Category Archives: Sciences Po

What is the difference between the different PSIA programs at Sciences Po?

In response to my article about choosing between Sciences Po and LSE (London School of Economics), a reader wrote me with the following question about the various PSIA programs:

I am really interested in applying for the Human Rights & Humanitarian Action programme at PSIA. Could you tell me how this program stands in relation to the other ones at PSIA.

Understanding the difference between the various programs at PSIA can be a little bit tricky.

The thing is, all of the students at PSIA (Paris School of International Affairs – Sciences Po) take classes together. Technically the school offers eight different master’s programs:

  • International Security
  • International Economic Policy
  • International Public Management
  • Environmental Policy
  • International Development
  • International Energy
  • Human Rights and Humanitarian Action
  • Development Practice

In reality, though, many of these master’s have overlapping themes. The most blatant case is that of Development Practice and International Development, which study the exact same things– the only difference being that the former takes one year to complete and only accepts students with significant work experience.

Other cases are less obvious:
International economic policy can be the same thing as environmental policy. In order to achieve international development, you need to understand how to make economic policy. Respecting human rights is a vital part of effective development policies. Energy is a major international security issue. And so on.

If you are looking at International Economic Policy VS International Development, see my post: Studying Development VS Studying Economics

It is therefore completely logical that these programs be housed under the same school and that many of the students should take classes together. But it does beg the question– what is the difference between studying one master versus another?

This is even more the case when you consider that each student can choose a thematic concentration for their studies. That means you could choose a Master in International Energy with a concentration in Human Rights, or a Master in Human Rights with a concentration in International Energy.

What’s the difference?

Because the process for choosing your actual classes is based on a first-come first-served system that will often throw you in the middle of second, third, or fourth choice courses, the difference between these master’s degrees is… somewhat subtle.

Perhaps the biggest difference is the name you want to have on your diploma. Keeping in mind that concentrations will not feature on your diploma or your transcripts, choose the program whose name best aligns with what you want future employers to think when they look at your resume. That may not sound like a beautiful conclusion to come to, but it is the most practical one.

Read more of my blogs about College Admissions topics.
The US College Personal Statement
The Five-Point Resume Check
Five Ways to De-Stress before a College Interview
Sciences Po: 4 Tips for Writing Your Motivation Letter
The Argument for the Gap Year 

…more

Choosing between Sciences Po and LSE

Vaishnavi, a Political Science student at the University of Delhi, is facing the difficult choice. She is choosing between Sciences Po and LSE (London School of Economics) for her master’s. She wrote me:

Hi! I was researching PSIA [Sciences Po’s Paris School of International Affairs] and I chanced upon your blog. I’ve been accepted into the Master’s of International Development. I’m in a huge dilemma as I have also been accepted into the MSc. in Development Management at LSE.

To start, I want to note that this is not an uncommon dilemma. I have met several students at PSIA (Sciences Po) who also applied to LSE. I have also reviewed CVs and cover letters for applicants applying to both programs. After all, both Sciences Po and LSE have some similar programs. They are also both in Europe and both very well-known.

Want to have your CV or letter of motivation reviewed by me?
Vaishnavi writes that she is currently leaning towards LSE for 3 main reasons:

1. Recognition

I assume LSE is a more recognised name globally as compared to Sciences Po which is highly regarded in Europe. Coming from India and without any work experience I believe I have few chances of gaining employment in Europe/UK, and thus LSE becomes more attractive to perceive employers in Asia/ Africa/ South America.

First of all, if you are interested in working in Europe or the UK, don’t sell yourself short!

If you complete your master’s degree in France, you can get something called an APS (Autorisation Provisoire de Séjour) which allows you to work in France for up to one year. During this time you generally work short contracts until you find a permanent job offer (called a CDI). As soon as you have that offer of employment, you can automatically convert your APS into a work visa. There are practically no questions asked. A similar program exists in the UK. This has got to be THE easiest way to get a work visa in Europe. In addition, the Sciences Po program features a 6-month internship. That means you can gain the work experience you need to find that first job.

It can be easy to fall into the “recognition” trap.

LSE does tend to rank slightly higher than Sciences Po in terms of numbers. However, they are both very highly regarded institutions and probably equally impressive to anybody who knows about good development programs. For someone who isn’t really familiar with either program, Sciences Po might gain some weight simply because it is a full 2-year program.

