Archive for FAQ

Next steps for Fall 2017 admitted students

This post was adapted from a previous version.

Most of you reading this blog post received the admission decision you were hoping to get when you applied to SIPA this year. You should be proud of your achievement. There was a competitive applicant pool and your application was exemplary. And now that the celebrations have died down a bit, I wanted to recap a few things that every newly-admitted student should know going forward.

The Welcome Portal

The Welcome Portal has everything you need regarding next steps. It tells you about upcoming deadlines and special events, offers advice on how to apply for student housing, includes details about Admitted Students’ Day in April, and even explains the visa process and ALP requirement for international students. So review the Welcome Portal to explore the many benefits of being a Columbia University student. This is also where you’ll go to accept your admissions offer by April 15/May 1, depending on what your admission letter says. (Log-in details for the Welcome Portal may be found in your admissions letter.)

I also invite you to follow us on Instagram (@Columbia.SIPA) and share your admissions story with us!

Your Status Page

Before the academic term starts, you’re going to get sick and tired of me mentioning the Status Page (especially through reminder emails). But I only bug you because I care, and I want you to start off the school year without any delays. Your Status Page is where you go to review your Application Checklist. There are a few items on your checklist that we must have in order to finalize your academic record before August 2017. And if your record isn’t finalized, you won’t be able to register for classes during Fall 2017 orientation. (Gasp!)

Official Documents
When you review the Welcome Portal, you’ll notice a section that outlines upcoming deadlines for the Application Checklist materials, also known as official documents. These are hard deadlines for the Admissions Office to receive your official documents, mainly transcripts and test scores. I can guarantee that 90% of you have not submitted all of your official documents to our office. Here’s what I mean: You applied to SIPA. You submitted a scanned copy of your college transcript(s). You were admitted to SIPA with that scanned transcript(s). But guess what, it’s still a scan of a transcript, which means it is an unofficial copy. Even if your college registrar’s office handed you an official transcript, since you opened it and scanned it, we must consider it as an unofficial copy. It’s technically been altered, so it doesn’t count as an official document.

To help you remember that fact, I added these nifty little notifications at the top of your Status Page that tells you which documents we’re missing.

teaser-officialdocumentsmissing

But wait, your Status Page has a green checkmark next to your transcript(s) and you’re still seeing these notifications. Well, chances are the notifications are there for a reason. The checklist is referring to your unofficial copy tied to your admissions application: just cross check the upload date and hover over the checkmark to see if the pop-up text reads “Received Copy” or “Received.” Still confused? Then read this blog post,  “Dissecting the Application Checklist.” (And yes, the blog post is highlighted in yellow on your Status Page for all time.) (P.S. These messages may not appear on your Status Page until after you have responded to your admission offer and paid the enrollment deposit.)

Hover over the check mark to confirm to see if the document was an unofficial or official copy.

 

Got it now? Good! The process for sending us your official transcripts and test scores is outlined in the Welcome Portal. I’ve also included it below:

Official transcripts and test scores are due by July 1, 2017, unless instructed otherwise. (International students who won’t have conferred degrees until after the deadline can email us and we’ll make a note in their account.)

Official test scores must be sent to us by the testing company (e.g., ETS, GMAC).

  • GRE/TOEFL ibt school code: 2161 (no department code)
  • GMAT school code: MIA is QF8-64-56; MPA is QF8-64-99

You may mail your official transcripts to:

Columbia University | SIPA
Office of Admissions & Financial Aid
514 West 113th Street
New York, New York 10025

Or email to sipa_admission@sipa.columbia.edu, but the transcripts must be sent from the registrar’s office through a service like eSCRIP-SAFE in order to be considered official.

