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Your Frequently Asked Questions, Answered by Current SIPA Students!

Hello! The Admissions team would like to say congratulations to all Admitted Students! We have been receiving a lot of questions on a variety of topics, from housing options to SIPA’s quantitative coursework. We decided to compile our answers to some of your most frequently asked questions. Feel free to drop other questions in the comment!

What is SIPA’s quantitative coursework like? Will I be able to pass macro/micro economics?

Samantha: The quantitative coursework for the core courses at SIPA consist of three courses: Microeconomics, Macroeconomics, and Quantitative Analysis (statistics). Usually students take Micro in the fall semester, and Macro in the spring semester. However, Quant can be taken in any of the four semesters, but most students complete it in either of their first two. The workload is going to be a bit heavy, as you have homework, recitation, lecture and exams for all of these quantitative courses, but it’s all doable. You don’t need to be an expert in either of the three areas in order to do well in them, but getting in some practice before hand can’t hurt. In order to prepare yourself for the coursework I recommend completing the summer math tutorial SIPA provides, as well as attending the Math Boot-camp during orientation. However, If you’re still panicked about the fact that you’re going to see numbers and have instantaneously forgotten all the math(s) you’ve ever learned, remember you are going to be ok and I guarantee you will pass.

Julia: I would also say that the weekly homework are done in groups so some of the stress is shared. Many students don’t have an economics or statistics background (like me!) so you won’t be alone! The professors are also very approachable and helpful if you are struggling.

What is the SIPA community like as a whole? Or for a specific concentration?
Dylan: The SIPA community is generally very open and welcoming. Before arriving at SIPA, I assumed that most people would be very competitive and serious. While everyone here cares about their academics and career, I have found the opposite to be true; in general, people are very supportive and friendly. I think one of the other benefits of having such huge incoming classes is that you are always meeting new students. So on top of it being a friendly, collaborative environment, I’ve never really felt like I lacked opportunities to meet new people.

I’d say most people end up befriending people within their concentration. Makes sense right? You take a lot of classes with them, you probably end up at the same events, and you naturally share a lot of similar interests. As a USP concentrator, I met most of my USP friends my first semester and we’ve remained close since then.

What is the recruitment/job-hunt like at SIPA? Does the Office of Career Services, or SIPA in general, support students?

Julia: SIPA students have very diverse interests, so there isn’t a standard way students go through the internship or job search. When I was looking for my summer internship last year, I used the Office of Career Services internship database, which is a detailed account of all the internships previous students have done, to give me an idea what I could be interested in doing. I then applied for internships through the job/internship portal on SIPAlink. I would also say the info sessions that OCS organize are helpful as well. I just went to an ACLU panel discussion last week that was inspiring and exactly I needed to motivate me in my current job search!

What is something you wish you knew about SIPA before attending?
Dylan: I wish I knew more about cross-registration and dual-degree options at SIPA. That was more me not doing my due diligence on researching SIPA’s program offerings before attending, but it is something all students can do if they prepare in advance.

What has been the best/worst part of your time at SIPA?
Dylan: The best part has been developing my interest in anti-corruption policy and journalism. I came from a very theory focused Political Science background, and SIPA was the first place where I was able to really dive into policy.

Worst time has definitely been the quantitative coursework. I appreciate it and I begrudgingly recognize its importance. But it can be an enormous pain! That being said, everyone who comes to SIPA will pass the core quantitative classes. Do not fear!!

Julia: My best time was traveling with other Seeples on student trips. Last summer I went to Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, and this winter break I went to Israel. It’s a great way to learn more about the politics and history of the region, but also spend quality time with your fellow Seeples.

What are the housing options like in the Columbia area? How much can I expect to pay and where should I generally look?

Samantha: I would say that most students who do not get Columbia student housing generally live near or north of campus. Most of us live in shared apartments in Morningside Heights, Harlem, and Washington Heights. Living with roommates helps keep the cost down, and living near or north of campus is 1. Convenient and 2. More affordable. While rents vary, I say students usually pay anywhere from $900-$1500 a month in rent. The farther north you go from campus the less expensive apartments become, so if you’re looking to cut costs I recommend looking uptown. The benefit of living near campus is that it is close enough for you to walk to, so you wouldn’t have to pay for transit expenses to get to school like you might need to if you live further north.

How do you manage time between classes and internships/work?

Dylan: This is a hard question to answer because it really depends on the classes I’m taking and the way assignments are structured for each class. Some weeks, I’ll have no assignments due besides reading for class. During those weeks, I obviously attend classes, work around 15 hours at SIPA Admissions as a program assistant, and do my readings either in the afternoon after classes or in between classes while I’m still on campus.

