Thursday, October 27, 2011

Open Day: A chance to see SAIS Bologna for yourself

On December 9, SAIS Bologna will open its doors to prospective applicants.

The day-long event will give visitors the chance to learn more about SAIS by meeting students and faculty; attending classes and lectures, and visiting Bologna.

Register now for Open Day on Dec 9
Traditionally current students provide accommodation for the visitors. Send us an email if you’d like to experience bolognese hospitality. You'll have an opportunity to gather more information about SAIS while saving money on accommodation.

Click here to view the schedule and to register.

If you can’t make it to Open Day because you have commitments or you live too far away from Bologna, there are other ways to learn more about SAIS:

  • We'll be at APSIA fairs in the next two weeks: Vienna (Nov 2), Geneva (Nov 3), Madrid (Nov 5), Paris (Nov 7)
  • We'll be holding online information sessions in November and December. The next one will be on November 22 at 7 pm Italy time (1800 GMT). Send us a message if you'd like to participate. As always, you are also welcome to contact us via Skype (jhubc.admissions) or telephone (+39 051 29 17 811).
Byron Sacharidis, a current student from Greece, attended Open Day last year. Here in his words is what Open Day meant to him.

Byron Sacharidis
With the spotlight on the statement of aims, letters of recommendation and standardized test scores, it is very easy to overlook the practical benefit of a school visit. In my case, I am glad I registered for Open Day last winter because it helped confirm my interest in SAIS and strengthened my motivation to apply for graduate studies.

The event was carefully planned and made a good impression. Having been offered accommodation by a current student, a notable part of the culture here in Bologna, I had the chance to familiarize myself with student life in ways that no site or brochure could convey. Right away, the feeling of belonging and the discovery of a rare, close-knit community, where diversity and camaraderie thrive, fueled my enthusiasm about what this beautiful city has to offer.

From last year's Open Day
After a warm welcome, we were offered a session where we could pose questions and discuss issues with school representatives and staff. This was a good opportunity to ask what I would hesitate asking over the phone or via email. What is more, during a lecture I was happy to discover first hand the accessibility of my professors-to-be. I got a taste of how classes felt and appreciated the two-fold teaching approach: some classes are lecture-based and others are seminars. The day could not have ended better than with a happy hour at Giuglio’s Bar, where I relaxed and reassessed my overall impressions and the vibes I had got during the day, while getting caught up in interesting debates with students.

Memorable, but above all useful in many different ways, Open Day ended up playing a decisive role in my search for graduate school by putting things into perspective. I encourage you to take the plunge and see for yourself.

Amina Abdiuahab

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Letters of recommendation: an expert's view

Today: letters of recommendation

Like the statement of purpose, letters of recommendation are a chance to have your special qualities and motivations shine through. Even though you do not control the content to the same extent, you can have a major influence on what your "referees" write.

SAIS requires two letters. Many candidates, particularly those graduating this year or who finished their undergraduate studies recently, will tap two professors. Candidates who have been out of university for some time will want to ask for a professional reference.

(Can you submit a third reference? Yes, you can.)

Under our new online application system, the "referees" (ie, the authors of the letters) can submit them online or via mail. If they come through mail, they should be in a sealed, official envelope with the author's signature across the seal. This ensures confidentiality.

Prof. Mark Gilbert
Prof. Mark Gilbert has written loads of letters of reference. We turned to him for his thoughts on the do's and don't's.


Q: You have written letters of recommendation for many students. How does a student know if it is appropriate to approach you for a letter of recommendation? How well do you have to know a student before you will write a letter?

Gilbert: I will normally write a long letter of reference for a student who has completed a course with me. I like to be able to comment on a person's writing skills and character before I write anything on his or her behalf. I have made a handful of exceptions to this rule, but only for students whose contribution to a class has been out of the ordinary and who really needed, as opposed to wanted, an early reference. Note, too, I talk of letters of reference, not recommendation. I think a letter that shows a full knowledge of the person you are talking about, even if it may contain some criticism, is more "authentic" in the eyes of the people who read them.

Q: What do you like to know about the student and their plans before you write a letter?

