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The Class Rundown

A common question applicants have is, “What are classes at SIPA like?” I posed this question to current SIPA student Carrie Dorn and she graciously composed the following post . . . no test or paper required, just enjoy!


With all of the activities and events that are happening at SIPA every day, sometimes current students forget to discuss the most important aspect of our graduate school lives–what we pay the big bucks for–our classes!  If you’re wondering about the class experience at SIPA, I’ll try to describe it here.

SIPA is unique in that it offers a flat-rate tuition fee, allowing flexibility in how you structure your workload and schedule each semester.  Full-time students take 12-18 credits per semester, which translates to 4, 5 or 6 classes.  Most students stick with 4 or 5 classes per term, but the amount of work you take on is up to you!

The first-year core classes that you take in Economics, Quantitative Analysis, Management, and Financial Management generally take place in the 4th floor classrooms that accommodate 40-70 students.  The material is presented in lecture format and though the classes are fairly large, students can always participate and ask questions.  Each core course has a corresponding recitation section that meets for about 2 hours each week.  Recitations are taught by 2nd year students who are Teaching Assistants (aka TAs) who have aced the class in a previous semester and can generally be considered experts on the course topics.  The TAs are one of your greatest resources.  They also hold weekly office hours and can provide guidance when it comes to homework, course material and projects.

The same is true of the MPA’s Politics of Policymaking (POP) course and the MIA’s Conceptual Foundations of International Politics (CF), which are also held in large lecture halls.  When all MPAs and all MIAs gather together for the class once a week, it’s nice to get to know the other students in your program.  For POP and CF, the recitation sections are divided into very small groups with 10-20 students each.  In this forum TAs and students can analyze readings in depth, discuss material presented each week, and practice applying theories with case examples.

With some of your core requirements finished, eventually you will be able to take concentration and specialization courses. Many of these classes are held in the smaller rooms, in a more intimate setting focused on class discourse.  In these seminar courses, faculty members have a chance to get to know you personally and they also provide an ideal environment for you to learn from the professional experiences of your teachers and colleagues.  These are often held in classrooms on SIPA’s upper floors…so you will be joining the rush hour crowds at the elevators.  (From experience I’ve learned that taking the stairs is always faster than the elevator…for floors 5 through 9 at least…and it’s also good to get some exercise as you make your way to class.)

In both large and small classes, there is always the opportunity to get to know your professors and have them recognize you.  You can stand out as a star student by participating in class– professors appreciate enthusiastic volunteers– and taking the initiative to meet with them outside of the classroom.  Teachers are also open to hearing student feedback, and particularly in seminar classes, they may adjust the course content to meet students interests.  All professors offer weekly office hours to meet with students about course material or professional advising.  Many students find that when they have made an effort to seek advice from a faculty member, they have been offered assistance in connecting with internships, jobs and other resources.  You also might find common interests with SIPA faculty when you run into them at lectures and events.

Getting ready for the first day of classes each semester can be exciting and a little anxiety-producing.  Even though you’ve studied your schedule, you still may get lost and walk around in circles looking for your class on the 4th floor …which most of us still do after 2 years.  (If you haven’t noticed yet there are plaques around the 4th floor walls that list the classrooms numbers, that you can glance at as you walk by, without having to venture down each hallway.) You may wonder if you’ll see any familiar faces in class.  You’ll consider if you’re better off sitting in the front rows with your pen and paper in hand or trying to hide out in the back of the classroom with your laptop.  Soon enough you’ll be settled into a seat, starting your first SIPA class!

Concentration Consternation

During a few recent conversations with prospective applicants some questions have been asked about admission and how it relates to the field of study at SIPA.  Specifically applicants have asked if we have admission targets for specific fields of study.  The short answer is “No,” however this does require a bit of explanation.

First, let me go over some nomenclature.  At SIPA we have degree programs, core requirements, concentrations, specializations, and electives.  What you will find below is a description of these different items as it relates to our full-time, two-year MIA and MPA programs (this does not include our MPA in Development Practice).

1. Degree Programs:  For the purpose of this entry there are two degree programs, the MIA and MPA. Applicants may apply for one program or the other, not both.  We have general admission targets for the two programs however the numbers are not fixed.  The admission rate is roughly the same for both programs.

2.  Core Requirements:  Core requirements are classes that are required to complete your degree program.  Our core requirements include coursework or projects in the following areas:

  • Politics
  • Economics
  • Statistics
  • Management
  • Financial Management
  • Internship
  • Professional Development
  • Workshop (group project)
  • Foreign Language Proficiency: Required for MIA, not required for MPA students unless the concentration is Economic and Political Development

3.  Concentrations:  A concentration is a policy field or the area of study you are most passionate about studying.  In traditional academic terms you can think of your concentration as your major.  We have six concentrations:

  • Economic and Political Development
  • Energy and Environment
  • Human Rights
  • International Finance and Economic Policy
  • International Security Policy
  • Urban and Social Policy

4.  Specializations:  A specialization is an area of study that seeks to provide students with a specific skill set.  Our specializations can generally be divided into what are called functional skills courses or regional skills courses.  In traditional academic terms you can think of a specializations as a minor.  Our specializations are:

  • Advanced Policy and Economic Analysis
  • Applied Science
  • International Media, Advocacy, and Communications
  • International Organization
  • Management
  • Regional Specializations:  Africa – Europe – Latin America – Middle East – Russia, Eurasia, and Eastern Europe – South Asia – United States

5.  Electives:  Classes students will chose to round out their schedule.  Electives can be taken at SIPA or students can cross register for coursework across the University. Popular elective options at SIPA are classes taken as a part of our co-curricular programs which include the following areas of study:

  • Gender Policy
  • Humanitarian Affairs
  • UN Studies

The elective courses sponsored by these programs may be used, when appropriate, to satisfy course requirements of a student’s policy concentration or specialization.

