Archive for SIPA

Applying in Quarantine: What does a productive application schedule look like in a pandemic?

Although every country is dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic in its own way, we all have one thing in common: we’re all seeing less of each other than we used to. So what does that mean for the grad school application process? For one, it means that the SIPA video essay won’t be as daunting if you’ve been on Zoom all summer!

But where you might have been able to settle down in a coffee shop before and benefit from that secondhand productivity before COVID-19, being stuck at home, staring at screens all day, and potentially needing to pay more attention to your family members might make it harder to concentrate on how to build a narrative around your goals and sell your past professional and academic experiences to grad programs.

When I applied to SIPA in the fall/winter of 2018-2019, I lived abroad in Tunisia, was in between a couple jobs, deciding whether to stay or go, but chose to stay for at least a month to take my GRE (you will be able to waive it this year) and write my application essays in a relatively nicer climate than the suburbs of Michigan. I wasn’t seeing too many people at the time and had to set my own schedule between a consulting gig, some freelance work, and GRE/application prep. This time prepared me in a way for quarantine, so here are some tips to create a productive environment to meet your application deadlines!

  1. Find study buddies: Depending on your ability to see people during COVID, set up check-ins and accountability measures with your friends. I was lucky that another friend of mine was applying to grad school on the same timeline as me, so we arranged our GRE dates around the same time and set goals and personal deadlines for sending our personal statements and essays to friends for editing as well as reaching out to recommenders. We called each other every week to check in and talk about our potential futures! If you don’t have other friends applying to grad school, get your friends to have work or study sessions with you over Zoom or other videoconferencing platforms. You don’t have to talk the whole time, but it’s great to have company on the other end of the line.
  2. Manage your time: With quarantine and social distancing, our perception of time right now is fairly warped. Sometimes days can feel like a full year and a leap day, and other times, you hit 6pm and can’t recall anything you’ve done that day. Whatever time management method works for you, create dedicated blocks of time in your schedule to work on your application. The earlier you start, the easier it is to manage at the end, but you don’t need to sit down for 16 hours and finish it all (I say this as a chronic procrastinator). Some people swear by the Pomodoro method, which is great if you can get motivated for short bursts of time. Before you know it, looming tasks become much smaller. You can also try productivity apps like Forest, which helps you limit your phone screen time while you focus on other tasks.
  3. Don’t waste your time trying to read minds: There are a lot of global events happening this year and the admissions committee is likely going to be hearing many different perspectives on the same events. Figure out what you want to say, not what you think admissions wants to hear. This isn’t really a productivity tip, but it might make the writing and rewriting process of your personal statements and other essays more fulfilling. I never thought I’d enjoy the process of having to sell myself as a candidate to graduate programs, but once I dug deep into why these programs mattered to me and the future I envisioned for myself, writing them became fun and helped me share my goals with my friends and family. One potential upside of the increased alone time might be the chance to reflect and introspect more deeply into your path (don’t be fooled, no one’s is linear) and what could lie ahead. The world is changing so rapidly, you can even be more creative than before about where SIPA might lead you!

The SIPA admissions blog will continue to be updated with advice from current students and the Admissions staff, so check back here for new insights about the process and don’t pressure yourself into being productive in the same ways you used to be!

Applications are just one part of the process, so keep taking care of yourself and maintaining your wellbeing throughout this cycle!

Preparing to Apply for Graduate School – Where to Start

I’m trying to recall what I wrote this time last year to kick-off classes starting, but honestly it feels odd. SIPA has started off in the “HyFlex” model (hybrid + flexible), meaning the Fall 2020 semester is a blend of online and face-to-face courses. I miss campus but am glad everyone is trying to stay safe and protect others around them.

ICYMI: The Spring and Fall 2021 applications for the MIA, MPA, and MPA-DP programs are live!

  • If you’re interested in applying and don’t know where to start, I’ll point you to our most viewed post of last year, our past program assistant Nabila’s Application Timeline. (She also applied Early Action, which is non-binding at SIPA, and she explains why here.) Nabila’s timeline doesn’t include the new change for the 2021 application cycle, that the GRE/GMAT test can be waived for applicants. You can read more about this once you start your SIPA application.
  • Nabila’s timeline encourages you to start thinking about your personal statement early. Really, start thinking about it now. It’s a difficult exercise to state your hopes, dreams, aspirations, and career goals in less than 500 words. We anonymously review two actual personal statements we received here, and our past program assistant Dylan broke down his thought process on how to write the essay strategically here.
  • We’ll be posting more application tips over the next few months, and of course please conduct your own search throughout the blog. If you can’t find what you’re interested in, please submit an idea! I encourage you to be specific in your request so that we can cater to you — considering how different this year has been, I imagine you will have some questions that we haven’t answered before. Let us know.

