Archive for statistics

Quantitative Coursework at SIPA: Yes, you will pass

I remember when I first looked at the core requirements for SIPA:
Quantitative Analysis

I saw those three classes and I immediately thought “Am I cut out for this?”

For context, I attended a small liberal arts college where I majored in Government and History. During my four years of undergrad, I took one math course and one science course. My internships didn’t require much of a quantitative background, so I graduated with only a basic understanding of Excel and organizational databases. Yet, I still decided to apply. When I was admitted, my anxiety did not get better. Instead, it got worse. I kept worrying that I was going to have some sort of reverse “Eureka!” moment while sitting in Microeconomics, where I finally realized I was incapable of doing graduate level math.

Alas, that did not happen; I managed to get through Micro and Macro my first year and even received high grades in both classes!

For anyone who is worried about the Quant requirements, please do not stress. It is possible to succeed in these courses! And no, SIPA students are not all math whizzes or kids who act like they don’t get math but are secretly really good at it. I’d say a majority of newly admitted SIPA students come in with a similar background as myself.

So in terms of what you can expect, here’s a rough breakdown.


Both entry level economics courses are mandatory for all SIPA MPA/MIA students. There are two ‘levels’ to the courses. The upper division classes are for students who are comfortable with calculus or are really willing to challenge themselves, by learning how to pick up the calculus concepts as they go. Students who either concentrate in International Finance and Economic Policy or want to take higher level economics/trade/finance courses all take the upper division micro/macro courses.

I took the lower level options for both Micro and Macro. Both classes have a fair share of math, but it is mostly arithmetic and geometry. Most of it is all conceptual and the class really is about understanding when to use the right formulas/approach to a question. Believe or not, the math becomes easier over time; the hard part, is again, knowing when to use what.

Whether you enroll in the lower or upper level courses, you will have your main two hour class, recitation, which is an extra class taught by teaching assistants, and a weekly group problem set.

Thankfully, students have access to teaching assistants who offer office hours pretty much every day of the week. These office hours last around two hours and they’re an excellent opportunity to go over concepts and to ask questions you may have on problem sets.

I was diligent about staying on top of my work, so I would go to class, recitation, and office hours every week. Add on top of that the time I spent on the homework and I probably ended up spending roughly ten or more hours a week on Micro/Macro.

However, when you are working with these ideas for hours every week, you really start to pick it up. If you put the time in, you will learn it; trust me!

Quantitative Analysis (Quant):

I am currently in Quant 1 now. Quant is essentially statistics. You have one weekly lecture, a ‘lab’ which is effectively a recitation, and a weekly problem set. The class mostly covers the formulas and theory behind Stats, while the labs tend to focus on interpreting and using STATA, a program for statistics that helps researchers organize and analyze data.

I have found Quant to be a bit harder than Micro/Macro. That being said, if you attend class, lab, office hours and work on the problem set, it’s almost impossible to walk away without feeling like you have some sort of grasp on the topic.

For the more ambitious students

In all likelihood, I won’t be taking anymore quantitative courses at SIPA after I knock out my requirements. However, I have known plenty of students that have gone on to complete the upper division courses, including some friends of mine who were equally as worried about Micro and Macro!

For students interested in learning more about Statistics, you can take Quant 2 and Quant 3, as well as other modeling and research methods courses.

For students interested in higher level economics courses, be mindful that some courses require that you take upper level Macro/Micro; this is typically because these classes use calculus and other advanced methods that are not covered in the lower level introductory courses.

However, there are plenty of upper level courses that do not have rerequisites that cover international trade, game theory, cost-benefit analysis, budgeting and financial markets.

The Point Is, Don’t Psych Yourself Out

If you are currently applying to SIPA or were recently admitted, you are capable of doing well in SIPA’s quantitative courses. These courses are a veritable rite of passage here and everyone experiences it together. By your second year, Micro/Macro will be a distant memory and you’ll joke with your peers about how stressed you all were. So to all future Seeples out there, good luck!

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.


Summer Reading – Part 6

First let me state what this entry is not.  The links you will find below are not the syllabi for new students entering in the fall of 2011.  The syllabi listed below are samples taken from courses taught in the 2010-11 academic year  for some of our core requirements.  Faculty are working over the summer to determine the exact content of classes for the upcoming semester and syllabi will be distributed during the first week of classes.

What this entry is trying to accomplish is to provide you with samples of content of our core degree courses from the past.  Some incoming students have made requests for examples from past courses and our curricular affairs office passed along the following.

So, please feel free to explore the syllabuses provided below to get an idea of the coursework and reading requirements.  Consider this a taste of a few of our offerings to get familiar with the work load and types of assignments you might expect.  Please do not attempt to contact the individuals listed in the documents as these courses have been completed.

