Admissions Blog

From a Graduating Student: My Top 5 SIPA Do-Overs

By Clara Li '23
Posted May 11 2023

The countdown to graduation has officially begun and as I reflect on the past two years, I thought it’d be nice to document my main reflections. If I were to go through this experience again, these are my top 5 things that I would have done differently.

  1. Prioritization: During orientation, the academic advisors stress time and time again that during your first semester you shouldn’t overcommit yourself. Take a lighter course load so that you can attend panel events, socials, and participate in extracurricular activities to build your community. This practice of prioritizing your time should apply across your two years here. Finding a school-work-life balance needs to be an intentional process. I often found myself struggling with giving 110% to all aspects of my life and was quickly on the path to burnout. Take the time to make your list of priorities for each semester and do your best to stick with it.
  2. Make Time to ExperimentI came to SIPA thinking that I would focus my studies on climate-induced migration and its intersection with international law. Two years later, I have pivoted my focus to energy access and security in the Global South. Along the way there were several other career paths that I was exploring, including the geopolitical consequences of cyberattacks on critical energy infrastructure and the role of project finance in emerging economies. I wish I spent more time using my electives to take classes across concentrations and specializations to even further understand the variety of industries and career paths out there. You should come to SIPA with a clear idea of what areas in a particular sector you would like to explore; however, as with most things, plans change. Have a vision around what elements you want in a career (for me that was an international career, sustainability-focused, and interdisciplinary across the policy, development, and technology fields), but stay flexible in the types of careers that you can pursue. These two years are also about experimentation and exploration of your interest areas. You will naturally decide which interests will stay as interests and which will form into a career path.
  3. Cross-RegisterIf you are investing the time, money, and effort in coming to SIPA, you should also take advantage of the resources across Columbia as a whole. The ability to cross-register was one of the reasons why I decided to come to SIPA; it is rare to find a program that allows for the flexibility to take your policy-focused courses at SIPA and to complement them with ones from the Journalism School, Law School, and Business School, to name a few. Depending on the class, you can use these cross-registered courses as part of your requirements or as electives. Though some paperwork and bureaucracy is part of the process, I have found it to be more than worth it. One of my favorite classes was Extractive Industries and Sustainable Development with Professor Lisa Sachs, who just so happens to be a SIPA/Law School dual degree holder. This course was unique in that it was evenly split between SIPA and law students. I appreciated learning from law students who had a different style of academic training and way of thinking; the diversity of perspective greatly contributed to the rigor and level of engagement during class discussions. Though I dabbled in cross-registering, Icould have better planned my courses to take even more across schools. 
  4. Know When to Ask for HelpColumbia tends to have a reputation for being cutthroat and ultra competitive; for me, that was far from my experience. There were times where I fell into old habits and thought that I had to work through everything alone - the job/internship search, navigating the imposter syndrome, etc. It took longer than it should have to learn where, when, and who to seek help from. Your mental health is important, as is having a strong support system around you.
  5. Don’t Take Yourself Too SeriouslyIt is easy to fall into the trap of being hyper focused on courses and to attempt to be an overachiever in all walks of life. It’s important to put this experience in perspective and, as cheesy as it sounds, enjoy this special time of living in a new city with a diverse group of people. Please remember to not take yourself too seriously and that, though finding a job and getting good grades is important, what’s more important (in my humble opinion) is building a strong community.