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School of International Service

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Frequently Asked Questions

Still have questions? If your question is not addressed here, please contact sis_practica@american.edu.

About Practica

A Practicum course is a one-semester, 3-credit capstone experience for SIS master’s students. Professors oversee student teams that complete consulting-style projects for external client organizations. The client presents its problem, and the student team works together to produce deliverables that meet the client's needs, with the professor acting as a coach and facilitator. The Practicum is a real-world, team-oriented alternative to the Substantial Research Project or thesis capstone options. (For more information on SRPs and thesis options, check your program's website).

Each Practicum course will have its own unique subject matter and deliverables tailored to client needs, but there are a few cross-cutting learning objectives:

  • Critical Thinking and Analysis: Researching and conceptualizing problems, defining the scope of a project and breaking it down into workable components
  • Teamwork: Working effectively as a team member by identifying key tasks, sharing responsibility for the project, and ensuring all deadlines are met
  • Client Relations: Establishing a positive working relationship with a client by understanding the client's needs and deadlines, leading productive meetings, following up with client requests, and managing expectations
  • Oral Presentation: Delivering an organized, articulate presentation to the client with effective remarks and graphical aids
  • Written Presentation: Preparing a professional, cleanly written document that identifies the client's problem and offers thoughtful analysis and recommendations

Practicum courses are designed to simulate a real-world practical experience and prepare students to begin or continue their professional careers in international affairs. They are an excellent choice for students seeking to expand their networks and build generalist skills in project management, client relations, teamwork, and consulting. If you are planning to enter a career in government, NGOs, startups, corporations, or consulting firms, a Practicum course may be a good choice for you.

However, there are two other ways to satisfy the capstone requirement at SIS in addition to Practica: a thesis and a substantial research project (SRP). You should consider the following questions in deciding whether or not to pursue a Practicum over the thesis or SRP:

  • Do you plan to apply for PhD programs? Having a thesis is likely a more useful body of work to demonstrate the academic background most PhD programs are seeking.
  • Do you prefer to work individually or in teams? Building skills through teamwork is a learning objective of the Practicum.
  • Is there a very specific topic you wish to research? The Practicum projects serve real-world clients. While the general theme and clients are likely not to change, a project’s focus may shift slightly after you apply for a Practicum in order to ensure the final results of the project will be helpful to the client.

To be eligible to participate in a Practicum course, students must:

  • Be in good academic standing (including a 3.0 cumulative GPA);
  • Have completed the minimum credits of graduate coursework, listed below, prior to the semester in which they will participate in Practica
    • MA Students: 18 credits
      • Dual degree students (e.g. MA/MBA and JD/MA) must have completed at least 9 of the 18 credits in SIS to be eligible to participate in a Practicum
    • MIS Executive Students: 15 credits
    • MIS International Studies Student: 9 credits

Students are eligible to apply for any Practicum, regardless of their particular graduate program. Students in the online MAIR/MIS programs have Practica options designed specifically for the online format of their program; however, they are also eligible for on-campus Practica if they are able to attend on-campus meetings. Learn more about capstone options for MAIR/MIS students.

No. Spots in Practicum courses are awarded based on a competitive application process. Professors will carefully review each student's background and skills to compose the most qualified team to address the client's needs.

Fall and spring courses are capped at 15 or fewer students, and summer courses are capped at 10 students. Popular courses may receive four times as many applications as can be accepted. Students are encouraged to apply to several courses in case they are not accepted to their top choice and will be asked to rank their applications by preference.

Yes. However, Practica are intended to be capstone experiences. Accordingly, students who are planning to use a Practicum for their capstone requirement are given priority consideration in the application process. Once all qualified capstone students have been placed, professors who still have room on their teams may consider applications from students who are planning to use the Practicum as an elective or other degree requirement.

Yes. Students who have taken a Practicum in a previous semester to fulfill their capstone requirement may apply a second time as a non-capstone student. However, students may not take more than one Practicum course in the same semester.

