Note from Admissions: The 2021-2022 academic year is an exciting one as we all return to campus. We’re excited to welcome our new group of program assistants (PAs) working with us here in the SIPA Office of Admissions and Financial Aid. They’ll specifically be helping you through the application and decision process over the next few months. You can learn more about assistantships and what PAs do here.


Catherine Born is a second-year Master of Public Affairs candidate concentrating in Urban and Social Policy with a specialization in Management. A native of Berkeley, California, she earned her BA at the University of Wisconsin, Madison with a double major in Spanish Language and International Studies. In addition to a career in education in the United States, Spain, Japan, and France, she has interned and volunteered at international nonprofit organizations with a focus on human rights, migration, and refugees. As a student at SIPA, Catherine has focused her coursework on management techniques and tools, taking practical courses on measuring and evaluating impact, government budgeting, data visualization, and public sector management.

What attracted you to SIPA and Columbia University?
When I was exploring options for graduate programs, I was interested in schools that were globally oriented. SIPA is the world’s most global public policy school, and SIPA students and faculty represent nearly 100 countries with around half of the student body coming from overseas. I was living and working abroad for the years preceding SIPA, so I was excited to be a part of an international community. Having global perspectives in my classes, group projects, and discussions has been incredibly enriching. I also envision my career to be global in scope, and appreciate that SIPA students have the ability to take coursework focused on international policymaking.

Can you comment on the quantitative rigor in the curriculum?
Coming to SIPA, I was very nervous about the quantitative courses. While I did work with data in my job prior to SIPA, I had never considered math my strong suit and only took one math class in college as well as microeconomics and macroeconomics. Given my background, I did find the quantitative coursework challenging, but was grateful for the resources that SIPA provided to brush up on math. First, over the summer there was an online math tutorial over the summer with practice exercises and Math camp during orientation week. Also, throughout the semester, there are so many resources to support SIPA students with their quantitative coursework. Not only did my professors and TAs in all of my quantitative and economics core courses hold regular office hours, there were also math tutors available outside of the classroom to support students.

What’s your internship experience been like?
I had an incredible internship experience with a nonprofit organization called CSforALL this past summer. For the internship, I helped coordinate a two-day virtual meeting on expanding AI and Data Science education in U.S. schools with policymakers at the federal, state, and local levels as well as university and industry leaders. After the meeting, I organized summer working group discussions to consult on topical areas related to AI and Data science education, and co-wrote a report resulting from these discussions. I learned a lot from my internship experience, not only about Computer Science, AI, and Data Science education, but also had the opportunity to hone my public speaking, research, and writing skills.

What are your goals for the second year?
This upcoming year, I am looking forward to taking elective courses in my areas of interest. Though I was initially apprehensive about the quantitative coursework, my goal is to challenge myself by taking more quantitative coursework to build my data analytic-abilities. I am also hoping to cross-register for courses at the Business school and Teachers’ College next semester. Beyond classes and academics, I am eager to network with SIPA colleagues and alumni this year.

What advice do you have for current applicants?
Though it is a bit cliché, when it comes to your personal statement, I highly recommend reflecting first on your life experiences and your aspirations. Think carefully about your goals and how a graduate degree can get you there. In your writing, be sure to clearly articulate how obtaining a graduate degree relates to your life journey. With that in mind, also be sure to do your research on what makes SIPA unique, what it is about SIPA that interests you, and be sure to mention in your essay why you are applying to SIPA specifically.

Another tip on the essay is to be sure to follow the prompt. It sounds very basic, but every school’s essay is slightly different, so it is important to keep that in mind. When I was applying, I copied and pasted the prompt (including the word limit) into the margins of my draft. Make sure that you’re answering the question that is being asked!