How to Choose Your Concentration at Columbia SIPA

Columbia SIPA’s personal statement prompt for the MIA/MPA is the following:

Why are you interested in pursuing your MIA or MPA degree at SIPA? How will a degree (and intended concentration/specialization) from SIPA enable you to achieve your career goals? Describe your academic and research interests and career objectives. Be sure to include details regarding the features of SIPA that you believe are integral to helping you in your career pursuits. (400 words maximum)

It can be really difficult to figure out which concentration and/or specialization to choose. It’s imperative that you are clear, specific, and detailed in your essays when applying to SIPA so that you convince the AdCom that you will be an essential, valuable member of the incoming cohort. Don’t think that by not being specific about which concentration/specialization you want, you avoid having to decide or having to be “pigeon-holed” as one type of applicant. It’s better to be pigeon-holed and remembered than noncommittal and easily forgettable.

So let’s get ready to commit (at least in your essay) to a concentration and/or specialization.

Here are some guidelines for choosing your concentration at Columbia SIPA:

1. Choose your concentration based on what kind of classes you are most interested in:

Below is a list of the six concentrations with links to the classes at Columbia that would fit under that concentration.

  1. Economic & Political Development: EPD courses
  2. Energy & Environment: EE courses
  3. Human Rights & Humanitarian Policy: HRHP courses
  4. International Finance & Economic Policy: IFEP courses
  5. International Security Policy: ISP courses
  6. Urban & Social Policy: USP courses

2. Choose your concentration based on what kind of jobs/internships you are most interested in:

A quick and easy way to figure out which jobs and internships you may have great access to depending on your concentration is to go over  to LinkedIn and do an Advanced People Search.

  1. Search for people who went to Columbia SIPA.
  2. Type into the keywords field the particular concentration you are curious about.
  3. Look at the types of jobs SIPA students and alumni with that concentration have.

Two quick tips:

  1. Search for both the full name: Columbia School of International and Public Affairs as well as for Columbia SIPA.
  2. Search for the concentration name written out in full as well as its abbreviation.

3. Choose your concentration based on what kind of impact you want to have:

For each concentration, you are going to have a different set of stakeholders, value creation methods, tools for measurement, etc.

Ask yourself:

  • What issues do I most care about?
  • With what kinds of people do I most want to work?
  • Who do I want to be held accountable by/to?
  • Which of these concentrations has the most potential to hold my attention and follow my career trajectory over the next 3, 7, 10+ years?

To get insight to help you answer these questions, all you have to do is read the Columbia SIPA Admissions blog. Here are the blog posts at the SIPA Admissions blog about what you should concentrate in.

There is also a plethora of information at the Concentration page on the Columbia SIPA website.

Remember to choose a concentration based on what interests you—not what you think the AdCom is looking for. They are building a diverse class, so every concentration is equally valued and appreciated by the AdCom. Choose the concentration that is most meaningful to you, your career, and your professional goals as a leader and public servant.

2 Comments How to Choose Your Concentration at Columbia SIPA

  1. Giovanna

    Hi! Great blog post! Really helped me decide on the concentration I want to follow. Do you consider doing a post on deciding between MIA and MPA degrees at SIPA? Or have any helpful tips for someone who is still deciding? Thanks! 🙂


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