Archive for first year

Words of Wisdom from 1st Year student Alex Frias MPA ’21

Hi! I’m Alex Frías, from sunny Mazatlan, Mexico. I am a 22 year-old first year IFEP student at SIPA. Before starting this adventure at Columbia, I was doing my BA at McGill University, getting involved with the Mexican diplomatic mission in Montreal as well as the Mexican community in Canada. I came to SIPA because I am really interested (and optimistic) about US-Mexico-Canada cooperation on trade, investment, migration, and environmental issues.  Something random about me is that I’m super passionate about Russian literature and astrophysics! 

Describe a week at SIPA for you.

I arranged my schedule in such a way that I would have some days off to focus on my professional development, which is a big part of one’s journey at SIPA.

  • Monday – I only have Microeconomics with Prof. Gerratana (amazing person and an even better professor!). I usually stay at SIPA for a few hours, working on assignments and catching up with friends on the 4th floor. Since it is a fairly calm day, I like making myself a nice dinner, watch the news and get ready for a busier Tuesday.
  • Tuesday – A busier day for me. I have Quant in the morning, followed by a “break” that I always dedicate to catch up with the news back home (Mexico and Canada). After that I have my Politics of Policymaking (POP) class with Prof. Sabatini, which is just a great time to discuss politics happening throughout the world.
  • Wednesday – The busiest day! Micro in the morning, then 3 hours of accounting with Prof. Bartczak, followed by POP recitation. I am usually exhausted after all my classes so, to keep myself sane, I normally watch a show and try to rest as much as I can
  • Thursday through Sunday – I focus on learning new skills online, reaching out to alumni, looking at internship opportunities, but also go out to talks, gatherings with my peers or even chill at the Columbia Club to meet new people. After all, socializing is a big part of professional development here at SIPA.

How do you find the curriculum? Is there a steep learning curve at SIPA?

I think it really depends on your background. Coming straight from undergraduate gave me the benefit that it didn’t take long for me to get used to the academic pace. But even then, professors are always there for you and will proactively reach out if they feel you are struggling.

Regarding the curriculum, not even after all my research when applying here did I realize how you can shape your degree. It is absolutely safe to say that two MPAs or two MIAs at SIPA can have very little in common because of how you can tailor your program to exactly your needs. In my case, I am tailoring my MPA to be very similar to an MBA but with a strong policymaking perspective, given the role that government policy plays in the markets and business world. 

What’s your favorite thing about SIPA?

The people, by far. A friend said during orientation, “I don’t know what kind of algorithm admissions uses, but they nail it with the kind of people they pick!”

Everyone is very open-minded, down to earth, and from so many different backgrounds that it’s impossible to find someone at SIPA who does not have an interesting story to tell. Oh, and it’s also very cool to be waiting in the same line for coffee with a Nobel laureate (Professor Stiglitz).

What’s something you want to change about SIPA?

Sometimes we forget SIPA is part of a wider Columbia. It’s very easy to stay in the SIPA bubble, with such amazing talks happening there so often and the proximity with your classmates that the International Affairs Building fosters. I really force myself to spend my time elsewhere other than SIPA, and explore the many libraries and amazing activities that Columbia and Barnard have to offer. 

What would you tell yourself about applying knowing what you know about SIPA now? 

Don’t be shy, get involved and interact with SIPA people! Students, alumni, professors, and people from Admissions: We. Don’t. Bite. Oh and also, for international students: housing in NYC is crazy. Don’t be like me. Think about coming a few weeks in advance to find a place to live.

What advice do you have for applicants? 

Don’t get discouraged because of grades, GRE scores, or job experience. People at SIPA understand each of those only tell a very limited part of your story. Trust me when I say this: there is no one way to get into graduate shool. As cliché as it sounds, don’t let your “weaknesses” bring you down; rather, share with Admissions what your attributes are and how you can put them into action at SIPA. 

Best of luck and I hope to see you around the halls of SIPA next year!

Peter Zheng MPA ’20 reflects on his first year at SIPA

Hi! I’m Peter Zheng, MPA Class of 2020 and concentrating in Economic and Political Development and triple specializing in East Asia, Management, and Technology, Media, and Communication Studies! I was part of the 5-10% accepted from undergrad so I did not have work experience prior to SIPA. I graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of Pittsburgh Honors College with quadruple majors in Economics, Political Science & Government, Business Administration, and a Bachelor of Philosophy (master’s-level degree) in Psychology within 4 years.

What was your first year of policy school like?

Whenever people ask me about policy school, I always say, “It’s a choose your own adventure.” It’s not hard if you don’t want it to be hard, but it can be hard if you make it hard. You prioritize what is important to you.

To me, I value experimental and classroom learning. In my first year of graduate school I took 12 courses at SIPA, 2 courses at Columbia Business School (CBS), and 4 courses at a rigorous online business certificate program outside of Columbia University. Boy, OMG did I learn. It’s probably something I will never ever do again, but I learned a lot and met so many cool humans because of it. So, for that, I am super grateful.

During my first year, I created a startup (but decided to pause after talking to media executives because the media ecosystem is highly distorted, and barriers of entry are super high). I started an independent research project at Columbia Business School with a CBS PhD student, and did research in the management division at CBS, which was a continuation from my summer internship before SIPA. I applied and received five fellowships from CBS/SIPA, joined the board of SIPA’s Technology Student Association, learned how to live alone in Manhattan (Hell’s Kitchen is lit), and met some really cool people who have become dear friends!

