Archive for tips

Applying for graduate school? Things you can start doing now.

You’re thinking about going back to graduate school?  Graduate school can be a rewarding experience where you can explore, engage and think… while establishing yourself for career advancement or  job opportunities in your chosen path of study.  But keep in mind graduate school is a huge commitment and it does not guarantee that you will end up with the job of your dreams (at least not immediately).

If you have made up your mind about going to graduate school, here are a couple of things to do before applying:

Research graduate school programs that may interest you and find out if you are qualified or not.  You should also find out what are their requirements and deadlines to be considered for admission.  A prospective candidate showed me her color-coordinated spreadsheet to keep track of the different programs, deadlines, requirements and contact information — this is a great way to keep yourself organized especially if you are considering several programs.  Go to fairs, speak to admissions counselors, attend information sessions, visit the school and sit in a class or two.

Make sure you meet all the requirements to apply.

Ask your professors and supervisors if they would be willing to write a letter of recommendation on your behalf. Ask early in the applications process so they have as much time as needed to prepare the letter. Provide them with the information of where to send the letter.  Also send them your personal statement and your resume.

I mentioned personal statement; think about what it is that you wish to convey to the Admissions Committees.  Your statement/essay will help you tell your story and why a particular program/school is the best place for you to get your education given your goals and interests — tailor the essays to the program/school you are applying.  It also gives the committees an opportunity to get to know you more personally.  Be sure to cover all the points that the school asks you to address in your essays.  And most importantly proofread before submitting them.

Prepare your resume/CV. You should also include any academic awards or scholarships you’ve earned.

Request your official transcripts from all your Universities/colleges you have attended, but keep in mind, you may submit unofficial scanned copies for review — so no rush on getting the official transcripts to us immediately.

And remember it’s never too soon to start researching scholarship opportunities.  SIPA keeps a database of external scholarships we hear about that are relevant for our students, so begin there.  Graduate school can be expensive so thinking about your finances early is always smart.

SIPA Decisions: What Happens If You Are Not Admitted

Each year, the admissions office receives thousands of applications for 400 spots. This means that unfortunately, we are in the difficult position of rejecting some qualified applicants who would surely add to the vitality of our community. Here are some of the reasons we did not accept applicants for this admissions cycle:

  • Not enough work experience: As we have emphasized, we really do look for applicants who have worked at least 2-3 years, preferably in a policy-related field. We have found that more experienced students are able to contribute their wealth of experience and knowledge with their classmates, which makes for a more well-rounded entering class.
  • Weak demonstration of quantitative skills: All SIPA students are required to take microeconomics, macroeconomics, and statistics as part of the school’s core curricula. Depending on one’s chosen concentration, he or she may have to take more rigorous quantitative classes. Because of this, it is critical that applicants demonstrate some proficiency or experience taking such classes.
  • Grades/GRE scores: We know that undergraduate classes may have been a long time ago, or that you didn’t have time to adequately prepare for the GRE. However, we have to take these records of your past academic achievement seriously, as they are oftentimes the best indicators of future academic success. While a low grade here and there is permissible, a smattering of poor classroom performances will force us to take pause.
  • Lack of English proficiency: We really value having a diverse student body, with roughly half of our students hailing from overseas. However, it is imperative that all of our students are able to take classes and communicate fluently in English. Oftentimes, we feel that a candidate has great credentials, but his or her English language abilities are not sufficient. This is reflected in a low TOEFL score, or poorly-written personal statement.
  • Unclear personal statement: This is arguably the most common reason we choose not to admit applicants. We regularly receive applications from great candidates who don’t seem to know quite what they want to do with their lives. This is okay! But…in order to maximize the value of a SIPA degree, we are really looking for students who are both driven and focused. Unlike one’s undergraduate years, where he or she likely had the opportunity to take classes in a host of subjects, time and space for exploration is far more limited in graduate school. We want students with concrete objectives and drive to take them where they want to go.  And we want SIPA to be the right place for you.

Again, we are sorry we can’t admit all of our wonderful applicants! We do encourage re-applying when one feels he or she is better equipped to attend, but we want to point out that there is a maximum of three times that one can apply to a specific degree program.

Unfortunately, we cannot provide immediate feedback on specifically why one’s application was not accepted (sadly our staff’s time constraints make this impossible right now).  But you are welcome to email us during the summer for specifics on how to improve your application.

Good luck!  And stay positive.


My Application is Complete – Now What?

