Monday, 31 January 2011

The Deadline

February 1 must be near: I can tell from the mail that is piling up in our Admissions Office.

A rising tide of applications
These days the legendary Ivo Rossetti, who among myriad other things handles SAIS Bologna mail, has been beating a path to room 305 to deliver your applications. He calls them "macaroni" -- nothing disparaging about the term. He means that students are the Center's sustenance and lifeblood.

(Ivo should know: he's worked at the Bologna Center for more than three decades, first as a barista, which is how a generation of alumni know him. See a photo of Ivo from our archives at the bottom of this post.)

Deadline: Feb 1
The February 1 deadline marks the end of a chapter in the admissions process. But of course much remains to be done.

Many of the applications are complete -- thanks to those who sent us all of the required material on time. I know what a challenge it can be. Other dossiers are missing some elements -- some of you have been calling or writing us to explain the circumstances.

If you are applying and something is missing from your file, and you have not been in touch with us already, please let us know when we can expect it. An explanation of the reason for the delay would also be appreciated.

Our February 1 deadline is actually later than that of many U.S. graduate programs. That is because our academic calendar is aligned with that of European institutions, which start the year in October.

That means we have a lot to get done in the next few weeks: check the applications to make sure they are complete, organize interviews with applicants, have several faculty read each of the applications, take the tough decisions. (Tomorrow I'll publish a post on the interviews.)

The checklist
All of this will culminate with admissions decisions, which we expect to take in early April. I'm confident we'll have an excellent SAIS Bologna class here next autumn.


As a former wire service journalist and a father of three children, I can't resist commenting on deadlines in more general terms.

Each of us tends to take our own approach towards deadlines. Some people thrive on them, others cringe. Some grow accustomed to them, others have more difficulty.

Perhaps you've learned something about yourself during the application process. It's required you to take a look at your motivations, your aspirations, your intellectual qualities. You've had to synthesize in writing why you think SAIS Bologna is the place for you. You've shared your thoughts with your referees and coaxed them into writing in your favor -- no small task.

You've managed a process that is complex and challenging. Well done. Your eyes are on the destination -- admission.

But why not take a moment to reflect on how you managed the process? You might learn something about how you respond to deadlines.

Over the years, that knowledge could prove valuable as you grapple with the time demands that, love them or loathe them, invariably mark our lives.

Ivo in earlier days at his bar
Nelson Graves

Friday, 28 January 2011

Weekly quiz!

How in the dickens did butz33 get the answer to last week's quiz so quickly?

We thought that anyone scrambling to find out the name of the center that Johns Hopkins opened in Asia in 1954 would need more than a powerful Internet search engine. It's still a mystery to me how butz33 got the answer in a mere 47 minutes.

Once again we're going to have to toughen up the weekly trivia test.

Here we go:

In a video embedded in a post earlier this week, we showed a small park next to the SAIS Bologna Center. What is the name of the park?

Here are two pictures of the park. More often than not, it's deserted in the winter, as it is in these photographs. We'll have to post some pictures of it when the weather turns a bit warmer.

The park from below

The park from above

The winning prize: a free lunch at Giulio's Bar.

We'd like to thank our readers for following this blog and for giving us feedback. We've had record readership this week, and our pageviews since we started in early December have now topped 4,000.

If you have an idea, a suggestion or a criticism, post a comment. We'd like to make this as interactive as possible and know that we have only dipped our toes in the water so far.

Next week:

- Monday, Jan 31: The Deadline
- Tuesday, Feb 1: The Interview
- Wednesday, Feb 2: Careers
- Thursday, Feb 3: Photo gallery
- Friday, Feb 4: Weekly quiz

Nelson Graves

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Are we right for you?

Is SAIS Bologna the right place for you? Do you measure up?

You might be asking yourselves these questions. I certainly did when I applied to SAIS three decades ago. I remember the uncertainty as I waited for Admissions to take a decision. I now know I was right to apply and right to attend. But I was not entirely sure then.

If you've been to the Bologna Center, you will have met students, seen the facilities, perhaps spoken to a professor, attended a class or a lecture. Through this blog we've tried to convey what makes SAIS Bologna special -- its history, integrity and values.

You may still not be sure.

Short of bringing you here in person, I can think of no better way to help you answer your questions than to turn you to our current students. You can read the profiles of 20 students here. Listen to what some of them say.

"Diversity is a richness which changes your perspective on the world. Among 200 students at the Bologna Center, you have 200 different points of view on burning issues: this allows you to chart your own path." - AurĂ©lien Billot (France)

"I realized that I'd run away from economics for so long, but we can't talk about development without having a strong economic foundation. For me it was something I had to do if I was serious about my future ...." - Chidiogo Akunyili (Nigeria)

"I wanted to be in an inspiring environment and I wanted to be challenged. The rigor and structure offered by the U.S. university system was something I needed in order to push myself." - Laurent Bachmann (Austria)

"Before leaving I had nightmares about everyone being in suits and having had careers and answers for everything. Instead students just want to advance themselves, whether they graduated last year or ten years ago." - Kristen Larson (USA)

"I'm the only girl in my community who dreamed of attending a prestigious graduate school .... Now that I am here I feel I've set a standard for girls in my community and hopefully also in other developing countries that where there is a will, there is a way." - Mariam Abuhaideri (India)

"Our professors know our names and backgrounds, and can draw on our experiences in class. This is something that is completely new for me ... They're willing to spend time discussing your questions ...." - Reemt C. Behrens (Germany )

I could not have said it better myself.

