Author Archive for Samantha Taylor

Apps on Apps on Apps on Apps

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

Alright incoming Seeples, because it’s 2019 and we use our mobiles for nearly everything I’ve compiled a list of useful Apps to download prior to your imminent arrival in NYC. Of course, none of them are a must-haves, however, many SIPA students find them useful especially if you’ve never lived in this city before (i.e.: students like me). I’ve got recs. on everything from rideshare Apps to money saving Apps. Hopefully, by the end of this article I’ll have you feeling App-solutely prepared to conquer this city!

Your Compass to Campus

Look, New York is a big place, and can be difficult to navigate if you are not familiar with your cardinal directions. Just in case you do not have this skill set, are unfamiliar with how a grid system works, or are just want to figure out how to get to that bespoke coffee shop in Brooklyn here are some Apps to help you get there:

Google Maps: This App will map out step-by-step instructions for your preferred route no matter where you are trying to go and in real-time. It will allow you to map it by car, transit, or walking. It also allows users to route maps offline and discover new places across the city. Personally, this is my go-to App for getting around NYC.

Apple Maps: If you’re an iPhone user, this App should already be somewhere on your Apple device. It does pretty much the same exact thing as Google Maps, but because of #BrandLoyalty, some prefer the trusty insights of this Apple-led navigation.

MTA: Many Trains Absent, but Here’s how to Know Your Train is Approaching

As you will come to learn, taking the MTA is by far the quickest and cheapest way to get anywhere in this city. However, it is also a somewhat unpredictable and illogical mode of transportation.

My MTA: This is a New York must have. It will allow you to plan your trips, provided you with updates on planned and unplanned services changes, as well as real ETA’s for you trains.

Transit: Very similar to the My MTA App, it allows you to plan your trip and provides you with real-time updates of your transit options. The App also allows users to compare their transit options in the App, and includes options for Bikeshare, Rideshare and walking routes.

Sharing that Ride is Caring AND Good for the Environment

Sometimes you find yourself out at 3 AM in the Lower East Side (LES) and the thought of taking public transportation is too much to bear.  This is where riding home to the Upper West Side (UWS) in the comfort of a strangers car is by far the most tantalizing option. Of course, you can take the classic NYC yellow taxi cabs, or you can use any of the below ridesharing options.

Uber: One of the most popular ridesharing options, Uber will get you a ride anywhere in the city. It provides users with price estimates before selecting rides so you can be assured you’re getting the best price for you. Uber offer wheelchair accessible rides, black SUV options for big groups, and UberPool where users who are going in the same direction can carpool for a discounted rate. The only downside to this App is that on holidays or days when big events are happening there can be surge pricing and long wait times.

Lyft: Is also one of the most popular ridesharing options in NYC.  Lyft offers pretty much the exact same services as Uber, such as a pool option, private car and SUV rides for larger groups. However, there are some differences, so here’s a New York Times article that weighs in on the millennial age-old debate: Uber v. Lyft.

Via: While it isn’t the most used ridesharing platform, do not discount it here in NYC. Via is all about the carpool. It allows passengers headed in the same direction to share their rides. For SIPA student’s conscious of their carbon footprint, carpooling with VIA is a great way to be a friend to our environment. Via also allows users to use commuter benefits to pay for rides on their platform, a feature neither Uber nor Lyft have.

Foodies Unite

I think most of us can agree food is life, and with over 24,000 restaurants in Manhattan alone, the options to dine out in NYC are endless. These Apps are perfectly curated to placate the palate, especially if you need to refuel during a late night study session or need to order a bagel and coffee ASAP after a night out. Don’t worry, you won’t get quizzed on this Cuisine, but you will have to decide on where to eat.

Seamless: This App has all the noms, and is extremely useful in Manhattan. It allows its users to order their food from over thousands of restaurants across Manhattan and will bring it right to your door. This App is excellent and the perfect option for a late night snack, or those who refuse to cook because grad school is hard enough.

