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