The 21-month MPA in Development Practice (MPA-DP) trains students to become specialists in the design and management of integrated, results-based approaches to sustainable development challenges. You will learn to address these sustainable development issues from problem identification in the field through program design, management and monitoring, and the formation of policy. The curriculum emphasizes robust, practical skills and competencies that transcend institutional, sectoral, and regional boundaries, preparing you to implement these skills with leading organizations across public and private sectors.

Who It's For

Nearly half of the world’s population lives on less than two dollars a day, resulting in unnecessary human suffering caused by debilitating hunger, poor health, environmental degradation, and lack of basic infrastructure. These complex challenges can be solved only by practitioners who are capable of designing and implementing integrative solutions, connecting and integrating knowledge and insights from a range of disciplines, including science, technology, health, economics, agriculture, and education.

Career Paths

You’ll be prepared for a range of career paths in sustainable development practice, working at international and national NGOs, private sector entities, consulting firms, social enterprises with business operations in developing and emerging economies, UN development agencies, and more.


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 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 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.

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 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

  • 33.5 credits in the core curriculum
  • 0.5 credit professional development course
  • 12 weeks summer field placement
  • 20.5 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.

Application Checklist

  • Standard resume/CV
  • Quantitative/language resume/CV
  • Personal statement/essay questions
  • Video essay
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Academic transcripts
  • Test scores
  • Optional fellowship essays
  • Application fee

Students Profile

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