Official Test Scores
The same rules outlined above apply to your official test scores. But if you truly know you sent us your official scores, there may be a workaround from re-ordering your test scores. Chances are your application name and email address are not recorded the same as the name and email address you registered to take the GRE/GMAT or TOEFL/IELTS with a few months ago. (You may recall us warning against this in the application instructions.) Thus, we couldn’t match the exam to your account because of the mismatch. If that’s the case, contact the testing center and confirm your full name, date of birth and email address associated with your account. You’ll need to send us that information, along with the batch number/cycle number for GRE and TOEFL scores; the appointment number and identification number for GMAT scores; or send us the official score report for IELTS scores.

Conditional Admission

Supplemental Quant

Some students are required to take additional quantitative preparation prior to enrolling at SIPA. Follow the instructions in your admission letter, but it basically says this:

To complete this requirement (as described in the admission letter/Welcome Portal), you must take two courses in Principles of Microeconomics and Principles of Macroeconomics or a single combined course in Principles of Economics.

These courses may be physical or virtual (online) but must be from an accredited academic institution. This course can be completed abroad as long as the institution is accredited in its home country. If you’re unsure, check the university’s website for their accreditation notice or consult with World Education Services for assistance. Free courses through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) or certificate programs through Coursera and other online services do not fulfill this requirement. Successful completion is defined as a letter grade of B or higher or its numerical equivalent.  I can’t recommend any institution over another, so, unfortunately, I can’t offer further guidance on where to complete this requirement.

Please submit final transcripts verifying your successful completion to the Admissions Office by July 1, 2017. If you are completing the economics course(s) during the summer, you must send proof of course registration to the Admissions Office by July 1, 2017; the final transcript must be received by the Admissions Office no later than August 18, 2017. By completing this requirement, your admission to SIPA will become final.

SIPA Summer and/or Fall ALP

Some international students are required to enroll in summer and/or fall ALP as a condition of their admission. Your admission letter states if you are required to complete this coursework. I’ve already gotten several inquiries about waiving this requirement, and the answer is no. This is a policy set by the university and we cannot change it. The only way to waive out of it (as described in the admission letter/Welcome Portal), is to provide new TOEFL or IELTS scores that show at least a score of 110 on the TOEFL or 7.5 on the IELTS. Improved scores must be submitted to the Admissions Office no later than June 1, 2017.

All About Money

Your Admissions Deposit
You have until the date on your admission letter to accept your enrollment offer AND pay the $2,000.00 USD admission deposit. You do not have to pay these items at the same time. So you can submit your response form and select “yes,” and then access your Status Page in a couple weeks to make the deposit payment. However, your deposit payment must be paid in full at once (no partial payments). This should be paid through the online portal. Just click on the corresponding hyperlink to submit your payment. And keep in mind that you’ll  continue to see a lovely reminder (below) on your Status Page until your deposit is paid, and only after you’ve submitted your response form.

Financial Aid & Fellowships
If you received a scholarship or fellowship, you will have received a separate notification letter about your funding along with your letter of admission. (Early-action candidates had to wait until now to learn about their funding status.) For domestic students, we’ll also communicate student loans and work-study details in award letters, but you’ll only receive that letter after you’ve submitted a FAFSA at www.fafsa.ed.gov, using school code 002707. In order to be considered for financial aid, it’s important that you submit your FAFSA as soon as possible. The sooner you submit it, the sooner our financial aid staff can issue your award letter. Most financial aid packages are released one to two weeks after your FAFSA is received.

statusupdate-viewupdate-awardletter

To see your funding letters, go to your Status Page, scroll down to where it says Status Update and click on the View Update link. From there, you’ll be directed to your admission letter (confetti! yay!). Then you’ll need to scroll down to the bottom of your letter. This is where you’ll see if you have one (or several) letters available to read. If there’s an additional dated hyperlink then that means you have another message in your account. So click on it!


All students, whether funded their first year or not, will be able to apply for second-year funding. Most of this funding is in the form of assistantships for second-year students who succeeded in their first year of studies. (You’ll learn more about these opportunities during the spring semester of your first year.)

We also encourage you to visit https://new.sipa.columbia.edu/financial-aid for more information about funding your education, which includes a database of external funding opportunities.