So your application is submitted and all materials have been received (i.e. complete), now you have some free time to start preparing for school in the fall. What should I do? Good question! We have compiled a list of things you can do while you wait for an admissions decision from SIPA and other policy schools. Please remember, these are only some suggestions that we think would be helpful while waiting for admission decisions…

Keep updated with current events:

Policy courses at SIPA will introduce both old and new policy events that will be analyzed and dissected. Take for example, the Columbia University expansion in New York City – it’s been discussed in multiple classes, most recently “Policy Implementation” with Professor Kristina Ford. Keeping yourself updated with current events at the local, federal and foreign events will help you understand concepts and contribute to class discussions.

Suggested sites:

Review quantitative courses:

SIPA students are expected to learn how to read and analyze policy papers heavy with quantitative information. In fact, three of the core classes for MIA and MPA are under the economics and statistics department. Having an understanding of the basics in economics and statistics will only help you succeed in the classroom. Lastly, brushing on some math will help during the ever-popular Math Camp.  Students can take courses at their local Community College over the Summer and or take free online classes, also known as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC). To get you started, here are some links we found by doing a simple Google search on the topic:

*Side note… if you are thinking about applying to SIPA in the future, courses taken to strengthen your quantitative background/skills on your application should be taken at an accredited (or international equivalent) university for a grade.

Volunteer Opportunities:

Looking for other ways to get prepared?  Nonprofits in your local community deal with everyday issues (homelessness, higher education access, foreign aid, etc), volunteering with them will give you a unique perspective of how nonprofits tackle some of some the most pressing problems. The experience will provide you with an understanding of different management styles that will be essential in the classroom. So, where can I find volunteer opportunities? Below are some sites we found to be useful:

  • idealist
  • Check your local city for volunteer opportunities, for example NYC

External Funding Search:

Although the application deadline has passed, funding season is still open. You should always be looking into funding opportunities beyond SIPA fellowships and loans. Our Financial Aid Department has compiled a list of external funding opportunities for incoming and continuing students. The advance search option allows you to search by category (i.e. human right, Urban policy) and by application deadline.

Buy a Coat!:

Thinking of making the brave move from warmer climates to the (U.S.) northeast? It’s the perfect time to buy a winter coat – many stores are gearing up for Spring and will be having last minute sales on winter coats.

Take these suggestions with a grain of salt – good luck with admission decisions!

more words of advice (because we can’t help ourselves)

As a SIPA representative who has interacted with applicants hoping to get into SIPA, I know that the final stage of the application process yields both relief and stress for prospective students who have not yet completed the application.  Here are a few tips for those of you who are still working on your SIPA applications:

Follow directions:  Often times, it is the simplest thing that can hinder ones application. Be sure to follow instructions carefully and thoroughly. If there is a word limit for personal statements, follow it. If you are asked for three letters of recommendation, do not send more or less. If you are asked not to send anything additional, don’t.

Focus on content and presentation: A candidate might have the highest standardized test scores, a great GPA, and excellent references, but if the application contains obvious misspellings or grammatical mistakes, it may be a problem. Please make sure to carefully review your materials before hitting the submit button. The most common mistake is submitting a statement of purpose that was meant for another school – Don’t confuse SIPA with other schools.  If you do, the Admissions Committee will assume you are careless and not entirely serious about your application.

Be yourself: It is important that you present yourself in a genuine and honest way. No one is perfect, so the Committee might be a bit skeptical about applicants who present themselves as having no flaws. Don’t exaggerate your accomplishment or make up excuses for weaknesses in your application.

Allow yourself enough time:  Take some time to gather and collect all of the required materials for your application. Our online application portal allows you to frequently check the status of your application. Check and recheck to make sure that there are no more supporting and supplemental documents you need to submit.

Stay positive and try to relax:  We realize that it is a very anxious time for you and we’ll do our best to help you through the process.  Feel free to visit the office if you are in the New York City area. Our office is open Monday through Friday 9am-5pm, excluding holidays – No appointment is needed to speak to someone in the Admissions Office.  Of course, you can always email or call us if you need assistance.

Good luck!


Happy New Year from us to you!

Earlier in the semester, you met some of our student PAs (Program Assistants) and read their posts over the last few months.  Since we’re beginning the new year, we thought we would share some advice (and selfies – for laughs) from the rest of the SIPA Admissions &Financial Aid team.

Meet the team:

grace blogJust call me Grace.

I am many things to many people.  I would rather be… better at all of it within normal “waking” hours.   For now, I am content drinking lots of coffee and not sleeping.

My advice is simple:  Don’t count yourself out before you try.  BE HONEST with purpose.  And plan, plan, plan.

I love the passion, the drive, the hard work, the dedication, and the compassion of everyone who make up the SIPA community… but I am not so much in love with the IAB elevators — wish someone would do something about them.



