This was an anonymous submission through The Morningside Post website. The board unanimously decided to post it as it presents a compelling and unique point of view. Thank you to the author for sharing your perspective.
SIPA brands itself as a professional school, where most students have significant working experience prior to being accepted. During the info sessions, they always say that the average age is 27. However, by the first week of class, most people have a sense that the distribution must be somewhat skewed, and SIPA students complain about it. As a seeple who went straight from undergrad to grad school, I happened to find myself multiple times in conversations where my classmates raised this issue.
I was openly told that “there are too many students straight from college at SIPA,” and I struggled to find a good response. My classmates say that if SIPA really wants to present itself as a professional school, it needs to do a better job at screening candidates, to improve its quality and ensure that everyone can contribute with his or her real-world experience. Is that right? Not necessarily, but if you are an undergrad who is currently thinking about SIPA, my advice to you is very simple: don’t apply. Don’t apply yet. Regardless of whether the admission office will ever change its criteria, you should first acquire that real-world experience that SIPA praises. Your time at SIPA - when you will eventually apply - will be so much more valuable.
When everyone introduces himself during the first week of classes, you will have to figure out a way to skip the fact that you don’t really have working experience - or come up with some irrelevant details to fill the gap. Most professors will be less interested in your profile too. You will sit in class surrounded by people who constantly make references to their previous lives, whether those be in conflict zones, investment banking or humanitarian crises. You will wonder how to meaningfully contribute to the conversation and often end up just listening to your classmates. It is not even a matter of being the small fish in a big pond, rather than a big fish in a small bowl. Coming to SIPA with previous working experience will allow you to capitalize on it, by applying all the theories and frameworks that you learn in class to what you have actually done or seen in first person.
If you are lucky enough, you might be called out in a group study for your lack of real experience. They will tell you that you cannot really understand the problem or back up your arguments. In addition, SIPA is inevitably a competitive environment, where you will often have to fill applications to get into extra-curricular projects, assistantships and sometimes classes too. When your background lacks those years of exposure, you will struggle.
To be sure, at SIPA, you will be surrounded by lots of amazing people. They can teach you so much just by sharing their experiences. Some friends will take the time to sit down with you and feed your curiosity and interest to learn more. Few other schools would probably give you this opportunity of growth. However, it is no wonder that sometimes they are just wasting their time with questions or comments from inexperienced classmates.
Some students will disagree with this perspective. They either have absolutely outstanding profiles, or they are confident enough to just walk past it. The former need only to be praised and if you are one of them, you will thrive at SIPA. The latter instead cause the greatest resentment among those with years of working experience, who see them as naïve, but pretentious.
If you are an undergraduate student thinking about applying to SIPA, don’t rush. Expose yourself to the best, most enriching experiences so you can to get the most out of a truly unique graduate program like SIPA.