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Mathematics? Language? A resume?

Even Albert Einstein said: “Do not worry about your difficulties in Mathematics. I can assure you mine are still greater.”

Our perceptions of our skills tend to skew left, and when we think about our math ability, we reflect on our confidence, and not our actual skills.

The SIPA Admissions office understands that applicants will have varied quantitative backgrounds and skills. We have designed an application that best allows you to demonstrate your quantitative competencies through the quantitative/language resume. Here, you can highlight experiences that have strengthened your math, economics, and statistics skills.

The core curriculum at SIPA requires the completion of rigorous quantitative courses and we want to make sure applicants provide as much information as possible about their quantitative aptitude, experience, and capabilities. This can include coursework in mathematics, statistics, economics, engineering, natural or computer science, etc. as well as the use of quantitative methods in a professional environment (paid, volunteer, or intern work is acceptable).

Perhaps you have worked as an accountant, bookkeeper, or balanced budgets in your professional experiences. Perhaps you served as treasurer of a student organization or used quantitative skills in a volunteer opportunity. These are experiences that you can include in the additional resume.

Is there an ideal quantitative background SIPA is looking for in an applicant?

Recently, we’ve received many questions about what makes an ideal quantitative background for a hopeful candidate.  While SIPA does not have a rigid answer, the Admissions Committee looks for evidence of a candidate’s ability to undertake quantitative coursework at the graduate level. Most successful applicants have completed at least two courses in economics (macro and microeconomics). Applicants lacking a quantitative background are encouraged to consider enrolling in mathematics courses above all else.

While the Admissions Committee does not require that each applicant have experience in all three areas (economics, statistics, and mathematics) to be admitted, extensive coursework in these areas definitely strengthens one’s chances of gaining favorable admission consideration.

For more on quantitative questions, check out our Frequently Asked Questions pages.

 

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 sipa_admission@columbia.edu 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.

Deadlines!

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.

Program

With fellowship

Admission only

MPA/MIA

January 6, 2014

February 5, 2014 (11:59pm EST)

MPA-DP

January 15, 2014

February 5, 2014 (11:59pm EST)

PEPM

January 6, 2014

February 5, 2014 (11:59pm EST)

EMPA

March 1, 2014

June 1, 2014 (11:59pm EST)

MPA-ESP

January 15, 2014

February 15, 2014 (11:59pm EST)

Ready To Talk About Resumes?

The two-part resume section of SIPA’s application is your chance to show us all of your skills and what you have been doing academically and professionally. The resumes are a critical element of the application; it is where we will be able to determine if you meet the basic qualifications to become a member of the SIPA community.

The Basics

We require all of our applicants to submit two separate resumes. These are broken down into:

  • The Traditional Resume or Curriculum Vitae (C.V.)

This is what people generally think of when they hear the word “resume.” This document includes but is not limited to:

  • Positions held (employment and internships)- including specific dates
  • Academic degrees and other academic achievements
  • Volunteer, public service, political work completed
  • Memberships in honorary societies and awards for service or leadership
  • Extracurricular activities and particularly if an MIA applicant-foreign travel undertaken, including purpose and length of stay

Please note that in other countries, C.V’s are generally more personalized. They may include marital status, nationality, or even a picture. You should avoid including this information on your resume for SIPA.

How Should It Be Formatted?

We like white space! Please make it legible for us to read, and use a professional, legible font. 11 point font is a good place to start. Use bold text for headings. Make sure a full page is used up before heading to the next page.

Just remember…

No graphics or non-standard fonts, please! You’ll be safe if you stick with Arial, Calibri, or Times New Roman.

And Now, The Quantitative Resume

This second résumé will focus exclusively on your background in quantitative methods and language learning/ability. Because SIPA’s core curriculum includes economics, statistics and financial management, it is important for the admissions committee to look at your previous experiences and successes in quantitative classes.

  • On this resume, please be as detailed as possible. We want to know more about these classes and what you learned in them. What was the content of the class? Tell us.
  • Proficiency in a second language is a graduation requirement of the MIA program but is not a requirement of the MPA program (unless an MPA student chooses to major in Economic and Political Development).  Proficiency is defined as the ability to use a second language at an intermediate level.  Academically this is defined as the ability to achieve a grade of “B” or better in an intermediate level 2 language course.
  • If you have been out of school for a while, do not feel compelled to spend hours and hours trying to search for old syllabus or text book titles/authors.  The point of the résumé is not to put you through some sort of time trial, it is meant to provide information on the core learning from the course/experience.  The example résumé was borrowed from an applicant that applied to SIPA while still in college, and is meant to only be a sample.  Simply provide as much information as you can and you will be fine.
  • One question you might have is, “If the course is listed on my transcripts or noted in another part of my application, is it necessary to include it in the Quantitative/Language  résumé?” The answer is yes.  It is okay to be redundant or to include the same information that might be listed in another part of the application in this section.  Seeing the information twice, but in more detailed format in the résumé portion, is what the Committee is seeking to achieve.

 

Top 10 Tips for 2012 Application – # 4 Résumés

This is the fourth entry in our “Top 10″ list to assist you with understanding the process of submitting your 2102 admission application to SIPA.  This entry is focused on advice regarding our résumé requirements.

