Admissions Blog

“Quanting” my way through SIPA - a non-quant student’s perspective on SIPA’s quantitative requirements

By Leen Sawan '24
Posted Apr 08 2024

Ah, the dreaded quant questions. How much of a quantitative background do prospective students actually need in order to succeed at SIPA? Is there really going to be that much Math involved at a policy school? What if I’m not even interested in the Data Analytics and Quantitative Analysis (DAQA) specialization? 

These are all questions that we’ve received here at the Admissions Office, and as a current student, I have definitely asked myself these same questions back when I was still applying to SIPA. Although I had majored in Economics during my undergraduate degree, I strictly considered myself to be a “non-Math” person and tended to shy far, far away from any quantitative coursework. Having spent four years in the workplace after undergrad, my Math skills were a distant memory - nevermind Calculus and hardcore data analysis. Needless to say, I was very apprehensive about the level of SIPA’s quantitative rigor, but I am here to say that you shouldn’t be! 

First off, I’d like to point out that there is definitely a strong rationale behind the quantitative background section of the application (a component of the application where applicants must list all of their quantitative experience, academic or otherwise). SIPA’s core coursework guarantees that all students, regardless of their concentration and specialization, are fully equipped with the critical thinking and “hard” quantitative skills that every future policymaker, leader, or decision maker needs to succeed. Every SIPA student must take Microeconomics, Macroeconomics and Quantitative Analysis, in addition to a Financial Management course. In reviewing your application, the Admissions Committee wants to see clear evidence that you can handle the rigor of graduate-level quantitative coursework. Because of that, taking some economics, calculus or statistics courses prior to coming to SIPA, while not a strict requirement, will definitely bolster your application. Depending on which concentration and specialization combination you pick, you will have to take more advanced quantitative coursework (such as International Finance and Economic Policy (IFEP) and Data Analytics and Quantitative Analysis (DAQA)), so make sure to consult the degree requirements and sample courses to ensure you are comfortable with the level of quantitative proficiency needed. More specifically, students who opt for one of these concentrations or specializations will be required to take courses that require the advanced Economics sequence (SIPA U6400/SIPA U6401), as a prerequisite. 

For all other students who might not be interested in taking advanced quantitative coursework at SIPA (for now), it would still definitely help to have some exposure to quantitative work to help you hit the ground running once you’re at SIPA. While you don’t have to be an expert, it certainly doesn’t hurt to have some college-level quantitative courses or data analysis work done in your professional job. For students who are not interested in taking higher level quantitative courses, the regular Economics sequence (SIPA U6300/SIPA 6301) will be enough! 

While the level of work required between the advanced and regular Economics coursework is similar, the advanced Economics sequence relies heavily on multivariate Calculus. For a more detailed description of the differences between the 6300 and 6400 sequence, you can check our Academic Advising FAQs page here. I took the 6300 Microeconomics and Macroeconomics sequence, as well as Quant I course, during my first year at SIPA, and while the work load was heavy, I found that the quantitative component of those courses was definitely manageable. As I said earlier, I consider myself to be a non-Math person, so I hope you see this as confirmation that it is absolutely doable! 

It also helps to know that at SIPA, you are never alone. All SIPA students are required to take the Economics courses during their first year - so it’s never just you going through this experience alone. There is nothing that bonds fellow Seeples more than the shared struggle over an Econ or Quant I problem set, and I’ve actually met some of my closest friends through these experiences! 

There are also a plethora of resources to help you throughout your “quant journey” here. Your professors, teaching assistants and Academic Advisors all want you to succeed. You can always attend your Professor’s Office Hours for help (I’ve spent countless hours working through my Economics related questions with my Microeconomics professor and TA my first year), but beyond that, the Office of Student Affairs (OSA) can help you with finding resources if you need a bit more support. For example, many graduate students at the Department of Mathematics offer one-on-one Math tutoring sessions, and you can also find a list of Economics tutors who can be hired directly to help you. Before starting at SIPA, all students are also automatically enrolled in a Math Camp, a one week refresher course held during orientation to help you brush up on the Math skills you will need once classes begin. Having been nervous about the Math component, I found it incredibly helpful to have such a detailed review of all of the concepts we would need to know, and I’ve found myself frequently going back to some of the notes I took during the course. 

Despite all my fears and my longstanding aversion to Math, my time at SIPA proved to me that there was really no need for me to worry about the quantitative provisions at all. After taking the non-Math based Microeconomics and Macroeconomics sequence at SIPA, and brushing up on my quantitative skills with the required Quant I course, I found that I was much more comfortable with quantitative analysis than I thought prior to coming to SIPA. I decided to challenge myself and take higher level quantitative courses (specifically, the Advanced Economic Development course, which relies heavily on Calculus and STATA). Although it was definitely a steep learning curve, I’ve found it to be one of the most rewarding experiences I have had at SIPA to date. To quote my Advanced Economics Development professor, Math is nothing more than a language to help simplify complex Economics problems. Once I understood that, it became a lot easier to handle, and I actually began to enjoy working through my Advanced Economics problem sets (I never thought I’d ever say this). I’m so excited to have conquered my Math fears, and I’m looking forward to adding my newly developed quantitative skills onto my resume!