Archive for tips – Page 2

Can’t say it enough

[As the saying goes] To put your best foot forward, below are some helpful tips to be aware of as you prepare your SIPA application.

  • Graduate School is expensive so finding money to fund your education is important.  Begin your search for scholarship early – Don’t wait until you have been admitted into a program before beginning that process – It may be too late by then to even be considered for some of the funding opportunities.  Many times scholarship application deadlines occur around the same time as an application deadline for the program you seek entrance.
  • Along the lines of scholarships, SIPA considers all admitted applicants for all applicable first-year fellowships. The only requirement for most awards is to complete and submit the admissions application and all supporting materials by the appropriate deadline.  SIPA also offers first-year students an opportunity to compete for additional named fellowships that require a separate application*; there may be specific eligibility requirements for each of these scholarships.    You will be able to access the scholarship application once you have submitted your fall admissions application, which will appear once you click “submit”.  This opportunity will offer applicants an additional chance to secure funding for their education at SIPA.  Awards vary with each scholarship.  *Available SIPA scholarships for first year students outside of the first year Merit Scholarship process: Dasturdaza Doctor Jal Pavry Award, Financial Women’s Association (FWA) Scholarship, Harriman Institute Fellowship, International Fellows Program, Ipeknur and Shwan Taha Fellowship, Julie Rasmussen Fellowship, Karen Klitzman Memorial Fellowship, Magzhan Auezov Fellowship, Ranjit Jayanti Fellowship, Rachel Spear Fellowship, Robert Kopech Fellowship, Romita Shetty and Nasser Ahmad Fellowship, Sainsbury Fellowship, Sara Jacobs Fellowship, the Most Honorable Bapsy Marchioness of Winchester Award, Robert Legvold Fellowship
  • Please make sure you proofread and edit your personal statement/essays before submitting them.  Tailor your essays to the school, even if it means writing different essays for each school you apply — Make sure you use the right school name if you are submitting similar essays to multiple schools.  And make sure you address the questions asked.
  • Recommendation letters – If the recommender cannot submit it online, they can email it to the SIPA Admissions Office.  Make sure you send them a reminder if they have not submitted the recommendation letter by the end of December — Give them enough time to write and submit it before the application deadline if they haven’t done so already.  And remember you do not need to wait for your recommendations to be received to submit your application.
  • While we do not have a minimum score for the GRE/GMAT, we do have one for the test that measures your English language proficiency (TOEFL/IELTS).  There is a minimum score needed for your application to be considered for admission.  So be mindful of it when you submit your application.  SIPA’s TOEFL/IELTS minimum scores are: TOEFL ibt: 100, TOEFL (computer): 250, TOEFL (paper): 600, and the IELTS is 7.0.

quants are not that scary when we’ve got your back

If you majored in business or a natural science in undergrad then you are probably not that concerned about math. However, if you are like a large proportion of SIPA students who concentrated more on “political” than “science”, you will need to brush up on your math skills. But don’t worry, Columbia has resources.

Preparing  beforehand, is an excellent way to ensure you have the time to meet all your SIPA requirements. You may consider taking quantitative and/or economic courses to boost your quantitative resume. If additional classes are too expensive, there are a number of free and reputable online courses that you can choose from. I also recommend Schaum’s “Outline of Mathematical Methods for Business and Economics” (ISBN: 9780070176973).   It is a great workbook for practicing all the things you forgot you knew. After you are accepted to SIPA, you will have access to online math tutorials all summer long… but don’t wait.

Once you get to SIPA, you will still have some great resources. All students attend math camp during orientation. At the end of this high speed review from algebra to calculus, you will take a placement exam. If you test out of it, great. If not, there are three levels of courses given over the first four weeks of classes. Your score will determine into which 4 week Lab you are placed; those scoring very low will be required to attend additional sessions. In the math courses, you will continue to review the essential math topics and there is no test to complete the class. Attendance is mandatory and you should definitely take advantage of the free resource. You will actually use it in your year-long economics adventure and your quantitative analysis course.

Math tutors may be available through the Office of Student Affairs.  Also, throughout the year, the Teacher Assistants (TAs), are available to help you prep for your quant heavier courses. Calculate your opportunity cost and take advantage of SIPAs technically FREE resources.

If you still feel like you are just not made for math, read these articles by The Atlantic:

Math doesn’t have to be scary! The Atlantic:

The myth of “I’m bad at math” The Atlantic:

moving to New York

Many of our students move to New York City from far away lands and some not so far away places.  But if you are going to be living in New York City for the first time, you should start your apartment search early.  But keep in mind that landlords will not want to rent to you if you are not ready to take on a lease within a month or two.  Regardless, you should at least visit so you have a sense of what neighborhood you would like to live in — There are five boroughs that make up New York City and within each borough, there are different and unique neighborhoods.   Columbia University is located in Manhattan in Morningside Heights.  Morningside Heights starts on 110th and runs to 125th Street from Morningside Drive/Columbus Avenue to Riverside Drive. Morningside is defined by the presence of its academic institutions, a group that is obviously anchored by Columbia. It has a relatively quiet, relaxed character, along with a good selection of businesses, bars, and restaurants that cater to students and faculty.  Once you have settled on where to live, you’ll need to pack and get here.  You may find yourself packing too much or packing too little.