Gilbert: I always ask students to give me a short CV and explain to me the nature of the internship or job that they are applying for. When looking over candidates for admission to SAIS, I greatly preferred to read letters from professors who clearly knew the person they were recommending well and who also could relate the student to SAIS and its programme. A generic note saying "Ms X is a very nice person who works hard and got good grades in my class" is helpful, but hardly convincing. I think letters to be effective need to be crafted individually for a given student. Professors at German universities, in my experience, are very good at this. They seem really to care about their students' future and are stern yet just about their personalities and abilities.

Q: Do you share the letter with the student or is it confidential? If it is confidential, why so?

Gilbert: I have never shared the contents of a letter with a student except once by necessity -- the would-be employer (the Danish government) remarkably wanted the candidate, rather than me, to send the letters as .pdf files in her dossier. Since it was a prestigious opportunity for this student, for whom I have a very high regard, I acquiesced, but I wasn't happy about it. I think letters of reference should be confidential.

Q: How much time in advance of a deadline do you like a request for a letter of recommendation to come to you? Are you annoyed if students check up on the status of the letter?

Gilbert: I would certainly not be irritated if a student checked up on me, while I certainly like students to give me ample warning that they would like a letter to be written on their behalf. The reason in both cases is the same: I have a lot to do and letters have to be fitted into everything else I'm doing. I normally write letters quickly once I've agreed to do them, but when you are doing a lot of things, it can happen that you forget one. So stay on my case.

Q: Do you prefer to mail your letters or to download them online?

Gilbert: Download. I am normally technophobic, but  I find that the online systems are very well done and persuade you to write the reference quickly. It seems like less hassle. Like writing an email.

Q: Any pitfalls or fatal errors you would warn applicants against when it comes to letters of reference?

Gilbert: Avoid letters from people who talk about themselves and how important their institution is and who then add in the final paragraph, sometimes in these very words, "This person has studied with me, therefore you should take her." What does this imply? It implies that students should judge the character of their letter writers carefully and avoid the pompous, the megalomaniac, and the vainglorious. I'm tempted to add that in academia at least this implies that the pool of potential letter writers is a small one....

Nelson Graves

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Photographs by SAIS Bologna students

Bologna is a photographer's dream and also a very good jumping-off point to visit other, photogenic spots in Europe and beyond.

Here are some photographs by students in this year's class.

by Jace Han
by Jace Han
by Elizabeth Forro
by Jace Han
by Elizabeth Forro
by Shelley Ranii
by Steve Farole
by Carlos Goes
by Carlos Goes
by Elizabeth Forro
by Corey Cox

by Steve Farole

by Carlos Goes

Thursday, October 20, 2011

SAIS students on SAIS

SAIS students put out a special publication in April that offers prospective applicants a window on our graduate school.

The SAIS Observer edition includes a range of vantage points: accounts of trips by students to China, Sri Lanka, Spain, Panama and Costa Rica; articles on life at SAIS Bologna and at Hopkins-Nanjing; descriptions of concentrations and student clubs.

There is a tongue-in-cheek piece on dating at SAIS: "Dating at SAIS or rather within SAIS is like dating in 9th grade except everyone is taller and the acne is gone."

In a note to prospective students, the three editors wrote that "the best way to predict what SAIS is like is to continue talking to current students and alumni and to be vigilant about reaching out to departments, professors, leaders and others."

Sound advice.

Mia Warner, writing about her year at SAIS Bologna in 2009-10, said "the really fascinating part was listening to my fellow classmates' questions and comments. I was in awe of the range of perspectives that other students presented."

If it's true that students are SAIS's best ambassadors, then we offer up this publication as a very good way for prospective applicants to learn more about what makes this program different.

Nelson Graves

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Statement of Purpose

An application to SAIS Bologna has several parts. We discussed some of the challenges in a post last month.

Two weeks ago we shared our thoughts on standardized tests. The bottom line of that post was this: Get going on the standardized tests, including any English competence exams, because they take time and you may want to take them more than once.

Today's topic is the statement of purpose (aka "statement of aims"). This is obviously an important element of an application because it requires the candidate to express why graduate school and why SAIS Bologna. These may seem obvious questions, but the answers are not.