What are your plans this summer?

I’ll be spending my summer working at UNICEF as a business operations analyst (networked from a SIPA professor). I was also accepted into a joint healthcare entrepreneurship program at Harvard Medical School and MIT in June. I’ll be TA-ing the Executive Ethics EMBA course at CBS (networked through a CBS professor). I’ll also be creating a new social impact startup, synthesizing both SIPA and CBS resources.

Do you have any regrets?

I used to question whether coming straight into an MPA program without full-time work experience was the right choice, and whether I should have pursued a different degree because my interests span across disciplines. I was considering a deferred MBA or a PhD in Management. I didn’t know if the MPA was worth the investment or whether this degree was right for me.

A year later, I learned it’s not the letters on the degree that matter (our graduates enter each sector at a proportional rate: private sector, public sector, and government) but the connections you make, which land you the opportunities.

As a SIPA student with access to all of Columbia University’s resources, I was able to spend my time pursuing interests at both SIPA and Columbia Business School. This created rare, intersectional opportunities that make this question easy to answer. It was most definitely worth it, and I don’t question it anymore!

Why did you choose SIPA?

Location, faculty, school brand, and job placements (median salary & industry) — These were the most important things to me! I was deciding between 9 schools (Cornell, Georgetown, Duke, Oxford, Brown, Carnegie Mellon, McGill, University of Chicago, and Columbia), but chose Columbia for the aforementioned reasons.

I approached my decision objectively by creating a grad school utility function and allocated criterion with separate weights and running it through Excel. I included additional personal reasons as well: I wanted to be in a progressive city; I’m a foodie so food options were a must; living and tuition costs; and a place where my parents and friends could easily visit me!

The location of SIPA is unbeatable and something you should consider heavily if you are a go-getter and want to network with people. It is so easy in Manhattan! The faculty is top-notch at SIPA and Columbia University as a whole. You have amazing guest speakers e.g., former Secretary of Education John King Jr., Hillary Clinton, Wendy Kopps, and talented adjunct faculty who are working in these fields that bring their work experience into the classroom settings. These are just to name a few!

What is your advice for student starting their first year?

  1. Stay true to your core values. If you don’t like drinking, ditch the happy hours and attend other events that don’t circulate around booze! I don’t drink so I invite people to coffee/tea/food outings and create meaningful connections there.
  2. Don’t lose confidence in yourself and ditch the imposter syndrome! You were admitted for a reason.
  3. Consider taking cross-registered courses for Pass/Fail if you don’t need the credits for a concentration or specialization. Grades can vary across classes, so if you cross register in other schools at Columbia, know that an “A” there may translate to an “A-/B+” at SIPA.
  4. Engage in intentional networking and relationship building.
  5. Taking all of your core curriculum courses during your first year can get exhausting. Frontloading your core can mean doing multiple problem sets and studying for exams every week. I took half the core my first year with interesting electives and will take the other half my second year with some fun electives. This makes the semesters more fun for me. This also gives ample opportunity to spread yourself across Columbia, engage with the greater NYC community, and do fun things.
  6. You’re here for a terminal degree: Spend less time in the library, take advantage of Columbia University’s resources and not just SIPA (you are only here for two years, so maximize the university’s resources while you can as a student), and create your own unique SIPA experience.

If you have more questions about SIPA or want to chat, please reach out! I’m on Instagram at @peteey27 and SIPA Admissions can connect us by email. I’ll show you my favorite food and coffee spots! 🙂

Pictured at the top: Peter hosting a housewarming party with SIPA classmates.

A Little Planning Goes A Long Way: How To Maximize Your SIPA Experience From Day One

You have been accepted to SIPA and have decided to attend. Your housing has been secured and your concentration and specialization have been selected. You are now ready to embark on the first year of SIPA. But before you finalize your class schedule and show up for orientation, it is essential to recognize that maximizing your graduate school experience begins on day one. Luckily, we have these tips from SIPA veterans on how to make every moment of your first year count.


Take Professional Development During Your First Semester

This way, you will take the course with the majority of your classmates and will be able to use the skills taught for your internship search and informational interviews right away.


Consider Enrolling In Core Requirements During Your First Year

Though many students grumble about delving into economics and statistics, completing these courses right away will make you eligible to enroll in courses for which these are prerequisites. Again, the majority of your classmates will choose to take these courses early on, making it easier to find study partners and notes from that lecture you slept through.


Start Looking For Summer Internships…Now

Though August and September may be too early to start application processes for these coveted positions, it is important to think about what ideally you want to be doing this summer from the get-go. Start by calling SIPA alums who have taken your desired path, having career services edit your resume, and taking the time to research possible opportunities online and through SIPALink.


Get Involved

Now is the time to explore different clubs and organizations that interest you. Joining these groups are a fantastic way to meet your new classmates and explore professional opportunities with like-minded peers. Especially because life at SIPA quickly gets very busy, join these groups and become committed to them before you’re drowning in reading and midterms. ​


An extension? More opportunities for funding?

What better gifts can you receive this year than an extension and more opportunities to get money to study?

Due to recent dislocations, Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs will extend its final application deadline to February 5.

However, for fellowship consideration, applicants must submit their application by the original deadline of January 5.

This year, we are also offering new SIPA students an opportunity to apply for additional scholarships outside the first-year fellowship process; which means more opportunities to secure money for your first year at SIPA.   Click here for details.

Happy Holidays!


"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

Boiler Image