Author Archive for Columbia SIPA

Completing your FAFSA and Budgeting

Thanks to Cecilia Granda, Associate Director of Financial Aid, for this guest post. 

The idea of budgeting makes everyone cringe. Picture days of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches followed by nights of staying at home staring at a spreadsheet wondering where all your money has gone. But take it from a lifelong New Yorker who has lived in the Upper West Side, Gramercy, Inwood, and the Bronx — by creating budgeting plans, I have been able to continue to call New York my home, raise a family, create an emergency fund, and enjoy the occasional Sunday brunch.

The FAFSA and federal student aid

If you are a U.S. citizen or permanent resident applying to SIPA and would like to be considered for a scholarship, you must submit your FAFSA with your SIPA application. The FAFSA for 2020-21 is available as of October 1st, so you can complete it before you submit the SIPA application. The SIPA school code is 002707. Be sure to input your 2018 income information; do not include your parent’s information.

Once this is done, you will have at least put yourself in the running for any potential SIPA scholarship funding.  But don’t stop there.  Start researching external funding sources to determine if you are eligible.  Keep track of application deadlines and requirements so that you don’t miss opportunities.

Photo: FAFSA Facebook page

Budgeting

For me, budgeting is all about planning ahead, self-awareness, and adjusting habits in order to save small amounts of money that can add up fast to help me reach my goal. When budgeting, I like to prioritize needs versus wants. Everyone’s priorities are going to be different. For graduate students the top three needs are clear: food, shelter, and education.

The first step is an inventory check. How much money do you have? How much do you spend in one week or one month? Keep all your receipts and calculate how much you spent. Categorize your expenses between essential and discretionary; then priorities your expenses. If you are considering a graduate program, you can start early in transitioning your lifestyle from “working” to “grad student.”

Next, set your goals. Once you’ve determined how much you have and how much you are currently spending, decide how much you need to save. Become familiar with the tuition and fees associated with each program you’re considering. Consider how you will manage these costs and how much you need to save now in order to achieve your educational goals. You can start small by calculating how much you need to save on a weekly basis. It might be $50 a week, which becomes $200 a month, and turns into $2,400 a year. Once you find the right number, see if you can find ways to increase your weekly savings. One easy way to save, and a habit that you can bring to the big city, is shopping generic brands. Non-perishables like tissues, toilet paper, medicine, paper towels, toothpaste, toothbrushes, cleaning products, detergents, shampoo, and soap are all great options. This small change in purchasing can save you hundreds of dollars.

Now you want to be sure your able to track and not touch your savings. Be honest with yourself. This is where self-awareness comes in handy. Can you set aside $50 each week? Do you need a budgeting app like Mint or Digit that will help you manage your money, track your spending, and force you to save? You might decide to give yourself an allowance for the week, only spend the amount in your wallet, and not use a credit card. Find a method that you can stick to and hold yourself accountable.

Remember, you don’t have to do this alone. You most likely have friends who have similar financial goals. Make a pact! Agree to only go out to dinner once a week. This will help you transition to graduate school life. Many Seeples are very responsible about their finances. Some share a Costco membership so they can buy food in bulk and split the quantities (there’s a Costco in East Harlem). Others put together meal prep plans, share recipes, and organize pot lucks. One great thing about Seeples is they come from all over the world and have wonderful cuisine to share!

I hope this information is helpful and don’t fret if you aren’t able to do it all. Even the smallest change in habit or savings will help you prepare for your next step.

*Disclaimer: The applications identified in this article are based on personal recommendations, and SIPA is not receiving any form of compensation for mentioning them in this blog post.

Ten Tips on Managing Stress During the Application Process

Thanks to Melanie Pagan, Assistant Dean for Student Affairs and Wellness at the Office of Student Affairs (OSA) at SIPA, for this post in response to Patricia H. Dean Pagan earned her MSEd in Higher Education Administration at Baruch College’s School of Public and International Affairs and has more than 10 years of experience in higher education supporting undergraduate and graduate students at various institutions including Yale University, Connecticut College and Columbia University. Her pronouns are she/her/hers.

