Archive for work experience

Who Should Not Apply to SIPA

A lot of my blog posts focus on the myriad of wonderful opportunities SIPA has to offer and how no matter your policy interest, the SIPA experience can make all your professional dreams come true! While this is certainly the case for a wide variety of people, SIPA is not the right fit for everyone. Below are examples of 5 types of people who should NOT be applying to SIPA.

  1. You have little or no professional experience. While it’s true that SIPA admits a small percentage (roughly 10%) of applicants directly from undergrad, these are people with significant work or internship experience.  Not only does a lack of experience diminish your chances of acceptance, but it’s not a good idea for you. One of the most important pieces of SIPA is gaining the skills and experience you need to propel you forward in your career, and if you haven’t even began a career, it’s hard to know what those are.  Additionally, a lot of the practical strategies as well as the more theoretical work we do in classes asks us to draw on previous work experience and apply case studies to our own work and life.  You won’t get as much out of your SIPA education if you don’t have these experiences to draw on.
  2. You have no idea what you want to do when you graduate.  Similar to the above, it’s difficult to use a SIPA education to move your career forward if you don’t know where you want to go. That’s not to say you need to know exactly what you want to do after SIPA but you should have a good idea of what you’re passionate about and the kinds of careers that might interest you.  If you are having trouble articulating this in your personal statement, perhaps you should think about gaining another year or two of professional experience before you apply.  A graduate degree is a big investment both in terms of time and money, so you want to make sure it’s something that you need, either personally or professionally, before you make that commitment.  Although many students get their second masters at SIPA, or do a dual degree program these moves are best planned strategically.  Think how frustrating it would be to spend two years at SIPA only to realize that what you really needed was a law degree.
  3. You have trouble interacting with people with different perspectives.  Even as public policy schools go, SIPA is remarkably diverse.  Not only does half of our student body come from non-US countries, we are economically and racially diverse even within our US population (and always striving to be more so).  Just as importantly we attract students with all different experiences and points of view.  If you cannot discuss hot button public or foreign policy issues, such as the Israel-Palestine conflict, domestic health policy and poverty alleviation with people who have drastically different opinions than your own without losing your cool, these are skills you need to hone before entering our program.
  4. You are interested in gaining a purely academic or theoretical background.  Our MIA and MPA differ distinctly from a Masters in Political Science.  There is plenty of opportunity to study theory at SIPA whether it be in international relations, education or just about any topic you can think of, but the programs at SIPA are primarily professional degrees.  Like an MBA or law degree, they are meant to prepare practitioners to work in their chosen field.  Although a limited number of SIPA students do go on to pursue PhDs, that is not what our programs are geared toward.  If you know right now you want to go into theory or academia, you might want to consider a Master degree in political science, economics or another field of interest.
  5. You are unwilling or unable to do the work.  If this seems to you like it should be obvious, it does to me too.  Yet we’ve gotten dozens of emails from applicants asking if we can waive graduation or admissions requirements, if they have to do a capstone workshop or if they can graduate early before they’ve even been admitted.  Although SIPA does offer advanced standing for students who already hold graduate degrees, we want students who want to be here.   I want classmates who want to be here. Even in classes that I dreaded taking and that didn’t apply directly to my job (hello econ!) I still learned something.  There’s a reason these courses are required.  Most SIPA students have significant professional experience so although your experience might be valid or great, it does not exempt you from jumping through the same hoops as your classmates.  If this work doesn’t appeal to you now or you don’t think you can make the time to complete the application requirements, what makes you think the work will be appealing or that you’ll have more time in the future?  There is no shame in researching a school’s curriculum and realizing it’s not for you.

These things all said, I do hope you apply.  SIPA can mean a lot of things to a lot of different students with a variety of goals and if it sounds like our school might be the place for you I invite you to explore this blog, our admissions website or to attend an information session and talk with us further!


Post contributed by Nancy Leeds.  Nancy is a MPA 2nd Year studying Urban and Social Policy/Management with a Certificate in Gender Policy


SIPA Case Competition

The following entry was composed by Sandhya Chari, a second year MPA student concentrating in Economic and Political Development.


This year, I had the chance to participate in something unique at SIPA – the Public Policy Case Competition. This event was modeled after traditional business case competitions, wherein student teams are given a case in the morning, and required to present a strategic analysis of it in the afternoon.  There were two cases – one for public sector and one for international development. I was on a team for international development.