Nelson Graves

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Making a difference: languages at SAIS Bologna

Today our guest contributor is Sara Gelmetti, director of the SAIS Bologna language program. As you can see from her profile, Sara studied at Trinity College Dublin and the University of Pavia, and taught at Stanford and the University of Wisconsin before coming to the Bologna Center two years ago. She oversees instruction of the eight languages taught here. Below she explores why the study of languages is considered so important at SAIS.

“Languages differ essentially in what they must convey and not in what they may convey”. This statement made 51 years ago by linguist Roman Jakobson is relevant to today's SAIS students: To be an effective leader, you need to communicate with those around you. And to do that you must master their language.

Sara Gelmetti
You can make yourself understood without excelling in a language. But mastery allows you to connect in a more meaningful way with a culture, society and its people.

Languages force us to reflect on our perceptions and experiences. You may have noticed how the gender of words can differ from language to language, a reflection of that culture's vision of the world.

The same applies to colors, directions, time markers and verb modalities. Choosing between the indicative and subjunctive may seem a trite grammatical exercise to some, but to the educated speaker it opens up a realm of subtleties. You may not need to know these differences if you want to survive in the foreign country. But you need to master them if you want to make a difference.

That  is why a successful international career requires you to master at least one foreign language. The more languages you speak, the wider your professional horizon.

When I arrived at SAIS Bologna two years ago, I was impressed by the number of languages spoken by students. Many who already know two languages, who may have tested out of the foreign language proficiency exam, opt to study a third or fourth. Our students are world citizens, interested in deepening their understanding of other cultures. This is what makes the learning environment so enjoyable -- for those of us who teach, as well!

Our students know their careers will be in the international sphere, very probably in the country where the language they are learning is spoken. Could we hope for more motivated language learners?

I compare language learning to a journey in a foreign land: keep an open mind and relinquish your assumptions. The journey is enriched if you share it with travelers who contribute their experience and help create a sense of community.

I compare our classes to a voyage with a trusted travel guide: an expert teacher will help you on your journey, but be prepared to contribute. We do not allow students to audit our classes -- it's important that everyone participate actively in the classes. And for the same reason we cap the number of students per class at 10.

The language laboratory
Although SAIS Bologna is relatively small, we teach eight languages with a special focus on Europe. Last year we introduced higher level courses in Portuguese and Arabic, two recent additions to our program. The Russian language section is growing rapidly, while the more “traditional” languages such as French, German, Italian and Spanish are holding steadily. English for non-native speakers offers several paths to the highest proficiency level.

We take pride in our strong language program and motivated students. The mix of nationalities, academic backgrounds and work experiences creates a special learning environment.

Where else could you practice your language assignments among such a diverse group of students while sipping a cappuccino at the cafeteria?

Sara Gelmetti

Tomorrow: What are we looking for?

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

A Video Peek of SAIS Bologna

Some of you have visited the Bologna Center, either during our Open Day in December or otherwise, but most of you have not. You may have seen some photographs of the Center, including a gallery of pictures provided by some of our current students.

I am definitely out of my comfort zone myself here, but I thought it would be nice to offer a video look at the Center. Our digital camera is easy to use, but I'm new to this, so you will excuse the scruffy nature of the footage. I do hope you enjoy viewing the film and that it gives you a better idea of who we are.

You'll also excuse the fact that I've had to break the film into three segments. Otherwise I would have clogged up cyberspace. If it takes time to load, try stopping the loading, refreshing and relaunching.

We shot the images yesterday. It turned out to be a beautiful winter day in Bologna. But to prove that that is not all that rare, here is a frame from our webcam this evening:

Tomorrow: Languages at SAIS

Monday, 24 January 2011

Faculty: Embodying SAIS values

Like a human heart and its chambers, SAIS is powered by four main constituencies: students, faculty, alumni and staff. Without any of these, SAIS would not survive.

If the SAIS experience is special, it is in no small part because the faculty embody the values that underpin the institution: a global outlook, a desire to understand complex issues, tolerance of different points of view, appreciation of both academic and professional excellence.

Our relatively small size and the faculty's commitment to teaching allow students to develop strong relationships with their professors both in and outside of the classroom. The U.S.-style, discussion-driven classes put a premium on participation and interaction, and promote a cohesive intellectual community. Prof. Mahrukh Doctor touched on this in her post last week.

If you like being challenged intellectually, have an open mind but defend your beliefs, SAIS could well be for you.

Who are our faculty?

Kenneth Keller
First, SAIS Bologna. We have core resident faculty who ensure continuity and coordinate the integrated curriculum with SAIS DC. This year we have eight resident faculty including our director, Kenneth Keller. A chemical engineer by training, Prof. Keller is proof that many roads can lead to SAIS Bologna.