Irena and Sebastian 
There is no stock answer and no set format or style. We are looking for unique individuals with special qualities -- and these have to be conveyed somehow in the statement.

What better experts on statements of purpose than current students? We turned to Irena Peresa and Sebastian Alexander Ernst, who wrote outstanding statements when they applied for the 2011-12 year.

You'll notice that Irena and Sebastian Alexander took slightly different tacks in preparing their statements. But that is quite normal -- each candidate will follow their own path and their own intuition.

Here is what they said:


Writing a statement of purpose is probably the most time- and mind-consuming part of any application. Communicating the fact that you are an ideal pick to the selection committee, under word-limit pressure, is indeed hard.

Having been part of a few similar committees over the years, I had had the chance to read hundreds of statements of purpose. It is clear that most students are aware of the main do's and don’t's, and follow the rules carefully. However, that is often times not enough – a statement needs to convey a part of your person. Sincerity in the statements always struck me because it disclosed to the reader a motivation somehow beyond the expected level as well as required personal traits.

For this reason, I chose not to have my statement of purpose reviewed by many people. The feedback received from my colleagues was great, but most of it did not end up in the final version because these views were not really mine. I decided to stick with what came from my own brainstorming and see where it took me.

Undertaking extensive research on the M.A. at SAIS (curriculum, professors, etc.) and comparing it with others helped me a lot. After that, I knew exactly why I had chosen the program, and what I wanted to obtain from it. And even though it was not the most logical step following my previous experience and education, for me it made perfect sense.

Once I realized where I wanted grad school to take me (and how), writing a sincere and strong personal statement seemed a much easier task.


Drafting a statement of aims eventually comes down to telling your side of the story. For me, it meant both a challenge and a chance to distinguish myself from others.

While I was confident about why I wanted to pursue a career in international relations, connecting the different “dots” was not as easy. To make sure the experiences and accomplishments were relevant and persuasive for “my story,” I had different people review my drafts right from the beginning. These evaluations played an important role in the process of identifying and emphasizing my individual strengths.

Whether or not you decide to involve your peers, I strongly believe that every piece of writing will benefit greatly from a large number of drafts. Constantly reviewing and reevaluating your statement, however, requires a lot of effort and can be extremely time-consuming. This is why I began the drafting process well in advance to ensure I had enough time to make my statement as strong as possible.

In combination with conveying knowledge of the programs I applied to, I sought to convey a sound story that would stick to the reader’s mind. Telling a proper story – in my case an uncomfortable encounter with a Brazilian street child – emphasizes your motivation and serves as an excellent guide through your statement as long as it relates to your past experiences and future aims. This kind of personal insight enhances your chance to stand out among the large number of highly competitive applicants, which is in the end what matters most.

Nelson Graves

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

What do our alumni miss most about their year in Bologna?

For eight weeks, SAIS Bologna's website has been a repository of alumni memories.

Flexing our social media muscles, we asked alumni to answer the question: "What do you miss most about your year in Bologna?"

The result has been a river of postings by several dozen alumni. Below you will see some of the photographs that were submitted to the competition, which ended yesterday, October 17.

In an August post published just before the competition started, I wrote about how for many alumni, SAIS Bologna is an intimate academic community.

Before turning to the photographs, let me exercise a bit of editorial prerogative and call your attention to a touching piece by Patti Bonnet, who attended SAIS Bologna in 1992-93. You might find her reminisces unusual, but I'm sure you will admire her skillful way with words and read her tale until the end.

My technological talents are not up to the task of posting two other items you might like to view: an offering by Fabiana Papaianni capturing her class's fifth year reunion, and a slideshow by Tom Tesluk with images of the city accompanied by the haunting sound of church bells.

I've also taken the liberty of including a slideshow of photographs that I submitted. Auteur oblige.


by Alix Murphy

by Nick Hopkinson
by Kathleen Tesluk

by Teresa Meoni
by Tom Tesluk
by Natalya Lyoda
by Jerome Ingenhoff
by Christopher Brownfield

by Monica Sendor
by David Mason

by Monica Sendor

by Sarah Sparker
by David Mason

by Tanya Gulnik

Nelson Graves

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Bologna's mayor welcomes SAIS students

Earlier this weekMayor Virginio Merola welcomed SAIS Bologna students to Bologna. This traditional welcome was launched by Giuseppe Dozza, who served as mayor from 1945 to 1966, as a friendly means of telling SAIS students what makes Bologna special.

