Archive for recommendation letter

Start early! Four things applicants should do now

The 2020 application is open, and we encourage all applicants to get an early start! While the deadlines for regular consideration are not until January 5, 2020 (for fellowship consideration) and February 5, 2020 (no fellowship consideration), applicants who apply by November 1, 2019 will receive early action consideration. Spring applicants have until October 15, 2019.

Whichever deadline you’re shooting for, starting now will make the application process much smoother.

Here are the first four things you should do:

  1. Create a checklist

As you research your graduate school options, it’s important to consolidate all of the application requirements and deadlines into a checklist to keep you on track. I used a simple Excel spreadsheet to track my progress on each of SIPA’s application requirements and assigned myself a deadline to complete each of them. It can also be helpful to share your goals with a friend or family member who can help keep you accountable.

  1. Schedule the GRE/GMAT

Schedule your exam date now! I scheduled my GRE as soon as I started studying and it really helped motivate me to stay on track with my study plan (especially with the prospect of the $205 test fee going to waste). I also recommend taking the exam as early as possible so that you have time to retake it if you are not satisfied with your score the first time. SIPA will consider your highest scores.

  1. Contact potential recommenders

Begin contacting potential recommenders now to give them plenty of time to write a strong letter of recommendation. SIPA requires two letters for the MIA/MPA application, but applicants can submit up to three letters. It is a good idea to have 3-4 recommenders in mind just in case something falls through with one.

  1. Start drafting your personal statement

The personal statement is a vital part of your application because it tells the Admissions Committee how your past experiences prepare you to succeed at SIPA and how you plan to have an impact after graduation. Starting this early allows you to carefully research the academic and extracurricular opportunities available at SIPA so that you can articulate specifically why you are a good fit for the program. You’ll also definitely want time to have a friend or mentor review your personal statement. They can help you spot grammatical errors, and they also may have a great suggestion for something you should include about yourself.

Taking these four steps now will give you a great head start on the application. We wish you the best of luck as you complete your application!

Don’t forget about these helpful blog posts

With the Fall 2016 application just one week away, I wanted to remind everyone of a few blog posts that will help as you finish your applications of admission to SIPA.

For those missing exam scores, “What’s with the GRE/GMAT and TOEFL/IELTS?” offers some great insight into how to self-report them. (Just keep in mind you’ll need to also upload a copy of your TOEFL/IELTS score report, which is a new requirement this year for our international applicants.) As for the official test scores: we only need the official records once you’re admitted to SIPA.

Also keep in mind that all three recommendation letters must be submitted by the application deadline. It’s OK if you submit your application before these are received, but follow-up with your recommenders and remind them of the pending due date. PA Adriana Popa and I share some great advice in “3 things every recommender should know” and “4 Tips for Letters of Recommendation.”

I also write about some insights into the MIA/MPA essay questions in “​How NOT to write your personal statement,” “How to answer the Fall 2016 short essay,” and last year’s “6 Quick-and-Dirty Tips For An Outstanding Admissions Essay.”

​If you’re stuck on how to format your quantitative and language resume, browse current student Yiting Xu’s “A Quantitative/Language Resume Breakdown,” which outlines the process thoroughly.

Regarding your missing college transcripts, we only need your unofficial records for admission. You can scan these (back and front, with grading scale) and upload them into your application, or upload a copy of your academic records from your university’s student portal. (Both self-uploaded versions are unofficial records, and are acceptable for admission purposes.)

And as an international applicant, this October 2015 blog post, “What I wish I knew as an international applicant” offers a few first-hand reflections on the application process.

If you need more help, review “Eloy’s Top 12 Application Questions,” which was our No. 1 blog post in 2015.

Thanks to our hardworking team, the Admissions Blog is full of helpful hints like these, so I encourage you to spend some time this weekend exploring the blog further. You can also take a closer look at all of your missing materials on your Status Page. Then, read this blog post that outlines the nuances with the Status Page, which can be tricky.

If you have any additional questions about the application process, please do not hesitate to contact us at or 212-854-6216.

And don’t forget: the Fall 2016 application deadline is February 5, 2016. You may find out more about the admissions timeline here.