The first thing to take note of is that we require applicants to submit two separate résumés.  This may seem strange at first but I believe this entry will clear up any confusion.

Traditional Résumé

The first résumé is no surprise.  You could refer to this as your “traditional” résumé and everyone applying probably has had a working résumé for some time.  A traditional résumé includes, but is not limited to, information such as:

  • Positions held (employment and internships) – include specific dates please
  • Academic degrees and other academic achievements
  • Volunteer, public service, political work completed
  • Memberships in honorary societies and awards for service or leadership
  • Extracurricular activities and particularly if an MIA applicant – foreign travel undertaken, including purpose and length of stay.

Please note that readability is very important.  We do no recommend using very small font and extended margins.  When applying for a job many people feel compelled to use these tactics to keep their résumé to a page or two.  This résumé is for graduate school consideration and the Committee encourages applicants to list all relevant information and to not use a small font or extended margins in an attempt to cram a great deal of information into a very small space.  A résumé that is longer but easier to read is much preferred over a short résumé that is hard to read.

Put another way – we like white space.  Committee members have to read several hundred applications and small fonts and cramped formats are very difficult on the eyes.  When it doubt, use 12 point font and normal margins – the Committee will thank you for it.

On a final note, we do not recommend that applicants use graphics or non-standard fonts.  Let the content of your résumé speak for you.  The font chosen should be easy to read and graphics (other than bullets and bold face) do not enhance the readability of a résumé.  Common fonts that are easy to read include Arial, Calibri, and Tahoma.

Quantitative/Language Résumé

The second résumé will focus exclusively on an applicant’s background with quantitative methods and language learning/ability.

Quantitative Methods

The core curriculum at SIPA includes required coursework in economics, statistics, and financial management.  The Committee is therefore quite interested in the quantitative aptitude of applicants to our program.  This most typically includes coursework and/or professional experience related to mathematics, statistics, and economics.  Also of note  can be quantitative experience as it pertains to areas such as science or engineering.

Unfortunately, academic transcripts rarely provide in depth descriptions of the actual content of coursework completed.  For example, a class labeled as “Principles of Economics” on a transcript provides little detail on how much focus was placed on the use of quantitative methods.  And with the large number of international applicants to SIPA, often times transcripts translated into English will just list a class as “Mathematics” thus giving the Committee little information on the actual content/level of math studied.

Providing the opportunity for applicants to list detailed information pertaining to quantitative preparation/experience will allow for better explanations of past academic and professional experience.  The goal is to be able to allow applicants to list full descriptions of courses included in a course catalog or in the syllabus used in a class.

Language Learning/Ability

Proficiency in a second language is a graduation requirement of the MIA program but is not a requirement of the MPA program (unless an MPA student chooses to major in Economic and Political Development).  Proficiency is defined as the ability to use a second language at an intermediate level.  Academically this is defined as the ability to achieve a grade of “B” or better in an intermediate level 2 language course.

Incoming  MIA students who speak English as a native language will be tested in a second language of their choice upon entering into the program.  Due to the intensity of the MIA program at SIPA, it would be quite difficult for an applicant with no previous language study to achieve intermediate level proficiency in two years of study.  The Committee therefore wishes to see at least elementary level proficiency in a second language when evaluating an MIA applicant for admission.

If an incoming native English speaker passes the proficiency exam administered shortly after beginning the program, no additional language study is required.  If the grade achieved on the exam is not sufficient, to prove proficiency a grade of “B” or better must be achieved in an intermediate level 2 language course during the time at SIPA in order to graduate.

For MPA students that speak English as a native language, second language learning is optional so it is not required to include language learning information in the second résumé.  However, if an MPA applicant does have experience in a second language we encourage them to provide this information because it provides us with additional information on your background. 

Please do note that there is one exception to the language requirement for the MPA program.  If an MPA applicant chooses the Economic and Political Development concentration, second language proficiency is a requirement just like in the MIA program.

For applicants that do not speak English as a native language, the second résumé will provide an opportunity to elaborate further on time spent studying English and other languages.  This can of course include academic study but can also include additional information not included in transcripts or test scores such as time spent living in English speaking environments.

Details on Quantitative/Language Learning

The second résumé is meant to provide applicants with the ability to provide detailed information which can include:

  • Name/level/grade/institution pertaining to classroom courses.
  • For classroom courses, a description of the course and specific learning objectives (best done by providing a description from a course catalog or a syllabus that was used for the class).  If it has been a number of years since you graduated, a description from a current course catalog found on your school web site can suffice.
  • Examples of working knowledge of the subject matter as demonstrated in academic or professional settings.
  • Tests taken and grades/scores achieved.
  • Specific certificates earned.
  • In the case of second language learning, the following information is useful:
  1. Information on time spent in a foreign country where the language is spoken.  Or, if the second language was spoken in your home country please provide the context (i.e. did you grow up in a home where a second language was spoken but your academic training was in another language?).
  2. Details regarding professional/volunteer/personal use of the language.
  3. Specific details/examples regarding writing, reading, speaking, and listening ability.