Giacomo Tagiuri
Harriet Di Francesco
Bologna is home to the oldest operating university in the world. Since medieval times it has been a temporary home to students from all over the world, including this year's SAIS students. Our more than 6,500 alumni remember their time in Bologna as a life-changing experience, and many of their memories connect to the friendliness of the bolognesi, their open-mindedness and the beauty of the city.

(For a record of some of our alumni's memories, have a look at photos, videos and text that they have posted on our website here.)

Mayor Merola discussed his experience as il primo cittadino di Bologna and the challenges he's faced since coming to office. At the end of the speech students asked questions. Graffiti are normally a popular issue our students address, but this year they engaged the mayor on his battle against corruption, recycling and parks in the centro storico.

Below is a short video that captures a brief bit of the speech and comments by two students, Giacomo Tagiuri and Harriet Di Francesco, after listening to Merola.

If you are reading this on email, you can view the video here.

Amina Abdiuahab

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Our new online application system -- and where to mail documents

There is some good news for applicants to SAIS Bologna.

In the past, we used a paper-based system. It was trusty and allowed us to carry out our jobs: to admit excellent candidates. But it was also old-fashioned and cumbersome.

We have now moved to an online system that will make things considerably easier for applicants and for us. You can create an account that will allow you to start your application, save it and go back to it when you are ready. You can upload documents including your statement of purpose, CV and financial aid form. Your referees can submit recommendation letters online.

(To enter into the online application system, click here.)

There will still be some documents to be mailed by "snail mail" (the post). What documents? And where should you send them?

The postman will need to send us your transcripts, standardized test scores and letters of reference if the authors of the letters decide not to use the online system.

Where you send these documents will depend on two things: (1) where you want to study during your first year at SAIS and (2) your nationality.

Here is how it works:

  • SAIS Bologna manages applications from non-U.S. applicants who wish to be in Bologna for their first year of study. 
  • SAIS Washington manages applications from all U.S. citizens and permanent residents, as well as from candidates with other nationalities wishing to start their studies in DC.

If you are a non-U.S. citizen and you want to start your SAIS experience in Bologna, you will mail any paper documents to:

Admissions Office
Johns Hopkins SAIS Bologna
via Belmeloro, 11
40126 Bologna

If you are U.S. citizen or permanent resident, or if you wish to start your studies in DC, regardless of your nationality, you will mail your documents to:

Admissions Office
Johns Hopkins SAIS Washington
1740 Massachusetts Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20036

One thing: if you are a U.S. citizen who wants to start at SAIS Bologna, your application will be managed by the SAIS DC Admissions Office, but the Bologna Admissions team and our Director Kenneth Keller are involved in the process and key decisions.

If you have questions about where you should send your documents, send us an email, reach out to us on Skype (jhubc.admissions) or give us a ring (+39 051 029 17 811). 

Online information session: change of date

Please take note that our first online information session will take place on Wednesday, October 19. We had initially announced the day after that. So the date to mark on you calendars is:


The session will start at 5:30 pm Italy time. That is 1630 GMT, 11:30 am U.S. East Coast time and 11:30 pm Beijing time.

The session will be by computer and telephone hookup. If you are interested in participating, please send an email to, and we will send you the details for connecting. If you choose to dial in by phone, it will be a local or toll-free call.

We will be holding subsequent sessions in November and December that align better with time zones in the Americas and Asia. In the poll that we recently conducted, respondents expressed a preference for information sessions in the late afternoon or early evening.

This first session on October 19 will be our trial by fire. We've never conducted such sessions and are still getting acquainted with the software that will allow us to show you a short film and some other digital content, and to take any questions you might have, either via a chat function or by phone.

Nelson Graves

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Online information session: Wednesday, October 19

To prospective applicants:

Write down this date:


That is the day when we'll be holding an online information session to help anyone interested in SAIS Bologna to learn more about us. We hope that is you.