GrubHub: Classic move here, and when Seamless doesn’t have your local artisanal handmade pasta available, you should really check out GrubHub. The platform is similar to Seamless and brings your food cravings to life. I highly recommend for any student who just can’t bring themselves to leave the couch after getting through a 20 page essay.

SIPA: Where the World Connects (Through Social Media)

For some of us luddites social media may seem like the bane of our existence, however, I assure you it is alive and well at SIPA.

WhatsApp: All I have to say is, in WhatsApp we Seeples, stan. If you don’t have this end-to-end encryption messaging App you need to get it. SIPA students use this platform to connect more than any other. The App lets you message 1 person, or start a group chat to firm up plans, and is considered the preferred method of communication for your average Seeple.

Facebook: This social media platform is where Seeples create events. Personally, I keep a light social media presence, but almost everyone creates events throughout their time at SIPA on this platform.  If you have FOMO, you need this App just to keep your social calendar in check.

Eventbrite: this App is utilized at almost every single SIPA function including the famous LASA parties (don’t worry you will soon know what these are).  I recommend getting it to make sure you have your tickets at the ready. It’s also a cool App because it will inform you of other events happening around NYC—a great way to explore the city.

Explorest: For all my Seeples out there doing it for the #gram. This App gives users the information they need to take the best photos in their city. The spots are listed by local photographers, and come with tips such as the best time to go and what to wear.  It’s great if you’re trying to live your best New York Life and want to show the Fam. back home.

Spotify: A classic music platform to perfectly curate that intense study playlist. While Spotify is free to download, Spotify Premium is just $5 a month for students and includes: no ads, offline playing, and a free subscription to Hulu and Showtime (who needs cable at this rate).

The Grad School Hustle is Real

Digit: This App allows users to unknowingly save money as they spend. It tracks your spending habits, helps you budget your spending, and saves a bit of your money without you knowing its being withheld. It truly is an App curbs your spending, and saves you money!

Acorns: With Acorns, users are able to use their spare change to micro-invest. This App allows users to track their spending, but also grow their funds by crafting a set of personalized strategies that allow them to invest at their discretion.

Honey: This App is one of my favorites, and also comes in Google Chrome Plugin form.  Its purpose is to find its users the best deals, coupon codes, and promo codes for whatever website they are looking to make a purchase on. Everyone loves a good discount, and Honey is your best virtual shopping friend. Trust me, your bank account will thank me.

“Because it’s Never too Early to Start that Job Hunt”- Every OCS Advisor

I know you’re just about to start SIPA, but to be honest it is never too early to start looking to your future. Trust me when I say your OCS advisors and your professors will all say this. So, if you’re interested in job hunting here are a few Apps to help.

LinkedIn: This is a must at SIPA, and your Professional Development professors will implore you to create a profile. It’s a great way to connect with SIPA alumni, and those whose industries you are looking to enter. Do yourself a favor and create a job profile—it’s a great networking tool.

ZipRecruiter: Another job App that gives you access to hundreds of job postings instantly.  It is rated the # job search App for Android and iOS, and will alert you when a job posting in your desired industry is released.

Well, thanks for bearing with me, and I hope you found a few of these Apps useful. I know there are plenty more out there that would be useful, but these are the most used at SIPA and the ones I think new students would find useful. Hope you enjoyed it, and are furiously checking the App store to learn more!

The Housing Hustle

If finding a place to live in NYC has you feeling like the focus of an Edvard Munch painting, do not panic because I’ve got you covered!

As a SIPA student who didn’t get university housing, renting in NYC was the only option for me. I currently live at 113th and Frederick Douglass Blvd., in a tiny two-bedroom apartment with a roommate. While it is small, the rent is affordable, the neighborhood is great, and I love it!