Tuition, Fees, and Billing
Annually, Columbia University releases the estimated cost of attendance. To date, we only have access to 2017-18 figures. You can review them here. We won’t know how much tuition will increase

Regarding your tuition bill: this will be generated closer to the start of the academic term. You also have the option to set up a payment plan or coordinate your payments with a third-party sponsor. For more information on that process, browse the Student Financial Services website. (Note: The Office of Admissions & Financial Aid is not involved in this process.) You can also browse this site to get a historical look at the tuition and fees SIPA (Columbia University) has charged each year.

Contact Us

If any admitted students have any specific financial aid or fellowship inquiries, please email them with a descriptive and informative subject line to sipa_finaid@columbia.edu. Admissions queries can continue to go to sipa_admission@columbia.edu or sipa_new@columbia.edu.

That’s all the advice I have for now. If you need anything give us a call or send an email. And once again, congratulations to our admitted students!

I didn’t get the admission decision I wanted. What do I do now?

This post was adapted from a previous version.

By now you’ve checked your email and have learned that we released Fall 2017 entry admissions decisions. When you did read your decision, I’m sure you went through a mix of emotions. Good or bad, there are some things our waitlisted candidates and those who weren’t granted admission should know going forward. So I’ve gone through our archives to see which questions were frequently asked last year and came up with a few things you should know now that decisions are live. (If you haven’t heard back yet, keep an eye on your inbox as we have a handful more that will trickle out over the next few days.)

The Waitlist
If you’ve been waitlisted that doesn’t mean your story has ended with SIPA. Your application showed a lot of promise, but in the end, there were more highly competitive candidates than we have seats for at SIPA. That can be tough to read, but the good news is some of you will move from the waitlist to the admitted students list. Just be patient with us as it takes some time. Our waitlist isn’t ranked so I can’t tell you the likelihood of you being admitted. However, I can tell you that we’ll reexamine the waitlist starting May 2, 2017, and we’ll release final decisions for waitlisted candidates by July 1, 2017. (If you’re an international student, you’ll still have time to apply for a visa if you don’t procrastinate the process once you’re admitted off the waitlist.)

If you want to keep us informed of your academic and professional pursuits, we will only review new test scores and transcripts. So if you’ve retaken the GRE/GMAT or TOEFL/IELTS or have taken additional quantitative coursework to support your application, feel free to send them along by April 30, 2017.  Just email us the documents, your name and application number to sipa_admission@sipa.columbia.edu with “Supplemental Waitlist Materials from Your Name” in the subject line.  I would also recommend you send us everything at once instead of in batches over several weeks.

And if you don’t want to be considered for admission to SIPA anymore, please send us an email at sipa_admission@sipa.columbia.edu with your name and application number.

Please keep in mind that we cannot provide periodic updates on your standing. Thus, you should only email us if you have a specific request regarding your waitlisted application (e.g., to update your application or remove it from consideration).

Appeal An Admissions Decision
The Admissions Committee reviews each application thoroughly and with great care. All decisions are final, and there isn’t an appeal process.

Requesting Application Feedback
If you tracked the blog when we were discussing Spring 2017 admission then you probably already know the answer. For those of you who don’t, I’m just going to link you to those same resources. Due to the volume of applications, we cannot offer individual feedback. I recommend you review our Evaluation Criteria and Requesting Feedback pages.

Reapply To SIPA
If you didn’t get the admission decision you were hoping for, you are welcome to reapply to SIPA. As a reapplicant, you must abide by the same deadlines, fees and requirements as first-time applicants. As a benefit, you may reapply using the personal statement, reference letters, test scores and transcripts from this year’s application. But I encourage you to at least submit new essays (and possibly recommendation letters) as the questions change every year. When next year’s application goes live in mid-August 2017, email us at sipa_admission@columbia.edu with “Reapplicant Request To Use Past Materials for Your Name” in the subject line and specify which of these materials you want to reuse. For details on reapplicant process, visit our Reapplication page.

