Financial Planning – Now, Not Later

I know what you are thinking . . . the January 5th admission deadline has passed, now I can kick my feet up and wait for my admission decision in March.  While this might be one possible option, it is not the option I recommend.

It is no secret, attending graduate school can be expensive.  The time to look into financing your education is not after you get an offer of admission, it is now.  It is a terrible feeling to get an offer of admission and only then realize you might not be able to attend due to financing.

My advice is that if you have not started already, that you set aside time each week to research issues related to the cost of graduate school and the payment options available.

There are many kinds of aid available including:

  • Institutional funding provided by SIPA
  • External Scholarships (i.e. Fulbright, Pickering)
  • Federal Loans (for U.S. citizens and permanent residents)
  • Private Loans
  • Work Study
  • Grants
  • Sponsorship funds from agencies/organizations

Most SIPA students utilize a combination of resources to make attending possible.  Each year students bring in several million dollars of funding that does not need to be repaid by researching and applying for funding.  My feeling has always been that applicants should spend twice the amount of time researching financial aid as is spent on the process of applying for admission.  I covered this topic in a past post entitled The Rule of Two.

I highly encourage you to review the entry but the analogy used is one that you might have heard before from a teacher.  It is not uncommon to hear a teacher say that for every hour spent in the classroom, at a minimum a successful student will spend two hours outside of the classroom.

My feeling about admission and financial aid is the same. At a minimum, one should spend twice as much time researching financial aid options as researching admission to a program.  While SIPA does allocate around $6 million each year on fellowships for students, a limited number of first year students receive funding (around 10-15%).

With this in mind, it will benefit you to research costs and other sources of funding so that if admitted you have a plan.  Not having a plan and not having done research is a strategy that most often leads to frustration.  Here are some tips to get you started:

• Check out SIPA’s own fellowship database. We search for scholarships for you and post them to the database.  The database is not SIPA specific.  As we search for and hear about funding, we make the information available to you.

• Use RSS technology to deliver news to your email account or RSS Reader.  RSS allows for news to be delivered to you without having to go look for it every day.  As an example, Gmail accounts have something called the “Alert” tool and I am sure other providers have the same capability.  All you have to do is put in text for searches and a search engine will perform the searches daily and deliver news to your email account.  You can type in search terms like “Graduate School Scholarships” or “International Affairs Scholarships.”  You can also utilize an RSS reader.  RSS readers are free and if you do not know what an RSS reader is, click here for a YouTube tutorial.

• Talk to people you know who have gone to graduate school and find out if they were able to find scholarship opportunities.

• Contact people that have written you a letter of recommendation and have them make multiple copies of the recommendation letter and give them to you in sealed envelops so you are ready if a scholarship opportunity arises and there is a tight deadline.

• Start to familiarize yourself with the cost of living in New York City.  SIPA is only able to provide housing for approximately 30% of our students and most students must find housing the city.  A great resource to get started is Craigslist.  I recommend signing up for an email feed for NYC apartments.  Following rental trends will help familiarize you with costs around the city.

• Familiarize yourself with the payment and billing options available to SIPA students.  You can get started by visiting the Columbia University Student Financial Services home page.

I will not say the process of searching for funding and familiarizing yourself with costs is easy and it can take a considerable amount of effort.  However, the sooner you start to look the more doors you will possibly open – figuratively and literally.