As you go through the application process, remember that the Admissions Office is (virtually) here for you. We have a multitude of virtual events coming up that will walk you through Columbia, SIPA, the application process, student life, and much more. Check it out here. Once you start your application you’ll be notified of more sessions reserved just for those applying. Even though you can’t drop by in person, we’re still here to help you through the process.

Finally, for those of you who feel like you don’t fit the stereotypical profile of a Columbia graduate student, or feel marginalized and underrepresented especially in the world of policy, you may be asking yourself: “Should I apply to Columbia? Do I belong?” Please, please don’t dissuade yourself early.

Don’t talk yourself out of taking a shot at what could be a really great opportunity for you. Representation, diversity, and inclusion is something we’ve all been discussing greatly at SIPA — faculty, students, alumni, and staff — for many years, and especially over this summer. Professionally, every year I talk to prospective students who don’t bother applying at Columbia despite being great candidates, because they decide on their own that they aren’t “worthy.” Don’t worry about that part, that is my job. All you have to do is submit your application.

Karla Henriquez MPA ’19 wrote about being a first-generation Latina here at Columbia SIPA, and I loved her final thought:

Many times in class, experiences that either my family or I have gone through were discussed. As policymakers, our unique perspectives bring a valuable point to the conversations. We have lived through things that many just read in case studies, and who is better than the people who have experienced them to solve the issues faced by our communities? I stopped seeing my experience, being a first-generation student, as a disadvantage and instead saw how my lived experience can create more inclusive policies for all.

Best of luck to all of you thinking of applying this year. I’m looking forward to get to know you all, and I hope you’re excited to keep hearing from us. Here we go!

Connecting with SIPA in 2020

It’s been a tumultuous summer but we are still here and carrying on. As we prepare to open the Fall 2021 application (which we will announce widely once that happens), we have been meeting many of you during our virtual information sessions and graduate school fairs.

Over the next few months you can still find us online, so if you’re looking to apply here are a few ways to connect:

  • Upcoming Grad School Fairs and Sessions – Obviously we won’t be traveling the next few months, but come connect with us online! I personally enjoy having a little bit of live interaction and chatting with so many of you from around the world. We most recently did an EducationUSA virtual fair with Indonesian students, which was as fun as it was early for our time zone.
  • Application Q&As – If you’ve started your application and want to connect with an admissions staff to ask questions, this is the place for you. These Q&As are kept to very small groups, and you must have started an application to register. We’re holding them every week so you can attend as often as you need.
  • Campus Tours – In response to COVID-19 and in accordance with state and city guidelines, the Admissions office will not offer campus tours for the Fall 2020 semester. We invite you to watch this curated virtual tour of the International Affairs Building, and we look forward to welcoming you in the near future.

We Want to Meet You

While the last few months have introduced a number of different challenges, the Admissions team continues to demonstrate our unwavering support for our prospect population. We will be participating in several virtual graduate fairs and panels to meet prospective students from all around the world. We hope that we can sustain communication and be a resource to you as you consider your options for graduate study. See below our list of upcoming fairs, and visit their website to determine which session will be most advantageous to you:

Summerfest III
Wednesday, August 12 at 12:00 PM

Summerfest features a panel of alumni from Columbia SIPA, Georgetown University- Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, and Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. Attendees will be able to explore the various graduate programs and career opportunities.

Foreign Affairs Open House
Wednesday, August 19 at 11:00 AM

Foreign Affairs is a publication by the Council on Foreign Affairs, promoting the understanding of U.S. foreign policy and international affairs. Visit their website to learn more about the represented organizations.

Idealist Fair (Northeast)
Thursday, September 10 at 1:00 PM

Idealist Fair (West)
Wednesday, September 23 at 1:00 PM

APSIA Online Graduate Fair II
Wednesday, September 30

Idealist Fair (South)
Wednesday, September 30 at 1:00 PM

Idealist Fair (Midwest)
Monday, October 5 at 1:00 PM

Idealist Fair (Pacific Northwest)
Wednesday, October 14 at 1:00 PM

Additionally, as we continue to work remotely, we will be offering virtual information sessions every Monday throughout the fall semester. This is your opportunity to learn more about what makes SIPA unique, our application process, and student life. Our admissions representatives will be able to address any questions you may have.

We’ll continue updating our recruitment calendar throughout the next few weeks. Be sure to monitor our website for new events and opportunities.

As a reminder, our Spring 2021 application is also live. We encourage you to review our application requirements and an update on the GRE/GMAT for Spring/Fall 2021.

An Important Update from Dean Merit E. Janow

Columbia SIPA Dean Merit E. Janow made this announcement on July 8, 2020:

Dear Members of the SIPA Community,

In his message yesterday to the Columbia community, President Bollinger provided a significant update on the University’s plans for the resumption of on-campus activities this fall. I encourage you to review it as it speaks not only to academic life but also important features of campus life going forward. I write today to reaffirm what we have previously shared with you about our plans for the fall, which have not changed, and to further clarify SIPA’s approach to the fall.