We travel to quite a few cities in Europe to spread our message. But every year we get applicants from all over the world -- from 72 countries last year -- and we simply cannot travel to all of them.

This online information session will be a way for anyone, anywhere who has a computer to connect to us.

The session on October 19 will start at 5:30 pm Italy time. That is 1630 GMT, 11:30 am New York time, 11:30 pm Beijing time. We plan similar sessions in November and December that will be better aligned to time zones in the Americas and Asia.

We plan to show a short video at the start of the session and then to speak briefly about what makes SAIS Bologna different. One of our current students, Ellen Duwe from Germany, will be on hand, as will Amina Abdiuahab from Admissions. We plan to set aside plenty of time for questions, which can be sent in via chat or on a phone line that will be provided. We expect the entire session to last about 45 minutes. 

If you are interested in participating in this session, please send an email to and we will send you the details.

We hope many of you will take advantage of this opportunity to connect with us. We'd very much like to meet you, to hear your questions and to answer them as best we can.

Nelson Graves

Thursday, October 6, 2011

What are SAIS Bologna students most proud of?

We asked this year's SAIS Bologna students to drop any pretense of modesty and tell us what they are most proud of. Here is what we learned:

I authored the first-ever concordance of the Persian text of the Masnavi of Rumi -- 3,000 pages long. I have also written a history book, "Memoirs of the Badshahi Mosque," which is under editorial review at the Oxford University Press.

Finished 4th at the 2008 Dutch Youth Chess Championship and was ranked among the top 100 adults that year.

I am the first person in my family to earn an undergraduate degree and to enroll in a masters program.

I composed the first municipal heraldry data base in Bosnia.

Conceptualized a series of short videos that emphasized the importance of the internal socio-political reforms in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Worked with local NGOs in Delhi, India to provide shelter, medical supplies and advice to homeless men and women fighting heroin addiction.

Launched a public health NGO in the Bahamas that has over 120 members and volunteers and which raised nearly $16,000 in donations and through fundraising.

As a team captain, led my badminton team to four consecutive badminton championships at Tsinghua University.

Was part of a small student team that designed and coded a dispatch system for my former college's Public Safety Office.

Started work at the World Bank 10 days after earning my undergraduate degree.

Saw Cat Stevens in concert.

Other than dealing with my Italian landlady with poise, I am proud of crossing cultural divides by being a Jew who lived in Jordan and worked with Palestinian students.

Have visited former or current conflict areas such as Belfast, Sarajevo, Israel, the Palestinian territories and Northern Cyprus.

I participated in a three-month internship with non-profit AVANTI in Quito, Ecuador, working on a public health research project. We surveyed 60 households in one of Ecuador’s poorest villages as a first step in discovering what the biggest public health challenges were.

In El Gamaleya, Egypt
I was among 15 American college students selected to participate in the Global Leaders in the 21st Century public diplomacy program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. As part of the program, we worked alongside 35 Arab students restoring primary schools in the historic El Gamaleya district of Cairo, Egypt.

Have spent time in 35 countries, mainly thanks to scholarships, Department of State Public Diplomacy Programs, humanitarian outreach.

I'm most proud of a moment when I stood in front the Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America in support of a resolution to ordain practicing homosexuals. I was 19 and the president of the church's youth organization. It was the first time I received hate mail.

I was diagnosed with narcolepsy a week before DC pre-term, which helps to explain the 100% success rate of falling asleep in certain classes in undergrad.

I worked as an Emergency Medical Technician for the past six years during high school and college, becoming an ambulance Crew Chief. While in Bologna as an undergraduate, I served as an emergency responder for the Pubblica Assistenza.

Last year, I served on the Board of Directors for the Mission Learning Center, a childhood literacy non-profit. I managed the MLC's social marketing and fundraising efforts, more than quadrupling the organization's donations from Facebook.

I have served as an undergraduate "ambassador" student to India, China, Ecuador and Russia, and won several language competitions in Russian and French.

I flew over the Himalayas, seeing Mt Everest, K2 and seven other of the highest peaks in the world.

I'm most proud of having the courage to leave a really good job to come back to school at SAIS.