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Applying to graduate school can be as stressful as much as it is exciting. It’s normal for one to experience anxiety at some point of the process but there are ways to manage that stress while (and after) you apply. Here are my ten tips on how to stay relaxed, productive, and positive during the application process.

Tip #1: Start Early!

Graduate school applications can be quite involved. At SIPA, application requirements include a personal statement, letters of recommendation, official transcripts, the GRE/GMAT or TOEFL, and a video essay. Each of these requirements can take some time to complete so starting early can not only help you feel less stressed, but it will allow for any potential bumps in the road that could derail the process.

Tip #2: Get organized.

In addition to starting early, getting organized is key to managing anxiety while applying. Regardless of how many programs you are applying to, there is a lot of information to keep track of. Whether you use pen and paper or digital organization system, my suggestion is to create a grid with each school, their requirements and deadlines. When I applied to master’s programs, I used a notebook where I created a grid with each school’s application components and checked off things as I completed them. I also added deadlines to my calendar on my phone and set reminders for a week and a day before a deadline.

Tip #3: Take Breaks.

Although it may be tempting to spend all your time on your application or power through it due to time restraints, it’s important to take breaks for yourself (and for your application). Rest your eyes of the blue light from your computer screen. Step away from your writing for a bit. This allows you to come back with a fresh perspective. Your best work comes from your best self and taking a break helps. Take a walk, listen to music, dance at home, have dinner with a friend, watch an episode (not the entire series) of your favorite show.

Tip #4: Sleep, Eat, and Stay Active!

When we are stressed, we sometimes neglect the things that our body and mind need like drinking water, sleeping well, eating well, and staying active. In addition to taking breaks, it is important that you participate and maintain healthy habits. Unhealthy behaviors like sleep deprivation, remaining inactive for days at a time and drinking a lot of coffee can lead to burnout, forgetfulness, and loss of creativity.

Tip #5: Seek Support from Friends and Family.

Talk to your support system. Whether is it a friend, a coworker or a family member. Let them know if you feel overwhelmed or stressed. They’ve supported you through other stressful times and they will do so again.

Tip #6: Talk to a Counselor, Advisor or Mentor.

Talking to a professional counselor, trusted advisor or mentor can also be helpful, especially if you do not have someone in your support system who has gone through the graduate school application process. Talk to your therapist, reach out to mentor at work or a college advisor from your undergraduate studies. They can help you with any anxiety that you are experiencing and can share with you any advice they might have.

Tip #7: Limit the Amount of People You Have Look at Your Application.

It’s important to reach out to people you trust to look over your application. They can help you with writing edits, studying for the GRE/GMAT and/or TOEFL/IELTS/PTE or give you feedback on your video essay. However, try to limit how many people you have look over your essays, especially as you are making final edits. It can cause unnecessary stress and lead you to feel overwhelmed right as you are getting ready to hit submit. Additionally, if you have found a GRE or TOEFL study course/books that work well for you, do not look into new programs or testing techniques right before you take the exam. Stick to what you know works and go into the exam room with confidence.

Tip #8: Keep Yourself Occupied While You Wait.

Once you have submitted your application, find ways to keep your mind occupied as you wait for a decision. This was especially important for me when I submitted my graduate school applications. I reached out to friends I hadn’t seen in a while and attended events I had to skip while studying for the GRE. I also started going to the gym more which helped tremendously as endorphins help you feel happy and stay positive.

Tip #9: Resist the Temptation to Constantly Check Your Email (or call the Admission Office)

It is so easy to constantly check your email, especially now that our inbox is literally at out fingertips. One way to help with the temptation of constantly checking your email is to disable email notifications on your phone. This is a general tip I give to anyone trying to have a better work-life balance, but it is also helpful during the waiting period. Admissions offices will mostly likely not email you after business hours, so limit checking your email to that time frame and turn off the notifications that make you run to your phone with every “ping” you hear. This also goes for constantly checking graduate school forums or calling the admissions office repeatedly. Be patient. The admissions office will reach out in due time.

