Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Questions from SAIS Bologna's Open Day

Profs. Plummer, Keller, Cesa
Prospective applicants came from across Europe to attend SAIS Bologna's annual Open Day last Friday. It was a chance for them to meet faculty, students and staff, and get a close-up view of life at the Center.

We realize most candidates could not come to Bologna yet have many of the same questions as Open Day participants. With that in mind, we summarize key points raised by our visitors in sessions with the Student Government Association and staff.


SGA president Matt Conn and the four other members -- Lorenzo Bruscagli, Max Cohen, Nameerah Hameed and Anika Sellier -- tackled participants' questions.

Q: What kind of clubs or associations are at SAIS Bologna?
A: The SGA members pointed out there are many clubs that carry over from year to year, while others spring up based on the interests of a particular class. In both cases, students' interests drive the formation of clubs. Those that tend to form every year include the Defense and Intelligence Club, the Finance Club, the Latin American Club. This year there is a Dance Club and a club devoted to outdoor activities. Clubs are eligible for funding, which is managed by the SGA and generated by a modest fee levied on students when they enter. "The school is extremely social," commented Cohen.

Student Government Association
Q: What was the hardest part of applying?
A: Sellier said for her it was the statement of purpose. Conn's advice: "Stop trying to guess what SAIS wants. SAIS takes all types. Don't try to fit a mold."

Bruscagli recommended starting your application early. "Don't procrastinate. Understand why you want to come here."

Hameed said she was interviewed over Skype and had what she called an engaging conversation. "It is an opportunity to show more of yourself and your energy and passion."

Conn advised potential applicants to start searching for grants early on. "It will never be less work than you think," he said.

Q: How much time do you spend on academics?
A: SGA members said most students are taking four courses plus a language and also attending the seminar series. "Academic life here is very demanding," Hameed said.

"It can be as hard as you want to make it," said Conn. "It will never be easy. It's a lot of work but not impossible."

"It's definitely a lot of work, but you're always doing it. It becomes your life," said Bruscagli.

Cohen advised incoming students to attend pre-term, a four-week session before the fall semester starts. "You have one month to get to know the city, to meet people and to settle down. You don't have to hit the ground running."

Q: What did you do before coming to SAIS Bologna?
A: Bruscagli said he worked for two years after finishing his undergraduate degree but noted that some come directly to SAIS from their undergraduate studies. Sellier said she, too, had worked for two years before coming to SAIS. Conn had worked for five years as a trader on Wall Street. Hameed had worked for one year, while Cohen had worked for four years, first doing political campaigning and then at the U.S. Department of Energy.


Bart Drakulich, director of Finance and Administration, and Gabriella Chiappini, director of Development, outlined financial aid options.

Drakulich noted that just slightly less than half of the non-U.S. students attending SAIS Bologna this year received financial aid from SAIS, with the average award amounting to more than one half of tuition. He mentioned that students coming from countries where Italy's Unicredit Bank operates are eligible for low-cost loans of up to 15,000 euros per year. "If you are really motivated, we can find a way to help you," Drakulich said. "Don't sell yourself short."

Chiappini noted that donors provide about 30% of SAIS Bologna's budget each year, and that some 90% of the donors are alumni of the Bologna Center.

Q: Many Europeans are used to attending institutions with lower fees. What competitive advantages justify SAIS's tuition?
Drakulich: SAIS Bologna attracts top faculty from leading universities throughout Europe; is part of Johns Hopkins, a leading U.S. research university; is a tight-knit community, and has an extensive alumni network that students can tap into.

Chiappini: SAIS is the only U.S. graduate program with its own curriculum embedded in Europe. The experience of one year in Europe and another in the United States gives SAIS students a unique perspective that helps them climb the ladder of success.


Meera Shankar, director of Career Services, outlined how students typically interact with her office and how it helps them strategize in their search for internships and jobs.

Q: How do you choose who goes on career trips?
Shankar: Noting that this year career trips will take students to London, Brussels and Geneva, she said admission to the trips is competitive. But that does not mean that a person with a great deal of experience already in the relevant sector or city will have priority.

She added that  students who go on the trips subsequently hold information sessions where they share what they learnt with their classmates.

Q: Does the student's relationship with Career Services end with graduation?
Shankar: Career Services does counsel alumni but the office tries to make sure students work with it while they are at SAIS to take early and full advantage of it.

Q: What percentage of students work internships during the summer between the first and second year, and are they paid?
Shankar: At least three quarters of SAIS Bologna students work an internship during that summer. Internships in the private sector are commonly paid; those in the public sector may offer a stipend or in-kind compensation such as housing.


Margel Highet, director of Student Affairs, discussed life in Bologna and Washington.

Q: Is life at SAIS DC more stressful than at SAIS Bologna?
Highet: Life at SAIS DC is not necessarily more competitive or stressful. But SAIS DC has about three times as many students spread across three buildings, and students in DC tend to work more internships, which pull them away from SAIS.


Amina and I handled residual questions

Q: If the GRE or GMAT are not required of non-U.S. applicants to Bologna, why do you recommend that applicants take one or the other?
Our visitors mingling with current students and staff
Graves: The results of one of those tests can send an important signal to both the candidate and SAIS. An especially good score can help an application; a weaker than average score on a section of the test could be a warning signal. It's important that applicants be convinced themselves that they can handle the demands of SAIS's rigorous curriculum.

Q: How do students find apartments in Bologna?
Amina: This is perhaps the easiest part about coming to SAIS Bologna. Our long-time consultant Salvatore helps most students find reasonably priced apartments near the Bologna Center.

Q: How do admitted candidates without a background in economics prepare for SAIS?
Amina: SAIS offers an online course each summer tailored for incoming students, which gives them the required introduction to both micro- and macroeconomics.

(Amina should know -- she is taking the course for fun now!)

Nelson Graves