Tuesday, 31 July 2012

It's never too early to start your application

Here's a tip to anyone considering applying to SAIS Bologna: the earlier you get started, the better.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting that readers in the northern hemisphere who might be taking a well-deserved holiday should immediately scramble off their beach towels to start a SAIS application.

But two aspects of an application can benefit from generous foresight: standardized tests and financial aid.

Let's start with financial aid.

It's best to wait and see if you are accepted to SAIS Bologna before exploring aid options, right?


Aid is terribly important to most of our applicants. Whether or not one can attend SAIS often turns on finances. So it can be crucial to get an early start.

SAIS Bologna has its own pool of aid. It is generous: more than half of non-U.S. students receive grants in their first year of study, with the average package worth more than 1/2 annual tuition.

But our supply of aid will never be enough to meet total demand. That is where other sources of aid come in.

Our website has an entire section devoted to financial aid. There is a list of potential alternative sources of aid outside SAIS's control. You'll recognize many of these sources as well-known international foundations; others are less well known.

The truth is that there is a plethora of sources of funds, some international, others regional, some national. Some are targeted at specific types of students. Many have very early deadlines for applications. In almost all cases, one can apply before actually being admitted to a program.

The earlier a candidate starts researching financing options, the better. Nothing disturbs us more than when an admitted student has to throw in the sponge because of a lack of financing. It can be particularly frustrating when we know that in some cases there are untapped pipelines of aid.


Similarly, it is never too early to prepare for standardized tests.

Candidates who are not native English speakers -- the definition of native speaker can be read here -- will need to submit the results of an English competency test as part of their application. We accept the results of the TOEFL, IELTS and Cambridge exams.

Candidates are not required to take either the GRE or the GMAT. But we strongly recommend that applicants do so. While not perfect, these tests provide an indication to both the applicant and to SAIS of whether a candidate is ready to tackle the challenges of the SAIS curriculum, which requires a mastery of English reading, writing and speaking as well as strong quantitative skills.

Applicants who score relatively well on either the GRE or the GMAT do themselves a favor, although I must note that a candidacy rarely if ever turns on a single element in the dossier.

In the case of all standardized tests, then, it is best to get going plenty early. It takes time to familiarize yourself with the tests, which can be very foreign to many non-Americans. And you may want to take the tests twice instead of relying on one score.

With our new application deadline of January 7, it will be important to register early on to make sure the test results reach us on time and to leave yourself the possibility of taking the test twice.

Finally, it is much easier to put together an application over time than to try to cram it all into a few, short weeks. In addition to standardized test results and financial aid applications, there are many pieces to the puzzle: letters of recommendation, statement of purpose, analytical essay. You'll craft a much stronger dossier if you start early and think carefully about what you are doing.

Enough advice for today. Readers, now back to your beach towels!

Nelson Graves

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

A graduate's perspective on SAIS

John Ulrich attended SAIS Bologna in 2010-11 before moving to DC. He received his master's in May at SAIS DC. This fall he will be joining J.P. Morgan in London as a credit risk analyst.

John graduated from the University of Pittsburgh in 2007 with a BA in Politics-Philosophy. Before enrolling at SAIS, he worked as an analyst at BYN Mellon in Pittsburgh.

Some of our readers may recognize John, who appeared in this post in February 2011. He spoke to us after a speech at SAIS Bologna by Mario Draghi, who is currently the president of the European Central Bank.

We asked John to share his thoughts on his experiences as a SAIS student who studied first in Bologna and then in Washington.

The beauty of SAIS is that students can attend the world’s premier international relations graduate school in an international environment. It didn’t take me long to select SAIS over other graduate programs that I got into, and it took even less time for me to decide to do a year in Bologna before going to DC to finish my degree.

John Ulrich BC11/DC12
Regardless of other people’s preconceived notions about the pros and cons of studying IR in a sleepy little Italian town versus a major international city, for me the decision was simple. In my mind passing up the opportunity to live in Italy, the home of Western civilization, would have been stupid.

In hindsight I made the right decision.

Many prospective students fail to understand what Bologna has to offer when comparing it to DC. It’s not just about food and culture, although they do tend to spice up the experience. What stood out to me about Bologna were the academics.