That said, I encourage you not to make your decision based on which institution you think might impress a future employer. In the long run, employers are more impressed with what you actually do with your education than with the name of your school.

Therefore, rather than thinking about the prestige of a school’s name and what employers in different areas of the world will think, consider this:

  • Which school is going to give you more hands on experiences?
  • In which school will you be more likely to get involved in a campus organization, or pursue publishable research?
  • In which city do you think you’ll find more interesting volunteer opportunities?

Ultimately, those are the kinds of questions that will truly lead you to a highly regarded education.

2. Academic rigour

I read in a few places and have spoken to a few students who complain of PSIA courses being too ‘basic’, and that thematic and regional concentrations along with language courses often prevent one from specialising in their actual field itself. Does this stand true?

This sounds backwards to me.

The thematic and regional concentrations don’t prevent a student from specializing– they actually help you to specialize.

These concentrations allow you to take classes focusing on specific aspects of development that interest you (like project management or migrations). The language courses allow you to gain access to an area of the world where you might not otherwise have had a chance to work.

What I will say, though, is that it is important to choose your concentrations wisely. For example, I know a student from Colombia who initially chose a concentration in Latin America. For her, it was way too basic– she had already lived, studied and worked her whole life in Latin America, so taking courses about Latin American politics with a bunch of foreigners from other places was, understandably, way too basic for her.

One last thing to consider:

Development is a huuge field that covers tons of different topics. You’ll probably have plenty of classes that– if your only goal is to get a passing grade– will seem fairly easy. In fact, grades are often based on just one or two term papers. That said, if you take the right courses or join a projet collectif, you might come out of your degree having developed your own mobile app or earned a grant for a project overseas or started your own NGO or something else equally as impressive.

3. Cost

What comes out to be the average cost of long over two years? Although London is more expensive than Paris, the course at LSE is only 1 year long.

Without a doubt, living in Paris for two years is expensive.

The one saving grace about it all is that in France you can work part-time on a student visa. I believe the same is true in London. This might also be a good way to gain some experience!

In France you can also get money from the CAF to subsidize the price of housing.

To give you an example, for a 500€ apartment you might get about 150€ in CAF refunds (making your rent only 350€/mo).

During your second year at Sciences Po you have the opportunity to do a 6-month internship. While anything having to do with the UN is unpaid, there are also paid opportunities.

Most gigs in Paris (if you decide to stay in Paris) pay the minimum of roughly 550€/mo + half of your metro card fees. That said, it’s not uncommon to find a job paying 800€, 1000€ or even more. For me, 800€/mo is roughly the break-even point to live in Paris (school tuition aside).

At the same time, MID at SciPo remains attractive to me because of the chance to do an internship (Does the school help you get an internship?) and the opportunity to learn French, which is highly useful. Also, what are the chances of getting employment post completing my course?

The internship is a really cool thing because:
  1. You actually have to be a student in order to get an internship in France, and
  2. Lots of times internships lead to jobs!

The school hosts recruitment events with employers specifically looking for interns (and employees) from Sciences Po. They also have a very good website where employers can list job and internship opportunities for only Sciences Po students to see (that’s how I found my internship), and the OECD also has a separate portal for Sciences Po intern applications.

You still have to do your own leg work of writing your motivation letter and CV (although they hold workshops in case you need help) and actually sending in your application.

For students with lots of previous work experience, a 6-month internship might not make a big difference.

However, in your case, this should be given serious consideration. More than 80% of employers want candidates to have work experience. 

Your chances of finding a job after completing the degree are very, very high. Sciences Po estimates that 81% of students who decided to join the work force after graduation found a job within 6 months, and nearly a third of them were recruited even before graduation.

Learning French is also a huge asset.

This is especially true if you plan to work in West Africa or if you’re interested in a French NGO (and there are a lot of big ones– like Doctors Without Borders and Action Contre la Faim).

4. Other Factors

Could you please provide me any information that would be useful to make a decision between these two schools? Are there any absolutely compelling reasons to not forgo Sciences Po that I may be overlooking? Thank you

Choosing between Sciences Po and LSE is difficult for a lot of students.

