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quants are not that scary when we’ve got your back

If you majored in business or a natural science in undergrad then you are probably not that concerned about math. However, if you are like a large proportion of SIPA students who concentrated more on “political” than “science”, you will need to brush up on your math skills. But don’t worry, Columbia has resources.

Preparing  beforehand, is an excellent way to ensure you have the time to meet all your SIPA requirements. You may consider taking quantitative and/or economic courses to boost your quantitative resume. If additional classes are too expensive, there are a number of free and reputable online courses that you can choose from. I also recommend Schaum’s “Outline of Mathematical Methods for Business and Economics” (ISBN: 9780070176973).   It is a great workbook for practicing all the things you forgot you knew. After you are accepted to SIPA, you will have access to online math tutorials all summer long… but don’t wait.

Once you get to SIPA, you will still have some great resources. All students attend math camp during orientation. At the end of this high speed review from algebra to calculus, you will take a placement exam. If you test out of it, great. If not, there are three levels of courses given over the first four weeks of classes. Your score will determine into which 4 week Lab you are placed; those scoring very low will be required to attend additional sessions. In the math courses, you will continue to review the essential math topics and there is no test to complete the class. Attendance is mandatory and you should definitely take advantage of the free resource. You will actually use it in your year-long economics adventure and your quantitative analysis course.

Math tutors may be available through the Office of Student Affairs.  Also, throughout the year, the Teacher Assistants (TAs), are available to help you prep for your quant heavier courses. Calculate your opportunity cost and take advantage of SIPAs technically FREE resources.

If you still feel like you are just not made for math, read these articles by The Atlantic:

Math doesn’t have to be scary! The Atlantic:

The myth of “I’m bad at math” The Atlantic:

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).

Personal Statement Advice

The most important part of an application to SIPA is most definitely the personal statement. The personal statement gives each applicant the chance to provide the Admissions Committee with a clear picture of what he or she hopes to gain from our program and to elaborate on career/life aspirations.

The best personal statements demonstrate clear focus, elaborate on passion and purpose, and are not vague. The personal statement should be just that: personal. As you describe your goals and the impact on the world you hope to make, you may weave into your statement unique attributes you possess, experiences that have been significant, and intangible things about you perhaps not included in the other parts of your application. Just remember that your passion and goals should be the focus. Your résumé is more about your past, your personal statement should give us a vision for the person you hope to become both during your time at SIPA and after you leave SIPA. Thus when information about your past is included, it should have a descriptive purpose.

The résumé and personal statement should tell us different things. One common mistake some applicants make is to write a personal statement that reads like a résumé. Effective statements expound on future goals and illustrate how the applicant believes concepts learned at SIPA can be applied in the formulation of effective policy.

Strong statements are focused and clear. An example of not being focused is to say that you wish to work for the United Nations. Just saying this alone is too vague. The United Nations is comprised of a multitude of organizations, doing a multitude of different things, in a multitude of different places. Listing a broad policy objective without context is also a common mistake. Whatever you hope to do, you should integrate the who, what, where, how, and why elements into your statement.

Address questions such as: Who do you wish to impact? Is there a specific region, city, country, locality you are passionate about? What population do you hope to serve? What concerns you about the future and how do you hope to address policy questions to make a difference? What skills will SIPA help you to develop? Is there a sector that is most appealing to you? (Non-profit, multilateral, for profit, public). Do you hope to go in a new direction and why? Specificity is important.

There is also a limit to the personal statement for SIPA: it must be 850 words or less. With this in mind, do not state the obvious. For example there is no need to provide the name of your undergraduate school in the personal statement: your transcripts are included in the application packet and this information is redundant. Thus, be wise with your word choice and focus on providing the Committee with a clear picture of what it is you hope to gain from our program and why you are committing two years of your life to obtain a professional policy degree.

"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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