Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Striving for excellence

How selective is SAIS Bologna?

That's a question we've heard from several quarters since the Admissions Committee issued its decisions yesterday. It's a perfectly fair query. People who were admitted and are weighing other offers want to compare. People on the wait list are wondering whether to wait. And those who fell short want to know why.

As rejected candidates can attest, we receive more applications than spots available. You would expect as much from a program like ours. (Some rejected candidates would like us to be less selective -- one of the ironies of admissions.)

I could list the names of the top undergraduate institutions where our admitted candidates have studied. I could cite their standardized test scores or GPAs. But I won't, because these are measures of excellence that you would expect at SAIS. We need to take into account factors that are not so easily quantified.

So how selective are we?

Age is not a determining factor in our admissions decisions, but maturity can be. Some individuals demonstrate intellectual and professional maturity at a young age, others much later. In general, our strongest candidates have solid undergraduate records and good test scores where relevant, and have exhibited an interest in international relations through their studies, internships, language proficiency -- or a combination.

Consider what some of our admitted candidates have done:
  • One has worked for McKinsey, Goldman Sachs and Grameen Bank; been posted to the U.N.; studied at Harvard and in Hong Kong, and learned three languages.
  • Another has worked at the Asian Development Bank and the Ministry of Finance in her home country, advised a member of parliament, contributed to two publications and learned four languages.
  • A third has worked for the Economist and a microfinance organization in Africa, and interned on a newspaper in South America.
  • One has interned at the U.N., the UNDP, the German parliament and a newspaper in West Africa, and speaks five languages.
  • An Asian candidate has interned at the European Parliament, been a delegate to two overseas Model U.N. conferences -- and is a swing dancer.
  • One candidate has interned in Jordan researching the economic impact of the Iraqi war on refugees in Jordan, and speaks Arabic and French.
I could go on. My point is not that a candidate wins admission by accumulating internships or languages. But an applicant who boasts a solid undergraduate academic record, has mastered English, has demonstrated a real interest in international affairs and knows how to put their best foot forward -- you get the point.

We are fortunate to have many such applicants. It's a blessing and guarantor of quality that goes beyond percentages.

We're excited by the prospect that we'll have another group of students in the autumn who stand out by virtue of the depth of their knowledge and of the breadth of their experience and curiosity. Such students have built SAIS Bologna's reputation over its 56 years.

Some candidates who fell short may consider whether, with a bit more experience and commitment to international affairs, they could make a successful stab in the future. Our office can provide guidance.

Nelson Graves