At SAIS Bologna there are five visiting professors and some three dozen adjunct faculty. The mix of resident, visiting and adjunct faculty promotes both coherence and diversity.

For more information on the SAIS Bologna faculty, you can click here. You can read biographies of Professors Harper, Cesa, Pye and Jones among other experts in their fields -- economics, international relations, development, finance, law, regional studies.

Expertise at your fingertips
Second, SAIS Washington. The dean is Jessica Einhorn, who has logged experience at the World Bank, the IMF, Time Warner and the German Marshall Fund. Let me not forget to note that she is also a professor of International Political Economy -- and a SAIS graduate.

If I dared to list the many internationally renowned faculty at SAIS, I would surely commit more than one error of omission. I don't contribute to this blog to make enemies.

But who would argue if I mentioned Professors Fouad Ajami, David Calleo, Eliot Cohen, Michael Mandelbaum and Riordan Roett?

There are others as you will see if you peruse the SAIS Guide to Experts in International Affairs. The specializations are too numerous to list here. Suffice it to say they cover all geographic areas and the hot-button issues of today -- and tomorrow.

Many candidates for admission ask us if they can speak to faculty. They may want to ask about a particular course or academic concentration, or to learn about what goes on in the classroom. They may be seeking advice.

Our faculty enjoy interacting with candidates, and we would be happy to put you in touch with the appropriate professor if you so wish. Just drop us a note.

Tomorrow: A video peek at SAIS Bologna

Nelson Graves

Friday, 21 January 2011

Weekly quiz!

This is our fourth quiz. I'm starting to feel a lot poorer with my promises of free lunches at Giulio's for the winners. But the show must go on.

We've been tempted to move the focus of these quizzes outside the confines of SAIS Bologna to the fertile territory of international relations. Imagine what kinds of questions we could ask if we plumbed the murky depths of international trade theory, conflict management or (I'm rubbing my hands here) European institutions.

But a lot goes on at SAIS, and mysteries lurk in the nooks and crannies of its past. So here we go with this week's quiz:

One year before the Bologna Center opened, Johns Hopkins University, at the initiative of then SAIS Dean Philip Thayer, started a center of studies in an Asian country. What was the name of the center and in which country was it located?

The center was in this city.
Please submit your answers by filing a "comment" below.

Have fun!

Next week:
- Monday, January 24: Our faculty -- experts in international affairs
- Tuesday, January 25: A video peek at SAIS Bologna
- Wednesday, January 26: Languages at SAIS
- Thursday, January 27: What are we looking for?
- Friday, January 28: Weekly quiz

Nelson Graves

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Where do we come from?

We've already talked about diversity at SAIS Bologna in several posts. It was at the heart of our weekly quiz last week. Prof. Mahrukh Doctor discussed it in her post and her video yesterday.

So how diverse is SAIS Bologna?

Diversity comes in many forms. Today we thought we would focus on geographic diversity.

Having students from around the world enriches our program in many ways: they bring different points of view and experiences to the classroom and the Center; students learn by associating with individuals from other parts of the world; our program in international relations becomes truly global thanks to the multiplicity of ethnicities, nationalities, languages and cultures.

Here is a map showing where the 204 students who enrolled at SAIS Bologna for 2010-11 come from. (We have included MA, MAIA, Ph.D and MIPP candidates.) You will see 34 different geographic origins. If you click on the pointers, you will see how many students hail from that location.

(You can zoom in or out of the map by clicking on the "+" or "-" signs below the arrows.)

View SAIS Bologna Current Students in a larger map

We've also discussed the importance of alumni in this blog. Alumni help ensure the future of SAIS Bologna by spreading the word, supporting the Center financially and helping recruit students. Alumni are also an important resource for students scouting for careers.

As of last July, we had 6,511 alumni from 110 different countries. About half of them (3,232) are from the United States, with the rest (3,279) from 109 other nations.

On this map, you'll see where these alumni come from:

View SAIS Bologna Countries in a larger map

Note that SAIS Bologna has seen some important geopolitical changes around the world since it was founded in 1955. The redrawing of national borders can wreak havoc with map makers and data collectors. In this case, how do we classify graduates who came from (then) Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, the USSR or Serbia-Montenegro? We have tried to note as much on this map.

(As any student of international relations will tell you, there will always be disagreements over nationalities,  national boundaries and country names. I have no intention of offending any readers or alumni with these maps; any errors are mine. The maps are meant to illustrate the geographic diversity that has characterized SAIS Bologna from the start. But we would welcome any relevant comments.)

I'd like to thank Adnan Muminovic, one of the followers of this blog, for suggesting the idea of these maps.

Tomorrow: Weekly quiz!

Nelson Graves

Wednesday, 19 January 2011


I'd like to correct an error in a post that was published on January 12. The error was discovered by an alert reader. The post was about standardized tests. I gave some data on average GMAT scores and mistakenly inverted data for the GMAT Verbal and the GMAT Quantitative. Here is the correct data:

For students who started their MA degree at SAIS Washington in 2009, the average scores were 41 for the GMAT Verbal and 46 for the GMAT Quantitative.