Tip #10: Most Importantly, Remain Positive!

You are smart, capable, and have so much to offer. You will find the right graduate school match and you will go on to be successful in whichever program you pursue. If you shift your thoughts towards gratitude, you will be in a better mood through out the day and sleep better. Stay positive. You got this.

I’m Great at Math(s) — What Does SIPA Have for Me?

Thanks to David Wickland MIA ’19 for this post in response to a topic submitted by Nicole H. Submit your idea for a blog post here.

Taking a more quantitative focus at SIPA can mean a lot of different things: There’s the underlying conceptualization of quantitative analysis taught in Quant I and Quant II, the more direct applications covered in Evaluation and Economic Development classes, the academic literature analysis of the various Quant III classes, and the programming focus of others.

They’re all important. They’re all interesting. You might not want or need to do all of them, but there’s a lot to choose from at Columbia.

I’m a 2019 SIPA grad who obtained an MIA with a Concentration in Economic and Political Development and a Specialization in Advanced Policy and Economic Analysis. I studied electrical engineering in undergrad and had worked as a data analyst prior to SIPA, so I came in with a decent quantitative background. But I had little-to-no knowledge of how quant could be applied in the social sciences.

One of my goals at SIPA was to figure out how to go about using any of this stuff, and taking as many quantitative courses as possible seemed like a good way to explore different applications.

Quant I

I never took Quant I, so I’m going to gloss over it a bit, apart from noting that regardless of how you feel about it, don’t let it play too much into your decisions on other quantitative classes. It covers a lot of ground and can be a bit overwhelming, but the later courses tend to take a milder pace and help drive home the topics covered in the first semester.

Quant II

This brings me to Quant II, which I cannot recommend enough. This is probably the second quant class most people will take (although exactly what constitutes a quant class is debatable). Quant II essentially picks up where Quant I leaves off, delving into the most widely used regression methodologies to give enough understanding to follow most papers and studies one would come across. I don’t want to claim that everyone loves Quant II, but a lot of people who thought they would hate it wound up loving it, and I think it’s probably the best course to judge if this is something you like. It gives a more practical understanding of the material and helps reaffirm everything in Quant I.

(Just to note, there are currently two Quant II professors, Alan Yang and Cristian Kiki Pop-Eleches. They’re both great, and their classes are structured slightly differently. In Alan Yang’s, the last month is spent on a data analysis project that helps ground some of methods in more practical usage, while Kiki’s ends by covering some additional methodologies which are also useful. If you take Alan Yang’s, the skipped methodologies are covered in Applied Econometrics and Economics of Education Policy;  if you take Kiki’s, Harold Stolper’s Data Analysis for Policy Research and Program Evaluation is essentially a full semester version of the data project you would have done, so neither is entirely a missed opportunity.)

Quant III

While the Quant I – Quant II track has clear continuity, classes after these focus more topically and can mostly be taken in whichever order one likes. The term “Quant III” gets thrown around a lot, and it refers to a group of topically different classes which require Quant II, not a single specific class. In no particular order, these are some thoughts on the Quant III classes available:

