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Applying Students: A Refresher On Some Common Questions

At this time of the year, we have been getting emails from prospective students on all things related to their applications. We thought we would take a moment to address some of the most frequently asked questions and direct you to older blog posts where some of them have been addressed:

Obviously, prospective students always want information about how they can fund their SIPA education. Here is the blog post on relevant financial aid information. It is important to note that first-year applicants are considered for fellowships and scholarships through the university regardless of nationality.

Here is the blog post about things that you should avoid doing when applying to SIPA.

Tps that may touch on some of the specific application areas:

Applying to multiple programs: 

The system allow applicants to easily apply to multiple programs under the same log-in. As per SIPA’s Admissions policy, you may apply to more than one program but you must submit full applications (with all required materials, application fee, etc.) to each program to be considered.

What restrictions are there?

Applicants may apply to any combination of programs EXCEPT you may NOT apply to the (two year full time) Master of International Affairs (MIA) and the (two year full time) Master of Public Administration (MPA) simultaneously (in the same term).

How do I create a new application?

Many people have written or called asking how to create a new application. You may do so by logging in to the application system and in the “application management” page you will see “start new application” below the list of open applications. Select and add the program and term.  You may see a screenshot of my test application below:

Résumés:  Check out guidelines for the résumés: Ready to Talk about Résumés?

Personal Statement:  Each program has specific question prompts that are required to be answered for review by the Committee. Some of these questions may be the same as the prompts for other programs but don’t think that you can submit the same responses if you are applying to more than one program, it will be obvious. You can get a refresher on the personal statements here.

Recommendation letters:  We have received a LOT of calls and emails about recommendation letters so a few refresher posts, such as Can’t Say it Enough, Recommendation requests, with a little time and the Ins and Outs of Recommendation Letters may be useful for you to review.

However, the sheer number of emails and phone calls from panicked applicants indicates that there are some outstanding issues.

  1. Recommenders have not received the recommendation request submission notification and are confused as to how to proceed. The most common reason for this issue is that the email message was delivered to the referee’s spam inbox and so we advise that recommenders check their email folders first.  If the notification has not been received, it may be due to security protocol, particularly if the email addresses has an “irregular” domain name or uses abbreviations (typically addresses from various countries, organizations or even universities/institutions), that prevents the message from being received.

  2. As an alternative, applicants may use a different email address for the recommender but this requires the recommender entry to be deleted and then re-entered to include the updated email address.

  3. As a last resort, recommenders can send the letter (as an attachment) to directly and then our staff can upload the letter to the application manually.  Due to high volume of activity, we request your patience as we process received materials.

GRE/GMAT:  The GRE/GMAT is an important component of the application, and all of your questions about these tests can be found here.

Another item on test scores, WE DO NOT REQUIRE AN OFFICIAL TEST SCORE REPORT TO BE RECEIVED BY THE DEADLINE. The Committee ONLY requires applicants to self-report your scores on the application. I have thought quite a bit about why this is confusing so I have provided a screenshot of “add test” below:

This example is of a GRE score but you only need to type the SCORES and the PERCENTILES in the boxes to report the GRE (or GMAT) and/or TOEFL or IELTS scores in order for your application to be reviewed. It is true that the self-reported scores are considered “unofficial” or a “copy” as you may have seen on your application status page, but this is EXACTLY what the Admissions Committee is looking for.  Once you have submitted your application, you will see something similar to the screenshot below on your application status page:

If your official test score has been received and matched with your application, it will show as “verified” or “original” on the application status page.


Another area of confusion has been the deadlines for each program so you may find the dates below helpful.  If you click the link to each program, you will be taken to the appropriate program checklist page.


With fellowship

Admission only


January 6, 2014

February 5, 2014 (11:59pm EST)


January 15, 2014

February 5, 2014 (11:59pm EST)


January 6, 2014

February 5, 2014 (11:59pm EST)


March 1, 2014

June 1, 2014 (11:59pm EST)


January 15, 2014

February 15, 2014 (11:59pm EST)

Can’t say it enough

[As the saying goes] To put your best foot forward, below are some helpful tips to be aware of as you prepare your SIPA application.