You might decide that, because you already speak English, it would be easier to find part-time work in London. Or, you might decide that the internship opportunity at Sciences Po is really essential. Consider: Where do you prefer the weather? The food? Where do you think you’ll be happier or more motivated?

Ultimately, the most important thing is not school recognition, academic rigor or cost. After all, LSE and Sciences Po are really more or less comparable on those points.

Rather, I urge you to consider where you will be the most motivated. Where will you best take advantage of opportunities and build your resumé?

In the long run, no matter where you choose to go, it will only gain you one measly line on your CV– that line that says you have a master’s. And in the development field, experiences, projects, languages, and publications are much more valuable than any degree.

 

Feel free to send me more questions, leave comments, or read more of my posts about Sciences Po! If you’re applying to Sciences Po, why not ask me to review your CV or letter of motivation?

Sciences Po Application Questions and Answers

Bénédicte, a Political Economy student at King’s College London,  sent me these questions about his Sciences Po application and letter of motivation:

1. What would you say really made your letter of motivation stand out from other applications?

All of the students at Sciences Po have great resumes. It would be a mistake to think that you are a shoo-in just because you speak multiple languages, are student body president, or volunteer with the homeless. Basically every student at Sciences Po has a similar, equally impressive story.
Your letter of motivation is your opportunity to explain how all your incredible resume lines fit together in a coherent way… and how they lead to Sciences Po as a logical next step.

Why have you decided to get a master’s degree?
How will this help you to develop your academic persona and future career?
What makes Sciences Po, as opposed to another school, the logical choice for pursuing your degree?

q&a question marks

I think that my letter of motivation stood out because I was able to clearly show that logical connection. I would stay away from telling Sciences Po why you think their program is awesome (they already know it is) and focus more on that logical aspect– why it is awesome for you.

Still not sure how to make that happen? Maybe I can help.

2. Still concerning the application, I feel like the committee seeks a personality to stand out more than an academic. Would you say that you focused more on showcasing your personality and your future goals, rather than proving your interest in the modules of the master etc?

Why choose?
First of all, you’re writing a letter. With that said, how you can “prove” your interest in the modules of any degree? By saying that you really, really, reaaaaally love economic development? I’m not even sure what that would mean. A professor once told me never to use the words “love” or “passion” in an application– they just don’t mean anything.
Rather, by explaining the things you have done or choices you have made and why (your thought process/rationale for doing them) you can both showcase both your personality as well as your academic drive in a way that makes the reader understand how Sciences Po fits in your future.

Example: Instead of saying that you think food security is super interesting, tell the story about how you visited a farm in Ethiopia and listened to a farmer talk about the issues facing his family. Then tell about how you got there and how the conversation affected you– that gives us not only a feel for your personality, but also a better understanding of why you’re interested in food issues.

3. I am not 100% sure as to what I would like to do after this master. I just know that International development is the path in which I am the most interested in. Would you suggest to be honest and admit to my uncertainty? I feel like it would not make me stand out as someone who is confident and who would do well on this master. Though I know it is the right fit for me, I still feel like not being sure in which organization or which precise career path I’d like to go in is a liability.

Nobody at PSIA knows the precise career path they want or the exact organization they plan to work for. If they did, they probably wouldn’t bother with a master’s degree! If you want to work in International Development, you don’t really “need” a degree… unless you plan to teach. The great thing about this masters is that it will give you the guidance and tools to better understand what is needed on the development front, thereby helping you to understand where you can fit in. It will also give you some practical experience to help you get a foot in the door for your first job.

So, while it’s quite normal to be a bit unsure about your future path, there is no need to “admit to” any uncertainty– they already know that you are uncertain (and even if you weren’t, they know that your plans may likely change over the next two years). So don’t waste your breath (or word count). For what it’s worth, I didn’t mention any specific organizations in my motivation letter at all. Instead, I focused on explaining how my trajectory so far has led me to the doors of Sciences Po.

That said, if you want to give a sentence pointing towards a vague career trajectory, go for it. You don’t need to be very specific.

Example: I want to work for an international organization that manages development projects abroad or I want to work for an NGO helping with food security in Africa is plenty good enough.

And of course, if you change your mind about anything you write, nobody will ever hold it against you.

4. Finally, how would you describe your experience in the lectures and seminars at PSIA so far? Because from the syllabus it looks incredible.

