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Current SIPA student - ask away!


sipa2017
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Hey! 

Thank you so much for helping out! I hope SIPA is treating you well :) I would really like to know what qualities the admission office is seeking in statement of purpose if you could elaborate. And based on the coursework that you have undertaken so far, how would SIPA prepare cohorts for their future endeavor? thank you again! 

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Hello, 

Thanks for sharing your insight on SIPA and its various concentration and specializations. I apologize for the long post, but I applied for Spring 2016 and have to make a tough decision between SIPA and Georgetown SSP. I've jotted some of the more pressing questions: 

 _________________________________

1. I've looked through Gradcafe's threads on SIPA admissions from 2010-2014, and it seems that there is an overall negative tone in how SIPA is described -

  • the large core class sizes, significant because of SIPA's large degree requirements,
  • SIPA's reputation as a degree mill due to lack of 1st-year funding,
  • the poor career services, and
  • the difficulty of forming close relations with distinguished professors due to difficult and brief office hours

How would you address these issues? I myself would not be asking these questions if I did not think that most of them are unsubstantiated. I'm interested in hearing your opinion.

2. I've been using this list to prepare for funding via a second-year assistantship. As a first-year, what should I prioritize if I want to maximize my chances of receiving a TA position? 

3. How intellectually challenging are most SIPA courses? I understand that the MIA is a terminal degree, but I do not want to spend 2 years acquiring professional skills - I want a good balance of theory and practical experience.

4. I will definitely be pursuing International Security Policy as a Concentration, but I'm struggling between two Specializations: Management and Regional Studies (Asia Pacific). Do you have any experience with either, and could you tell me a little bit about them? 

5. I'm several years removed from studying my last language, and I would like to take language courses without using up my electives. Is there any feasible way to do this? 

6. This is a purely subjective question, but how active and accepting are SIPA students? Are they typically friendly and engaging, or do they form cliques based on gender, income level, perceived intelligence, and so on? 

7. A random question - do you live in the International House? If you do, is paying the exorbitant price worth the accessibility and student environment? 

 _________________________________

Thanks again! Sorry if I overwhelmed you with questions. Feel free to ignore questions you don't know or feel comfortable answering. 

 

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Hi StyleLeD,

I'll try responding as concisely as possible:

1. Gradcafe kind of hates SIPA. I saw that through last year as well :) It was in a way a reason to doubt my decision of coming here. But what we need to understand is that gradcafe has a subset of the accepted and admitted applicants. Anyway, to answer your questions

- Large core classes, well there is only one which is actually large (100+) which this the MPA/MIA core. And even there, these are guest lecture series classes. Your main work for this particular class happens in small discussion groups the week of the lecture with another professor/PhD student. These discussion groups have 15 people! The remaining classes vary from 10-50, depending on what you choose. Even the core Quant/Micro classes are split into multiple sections, with multiple professors. It's not so bad, and I doubt any other school has substantially smaller classes than SIPA.

- Our year, they increased funding for first years substantially. Yes, it's low, but is SIPA really lower than other schools? Don't know. SIPA gave me the most funding, that decided it for me. As for the reputation, I can't answer that, but SIPA is well known within the Columbia Community. Cash cow reputation is also hearsay (mostly from gradcafe) for me :)

- The career services are what you make of them, in any school actually. If you don't engage with them and don't attend their sessions, you won't see value in them! I've not attended many yet, but I've heard they are very useful when you have a potential interview/offer and you can practice with the team. And the portal is not too bad in my opinion, not great, yes, but not abysmal as I came in thinking they are.

- Absolute crap! Professors are amazing, very open to questions, you can catch them at any time. Even the legends.

2. In your first year at SIPA, try taking courses which are in line with your interest and open for TAships. You need to ace these courses, have a good working relationship with the Prof and TA and hope for the best! That's pretty much what anyone can do actually.