This post is designed to go over some tips and tricks to navigating the off-campus housing hunt in NYC. Finding an off-campus apartment in NYC truly brings new meaning to the phrase playing it fast and loose, so here are a couple of things to keep in mind when searching:

  1. Timing: In New York is it completely normal to obtain an apartment five days before you need to move in. This sounds stressful, but it is very common for apartments and sublets to be advertised a month or less in advance of the move-in date. If you’re on the hunt for an apartment for the fall I recommend checking out Facebook groups like New York Sublets & Apartments and Gypsy Housing, as well as Columbia’s Off-Campus Housing Assistance (OCHA) website (also check out their video here). You can also try hunting on Craigslist, but be wary of scams. Furthermore, you can do it the old-fashioned way by going through a real estate broker to find you a place. I myself used Bohemian Realty because they specialize in the upper west side, but note there are brokers fees associated with it. When you find an apartment you like, I recommend putting your application is as soon as possible because the market moves fast and you don’t want to lose it!
  2. Location: When looking for off-campus housing it’s important to know what neighborhoods you want to live int. Most SIPA students live in Morningside Heights, Harlem and the Upper West Side because they are within walking distance or just a short commute away (the 1, B and C subway lines are close to campus). However, there are plenty of students who live in other NYC neighborhoods like Brooklyn, the Lower East Side, and Queens. I encourage you to explore them if you’re interested because hey, this is NYC, and you can always commute to school.
  3. Roomies: Deciding on if you want to live with roommates is a big decision, however, most SIPA students live with roommates. Having a roommate is a great way to cut costs, and is really common in NYC. So, how do you find roommates then? If you’re searching for a roommate I recommend filing out a profile on the OCHA Find a Roommate. After creating a profile you will be able to search for potential roommates within Columbia, although you will need a UNI to access it. Additionally, most students find their roommates through the incoming class Facebook and Craigslist.
  4. Be Vigilant: Always beware of scams! I recommend reading this article about how to avoid scams. Never give out sensitive information over email unless you can verify the listing. This should go without saying, but always read and review the lease agreement, you want to make sure you are getting a fair deal, and that there is nothing wonky included somewhere in the text. Never pay in cash as most legitimate landlords and brokers will accept a certified check to hold your security deposit and first month’s rent.
  5. Rent: Rents vary here in NYC, and greatly depend on location and the number of roommates you are living with. I recommend a rent range of $900-$1600 a month depending on your financial flexibility. If you want to live close to Midtown the rents will be significantly higher, however, the farther uptown or into Brooklyn you go, the cheaper it tends to get. In New York most landlords require you to demonstrate that you have around 40x the rent before you sign. If you cannot meet these requirements, then the landlord will ask for a guarantor to co-sign the lease with you. If you are an international student I recommend taking a look at the International Students & Scholars Office website (ISSO), which will give you more information on the housing process.
  6. Other Expected Costs: If you use a broker, there will usually be a broker fee attached. This can get pretty pricey, so I recommend being conscious of the broker fees when searching for your apartment. Furthermore, many apartments have an application fee. This varies from place to place, but I’ve seen them anywhere from $25 to $200, so be prepared to cut a check on the spot when you are applying for an apartment.

Okay, I know that may have been information overload, but these are things I wish I had known before doing my first apartment hunt two years ago. While the search can be stressful, do not worry — I promise you will find something! I hope you find this helpful. (Incoming students, keep an eye out for information about SIPA Admission’s Housing Webinar taking place in early July 2019.)

The Seeple’s Guide to University Apartment Housing

Alright, so you’ve got accepted to SIPA and you’re moving to New York in August, but you need a place to live. You’ve probably already been invited to apply for Columbia Housing through the University Apartment Housing portal (UAH) (located in your Welcome Portal), and may or may not have done so. While I personally do not live in university housing, many SIPA students do. I recommend you give it a shot as it’s a reliable and easy way to obtain housing while living in NYC compared to the trials and tribulations of doing an off-campus housing search (future blog post to come). Here are a few things to keep in mind if university housing is for you:

1. Location: Most SIPA students want to live near campus because it makes for an easy commute. UAH has capitalized on this and 90% of its apartment buildings are located around the Morningside campus (yay for walking to school!).  However, there are a few buildings located farther away that the University provides a shuttle to (Check out the Arbor in the Bronx).

