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Quantitative Coursework at SIPA: Yes, you will pass

I remember when I first looked at the core requirements for SIPA:
Quantitative Analysis

I saw those three classes and I immediately thought “Am I cut out for this?”

For context, I attended a small liberal arts college where I majored in Government and History. During my four years of undergrad, I took one math course and one science course. My internships didn’t require much of a quantitative background, so I graduated with only a basic understanding of Excel and organizational databases. Yet, I still decided to apply. When I was admitted, my anxiety did not get better. Instead, it got worse. I kept worrying that I was going to have some sort of reverse “Eureka!” moment while sitting in Microeconomics, where I finally realized I was incapable of doing graduate level math.

Alas, that did not happen; I managed to get through Micro and Macro my first year and even received high grades in both classes!

For anyone who is worried about the Quant requirements, please do not stress. It is possible to succeed in these courses! And no, SIPA students are not all math whizzes or kids who act like they don’t get math but are secretly really good at it. I’d say a majority of newly admitted SIPA students come in with a similar background as myself.

So in terms of what you can expect, here’s a rough breakdown.


Both entry level economics courses are mandatory for all SIPA MPA/MIA students. There are two ‘levels’ to the courses. The upper division classes are for students who are comfortable with calculus or are really willing to challenge themselves, by learning how to pick up the calculus concepts as they go. Students who either concentrate in International Finance and Economic Policy or want to take higher level economics/trade/finance courses all take the upper division micro/macro courses.

I took the lower level options for both Micro and Macro. Both classes have a fair share of math, but it is mostly arithmetic and geometry. Most of it is all conceptual and the class really is about understanding when to use the right formulas/approach to a question. Believe or not, the math becomes easier over time; the hard part, is again, knowing when to use what.

Whether you enroll in the lower or upper level courses, you will have your main two hour class, recitation, which is an extra class taught by teaching assistants, and a weekly group problem set.

Thankfully, students have access to teaching assistants who offer office hours pretty much every day of the week. These office hours last around two hours and they’re an excellent opportunity to go over concepts and to ask questions you may have on problem sets.

I was diligent about staying on top of my work, so I would go to class, recitation, and office hours every week. Add on top of that the time I spent on the homework and I probably ended up spending roughly ten or more hours a week on Micro/Macro.

However, when you are working with these ideas for hours every week, you really start to pick it up. If you put the time in, you will learn it; trust me!

Quantitative Analysis (Quant):

I am currently in Quant 1 now. Quant is essentially statistics. You have one weekly lecture, a ‘lab’ which is effectively a recitation, and a weekly problem set. The class mostly covers the formulas and theory behind Stats, while the labs tend to focus on interpreting and using STATA, a program for statistics that helps researchers organize and analyze data.

I have found Quant to be a bit harder than Micro/Macro. That being said, if you attend class, lab, office hours and work on the problem set, it’s almost impossible to walk away without feeling like you have some sort of grasp on the topic.

For the more ambitious students

In all likelihood, I won’t be taking anymore quantitative courses at SIPA after I knock out my requirements. However, I have known plenty of students that have gone on to complete the upper division courses, including some friends of mine who were equally as worried about Micro and Macro!

For students interested in learning more about Statistics, you can take Quant 2 and Quant 3, as well as other modeling and research methods courses.

For students interested in higher level economics courses, be mindful that some courses require that you take upper level Macro/Micro; this is typically because these classes use calculus and other advanced methods that are not covered in the lower level introductory courses.

However, there are plenty of upper level courses that do not have rerequisites that cover international trade, game theory, cost-benefit analysis, budgeting and financial markets.

The Point Is, Don’t Psych Yourself Out

If you are currently applying to SIPA or were recently admitted, you are capable of doing well in SIPA’s quantitative courses. These courses are a veritable rite of passage here and everyone experiences it together. By your second year, Micro/Macro will be a distant memory and you’ll joke with your peers about how stressed you all were. So to all future Seeples out there, good luck!

Summer Math Tutorial

SIPA offers incoming students an opportunity to brush up on their quantitative skills before arriving in August.  The first year at SIPA is fillled with required quantitative courses that are building blocks in effective policy making and execution.  The summer math tutorial, while it is not required, it will help students prepare for their math placement exam especially for those who have not sat in a classroom in years. 

Admitted applicants who have paid the deposit and confirmed enrollment for this fall were sent an email advising them on how to access the math tutorial.  It is administered online so no matter where you are in the world, as long as you have internet connection, you  will be able to participate.  If you have been admitted and paid a deposit, you can also access the math tutorial on the Welcome Page.

