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Decoding SIPA Courses for Prospective Students

When I was looking at graduate schools, I wanted to know what my course load would look like and what electives I would be able to take. I didn’t want to be stuck taking two years of core classes and I wanted to make sure there were elective classes that suited my interests. Here’s the guide for past-Julia on how to decipher SIPA’s courses.

All students must fulfill their “core requirement” courses which include Microeconomics, Macroeconomics, Quantitative Analysis I, Financial Management, and Management. Students will also need to take a Professional Development course, internship, and complete a capstone project which usually takes place second year, last semester.

Students can take up to 18 credits per semester, though most take around 16 credits. You can view sample course schedules in each Concentration’s “Sample Path” or “Sample Program” tab (Eg: Energy and Environment’s sample path, Economic and Political Development’s sample program)

All prospective students can find SIPA’s list of courses here. You can then filter for semester as well as degree programs, concentrations, and specializations if you click “advanced search criteria”. Clicking on the blue plus button on the left of the course title, you will be able to find the course description, professor, and time/location of class.

Key notes on searching for classes:

  • Students who are in the MPA and MIA program are blocked from registering for EMPA courses (Executive MPA program)
  • There are 3 credit courses and 1.5 credit courses. 1.5 credit courses are usually half-semester courses or courses that are completed in two weekends.
  • Enrolled students will be able to find past course syllabus and evaluations.
  • Not all courses are offered every semester or every year.

As you’re completing your application for SIPA, take a look at the courses we have to offer, and if you can, sign up to sit in on one or two!

Note from Admissions: As Julia mentioned, class visits are open. You can sit in on up to two SIPA classes and get a feel for the classroom experience and community. Sign up soon as seats are first come, first serve.

Course-selection advice for incoming students

The Office of Admissions has received several inquiries from incoming Fall 2015 students about orientation, course registration and assistantships. Luckily, one of our Admissions Ambassadors decided to share with all of you some “insider’s knowledge” on how to approach academics and financial aid at SIPA. Here’s what Sriram Gutta, MPA ’15, had to say:

Read More →

New Student Photo Series 2011 – Post #21

Today we feature more photos from incoming students.

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My name is Venetia Aranha, an incoming student to the MPA (economic and political development). I am from India and here are a few of my favourite photographs!

Last year I travelled along with a Japanese friend of mine to the town of Haridwar in Uttar Pradesh, known for its religious significance, notably the worship of the scared river Ganges (or Ganga).  Here every year, scores of faithful Hindus throng the river to offer their prayers to the Ganges- in the picture below two aged ladies light ‘diyas’ which are lit wicks in an earthen base, to float onto the river.

If you look closely enough, there is always priceless humour to be found in a little store in a tourist town in India. This picture is of the market area in Haridwar of a shop display of music and cinema CDs. At a glance, you will see only famous old Hindi singers and actors- but on the right most corner of the 4th shelf, there you’ll find none other than the epitome of English Pop- Madonna!!

This last one is taken at a popular fete or ‘Mela’ as it is called in India, known as the ‘Suraj Kund Mela’ somewhere on the outskirts of Delhi. My father used to speak to this wondrous contraption from his childhood days- a little machine that shows you pictures in succession to form a story- and sometimes its operator would even sing along to provide a background score- the perfect substitute for a television! I was surprised to find this very device at the fair, with a little boy keenly peeking into it.

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My name is Moussa Magassouba. I am an incoming MIA Student. I am sending a few of the photos that I have taken from my 2010 trip in West Africa as well as from my work places.

Description: Guinean Minister of Presidential Security

This photo was taken in 2010 during my two-week vacation period in Guinea (West Africa) at a military camp with my camera carefully concealed. The man in the center of the picture wearing traditional African voodoos is well the Minister in charge of Security of the chief of the military junta who, after a military coup on December 24, 2008, proclaimed himself  President of Guinea, a beginning of lawlessness and military burtality until democratic elections were held at the end of 2010. The man is currently under the arraignment of the Hague International Court of Justice for crimes against humanity.

Me leading by example:  I am operating a Caterpillar Bull Dozer D8 in 2008 at a gold mine in Southern California. As a Superintendent of mine operations and the Senior Engineer, my job does not stop in the office environment. When I give complex assignments in the field and operators do not seem to understand or cannot successfully execute the assignments, then I decide to lead by example. Thankfully, I know how to run most of the heavy equipment in the mining and construction industries.

Drilling and Hauling: This photo was taken in December 2010 in Pennsylvania. Operators at one of our cement quarries are seen laying out blast holes that will be drilled each one a 50-foot depth and loaded with explosives before they are fired to break the limestone, the raw material for cement fabrication. An articulated haul truck Euclid type is seen hauling limestone on a very rough terrain heading to the crushing plant.