First, while the University has given schools the option to have a three-term academic year, SIPA will offer our full curriculum in Fall 2020 and Spring 2021, allowing students to complete their coursework in the usual timeframe. As previously noted, there are no changes to SIPA’s fall academic calendar, which will begin on September 8th.  Spring semester, however, will start one week earlier than usual, on January 11th, and end on April 26th.  Commencement will take place that same week.  Once the University determines our designated date and time for commencement, we will share that information with you.

Second, as previously announced, all Fall 2020 courses will be offered online for the entire semester. In addition, a considerable number of these classes will be taught on campus. As I shared in my message to students on June 24th, if New York State and University public health policies allow, instructors will be able to teach from their regularly assigned SIPA classroom, and a limited number of students will be permitted to attend in person, subject to social distancing requirements. Faculty teaching in a classroom will simultaneously teach their online and on-campus students, utilizing newly installed audiovisual equipment.  University officials have informed us that in-person capacity will be 28 percent of the standard seating capacity and that work is underway to prepare classrooms to meet State and University public health guidelines.

On July 20 we will provide students via the SIPA Bulletin and Vergil a full list of Fall 2020 courses. To the extent possible by that date, we will identify which courses will be offered only online and which will be taught from a classroom (in addition to online).  If we know at that time that a course will be taught from a classroom, we will provide information about the expected in-person seating capacity. We will provide updates on July 27, August 3 and August 10 about the online/on-campus status of courses. We will provide full information no later than August 14 about which courses will be taught from a classroom and which will be online only. As stressed by President Bollinger, “every decision we make related to resuming in-person instruction and residential life will be contingent on New York State moving into Phase 4 of its reopening plan,” and any in-person instruction will depend on conditions on the ground in New York City.

Third, this week’s advance notice from the Department of Homeland Security of new regulations regarding online courses has doubtless raised many questions among SIPA’s international students.  I am in complete agreement with President Bollinger’s statement that these regulations are deeply misguided and “the destructive and indefensible purpose driving these policies” requires us to remain focused on the steps we can take to support our international students who are part of our Columbia family.  Although we are pressing for detailed guidance from University experts, it is our understanding that SIPA’s hybrid model (a mixture of online and in-person classes) will allow international students to enter the US on a student visa as long as they do not take an entirely online course load while in the US. In the meantime, students with any immigration or visa-related questions should consult the International Students and Scholars Office (here).

Fourth, we are working closely with faculty to redesign their fall courses for online instruction or a hybrid format. Among other adjustments, we are helping faculty make provisions for students who take courses from disparate time zones around the world. For example, nearly all class sessions will be recorded and made available to enrolled students via CourseWorks. SIPA-IT is also upgrading audio-visual capacity in all classrooms, in order to facilitate simultaneous teaching of online and in-person students.

Fifth, we will continue to offer the full range of student services to all SIPA students, whether in person or online. Further information about enhanced student support and services will be shared over the summer by the Office of Student Affairs, Office of Career Services, and other SIPA offices.

Sixth, from the onset of the pandemic, SIPA has taken steps to increase financial support for students. The School is providing the largest amount of financial aid in its history. In addition, we restructured our emergency fund this past spring to provide for students facing significant financial stress due to the COVID pandemic. We will continue that fund through the summer and into the fall. I also am pleased to announce that we are increasing resources available in the emergency fund for continuing students (modified guidelines and application process will be announced shortly).

Finally, President Bollinger’s message outlined the strict guidelines that will apply to all who live, work, study and teach at Columbia. Please review those carefully. As you will see, persons on campus must wear a face covering at all times, unless they are in a private room with the door closed. In addition, there are physical distancing, testing, symptom self-check, reduction in density, enhanced cleaning and other requirements.  More information about detailed public health protocols on campus can be found here.

The virus has had a profound effect on our community and the world. As we move forward, please know that we are deeply committed to supporting the needs of all of our students, faculty and staff. SIPA is the world’s most global school of international and public affairs, and we are proud of the remarkable students that join us from the United States and around the world. We are committed, as stressed by President Bollinger, in finding ways to enable the international students who are in the US to continue to complete their studies and those who are overseas to continue to engage with our faculty and students and be part of our vibrant virtual community.

We recognize many of you have more questions about the fall semester, and we will strive to answer them as soon as possible.  We are committed, no matter the uncertainty and disruption around us, to provide a safe learning environment consistent with our educational mission and to provide the rich array of intellectual experiences that are the defining features of the SIPA education.

The year ahead will be filled with complexity and interest: it will be a year that brings a US presidential election, important opportunities to consider economic, environmental, political, racial, social and other challenges facing the world and the United States. And despite the uncertainties and the precautions we all must undertake, we will have opportunities to study, teach, learn and engage with the world and each other. Our mission and our work have never been more important.

I look forward to our fall together.


Sincerely yours,

Merit E. Janow
Dean, School of International and Public Affairs
Professor of Practice, International Economic Law and International Affairs

"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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