It is incredible!
Don’t be fooled though… Sciences Po has a serious problem with course sign-up and you never end up with all the classes that you want. In fact, you usually end up with one class per semester that you really didn’t want. Sometimes it ends up being a pleasant surprise though!

As for the lectures, well… like at any school, sometimes you get professors that know how to teach, other times you get a professor who can barely keep your interest for 10 minutes, let alone 2 hours. I’ve only had one lecture per semester throughout my two years though (3 boring ones and one great one– a military General who lectured while walking around, really keeping us on our toes).
The seminars in general tend to be quite interactive and fun. There are a lot of group projects, presentations, and even group essay writing. Coming from the US, that was quite a change!

 

Feel free to send me more questions, leave comments/questions in the comments, or read more of my posts about Sciences Po! If you’re applying to Sciences Po and would like your application (CV or letter of motivation) reviewed, why not learn more about my services?

Interested in having your CV or letter of motivation reviewed by me? Click here!

Sciences Po Notes: Burka Free Meaning of Liberty

 

The US and France have a deep disagreement about the meaning of liberty.

I know what you’re thinking — the US and France? They’re both Western, developed countries. Don’t they kind of do everything the same?

My first trip abroad was all about seeing something different. I went to Bolivia for a year because I wanted to be shocked– I wanted to see horrendous poverty and learn about ludicrous laws and peculiar traditions. And I was right that Bolivia has far more visually noticeable differences– after all, in France people look kinda the same, dress kinda the same, eat kinda the same, and act kinda the same as people from the US. Barring an obsession with techno music and stinky cheese, culture shock here is pretty mild.

Peeling back the layers of cultural differences is a far more subtle study in France, but it nevertheless reveals some important, deep-rooted differences.

Reading for class today (see citation below) I was reminded of one great example of our differences:

French banning of the burka and hijab.

For those of you reading this asking if the hijab (the Muslim headscarf) or burka (which also covers the face) are really banned somewhere, the answer is yes! They are! Does that shock you?

Both the burka and hijab have been banned at different times in France… I won’t be going into the legal side here. Rather, I want to focus on how such a ban underlines an important difference in thinking between the United States and France that not only pervades the legal world, but also the average citizen’s individual conception of… well, life.

In the article I was reading (cited below), author Ioanna Tourkochoriti states the issue simply:
“A law, like the one adopted in France, banning the hijab for students in schools would most likely be considered unconstitutional in the United States.”

While both the US and France can agree that insisting a person remove their hijab for certain identification reasons makes sense (you know, in a very respectful way, like for the passport photo, because we need to see your face, sorry), the question of whether or not it should be allowed in schools or other public places is contentious.

In the US?
Americans have a long history of fearing their government is going to impose too much control on them. We don’t want anyone taking away our guns anymore than we want them telling us what we can wear (well, unless it’s about leggings, then maybe).

This is the concept of “negative liberty” — a phrase Tourkochoriti uses freely in her article, though I admittedly had to look it up. It’s the idea that we should be free from interference by others.
You wanna wear a burka? Go for it! I’ll wear my cross, he’ll wear a Jewish yarmulke, and we’ll all go around happily dancing at the capital because we know that our rights to freedom of religion and expression protect whatever kind of religious paraphernalia we want to wear. Period.

So what kind of unfair, liberty-hating radicals infested France?

Honestly, the first time I heard about the burka ban, I thought it was a joke– or at least a sign of the wrong French political party getting waaay too power. But here’s the rationale:

“The burka ban, like the hijab ban in public schools in France, is justified by the need to protect the girls wearing a burka from social pressure when the choice to wear it is not authentically theirs. It also aims at protecting them from themselves when wearing the burka happens to be an authentic choice of the women concerned.”

The French reason that by banning the burka you actually protect religious freedoms— you promote gender equality and, in the case of public schools, create a space for learning free of religious issues.

Both countries support separation of church and state (or laicité as the French call it). The difference is on how they go about implementing that separation: “freedom through the state in France, freedom from the state in the United States.” 

Should the state help to ensure religious freedom by insisting schools enforce separation of church and state in public places? Or should the state ensure religious freedom by simply not sticking their noses into other people’s business?

Personally, I can see the rationale for both systems, so this post isn’t intended to push any one conclusion. What is clear to me, though, is that the role of the government as seen by the French public and the US public is quite different.