Thank Your Recommenders
You’re either thinking “duh” or “oh yeah” with this step. It’s an obvious next step to take, but many applicants still forget to do this. And no matter the admissions decision, it’s a nice gesture to thank your recommenders one more time for their help. They took time out of their busy schedules to write you a letter, and I’m sure they’re curious to know how things turned out. And if you weren’t admitted, this could be your chance to hear some words or wisdom and ask them for suggestions on strengthening your application for next year.

Saying Goodbye
On behalf of the entire Admissions Committee, I want to thank you for your effort. We all got to know you through your application materials and it was an honor to read about your achievements and ambitions for the future. If you ultimately decide to decline your admissions offer, remove yourself from the waitlist or won’t reapply next year, please know that we hope you’ll continue to develop your academic and professional experience for whatever your future might hold. And I wholeheartedly wish you luck in your future endeavors.

 

Some advice on the optional essay prompt

We receive several emails and calls from applicants asking for advice about the optional essay, so here are a few things to keep in mind if you plan to submit the optional essay as part of your application.

First, what is the optional essay?
As taken from our Application Checklist, the prompt for the optional essay is:

This optional essay will allow you to discuss any issues that do not fall within the purview of the required essays. Please share any additional information about yourself that you believe would be of interest to the Admissions Committee. Please focus on information that is not already reflected in the other parts of your application or might not be clear in the information submitted. 

Is it a requirement?
Nope! We aren’t trying to play a mind game with you, it really is optional! There is no formal interview process for your application to SIPA, so applicants often take advantage of the optional essay to address topics that might typically come up in an interview. If you don’t think you need to write anything, then don’t feel obligated to do it.

What is the word limit?
There isn’t one! This is one of the most common questions we get, but unfortunately we can’t give you an exact number. We do recommend that you use the other essay prompt word limits as a guide (200-400 words). Remember, this essay is only meant to share information that isn’t otherwise made clear in the other components of your application; it shouldn’t be a second personal statement.

What should I write about?
We don’t want to read your senior thesis as your optional essay. The essay is meant to provide added value by explaining any shortcomings you see in your application, expand on something previously mentioned, or to highlight a relevant achievement. For example, maybe due to personal circumstances you had a bad semester at your undergraduate university and your GPA dropped, or you have gaps in your resume. The optional essay can provide a space for you to explain these instances and tell us why that doesn’t reflect your ability to succeed at SIPA.

If you think there are not any shortcomings to explain, you can expand upon something you view as a strength that makes you an ideal candidate; especially if you were unable to mention it elsewhere in the application. This might include something in your resume that you didn’t get a chance to address in your personal statement, such as a volunteer experience, or relevant professional project you excelled at.

Does it have to cover a single topic?
Do not feel obligated to stick to just one topic. The essay doesn’t need to be one continuous narrative.  If there are multiple things you would like to address, feel free to devote a paragraph to each.

 

I hope this information is useful as you finalize your applications for admission. Keep in mind our application deadlines for Fall 2017 are coming up: January 5, 2017 with fellowship consideration, and February 5, 2017 without fellowship consideration.

[Photo Courtesy of Casper Folsing (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)]

Tips on the short essay policy question

The deadlines for Fall 2017 application are almost here and a lot of you are in the process of working on your admission essays. The second essay for this cycle (Fall 2017/Spring 2018) asks applicants to express their views about a policy-related question. This is a mandatory essay and the prompt for this changes every year. So I thought it was a good idea to share my take on this year’s prompt and some advice on how you can approach writing it.

The prompt for this year is: Tell us about a policy change related to your selected SIPA concentration that has had a negative or positive impact on others. For this, you need to focus on a policy change that is related to your desired concentration at SIPA. For applying to SIPA, you need choose one of the six following concentrations: Economic and Political Development, Energy and Environment, Human Rights and Humanitarian Policy, International Finance and Economic Policy, International Security Policy or Urban and Social Policy. Each of these concentrations cover a wide array of policy issues and questions, so there is a lot of flexibility to chose the specific topic you want to write about. The main idea here is to understand your outlook of the policy world around you. So the essay should reflect your knowledge of the specific policy or industry you are interested in. Feel free to focus on either a domestic or an international issue, something that has happened recently or something that is a few years old and has been debated over time.

