Archive for specializations

So many concentrations, so little time

An alum once told me that the best and worst thing about being at SIPA is the amount of choice we have. Those words could not ring truer today. Seeples are spoilt for choice when it comes to courses on offer, even more so when we have the opportunity to cross-register (in layman terms: take classes from other Columbia University schools).

It’s easy and tempting to want to do everything, but that quickly becomes overwhelming when you’re trying to juggle school, internship/work, student organization, school events, sleep and wellness, and having a social life.

When I first came to SIPA, I had no idea what my graduate school game plan was – what skills did I want to develop, what classes I wanted to take, what knowledge I wanted to get which would help me towards a meaningful career after graduation. I did the safe thing and opted for core classes in the first semester to buy myself some time. While you’re not locked into your concentration when you’re at school, it helps to have a clear idea of what direction you want to head in. Here are three tips to help you find what concentration/specialization works for you:

#1 Figure out your area of interest and choose a concentration that caters to it

AKA, why do you want to go to graduate school. By now, you may already be in the early stages of your personal statement, which has hopefully helped you think about what drives you and what your career goals are. There are six concentrations for both MIA & MPA degrees and each curricula has a different subject matter and focus. The focus of each concentration is quite self-explanatory as they are rather distinct – economic development, energy, human rights, international finance, international security, and urban & social policy.

Choosing a concentration does not restrict you from taking classes that might relate to other concentrations. Rather, it serves as a starting point to help you focus/tailor your graduate school academic life. One of the biggest concentrations is Economic and Political Development (EPD), which I belong to. I chose EPD (and stuck to it) because of the breadth of courses and the focus on development and emerging markets. As I hope to return to Southeast Asia, this emphasis on the developing world is important for me.

#2 Identify your specific interest or leverage your professional background to specialize

Choosing a specialization is SIPA’s way of helping you further focus your degree. Most people have one specialization but some do have two specializations, because why not. Specializations require less credits to fulfill the criteria compared to concentrations. But don’t fret because you only need one to graduate. If you’re unsure of how to choose, go with your gut because SIPA offers flexibility in changing your specialization. Management is a popular specialization because it offers a wide range of flexibility, especially if you’re looking to take classes outside SIPA. Some Seeples also specialize in a region. Some specializations such as Technology, Media and Communications (TMAC) are still broad and offer more breadth and further focus such as cybersecurity.

The tl;dr version is don’t stress because there is a lot of flexibility to explore and choose your specialization if you’re admitted. It might be more helpful to think about what geographic coverage you might prefer.

#3 Recognizing how much flexibility you want to pursue electives

Every concentration has different requirements and the amount of credits you need to take to fulfill that requirement. Concentrations such as EPD, Energy and Environment (EE) and the International Finance and Economic Policy (IFEP) may have more core requirements compared to others. This might limit your ability to take more electives and classes outside of SIPA, if that is what you are looking for, or if you’re not keen to take full 18 credit semesters. Some requirements may also be challenging to fulfill. For example, EPD has a second language requirement and language courses can be 4/5 credits. This might limit the number of electives you can take per semester if you are required to take language classes and cannot test out. Similarly, IFEP is a more quant-heavy concentration which requires satisfying more advanced economics and quantitative courses.

Think about the trade-offs of what experience you are looking for out of graduate school and how much flexibility you require for your own well-being.

Seeple Profiles – Can you see yourself here?


Kristen Stamboulian

Kristen Stamboulian

What did you do prior to SIPA?

Prior to SIPA, I was a public school teacher in the Bronx for six years. I taught 6th-8th grade English and served on my school’s leadership team.

Why did you choose Management and is it meeting your expectations?

I chose management because I wanted to gain the skill sets that I knew I would need in order to one day work as a leader in public education reform. The specialization, by far, exceeded my expectations! Professor Holloway is an incredible chair of the department and has thoughtfully designed the program to fit students’ areas of interest. She’s very accessible to students and has become a mentor to me along the way.

What do you plan on doing after SIPA?

After SIPA, I am hoping to return to my hometown of Detroit and work on education policy to improve student outcomes across the city. I know my specialization in management has provided me with the skill sets needed to meet this challenge head on.


Eric Shrago

Eric Shrago

What did you do prior to SIPA?

Prior to SIPA, I worked in financial services in the US and in Asia helping companies grow and expand into new markets.

Why did you choose APEA (Advanced Policy & Economic Analysis) and is it meeting your expectations?

I chose APEA because I wanted to further build my quantitative and analytical skills. The APEA program presents a multitude of opportunities to do this as the courses not only draw from SIPA but also from many of the other departments and schools at Columbia. This has allowed me to tailor my coursework to my interests.

What do you plan on doing after SIPA?

After SIPA, I want to work in policy that encourages renewable energy development.


First-Year Retreats at SIPA

The following post is credited to second-year student Sawako Sonoyama.


First-Year Retreats at SIPA

Not sure what your concentration should be? It may be confusing to know which concentration is right for you during the application stage. However, there will be plenty of opportunities for you to learn about all of the different concentrations at the beginning of your first semester before you have to decide. One perfect way to explore if a concentration is right for you is to go on a Retreat.

Every year during the first month of the Fall semester, almost all of the Concentrations, Specializations, and Specific Degree Programs will offer a Retreat for first-year students. There are so many retreats to choose from! In one weekend, a SIPA first-year must decide between the International Finance and Economic Policy (IFEP) retreat , the United Nations Study Program (UNSP) retreat, or the Energy and Environment Retreat. These retreats have many objectives: to convince those who are uncertain about their path, to make new friends amongst those who are interested, to introduce the faculty and advisors involved, and to create your family at SIPA.


It is true that your concentration becomes somewhat of your family during your 2-year life at SIPA and I was able to find this family through my concentration retreat.  As an Economic and Political Development (EPD) student, going to the EPD retreat last year was one of the best decisions I made. Looking back, I made the majority of my SIPA friends this weekend at the EPD retreat. We still laugh about the inside jokes and the corky activities we shared from that weekend. (Can’t tell you what we did exactly, don’t want to ruin the surprise!)

Retreat 2009

EPD Retreat 2009

Recently I had the pleasure of going on the EPD retreat again as a second year. I was chosen to help organize the retreat by creating community building activities, facilitating discussions, and answering a lot of “first-year” questions.  I was pleasantly surprised that I actually could give some advice, considering just a year ago I was lost and clueless about what courses, concentrations, etc.  It is quite incredible how much we learned in one short year and also scary that we will be graduating next spring.

Overall, it was nostalgic and wonderful to return back to where we started as EPD students just a year ago. I am happy to have made a lot of first-year friends while reconnecting with my 2nd year EPD friends. From what we could observe, the first-years seem to have had a great time and successfully created their family as well. I hope that they loved the EPD retreat as much as I did,  and encourage all future SIPA students to go on at least one retreat when they arrive to SIPA.


EPD Retreat 2010—2nd years

"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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