SIPA’s MPA in Development Practice (MPA-DP)

Program Overview: MPA in Development Practice (MPA-DP)



The 21-month MPA-DP, a STEM-designated degree program, is a practice-oriented, professional advancement degree where you will acquire the knowledge, and build the skills, experience, and networks, to make the world a better place. Our objective is to empower and support you through a combination of core and elective courses, skills development, and real-world practice. We support diverse, work-experience opportunities during the program, including a 3-month professional placement, a client-oriented, team capstone project, and internships. Upon graduation, you will be ready to apply these competencies with leading organizations in the public, non-profit, and private sectors or create your own enterprise, as many of our students have done.

Who It's For

Are you motivated to act in the face of persistent social inequality, unsustainable environmental practices, conflict and poor governance, and widespread poverty? Are you committed to sustainability and resiliency as essential — not just desirable — attributes of a better society? Are you frustrated by the difficulty of putting good ideas into practice and of taking effective practices to scale? Are you seeking a practice-orientated, interdisciplinary, education experience that will enable you to reach your full potential as an agent of change? If you answered yes to two or more of these questions, the MPA-DP is very likely the right program for you.

Career Paths

“Business as usual” graduate programs in development prepare you for traditional careers in traditional development institutions. But the “development ecosystem” is rightly becoming more complex and increasingly inclusive of all countries and societies. While our graduates are regularly finding their way into the United Nations, the multilateral development banks, aid agencies, NGOs, and development consultancy firms, the door is opening in non-traditional areas. Big name management firms like McKinsey and Deloitte have lately been recruiting our graduates. State and local authorities in the United States have hired MPA-DPs to tackle urban development challenges. Other graduates have joined tech start-ups and impact investing firms, or have created their own social enterprises. Several of our alumni are currently enrolled in PhD programs. Career paths for development practitioners will continue to evolve and diversify. And we will support you towards the path that best meets your professional and personal goals.

Students graduating with an MPA-DP STEM-designated degree acquire skills to advance their career and work in leadership, management, and research positions in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. With a STEM degree, students enter the job market with a US nationally-recognized designation, and it allows international students to apply for an additional 24 months of Optional Practical Training (OPT) after their first year of standard OPT (a total of three years).


Learning Outcomes and Indicators 

Manage public policy processes and programs that advance sustainable development—from the grassroots to the nationwide, and every level in between.

  • Graduates will demonstrate an understanding of leadership techniques and mastery of strategic planning.

Analyze, synthesize, and otherwise think critically to execute evidence-based decisions via intersectoral approaches.

  • Graduates will be able to apply economic tools to policy and management problems.

Articulate and apply a sustainable development framework in a contextually appropriate manner.

  • Graduates will understand critical development sectors and cross-cutting issues.

Communicate, engage, and partner effectively with diverse stakeholders in civil society, the private sector, and at public agencies.

  • Graduates will communicate effectively through written memos and reports, data visualization, and tailored, concise oral presentations.

Your academics will cover a wide range of disciplines and sectors, including core courses in sustainable development, economics, statistics, global food systems, and more. In addition, you will also choose to focus your degree in a particular area, such as Agriculture, Food Security, and Nutrition; Disaster, Emergencies, and Crisis Management; or Gender, Human Rights, and Social Inclusion, to name a few.

Your coursework will also be supplemented by a three-month required professional summer placement with established partner organizations around the world, providing you with practical work experience in sustainable development practice and a holistic learning experience.

Admission Requirements

In addition to SIPA’s general admission requirements, the MPA-DP program requires the following:

  • A minimum of 2 years work experience (preferably)
  • A passion for Domestic and/or International Development

Learn more about what SIPA looks for

Learn how to apply to SIPA

Tuition & Fees

Learn more about our Tuition & Fees

What does STEM-designated mean and why is it important?

STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.  The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) supports STEM education in the U.S. by establishing criteria that marks some degree programs as “STEM degrees.”

Students completing STEM-designated programs receive an internationally recognized education in these disciplines, which can help them prepare for and secure jobs after graduation.

International students completing a STEM-designated program are eligible to apply for the F-1 STEM OPT Extension. This designation enables students to apply for an additional 24 months of OPT authorization beyond their standard 12-month OPT

What are the special characteristics of successful MPA-DP candidates?

For each cohort, we seek diverse international representation and a range of disciplinary backgrounds to enrich the learning environment. Our current two MPA-DP cohorts include students from 30 countries, coming from a range of academic backgrounds, including economics, business, architecture, engineering, finance, geography, mathematics, computer science, agriculture, public health, biology, religion, history, communications, political science, law and social work. This cultural and professional diversity within each cohort is a powerful asset for learning and contributing to a vibrant program.

We look for candidates with some professional international experience, with most of our successful candidates having between two and 10 years. We believe that prior field experience improves the quality of the education experience. We especially seek out candidates with a demonstrated passion for sustainable development practice.

Do I need to have a certain undergraduate major?