My name is David.

I am spending the holidays at home in New Jersey, which isn’t a bad place, but I would rather be spending them in Paris.

My best financial aid advice is a) create a budget and stick to it, b) if you must borrow student loans, take the time to learn all of your repayment options, and c) spend time looking for external funding sources, there are a lot out there.

What I like most about SIPA is that I can call our students “do-gooders” without being sarcastic or ironic.  Students come to SIPA because they truly want to make the world a better place.



I am still me. I would rather be TARZAN.

My advice:  The personal statement is by far the most integral part of the application process. Applicants should be prepared to discuss their goals, their accomplishments, and their reasons for seeking a degree at SIPA.

What do you like most about SIPA?  Sense of community and working with SIPA students. SIPA students are extremely talented and committed to fixing problems around the world- After all, SIPA is the incubator for global leaders.


Jennifer a.k.a. “Milk Stealer”jennifer

“I AM a Financial Aid Officer.  I WOULD RATHER BE a Kardashian.”

My financial aid advice:  You can never spend too much time searching for outside funding.  The more effort you put in to researching and applying for outside scholarships, the more likely you are to receive them.

What do you like most about SIPA? The students.  I have found SIPA students to be the most kind, caring and passionate students I have ever worked with.  It is a pleasure getting to know them and assisting them through the financial aid process.


Colette SelfieMy name is Colette and I am the Student Support Services Coordinator in the Admissions Office at SIPA.

I was trying to think of some words to boost your spirits for the New Year and thought that this simple tip might just do it:  Dream big dreams, but at the same time, search for, explore and exploit all possibilities-Life is full of them!

I want you to know that I follow my own advice–for example, though I love my job at SIPA, there are times that I would rather be doing something else.  One of my dreams is to be the Public Relations person for the New York Yankees… My job would be sooo easy because I would have been assigned to represent retired players like the great Mariano Rivera and the incomparable, Bernie Williams! I know… Right? Dream Job! But, seriously, one of the things that I like most about SIPA is the opportunity to meet people from many parts of the US and those from all corners of the globe.  The cultures, languages and zest for learning they bring with them are truly inspiring.  So, to everyone who will be joining us at SIPA, I look forward to meeting you and to being inspired.



“I am working hard. I would rather be looking at pictures of kittens.”

My admissions advice for a prospective candidate:  Don’t cheat on your TOEFL – English fluency is pretty important here.  We will KNOW.

What do you like most about SIPA?  Our lovely building.



Maggie  (Margaret is my full name, but don’t call me that…please).  Office nickname: Pittboss

I am an Admissions and Financial Aid counselor. I would rather be…. A PEGASUS!!

My admissions tip?  OUTLINE, OUTLINE, OUTLINE. If you think of the application (requirements) like an outline that you would use for a research paper or thesis, you can be more certain that all of your information is presented in a cohesive manner. One tip is to use the personal statement questions to state your career goals and to clearly articulate what you wish to accomplish after obtaining your degree from SIPA. It is incredibly important that the committee be able to understand what your motivations are and to understand why you want to do pursue that particular area. The story of how and/or why you came to be involved in the field is a great way to honestly describe your internal motivation and most importantly, your PASSION.

It is REALLY easy for applicants to THINK they are saying what they WANT to say when in fact these statements allude to an idea that is not actually articulated or it might just be too general (i.e. “I want to help people” without any details of how or why). Therefore, identifying the main idea (what you want to do and why) of your application is key and you should be able to write this in one or two sentences, just like a thesis statement. The other aspects of the application and the information provided then are used to help support what you want to do and why. Above all, be sure that you answer the questions fully and follow the directions.

BONUS tip: do everything you can to keep yourself calm and focused- if your recommendation letter might come in late, then be sure ALL of your materials are submitted and be sure to communicate with us for unusual circumstances but DO NOT panic because over-notifying your referee and calling our office in a panic, isn’t going to change the circumstances as they are now. Oh- and submit your application when you are ready AND before the deadline, do NOT wait for a letter of recommendation or other item to be received before you do so.

I sincerely enjoy working with SIPA’s applicants (and current students). I am ALWAYS learning such interesting things from people that I talk to but hearing each person’s “story” and helping them achieve their goals, even if it is just by BELIEVING in them, is the reward and reason I love doing this! The transformation of a prospective applicant, to applicant, to student and then to see them graduate and then a successful Alumni is amazing and I feel privileged to be a part of that process!

Missing from post… Claudio Vargas.  He was taking some time off to recharge.

Wishing all of you a happy and productive new year!


"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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