Other weeks, it’ll feel like my professors conspired to absolutely slam me with assignments. In those cases, I’ll usually plan on working 11am – 5/6pm-ish on weekends (at least) and then work in the afternoons after classes are finished and in between classes. If I’m particularly stressed with my program assistantship work, I may ask to take a few hours off and make them up at a later date. Most SIPA jobs are understanding and flexible with students.

Concentration Consternation

During a few recent conversations with prospective applicants some questions have been asked about admission and how it relates to the field of study at SIPA.  Specifically applicants have asked if we have admission targets for specific fields of study.  The short answer is “No,” however this does require a bit of explanation.

First, let me go over some nomenclature.  At SIPA we have degree programs, core requirements, concentrations, specializations, and electives.  What you will find below is a description of these different items as it relates to our full-time, two-year MIA and MPA programs (this does not include our MPA in Development Practice).

1. Degree Programs:  For the purpose of this entry there are two degree programs, the MIA and MPA. Applicants may apply for one program or the other, not both.  We have general admission targets for the two programs however the numbers are not fixed.  The admission rate is roughly the same for both programs.

2.  Core Requirements:  Core requirements are classes that are required to complete your degree program.  Our core requirements include coursework or projects in the following areas:

  • Politics
  • Economics
  • Statistics
  • Management
  • Financial Management
  • Internship
  • Professional Development
  • Workshop (group project)
  • Foreign Language Proficiency: Required for MIA, not required for MPA students unless the concentration is Economic and Political Development

3.  Concentrations:  A concentration is a policy field or the area of study you are most passionate about studying.  In traditional academic terms you can think of your concentration as your major.  We have six concentrations:

  • Economic and Political Development
  • Energy and Environment
  • Human Rights
  • International Finance and Economic Policy
  • International Security Policy
  • Urban and Social Policy

4.  Specializations:  A specialization is an area of study that seeks to provide students with a specific skill set.  Our specializations can generally be divided into what are called functional skills courses or regional skills courses.  In traditional academic terms you can think of a specializations as a minor.  Our specializations are:

  • Advanced Policy and Economic Analysis
  • Applied Science
  • International Media, Advocacy, and Communications
  • International Organization
  • Management
  • Regional Specializations:  Africa – Europe – Latin America – Middle East – Russia, Eurasia, and Eastern Europe – South Asia – United States

5.  Electives:  Classes students will chose to round out their schedule.  Electives can be taken at SIPA or students can cross register for coursework across the University. Popular elective options at SIPA are classes taken as a part of our co-curricular programs which include the following areas of study:

  • Gender Policy
  • Humanitarian Affairs
  • UN Studies

The elective courses sponsored by these programs may be used, when appropriate, to satisfy course requirements of a student’s policy concentration or specialization.

With all of this in mind, applicants do apply for a degree program (either the MIA or MPA)  and we do ask that applicants list the  intended concentration and specialization on the admission application from a drop down list.  However, as funny as it might sound, we do not have targets for either concentrations or specializations.   There are two important things to consider.

First, we are looking for focus in an admission application.  Thus it is wise for applicants to choose a theme if you will and be as specific as possible concerning their proposed course of study in our program.  We encourage applicants to tie together the personal statement and the choice of concentration and specialization listed on the application.

Second, we do understand that individuals might only come to understand the best pathway to accomplish their goals in our program after enrolling.  Thus someone who indicated a concentration of Economic and Political Development on their admission application may come to learn during their first semester of study after speaking with alumni, faculty, second year students, and the Office of Career Services that a concentration in Urban and Social Policy might actually be the best pathway to accomplish their goals.  Can a student change their concentration from the one listed on the admission application?  Absolutely.  We do not require that students stay with the same concentration listed on the application.

So to sum everything up, applicants apply to a degree program and are required to list a concentration and specialization on the admission application but, we do not have specific admission targets for concentrations and specializations.  We look to admit driven, passionate, focused, creative, capable, and interesting people and we do not set targets for field of study.

Thus applicants should be concerned with putting together a clear and focused personal statement, however applicants should not stress out thinking that there are admission targets associated with our concentrations.  A good portion of our students will find that a different concentration will serve them best after enrolling and thus the Admissions Committee does not set targets for different fields of study.

"The most global public policy school, where an international community of students and faculty address world challenges."

—Merit E. Janow, Dean, SIPA, Professor of Practice, International and Economic Law and International Affairs

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