Last year I created a Facebook group to gather friends willing to help the families of the victims of a series of racist murders in my country. In a few weeks time we ended up with 200 members and achieved prime-time news coverage. We are now supporting seven affected families by helping them get proper legal assistance and access to medical attention, and by raising money to help them pay overdue utility bills.

I climbed the Parinacota volcano in Bolivia -- 6300 meters high.

I tried out for the under-19 U.S. Women's National Rugby Team in my senior year of high school. The coach told me if I worked out with the team for the few months and then went to a college with a very strong women's team, I would be their starting fly-half. It was an exciting prospect, but eventually I had to choose between serious athletics or serious academics. I went to a college with a small, relatively uncompetitive team. In two years we went from being last in the matrix to first. I chose academics over athletics in a pivotal point in my life, and five years later, I have accomplished more both academically and athletically because of that choice. There's not a moment I wish I would be playing professional rugby instead of being at SAIS Bologna pursuing an MA.

I left Cambridge University with a starred first and a half Blue.

I've circumnavigated the globe by ship and been to 26 countries. I'm 25 and I'm trying to keep my country count above my age.

The documentary series I worked on is going to attract more than 60 million Chinese viewers on CCTV in prime time in November.

Conquered the highest accessible mountain in Southeast Asia -- Mt. Kinabalu on Borneo (4,095 meters).

The most difficult environment in which I have lived was my high school year abroad in Columbia, South Carolina. During the first three weeks I had serious problems understanding my math professor and not many students were interested in cultural exchange.

I spent 6 years writing and editing at magazines and for public radio. I was on the floor of the Republican National Convention blogging when Sarah Palin gave her "what's the difference between a hockey mom and pit bull" speech.

I am most proud of having taught English in rural Thailand. I learned more about myself and what I wanted to do with my life than I had in the previous 23 years.

A discussion about the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin prompted me to write a paper about it in high school that was awarded the highest award by a state parliament and which allowed me to be part of state delegation to the "Day of German Unity" and to meet the president of Germany.

As a cross-cultural awareness expert in a multinational consulting company, I conducted workshops for large groups in India and across Europe.

I was a mentor during undergrad and helped inner city youth on Saturday mornings with college applications and social justice issues. My mentee ended up receiving a scholarship and many prestigious internships at MassArt for graphic design.

As a senior in college, I led a retreat for freshmen. There was a student in my group who hated school, hadn't made friends, was consistently bored with classes and wanted to drop out or transfer the next year. We spent a lot of time together second semester discussing how he could find his place at school. He's now a senior, loves school and has done incredibly well. He'll graduate this spring cum laude and with a solid group of friends and peers. I'm so proud of his success and courage.

Worked for U.S. Army Intelligence, then for the U.S. Treasury, then in London as a tax lawyer for 31 years.

Held shuras with tribal elders in Afghanistan.

I launched a project to help street children in Thessaloniki Greece. We ended up rebuilding a community center for the Roma children of the Aghia Sophia community.

While an undergraduate I traveled to some 28 countries while involved in programs such as Semester at Sea, the Model U.N. and relief efforts. This summer, as a Pickering fellow, I worked at the U.S. State Department reporting daily to the Secretary of State.

Nelson Graves

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Standardized tests: No time to wait

Why do graduate schools require applicants to take standardized tests?
  1. To torture candidates
  2. To support the firms that design the tests
  3. To fatten applicants' files
  4. None of the above
My challenge today is to explain why SAIS Bologna requires some standardized tests and what purpose they can serve. No matter what answer you chose to the question above, please read on.

SAIS candidates come from a range of backgrounds. Applicants from 72 different countries -- and from many more university systems -- applied to SAIS Bologna last year.

Part of our job is to establish whether an applicant would benefit from the SAIS curriculum. First, there is the question of language: classes and coursework (apart from language classes) are in English. Can the candidate handle hundreds if not thousands of pages of reading in English a week, then participate actively in class and write exams and papers in English?

Second, there is the broad intellectual challenge. Can the candidate shoulder a program that includes quite a bit of quantitative work and requires juggling several demanding courses?

In short, standardized tests can provide a base line to help both SAIS and the candidate determine if it is the right destination. They are not a perfect tool, but they can add line, color and texture to a candidacy.