Good luck on your applications! Finish your applications here.

P.S. Confused by today’s meme? This should help.

3 things every recommender should know

Recommendation letters are one of the most important components of any application. It is also the only component of your application that you have little control over. Read More →

The Ins And Outs Of Recommendation Letters

Because of the sheer quantity of applicants and because of the geographic distances from which they apply, SIPA regrettably cannot offer interviews to prospective students. In order to get the most accurate snapshot of a candidate, the admissions committee relies on letters of recommendation from those that can vouch for an applicant’s prior success and if he or she would be an asset to the SIPA community.

In the past, there has been some confusion about these letters. Who should they be from? What should they say? How well does the writer have to know me? This post will attempt to dispel some of the myths behind the recommendation letter and what we are looking for.

How many letters of recommendation do you need?

We want three recommendation letters from each applicant, no more, no less. Please follow this guideline, as it is important for us to hear a number of distinct voices on why we should consider your candidacy.

Who should these letters be from?

We ask that each applicant submit one reference from someone who knows him or her in an academic setting (your undergraduate English professor, your economics TA, your thesis adviser). We also ask that each applicant submit one reference from someone who knows him or her in a professional setting (your supervisor at work, your colleague with whom you spent late nights finishing a half-year project). The third letter can be from a recommender of your choice, but please avoid family members or friends who have not worked with you in a professional setting [or your local congressperson who only knows you live in his/her district].

I could get my colleague to write the recommendation, or I could get my supervisor (or the CEO of my company) to write it. Who should I choose?

This is up to the applicant, but the golden rule is to choose the one who knows you better. Who can speak more convincingly on how you benefited the company? The answer to this question is always the right person to choose. Remember, we are trying to build a community at SIPA and we are trying to learn as much about you as possible. If the choice is between the Senator or his volunteer director with whom you worked all summer, opt for the volunteer director.

What should my recommenders discuss in the letter?

There are many topics we would like to see touched upon in the letter of recommendation. We want to learn more about the applicant’s ability to communicate and his or her writing and quantitative skills, critical thinking ability. We also want to know why he or she ultimately benefited the organization. Our main objective is to see if the candidate has the skills to succeed inside a SIPA classroom and will become an asset to our community. The recommender should keep this in mind when crafting the letter!

Which professor should I choose to write my recommendation letter?

Choose someone that knows you well and can speak to the skills mentioned above. It’s probably not a good idea to choose a professor whose class you got an “A” in but doesn’t know your first name. We would much rather see a recommendation from a professor who maybe gave you a B or B+, but knows you well and can speak to your skill set and your work ethic. Ask yourself this: which professor can speak highly of you and knows you well?

I don’t have any work experience. Who should I ask for the professional recommendation?

If you have no professional experience, you should ask someone who can speak to your abilities outside the classroom and in a work setting. Have you had an internship? Have you volunteered? Ask your supervisors from these experiences to write this recommendation for you. This will straddle academic and professional.  And as we mentioned before, try to ensure that this person can speak highly of you and knows you well. You can pair this recommendation with the two strong academic references that you will receive.

I graduated from school a long time ago and absolutely cannot get an academic reference. What should I do?

If you absolutely cannot get an academic reference, then three professional will suffice.

Do you have any last words of advice for applicants?

Have your recommenders be specific. We want to get as much information on you as possible, because we want more reasons to accept you into our incoming class!


Top 10 Tips for 2012 Application – #2 Recommendation Letters

This is the second entry in our “Top 10″ list to assist you with understanding the process of submitting your 2012 admission application to SIPA. This entry is focused on many of the questions we receive regarding the submission of letters of recommendation.

Question: Can I submit more than three letters?

Answer: No, we will only accept three letters of recommendation. We wish to be fair to all applicants and thus hold everyone to the same standard.

Question: What is the ideal combination of recommendation letters?

Answer: There is no real ideal combination, it really depends on the applicant; however let me elaborate a bit on the subject. Recommendation letters should come from one of two sources: academic or professional. In other words, from individuals who have supervised you in the classroom or in the work place. “Work place” is a broad term.