Access to professors is a scarce and precious commodity in DC, but in Bologna I could share not one but two bottles of wine with my professors after class every week during the semester.

That’s access that you can’t put a price on.

The outlook for post-degree professional prospects also tends to be a hang-up for some students when they make the Bologna-versus-DC decision. I’m not going to sugarcoat the situation; it is harder to get an internship and make professional contacts in Bologna. Having said that, it’s far from impossible. Career services in Bologna works, and there is this thing called the Internet, which connected me in Bologna to my pre-DC internship in London.


Life is about transitions and how we handle them. The move from Bologna to DC can be a stressful one, but the administrations in both places work together to make it as smooth as possible.

DC presented a different set of challenges than Bologna. Classes are larger, students tend to be a little bit more competitive, life in general is more expensive, but the dichotomy between both locations makes for a rich experience.
John at dinner with SAIS friends
In Europe the sovereign debt crisis and Arab Spring unfolded on my doorstep; in DC the U.S. election with all its international implications and debates about global economic slowdown were my daily companions. Speakers in both locations reflected the topics at the top of the international agenda in their respective regions, coloring my graduate school experience with unique perspectives.

Looking back over the past two years, straddling the Atlantic in Bologna and DC worked for me. Not only would I recommend the combination, I tend to get envious of all the prospective students with whom I've spoken who have earned the opportunity to embark fresh on the journey that I just completed.

Good luck, and make the most of it.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Next online information session: July 31

We have scheduled an online information session for:

Tuesday, July 31 at 10 am Italy time (0800 GMT).

If you would like to participate in the session and have not yet told us so, please send an email to admissions@jhubc.it and we'll send you the log-in details.

During the session we'll briefly introduce SAIS Bologna and then take questions from participants, either over the phone or via chat.

To take part in the session, all you need is an Internet connection and a phone line or Skype connection to make a toll-free call.

We expect the session to last 45 minutes to one hour. Participants are free to exit the session whenever they like.

This is not the only way to learn about us. There is this Journal and our website. Here is our most recent catalog, which is being updated for 2012-13 but which will remain much the same. We can always be reached by email, via Skype (our handle is jhubc.admissions), by phone (+39 051 29 17 811) or in person.

We know that prospective candidates have a lot of questions as they consider their options and that the application process can be challenging. We also want to make sure we help candidates take the best decisions for themselves.

Nelson Graves

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Any interest in an online session?

Interested in learning more about SAIS Bologna? Have a few minutes of spare time?

We would like to know if there is an appetite for an online information session about SAIS Bologna in coming weeks.

We realize it's summer. People hopefully are enjoying down time away from computers. Graduate studies might be the furthest thing from your mind.

But if you are interested in an online session, please send us an email at admissions@jhubc.it. The session would last around 45 minutes, and participants would be free to cut away if and when they liked. All you would need is an Internet connection and a phone to make a toll-free call.

If a critical mass of people raise their hands, we'll arrange something. And of course we are always available for one-on-one chats on the phone (+39 051 29 17 811), via Skype (our handle is jhubc.admissions) or in person.

There will be plenty of opportunities to get to know more about SAIS Bologna once the holidays are over. Until then, if you're up for it, we'd be happy to arrange an online session.

Nelson Graves

Bologna: a slideshow

We offer this slideshow to give our followers a glimpse of SAIS Bologna's host city.

It is a city rich in history, culture and tradition. Since 1955, it has been home to SAIS students keen to expand their horizons. We are honored to have our roots here.

The music accompanying the slideshow was written by Francesco Guccini and is sung by Stefano Bittelli -- himself a bolognese.

If you are reading this via email, you can watch the slideshow here.

Nelson Graves

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

We hear you loud and clear: results of our survey

Cicadas are clicking, the halls of SAIS Bologna are empty of students, incoming scholars are taking a breath before coming here and prospective applicants are ... prospecting.

Time to take stock.

We've received your responses to our annual survey. There are some useful takeaways for us as we look to the next recruitment and admissions cycle.