Now, some nitty gritty.


Applicants need to demonstrate that they can handle the academic challenge in English before they can be considered for admission.

If you are a native English speaker, you do not need to take an English language exam to apply and you can skip to the next section of this post on GREs and GMATs.

How do we define a native English speaker? As someone who satisfies at least two of these criteria:
  • English is the main language of communication between you and one of your caregivers.
  • English is an official language in the community where you grew up (before high school).
  • English is the language of instruction in the high school you attended.
Also, candidates who have completed a full undergraduate degree program in English, in an English-speaking country, do not have to take an English language exam to apply to SAIS Bologna.

All others are required to take one of three tests: the TOEFL, the IELTS or the Cambridge Proficiency Exam. There are minimum thresholds on each exam. If you score below that threshold, the chances are very high that you would struggle at SAIS.

For chapter and verse on the English requirements -- for both entering SAIS Bologna and for graduating -- click here.

NB: A student who is a non-native English speaker but who completed an undergraduate program in an English-speaking country still needs to meet the English language proficiency requirements to graduate from SAIS.


Non-U.S. citizens who apply to SAIS Bologna do not have to take either the GRE or the GMAT. (All U.S. citizens applying to SAIS -- whether to DC or Bologna -- have to take one of those tests. Why? Come by my office and I'll try to explain.)

However, we recommend that candidates take either the GRE or the GMAT. They may be imperfect measures of intellectual capacity or potential. But they do flesh out an application in important ways.

All other things being equal, a strong performance on either the GRE or the GMAT can help a candidate by indicating the person can handle the academic workload at SAIS. These exams do test one's ability to follow directions, to work quickly and efficiently, to avoid mental traps. They do not paint the whole picture, but they can round out an application.

On the other hand, a particularly low score can be a warning sign to the candidate that this might not be the time for an application. There can be a variety of reasons for a low score, including poor testing conditions and unfamiliarity with the types of tests. But if candidates post a low score and are true to themselves, they will ask an obvious question: Am I up to the challenge?

Another obvious question: What are the average GRE and GMAT scores? The following numbers are subject to change because they have not been updated since April, but here are the average scores of candidates who applied through SAIS DC Admissions for 2011-12 and who accepted admission:

  • GRE Quant - 717
  • GRE Verbal - 650
  • GMAT Quant - 46
  • GMAT Verbal - 40

A final recommendation: You should plan well in advance when taking any of these standardized tests. There is a good chance you will want to take them more than once. Given the application deadlines for both U.S. and non-U.S. candidates, it is best to finish taking them before the end of the calendar year.

Tomorrow: The "je ne sais quoi" of this year's SAIS Bologna class

Nelson Graves

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Careers and a SAIS education go hand in hand

SAIS is a professional graduate school. We prepare students so they can enter the job force upon graduating. Most of our students are enrolled in a two-year Master of Arts in International Relations and take up jobs upon finishing.

What kinds of careers do our graduates choose? A wide variety. They go into business, government, diplomacy, NGOs, multilateral institutions, development, education -- even journalism, as I did after finishing SAIS in 1983.

We published a post last February that examined the career choices of the class of 2010. While the favorite career choices evolve over time, one thing tends to remain constant: SAIS graduates can tackle a range of challenges over their lifetimes.

(If you can believe it, one of the most popular career choices in my day was commercial banking. How boring that would appear to many graduates nowadays.)

For other posts on careers and jobs, you can explore using the search function on this blog's home page or you can click on "careers" or "jobs" under the list of labels to the right.

The Career Services offices in Bologna and Washington provide students with long-term career management skills. During pre-term in Bologna, students participated in a professional development course that laid the groundwork for their career planning over the next two years.

In the video below, we captured some of the students in the course discussing in small groups different job sectors that they had researched in advance. At the end of the video, Felix Lung, a first-year MA candidate from Germany, offers his views on career support at SAIS -- and on the role the diverse student body has on educating students.

Warning: The opening shots of the video move along very quickly before Felix's interview starts. Just to give you a taste of the teamwork in career planning here -- a point that Felix makes.

If you are reading this on email, you can see the video here.

Nelson Graves