No, but students with majors that are far removed from the international relations or public administration fields are advised to address with extra care in their essay why they now wish to “change gears” and study at SIPA.

Do you accept applicants directly from undergraduate schools?

A very small number of the accepted students each year may come directly from undergraduate institutions. These are individuals with extraordinary academic records who have also had significant internship and/or study abroad experience. Recent undergraduates with very strong academic credentials might be encouraged to reapply after they have pursued one or more years of relevant work experience.

Can I visit the campus and meet with an MPA-DP program representative?

The MPA-DP program administration is available to meet with you by appointment. Please email us at [email protected]. With advance notice, we can also arrange for you to sit in on a current MPA-DP core course.

Is the review process for applicants to the MPA-DP program the same as for other SIPA programs?

The MPA-DP program has a separate admissions committee that reviews applications and selects students for admission.

Can I defer my offer of admission?

In exceptional circumstances, deferment may be permitted. These circumstances include health issues duly certified by a medical professional or unexpected impediments to obtaining a visa. An applicant can also reapply by following the reapplication procedure provided here. We will retain materials for 2 years after the original application deadline.

Can I transfer into the MPA-DP program from other SIPA programs?

SIPA's MIA, MPA and EMPA students can request to transfer to the MPA-DP program before the course registrations’ add/drop deadline, in their first semester, or before registration opens for the second semester of their degree. Students need to express their wish to one of the Deans at the Office of Students Affairs. The Dean will then contact the MPA-DP leadership, and a decision will be made based on the student's application material submitted to SIPA, plus the number of available spaces in the MPA-DP cohort.

Why does the MPA-DP program have an additional $1000 fee?

This additional fee contributes to the cost of the 12-week professional summer placement, one-week “Getting Started” program, and three-day MPA-DP retreat.

Can I waive required MPA-DP courses?

In exceptional cases, the MPA-DP Program Director may grant students a waiver from completing core requirements.  If a student can clearly demonstrate that he or she has expertise in the subject and that there is no advantage to taking the course, he or she may request a waiver from the Program Director. The decision to approve course waivers will be made jointly by the Program Director and the professor of the required course. Students are also required to identify an alternative course to fulfill the requirement.

Can I take electives at other schools within the Columbia University system?

Yes. You may take any Columbia University course that allows SIPA students to enroll, and are encouraged to do so when possible. Students should be aware that some undergraduate courses, such as Elementary level language courses, will not count toward the 54 credits required for graduation from SIPA.

Can I receive credit for an independent research project?

Yes. MPA-DP students have conducted research on a wide range of topics related to sustainable development practice. 

Learn more

What are the MPA-DP Professional summer placement requirements?

MPA-DP students are required to complete a 12-week consultancy with an organization between their first and second year at SIPA. The scope of work must be graduate-level and related to sustainable development. In addition to completing the deliverables required by the host organization per the Terms of Reference, students must submit several deliverables to the MPA-DP Program Director designed to facilitate reflection on this experience.

How long is the Professional summer placement?

The minimum duration of the professional summer placement is 12 full-time weeks. 

Is the Professional summer placement program funded?

The MPA-DP program administration aims to limit out-of-pocket expenses for basic expenses incurred during the professional summer placement. Some host organizations fully fund summer placements per internal policies, but often there is a cost-sharing arrangement. Partner organizations are asked to provide financial or in-kind support for their student “consultants,” and often cover accommodations, meals and in-country project-associated travel. Students can apply for a DP summer stipend up to a maximum of $2,500 to cover gaps in basic expenses.

Do MPA-DP students get involved with student organizations?

Yes! In fact, MPA-DPs hold leadership positions on the executive boards of 14 student organizations within SIPA. More than half of the MPA-DP class of 2018 hold leadership roles in organizations ranging from the Humanitarian Affairs Working Group, the Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Group, the Monitoring and Evaluation Student Society, to the Social Enterprise Club (SEC) and Columbia Impact Investing Initiative - Ci3. As true interdisciplinary practitioners, many MPA-DP students serve on the boards of multiple organizations.

Are Internships required?

Besides the required professional summer placement, many MPA-DP students take advantage of the opportunity to intern with an organization in New York City.  Though not required, MPA-DP students may receive up to 3 credits for internships undertaken during their first or second year at SIPA.

Can I audit courses at SIPA?

Please refer to SIPA's auditing policies. Please note that you cannot audit required courses. 

Program Requirements

Students must complete a minimum of 54 points and a maximum of 72 points to be considered for graduation.

Application Checklist

Employment Statistics


Employment By Sector

Employment by Sector: Public Sector, 31.6%; Private Sector, 23.7%; Nonprofit Sector, 42.1%; Pursuing Further Study: 2.6%



Employed / Pursuing Further Study


Seeking Employment


Not Seeking Employment

Employment information as reported by the graduates six months after graduation. In 2021, 46 students graduated from the MPA-DP program, 39 reported.

View more information