We will now correct the wording in that post.

My apologies for the error. If you see what you think may be an error in a post, please contact us at, and we will quickly review the information.

Nelson Graves

Meet Professor Doctor

SAIS Bologna would not be the institution it is without its faculty. Applicants often like to contact a professor to discuss the program. We encourage such communication. We thought it would be good to give some space in this blog to a faculty member to talk about what makes the place special for them. So meet Mahrukh Doctor, who is a visiting associate professor.

Mahrukh is a SAIS graduate and received her D.Phil. from Oxford. She speaks English, Hindi, Portuguese and German.


I have been an adjunct professor at SAIS Bologna for the past 5 years and this year I am Visiting Associate Professor. I taught two courses in the Fall Semester – one on Latin American Politics and the other an Introduction to Development. In the Spring Semester, I will teach a course on contemporary Brazil.

My Fall Semester classes had an excellent group of students – lively and full of questions. Just what I like, since it keeps me on my toes! Teaching a highly motivated group of students is always an interesting and rewarding experience. As an applicant, an important point to consider is that one of the best things about a SAIS education is the opportunity to learn from experienced professors (a mix of academics and practitioners) and from the diverse student body. The Bologna Center is particularly strong in this respect – both students and professors come from a wide variety of countries. In fact, I love to teach at Bologna precisely because of the mix of nationalities and life experience in the classroom.   

You are probably wondering what this means for you – the student. Most obviously, the class discussions benefit from the different academic backgrounds and work experience of many of the students. For example, my Development class had students from a number of countries: Italy, Germany, the UK, Austria, the U.S., Canada, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, China, South Korea, India, Nepal, Mexico, Argentina and Slovakia to name a few. They had work experience in Bangladesh, El Salvador, Iraq, Afghanistan, Hong Kong, Brazil, Ecuador, Haiti, India and many more developing countries. You can imagine what a good discussion this engenders both inside and outside the classroom.

Another important aim in my teaching is to get students to learn the practical skills relevant to their future careers.  Hence we have formal class debates and other assignments that develop such skills. For example, one of the graded assignments for the Development course was a group project that required students to make posters (later exhibited in the library) and to participate in a mini conference on the theme: Why Development Matters. Of course, these types of assignments not only develop professional skills, but also require you to learn about the relevant issues and lessons from the case studies reviewed.

Hope this gives you a flavour of what it is like to be a student here and how we, the professors, try to make your learning experience relevant, useful and enjoyable.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Communicating with you

Odette Boya Resta is head of Communications at SAIS Bologna and Childe Costa is the Center's webmaster. Below they give a rundown on their office's work and note some resources that you might find useful as you consider graduate programs. We'll ask other Bologna Center staff, faculty and alumni to contribute posts from time to time. If you have any requests, you know how to reach us.

The Bologna Center Communications Office, in collaboration with its colleagues, aims to use the web as strategically as possible to do just that...communicate, with all of its constituents.

Who are these constituents? They are you -- prospective students -- as well as current students, parents, alumni, academics, media, friends and supporters.

For the past few years we have increasingly used our website for postings of publications like our print and online magazine Rivista; RSS feed for announcements of events happening here at the Bologna Center; multimedia products including our promotional video which provides you with a 'virtual tour' of our campus and city, and various SAIS social media sites like Facebook that connect you to the entire SAIS community.

Visit our multimedia page to browse our event audio files or link to SAIS iTunes where you can subscribe for free podcasts of events held on both SAIS campuses.

Since academics is the essence of our operation, our searchable faculty directory will tell you who's who at the Bologna Center while our BCNews page tells you about their publications and media mentions.

Speaking of academics, we are particularly proud of the student-run publication, the Bologna Center Journal of International Affairs (BCJIA) which brings together academics, policy makers and businesses with an interest in insight and analysis into the world’s most pressing issues.

Of special interest is the latest addition to our website, the BCCam, a real time view of the medieval city of Bologna from our very own penthouse terrace! Here is the view this evening:

 Stay tuned…

-Odette and Childe

Monday, 17 January 2011

Some common questions

Good Monday everyone!

Today I'll try to answer some of the more common questions we receive from applicants. By now many of you know the application procedure by heart. But you might still have queries.

Hopefully we will answer them here. If not, please comment on the blog so all readers can benefit. Or if you feel shy, write us an email.

Delivery of material
We ask applicants for practical reasons to send original copies of their documents in a single package. That ensures the documents are kept in a single dossier -- yours.

If you do not have everything at hand at the same time and you have to mail more than one parcel, that is fine. What is important is that your documents reach us by the deadline of February 1.

The Deadline
We receive many questions about the deadline. It's important we receive your online application and supporting documents by February 1. We understand you cannot control the delivery of every document -- in addition to the material you submit directly, there are letters of recommendation, test scores and transcripts which may come from other sources.

Still, we urge you to do what you can to make sure everything reaches us by February 1. Sometimes referees say they may not be able to meet the February 1 deadline; they are, after all, busy people. We would encourage you to lean politely on them and to point out that they are not helping your case if they submit the letters after the deadline.

