Tag Archives: sciences po

Nationality and College Admissions

I recently received this comment from a reader regarding nationality and college admissions:

“My education is [nationality] and it makes me feel insecure.”

Some countries are well-known for their great education systems, and others less so. You could be Malaysian, Portuguese, Moroccan, Syrian or Mexican. The exact nationality isn’t important. The question remains the same:

Should your nationality make you feel insecure about your college application?

And put another way: Should being from a country with excellent educational statistics grant you the right to feel confident?

As one of my all-time favorite quotes goes:

“Talent is universal. Opportunity is not.”

I always thought it was Hillary Clinton who said this. However, a frenzied Google search is making me second guess that. (I’d be grateful if any reader wants to investigate that one, but regardless of who said it it’s an excellent quote).

University admissions boards should understand that not everyone has the same opportunities.

Frankly, if you went to school in a wealthy neighborhood public school in the United States and weren’t president, vice president or secretary of at least one student club, then you’re probably not going to get into an ivy league school.

But if you are a bacha posh girl who grew up dressing as a boy just so that you could attend school in Afghanistan, then you probably weren’t trying to garner extra attention by running for student body president. Moreover, nobody would expect it of you. And it shouldn’t affect your admissions decision for college.

Some people are given a silver spoon at birth. Not just in terms of money, but also in terms of opportunity.

Universities want to accept the best and brightest. But they should also understand that it’s easy to be smart and accomplished when you have everything going for you since birth.

Any college where international relations or humanitarian issues are taught (or really economics or politics at all, for that matter) should be intimately aware of the disparities that exist between countries. More importantly, they shouldn’t discriminate based on nationality.

But do they?

Sciences Po claims that it doesn’t. In fact, like many other universities, Sciences Po strives to have a multicultural student body with individuals from many nationalities and many socioeconomic groups. Yet, there’s a caveat:

Malcolm Gladwell (author of Blink) has a new podcast out called Revisionist History. I highly recommend it to absolutely everyone.

In particular, he has a wonderful episode called “Carlos Doesn’t Remember.” (It’s free by the way!) In this episode, Gladwell talks about how the American school system isn’t truly a meritocracy. Even though universities accept students based on merit, that “merit” is often a direct result of a student’s socioeconomic status. A child from a wealthier family will have more opportunities throughout childhood, and will therefore likely have more “merit” when it comes time to apply to college.

In other words, they might accept a bacha posh girl, but she would first have to apply and, second, at least need to make a certain minimum score on her college entrance exams. But she isn’t likely to have the forethought or resources to do that given the struggle she went through just to get a basic education.

Although Gladwell focuses specifically on the American education system, the same can probably said for most well-known universities throughout the world– Sciences Po, London School of Economics, etc.

Here’s the good news for you:
If you’re reading this, then you’re probably going to apply to college. You probably also have a decent college entrance exam score. And that means you have the upper hand.

If you have taken advantage of the opportunities that are available to you and– very important– can express that to the admissions committee, then your nationality and the school you attended should not make you feel insecure.

As far as larger life lessons go:

Regardless of whether or not you get accepted to your dream school, if you worked hard for your accomplishments then you should be proud of them.

Ultimately, the most important thing isn’t your nationality or your school’s ranking. Rather, it’s showing what you can do with the education and opportunities that you’ve had.

January 13 Sciences Po Deadline

Over the past three days, I’ve received three new requests to review motivation letters for Sciences Po applicants!

That’s a pretty hefty increase from what I’m used to (which is about one every 1-2 weeks).

The reason? Well, beyond the fact that everyone must just now be waking up from the stupor of the holidays, PSIA has an application deadline set for January 13.

I am more than happy to help out anyone who contacts me with their letter of motivation.

And of course, I understand procrastination. That said, if you’re reading my blog and thinking about contacting me later, go ahead and send me a message now so that I can be sure to set aside time to help you out!

Deadlines Approaching: Dual Degree Sciences Po – King’s College

The deadline to apply for the dual degree with Sciences Po and King’s College London is coming right up — December 15!

So far this week I have had 3 requests for application reviews in preparation for that deadline. Since my reviews usually require a bit of back-and-forth to get things just right, I’m hoping that I won’t get toooo many last minute requests. But that said, I really like helping out and could fit in at least a few more in my schedule.

So if you’re reading this and thinking that you might need a second set of eyes on your personal statement for the Sciences Po dual degree with King’s College… send me a message 🙂

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: 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)

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.