Our resident admissions extraordinaire,  Maggie Pittman, mewho you will pleasantly encounter several times during the admissions process, put together a lighthearted “Pack for New York – clothing essentials” guide for those who have inquired about how to pack for our seasonal weather.

The weather in New York City, particularly during the academic year (fall, winter and spring) is forever changing and so this post will provide you with some helpful tips on clothing and accessory essentials.

To start off, definitely read the SIPA Survival Guide if you haven’t already. Thank me later! Okay, on to the list:

These are general recommendations and knowledge that I have obtained through living here.  Think of it this way, YOU are the all-terrain vehicle.

  • An investment coat: a long coat that can be worn at night and during the day (or a nice pea coat), a winter/puffy coat: LL Bean or Land’s end (Macy’s has a huge selection too of all varying price ranges) – But get real.  It gets COLD in New York; it’s one thing to look good, it’s another to FREEZE.
  • Your feet, like the tires on a car, are essential to getting you around so treat them accordingly and provide the proper maintenance. Comfortable shoes are a staple!
  • Boots: Difference between snow and rain boots.
    • Rain boots and/or boot liners (waterproof)
    • Winter boots (waterproof, with good tread and insulation)
  • Gloves:  touch screen gloves are especially useful!
  • Wool/thick winter socks for boots
  • Hat and/or ear muffs
  • Umbrella (it’s worth investing in a good one)
  • Sunglasses
  • Scarf(s)
  • A versatile, strong carry-all bag (because you don’t have a trunk) especially for those that want to wear nice/fancy shoes, CARRY THEM WITH YOU (I can’t even tell you how many ladies I see slipping and sliding their way through sidewalks and snow banks in heels.)
  • Layers are your friend: the only way to cope with the cold above ground and the heat below
    • T-shirts/ tank tops (and/or camisoles – for the ladies)
    • Leggings and/or long underwear
    • Sweaters, cardigans, hoodies

If you’re coming to New York (or live in the northern hemisphere) during the humid summer months, some quick clothing tips:

  • Avoid wearing anything too tight, or jeans, especially skinny jeans.  The days can be oppressively hot but bring a lightweight cardigan or hoodie for the nights (if you’re staying out all day) – temperatures can drop slightly at night.
  • Avoid wearing flip-flops on city streets. The relaxed ease of flip-flops are tempting but they are rarely durable for the rough and pothole laden streets and, with the tourists pouring into the city, you risk getting your exposed foot stepped on. While socks and sneakers seem too hot to wear in the summer, try sandals with a thick sole.   If you must wear open toe, make sure to watch out for crowds of people stopping in the middle of the street to read a map.  You don’t want your feet stomped on accidentally.
  • Sunglasses and a hat (for shade) are a must even with the skyscrapers and high rise buildings that may block the occasional rays.

If you don’t want to pack it, you can always buy it (but don’t forget to refer to our earlier post about living like a college student, and not like a rock star).  For where to find these items, you can start with some of New York’s famed flagship stores: Century 21, Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s.  However, there is something to be said for getting great stuff on sale (such a rush!) so I recommend:  TimeOut New York: Best Vintage/Thrift stores, Top 20 NYC Thrift stores, Racked: Ten Consignment Shops every sample sale junkie should know.  Speaking of sample sales, HuffPost’s 7 tips for survival is a must read before you go! Goodwill and Salvation Army (via Yelp) locations also have affordable options.

There’s also online shopping – the easiest way to find, research and compare prices. Oh, be sure to sign up for Amazon Prime Student –free for 6 months!

It IS possible to be fashionable and practical!


Wish I had known

Congratulations! If you’re reading this you are almost ready to start your SIPA adventure! (And I ,God-willing, have a high paying job recruiting and training women in American politics.) This is not going to be one of those graduation-speech type posts where I talk in general terms about life advice I wish I had two years ago. (Take risks! Follow your passion! Put potato chips in a sandwich!)  These are five pieces of practical advice for SIPA navigation, the blunt truth tips that would have made my experience slightly smoother sailing.


1) Make sure the University has your immunization records before you get here.  I spent my first registration period freaking out because there was a hold that kept me from signing up for classes.  It turned out I, and a lot of my classmates, had not updated our immunizations and the university had placed a hold on our accounts.  It took an extra 36 hours before I could sort it out and get registered. Don’t let it happen to you!

2) Buy your books on Amazon, from 2nd Years, or not at all.  Two of my professors this year didn’t even bother ordering books through the bookstore because books are so much more expensive there. You can find almost all the books you are assigned in class used on the Internet. In addition a lot of second years will wind up selling their used books especially for popular classes. Finally before you go out and pay for a book, take a look at how often it appears on your reading list. Some professors assign only one or two chapters per semester out of a 900-page tome. If this is the case you might be better off sucking it up and borrowing the book from the library or sharing it with a classmate.  I have even found excerpts I needed to read for class available for free on the Internet.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying, “don’t do the reading” (this isn’t undergrad), I’m just saying do it for free.

