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Best apps and websites for the grad school application process

One of the most important things about applying to graduate school is staying organized. There are so many deadlines/things to remember that it becomes hard to keep track.  However, there are plenty of apps and websites that will make things easier. Below is a list of some popular apps/websites that will make your graduate school application process easier. Feel free to add your own in the comments below. 

Wunderlist: This app is great, it is very easy to input reminders and you can even create a shortcut on your laptop to create notifications with ease. It also syncs with your calendar automatically. 

Wolfram Alpha: This is essentially a very fancy visual calculator. It is able to solve problems across a variety of topics, including probability, money and finance, and statistics. This comes in very handy for the GRE. 

Trello: This is a great website for keeping track of projects with multiple tasks and assignments. Trello is a popular tool for many startups, which means it can handle a large number of tasks at the same time. 

Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock: This is a great alarm clock that works naturally with your sleep cycle. It keeps track of your natural sleeping patterns and REM cycles to wake you up when you naturally would. The application process can be stressful and getting plenty of rest is important.

Youper: This mental health tracking app helps you handle stress. Although there are many apps out there that work similarly, this app stands out among the rest in that it helps you better understand your emotions in real time. Never underestimate the importance of taking care of your mental health!

My Experience with Cross Registration

One of the great things about SIPA are the many course offerings across concentrations and specializations. Although the majority of students spend their first year focusing on the core curriculum, by your second year there are plenty of opportunities to branch out and take electives. One of the great things about SIPA is that it allows you to cross register at other schools within Columbia University. This is a really great add in because it allows you to mix and match across a variety of fields and courses. The process itself is fairly straightforward and varies between each individual school. For example, Columbia Business School offers two cross registration phases during the semester. There are a limited number of seats available for SIPA students in specific business school courses; however, there are a lot of courses to choose from. In my experience, you will generally get your first choice if you apply. SIPA students are able to cross register at several schools at Columbia University, including Teachers College, Columbia Law School, and the Mailman School of Public Health.

Overall, my experience with cross registration has been very positive. I’ve taken courses at the Mailman School of Public Health, the Institute for Research in African American Studies (IRAAS) and Columbia Business School. At IRAAS, I took “Gender, Labor and Sexuality in the Caribbean” with Dr. Pinnock. The course explored the concepts of gender, sexuality and labor and the historical and contemporary perspectives of work in an increasingly globalized society. Taking the course in my second year was really beneficial, as I’d spent my first year at SIPA focusing on the core curriculum and taking classes in my concentration, International Finance and Economic Policy, which gave me a strong background in macroeconomic theory and analysis. The course allowed me to combine my two interests, gender and economic policy and apply my coursework from SIPA in my final paper in the class, which was on Sex Work and the Dollarization of the Economy in Contemporary Cuba.

I highly recommend cross registration and taking advantage of the many courses across Columbia. It is especially important for those of us who are interested in public policy to gain a breadth of experience across a variety of sectors.

Note from Admissions: Graduate school is a big commitment and “fit” is hugely important. Take advantage of SIPA class visits and register here.

SIPA’S SDG Fellows Team are Geneva Challenge Finalists!

Congrats to SIPA’s SDG Fellows team (Alonso Flores MPA-EPD ’19, Nigora Isamiddinova MPA-DP ’19, Jessica Arnold MIA ’19, Nitasha Nair MPA ’19, and Ji Qi MPA-DP ’19) who have advanced to the finals of the 2018 Geneva Challenge. Their project, DASH – Data Analytics for Sustainable Herding, aims to map and analyze the changes in migration patterns, seasonality, and urban and agricultural development using data from satellites, mobile telecommunications, and GPS- enabled systems. It will create a blueprint for utilizing big data and applying machine learning and AI for better policy-making under deep uncertainty.

Launched in 2014, the Advancing Development Goals International Students Contest, or more commonly known as the Geneva Challenge, is an international contest for graduate students that aims to find innovative and pragmatic solutions to a designated international development problem. Every year five finalist teams, one from each continent, is invited to an oral presentation in Geneva where they defend their solutions to a jury and the public. This year the subject is climate change.

