When we here at Admissions talk about what we look for in a SIPA candidate, the first item on that list is professional experience: “Most successful applicants have had at least three years of work or internship experience relevant to their intended course of study.” But every year, the incoming class has a small percentage of students who come straight from undergrad.
We often have people asking us, “Should I apply if I’m coming straight from undergrad? What are my chances?” Only you know when the time is right to apply and attend graduate school – for some people that’s at age 22, and others maybe 32 or 42. (Regardless of your academics and experience, you have 0 chance of getting in if you don’t submit your application.)
An anonymous student who came straight from undergrad says, “Don’t Apply Yet, Undergraduates” in this piece on The Morningside Post, a student-run platform for SIPA experiences and opinions:
“If you are an undergraduate student thinking about applying to SIPA, don’t rush. Expose yourself to the best, most enriching experiences so you can to get the most out of a truly unique graduate program like SIPA.”
As another student who came to SIPA straight from undergrad, Dylan shares his thoughts:
“As a junior and senior in undergrad, I naturally got caught up in the anxiety that surrounds the job recruiting process. As young twenty-somethings, we are expected to make decisions that will shape the trajectory of our careers and our lives, with little experience to draw from.
I was fortunate enough to be awarded a State Department fellowship that made my decision much easier. However, I still felt like I lacked the skills and experience to know how to best take advantage of this opportunity.
Now, two years later, after completing three semesters at SIPA, I have a concrete idea of what I offer to State and what I hope to specialize in. I credit SIPA and Columbia for providing me with the skills and exposure to new ideas and fields that I previously knew nothing about. Now, as a prospective Foreign Service Officer, I hope to build upon my anti-corruption and good governance coursework, by applying what I’ve learned in the field.
While the decision to jump straight into graduate school after undergrad is a difficult one, it has been rewarding for me and most of my other peers who made the jump. Here are some things to consider before making the decision to apply.
I majored in Government and History in undergrad. I loved my undergraduate education; it was holistic, I developed my reading and writing skills, and I learned a lot about political theory. While great, I didn’t leave undergrad with a field or area of study that I knew I wanted to study in-depthly. At times, I was drawn to Latin American studies. Other times, I wanted to focus on human rights and post-conflict resolution.
This type of oscillating is natural; however, SIPA’s rigorous education forced me to think about these issues in ways I previously never had. In turn, after a few courses that threatened to draw me in a million different directions, I realized that I really loved two things: anti-corruption policy and writing.
At SIPA, I have access to world-class experts on the issue of good governance, who continue to serve as mentors. In terms of writing, I took a course with Claudia Dreifus, a New York Times reporter, who completely blew up my style – and changed it for the better.
I do not encourage students to apply if they have absolutely no idea what they’re doing post-grad and want to delay going into the professional world. However, if you have strong interests and a general idea of what fields/careers you want to pursue, going into graduate school immediately after undergrad is a great option. It provides you with perspective, exposure and ultimately the connections that can only be found in places like SIPA, where theory and practical application are taught by experts who are active in their field. By taking classes, completing internships and befriending your peers, you will slowly gain a better understanding of where your strengths lay, and how to begin your journey into the professional world.”
We hope this gives you more information in making your decision about graduate school. Know that you are the only person who can decide when the time is right for you; and that the Admissions Committee does see applicants that would be fantastic candidates after another year or two of working. Graduate school is a huge commitment in time, resources, and opportunity cost, and every candidate should make sure they can get the most out of their time in school.