We launched this Journal in December 2010. Our aim was to connect with prospective candidates so they could learn about SAIS Bologna while considering their options. We've tried to de-institutionalize our relationship with our readers, who start out as possible applicants and then often become candidates and in many cases end up as students.

Feedback and readership suggest it's been worth the effort.

Each of our 296 posts has generated an average of 344 page views. In the past month we passed the 100,000 page view mark. Our readership has grown -- natural as word gets around and new readers join the veterans.

About 30% of our readers are based in the United States. Seven of the top 10 countries ranked by readership are in Europe; South Korea is 8th and India 10th.

Here are the three most viewed posts since we launched:

The Analytical Essay (Nov 16, 2011)
The Statement of Purpose (Oct 19, 2011)
Seeing How You Think (Feb 21, 2011)

If we needed proof that our readers are interested above all in learning about the nitty-gritty of the application process, we have it in those readership statistics.

The hearty appetite for information on admissions procedures is borne out in the ...


Respondents were asked to rank what they found most useful about the Journal. As in last year's survey, readers selected "information about admissions procedures".

Readers also want "an inside look at SAIS Bologna" and "views of Bologna and Italy". And they like to keep in touch with SAIS Bologna.

We try to meet this demand with a mixture of posts: entries on procedures; interviews with students, faculty and alumni; photographs and video; examples of student work and activities.

If we go off track, we trust our readers will set us straight with a comment at the end of a post or an email to admissions@jhubc.it.

We asked respondents how often they read the Journal. The answers were in line with those from last year: most check the Journal at least once a week; about 90% read it at least several times a month.

During the meat of the year we post three times a week -- which we think puts supply in line with demand. But if you think we post too much or not enough, feel free to tell us.

A couple of answers surprised us, perhaps because we were thinking the digital revolution has progressed farther than it has.

More than 9 of 10 readers still call up the Journal on their computer, with a small minority using mobile devices. And most use a browser bookmark or a search engine to find the posts, with only a minority subscribing to email or RSS alerts.

We may be outnumbered but would still urge regular readers to use the email alert system by submitting their email addresses via this function on the Journal's home page:

Finally, we are grateful to those who took the time to submit their thoughts on the Journal.

"I really like the personal style of the blog," wrote one respondent. "I really like to see that you put an effort into keeping everyone up to date," said another.

Hear, hear.

What could be improved?

1. "I think you could use a redesign," wrote one participant in the survey.

Are there any incoming students out there who would care to help us? We'd love to involve you.

2. We can improve navigation around the Journal and also make it easier to post comments and ask questions -- in other words, increase the interactivity. A very good point.

3. We should provide more information on what alumni are doing and about SAIS DC.

Here's a chance to make a plug for the blog managed by our counterparts in SAIS DC. It's called "Slice of SAIS" -- a much catchier name than ours!

Nelson Graves

Wednesday, 11 July 2012


The last quiz we held was a great success. Many of our readers knew that La Befana brings sweets to children on January 6, the day before our new deadline for application.

Here's another quiz:

What is the name of the SAIS alumnus/a who recently came second in a run for national presidential elections? And where is he/she from?

The first person to answer correctly gets a SAIS Bologna tee shirt.

You can answer with a comment on this post or with an email to admissions@jhubc.it - be sure to tell us who you are so that we can follow up with you.


Amina Abdiuahab

Thursday, 5 July 2012

New application deadline: get started

SAIS Bologna's new application deadline is January 7, 2013. It may appear to be a long way away. In some respects it is. Winter seems a lifetime away now that it's full summer. However, in "application terms" the time between now and the deadline is not as extended as you might think.

While the application process is fairly straightforward, it could take you some time to gather all the required documents together.

Before you start your application be sure you understand our program. There are several ways in which you can get information. There is our website, this journal and of course Nelson and me in the Admissions Office. You can reach us by email, Skype (jhubc.admissions), on the more traditional telephone +39 051 29 17 811 (ask to speak to Admissions) and at number 11 of Via Belmeloro.

In the fall we'll hold a few recruiting events. We'll be at the APSIA fairs, we'll hold information sessions, online and in person, and there will be an Open Day in early December. More activities are in the works --we'll tell you more later in the summer.