3) Makes your classes what you want them to be about. One of the things I really love about SIPA is the flexibility of the curriculum. That said, there will still be classes you are required to take for the core or your concentration, or just that you want to have on your resume that are not exactly your cup of tea.  In most classes that require a final paper or project, your professor will be fairly flexible in allowing you to choose your topic.  Even if it deviates slightly from the suggested topics on the syllabus, if you can make a case for why it is relevant to the course, your Professor is likely to allow you to write it.  Professors want you to be interested in your work and they don’t want to read 30 of the same thing anyway.  This semester I wrote three different papers on gender quotas in legislatures for three very different classes. I still had to do original research for each but it allowed me to delve in and really become an expert on the topic.

4) Always show up for the class, even if it’s full.  If you are really passionate about taking something don’t take “course is full” for an answer.  A lot of Professors will make an exception and people are likely to drop out on the first day anyway. If you’re there, you’re the one who gets to take their spot. Even if you can’t make it in the course that semester, you’ll be able to make a connection with the professor and s/he is all but guaranteed to give you preference next time.

5) This is who Jeffrey Sachs and Joseph Stiglitz are. My Admitted Students Day everyone was freaking out about Jeff Sachs speaking at the plenary session and I was like “who?” Sachs and Stiglitz are two big name Professors and their names get bandied about a lot especially in the first two weeks of school.  I was able to take classes with equally accomplished and notable faculty in subjects in which I was interested, but still it will help you to know who these two are.

According to Wikipedia:

Joseph Stiglitz is an American economist and a professor at Columbia University. He is a recipient of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences (2001) and the John Bates Clark Medal (1979). He is a former senior vice president and chief economist of the World Bank, and is a former member, and Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers.[1][2] He is known for his critical view of the management of globalization, free-market economists (whom he calls “free market fundamentalists“), and some international institutions like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

Jeffrey Sachs is an American economist and Director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University. One of the youngest economics professors in the history of Harvard University. He has been known for his work on the challenges of economic development, environmental sustainability, poverty alleviation, debt cancellation, and globalization He is Special Adviser to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon on the Millennium Development Goals, having held the same position under former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. He is co-founder and Chief Strategist of Millennium Promise Alliance, a nonprofit organization dedicated to ending extreme poverty and hunger.


You’re Welcome!



recommendation requests… with little time.

Recently a former colleague (and friend) asked if I could write her a letter of recommendation for graduate school.  Of course, I was happy to do it.  But then she told me that she needed the letter in 5 days.  My excitement turned to anxiety and slight annoyance.  I wanted to write her a glowing recommendation letter since she deserved one — after all she was an excellent colleague (and during our time together she was always professional and on top of everything… and with the greatest detail).  But I couldn’t help wonder why did she wait to the last minute (and yes, for a person writing you a recommendation letter, a week … even two weeks… is considered last minute).  You should always assume that the person writing you a reference letter has other “more” pressing and time sensitive items to complete.  I would love to drop everything I was doing but unfortunately, my job(s) do not allow me that luxury.  I say this all the time but people don’t listen, so I am going to say it again (and probably again in a future post)… Give your Recommenders ample time to write you a glowing letter of recommendation [or you may not get the “seal the deal” one that she/he would have written for you].

Also, yes, even Admissions experts like us, wouldn’t mind receiving a bit of help (especially if you are only giving me a few days to write it).   A few bullet points and/or suggestions on what you would like us to cover in the letter goes a long way.  We have an idea of what a recommendation letter should contain but getting a sense of what you have done (i.e. your achievements and successes) since our last interaction, point out your strengths, and definitely share with us your goals and what you hope to achieve by going to graduate school… is ALWAYS helpful.  I can think of a number of experiences that I think make my friend a strong candidate but they may not be the same as the ones she had in mind so you may want to share with (remind) your Recommender some specific examples from the time you worked together that will highlight your attributes and strengths.  Keep in mind, a strong recommendation should be able to provide the Admissions Committee another layer and insight to your personal and professional values that hopefully will tie together the rest of your application.

One other thing, which thankfully my friend warned me ahead of time (so the email did not end up in my Junk folder), you should inform your Recommender when and how the request will come for the letter.  You should also provide them with some insight as to whether it will be prompted questions or she/he will be expected to write an unsolicited letter .  This will allow them to plan how much effort and time is needed to write the letter (unfortunately for me, I have no time).

These are just a few tips to provide your Recommender — It’s still early in the season but it never hurts to keep these in the back of your mind as you think about who you would like to write your letter of recommendations.  Before you know it, deadlines will be here.  With that… I am off to write my “glowing” letter of recommendation (with a little grumble).


"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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