Of course we will not refuse letters that come in after the deadline and before the final admissions decisions are taken. But anyone whose application is not complete when it is reviewed by our Admissions Committee starting from February 1 will be at a disadvantage.

Bottom line: please contact us via email, phone (+39 051 29 17 811) or Skype (jhubc.admissions) if you think any of your documents will not be with us by February 1. We'll listen carefully.

Can one send photocopies of transcripts? The answer: We need an original copy with your university’s seal. Most universities are happy to mail them directly to us. Some transcripts include a guide to the grading system printed on the transcript itself.

If your transcript does not include such a grading system, we ask that you go to this website to find the conversion table for your country. Please print that table and include it with your transcript. If the transcript is coming directly from your university, please send the conversion table with your application.

Financial aid
An applicant requesting financial help is asked to submit a form supported by documents summarizing their family’s financial status. We understand that many of you are no longer claimed as dependents by your parents. But we still ask for the information as it allows us to be as fair as possible in our aid decisions.

Sometimes a candidate has unusual financial circumstances. For example, an applicant might claim their parents as dependents. If your situation is out of the ordinary, please include a written explanation as part of your application. We will read it carefully as we understand not everyone is the same.

I hope this post answers some of your questions. If not, feel free to write a comment. Or contact us by email, Skype or phone. We are here to help.

Tomorrow: Communications at SAIS Bologna

Amina Abdiuahab

Friday, 14 January 2011

Weekly quiz!

It's that time of the week.

We've tackled some pretty serious topics this week: languages at SAIS; financial aidGREs and GMATs, and speakers. Some of this is pretty heavy going, but we know it interests at least some of you. We receive lots of questions on these topics, and our readership statistics show that these posts are being read.

But all work and no play makes Johnny a dull boy. (No, the answer to today's quiz is not the origin of this proverb.) It's time for our quiz.

Last week it took NVM seven minutes to identify the SAIS Bologna terrace, where we have a webcam scanning the city's skyline. Eva W. was quick on December 21 to identify Kenneth Keller as SAIS Bologna Director, and the week before that Ilektra named C. Grove Haines as the founder of the Bologna Center.

It's clear we have to toughen up our questions or risk irrelevance. So here is today's quiz. There's an important innovation: it's a two-part question, and the winner needs to answer both parts correctly. The first part is multiple choice.


SAIS Bologna has produced 6,511 alumni since its founding in 1955. From how many countries do SAIS Bologna alumni come?

  • 80
  • 90
  • 100
  • 110
  • 120
  • None of the above

How many nationalities are represented among this year's SAIS Bologna class?

Remember: the winner gets a free lunch at Giulio's Bar at the Bologna Center. The runner-up gets a free cappuccino there.

Diversity comes in many forms.


Next week's posts:

- Monday, January 17: The finish line for applications
- Tuesday, January 18: Communications
- Wednesday, January 19: Being a faculty member
- Thursday, January 20: What counts most in an application?
- Friday, January 21: Weekly quiz

Nelson Graves

Thursday, 13 January 2011

The SAIS Podium

The U.S. Treasury Secretary. A former Italian prime minister and European Commission president. A senior U.S. arms control negotiator. A veteran human rights lawyer.

This is not an unusual week at SAIS. But even routine weeks mean exceptional speakers.

A SAIS education is made up of many parts: classroom study, research, discussion with professors and fellow students, internships. One of the outstanding resources outside the classroom is the lineup of speakers who come to the SAIS podium. They include politicians, diplomats, academics, business leaders, representatives of advocacy groups.

Close-up exposure to these thought leaders is part and parcel of SAIS.

Take this week. U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, a SAIS alumnus, spoke on Wednesday at SAIS DC on U.S.-China economic relations -- a week before Chinese President Hu Jintao goes to Washington for a bilateral summit.

This evening Romano Prodi -- who served twice as Italian prime minister and also headed the European Commission -- will speak to students in Bologna.

Romano Prodi and SAIS Bologna Director Kenneth Keller
(file photo)
Just before Geithner spoke in Washington, Robert Einhorn, special advisor to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for nonproliferation and arms control, held an informal discussion with students in Bologna. Einhorn is  in Europe to participate in meetings ahead of negotiations with Iran on nuclear issues.

Hours after Einhorn spoke, Bologna students had a chance to interact with William O'Neill, a lawyer specializing in humanitarian, human rights and refugee law. A director at the Social Science Research Council in New York, O'Neill has experience monitoring human rights in countries around the world including Kosovo, Rwanda and Haiti.

The list of speakers is too long to include here. You may recognize some of the names of speakers at SAIS Bologna this academic year: Kenneth Waltz, Gary Sick, Roberto Toscano, Thomas Stelzer, Luca di Montezemolo. For more information on SAIS Bologna speakers this year, click here.

Those who have spoken in Washington include John McCain, Melissa Hathaway, Amartya Sen and Stanley McChrystal. For recordings of recent SAIS DC speakers, click here.

Some of these speakers may make the rounds elsewhere. But SAIS offers a uniquely intimate setting that allows students to rub elbows with thought leaders and to pick their brains. When Thomas Stelzer, another SAIS alumnus and a senior U.N. official involved in climate negotiations, came to Bologna, he made sure to meet separately with our Austrian students before his main speech.