SIPA is the first school to present a competition like this one. It gives students a chance to work in a fast paced environment on real domestic and international policy issues. It also allows us to show our unique skill set, at the intersection of strategic consulting mentality, and policy knowledge. In addition, it gives judges from the world of development consulting a chance to network with each other, as well as meet students hoping to eventually work in their field.

In order to participate, we had to submit applications in the fall. The applications asked us about our consulting experience, and asked us to analyze a hypothetical case. After the selection process, we were assigned to teams. Teams were made up of three people with complementary professional experiences. This ensured that on the day of the competition, we would each be able to contribute a unique skill set.

On the day of the competition, we arrived at 8am to receive our cases. After this, we spent 5 hours pouring over the case and coming up with strategic solutions. By 1pm, we were required to submit a power point presentation of our analysis. Needless to say, this was an intense 5 hours. Each minute was utilized in analysis and discussion. After agreeing on a particular approach, we went to building the power point. At 1:15 the presentations started in random order. Each team got up and spent 15 minutes presenting, and 10 minutes answering questions.

Although our team didn’t win, I know that we all came out of the competition feeling like we had gained a lot. Moreover, it confirms why SIPA is so unique. With our diverse experiences, and skill sets, we are able to come together to tackle a common objective. It was also a great way to see the way our academic learning here will translate into real world projects in the future.

The following Web site contains additional details:

I Am Beginning To Sound Like My Parents

I am officially old.  I don’t know exactly when it happened, but more and more I find myself acting like the “old” people I remember from when I was “young.”  For example . . .

  • I remember my parents saying, “When I was young . . . ” and now I have been caught by many saying the same thing.
  • Some people have joked when sometimes I refer to young people as “kids.”
  • I used to be able to manage a “to do” list completely in my head.  Recently I have found myself forgetting things I told myself I needed to do only minutes earlier.  Like remembering to check the garbage each time I leave the apartment.  Now, if I think of something I immediately try to punch it into my Blackberry so I don’t forget.
  • I am no longer anywhere near familiarity with American pop culture.  At a recent social event someone (that I might refer to as a kid) looked at me like I was from another planet when she started talking about someone named Taylor Swift and I had no idea who Taylor Swift was.  I also have not heard of half of the hosts or music groups appearing on Saturday Night Live in recent years.  I was weird to see Charles Barkley host recently,  I remember him hosting over 15 years ago when the feature group was Nirvana . . . ah the good old days.
  • And oh yeah, gray hairs for me are not something I randomly stumble upon anymore, they have begun to dominate certain portions of my head.

So it seems my memory is going a little and I’m starting to sound like my parents.  Don’t worry, my memory is not so poor that I forgot what I read in an admission file when immediately filling out the review sheet after reviewing a file.  When meeting with the Committee to make final decisions these review sheets come in handy because I do take pretty extensive notes.

Speaking of notes, many people on the Committee tell me I should have been a doctor.  Why?  Because my hand writing is terrible.  With a Blackberry and my laptop, basically the only time I write is when I am filling out a check to hand over to my landlord or filling out admission review sheets.

If I seem like I am rambling like an old man I am guilty as charged, but I do have a point I want to make.  Another thing I remember “older” people saying to me when I was “young” was something along the lines of . . .

“You only truly learn through experience.  Sure you can go to school and study things, but until you are out in the real world there is nothing for the learning to stick to.”

I often find myself speaking with prospects that are still in college and are very excited about going directly to graduate school.  A SIPA we do admit a small number of applicants coming directly from an undergraduate program, but we are careful for a variety of reasons.  Fortunately I am not the only one with advice and an opinion is this regard.  Take the following quote from an interview with Olutayo Akingbe, a 2005 MIA graduate:

What was the most challenging part of your SIPA experience?

“I would have to say that being very young (21 when I entered SIPA) while my colleagues were years older than me was a challenge for me. I didn’t have the work experience, or the life experience, that a lot of my classmates could bring to the table that enriched class discussion.

I turned the challenge into my advantage by using it as an opportunity to learn from the experience of my classmates but in hindsight, I wish I had a little more world experience before attending SIPA. I think I would have gotten more out of my education in the end.”

And at a recent SIPA Alumni event I spoke with an alumnus of our program and asked if there was anything about her SIPA experience that she would have changed.  This is not an exact quote, but it’s close:

“My only regret is that I did not start at SIPA at age 27 or 28 rather than 23.  There is so much I have experienced in the work place that I would have liked to examine within the walls of SIPA.  As a 23 year old I often had no concept of what my classmates were talking about much of the time.”

