Archive for FAQ – Page 3

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.]

Here’s SIPA’s evaluation criteria

I’m often asked what SIPA looks for in a candidate. We answer this question frequently on the Admissions Blog, during information sessions, Twitter Talk Thursdays, and while on the road. Last week I even hosted a Facebook Live session on how you can stand out to the Admissions Committee. If you need some additional application advice, make sure you review our Evaluation Criteria webpage. To save you a click, here’s what it says:

The Admissions Committee favors candidates with both proven academic ability and relevant work experience. All applicants must submit GRE or GMAT scores.

Academic Background

Because SIPA’s core curriculum includes economics, statistics, and financial management, the Admissions Committee looks for evidence of a candidate’s ability to undertake quantitative coursework at the graduate level.

There are no specific prerequisites for admission, but the Committee prefers applicants who have completed introductory courses in macro- and microeconomics. (Note: A bachelor’s degree or its equivalent from an accredited institution is required to enroll at Columbia SIPA.) Broadly speaking, courses in economics, statistics, and mathematics will bolster an applicant’s candidacy and provide a helpful foundation for study here.

To complete the (optional) higher-level economics sequence requires familiarity with calculus, and even the lower-level sequence assumes an understanding of algebra. Applicants lacking any quantitative background are therefore encouraged to consider enrolling in high-level mathematics courses above all else, and if possible a statistics course as well.

To pursue careers in certain fields — development economics, quantitative policy analysis, trade, finance, environmental economics, energy policy, and international banking — requires an even higher level of preparation before enrolling at SIPA — namely, completion of calculus and an intermediate micro- and macroeconomic sequence at the undergraduate or graduate level. Students without an economics background who are interested in pursuing these fields are strongly encouraged to make up this deficiency before applying to SIPA.

No particular undergraduate major is required, but those looking ahead to possible study at SIPA can take courses in international relations, political science, foreign languages, and history. Applicants whose fields of study were far from the international relations or public administration fields are advised to address with extra care in their essay why they now wish to “change gears” and study at SIPA.

Professional Experience

The only truly common thread uniting successful applicants to SIPA is that most have had at least three years of work or internship experience relevant to their intended course of study.

Our students come from every corner of the globe, with vastly different professional backgrounds and work experience. But experience at an international relief organization, a government agency, a nonprofit or nongovernmental organization, or a corporation with operations in the international sphere (to name a few examples) will certainly make your application more competitive.

Each year, 5 to 10 percent of accepted students come directly from undergraduate institutions. These are individuals with extraordinary academic records who have also had significant internship or study abroad experience. In some cases, recent undergraduates with very strong academic credentials are not offered admission but are encouraged to reapply after they have gained at least one year or more of relevant work experience.

P.S. Don’t forget that today’s the early-action deadline! If  you want an admission decision by January 2017, make sure you submit a completed application by 11:59 p.m. EST.

"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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