3. I have a mix of professional and academic courses, and I'm liking them so far. Honestly, you are completely free to choose what kind of courses you want to take up, you can also go the other extreme and take all electives and cores with choices as academic. But there is a catch, if you are not really interested in the mandatory core classes that you have to do, you may find a few classes in your first and second semester uninteresting and dry. Try mixing core and electives from the first semster itself. I did, and that makes it good! In fact, the course I thought I will hate has ended up being my favorite. Strange things happen.

4. Well, if you want to do management your previous point on not taking only professional courses doesn't add up :) But I don't know about either specialization, apologies! If it's useful, you can choose your specialization at any time till the end of your first (even second) semester. Audit classes. I've actually changed my specialization after coming here. You can also double-specialize, it's not uncommon. 

5. Yep, you can take it as a pass/fail, or just audit the class through the semster. BUT this means you have a second language proof of proficiency and you can waive off the requirement (assuming you're MIA) and then take the course.

6. The group is amazing, diverse, sweet, and no ivy elitism as far as I can see. There is no divide between the first and second years either. The best part of SIPA is the peer group!

7. You'll find that I-House is not as exorbitant as if you start looking for apartments in NYC. NYC is ridiculously expensive, but you find ways to save. The rooms in I-House are tiny from what I hear, but the culture is amazing, I go there all the time (although I don't stay there)

You can PM me if you like, and we can discuss more over email.

 

 

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Hi Sipa2017,

Thank you for doing this. SIPA definitely gets a disproportionate amount of hate here and it's good to have someone set the record straight. I have a few questions for you myself:

- I was wondering if you could tell us a bit more about your decision process. In addition to money, what other factors did you consider when choosing SIPA?

- How would SIPA differentiate itself from other IR or MPA/MPP programs in your view? In other words, why SIPA?

- Was there anything you were positively/negatively surprised about when starting school? 

- Do you think that there are factors that applicants tend to overlook that are actually important to having a positive experience in grad school, particularly SIPA?

- Things you like best/least about the program. 

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Hi Glovelove,

- I was a bit overplanned with my applications, so not sure if I'm the best person to talk to about this. I had shortlisted 6 universities. 2 of them had early applications - SIPA and Fletcher. Both decisions came in December before I submitted my other applications. SIPA and Fletcher were my personal top 2 schools (the other 4 were HKS, Berkeley, SAIS and WWS) so I didn't submit the other applications, didn't see the point.

My choice of schools is very very specific to what I want to study. So the same should go for all of you. Don't go by reputation, prestige as much as which school has the best department and faculty for your future career. If you want to discuss specifics, PM me.

- Again, a very very specific question, and will vary from person to person. My reason for SIPA was an exceptional concentration department- courses + faculty for my choice, NYC and future careers, and better prospects in terms of degree recognition when I go back to my home country. I know this might be a broad answer..

- Negative - a bit of regionalism in terms of peer groups - people from a region tend to stick together. But I guess this is natural, in a new place, and only 3 months into the programme. The second years are a big mixed bunch, so I guess that takes time :) Other negatives - don't come in thinking ALL your classes will be mindblowing- your own personal biases come into your perception of classes. You don't like a subject, you probably wont like the class, unless your professor was so amazing that he changed your opinion. But to put the same thing in a positive way - in my undergrad, out of say 10 classes, maybe 3 were great. Here out of 10, you'll see 8 will be great. But come in with zero expectations, and explore. It's a new world, and biases ruin your experience. Another negative- the school is very bureaucratic, as in the case of most big universities. I wasn't expecting that, but that may be poor expectation setting on my part. Most other positives I've put in my post above. :)

- See the thing is - some parts are matter of fact - you've had your undergrad, you've done your work - you can't change them. What you can do is potray these in the best way possible in your CV - that is a given. The most important are the parts you can actually enhance - your LoRs, your essays. Do not underestimate the power of your essays and LoRs. They are your best bet on getting in. You have a lot of advice on good essays here on gradcafe. All I'll add is be very very specific to why you are interested, what will you do with this interest etc. Explain each sentecne - don't leave them hanging like "I am interested in SIPA because it has an excellent faculty and programme" For what? Why for you? Which faculty? Which class?

 

 

 

 

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