With all of this in mind, applicants do apply for a degree program (either the MIA or MPA)  and we do ask that applicants list the  intended concentration and specialization on the admission application from a drop down list.  However, as funny as it might sound, we do not have targets for either concentrations or specializations.   There are two important things to consider.

First, we are looking for focus in an admission application.  Thus it is wise for applicants to choose a theme if you will and be as specific as possible concerning their proposed course of study in our program.  We encourage applicants to tie together the personal statement and the choice of concentration and specialization listed on the application.

Second, we do understand that individuals might only come to understand the best pathway to accomplish their goals in our program after enrolling.  Thus someone who indicated a concentration of Economic and Political Development on their admission application may come to learn during their first semester of study after speaking with alumni, faculty, second year students, and the Office of Career Services that a concentration in Urban and Social Policy might actually be the best pathway to accomplish their goals.  Can a student change their concentration from the one listed on the admission application?  Absolutely.  We do not require that students stay with the same concentration listed on the application.

So to sum everything up, applicants apply to a degree program and are required to list a concentration and specialization on the admission application but, we do not have specific admission targets for concentrations and specializations.  We look to admit driven, passionate, focused, creative, capable, and interesting people and we do not set targets for field of study.

Thus applicants should be concerned with putting together a clear and focused personal statement, however applicants should not stress out thinking that there are admission targets associated with our concentrations.  A good portion of our students will find that a different concentration will serve them best after enrolling and thus the Admissions Committee does not set targets for different fields of study.

Fall 2010 Applicant Facts Post #5

The fact/statistic about our applicant pool this week is undergraduate major listed on the application.  50 majors fit into what I would call “standard categories” while number 4 is the “other” category.

Category of undergraduate major is not particularly tied in any way to how we view an application.  If I would have applied to SIPA I would have been in the 7 slot, and my minor was number 3 . . . perhaps another reason I should have chosen SIPA over B school =)

1    Economics
2    International Affairs
3    Political Science
5    Business Administration
6    English
7    History
8    Finance
9    Government
10    Law
11    Engineering
12    Sociology
13    Journalism
14    Communications
15    Anthropology
16    Interdisciplinary
17    International Business
18    Psychology
19    Public Affairs
20    Philosophy
21    East Asian Studies
22    Biology
23    Spanish
24    Mathematics
25    French
26    Accounting
27    Regional Studies
28    Electrical Engineering & Computer Science
29    Religion
30    Computer Science
31    Physics
32    Civil Engineering
33    Education
34    Russian
35    Latin American Studies
36    Urban Studies
37    Comparative Literature
38    German
39    Literature
40    American Studies
41    Fine Arts
42    Classics
43    Geography
44    Earth & Environmental Engineering
45    Linguistics
46    Art History
47    Korean
48    Chemistry
49    Women’s Studies
50    Japanese
51    Italian

FAQ Brochure

Our Web site is obviously the best resource to use when researching questions you might have about our MIA and MPA programs, however each year we publish a small brochure that highlights the most frequent questions asked of us.  Questions like:

  • What is the make up of the SIPA student population?
  • What kinds of employers do SIPA graduates work for?
  • What are the core requirements for an MIA/MPA degree?
  • What are the fields of study available at SIPA?

These questions, and many more, are answered in a brochure that you may view by clicking here.  The document is a PDF and you also have the option of saving it to your computer.


MIA and MPA Curriculum Update

Last year the Dean, working with faculty, administrators, alumni, and students, completed an MIA and MPA curriculum update that will apply to all new students starting in the fall of 2009. The main goal was to restructure our robust curriculum to provide more flexibility, bring faculty closer together, and allow students to package themselves better for work in the policy world.

The core curriculum was refined to ensure that students have access to courses emphasizing strong economic and quantitative analysis skills along with strong management training. Some concentrations were also combined to bring faculty closer together. This will allow for even more professional development opportunities for our students.

A key characteristic of our curriculum is the way we bridge academics to practical policy application. This is accomplished through both internships and workshops. Internships are individual professional opportunities that are completed with an outside client. Workshops are group projects (typically 5-10 students per group) completed with an outside client.

Both of these opportunities provide students the opportunity to develop a professional portfolio to show potential employers. Workshops are set up by faculty members and are included in the syllabus for a course. By combining some of our concentrations faculty will now work more closely on these opportunities so that we may expand the number of options.

The curriculum review also resulted in the addition of what are now referred to as specializations. You can think of a specialization as a minor that focuses on the development of a particular skill set. The goal of a concentration (think of this as your major) is to provide in depth policy knowledge and the specialization (think of this as your minor) will provide a strong set of regional or functional skills to ensure students are able to implement effective policy solutions.

The majority of class offerings have remained the same and students will still have the opportunity to study elements that have always been a part of our programs of study. The main goal has been to restructure things in a way that is more beneficial for students to make an immediate transition into the policy world.

For a complete breakdown of the MIA curriculum click here.
For a complete breakdown of the MPA curriculum click here.

Rob Garris, the Senior Associate Dean of SIPA, recently sat down and gave an overview of the changes. You can view the video by clicking here (Time of Video, 8:40).

"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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