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Top 10 Tips for 2012 Application – #7 Fellowship Statement

This is the seventh entry in our “Top 10″ list to assist you with understanding the process of submitting your 2012 admission application to SIPA. This entry is focused on advice regarding the section of the application entitled “Fellowship Statement.”

Funding a graduate school education can be challenging and I will offer additional insight regarding financial aid in some future entries.  The point of this entry is to provide guidance on the information that we ask for on the admission application.

Question: What do I need to do to be considered for a scholarship from SIPA?

Answer: Every single person that applies to SIPA is considered for SIPA scholarship funding. Thus, all you need to do to be considered is to complete the admission application.

When an Admission Committee member reads the application and fills out a review sheet, he or she can note that they wish for the candidate to be considered for scholarship from SIPA. After all of our admission decisions are made the Committee then takes files that have been marked “consider for fellowship” and deliberates on who will be awarded funding.

Question: Are international students treated differently in the scholarship consideration process?

Answer: No.  All applicants are treated the same regardless of citizenship. Scholarships are based on merit and we are looking for the best possible candidates for admission. This may lead to the question . . .

Question: “What characteristics does a successful scholarship candidate possess?”

Candidates we typically award first year scholarships to “stand out” among the crowd so to speak. You could say that along with academic and professional excellence, scholarship recipients possess a unique story, motivation, and/or drive backed by action that sets them apart from the rest of the pool of applicants.

It might also be a candidate that overcame extreme obstacles to achieve success. There is no formula or checklist that we use to nominate candidates for first year fellowship, we typically tell the Committee to identify the top 10-15% of files they read as worthy of scholarship consideration.

The decision of who to award scholarships to is very difficult for a few reasons. First, our applicant pools are extremely qualified each year. Every admitted applicant possesses an impressive record of accomplishments matched by unique characteristics that the Committee believes will make a strong contribution to the admitted class.

Second, the Committee is only able to award funding to approximately 10-15% of the admitted class. SIPA reserves the majority of scholarship funding for second year students. Not receiving a scholarship offer from SIPA as a newly admitted candidate should not be taken as a slight, it has more to do with the very accomplished pool of applicants and the limited amount of funding for the first year of study.

Non-Columbia Fellowships

SIPA does partner with several organizations to provide funding for admitted candidates. In some cases we provide matching funding and in other cases we just wish to recognize the affiliation by granting our own scholarship to a candidate. The organizations we partner with are listed in a drop down menu on the Fellowship Statement Page of the application. See below for a picture:

You may choose up to two organizations you either have an affiliation with or organizations you have submitted applications to for funding. The process is competitive and we are often not able to award funding to everyone that has a relationship with an affiliated organization.

For example, we receive applications from many qualified alumni of the Peace Corps and we do set aside funding to recognize excellence during service in the Peace Corps, however with the large number of Peace Corps alumni applying we are unable to provide funding to every qualified candidate.

You can access the same list that is on the application by clicking here.

Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) – Timing

U.S. citizens and permanent residents interested in receiving funding from the Federal Government should submit the FAFSA, but please do not do so prior to January 1st, 2012. The 2012-2013 FAFSA will be needed and the Department of Education does not post the form online until the new year starts.  Our FAFSA code is 002707.

Question: What is meant by “head of household?”

Answer: By head of household we mean that you are either entirely responsible for your own finances or that you are the main source of income in a family unit. The family unit should not include your mother or father. An example of head of household would be that live on your own or that you are married and have been earning 50.1% or more of the income for your household (which might or might not include children).

Assets and Liabilities Sections

The instructions are fairly clear on the site, please only enter your assets/liabilities and if married include those of your spouse. Do not include parental information.

Question: Do I need to provide proof of the ability to pay for my education costs when I apply?

Answer: No. Admission decisions take into account merit only, not the ability to pay. International students admitted to the program will have to provide proof of funding to have a visa issued, however this process does not take place until after an international candidate has been admitted and paid an enrollment deposit.

Question: Is the International Fellows Program (IFP) and/or Lemann Fellowship different from general SIPA scholarship funding?

Answer: Yes. Consideration for scholarship funding through the International Fellows program or Lemann Fellowship is different from general SIPA scholarships. To apply, applicants must submit a 300 word statement about why they wish to be considered (separate essay for each program).

It is not mandatory to apply for IFP  or Lemann funding.  Applying for these funds is optional and candidates who do not apply will not be viewed negatively. For more information on these programs please see the Special Fellowships Section on the bottom of this page.

Joint Japan World Bank Graduate Scholarship Program

Recently we posted information on a $33,000 scholarship opportunity for U.S. citizens, nationals, or permanent residents.  For this entry we have a scholarship opportunity that has provided an average award of $35,000 a year to nationals of World Bank Member countries.

The Joint Japan World Bank Graduate Scholarship Program (JJ/WBGSP) is a wonderful opportunity for those that qualify and wish to submit an application.  It does require a completely separate application from the application submitted to SIPA and it is available via the JJ/WBGSP web siteThe deadline to apply is March 31, 2011.

Here is a brief description of the basic qualifications needed to apply, see the site referenced above for full details.

To apply for a JJ/WBGSP scholarship under the Regular Program, an applicant must:

* Be a national of a World Bank member country eligible to borrow.
* Be born after March 31, 1971.
* Have, by March 31, 2011, at least 2, preferably 4 to 5, years of recent full time professional experience acquired after a university degree, in the applicant’s home country or in another developing country.
* Hold a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent.
* Be in good health.
* Be of good character.
* Not be a permanent resident or a national of any industrialized country.
* Not be residing in an industrialized country for more than one year.
* Not be an Executive Director, his/her alternate, staff of the World Bank Group (the World Bank, International Finance Corporation, International Development Association, Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency, and International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes), consultant, or relative of the aforementioned.

Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowship

U.S. citizens, nationals, or permanent residents who are proficient in certain languages may be interested in submitting an application for a Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowship (FLAS).  SIPA will consider newly admitted applicants for funding through this program.  Graduate school student recipients receive $18,000 toward tuition and a $15,000 stipend.

The timing of our admission decisions and the FLAS deadline makes it a little tricky.  Basically those interested in the FLAS must submit an application  for FLAS before the SIPA Admissions Committee has made admissions decisions.  The FLAS application deadline is March 4th and full details regarding the application process and eligible languages can be found on the FLAS application web site.

Unfortunately, it is not likely that we will start publishing admissions decisions prior to March 4th.  We will do our best to start publishing decisions early in March, but we do not set a specific date.  When decisions get sent is dependent upon a variety of factors and this is a topic I will address in a future blog entry.

What this means is that if you are interested in being considered for a FLAS award, you should submit your FLAS application prior to knowing your SIPA admission decision.   Due to the extremely generous nature of the fellowship, I think it would well be worth the time if you qualify and are interested.

Here is a brief description of the FLAS Award taken directly from the FLAS web site:

The Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowship Program is predicated on the belief that “the security, stability, and economic vitality of the United States in a complex global era depend upon American experts and citizens knowledgeable about world regions, foreign languages, and international affairs, as well as upon a strong research base in these areas.”

FLAS fellowships strengthen the nation’s ability to respond to security threats and to compete effectively in the modern world by promoting foreign language competence and area and international knowledge and by ensuring the continuance of area expertise in a variety of fields, including academe.

If you have questions or require further information regarding FLAS, please email Sandra Peters at scp3@columbia.edu

Financial Planning – Now, Not Later

I know what you are thinking . . . the January 5th admission deadline has passed, now I can kick my feet up and wait for my admission decision in March.  While this might be one possible option, it is not the option I recommend.

It is no secret, attending graduate school can be expensive.  The time to look into financing your education is not after you get an offer of admission, it is now.  It is a terrible feeling to get an offer of admission and only then realize you might not be able to attend due to financing.

My advice is that if you have not started already, that you set aside time each week to research issues related to the cost of graduate school and the payment options available.

There are many kinds of aid available including:

  • Institutional funding provided by SIPA
  • External Scholarships (i.e. Fulbright, Pickering)
  • Federal Loans (for U.S. citizens and permanent residents)
  • Private Loans
  • Work Study
  • Grants
  • Sponsorship funds from agencies/organizations

Most SIPA students utilize a combination of resources to make attending possible.  Each year students bring in several million dollars of funding that does not need to be repaid by researching and applying for funding.  My feeling has always been that applicants should spend twice the amount of time researching financial aid as is spent on the process of applying for admission.  I covered this topic in a past post entitled The Rule of Two.

I highly encourage you to review the entry but the analogy used is one that you might have heard before from a teacher.  It is not uncommon to hear a teacher say that for every hour spent in the classroom, at a minimum a successful student will spend two hours outside of the classroom.

My feeling about admission and financial aid is the same. At a minimum, one should spend twice as much time researching financial aid options as researching admission to a program.  While SIPA does allocate around $6 million each year on fellowships for students, a limited number of first year students receive funding (around 10-15%).

With this in mind, it will benefit you to research costs and other sources of funding so that if admitted you have a plan.  Not having a plan and not having done research is a strategy that most often leads to frustration.  Here are some tips to get you started:

• Check out SIPA’s own fellowship database. We search for scholarships for you and post them to the database.  The database is not SIPA specific.  As we search for and hear about funding, we make the information available to you.

• Use RSS technology to deliver news to your email account or RSS Reader.  RSS allows for news to be delivered to you without having to go look for it every day.  As an example, Gmail accounts have something called the “Alert” tool and I am sure other providers have the same capability.  All you have to do is put in text for searches and a search engine will perform the searches daily and deliver news to your email account.  You can type in search terms like “Graduate School Scholarships” or “International Affairs Scholarships.”  You can also utilize an RSS reader.  RSS readers are free and if you do not know what an RSS reader is, click here for a YouTube tutorial.

• Talk to people you know who have gone to graduate school and find out if they were able to find scholarship opportunities.

• Contact people that have written you a letter of recommendation and have them make multiple copies of the recommendation letter and give them to you in sealed envelops so you are ready if a scholarship opportunity arises and there is a tight deadline.

• Start to familiarize yourself with the cost of living in New York City.  SIPA is only able to provide housing for approximately 30% of our students and most students must find housing the city.  A great resource to get started is Craigslist.  I recommend signing up for an email feed for NYC apartments.  Following rental trends will help familiarize you with costs around the city.

• Familiarize yourself with the payment and billing options available to SIPA students.  You can get started by visiting the Columbia University Student Financial Services home page.

I will not say the process of searching for funding and familiarizing yourself with costs is easy and it can take a considerable amount of effort.  However, the sooner you start to look the more doors you will possibly open – figuratively and literally.

Yellow Ribbon Program

SIPA is proud to be a participant in the Yellow Ribbon Program, a financial aid opportunity under the Post-9/11 GI Bill.  Interested Veterans will need to complete two steps to qualify.  First is to file paperwork with the Department of Veterans Affairs and second is to submit a Web based form to SIPA.  The funding is based on a first-come, first-served basis and applicants will be ranked by when they apply for the program via the Web based form supplied by SIPA.

We are currently working on getting the form set up and when we have more information on when it will become available we will post information to this blog as well as send an email to the email address supplied by applicants when they applied.  Stay tuned for more information.  A general overview of the program is available on the Columbia University Student Financial Services Web site.

"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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