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FP Guide

2016 Applying to Grad School

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Columbia University, School of International and Public Affairs (Columbia SIPA)

Grace Han, Executive Director, Office of Admissions & Financial Aid

What characteristics make for a successful applicant to Columbia SIPA?

SIPA believes that candidates with proven ability both inside and outside of the classroom are most successful at graduate study. Applicants with track records that underscore their eagerness to grow academically and professionally become the students who are passionate about, and successful at, their chosen career paths. Since SIPA’s core curriculum includes economics, statistics, and financial management, the Admissions Committee looks for evidence of a candidate’s ability to undertake quantitative course work at the graduate level. Broadly speaking, courses in economics, statistics, and mathematics will bolster an applicant’s candidacy and provide a helpful foundation for study here. No particular undergraduate major is required, but those looking ahead to possible study at SIPA can take courses in international relations, political science, foreign languages, and history.

“Applicants with track records that underscore their eagerness to grow academically and professionally become the students who are passionate about, and successful at, their chosen career paths.” – Grace Han, Executive Director, Office of Admissions & Financial Aid, School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), Columbia University

How much do GRE scores matter in your admissions review?

Candidates for admission may submit scores from either the GRE or GMAT for review. The Admissions Committee values these exams because strong performance is an indicator of likely success in our rigorous, quantitative-heavy core curriculum. At the same time, standardized test scores are only one piece of our holistic review process. To this end, applicants have the option of submitting all scores from multiple exams for review, and we will consider the highest score in each subsection. We understand that no single measure of an applicant’s abilities—such as a poor testing day—can tell the full story.

Does applying early increase one’s chances of admission?

While applying early does not increase an applicant’s likelihood of being admitted, it ensures eligibility for SIPA’s merit-based financial aid. Applying early also provides ample time to consider your options and coordinate funding opportunities with outside agencies that require making a commitment to a public-policy school earlier in the year.

How much does work experience matter?

SIPA students develop deep knowledge and practical problem-solving skills through capstone projects, fieldwork, and international internships. They learn from world-class faculty who draw on their own scholarship, experience, record of mentorship, and broad professional networks. Thus it is beneficial when new students arrive with a basic grounding in the realm of international affairs or public policy. Applicants tend to be more competitive if they have prior experience at an international relief organization, a government agency, a nonprofit or nongovernmental organization, or a corporation with operations in the international sphere (to name a few examples). At the same time, we are happy to welcome career changers in each arriving class, and we understand that work experience in other fields provides transferrable skills that can be relevant and useful. Furthermore, while most successful applicants have had at least three years of work or internship experience relevant to their intended course of study, this is not always the case. Each year, 5 to 10 percent of accepted students come directly from undergraduate institutions. These are individuals with extraordinary academic records who have also had significant internships or experience studying abroad. Because of the diversity of our applicant pool, there are no firm academic or professional prerequisites for applying.

What types of recommendations are most effective?

We ask for three letters of recommendation from individuals who are able to state, based on professional or academic knowledge, the applicant’s qualifications for graduate study and commitment to public policy or international affairs. We prefer that one letter be from a member of academia and one from a supervisor or associate from a professional setting.

Master’s Degree Program Options:
• Master of International Affairs (MIA)**
• Master of Public Administration (MPA)**
• MPA in Development Practice (MPA-DP)**
• MPA in Environmental Science and Policy*
• Program in Economic Policy Management*
• Executive Master of Public Administration (part-time program)
• Global Executive Master of Public Administration (part-time, hybrid program)

* One-year program
** Two-year program

Fall 2017 Application Deadlines (for MIA, MPA, and MPA-DP programs):
Early-action: November 2, 2016
For fellowship and financial aid consideration: January 5, 2017
Final application deadline: February 5, 2017
For information about our one-year and executive programs, please visit https://sipa.columbia.edu/admissions.

Standardized Exam Scores: GRE or GMAT required
Recommendation Letters: Three required
Application Checklist: https://sipa.columbia.edu/admissions/applying-to-sipa/miampa-application-checklist

Contact Information:
SIPA Office of Admissions & Financial Aid
sipa_admission@columbia.edu; sipa_finaid@columbia.edu