanation. By all means, if your application is perfect, don’t waste the time of the admissions committee or yourself. Yet with the range of unique and varied applicants that SIPA attracts, there is rarely a “cookie cutter” story, or at least a narrative that doesn’t require a bit more depth than the standardized application essays provide.

Was there a rough semester during your undergrad? Did you have a gap in your resume while you were training to climb Kilimanjaro? Was there a run-in with the authorities during that summer trip through Europe? Use the optional essay to address unique circumstances that you don’t think reflect accurately on your ability to succeed at SIPA. Nobody is perfect. SIPA students have varied life experiences, and are shaped by them all, good and bad.

However, just maybe, you are perfect, or you appear to be on paper. In that case, you may use the optional essay to expand upon a unique strength that can’t be captured in other parts of the application. This could include such things as a volunteer experience, a specific honor or award, or relevant professional project. Whatever it is, it should be something that you feel especially captures the perspective you bring as a potential SIPA student, and it can’t be conveyed properly through the other parts of the application.

In terms of format, we don’t want to read “War and Peace.” Please keep it to the 400 word limit. Additionally, applicants do not have to stick to one aspect or point, feel free to utilize a more free flowing narrative than you would for your other application essays.

Style wise, certainly be straightforward and to the point, but it may be appropriate to explain what you learned from a negative experience. Perhaps there was a particular difficult or negative experience that in fact made you a stronger, resilient, and wiser SIPA applicant. We want to get to know who you are as a person, and the optional essay may be an important tool to explain aspects of your background.

What’s in an App: Personal Statement

Writing an amazing SIPA Personal Statement is probably far more straightforward than you might think. SIPA admissions officers aren’t looking for gimmicks. They’re looking for passionate, motivated, and prepared applicants who are ready to hit the ground running in their chosen program. Read on for more details in creating your best personal essay.

Personal, personal, personal

Did we mention personal? Your personal statement should be about your interests as an individual. Write about issues only if they relate specifically to your personal experiences. For example, ‘In Africa, a child dies every minute. This stark statistic prompted me to join an NGO aimed at providing nutrition and healthcare for children in Namibia.’ Be yourself! It can be tempting to want to embellish your essays with language or quotes that show off your knowledge, don’t overthink it! The admissions committee wants to know about you and how SIPA can get you where you want to go. You chose SIPA for a reason, so just elaborate on that reason in your essay.

Know your program and make connections

Securing acceptance is more about being the best match than about being the most highly qualified. Among applicants who meet the program’s minimum requirements, they’ll choose an enthusiastic and informed applicant over one with higher test scores and a better GPA who doesn’t seem to know much about their program.

Ask for help

Most students at SIPA will tell you that they’ve had close friends or mentors offer a second set of eyes on their personal statement. While we are all independent adults forging our own paths, sometimes we need to reach out for some help or advice. Whether it is using friends and family as sounding boards to bounce ideas off of, or to proofread your essay after you write it, asking for help can take some of the stress out of writing an admissions essay. Having another set of eyes look at your essay can make sure mistakes are caught before you submit. They can also provide feedback about weak areas in your essay, or even point out something you didn’t know about yourself that would make you a strong candidate.

Take a step back

Sometimes just stepping away from your essay for a little while may help, if you have the time. Sitting down and focusing on it for hours may cause you to miss the goal altogether. So step away, reward yourself for your work thus far, and return to it at a better time.

Now that you’re armed with these personal essay pointers, put them into practice and wow some admission officers. Happy writing!

What’s in an App: admissions video essay

The holidays are just around the corner! You know what that means. You have a little under 2 months to apply to our general deadline with SIPA fellowship aid consideration on January 5, 2018. I’m excited to bring a new series to you this month about our application process – What’s in an App. Since I know many of y’all are in the thick of preparing your stellar applications, this series of blog posts will hopefully answer your burning questions and provide helpful tips about the different components of our application. We’ll be covering a different part of the application every week for the remainder of November – just in time for January 5th! Let’s get started.

Today’s post is about the – wait for it – video essay. Now, this may seem daunting and stressful; however, it’s only one part of the review process. This isn’t the be-all-end-all deciding factor for your admissions decision. This component provides the Admissions Committee a sense of who you are in person as well as your thought process and how you respond to questions. We’re not able to conduct in-person interviews because of the high volume of apps we receive each year, so this video response is extremely valuable to the committee and our evaluation process. In it’s second year now, the video response is fully integrated into our online application. We’ve made a significant change to the accessibility of the video essay this year – it is only available AFTER you submit your application and pay the app fee. Once this is done, you’ll be able to see the video prompt in your Applicant Status page. That being said, you’ll need to manage your time well and submit your application well in advance in order to access this section and test your connection, webcam, mic, etc. to ensure everything is working properly.