One question you might have is, “If the course is listed on my transcripts or noted in another part of my application, is it necessary to include it in the Quantitative/Language  résumé?”

The answer is yes.  It is okay to be redundant or to include the same information that might be listed in another part of the application in this section.  Seeing the information twice, but in more detailed format in the résumé portion, is what the Committee is seeking to achieve.

You can view samples of this résumé by clicking here.  Do note that the sample is only a guide.  The level of detail you wish to include is entirely up to you.

If you have been out of school for a while, do not feel compelled to spend hours and hours trying to search for old syllabus or text book titles/authors.  The point of the résumé is not to put you through some sort of time trial, it is meant to provide information on the core learning from the course/experience.  The example résumé was borrowed from an applicant that applied to SIPA while still in college, and is meant to only be a sample.  Simply provide as much information as you can and you will be fine.

Not Your “Average” Profile: Things to Consider as a Young Applicant to SIPA

The following post was submitted by Brittney Bailey.  Brittney is working in our office this year and she, along with several other students, are contributing posts throughout the year.  Another helpful entry on this topic written from an administrator standpoint can be found here.

_____________________

One of the most common questions we at admissions are asked is:

“What are my chances of getting into SIPA if I am a younger applicant?  Do I even stand a chance?”

Usually these questions come from prospective students who have been out of school for 1 or 2 years or those who are in their final year of their undergraduate program and want to transition straight into graduate school.  And many times, these specific questions are deferred to me.

I entered SIPA one year after graduating from undergrad and was commonly marked as the “baby” of every group assignment or SIPA bonding-experience.  The reality is that SIPA does lend itself to students who exude a certain clarity and confidence in what they want to do and know how their degree program will specifically fit into their career goals. Of course, this isn’t always the case, but older students with more professional experience generally fall into this category.

So, from one “young” student to another, I wanted to list a few key tips to keep in mind when approaching the admissions process to professional schools like SIPA.

Be aware of the statistics

  • About 5%-10% of accepted students come directly from undergrad each year. These students tend to have extraordinary academic records, significant internship and/or study abroad experience and a fairly clear idea of what career path they want to head on.   Note, the more substantive the internship experience, the better. Yes, having lots of internships at big name organizations can look good on your resume.  But keep in mind that the Admissions Committee does more than glance at this section.  They expect to see a CV longer than one-page (see resume entry here), unlike a typical job resume, and are really looking at content.  So, making sure that even a few internships, fellowships or part-time jobs can better demonstrate your ability to handle relevant and substantive work is vital.
  • In many cases though, students with very strong academic backgrounds are not offered admission but are in fact, encouraged to reapply after gaining a year or two of relevant work experience.  Applying for competitive or prestigious short-stint programs like Teach for America, the Peace Corps or Fulbright and Luce Scholarships are a good stepping stone into graduate programs that can further give you the hard skills, connections and credentials you need to advance in an international affairs career.

Think Quant!

  • I could not stress enough the need to familiarize yourself with quantitative analysis before applying to SIPA.  Honestly, I avoided quant classes like the plague during my undergraduate career, even though basic economics courses were required as part of my international relations degree.  This was definitely to my detriment! Although I ended up loving my economics courses at SIPA, especially those that applied to development, I have always felt as if I were playing “catch up”.  Having a few courses in Micro and Macroeconomics, statistics, and mathematics under your belt are incredibly important tools for the SIPA experience and any international affairs or policy career.  Not only do they make your transition into graduate school much easier, but they serve as a form of “leverage” in the application process when being benchmarked against many students who have years of applied, practical knowledge.

Be clear about career objectives

  • As a young student, you inevitably have less “tools” to work with.  Your CV will most likely have less pages than an average SIPA student who was the Director of an NGO on the Thai/Burma border working with refugees for five years or who moved up the ranks as a Senior Analyst at Citibank in New York, Hong Kong and New Delhi offices.  Not to worry! Even if your goal is to essentially become one of your peers, a SIPA degree can very well enhance these career paths. Being as clear as possible in your personal statement about how to achieve this path is imperative.  Ask yourself regularly: What do I think I want to do? Have I already taken all of the basic steps to get there?  And how will this degree at SIPA and many of its components – from the concentration, specialization, professors, locale to the potential student body – help me to get to this goal?It’s not a simple question to answer at whatever age.  But, it’s an imperative one to address and drive home in your personal statement, particularly as a student with limited professional experience.

Don’t be afraid to “stay out of the game” (for a bit)

  • I know that this is usually not the answer people want to hear.  But speaking from personal experience, had I gone through the admissions process all over again I would have spent another year or two working in international development.  In fact, after my first year at SIPA, I took off some time, in part, to do just that. Gaining the additional professional experience helped me to really refine my objectives at SIPA.  I am much more confident in what I have to offer to a future employer and what I need to take from the program here.  Staying out of the SIPA game for just a few years can really enhance how well you play once you’re in it.

Having said all this, it is possible to be a young student at SIPA and make the most of your experience.  I hope these tips, at the very least, help out some of you who have asked this common question.

"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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