A blog without comments is like a boat without water.
Help me float.

 

Source of Quotes and Inspiration:
Tourkochoriti, Ioanna, The Burka Ban: Divergent Approaches to Freedom of Religion in France and in the USA (March 24, 2012). William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal, Vol. 20, pp. 791-852, 2012. Available at SSRN:http://ssrn.com/abstract=2028341

Sciences Po: 4 Tips for Writing your Motivation Letter

Many students have asked me to look over their Sciences Po motivation letters and give advice. I am a native English speaker, a certified English teacher and a current Sciences Po student. I’m currently finishing up the Master in International Development program at PSIA (the Paris School of International Affairs at Sciences Po). I can review your individual CV or letter of motivation for Sciences Po – but before that, you may want to check out these general tips for writing your motivation letter:

Not sure you want to be at Sciences Po? See some pros and cons

Here are some general tips for writing your motivation letter that will help make for a winning Sciences Po application:

1. Be clear about what you want to do.
Do not write that you aren’t sure about your decision to apply or that you’re still hesitant as to whether this is the right degree for you. Even if you have some doubts (and don’t worry, everyone does), you need to sound like you are sure about what you want to do.Of course that doesn’t mean that you know exactly what organization you want to work for later on or exactly what job you plan to apply for after graduation.

It’s good to have at least one sentence that clearly states:
“My career objective is ________.”

But you can fill in that blank with a well-educated guess or a vague explanation of the type of position or organization you imagine yourself with. Keep it short though– nobody wants to read a whole paragraph to figure out what you want to do with your education. In all likelihood your plans will probably change before graduation anyways.

2. Talk about your past.
If you’re applying for a master’s degree, you ought to have more to talk about than why you love Sciences Po or how you made good grades. Take a look at your CV and ask yourself which experiences are worth elaborating on.

How did you feel when working with those refugees?
Why was your internship abroad unique?
What did you learn about project management during that poorly organized summer camp?

Sciences Po — and especially PSIA — values unique individuals with experiences they’ll be able to use to contribute to classroom conversation and student life.

3. Make it sound like an obvious fit.
The goal is to make the reader say:

“Oh, of course Sciences Po is her next step!”

If you sound like you’re begging to be let in or like you think Sciences Po is your only chance of becoming the next great UN advisor, you’ve got work to do. Sciences Po is an elite school. They want students who look like they’re already geared up to do great things. So, studying at Sciences Po should be the perfect support for your amazing future plans, not the reason for those plans.

4. Double-check your English.
Misspelled words and grammar won’t help you. Obviously.

Still working on your application for Sciences Po?
I can review your letter of motivation!

Feel free to post questions in the comments 🙂 Good luck!

Other posts about Sciences Po:
Sciences Po: Pros and Cons (PSIA)
Sciences Po: When will I know about the Boutmy Scholarship?Sciences Po Student Starves to Death (fictional post pointing out real issues with opening a bank in Paris)

Interning at Sikana

As part of the completion of my master’s degree at Sciences Po, in June I began a 6-month internship at Sikana, a non-profit, start-up NGO that provides free, online educational classes in video form.

At Sikana, I am the International Diffusion Team Leader, insuring localization, translation, dubbing, and distribution of Sikana videos in over 10 languages. In other organizations an intern doesn’t have a full title with real responsibilities, but in a start-up like Sikana everyone is truly needed.

Read more and see a sample Sikana video on how to make Tartiflette (a traditional French recipe made with bacon, potatoes and cheese) on the McDermott Alumni blog!

So far it has been a good experience. Having previously taught English to kindergartnerers, high schoolers and adults, I already had a good idea about leading different age groups– and leading in general. That said, being given the official title of group leader while having no specific knowledge, age advantage or even salary distinction to legitimize leadership was definitely a new challenge! I’m learning a lot about leading from behind and encouraging a climate of innovation.

I’m also learning a lot about what it means to work at a start-up… from taking the initiative to set-up new organizational processes to getting down on my hands and knees to wash the toilet floors (budget constraints = no mop, no custodian!)

Thinking about applying to Sciences Po?
I can review your letter of motivation!

I’ve also written posts with some free tips on writing your motivation letter. And this post, which answers some questions sent to me from a Sciences Po applicant.