Sometimes it's pure fun. Between classes and speakers today, SAIS Bologna students were able to visit the Ferrari factory down the road in Maranello. Ferrari chairman Montezemolo was there to greet them.

Ferrari Chairman Montezemolo greets SAIS Bologna visitors

Tomorrow: Weekly quiz!

Nelson Graves

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Those standardized tests

Why would SAIS want applicants to take one of two standardized tests, the GRE or the GMAT? And how important are the results in assessing a candidate's application?

Good questions! First, let me try to answer the "why".

SAIS receives applications from candidates from all around the world. Admissions committee members who read applications know many of the candidates' universities but they cannot know all of them. It can be difficult to compare academic records from different universities and different countries.

In that sense, the Graduate Record Examination and the Graduate Management Admission Test provide a useful benchmark.

The basic purpose of the tests, then, is to provide both SAIS and the candidates with a common measure. SAIS, and the many other graduate schools that require such exams, can get a sense of a candidate's strengths and weaknesses from the results. Candidates can get an idea of their performance and where they stand.

Before discussing how the results are used, let me mention an important caveat:

The results of standardized tests do not by any means give a complete picture of a candidate. An exam result is one among many elements that are considered by Admissions.

We recognize that such standardized tests are familiar fare for some students, especially those who have been educated in the United States. They can be an unfamiliar challenge for many of our applicants. We are aware of that, which is one reason why they are required of those who apply to the SAIS DC Admissions Office but are not for non-U.S. citizens who apply to our Bologna Admissions Office.

Now, let me try to answer how the results are used.

First, there is no minimum score for either the GRE or the GMAT. A very high score does not guarantee admission; a relatively low score will not necessarily deny admission. In many cases, a candidate will score quite differently on different sections of an exam.

If these tests provide a benchmark, it can be useful for both SAIS and candidates to know where they stand. Here are the average scores of MA students recently enrolled at SAIS Washington: 650 in the GRE Verbal, 729 for the GRE Quantitative, 41 for the GMAT Verbal and 46 for the GMAT Quantitative (corrected data).

The results of the tests are considered along with the many other elements in a candidate's application: academic transcripts, letters of recommendation, statement of purpose, English-language competency, work experience. Also, SAIS Bologna interviews all its candidates.

Although neither the GRE nor GMAT is required for non-U.S. citizens who apply to SAIS Bologna, we strongly recommend that candidates take them. A good score can enhance one's application, especially in the case of non-native English speakers. And the results can provide an indication, to both SAIS and the applicant, of whether the candidate is in a position to benefit fully from the SAIS educational experience.

So to sum up, GRE and GMAT scores are part of a broader picture that a candidate presents when applying. They will always be partial measures, and results can depend on a variety of factors. But they can provide  information to both SAIS and the candidate about the suitability of a highly challenging graduate program for the applicant.

A word of advice: both the GRE and GMAT measure skills as much as knowledge. Especially for candidates who are unfamiliar with the structure of such exams, it can be very useful to study how the exams work. It can be particularly helpful to take practice exams, available on the web, to familiarize oneself with the types of questions and how much time should be allotted to each section -- in short, how the exam works.

Also: if English is not your native language or you have not studied in a U.S. program before, you should be particularly keen to take either the GRE or the GMAT to see how you measure up. A non-native English speaker can take the GRE or GMAT instead of one of the three English-language tests (TOEFL, Cambridge or IELTS).

Take up the challenge!

Finally, please remember that SAIS Bologna has its own code for both the GRE and GMAT: 3561. (The codes for SAIS DC are 5610 for the GRE and KGB-GX-99 for the GMAT.)

Tomorrow: Speakers

Nelson Graves

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Financial aid

I don’t remember how we ever got onto the subject, but when I was a child my grandfather spoke to me about the cost of a university education in the United States. “A year of private university in the United States,” he told me, “has always been roughly equivalent to the cost of a quality automobile.”

He was quite right from the financial standpoint: a year at a top U.S. university still costs roughly what it takes to buy a better-than-average car.

With all due respect to my grandfather, who knew the value of money if anyone did and saw prices change over decades, the comparison between education and cars holds true for up-front cost but just about stops there. That is because a car depreciates quickly in value, while a good education increases in value with time.

I mention this because attending SAIS is akin to investing in your future. SAIS, like other private educational institutions, charges tuition to cover costs. The price tag – 29,000 euros for SAIS Bologna in 2010-11 – seems steep for many students, certainly those outside the United States.

We receive a great many questions about financial aid. Before I turn to aid options, I think it’s worth making a general point that the cost of SAIS will be absorbed over time. SAIS graduates generally land jobs of their choice quickly -- employers know the value of a SAIS education. What can seem like a huge amount of money to you now will seem less burdensome once you hold down a job, particularly if the costs are spread over time.

Another general point: most SAIS Bologna students receive some kind of financial aid. Much of it comes from funds managed by SAIS; some of it comes from other sources. Many arrange loans or use savings or work part-time jobs while at SAIS to earn pocket money. A typical student will tap a variety of sources of funds to make the investment affordable.