How can you get started with your application? 

If you're a non-native English speaker (click here for the definition), you can start by looking into TOEFL, IELTS and the Cambridge Proficiency in English scores. These tests are not difficult for those whose English language skills are strong. Nonetheless, they require some preparation. Knowing how these tests are structured will help you get a good score.

Whether or not English is your mother-tongue, we recommend you look into standardized tests, such as the GRE and the GMAT. They're not a requirement for application, but a good score can help your candidacy.

Start thinking about your statement of purpose and analytical essay. Jot down some ideas. Your reasons for applying and your topic of interest may change in the meantime, but this is a useful exercise because you start thinking about why SAIS is right for you and you are right for SAIS. Click here to view past posts on the statement of purpose and here for the analytical essay.

As you discover why you want to come to SAIS, be sure to keep your referees in the loop. If you tell them why you're applying, it will be easier for them to write a letter supporting you. Here is an expert's view on letters of reference.

Last but by no means least, start looking at how your finances might work out. You know you can apply for financial help from SAIS Bologna. However, you should look into alternative sources to be sure you'll have sufficient funds to attend our program. Some institutions that provide funding have early deadlines. Keep on top of the game to seize every opportunity available.

Have any questions? You know where to find us.

Amina Abdiuahab

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Now I have the tools to find the answers

Today we turn the podium over the Edna Kallon. Edna, from Sierra Leone, was at SAIS Bologna in 2010-11 and graduated in Washington last May. Prior to starting her SAIS experience she worked for three years in a best-practices research firm in the United States, at Save the Children Sweden-Denmark in Bangladesh and at the United Nations for Iraq. 

We asked Edna to tell us about her SAIS experience, the challenges and what’s waiting for her now that she’s completed her degree. 

I vividly remember arriving at the door of SAIS Bologna two years ago.

Edna at Commencement in Bologna
My decision to go back to school was a result of sitting in several meetings thinking to myself: “I need to get further education because I don’t understand what’s being talked about, the terms being used and some things definitely do not sound right or applicable when looking at a country like Iraq!”

It was a moment of sobering self-awareness; the moment when I realized I was not as knowledgeable as I thought I was. To be honest, in the meetings with all those people, I felt “dumb.” Luckily for me, I strongly believe in change and that I can learn and apply my way to a needed change.

When I started at SAIS I was challenged to my core academically and psychologically. I had to get the hang of how the concept of supply and demand can be applied to almost anything. In addition, I was trying to get comfortable with economists’ tendency of simplifying everything.

My academic background is psychology and art history and my job with the UN was more practical than conceptual. Hence, I accepted and was very comfortable with complexity.

At SAIS, I learned to take a complex issue, simplify it to its bare bones and then start adding in the complexity again. It’s quite a fascinating way of understanding why things work the way they do and the various factors that come into play. I call the two years at SAIS “understanding systems”, be it political, economics, business or social. I really liked the “no-nonsense” teachers taught me.

My micro and macro-economics teacher, prof. Akin, told me one day that if I need to sit in the library for hours reviewing a concept until I got it right, to do so. My development cooperation teacher, prof. Hartmann, looked me right in the eyes and told me that I was having some trouble with some economic concepts after reading a paper I wrote for the class. My war and conflict resolution in Africa teacher, prof. K├╝hne, following a bad presentation, warned the class that the following presentations had to be significantly better.

I single out these three teachers because they believed and told me that learning is a personal experience that I had to embrace with full commitment, that good constructive criticism is necessary to improve and that presentations have to be worth the time of people listening to them. These are lessons I carry with me in a lot that I will be doing in life.

I entered into SAIS starting with Bologna and came out with what I wanted and a whole lot more. That state of wanting to know did not disappear but now I have the tools to find the answers.

I realized that I love to know whether what people and organizations are saying and doing are relevant or make sense.

With this realization in mind, I started working with the Independent Evaluation Group of the World Bank Group following graduation.

SAIS did not change me but made me more convinced and aware of my desire to know whether what's being said and done matter and makes sense. I strive to be really good at what I do and hold organizations accountable: SAIS has definitely contributed!


Amina Abdiuahab