  • Graduate School is expensive so finding money to fund your education is important.  Begin your search for scholarship early – Don’t wait until you have been admitted into a program before beginning that process – It may be too late by then to even be considered for some of the funding opportunities.  Many times scholarship application deadlines occur around the same time as an application deadline for the program you seek entrance.
  • Along the lines of scholarships, SIPA considers all admitted applicants for all applicable first-year fellowships. The only requirement for most awards is to complete and submit the admissions application and all supporting materials by the appropriate deadline.  SIPA also offers first-year students an opportunity to compete for additional named fellowships that require a separate application*; there may be specific eligibility requirements for each of these scholarships.    You will be able to access the scholarship application once you have submitted your fall admissions application, which will appear once you click “submit”.  This opportunity will offer applicants an additional chance to secure funding for their education at SIPA.  Awards vary with each scholarship.  *Available SIPA scholarships for first year students outside of the first year Merit Scholarship process: Dasturdaza Doctor Jal Pavry Award, Financial Women’s Association (FWA) Scholarship, Harriman Institute Fellowship, International Fellows Program, Ipeknur and Shwan Taha Fellowship, Julie Rasmussen Fellowship, Karen Klitzman Memorial Fellowship, Magzhan Auezov Fellowship, Ranjit Jayanti Fellowship, Rachel Spear Fellowship, Robert Kopech Fellowship, Romita Shetty and Nasser Ahmad Fellowship, Sainsbury Fellowship, Sara Jacobs Fellowship, the Most Honorable Bapsy Marchioness of Winchester Award, Robert Legvold Fellowship
  • Please make sure you proofread and edit your personal statement/essays before submitting them.  Tailor your essays to the school, even if it means writing different essays for each school you apply — Make sure you use the right school name if you are submitting similar essays to multiple schools.  And make sure you address the questions asked.
  • Recommendation letters – If the recommender cannot submit it online, they can email it to the SIPA Admissions Office.  Make sure you send them a reminder if they have not submitted the recommendation letter by the end of December — Give them enough time to write and submit it before the application deadline if they haven’t done so already.  And remember you do not need to wait for your recommendations to be received to submit your application.
  • While we do not have a minimum score for the GRE/GMAT, we do have one for the test that measures your English language proficiency (TOEFL/IELTS).  There is a minimum score needed for your application to be considered for admission.  So be mindful of it when you submit your application.  SIPA’s TOEFL/IELTS minimum scores are: TOEFL ibt: 100, TOEFL (computer): 250, TOEFL (paper): 600, and the IELTS is 7.0.

Top 10 Tips for 2012 Application – #10 Reminding or Deleting Recommendation Letter Writers

Our online application system makes it easy to send reminder messages to those you have asked to compose letters of recommendation for your application to SIPA. You can also easily delete a recommender if it turns out they will not be able to submit a letter on your behalf.

All you have to do to perform these actions is to log into the application site with your PIN and password, click on the “Application for Admission” link on the top of the page and then click on the “Recommendations” link on the left menu.

When you click on the “Recommendations” link you will be taken to a new window. Then click on the “Recommendation Provider List” button and you will see the following (above this text will be the names of the recommenders with a blank box next to each name):

To resend a reminder message simply put a check in the blank box next to the recommender(s) name and then click on the “resend” button and an automated message will go out to email address of the recommender you have placed a check mark next to. Please do note that it is a good idea to let recommenders know to look for an email message Apply Yourself.

If you wish to delete a recommender simply click their name and hit the “Delete” button. After doing this you will then be able to add a new recommender.

Right on Schedule

Numbers are definitely a big part of the life of anyone that works in an admission office.  Here are a few insights into what has been on my mind lately . . .

Each year at SIPA roughly half of the people who apply submit their application within 72 hours of the deadline.  A recent report I ran indicates that this year will be no different.

120 hours prior to the January 5th deadline approximately 25% of those in the system had submitted their application.  Roughly 75% are still working away and it would not be surprising to see another 25% submit within a 48 hour period leaving us with 50% remaining for the final 72 hours.

The story is really no different for letters of recommendation.  In the last 24 hours of 2010 there were some busy people.  We received 224 recommendations in the 24 hours prior to the new year and there are still roughly 1,000 that need to be submitted in the final few days.

For those that did submit the application early, now maybe you can understand why we do not start printing applications as soon as they are submitted.  When we print applications, we tell the system to print any submitted recommendations letters at the same time.  Thus, in a perfect world, if you as the applicant submitted all of your information on the application site and your recommenders submitted their letters online as well, everything would print at a single time.

