My name is Irina and I am from Bucharest, Romania. I studied Economic and Political Development with a double specialization in ICR and UN studies. I relied heavily on the specialization courses (all things conflict and UN!) SIPA actually helped me find out what I was most drawn to in terms of field of study and career. I was a Division I tennis player until 2018, when I graduated college. I have a Bachelor degree in Psychology, I love puzzles, and one of my favorite pastimes is finding gorgeous-looking bars/restaurants/spots in New York.
Like many of you reading this, I was not admitted the first time I applied to SIPA. I wanted to share my story on how I strengthened my application and hopefully it helps you!
What did you do before applying to SIPA the first time?
The first time I applied to SIPA, I was still in my senior year in college. I knew I wanted to pursue a Master’s degree and Columbia had always been my dream school. I wanted to attend SIPA specifically because it seemed like the perfect program for me: closely tied to the UN, in New York City, diverse, flexible yet rigorous, and involved travel and foreign language opportunities. I went to every grad school fair I could find just so I can talk to admissions people face-to-face and learn as much as I could about the program and my chances of getting accepted. Slightly excessive behavior on my part, but it helped to know the details.
In college I volunteered part-time as a research assistant for a research project in our psych department and volunteered for two separate Romanian student-led non-profit organizations, as well as for on-campus organizations and student-athlete leadership bodies, so I was doing a lot of volunteer work on top of my tennis and classes. I had zero summer internships throughout college because I was always busy with tennis, and I could not work during the academic year because being a student-athlete was a full-time and over-time endeavor. I did enjoy volunteering quite a bit, but I certainly knew I was at a disadvantage compared to other applicants who had years of real work experience. I knew I needed to take micro and macro classes (and do well) to compensate. I had enrolled in level III micro and macro classes in my last semester only because SIPA strongly recommended it. Unfortunately, when I first applied in October 2017, I had no econ grades to show, and with no internships and only tennis as a full-time job, I was unsurprisingly rejected.
As a re-applicant, what did you do after your first application, in order to strengthen your second application?
The most important thing I did was take advantage of the one-on-one call with the Admissions Office to talk about my application. Not many graduate programs have this option and it made all the difference. I had a call with an Admission Officer, who told me exactly where my weaker points were on my application and that my application was showed promise. Instead of obsessing over what might have gone wrong, I had clear goals in mind: 1) graduate from college and get good grades in micro and macro, 2) retake the GRE and improve my math scores, and 3) get at least one relevant experience (internship/work).
And so, from December 2017 (early action) until November 2018 (early admission deadline) I did just that. I graduated with an A in Micro and a B+ in Macro. I retook (and actually prepared for) the GREs and doubled by math score, and while it still wasn’t an excellent score (ugh, math), it was good enough when coupled with the econ grades. Lastly, I also managed to get an internship with the Permanent Mission of Romania to the UN, which turned out to be one of the best experiences ever, as Mission interns have access almost everywhere in the UN headquarters, whereas UN interns do not. So my ‘at least one relevant experience’ turned out to be incredibly relevant, because I had the chance to attend Security Council meetings, represent Romania during the UN General Assembly speeches and at various meetings, briefings, and events, and closely learn from diplomats about their work. After this, I also interned with the Romanian Cultural Institute, as I wanted to remain connected to my government’s institutions in New York, before working full-time for 4 months for the Consulate General of Romania to New York.
Needless to say, the second time around applying to SIPA, I was more confident although still incredibly nervous. I also redid my essay to make it more pragmatic and to the point, outlining clearly what my career plans were, where I wanted to work, how SIPA would help me achieve that, and how my background connected to my career plans and opportunities at SIPA. I took a more direct approach to writing the essay and I do think that also helped my application.
Any tips for students that want to reapply?
- Schedule a call with the Admissions Office to talk about your application. It will help immensely.
- Remember that just because you were not as competitive for this admission cycle does not actually mean that you do not belong to SIPA (or any other similar program). It is not a reflection of you, but a reflection of an application sent at a specific moment in time. Every year there’s a new wave of competitive applicants and you really never know what the admission office will be expecting. You might very well go to “we’re excited to welcome you to the SIPA community […] you have been selected from a talented pool of applicants”. You have not changed as a person in that time, you have just changed your experiences and application points. You can take my experience as proof of that.
- Have a clear idea (even if you don’t think you will stick to it) of the steps you plan to take to achieve your career goal, whatever that may be. It does not have to be an intricate scheme, but an indication that you have indeed given this a significant amount of thought and that you have a starting plan. Be as specific as possible with your intentions regarding both SIPA and your professional path.
- If you have the chance to work for 2-3 years before coming to SIPA, it is my advice that you do it. I loved every second of SIPA, but it would have been much easier for me to grab the jobs I wanted with at least 2 years of real-world, full-time work experience. Without that professional background, be ready to work just a little bit harder for the jobs you want.
Any final thoughts?
I will never not talk about how much I love SIPA. The feeling of community is particularly strong among students, and it really creates a sense of belonging and solidarity. The famously coined “SIPA bubble” is not for nothing and SIPA has a fascinating diversity of a student body. I have learned so much just by being around my peers and it has made me a better and more knowledgeable person. I have become a more critical thinker, a better researcher, and a more skilled professional. At the end of the end of the day, this is an environment that will shape you for the better.