The 21-month MPA in Development Practice is a practice-oriented, professional advancement degree where you will acquire the knowledge, and build the skills, experience, and networks, to make the world a better place. Our objective is to empower and support you through a combination of core and elective courses, skills development, and real-world practice. We support diverse, work-experience opportunities during the program, including a 3-month professional placement, a client-oriented, team capstone project, and internships. Upon graduation, you will be ready to apply these competencies with leading organizations in the public, non-profit, and private sectors or create your own enterprise, as many of our students have done.

Who It's For

Are you motivated to act in the face of persistent social inequality, unsustainable environmental practices, conflict and poor governance, and widespread poverty? Are you committed to sustainability and resiliency as essential — not just desirable — attributes of a better society? Are you frustrated by the difficulty of putting good ideas into practice and of taking effective practices to scale? Are you seeking a practice-orientated, interdisciplinary, education experience that will enable you to reach your full potential as an agent of change? If you answered yes to two or more of these questions, the MPA-DP is very likely the right program for you.

Career Paths

“Business as usual” graduate programs in development prepare you for traditional careers in traditional development institutions. But the “development ecosystem” is rightly becoming more complex and increasingly inclusive of all countries and societies. While our graduates are regularly finding their way into the United Nations, the multilateral development banks, aid agencies, NGOs, and development consultancy firms, the door is opening in non-traditional areas. Big name management firms like McKinsey and Deloitte have lately been recruiting our graduates. State and local authorities in the United States have hired MPA-DPs to tackle urban development challenges. Other graduates have joined tech start-ups and impact investing firms, or have created their own social enterprises. Several of our alumni are currently enrolled in PhD programs. Career paths for development practitioners will continue to evolve and diversify. And we will support you towards the path that best meets your professional and personal goals.


Your academics will cover a wide range of disciplines and sectors, including core courses sustainable development, economics, statistics, global food systems, and more. In addition, you will also choose to focus your degree in a particular area, such as Agriculture, Food Security, and Nutrition; Disaster, Emergencies, and Crisis Management; or Gender, Human Rights, and Social Inclusion, to name a few.

Your coursework will also be supplemented by a three-month required summer field placement with established partner organizations around the world, providing you with practical work experience in sustainable development practice and a holistic learning experience.

Admission Requirements

In addition to SIPA’s general admission requirements, the MPA-DP program requires the following:

  • A minimum of 2 years work experience (preferably)
  • A passion for Domestic and/or International Development

Learn more about what SIPA looks for

Learn how to apply to SIPA

What are the special characteristics of successful MPA-DP candidates?

For each cohort, we seek diverse international representation and a range of disciplinary backgrounds to enrich the learning environment. The first two MPA-DP classes include students from 24 countries, coming from a range of academic backgrounds, including economics, business, engineering, computer science, agriculture, public health, biology, religion, history, communications, political science, law and international relations. This cultural and professional diversity within each cohort is a powerful asset for learning and contributing to a vibrant program

We look for candidates with some professional international experience, with most of our successful candidates having between two and 10 years. We believe that prior field experience improves the quality of the education experience. We especially seek out candidates with a demonstrated passion for sustainable development practice.

Do I need to have a certain undergraduate major?

No, but students with majors that are far removed from the international relations or public administration fields are advised to address with extra care in their essay why they now wish to “change gears” and study at SIPA.

Do you accept applicants directly from undergraduate schools?

A very small number of the accepted students each year come directly from undergraduate institutions. These are individuals with extraordinary academic records who have also had significant internship and/or study abroad experience. Recent undergraduates with very strong academic credentials might be encouraged to reapply after they have pursued one or more years of relevant work experience.

Can I visit the campus and meet with an MPA-DP program representative?

The MPA-DP program administration is available to meet with you by appointment. Please email the Program Manager André Corrêa d’Almeida at sipa_mpadp@columbia.edu. With advance notice, we can also arrange for you to sit in on a current MPA-DP core course.

Is the review process for applicants to the MPA-DP program the same as for other SIPA programs?

The MPA-DP program has a separate admissions committee that reviews applications and selects students for admission.

Can I defer my offer of admission?

No, the MPA-DP program does not allow deferments. An applicant can reapply by following the reapplication procedure provided here. We will retain materials for 2 years after the original application deadline.