And finally, I was speaking with a SIPA faculty member recently and this is part of what was said regarding admission file review:

“Some of the younger students at SIPA are too focused on their grades.  Not that grades are not important, however it is the education that is important.  Too often I think young students do not take risks in the program because they are afraid it will impact their grade.  In the real world risks are the foundation of some of the best policy.  For me the mark of a mature student is one who does the work to learn, and the grade is really an afterthought.”

And on a personal note, I won’t go so far as to say that choosing to get my MBA was a “mistake,” but I can say that when I look at the SIPA curriculum I start to drool.  My MBA taught me a lot, but much of the curriculum did not really excite me.  At SIPA, an MPA would have taught me the same core skills, however I would have been able to choose classes that truly excited me and were in alignment with my personal interests.  The kicker?  I enrolled in my MBA program when I was 28.  So even six years out of college did not totally prepare me to choose the “perfect” graduate program for me.  As they say, hindsight is always 20/20.

So when speaking with someone still in college with their hair on fire that has their whole life planned out, the old man in me now smiles a little.  Sure, there are “young” people that are smart, motivated, and certain of what they want to do for the rest of their life, but there are probably as many or more who in 10 or 15 years will not be doing anything close to what they thought they would be doing when they graduated from college.

So in the end the point of this post is twofold.  First, there are a lot of applicants that apply to SIPA either while in their senior year in college or having recently graduated.  It is more competitive for these applicants to be admitted partially because we want to make sure applicants really know the right graduate program for them.  Sometimes this takes a few years of “real life” to work out.

Second, the classroom experience at SIPA is greatly enhanced, both for you and for your peers, when you can flavor your individual and group work with experience.  There is a great deal of group work at SIPA and it is nice to be able to work with individuals who have spent some solid time making decisions they are held accountable for in the work place.

Let us say that you are working on a group project at SIPA focused how the United Nations should develop global responses to terrorist threats.  While Model U.N. experience might be valuable, it is safe to say that the group will have a better learning outcome if maybe a member or two actually worked on security issues at the U.N. for a few years.

I am not trying to dampen the spirits of young applicants to our program, I am just trying to provide a bit of perspective – both as the Director of Admission and as someone who completed a professional graduate degree program.  As I have stated in other entries, I seek to be as transparent as possible, and the reality is that one of the strengths of our program is the wealth of real world experience our applicants have.

A minority of young people with outstanding academic records and internships are admitted, but each year these individuals account for roughly 7-10% of our admitted applicants.  Also, as you have heard from some SIPA alumni, you increase your chance of getting the most out of the program if you have some experience that helps to shape your learning objectives while enrolled in our program.

Young applicants do have some valid concerns when I talk about this issue.  They might often say something along the lines of the following:

You are telling me I need experience to apply and the jobs I want require a Masters Degree.  This puts me between a rock and hard place.

My response?  I agree.  However, approximately 90% of those that are admitted to SIPA did find a way to get a job after graduating, and maybe not the one they necessarily wanted – this is not entirely a bad thing.  The first couple of jobs I had out of college were not my dream jobs, but they served a great purpose in that they gave me transferable skills and taught me what I did not not want to do for a living.  Possibly the best decision I ever made in my life was also to move to a foreign country for a few years after graduating to decompress and grow in ways I could not have if  I had stayed in the U.S.

You talk about experience and I have a lot of experience with internships and volunteer work.  Doesn’t this count for something?

Yes, volunteer experience and internships do “count,” but these experiences are most often short term.  Sometimes people are able to figure out what they want to do through short term experience, and other times the fire begins to subside after the next short term experience begins and another fire is lit.  One of the challenges that faces SIPA students is the vast choice as far as classes – our students enroll in over 1,000 courses per year.  Student that are focused and have experience are best able to navigate the vast listings to choose courses that are relevant to their goals.

So I apologize in what I have written here sounds like it is coming from some out of touch old man, but it appears that more and more I am beginning to fit that mold.  You will have at least one more chance to read a sort of “parental lecture” blog entry when I share my Peace Corps story sometime in the next month or so.

For now, I will date myself further and quote a music group I could recognize, unlike Taylor Swift who I would be unable to pick out of a line up.  I don’t think any member of the Rolling Stones applied to graduate school, however I find great wisdom in the chorus from the song, “You can’t always get what you want.”

You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes you just might find
You just might find
You get what you need

So take heart, sometimes in life you get what you need rather than what you want, and down the road it all makes sense.

"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

Boiler Image