All about the International Fellows Program

I first applied to the International Fellows Program when I applied to SIPA, but was not accepted. I tried again for my second year, and the second time was definitely a lucky charm.

What It Is:
The IFP is a unique academic experience – it is a year-long seminar, but more broadly, it is a course of graduate study that combines profound understanding of international affairs with practical preparation for a career in this field. It is open to all graduate students across Columbia University (so you are competing for admission not only within SIPA), so participants benefit from a variety of perspectives and professional and academic backgrounds. Academically, it is focused on examining and understanding the role of the U.S. in the world, from its creation as a country to present-day, as well as the changing international environment. Professionally, it involves site visits to important institutions and organizations in New York and Washington D.C., and meetings with policy-makers, elected officials, journalists, diplomats and legislators.

How to Apply (including tips):
Applicants from SIPA must submit a résumé or CV, a transcript, and a statement of interest (no longer than one page). Students applying to SIPA may submit an IFP statement of interest as part of their application for admission to SIPA. The résumé and transcript(s) submitted to the Office of Admissions will be used in consideration for the International Fellows Program.

Applications are evaluated on the basis of academic records, professional promise, recommendations from previous instructors, and an applicant’s demonstrated and estimated ability to emerge as a leader of his or her chosen field and in the field of international affairs.


  • What the program is especially looking for is your unique contribution. Be sure to address this in your application – What sets you apart? What makes your experience special? What unique view/perspective will you bring to this program in general, and to weekly discussions in particular? How will your peers benefit from your presence in the seminar?
  • If you are not accepted as a first-year student, don’t get discouraged. I was told by friends that one has a better chance of being admitted as a second-year year, so definitely re-apply. (I’m proof of that concept!)
  • If you are an MIA student, your core class will be Conceptual Foundations, which is taught by Professor Stephen Sestanovich, who heads the IFP. A stellar performance in that class might get you brownie points in your application to the IFP. I got an A in Conceptual Foundations, for example, and I made sure to mention it in my application. I don’t know if it mattered, but it definitely can’t hurt! The more ways you can demonstrate to the leadership of the program that you are a good student and a leader, the better.
[Photo courtesy of Adriana Popa | Annually IFP makes a trip to Washington, D.C.]

[Photo courtesy of Adriana Popa | Annually IFP makes a trip to Washington, D.C. to meet with policy-makers, elected officials, journalists, diplomats and legislators.]


The Positives:

  • Leadership: Professor Sestanovich has had a diverse career, including service both in and out of government.  He has held senior positions in the U.S. Department of State and the National Security Council, at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. As such, he has a wealth of knowledge and interesting experience, and can be a great resource for anyone seeking to build a career in government or in international affairs. He is also an animated speaker, and punctuates class sessions with personal anecdotes.
  • The variety of perspectives: you will be awed by your peers, and they will make your experience so much more interesting and rich.
  • The stipend. You’re PAID to take a class!
  • Access to policymakers, elected officials, etc. This means awesome networking opportunities, and the possibility to hear personal perspectives on current issues on great importance, and on careers in government and international affairs.
  • Ok, I love to travel, so I always get excited about trip opportunities!
  • Interesting readings.
  • Students have greater input into the topics selected for the second semester.
  • Opportunities for debate: there are several debates throughout the semester.
  • Limited work you must actually produce: besides debates and weekly discussions, which you must prepare and are expected to be active/engaged in, there is only one debate response paper (short) and a term paper (longer). That’s pretty good!

The Negatives:

  •  The reading load is heavy. You will be required to read one book or more per week.
  • You have no input on the topic selected for examination for the first semester. If you’re not interested in any of them that might make for a boring/painful first semester.
  • There are debates. If you don’t like them/aren’t good at them, note that these happen a few times per semester, and you are graded on them.
  • The stipend is great, but if you have to choose between this and a better paid opportunity (such as a job or fellowship), the decision might be a difficult one.
  • Scheduling conflicts: you might not to be able to attend all the wonderful dinners, meetings and trips because of other work that needs to be done.

Award Amounts:
All fellows receive a stipend. Currently, the stipend is $ 3,000 per semester, so $6,000 per year.


[Top photo courtesy of Adriana Popa | Every week the IFP holds intimate classroom debates.]