New Student Summer Email Series

During the summer the Office of Student Affairs will be sending an email to all incoming students each Thursday.  The series actually kicked off a little earlier this week.  Incoming MIA, MPA, and MPA-DP students that have paid a deposit should have received two email messages on Wednesday.  One email contained a welcome message along with a reminder to access your UNI (instructions for accessing your UNI are in the message if you have yet to do so) and the other announced the start of the online summer math tutorial and provided instructions for logging in.  You will need your UNI to log in to the math tutorial.

The summer math tutorial is not mandatory, but we highly recommend that all incoming students participate.  There are several core classes in the first year that are quantitative in nature and second year fellowship consideration requires a 3.4 GPA at SIPA.  The summer math tutorial will help to ensure that you get off to a strong start in the fall.

Please make sure to check your email for the messages that were sent on Wednesday.  The messages will come from so make sure these messages are not channeled into your spam or junk mail folders.  If you did not receive these messages and believe you should have, please send an email to to let us know.

Web Based Summer Math Tutorial

Admitted applicants who have paid the deposit and confirmed enrollment for this fall will soon receive information on a summer math tutorial.   The first year at SIPA is filled with required quantitative courses.  Economics, quantitative analysis, and financial management are building blocks in effective policy making and execution.

The purpose of the summer math tutorial is to give students a jump start on the first year curriculum.  The summer math tutorial will also help prepare students for a math quiz that will be administered during orientation to help make class placement decisions.  Many of our admitted applicants have not sat in a classroom in years and the tutorial is meant to knock some of the mental rust off.  Also of note is that to qualify for second year fellowship consideration, students must have a GPA of 3.4 at SIPA.

While the summer math tutorial is highly recommended for all admitted MIA and MPA students, it is not a requirement.  It will be administered online so no matter where you are in the world, as long as you have an Internet connection, you will be able to participate.

So if you have been admitted and paid a deposit, hang tight for a little while longer and information on the summer tutorial will be sent to you via email, posted on the Welcome Page, and posted on this blog soon.  We will also be posting some of the syllabi used in our core courses this past year to give you an idea of what you might expect from the core curriculum.

To Be or Not to Be Afraid of Quantitative Classes at SIPA

The following entry was contributed by Lacey Ramirez, a second year student at SIPA.  Lacey is working in our office this year and she, along with several other students, are contributing posts throughout the year.

To supplement Lacey’s entry below, let me note that SIPA encourages all applicants admitted for the fall term to participate in a web based math tutorial that takes place in the summer.  Because the tutorial is web based students can participate from any place in the world as long as there is access to a computer with an Internet connection.  Information on the tutorial is made available each May after the deposit deadline passes.


Admittedly, I did not do too great on the quantitative section of the GRE when I was applying to graduate school, despite hours and hours of studying.  But really, I hadn’t taken a serious math course since high school.  I took Introduction to Micro-and Macro- Economics in college, but the professor taught them conceptually and did not use a serious amount of math.  I also took Introduction to Probability and Statistics, and the professor was a visitor and not very good.

However, as a professional in development I realized the importance of understanding quantitative methods and its application.  Thus, when I was applying to graduate school I specifically chose programs that emphasized courses in quantitative skill development.  I explained in my application that I recognized I had a weak background in mathematics and economics, but that I strove to learn these subjects.

I was very excited when I was accepted to SIPA and wanted to prepare the summer before I started my courses.  I looked into calculus programs and other quantitative courses at my local community colleges, not only had I missed a lot of the application deadlines, but they were also quite expensive.  So I went to the local library, and I checked out the summer recommended books suggested by SIPA in the Admission’s preparation documents sent to me.   I also used the math camp materials they sent me to practice.  I probably put in about 10 hours a week, and I got even a little more serious right before school started.

The quantitative based courses at SIPA are quite rigorous, but I was excited by the challenge.  I utilized the tutors and the teaching assistants (T.A.s) for guidance and help solving the problems sets.  I also met with the professors, who are very approachable and accessible, in their office hours.  Also, we work in teams on all the problem sets in both Economics and Quantitative Analysis, and I learned so much working with my very talented, intelligent peers to solve the problems.

In the end, I refused to believe that a person is a “math person” or not and I have excelled in both Economics and Quantitative Analysis.  Sure, I was a little rusty at first, but the more courses I take in the field of economics the more I understand.  That is also to say, the professors at SIPA are very good, and it is the reason why I have been able to finally learn these very important, useful fields.

I am now specializing my degree in Advanced Policy and Economic Analysis and I’m taking statistics courses in the Ph.D. Statistics Department of Columbia in conjunction with my SIPA courses.  During my time at SIPA, I’ve developed a passion for economics that is influencing my career ambitions and direction.  I now fully recognize that my understanding of economics is central to my professional success, and it will help me to be leader in my field.  I am applying to jobs in economic development, and I hope to one day pursue my Ph.D. in Economics.  So in the end, I think if you have the will and the way this powerful brain is capable of learning new and useful information.

"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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