  • Applied Econometrics: This covers a lot of the loose ends and more in-depth examinations coming out of Quant II, and is probably the most direct follow-up to that class. It is very technical compared to Quant II and less immediately practical. Quantitative Methods in Program Evaluation and Policy Research, which was not offered during my second year, is supposedly similar but more applied.
  • Economics of Education Policy: If you are interested in education you will love this class. It explores different aspects of education and the research surrounding them, with general open discussion of the papers, their relative merits, and their implications. Very highly recommended.
  • Time Series Analysis: This is perhaps the most technical Quant III class, and it has a fairly narrow focus on financial markets and predictions. For students with good quantitative and programming skills and are interested in how markets can be tracked and the underlying principles of time series’, this class is for you. If that’s not your cup of tea try one of the other classes instead. (Note: This class is taught in R, and is the only class at SIPA to do so to my knowledge. The basics are explained and the coding is not particularly intensive, but it can make things difficult. At the same time R is wonderful and everyone should learn R.)
  • Data Analysis for Policy Research and Program Evaluation: Whether or not this is a Quant III class is debated, but it does require Quant II and covers quantitative material, so it’s at least related. Full disclosure, I never took this class, but I generally heard positive things about it. The course is a semester long data analysis project, and works to build a deeper understanding of STATA both in the data analysis and data visualization fronts. I generally heard excellent things about it, and would recommend for anyone who wants to learn more applied STATA.

Thoughts on other Quant classes of interest:

  • Computing in Context: This was good introduction to Python as a language. The applications aren’t particularly quant-oriented, but if you’re looking to learn Python this is probably the best way to go about it.
  • Program Evaluation and Design: Not a quant class per se, but I feel that most quant classes at SIPA are focused on research and evaluatory studies. This class (which I did not take but have heard great things about) can help fill in more around how data was collected and why that specific question was asked or that specific information was gathered.
  • Machine Learning for Social Sciences: Taught in Python, this Quantitative Methods in the Social Sciences (“QMSS”)** class goes into the fundamentals of machine learning and its applications. For any SIPA students interested in ML or AI, this is probably one of the most directly applicable courses available, although QMSS students get priority and it tends to fill quickly.
  • Data Mining for Social Science: Taught in R, this QMSS course is the main Columbia class on data mining and it’s supposedly fairly good as an introduction. This is another class I never took, but what I heard from other SIPA students is that it was interesting, though not particularly in depth.
  • Statistical Computing with SAS: This is a Mailman School of Public Health course on SAS. I knew one person who took this and they seemed satisfied. It sounds similar to Computing in Context except for SAS and with more of a public health focus. SAS as a language isn’t nearly as common as STATA/R/Python, but it’s still useful to know. It’s also quite different from the other stats languages and can be harder to learn on your own.
  • Research Techniques and Applications in Health Services Administration: This is somewhat similar in design to Economics of Education Policy except it is at Mailman, a bit less technical, and focused on Public Health. If health is a particular interest area and you want to know more about the quantitative studies surrounding different aspects of it, definitely try to get into this.

If you’re interested in SIPA’s quantitative program, I recommend researching and asking around about the courses you want to take. For example, talk to current students who may have taken the courses you’re interested in, speak with faculty members such as Kiki and Yang, and take a look at the course evaluations on a specific class as well as old syllabi.

I talked a lot with Kiki about what courses I was looking for, and he gave me a holistic view of the Quantitative program and an overview of the course’s strengths and weaknesses. I found his guidance valuable, and coupled with my research on the courses I wanted to take, I was able to craft the quantitative experience I was looking for at SIPA.

**QMSS is housed in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. SIPA students can take courses through QMSS by cross-registering, as well as obtain a dual-degree through its program. For more information about QMSS please visit their website here. For information about Columbia Dual-Degrees, visit our website here.

The Columbia SIPA 2020 application is open

Our 2020 application is live. Click here to start your application now.

The application process takes time and effort to fully complete. We recommend the following to stay informed and organized:

1. Subscribe to this Admissions Blog. This blog is continually updated with information from SIPA admissions, students, alumni, and financial aid — all of which will be helpful for this application process (and beyond).

2. Add the application deadlines to your calendar. All materials must be submitted by the deadline to be considered for admission.

MIA, MPA, MPA-DP Program Deadlines
Spring 2020 (MIA/MPA only)
October 15, 2019 at 11:59pm ET

Fall 2020
Early Action Deadline: November 1, 2019 at 11:59pm ET
Fellowship Consideration Deadline: January 5, 2020 at 11:59pm ET
Final Application Deadline: February 5, 2020 at 11:59pm EST

3. Attend an information session or meet the SIPA community off-campusThese sessions are available online and in-person, and the information sessions walk through each piece of the application, as well as best practices and common mistakes. We’re adding more events throughout the next few months, so check back on those calendars.