The Pros and Cons of Sciences Po (PSIA)

Having just completed my first semester as a master’s student in International Development, I thought I’d share some thoughts about the reality of this highly prestigious French school. What are the pros and cons of Sciences Po?

My favorite thing about Sciences PO? The hands-on and practical classes.
My least favorite thing? Too much time spent in the underground metro.
Academic Life

Pros: lots of student organizations, lots of hands-on and practical classes, classes in both French and English, extremely international and multilingual student body, students are sometimes better informed than teachers (which leads to great class discussions), some professors take the class to bars/restaurants at the end of the year, and there is a huge emphasis on bringing professionals into the classroom as guest speakers and potential connections for internships

Cons: little time for student organizations, little time to go out with peers, you can only skip two classes per course per semester, and some professors have top-down lecture approaches combined with monotonous voices

Thinking about applying to Sciences Po?
I can review your letter of motivation!

 

Transport

Probably the worst part about life in Paris is that the city is huge. Since Sciences Po is in the 7th arrondissement (the city center) and apartments there are very expensive, most students have around a 30 minute commute to school.
This means that it is important to schedule classes wisely so as to not spend hours of dead time in the city, unable to go home between classes because the commute makes it not worth it.
Personally, my commute is nearly 1 hour. In exchange, I have a nice house with a garden and an affordable rent. I have spend hours trying to figure out if I can get a scooter or motorcycle to reduce the time I spend underground on the metro, but so far I haven’t been able to confirm that I can legally drive a scooter in France.

Costs

Living costs in Paris are high. I recently saw an article claiming that Paris is the second most expensive city to live in. If you can find an apartment in Paris nearby the school, expect is to be very expensive (think 1000€/month for rent). Most students are spread out across the city and pay around 500€-750€ per month. The good news is that many student also get the CAF (French governmental aid for housing), which can reimburse something like 100€-250€ per month, depending.

Sciences Po will help you to set up a bank account, but it often take a long time for the paperwork to go through to get your card (and thus access money, get a phone plan, etc.) Here are my sarcastic thoughts on that from earlier in the year.

Tuition fees are quite high at Sciences Po (13,700€ per year for my first year as a master’s student) and I understand that they are going up for next year. French students benefit from aid based on their families’ incomes, but international students are often expected to pay in full. American students have the benefit of being able to apply for US student loans using FAFSA. Otherwise, some students receive Emilie Boutmy scholarships from Sciences Po.

The pros of these costs? Nearly all the computers in the library are Macs. The school gives you 15€ of credit for printing at the beginning of the year (hurray! 0.1% of tuition back!)

Thinking about applying to Sciences Po?
I can review your letter of motivation!

I’ve also written posts with some free tips on writing your motivation letter. And this post, which answers some questions sent to me from a Sciences Po applicant. You can learn more about my experience applying for Sciences Po’s Emile Boutmy Scholarship.

You can also leave me a question in the comments.

Sciences Po: When will I know about the Boutmy Scholarship?

I just found out I have been offered a Boutmy scholarship at Sciences Po!

(I’ve written a lot of posts about Sciences Po.)

After months of awaiting a scholarship decision, I’ve decided to post this announcement on my blog so that others may find it next year and know when to expect to find out about scholarship decisions.

After emailing them, I was initially told that I would hear about the Boutmy by late May. After late May passed, I emailed them again and was told late June.

I will be attending the Master in International Development program, 2014-2016.

TIMELINE FOR SCIENCES PO

February 12, 2013 – Completed my Sciences Po application, which included a request for the Boutmy Scholarship

April 17, 2014 – Received notice of acceptance

June 23, 2014 – Received notice of Emilie Boutmy scholarship acceptance

September 1, 2014 – Start date for classes in Paris

Note that these are the deadlines from my personal application process – the process may be different for others! (Acceptances occur on a rolling basis so they will almost definitely be different. However, all the Boutmy scholarships are released at the same time.)

Still working on your application for Sciences Po?
I can review your letter of motivation!

I’ve also written posts with some free tips on writing your motivation letter. And this post, which answers some questions sent to me from a Sciences Po applicant.

For more information about the Boutmy scholarship, check out the official webpage for it at: http://formation.sciences-po.fr/en/contenu/the-emile-boutmy-scholarship