If you require financial aid, then you submit an aid form with your application. It requires you to answer some basic questions about your and your parents’ finances.

(Gabriella Chiappini, director of development at SAIS Bologna, speaks about financial aid options in the video below.)

SAIS manages a substantial amount of money for fellowships. Some of it comes from its operating budget; some comes from outside donors. In all but a few cases, the single financial aid form is all we need to allocate aid when admissions decisions are taken.

There are aid sources outside SAIS’s control: a partial list can be found here. You are encouraged to scout around for other sources of aid in addition to SAIS. Some funds award grants to specific categories of students – you will want to check whether you are eligible for such funds. This will mean spending some time doing research, but it is time well spent.

Many students take out loans with lengthy maturities to help cover the costs. U.S. students may have access to subsidized loans; European students at SAIS Bologna can tap a special loan program offered by UniCredit Bank. In most cases, such loans are paid off over many years, meaning the monthly payments can be quite manageable.

To sum up, here are some things to keep in mind:
  • Consider SAIS an investment. With some effort on your part, it will be an affordable investment.
  • Most students combine funds from a variety of sources to cover costs. The sources can include fellowships, savings, loans, part-time work.
  • SAIS manages its own pool of funds. Check other sources, too: home, local or regional governments; corporations; your alma mater.
Tomorrow: GREs and GMATs

And don't forget the speech by U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner at SAIS Washington at 1330 GMT (1430 CET) on Wednesday, January 12, webcast at

Nelson Graves

Monday, 10 January 2011

U.S. Treasury Secretary Geithner to speak at SAIS

A short post to alert our readers to a speech by U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner at SAIS Washington on Wednesday, January 12 at 1330 GMT.

A 1985 SAIS graduate, Geithner will speak on "The Path Ahead for the U.S.-China Economic Relationship". His speech comes a week before Chinese President Hu Jintao goes to Washington for a bilateral summit.

Geithner's speech will be webcast at If you are living in Europe and on Central European Time (GMT +1), the speech will start at 2:30 pm.

The Importance of Being Lingual

Languages have always held a special place at SAIS. They play an important role in international relations and  in many cases help define national identity.

From its inception, SAIS has believed that anyone who aims to work in the international arena needs to master at least one foreign language. Such mastery reflects a commitment to broadening one's horizons and is a key to a deeper appreciation of another culture and of international relations.

There are two language requirements at SAIS: for entry and for exit.


As English is the language of instruction, students must have an excellent command of that language. Native English speakers need not prove fluency. The same holds true for non-native speakers who have completed a full degree program in English in a country where English is an official language.

Others should submit the results of one of three tests -- TOEFL, Cambridge Proficiency in English or IELTS -- taken not more than two years previously.

We receive a great many questions about the English proficiency exams. Some non-native speakers feel they have attained proficiency by studying overseas or by working in an English-speaking environment.

That can well be the case. But it's important that both the applicant and SAIS should be convinced the candidate's English is strong enough for the student to thrive in a highly challenging academic program. It would be unfair to the candidate and to other students if their English were not up to par. (For a definition of native English speakers, click here.)

So we tell candidates to please plan early to take the TOEFL, Cambridge or IELTS test. Non-native speakers are welcome to submit applications while still waiting for the results of an exam. But they should understand that applicants who have provided proof of proficiency will be at an advantage.

So much for the language requirement for entrance. Now the requirements for graduation.


To receive a master's, one must prove proficiency in one of the languages taught at SAIS. Here are the languages taught at SAIS Bologna: Arabic, advanced English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish.

SAIS Bologna Language Faculty 2010
SAIS Washington offers the same eight languages plus Chinese, Hindu-Urdu, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Persian (Farsi), Thai and Vietnamese. So all told, there are 16 languages taught at SAIS.

A few things to keep in mind:

- Non-native speakers of English must take a written English placement exam upon arrival to campus. Students who need to improve their English to reach the satisfactory level take the advanced English course during their first semester.

- Proficiency exams are for students who have completed a level 4 course in a language at SAIS, or who have otherwise reached an advanced level in the relevant language. At SAIS Bologna, proficiency exams are administered in October, January and May.

- Some regional concentrations require specific languages to meet their graduation requirements.

For more information on the language program and its requirements, click here. If you have any questions, send us a comment or an email.

Tomorrow: Fellowships and financial aid

Nelson Graves

Friday, 7 January 2011

Weekly quiz!

Readers were quick to solve the first two quizzes.

Ilectra won the initial test, identifying C. Grove Haines as the founder of Bologna Center in 1955. Eva W. won the second, identifying Kenneth Keller, who has a Ph.D in Chemical Engineering from Johns Hopkins, as the director of the Center.

So we are going to have to pick up our game if we have any hope of avoiding a lightning end to this quiz. Here we go:

What is the name of the penthouse terrace in the Bologna Center which overlooks the city skyline?
Students on the terrace in the 1950s
Please send in your answer by posting a comment. We look forward to reading them. Reminder: Winners get a free lunch at Giulio's in the Bologna Center.