If you want more advice or need guidance, email us at sipa_admission@columbia.edu with questions. Be sure to read up on the Frequently Asked Questions first so we can be more efficient in helping you.

Click here to get your application started. We look forward to reading your completed application.

Professor Sarah Holloway on Social Entrepreneurship: “Empathy is the number one skill needed to be a successful social entrepreneur.”

We’re resharing this piece on Professor Sarah Holloway from Columbia News.

Having worked in the public and nonprofit sector for 25 years, Sarah Holloway, a member of the SIPA faculty and Social Entrepreneur in Residence at the Columbia Startup Lab, understands what it takes to make a difference in the fast-changing world of socially responsible businesses. She teaches knowledge and skills essential for non-profit, for-profit and social enterprise management at Columbia and is often seen around the Lab at WeWork Soho West, answering questions and giving feedback to teams from the more than 70 alumni entrepreneurs.

Professor Holloway mentors students competing for the SIPA’s Dean’s Public Policy Challenge Grant, which awards a total of $50,000 annually to two or three innovative projects that use digital technology and data to improve the global urban environment. She has also helped launch a number of social enterprise startups in the New York metro area that focus on education and urban technology, including MOUSE.org and Computer Science for All (CSforALL).

Q. What is social entrepreneurship?

A. Social entrepreneurship is the practice of solving global social problems through market-based strategies. Social entrepreneurs are empathetic, adaptable, patient and “build with, not for.” They know and listen to their customer. Technology is a tool that can be used to support growth, scale and transparency.

Q. How does entrepreneurship work in different cultural settings?

The key is that the entrepreneur be authentic and, as a result, really know their customer. The most successful social entrepreneurs either come from the geography they are supporting or have experienced the challenge they are trying to solve. The skills are the same no matter where you are starting out. That said, I believe, it is slightly easier perhaps to be an entrepreneur in the United States as the ecosystem of support is broader and, at the moment, there are more sources of capital available.

Q. What are some of the critical social entrepreneurial skills essential for today’s business environment?

As mentioned, empathy is the No. 1 skill needed to be a successful social entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs also need to be passionate about their work, scrappy, resilient, open to change, and they should be able to wear many hats as social enterprises are often under resourced. It’s quite common in a startup environment for the CEO to play the role of COO, CFO, CIO and Chief Everything Officer.

Q. Share with us some of the best social entrepreneurship examples that make business sense.

I think Warby Parker, the glasses company and lifestyle brand, and their give one get one campaign is an example of a for profit social enterprise that is doing it almost perfectly. Warby is a multimillion dollar company that has built giving back into everything they do. They have successfully hacked the glasses industry by producing equal quality for a fraction of the cost and, in turn, have left room to be able to give back –to date over 5 million glasses have been distributed and for free. In terms of a nonprofit social enterprise, I love the work that Five One Labs is doing in Iraq. Founded by two SIPA alumni Alice Bosley and Patricia Letayf, Five One Labs is now a massive support network and incubator for refugee entrepreneurs living in Iraq. In less than two years, they have developed such a tight, well-oiled model that continues to pivot and pilot new ideas. As a result, they keep getting it right. They are so hands on and holistic in their service model that they are impacting every single person they serve. I think they are amazing!

Q. What are the biggest misconceptions about social entrepreneurship?

That it is easy to get something off the ground. It takes years and years. You have to be persistent and patient. Another myth is that if you have an amazing, unique and innovative idea, it is easy to sell and raise money. Sometimes the best ideas never get funded. Those that know best how to market themselves and tell the best stories usually have their ideas get funded.

"The most global public policy school, where an international community of students and faculty address world challenges."

—Merit E. Janow, Dean, SIPA, Professor of Practice, International and Economic Law and International Affairs

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