Can I transfer into the MPA-DP program from other SIPA programs?

SIPA's MIA and MPA students can request to transfer to the MPA-DP program before registration opens for the second semester of their degree. Students need to express their wish to one of the Deans at the Office of Students Affairs. The Dean will then contact the MPA-DP leadership, and a decision will be made based on the student's application material submitted to SIPA, plus the number of available spaces in the MPA-DP cohort.

Why does the MPA-DP program have an additional $1000 fee?

This additional fee contributes to the cost of the 12-week summer professional field placement, one-week “Getting Started” program, and three-day MPA-DP retreat.

What is covered in the MPA-DP “Getting Started” program?

The “Getting Started” program introduces students to the study of integrated development practice at Columbia University and to the work of the Earth Institute. Students will also attend a short series of refresher courses covering research, writing, and communication and may take local field trips. This week of activities helps to build strong relationships between students in the MPA-DP cohort and allows students to learn about the unique backgrounds and experiences of their peers.  All MPA-DP students are also required to attend the weeklong Math Camp offered during the general SIPA orientation the week directly after Getting Started.

Can I waive required MPA-DP courses?

In exceptional cases, the Program Director may grant students a waiver from completing core requirements.  If a student can clearly demonstrate that he or she has expertise in the subject and that there is no advantage to taking the course, he or she may request a waiver from the Program Director. The decision to approve course waivers will be made jointly by the MPA-DP Program Director and the professor of the required course. Students are also required to identify an alternative course to fulfill the requirement.

Can I take electives at other schools within the Columbia University system?

Yes. You may take any Columbia University course that allows SIPA students to enroll, and are encouraged to do so when possible. Students should be aware that some undergraduate courses, such as Elementary level language courses, will not count toward the 54 credits required for graduation from SIPA.

Can I receive credit for an independent research project?

Yes, many MPA-DP students develop independent research projects in a field of their interest. Students who wish to pursue a course of independent study must identify a faculty advisor and obtain approval from the Associate Dean of Student Affairs. The number of credits awarded depends on the terms agreed to by the faculty advisor and the Associate Dean.

What are the MPA-DP summer field placement requirements?

MPA-DP students are required to complete a 12-week summer field placement between their first and second years in the program. During the summer placement, students must submit six short reflections. At the end of the placement, students are required to submit a final report to the Program Director. Site selections are facilitated by the MPA-DP program staff. While students can complete internships during the academic year in New York, they are not required to complete a separate internship other than the field placement.

How long is the summer field placement?

Students are required to work at their field placement project for at least 12 weeks.

Is the summer field placement program funded?

The MPA-DP program administration aims to provide all students with some funding support for the Summer Field Placement program. The level of funding support for each student depends on the project, region and partner. In some cases, our partners cover most if not all of the expenses in recognition of the student’s contribution. In cases where the partner is unable to meet the full cost of the placement, and subject to available budget funds, the program will support 50% of the expenses for students’ airfare, accommodation and basic living expenses up to a maximum of $2,500 per student. The approved allocation will be made after a review of the detailed budget for the placement and an assessment of the partner contribution commitment. Any variations from this arrangement will be rare and at the discretion of the program director.

Do MPA-DP students get involved with student organizations?

Yes! In fact, MPA-DPs hold leadership positions on the executive boards of 12 student organizations within SIPA. Nearly half of the MPA-DP class of 2017 hold leadership roles in organizations ranging from the Humanitarian Affairs Working Group, the Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Group, the Monitoring and Evaluation Student Society, to the SIPA Pan-Africa Network, and the SIPA Education Collaborative. As true interdisciplinary practitioners, many MPA-DP students serve on the boards of multiple organizations.

Program Requirements

Students must complete a minimum of 54 points and a maximum of 72 points to be considered for graduation.

  • 30.5 credits in the core curriculum
  • 0.5 credit professional development course
  • 12 weeks summer field placement
  • 23 credits of electives. A series of elective focus area (not required) have been prepared to guide students in their course selection.

If you are wondering about whether you might be able to bypass some of these requirements, contact the Program Director Glenn Denning.

Dual-Degree Programs

Dual-degree students must complete all MPA-DP degree requirements, including core curriculum and general credit requirements.

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