The work place could include internships, volunteer work, or paid full-time work. Sometimes unpaid work is much more in alignment with an applicant’s goals and if you are choosing to do something and not get paid for it this shows a great deal of dedication and commitment.

Since SIPA is a professional school it makes sense that we would like to see at least one professional letter of recommendation. The only combination we really do not recommend is three academic letters of recommendation. An applicant that submits three academic letters is basically telling us that there is no one from the professional world that can comment on their ability and qualifications for graduate school.

Beyond this advice, any combination will do. If you have been out of school for several years do not feel compelled to go back and get a letter of recommendation from a professor who did not really know you or that you have not been in contact with. We would much rather receive letters from those that know you and that you have been in contact with in some capacity. If you had fabulous relationships with a few professors two letters of recommendation from professors is fine.

Question: Do you have general advice concerning the content of the letters?

Answer: Yes! The best letters of recommendation go beyond addressing your character and include specific information on your potential to succeed in our program. This is best accomplished through specific examples of academic or professional competence. When you talk with those writing letters for you, please tell them to include specific examples of your competence.

It is one thing to say that someone is smart and capable; it is another to provide solid examples of intelligence and ability in the workplace or in the classroom. Be sure that you speak with those writing letters on your behalf and clarify this point.

If you put yourself in my shoes, my job as the Director of Admission is to quantify your ability to do well in our program. A letter that contains examples of work performed will better allow me to identify your ability and potential. The Admissions Committee has to make tough calls (admission is a competition after all) and sometimes it can come down to the quality of the content contained in the recommendation letters.

Question: How can those submitting the letters submit them?

Answer: When you start your online application you will be asked to enter the names and emails addresses of the three individuals you have chosen to submit letters on your behalf. When you submit this information our system automatically sends the person an email with specific details on how to submit their letter.  See this entry for information on where to access the letter of recommendation section of the application.

Our preference is that those submitting letters do so through our application site. In the email that is sent when you enter the name of your recommender(s), there are specific instructions for the recommender(s) to follow. They will visit a web site and upload a copy of the letter. This is the fastest and most convenient way. We are not into ceremony – pretty letterhead and a “wet” signature are of no consequence in our decision making.

When a letter is uploaded, it will be matched to your application and you will be able to see that it has been submitted. Thus this method is also nice for you, because if your recommender submits the letter via the web site, you will know in real time (if you log into your application) if it has been received.

Yes, recommenders can mail letters to us, but this slows the process down. If a letter is delivered to our office we generally do not seek to match it to a file until after the deadline (January 5th) passes. Thus there will be a little bit of tension on your part. You will think, “Have all of my letters arrived?” Unfortunately we cannot dedicate the time to tracking letters prior to the submission of an admission application. If a letter is mailed, it can be sent to the following address:

Office of Admissions and Financial Aid
Columbia University – SIPA
420 West 118th Street – 4th Floor Room 408
New York, NY 10027

As far as to whom to address the letter to, it does not really matter. Popular choices include The Admissions Committee, To Whom it May Concern, or the Director of Admissions.

Question: Should I wait to submit my application until all of the letters of recommendation have been received?

Answer: No. Applicants should not be concerned if an application is submitted before a letter or letters of recommendation have been received. What ultimately matters is that both your application and the letters are submitted by the deadline of January 5th at midnight EST.

So, do not worry if letters of recommendation have yet to be submitted when submitting your application, you may submit your application prior to letters of recommendation being received.

Question: What if a person wishes to write a letter in a language other than English? Is this okay?

Answer: Yes, it is okay if a person writes a letter in a language other than English, however that letter will need to be translated into English, and not by you. Letters of recommendation are confidential and you cannot translate your own letter.

If someone wishes to write a letter in another language, ask that they have the letter translated by either an employee they work with or a certified translator. The person who translates the letter should include their name and email address so we can get in touch with him/her if necessary.


A final note is to encourage those submitting letters on your behalf to do so as early as possible. An application that does not have all documents submitted by the deadline does not look professional. We understand that the submission of letters of recommendation is beyond the control of applicants and we are willing to work with applicants when unusual circumstances lead to the late submission of letters, however we do take note when documents come in after the stated deadline.

"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

Boiler Image