In short, as soon as possible. We understand students try to plan their academic schedules in advance of applying to Practica. Most Practica are scheduled in the 5:30 – 8:00 p.m. slot, although there are exceptions. Because the Registrar's Schedule of Classes continues to change right up until registration day, we do not always have class days/times available before the Practica application deadline.

All course times will be available before you are asked to commit to registering for a Practicum. They will be listed on the Schedule of Classes, Practica website, in your acceptance email, and on the form to confirm your participation.

Once you have submitted your online confirmation, you do not have to take any more actions to be registered. Your registration will be processed by the Office of Experiential Learning, which administers Practica. Your Practicum should appear on your course schedule within two weeks of the Priority Registration date.

Your registration may be delayed if there is an administrative or financial hold on your account, if you have registered for too many credits, or if you have registered for another class during the same time as your Practicum. Please make sure to clear any holds, keep the time of your Practicum course open, and have room under your credit cap to accommodate 3 credits.

No. We try to be strategic about Practicum scheduling to prevent conflicts with core requirement courses, but sometimes they do occur. Class meetings are required for Practica students. You cannot register for a Practicum if you have a conflicting class. We strongly recommend completing core requirements during other semesters, when possible.

Because your classmates and clients are relying on each member of the Practicum team, students are not allowed to drop their Practicum course once they have confirmed their participation. Do not confirm your Practicum placement unless you are confident that you will be able to participate. Exceptions may be made in the case of unforeseen and unavoidable circumstances. Please contact Stephanie Fischer if you need to drop your Practicum.

We always welcome new ideas for Practicum courses from students, faculty, or client organizations. Contact Stephanie Fischer, director of Experiential Learning, at fischer@american.edu to give your pitch. Students in particular should be aware that it can take up to six months to bring ideas, clients, professors, and administrators together to create a viable course, so share your ideas early.

What to expect in Practica

While Practica meet as regularly as standard 3-credit courses, Practicum students should expect more required in-person time commitments than normal classes. These include:

  • Weekly class meetings. Practicum courses have weekly on-campus meetings, just like all other SIS classes. While class time may be used for non-traditional purposes, such as project planning and small group check-ins, professors expect all students to be present for every class.
  • First week orientation. All Practicum students are required to attend a 2-hour orientation in the first week of their Practicum semester. You will be notified of the date and time of this orientation after having been accepted to your Practicum course.
  • Monthly client meetings. The number and type of these meetings will vary from client to client. Some may be in person, some over the phone or Skype. Some may require all team members to attend, some may require only a few representatives. Some may be in the evenings, some may be during work hours. Experiences will vary, but students can reasonably expect to participate in one or two client meetings per month, during work hours. If your job or other commitments make at least a couple daytime meetings impossible during the semester, a Practicum may not be for you.
  • Presentation Bootcamp. All project teams are required to attend a Presentation Bootcamp. Teams from different Practicum courses will pair up to practice their oral presentations and give and receive feedback. Sign-ups will take place early in the semester and Bootcamps will take place about one month before the end of the semester. Many evening and weekend slots will be available.
  • On-campus presentation to the SIS community. Your team will give an on-campus presentation for students, faculty, staff, and other guests. The most likely date for this presentation will be the reading day between the end of classes and the start of finals. The final date will be confirmed and communicated during the semester.
  • Client presentation. All teams will give a live presentation of their deliverables to their clients at the end of the semester. You will work with your professor and your client to schedule the time, location, and format of this meeting. Your specific Practicum may also include additional time commitments for team meetings, travel, interviews, and other research and events, as well as the time spent actually working on the deliverables.

You can reach out to the Practicum professor or former Practicum students to get a better sense of the overall time commitment. We understand that many SIS students work full time and may have families or other commitments that limit their availability and flexibility. We do our best to communicate these requirements upfront so that students can plan accordingly. We will also offer multiple meeting times or online sessions when possible, but we do expect all students to respect their teammates and clients by participating in all required meetings. If you do not think you will be able to meet the required time commitment, we ask that you reconsider applying/registering for a Practicum course.