SIPA students have a history of partaking in the Geneva Challenge. Previously, a team of recent SIPA graduates (Olga Abilova MIA ’15, David Braha MIA ’15, Isabela Cunha MIA ’15, and Jessica Dalton, a master’s degree candidate at Columbia’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights) were selected as finalists for the 2015 Geneva Challenge on migration.

Wish Alonso, Nigora, Jessica, Nitasha, and Ji luck as they defend their project on November 27!

Tips for Writing Your Personal Essays; Time to Find Your ‘Cornerstone’

As fans of HBO may know, Westworld has been one of the channel’s breakout shows in recent years, a brilliant, if not at times frustrating, mix of sci-fi and Wild West melodrama. The show takes place in the not too distant future, where humans have created robots that are practically indistinguishable from their creators. These robots are housed in a series of enormous, historically themed amusement parks that function as places of leisure and adventure for human guests. One of the more interesting concepts presented in the show is the idea of a ‘cornerstone’; in order to create believable backstories and personalities for the robots, human programmers imparted each AI with individualized memories, memories in which their whole character, and being, are derived from.

How does this relate to the SIPA application? Well, bear with me now. When I first began applying to SIPA, I spent many hours thinking about what to write, and more importantly, which parts of my personal experiences were relevant and worth including. Sometimes I felt like it was best to start with my early childhood in rural New England, growing up traveling between small communities, an experience that first sparked my love for country and our nation’s natural beauty. Other times I felt like I should begin with my incredibly diverse high school in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where I first realized I loved learning about other cultures and identities. When anxious about writing something too ambitious and personal, I decided to talk about my time working for refugee resettlement organizations in Chicago and Istanbul, and how these professional experiences informed my interest in diplomacy and human rights.

After many days of brainstorming and reflecting on what truly motivated me, I knew I had to get at the root of these experiences, and what binds them together. Personally, my thoughts always returned to my mother, who often raised me on her own. Similarly, all of my thoughts were colored with a deep sense of pride in my community and a belief that I must work to represent disadvantaged peoples in everything that I do. Using these two qualifiers, I was able to strip away the extraneous parts of my narrative that sounded good on paper, but weren’t essential to my own story. In doing so, I was able to clearly articulate why I wanted to attend SIPA, and what had driven me to become a U.S. diplomat; that is, a real desire to represent all Midwestern people, and to share our culture and story with communities abroad, through relationships predicated on mutual respect and understanding.

If you are interested in SIPA, you have already demonstrated a baseline desire to improve yourself and to accomplish whatever personal or professional goals you have set for yourself. Therefore, when thinking about how to write your personal essays, I suggest that you also engage in a similar exercise of self-reflection, in an attempt to find your own ‘cornerstone’. By boiling it all down, you will be able to more clearly state your interest in attending SIPA, and your motivations for applying. It will also allow you to parse through your experiences, and similarly decide which ones are essential for telling the story that will give admissions officers an idea of who you are.

Start by writing down the experiences that come to mind when you think about why you’ve chosen to apply to SIPA, or what inspired you to undertake the career path you are on now. Rely on your intuition, and include things that you feel are important, even if they may not make sense to someone else, or seem appropriate to write about on your application. Once you’ve given it enough thought, go back through what you’ve written and begin thinking about what underlying ideas, principles, or experiences connect these seemingly disparate thoughts. Hopefully, you will arrive at an understanding of what truly motivates you, while also narrowing down the experiences you want to draw on while demonstrating your preparedness for SIPA. While difficult, I suspect that the clarity gained from this exercise will make writing your essays much easier and may perhaps serve you well in your own day-to-day life!

GEN Day 2017 at SIPA

In solidarity with the Columbia undergraduate First-Generation Low Income Partnership (FLIP), SIPA students celebrated GEN Day 2017 on April 10, 2017, to honor and highlight the experiences of first-generation students at Columbia University and at SIPA.

As defined by FLIP, first-generation typically refers to being the first generation of one’s family to achieve the level of education one is pursuing, however, due to distinctions in how one defines family and status, being first-generation can be defined as having a different intellectual, emotional, and academic support system.

Here are brief snapshots into the lives of SIPA first-generation students, as compiled by current student Alejandra Bz.

(Can’t see the images below? You can access them on Facebook here.)

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"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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