MIA and MPA Concentration Choice

One of the questions that has been popping up in our email in box from MIA and MPA admitted applicants has to do with the choice of concentration at SIPA.  You can think of your concentration as your major field of study.  Many applicants are worried that they must stick with the concentration selected when the admission application was filled out.  This is not the case.  As a reminder, our six concentrations are:

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

We do look for focus in an admission application and the concentration choice often will influence how a file is read.  For example, if someone selects International Finance and Economic Policy on the admission application we do look for evidence of some pretty serious quantitative study and/or work experience due to the fact that this concentration is quantitatively heavy.

However, we also realize that when admitted applicants enroll and speak with faculty, take some classes, interact with second year students, and attend events, one’s career or academic focus might shift and we want to be flexible and allow students to choose the pathway that is best for their professional goals.  Often this insight only comes after actually enrolling and spending time at SIPA.

Thus it is perfectly acceptable to change your concentration when you register for classes in the fall.  There is no formal process, you simply must choose a concentration when you register.  There is also no firm time line to finalize your choice, however the longer you wait, the more precarious completing the requirements becomes.

The counseling students receive will thus encourage you to be firm with your concentration choice sometime during your first year, and the sooner the better so that you may shape your class schedule and internships.  All of our program requirements must be completed in four semesters and deciding early will help alleviate pressure over time by narrowing your class choices.

So there is no need to worry about sticking to the concentration selected on the admission application.  During Orienation in August new students will have the opportunity to hear faculty speak about the different options and the concentration choice will be made when you register.  If you need to change again when you register for the second semester you may, but again the more focused and certain you are, the more you will be able to gain from the program.


The following post was composed by Brittney Bailey.


For those of you that have been admitted to SIPA, congrats! I know that many of you are in the midst of weighing the many pros and cons of each program to which you’ve applied.  So I wanted to address one of the more common questions we get in Admissions from admitted students just to help some of you manage expectations and to get a better understanding of the SIPA experience.  Incoming students always ask- what type of advising do students receive at SIPA?  How much guidance is provided from faculty and staff?

First, I will say that no matter which way you cut it, I think that a masters program requires much more personal planning and less faculty assistance than an undergraduate degree.  Nevertheless, in terms of advising, I do think that the SIPA program calls for very independent students.  Perhaps this is due to the fact that SIPA tends to attract older students, who have presumably honed their skills to use resources, extract guidance and may be a lot clearer when communicating what they want out of the program.  Or maybe it’s because of a general culture of independence within Columbia University.  The school is large and located in the most metropolitan, “rough and tough”, city in the US.           NYC demands a lot from its inhabitants and it makes sense that this same expectation would permeate the walls of this university.  Whatever the reason, here are a few pointers that might be helpful when trying to maneuver through the advising process at SIPA:

Do Your Research

Although this seems like an obvious pointer, it’s definitely worth noting.  Personal planning is the key to making sure that you can extract specific guidance from the resources around you, especially from the Deans who also serve as advisors.  Most Deans are in charge of various administrative and operational duties around the school so they have limited time to devote specifically to advising.  If you’ve done your own personal planning and can come to them with direct questions, it usually results in a much more fruitful advising session. For instance, this might seem a little extreme, but when I walked into my first meeting with a simple excel  listing classes I wanted to take and what requirements they would fulfill,  my advisor was ecstatic.  He then walked me through the list, told me who I could speak with to clarify certain requirements, and it helped us build a solid rapport for future sessions.

Befriend the Deans and Support Staff

Again, speaking from personal experience, I’ve found that being close to SIPA administration not only helps with advising, but guidance overall. From facilities up to the deans, many of my questions on how to maneuver through the Columbia bureaucracy have been answered by someone who was not necessarily an advisor.  Also, checking in regularly with the administration, even when it’s just to report concerns in a class, progress on a job search or something completely external from typical advising, really helps.

Sit Down with Professors

Although professors are not formally advisors, they are experts in their field that can guide you on what type of coursework would align with your planned career track. Also, I’ve found that when I have professor support for a class that doesn’t necessarily fall within the core requirements, it’s much easier to get SIPA advisors to find ways to apply the course to my degree program.

Use Your Biggest Resource- 2nd Years

Lastly, the biggest resource you can use in selecting courses and maneuvering through the day-to-day at SIPA are 2nd year students.  2nd years can tell you everything- which classes are the most practical or theoretical, which professors are great, which books to actually purchase, who to contact for summer internships and how to make the most use of the few elective courses you have.  I know that this seems intuitive…but it’s probably one of the most under-utilized resources at the school.

Much like the “real world,” advising and building relationships with faculty at SIPA are really what you make of it.

"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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