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Sciences Po and the Paris School of International Affairs: Is it worth it for Foreign Students?

A graduate school in Political Science and International Relations spotlight: the world-renowned Sciences Po, Paris. In this month-long series, alumni share their insights about the school’s different programs, its culture and why it might or might not be a food fit for those going into an international politics career.

Sciences Po is regarded as one of the most prestigious institutions of higher learning, a reputation bolstered among the international community as well. French students endure years of preparation for the entrance exam and once accepted their future seems set. Students follow in the footsteps of French politicians and decision-makers such as Emmanuel Macron, the current President, and the prestige that comes with a Sciences Po degree in France is enviable. Sometimes referred to as the French Ivy League, one of the key traits of Sciences Po is that it does not prepare the students to become academics (although the Doctoral School is also very good), but rather professionals and practitioners that will make up the highest positions in the French administration.

Previously, Sciences Po was almost restricted to French students and it had little international presence. However, since the creation of the Paris School of International Affairs (PSIA) students from all over the world have flocked to Sciences Po. Yet, many potential candidates abroad still ask themselves: is it worth it?

What can you study at the Paris School of International Affairs?

PSIA offers seven Master programs: Master of International Security, International Public Management, International Economic Policy, International Development Human Rights and Humanitarian Action, Environmental Policy, International Energy.

However, students must also follow a regional and a thematic concentration. That means picking a specialization in a thematic area (e.g. human rights) and region (e.g. Middle East). It also means many more and varied classes to choose from and students from different Masters regularly see and work with each other, fostering an interdisciplinary environment. Language skills are held in high regard in the International Relations industry and as such, Sciences Po espouses this virtue; a foreign language class is mandatory.

The Master program lasts 2 years, but only three semesters are actually spent in classrooms. The third semester is devoted to either a professional or research experience (e.g. a thesis or an internship) or to study abroad in a partner university.

The final examination at Sciences Po is also quite original: the dreaded Grand Oral has been traumatizing students for decades, but it is actually a useful and practical exercise during which you must present your informed views on a given subject to a jury. The presentation lasts 10 minutes (no paper or PowerPoint allowed) and the jury asks you questions for the following 20 minutes. It is the quintessential exercise of French education: you must synthesize!

How hard it is to get into Paris School of International Affairs?

For a French aspirant, it is an extremely difficult process. They must pass an interview and have an impeccable academic record going back many years, and CV, as well as glowing recommendation letters.

For international students, it is slightly less stressful. Still, international students need to have excellent grades to even qualify as a candidate and previous professional experience is appreciated. The author’s experience has shown great promise for individuals that effectively demonstrate themselves to be serious and ambitious about one’s future careers and delivering a convincing story about how a Sciences Po education will further that end.

There are many spots available for regular Masters students at PSIA, particularly for foreign students that make up 70% of the student body. Although the competition is fierce, you might find it less competitive than other schools (unless you are French).

If you are applying for a dual degree, though, it is a different story. Dual degrees are very coveted because they give you just that: two degrees, one from Sciences Po and another from a prestigious university abroad. You will spend one year in Paris and another in Moscow, Georgetown, Stockholm, Berlin…whatever you choose. The spots for dual degrees are limited and highly competitive, but the reward is really valuable.

After graduation, what can you expect?

It really depends. You will most certainly not be bitterly unemployed, but the kind of opportunities at your disposal really depend on your work during the Master program, your specialization, networking and previous professional experiences.

Some people have fantastic internships and are offered paid jobs after graduation at international organizations. Others work for government bodies, create their own enterprises, work as consultants or pursue doctoral studies.

If you are looking for opportunities in French-speaking countries, a Sciences Po degree speaks for itself and many international organizations are aware of its quality standards and sharp graduates. It is a good job market for Sciences Po graduates, because 83.7% of Sciences Po students found their first job within six months of graduating.

So, is Sciences Po Paris PSIA worth it?

Yes, absolutely. It is also more affordable, particularly for European students that can apply for financial aid. For American students, a Sciences Po degree is still much less expensive than a degree in an American university (living costs included!) and there are scholarships to support applicants from developing countries.

Sciences Po has classes in English and French, while learning additional languages and working with a very diverse and international student body. The professors are from all over the world and they are a mix of academic and practitioners, providing you with a theoretical and a practical view. The possibilities are endless and although many a hard-working student work to exhaustion, they are still able to network and have a clearly mapped landscape of the opportunities in the international relations field as well as who to approach for advice and mentoring.

Plus, you will be living in Paris. What could be better than that?

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