I’m often asked what SIPA looks for in a candidate. We answer this question frequently on the Admissions Blog, during information sessions, Twitter Talk Thursdays, and while on the road. Last week I even hosted a Facebook Live session on how you can stand out to the Admissions Committee. If you need some additional application advice, make sure you review our Evaluation Criteria webpage. To save you a click, here’s what it says:

The Admissions Committee favors candidates with both proven academic ability and relevant work experience. All applicants must submit GRE or GMAT scores.

Academic Background

Because SIPA’s core curriculum includes economics, statistics, and financial management, the Admissions Committee looks for evidence of a candidate’s ability to undertake quantitative coursework at the graduate level.

There are no specific prerequisites for admission, but the Committee prefers applicants who have completed introductory courses in macro- and microeconomics. (Note: A bachelor’s degree or its equivalent from an accredited institution is required to enroll at Columbia SIPA.) Broadly speaking, courses in economics, statistics, and mathematics will bolster an applicant’s candidacy and provide a helpful foundation for study here.

To complete the (optional) higher-level economics sequence requires familiarity with calculus, and even the lower-level sequence assumes an understanding of algebra. Applicants lacking any quantitative background are therefore encouraged to consider enrolling in high-level mathematics courses above all else, and if possible a statistics course as well.

To pursue careers in certain fields — development economics, quantitative policy analysis, trade, finance, environmental economics, energy policy, and international banking — requires an even higher level of preparation before enrolling at SIPA — namely, completion of calculus and an intermediate micro- and macroeconomic sequence at the undergraduate or graduate level. Students without an economics background who are interested in pursuing these fields are strongly encouraged to make up this deficiency before applying to SIPA.

No particular undergraduate major is required, but those looking ahead to possible study at SIPA can take courses in international relations, political science, foreign languages, and history. Applicants whose fields of study were far from the international relations or public administration fields are advised to address with extra care in their essay why they now wish to “change gears” and study at SIPA.

Professional Experience

The only truly common thread uniting successful applicants to SIPA is that most have had at least three years of work or internship experience relevant to their intended course of study.

Our students come from every corner of the globe, with vastly different professional backgrounds and work experience. But experience at an international relief organization, a government agency, a nonprofit or nongovernmental organization, or a corporation with operations in the international sphere (to name a few examples) will certainly make your application more competitive.

Each year, 5 to 10 percent of accepted students come directly from undergraduate institutions. These are individuals with extraordinary academic records who have also had significant internship or study abroad experience. In some cases, recent undergraduates with very strong academic credentials are not offered admission but are encouraged to reapply after they have gained at least one year or more of relevant work experience.

P.S. Don’t forget that today’s the early-action deadline! If  you want an admission decision by January 2017, make sure you submit a completed application by 11:59 p.m. EST.