It is always a good idea to start early. Make sure to have enough time in case you need to research the topic you are writing about and filter out the necessary information to include. While writing this essay, please keep in mind the word limit is 200 and that it is there for a reason. It is hard to be concise when you are writing about complex policy issues and their impacts, but that is one of the qualities we look for in our future students. So this is a chance for you to show the Admissions Committee that you are able to write succinctly on policy subjects.

A second pair of eyes always help. Although we are looking to see your understanding of and opinion on the issue, discussing about it with a friend, peer, or family member who knows about the topic can’t hurt. Making them read your essay can also help you identify and correct any editing mistakes you might have made and we highly appreciate reading an essay that has been properly proofread.

To wrap things up, this essay is not meant to stress you out in any way. Given the fact that you are applying to a policy school and you know your desired concentration means you are halfway there with identifying what you want to write about! Now it is just about putting pen to the paper — writing down your thoughts is helpful! — and make good use of those 200 words.

[Photo | “Ready” by Kevin Doncaster is licensed under CC BY 2.0.]

How to plan for your recommendation letters

The letters of recommendation from the right people address your potential and strengthen your application, thus boosting your chance of getting into good programs. However, the process of getting the good letters could be also stressful. So here are some tips I would love to share for recommendation letters.

1. Select people who know you the best and truly wish you success
SIPA prefers that your three references be a mix of academic and professional contacts. You should select people who know you and your work well enough to comment on it and will speak highly of you. It is recommended that when getting a reference from a job, choose someone who was in a position of authority over you and who viewed your work firsthand.

2. Be strategic if you are away from school for a long time or you don’t have professional experience
For me, I worked for about five years before coming to SIPA. So I thought it is better for me to get all the three letters from my professional contacts. Thus, I got two letters from my supervisors in two companies which I worked for, and one from a director in a media company where I volunteered for a long time after college. I thought this was the best possible combination that I could have at that time, rather than reaching out to my undergraduate professors. If you don’t have professional experience but have relevant internship experience, it may be a good idea to ask for a letter from your supervisor in an organization where you did an internship. Keep in mind the Admissions Office recommends anyone out of school less than three years (possibly five) obtain at least one academic reference.

3. Provide your recommenders as much information as possible
The best letters don’t come for free. You should do your best to ensure you have the best possible letters by providing your recommenders with as much information as you can. If it’s your professor, send along a current resume and a piece of writing or assignment that you did in the professor’s class. For both academic and professional contacts, I recommend you include a draft of your personal statement, so that they will know what you are planning for your future career.  You should also provide a description of SIPA so that they get a better sense of what kind of degree you’re pursuing. I would also recommend you encourage them to reference SIPA and your degree program by name to give the letter another level of specificity for the admissions committee.

4. Ask them early and keep good manners throughout the process
Most recommenders are busy people so ask them early to give them enough time to write a letter. Some people might argue that no matter how early you ask, they will start writing nearly toward the deadlines. Even though it is true, it is better to inform them that you need a letter beforehand. Keep in mind that it is also different from asking a letter five days before the deadline versus one month before the deadline. In addition, it is a good idea to send a thank you note after the recommender has written the letter. When you are informed of the admissions decision, don’t forget to send another batch of thank you notes, regardless of whether you get into the programs or not. You may need them again!

It is true that you will never be able to have a complete control over the content of your recommendation letters.  But by carefully selecting your recommenders, and making effort to inform them about your background and plans, you will ensure supportive letters that will meet the needs of your application.

[Photo courtesy of Rena Sung | After I got accepted, I flew to Singapore where he is based on to say thank you. The photo was taken at a restaurant with my recommender and another supervisor.]

"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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