If we print your application and a letter has not been submitted (or any other document for that matter) we have to run a “sweep” at a later time to look for the documents required to complete your file.  The dreaded sweep is filled with peril.  Looking for documents that have been submitted separately can lead to all sorts of paper cuts and staple gouges.

So if you have submitted your application please be aware that it can still take us some time to complete your file.  And if you have yet to submit your application and do so within the next few days, please understand that it might be a few weeks before we certify your file as complete.  Please carefully review this post for important information on how we track application in our office.

All things considered, we appear to be right on schedule.

Top 10 Application Tips #5 – Submission of Documents

This is the fifth entry in our “Top 10″ list to assist you with understanding the process of submitting your admission application to SIPA.  This tip is closely tied to one that appeared in our other Top 10 Series focused on communicating with our office.  This important tip directly relates to the application process so I am including it in this list as well, along with some additional important insights.

I want to emphasize once again that our preference is that all applicants submit 100% of the documents and information required to apply via our web site.  In a “perfect world” if all of your information and associated documents are submitted online, they will print out in order all at one time and we can review your application for completion without having to look for documents that have been mailed.  This is the fastest and most efficient way for us to process applications.  Remember that we ask applicants to self report test scores on the application and we accept/prefer uploaded copies of transcripts.  We also encourage letters of recommendation to be submitted online.

We do understand that some applicants will have to mail transcripts or that letters of recommendation may come in via mail.  Some schools will only mail transcripts and some individuals are not comfortable with technology and wish to mail letters of recommendation.

If something does need to be mailed we highly recommend using a private mail courier.  Columbia is a huge university with one central mail room.  All “standard” mail is funneled to the main mail room and it can take a week or more for mail to be sorted and sent on to us.

By utilizing a private mail carrier the parcel will be sent directly to our office, avoiding delays.  Also, we highly recommend getting a tracking number whenever something is mailed to our office.  This way, the moment we sign for the package the courier will log delivery and you will be notified if you have signed up for email notification.

If you know that a letter or transcript will be mailed to our office, I offer the following advice – provide the recommender or school with a prepaid envelope for mailing.  For example, if a recommender tells you that s/he will not be uploading their letter, visit a mail carrier and prepay for an envelop addressed to our office with a tracking number.  Then give this envelop to the recommender or school that is going to mail the document.  This simplifies the process for the recommender or school and provides you with a tracking number so that as soon as we sign for it, you will know.

Question:  If all of my documents are not submitted online, will my application review be impacted in any way?

Answer: The answer is both yes and no to this question.  First the “No.”  How documents are submitted has no impact upon the decision the Committee makes.  So although we prefer that documents be submitted online, we do not penalize applicants in any way if a document is received by mail.

Now the “Yes.”  If documents are mailed to our office it will take us longer to track them in our system.  Again, when we complete an application has no impact on the ultimate decision, as long as all of your documents/information is submitted by the deadline.  However, if documents are mailed it will likely take us longer to complete the tracking process.  This means that you will likely have to wait longer for us to confirm that all of your documents have been received.

In summary, how documents are submitted has no impact on the admission decision, however it can impact how long it takes us to inform you that your application has been completed.

Question:  Is it okay if I mail my personal statement and résumé in addition to submitting them on line?

Answer:  No. Please upload your two résumé documents and your responses to the personal statement.  Do not send paper copies of these documents to our office.

Question:  Can I mail other documents to your office?  For example, a copy of my undergraduate thesis or a policy memo I composed?

Answer:  No. Please only submit the documents we ask for on the application site.  I know this may sound harsh, but we want treat all applicants the same and we only have roughly six weeks to review several thousand applications.

However, we do encourage applicants to list relevant skills/experience/projects in the résumé, and if this means your résumé is longer than a “typical” résumé that is fine.

So for example, if you completed a thesis would like to provide a brief synopsis in your résumé, that would be completely acceptable.  For full details on our résumé preferences, see this entry.

On a final note for this entry, even if 100% of the documents/information required to apply are submitted online, it can take us up to two weeks to send out a confirmation message stating that an application is complete.  We appreciate your patience as we work as quickly as possible to make sure all of the information submitted is readable and complete.  When a file has been certified as complete, we will send an email message.

"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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