Admissions Blog

Are You a Current Columbia or Barnard Undergraduate Student? Hear from Julia Kim (MPA ‘23) About the Five-Year Joint Degree Program

By Clara Li '23
Posted Jul 25 2023

For Columbia and Barnard undergraduate students passionate about public administration, foreign service or international relations, SIPA’s five-year joint degree program is an exciting opportunity to earn a B.A. degree and, either, a Master of International Affairs (MIA) or Master of Public Administration (MPA) in just five years!

If you are in your junior year and have completed the majority of your requirements, you can apply for the joint degree program. Your senior year would consist of a combination SIPA and any remaining undergraduate courses and your fifth year will be spent exclusively at SIPA fulfilling your master’s degree requirements. Keep reading to learn from current joint degree student, Julia Kim, about what this experience has been like and her advice for students interested in pursuing this unique path.

SIPA’s Office of Student Affairs (OSA) manages this joint degree program. If you would like to get more information about the program and confirm your eligibility, you can find more here.

Julia Kim (MPA ‘23)


How did you first hear about the SIPA Five-Year Joint Degree? What aspects of the program motivated you to pursue this degree, as opposed to going into the workforce or pursuing another opportunity?

Hello my name is Julia Kim and I'm a 5-year SIPA student pursuing a B.A in Political Science and Human Rights and minoring in Economics at Barnard and planning on concentrating in Energy and Environment at SIPA!

I first found out about the SIPA Five-year Joint Degree when doing my research on Barnard and I quickly took interest since International Relations was a field of study that I was confident in pursuing. In fact, I was so curious about the process of joining the program that I sought out advice in my freshman year, but to no one’s surprise, I was told to come back in 2 years. However, I ended up taking a gap year after my sophomore year and during that time I got the opportunity to speak to mentors, alumni and colleagues that gave me extremely thoughtful and insightful advice. Through those conversations I gained more confidence that pursuing an accelerated Master’s degree was a suitable choice for my interests and career goals.

There were various aspects of the program that were attractive to me, the first being that it offered concentrations that would allow me to go more in depth in specific subjects than I had previously done in my undergraduate classes. The second point that I found attractive was that SIPA had an extremely diverse student body as well as faculty that has proven to be really meaningful in and outside of classes. Lastly, the types of opportunities that SIPA offered outside of the academic curriculum, including the opportunity to complete a practicum with real clients, gave me the utmost confidence that I would gain significant tools and skills needed to make an impact in whatever opportunity I choose to pursue upon graduating.

What have you found to be the main differences between Barnard and SIPA? This can be in terms of study body, community, and/or rigor of coursework, to name a few.

There have been various differences that I’ve experienced between Barnard and SIPA and although they’ve made the adjustment period a little more difficult to navigate, I see them as positive differences since the five-year program wouldn’t be as valuable otherwise. The most obvious difference that I felt was within the student body and the amount of experience and knowledge the students in my cohort possess. As a current undergraduate student, I have limited work and specific industry experience so the opportunity to learn from and with classmates that have more insight and expertise has been invaluable.

When it comes to coursework, I would say that the volume really varies from class to class, but what I found most interesting is that there is an increased number of group projects at SIPA. There are many opportunities to work in groups at Barnard, however, I found that the frequency of collaboration and coordination needed at SIPA is a lot higher.

Lastly, because the student body at Barnard and SIPA differ, naturally the dynamic within each community reflects the interests of the students involved. The most evident example of this is in the types of events and clubs that are offered. To give a few examples, SIPA has an immense number of networking events and round-table discussions since that is what the student body demands and gets the most value out of. Whereas Barnard places a lot of emphasis on community building and career-specific alumni panels that offer students more clarity in the opportunities that they can pursue. But as I mentioned before, these differences are what makes the five-year joint program so unique and worthwhile.

How has your time at SIPA built upon your knowledge and experiences at Barnard?

I have only experienced one semester of being a SIPA student, however as a political science major I have found that the knowledge I obtained from my SIPA classes have easily been translated to my Barnard classes and have encouraged nuanced thinking. My experience as a five-year student has also made me less hesitant to ask for help. There is a significant adjustment period that can often be very overwhelming, but it was during periods of doubt and anxiousness that I was able to seek support from resources and communities that I didn’t even know existed. So, you could call it a blessing in disguise!

What advice do you have for undergraduate students who are interested in applying to the Five-Year Joint Degree?

The main advice that I would give to students who are interested in applying is to do your research and get the information you need early! What I mean by this is, use the resources around you whether that’s career centers (Beyond Barnard), SIPA alumni, Barnard-SIPA alumni, professors, bosses or family members because they will give you a better sense of whether or not an accelerated program would be worthwhile for you. More importantly, conduct research on yourself! A Master’s degree should not be your first choice if you’re not sure of your interests and passions, it is a deep dive into a particular subject so it’s most probably a good idea that you enjoy and find fulfillment studying it! Lastly, the five-year program requires a lot of planning to ensure that you can fulfill the requirements from both schools successfully so by doing the research you will be able to plan ahead with clarity and confidence!