How does it work? We have a great video (and transcript) from a prior post, explaining how to access your video essay here. Remember, you can only access this through your Applicant Status page once you submit your application and pay the app fee, but otherwise, the process remains the same. You’ll review the instructions for the video, receive a randomized test question, have 60 seconds to think of a response, then another 60 seconds to verbally communicate this. Keep in mind, you won’t be allowed to resubmit a response. Once you have recorded your response, it is automatically uploaded to your application.

What type of questions will I encounter? Our questions run the gamut, from general background, to behavioral to policy related questions. These do not require extensive research beyond reading about current events/affairs in international affairs and policy. Also, there are no right or wrong answers. So breathe, relax, and tackle this response with confidence.

What if I experience any technical difficulties during my video response? If you experience any issues during your recording, please reach out to us at sipa_admission@columbia.edu or call at 212-854-6216. Our regular office hours are Monday through Friday, 9 AM – 5 PM EST. Keep in mind, our general deadline is at 11:59 PM EST; so please plan ahead, allow time to test your audio capabilities, and contact us during regular office hours to troubleshoot any issues.

Welcome to our Fall 2017 Program Assistants

I’m excited to welcome our new program assistants to the admissions’ team! I’ll be sharing their stories in the coming days, so keep an eye out. In the meantime, they’ll be here in the office to help answer any questions you may have about SIPA in general – our programs, student life, extracurricular activities, etc. They’ve all been where you are now and are the best resources for learning more about our SIPA family.

Nick Calbos was born and raised abroad as the son of a US Army Officer and Diplomat. He earned his undergraduate degree at the United States Military Academy at West Point, graduating in 2009. After commissioning as an Infantry Officer in the United States Army, Nick was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment. He had the honor to lead Soldiers in a variety of dynamic and challenging assignments forward deployed on the Korean Peninsula. Following Korea, Nick was assigned to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington. From 2012-2013 he was deployed to Afghanistan as a combat advisor to an Afghan National Army infantry battalion in Kandahar province, leading to his involvement in the founding leadership team of AFG2USA, a nonprofit with a mission to assist in the resettlement of former interpreters seeking political asylum in the United States. Following his service in the military, Nick participated in a specialized internship at Goldman Sachs, working primarily in sales and trading. In the summer of 2017 he interned at Moody’s Investors Service, working on the Public Finance team. Nick is currently pursuing his Masters of International Affairs at Columbia University, concentrating on Economic Policy.  In his free time he enjoys traveling, hiking, skiing and shooting.

Mark Jamias is a second-year student concentrating in Economic and Political Development (EPD) with a specialization in International Conflict Resolution (ICR). As a five-year student between Columbia College and SIPA, Mark will be graduating in May 2018. Before SIPA, Mark worked at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations during the annual sessions of the UN General Assembly. For three years, Mark also worked for a major U.S. airline, and most recently gained experience in the maritime shipping industry.

Erin Lue-Hing is a 2nd-year MPA student in the USP concentration/Management & US Regional specializations. Prior to SIPA, Erin worked as a Data Analyst and Project Manager for the New Jersey Homeless Management Information System under the Department of Community Affairs. She graduated from Brandeis University with a Bachelor of Arts in Health Policy and a minor in Legal Studies, and served as the Future Leader for the Jamaica Diaspora Advisory Board, Northeast USA. Her background comprises law, health policy, social policy, advocacy for under-served communities and government administration.

Rahel Tekola is a native of Dallas, Texas and advocate of racial and gender equality. She has spent the past seven years working across government, non-profit and community organizing to advance marginalized communities. Before going to graduate school, Rahel spent three years in Dallas working at the intersection of domestic violence and poverty. In her role as Chief of Staff to the CEO and advocate for women and children who have been victims of violence, she worked to make sure clients received full services, counseling and education to a stable life free of violence. In this time, Rahel worked on the organization’s largest capital campaign project and also helped launch Texas’ first men’s domestic violence shelter. She also served on the Mayor’s Star Council to revitalize Southern Dallas and the City of Dallas Domestic Violence Task Force. In June 2017, Rahel joined the Reisenbach Foundation and is now currently working as the foundation’s grant Program Officer. Rahel is currently pursuing her Masters in Public Administration at Columbia University, School of International and Public Affairs with a concentration in Urban Development and Policy. In her free time she enjoys cooking and rollerblading.

"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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