Hi! I’m Alex Frías, from sunny Mazatlan, Mexico. I am a 22 year-old first year IFEP student at SIPA. Before starting this adventure at Columbia, I was doing my BA at McGill University, getting involved with the Mexican diplomatic mission in Montreal as well as the Mexican community in Canada. I came to SIPA because I am really interested (and optimistic) about US-Mexico-Canada cooperation on trade, investment, migration, and environmental issues.  Something random about me is that I’m super passionate about Russian literature and astrophysics! 

Describe a week at SIPA for you.

I arranged my schedule in such a way that I would have some days off to focus on my professional development, which is a big part of one’s journey at SIPA.

  • Monday – I only have Microeconomics with Prof. Gerratana (amazing person and an even better professor!). I usually stay at SIPA for a few hours, working on assignments and catching up with friends on the 4th floor. Since it is a fairly calm day, I like making myself a nice dinner, watch the news and get ready for a busier Tuesday.
  • Tuesday – A busier day for me. I have Quant in the morning, followed by a “break” that I always dedicate to catch up with the news back home (Mexico and Canada). After that I have my Politics of Policymaking (POP) class with Prof. Sabatini, which is just a great time to discuss politics happening throughout the world.
  • Wednesday – The busiest day! Micro in the morning, then 3 hours of accounting with Prof. Bartczak, followed by POP recitation. I am usually exhausted after all my classes so, to keep myself sane, I normally watch a show and try to rest as much as I can
  • Thursday through Sunday – I focus on learning new skills online, reaching out to alumni, looking at internship opportunities, but also go out to talks, gatherings with my peers or even chill at the Columbia Club to meet new people. After all, socializing is a big part of professional development here at SIPA.

How do you find the curriculum? Is there a steep learning curve at SIPA?

I think it really depends on your background. Coming straight from undergraduate gave me the benefit that it didn’t take long for me to get used to the academic pace. But even then, professors are always there for you and will proactively reach out if they feel you are struggling.

Regarding the curriculum, not even after all my research when applying here did I realize how you can shape your degree. It is absolutely safe to say that two MPAs or two MIAs at SIPA can have very little in common because of how you can tailor your program to exactly your needs. In my case, I am tailoring my MPA to be very similar to an MBA but with a strong policymaking perspective, given the role that government policy plays in the markets and business world. 

What’s your favorite thing about SIPA?

The people, by far. A friend said during orientation, “I don’t know what kind of algorithm admissions uses, but they nail it with the kind of people they pick!”

Everyone is very open-minded, down to earth, and from so many different backgrounds that it’s impossible to find someone at SIPA who does not have an interesting story to tell. Oh, and it’s also very cool to be waiting in the same line for coffee with a Nobel laureate (Professor Stiglitz).

What’s something you want to change about SIPA?

Sometimes we forget SIPA is part of a wider Columbia. It’s very easy to stay in the SIPA bubble, with such amazing talks happening there so often and the proximity with your classmates that the International Affairs Building fosters. I really force myself to spend my time elsewhere other than SIPA, and explore the many libraries and amazing activities that Columbia and Barnard have to offer. 

What would you tell yourself about applying knowing what you know about SIPA now? 

Don’t be shy, get involved and interact with SIPA people! Students, alumni, professors, and people from Admissions: We. Don’t. Bite. Oh and also, for international students: housing in NYC is crazy. Don’t be like me. Think about coming a few weeks in advance to find a place to live.

What advice do you have for applicants? 

Don’t get discouraged because of grades, GRE scores, or job experience. People at SIPA understand each of those only tell a very limited part of your story. Trust me when I say this: there is no one way to get into graduate shool. As cliché as it sounds, don’t let your “weaknesses” bring you down; rather, share with Admissions what your attributes are and how you can put them into action at SIPA. 

Best of luck and I hope to see you around the halls of SIPA next year!