Classes for the Spring 2019 term started last week and the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid is delighted to have a new program assistant with us this semester. You’ve already met Dylan, Julia, and Kier – now please meet Samantha. (And a big congratulations to Niara who just graduated, though we’ll still have a few admissions insights from her this semester!)


My name is Samantha and I am a second-year, MIA student here at SIPA with a concentration in International Security Policy and a specialization in International Conflict Resolution. I graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2013 with a dual degree in Political Science and Global Studies. In between graduating from undergrad and SIPA, I lived in Washington D.C. for four years where I first worked as an intern on Capitol Hill, and then as a legal assistant for Sidley Austin LLP in their International Trade and Arbitration division. After three years in the legal field, I wanted to transition into the policy field to better understand the implications of foreign policy on peacebuilding and conflict resolution. That is where SIPA came in, and now I get to learn about these implications while being taught by some of the leading minds in the field.

What attracted you to SIPA and Columbia University?

When I was making the decision to apply to graduate school, I made a list of all the things I wanted the program to have. I wanted to get both a theoretical and practical foundation regarding foreign policy; I wanted to learn from the leading minds in the field; I wanted to attend a place where I would have to work hard, but also could be socially engaged; and I wanted a program where my classmates would be from around the world and would bring new perspectives to policy discussions. SIPA and Columbia University, was the only school that had a blend of all of these elements, and this is what ultimately attracted me to the SIPA Masters in International Affairs program.

What experiences do you think prepared you to attend SIPA?

I believe my work and internship experience really prepared me for SIPA. These experiences made me passionate about pursuing a graduate degree at SIPA, and they also demonstrate that I had the skills to perform well in a working environment. Most students have three or more years of work experience before coming to SIPA, so my recommendation for future students is to get as much work or internship experience as possible. Even if future students are applying straight from the undergraduate level, any experience counts.

Did you have a lot of quantitative experience when you applied to SIPA? Why or why not? How did you perform in those classes?

When I was applying to SIPA, I had been out of school for four years and my job at the time did not have many quantitative elements to it. I kept asking myself: “Am I qualified enough?” If you are a prospective applicant with minimal quantitative experience and are looking to brush up on your quantitative skills before applying there are ways to do so. You can take a macroeconomics/microeconomics or statistics course through a local college, use online resources to practice basic quantitative skills, or see if you can jump on projects at work that have quantitative components. In order to familiarize incoming students with the quantitative methods used in its core curriculum, SIPA provides a math refresher course online over the summer, and while it is optional, I highly recommend reviewing it especially if you do not have a lot of quantitative experience. It really helped me brush up on the skills, and, despite my lack of quantitative experience, allowed me to create a foundation to do well in the quantitative courses that are a part of SIPA’s core curriculum.

What has been the most challenging part of your SIPA experience?

The biggest challenge has not been the coursework, the networking, nor the work life balance; but rather getting over the self-doubt that I acutely felt in my first semester. I constantly wondered: “How did I get in when my peers are uniquely qualified to be here?” This doubt resides in all of us but can oftentimes be hard to shake. However, once I dove in to my course work, became involved in some student organizations, and made some new friends, I slowly removed this layer of doubt and recognized I was exactly where I should be.

What has been the best part of your SIPA experience?

The best part of my SIPA experience has been the friendships and personal connections I have made while at SIPA. While SIPA and its coursework are unique and top-notch, it’s the people I have met that have truly enriched my experience. Through courses, student organizations, and winter-break trips run by SIPA students, I have made friendships with bright and passionate individuals from around the world. School can be stressful, but it helps when you have such amazing fellow SIPA classmates who are there for you when you need it.