Fall 2010 – U6006:  Strategic Thinking and Planning for General Mangers

Fall 2010 – U6005:  Effective Management in the Public Service

Fall 2010 – U6110:  Politics of Policy Making (MPA only)

Fall 2010 – U6800:  Conceptual Foundations of International Affairs (MIA Only)

Fall 2010 – U6500:  Quantitative Analysis

Fall 2010 – U6400: Economic Analysis for International and Public Affairs I

Spring 2011 – U6401:  Economic Analysis for International and Public Affairs II

Spring 2010:  Economics 4201 – Economics for International and Public Affairs II


Web Based Summer Math Tutorial

Admitted applicants who have paid the deposit and confirmed enrollment for this fall will soon receive information on a summer math tutorial.   The first year at SIPA is filled with required quantitative courses.  Economics, quantitative analysis, and financial management are building blocks in effective policy making and execution.

The purpose of the summer math tutorial is to give students a jump start on the first year curriculum.  The summer math tutorial will also help prepare students for a math quiz that will be administered during orientation to help make class placement decisions.  Many of our admitted applicants have not sat in a classroom in years and the tutorial is meant to knock some of the mental rust off.  Also of note is that to qualify for second year fellowship consideration, students must have a GPA of 3.4 at SIPA.

While the summer math tutorial is highly recommended for all admitted MIA and MPA students, it is not a requirement.  It will be administered online so no matter where you are in the world, as long as you have an Internet connection, you will be able to participate.

So if you have been admitted and paid a deposit, hang tight for a little while longer and information on the summer tutorial will be sent to you via email, posted on the Welcome Page, and posted on this blog soon.  We will also be posting some of the syllabi used in our core courses this past year to give you an idea of what you might expect from the core curriculum.

To Be or Not to Be Afraid of Quantitative Classes at SIPA

The following entry was contributed by Lacey Ramirez, a second year student at SIPA.  Lacey is working in our office this year and she, along with several other students, are contributing posts throughout the year.

To supplement Lacey’s entry below, let me note that SIPA encourages all applicants admitted for the fall term to participate in a web based math tutorial that takes place in the summer.  Because the tutorial is web based students can participate from any place in the world as long as there is access to a computer with an Internet connection.  Information on the tutorial is made available each May after the deposit deadline passes.


Admittedly, I did not do too great on the quantitative section of the GRE when I was applying to graduate school, despite hours and hours of studying.  But really, I hadn’t taken a serious math course since high school.  I took Introduction to Micro-and Macro- Economics in college, but the professor taught them conceptually and did not use a serious amount of math.  I also took Introduction to Probability and Statistics, and the professor was a visitor and not very good.

However, as a professional in development I realized the importance of understanding quantitative methods and its application.  Thus, when I was applying to graduate school I specifically chose programs that emphasized courses in quantitative skill development.  I explained in my application that I recognized I had a weak background in mathematics and economics, but that I strove to learn these subjects.

I was very excited when I was accepted to SIPA and wanted to prepare the summer before I started my courses.  I looked into calculus programs and other quantitative courses at my local community colleges, not only had I missed a lot of the application deadlines, but they were also quite expensive.  So I went to the local library, and I checked out the summer recommended books suggested by SIPA in the Admission’s preparation documents sent to me.   I also used the math camp materials they sent me to practice.  I probably put in about 10 hours a week, and I got even a little more serious right before school started.

The quantitative based courses at SIPA are quite rigorous, but I was excited by the challenge.  I utilized the tutors and the teaching assistants (T.A.s) for guidance and help solving the problems sets.  I also met with the professors, who are very approachable and accessible, in their office hours.  Also, we work in teams on all the problem sets in both Economics and Quantitative Analysis, and I learned so much working with my very talented, intelligent peers to solve the problems.

In the end, I refused to believe that a person is a “math person” or not and I have excelled in both Economics and Quantitative Analysis.  Sure, I was a little rusty at first, but the more courses I take in the field of economics the more I understand.  That is also to say, the professors at SIPA are very good, and it is the reason why I have been able to finally learn these very important, useful fields.

I am now specializing my degree in Advanced Policy and Economic Analysis and I’m taking statistics courses in the Ph.D. Statistics Department of Columbia in conjunction with my SIPA courses.  During my time at SIPA, I’ve developed a passion for economics that is influencing my career ambitions and direction.  I now fully recognize that my understanding of economics is central to my professional success, and it will help me to be leader in my field.  I am applying to jobs in economic development, and I hope to one day pursue my Ph.D. in Economics.  So in the end, I think if you have the will and the way this powerful brain is capable of learning new and useful information.

"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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