The terrace today
Next week’s posts:

- Monday, January 10: Language requirements
- Tuesday, January 11: Financial aid
- Wednesday, January 12: GREs and GMATs
- Thursday, January 13: Speakers
- Friday, January 14: Weekly quiz

Thursday, 6 January 2011

The Admissions Time Line

Whether or not you’ve completed your application, you must be wondering what happens next. You deserve to know a bit about the process.

The deadline for applications to SAIS Bologna from non-U.S. candidates is February 1. (U.S. citizens apply through SAIS DC, and the deadline there was January 7.) By this date we hope we will have received your application and supporting documents. If you think any of your documents will not reach us on time, please let us know in advance. You can contact us via email, telephone or Skype.

After your application is complete, we will ask you to interview with a faculty or staff member. Interviews are expected to take place between the end of February and mid-March. To allow candidates to interview in person, we travel to several European cities. Last year we interviewed in Bologna, London, Paris, Brussels, Vienna, Frankfurt and Istanbul.

The venues are determined by the number of applications we receive from that region, and so we may adjust that list this year. Applicants who are far from the interview sites will be able to interview on the phone.

We will soon be posting detailed information on the interview schedule, and we will be writing a post with interview tips.

After you have had your interview, your dossier will be evaluated by two readers. Readers are normally faculty or senior staff members; students have been involved in the past. We make sure a reader does not know a candidate, ensuring that the person who interviewed you does not also evaluate your dossier.

Admissions decisions will be communicated to candidates by early April. Candidates who are offered admission receive a copy of the admission letter by email. The letter touches on any outstanding requirements such as Economics course work and also on financial aid. Successful candidates then receive an information pack to help them prepare for their year in Bologna.

What happens next could change your life: by mid-May you will need to confirm whether you accept our offer of admission.

Your future will be in your hands.

Tomorrow we'll run our third weekly quiz. Our readers came up with the answers to the first two very quickly, so we will make this one a tad harder. Remember, a free lunch at the Bologna Center for each winner.

Next week we'll tackle these issues:

- Monday, January 10: Language requirements
- Tuesday, January 11: Financial aid
- Wednesday, January 12: GREs and GMATs
- Thursday, January 13: Speakers
- Friday, January 14: Weekly quiz

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Letters of recommendation

You've looked long and hard at your motivations and started writing your statement of purpose. You've asked for your transcripts. The standardized tests are taken care of. What's left?

Let's see, the letters of recommendation, of course. No problem, this must be the easy part, right?


Evaluations are written by others in your favor. It's tempting to think that because you do not write them, they are the easiest part of an application. Don't give in to the temptation.

Letters of recommendation can have a major impact on your chances of admission. The strongest applications include letters that provide a convincing and articulate case in your favor. If your application lacks such letters, it will suffer in comparison with others.

Even if you do not write the letters, you can influence their outcome. Here are a few tips that might help:

- Choose the recommenders (aka referees) carefully. We would much rather have a letter from an associate professor who knows you and your work well than from the dean of faculty or a Nobel Prize winner if they do not know you well. Choose people who have observed how you perform and who understand what makes you special. And who write convincingly.

- Help the referees. It's best if they understand what you have done since studying under or working with them; why you are applying to SAIS Bologna; what you hope to accomplish while at SAIS, and what your career aspirations are. Share your CV and statement of purpose, even if only in draft form, with them so they can speak with some knowledge of your own aspirations.

- Consider a good mix of referees. You will ask some professors to write in your favor -- it's crucial that we have an idea of your academic performance and potential. If you've been working for some time since finishing your undergraduate studies, you may ask a supervisor at a job you have held. You may have devoted considerable time and effort to an activity outside of the classroom -- a sport, a musical instrument, volunteer work.

In each case you will have worked with people who have observed how you can contribute and what your strengths and weaknesses are, especially if they have watched you perform under pressure. Again, they know what makes you special.

- Keep on top of the referees. It's not very fair to ask referees to produce letters in a day or two -- they will need more time than that. Some may be keen to help you but also be very busy with other responsibilities. Be sure to spell out to them very clearly what the process is -- when the letters are due, how they are sent, how you can help. It's not unusual to send them a polite reminder if some time has passed since the referee agreed to write but nothing has been received yet.

For more details on letters of recommendation, you can read the application instructions and also the confidential evaluation form. As you'll see, we ask that the referees:
  • write on official stationary or include the university or department stamp or seal;
  • sign the letter, the confidential evaluation form and the envelope containing the form and the letter, along the envelope's seal;
  • send the sealed and signed envelope to you, who will submit all letters together; or the referees can send the sealed envelope directly to us at the address on the evaluation form.

We get lots of questions about letters of recommendation. If you have questions, don't hesitate to contact us. The letters are an important part of your application, and we want to help.

Before signing off, let me thank you for waiting for this update. The Bologna Center is closed until Thursday, January 6, but I thought it was time to get the blog juices flowing again, especially as many of you are working on your applications ahead of the February 1 deadline for the 2011-12 year.

We've had some lovely days lately in Bologna. Here's an image from the web cam on the terrace of our building, taken this evening.