Practica works with clients in all sectors and scales. Public sector clients have included the US State Department, US Department of Justice, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and the government of Hungary. Students have also worked with multinational clients, such as the World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, and UN Special Rapporteurs. NGO clients have included Save the Children, World Resources Institute, numerous research institutes, and many others.

No. Currently, only summer and a few selected spring Practicum courses will travel internationally for field research. Summer Practica are coordinated with SIS Abroad and all participating students will travel. In the spring, some courses will require travel for one team of students or one or two representatives. Most travel will take place during spring break. Practica that require travel will be identified during the application process.

Most in-country expenses are covered, but students will be responsible for some meals and incidentals. Students are responsible for buying their own airfare, paying tuition costs, and paying a $1,700 program fee, half of which will be refunded to students in the form of a scholarship to their student accounts.

Your client relationship can be one of the most valuable outcomes of your Practicum experience. Many clients are happy to nurture students' careers through mentorship, networking contacts, references and—in rare instances—employment. However, the Practicum is not an internship or employment program. In the past, some clients have been turned off by students hounding them for jobs or aggressive networking. We expect all students to respect their clients and represent SIS professionally.

Applying to Practica

To apply, students will submit an application form online with a tailored cover letter and resume for each of their preferred Practicum courses. Students will have the opportunity to attach a cover letter and resume (in PDF) directly in the form for each Practicum to which they apply. Students are recommended to submit a unique cover letter and resume for each Practicum to which they apply. Documents should be labeled with students’ last names, first initial, and application: "SMITH_J_Cover Letter." Complete details on the application process will be sent out via email to all graduate students.

Yes. In fact, we encourage it. However, students are permitted to take only one Practicum per semester and will be offered placement in only one course. Some Practica are very popular and may receive as many as 50 applications for 15 places. In these cases, even highly qualified students can be turned away. We strongly suggest applying to one or more backup in case this happens with your top choice. There is no limit on how many applications a student can submit.

On your online application form, you will be asked to rank the Practica to which you are applying in order of preference. If your first choice fills up, you will be considered for your second choice, then your third, and so on. In the event that a student is accepted to more than one Practicum, they will be offered placement in their higher-ranked choice.

Applications for the spring 2018 term is now closed. Stay posted for the summer and fall 2018 application cycle. Information will be sent out via email through SIS Graduate Advising announcements.

Late applications will not be accepted. In some cases, Practicum courses with few acceptances may be opened for a second round of applications after course registration begins. Graduate students will be notified via email if a second round of Practica applications open.

Professors and/or program directors review the applications to their Practicum courses and decide which students to accept. Clients are not involved in reviewing applications or accepting students.

A Practicum is intended to simulate a real-world professional experience, beginning with the application process. There are several steps you can take to strengthen your application:

  • Address your cover letter to the Practicum professor.They are the ones who will be reading your application.
  • Focus your materials on your relevant skills and experience and how you will work with the Practicum team to solve the client's problem. Be specific about how your knowledge and skills can contribute to the client's issues and project. Describe how you will fit in with the rest of the team.
  • Schedule an appointment with an SIS career advisor to discuss Practica options as they relate to your academic and career goals. Career advisors also are available to review your cover letter and resume. Visit the online Career Resource Library to download resume and cover letter templates, or stop by resume review drop-in hours, hosted by the SIS Office of Career Development, in the weeks leading up to the application deadline.
  • Come to an information session to meet the Practicum professor. Before applications are due, every Practicum professor will hold an on-campus information session to meet interested students, explain the project and their vision for the Practicum, and answer questions. Professors are not able to interview all candidates before making their decisions, so the info sessions are a great opportunity to put a face to your application and gain some insight on how to tailor your materials.
  • Meet the Practicum professor at their office hours or over email. If you can't come to an information session, you are encouraged to reach out to the professor to introduce yourself and ask questions about the Practicum.