2. Take a Chance: Columbia Housing is a lottery, and there is no guarantee that you will get a placement.  I recommend all incoming students that want to apply for university housing because UAH is a trusted landlord, and it’s the path of least resistance when it comes to apartment hunting in NYC.

3. How it Works: When applying I recommend looking at the UAH website here for important deadlines and instructions on the application process.  Incoming students will create an account through the Housing Portal. This requires you to have a Sign-Up Code which you can obtain for the SIPA Housing Liaison. Once you have gained entrance to the Housing portal, you will be asked a series of questions about your living preferences and will complete the housing application. Once you have submitted your housing application, you will be notified over the summer of your housing decision. If you are not selected for housing, I recommend joining the waitlist just in case.  This opens up in early August. If you receive housing I recommend you check out the UAH website for more information on signing the lease and moving in as well as payment options for rent.

4. Costs: UAH gives students a breakdown of average rents for their housing options here on their website. While this is the easiest option for incoming SIPA students to take, it is not always the cheapest option. Additionally, UAH offers both furnished and unfurnished apartments. So, if you find yourself in an unfurnished apartment it is important to factor in the cost of buying furniture.

I hope these tips were helpful in gauging what to expect when applying for UAH. The main take away is that while there is no guarantee you will get university housing, you should still apply because hey, what do you have to lose?

The Waiting Game

The people who all knowingly state patience is a virtue must have never felt the acute anxiety that accompanies waiting for graduate school application decisions. They must have never have known the paranoia that comes with the obsessive refreshing of your inbox in hopes (or deep fear) of seeing that subject line: There has Been an Update to Your Application Status. I remember this feeling vividly when I was applying to graduate school, and the anxiety consumed me so much that I actually had to turn off my email notifications because I found myself checking it even when I had not received a notification, just in case one “slipped” through.

Playing the waiting game is stressful, especially when your future hangs in the balance. But as you wait, remember, you’ve done all you could do. You put your best foot forward on your application, in your test scores, in your letters of reference, in your personal essays where you talked about that life changing study abroad experience. Having come out the other side of this dark tunnel, I wish I could have managed the anxiety better.

While nothing alleviated the nerves entirely, I did try and preoccupy my time with two simple distractions. First, I made sure I occupied my time with activities. Either with taking on more projects at work, sort of the more occupied my mind is the less I have time to worry about the decisions. Or hanging out with my friends, because when I was out having fun I wasn’t thinking about checking my email. It also helped that I have some pretty great friends and former coworkers who were my support group and “knew” that I was going to be ok no matter what the decisions ended up being.

Second, I took what I call the “Ignorance is Bliss” approach, and tried to be proactive by pretending I got in to all the schools I applied to. This led me on a quest to get as much information about the institutions I hoped to attend. I did a lot of online research, but I also tried to set up as many chats as I could with alumni and students and visit classes. This was easier for some than others, based on the fact I had applied to several schools abroad. However, meeting or talking to people from the schools is a great way to learn more about the programs while also getting a feel for the type of people these institutions attract. I found it really helpful, and depending on the person and their personalities, they either made me excited about the result I might receive ( in one case made me rethink my decision to apply in the first place!).

It seems when we as applicants finish applying and are waiting for the results, we have this fear that if we don’t get in to our dream schools our futures will be drastically altered by some sort of cosmic shift, however, that is simply not the case. I know this because I received rejections from really great schools, schools I wanted to go to. But I also got into to schools I never thought I would get into. For example: Columbia SIPA.

We as individuals put so much pressure on ourselves that the fear of not succeeding can consume us while we wait. If we don’t get in, we want to know why. Why was I not qualified enough?  Even I am guilty of this — after all I’m only human. However, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from talking to alumni from various graduate schools, it’s that there is no secret sauce for how to get in to specific schools. Every school has their own criteria, and honestly, that could vary from applicant to applicant. This knowledge made me realize I did all I could do. I created the best application I could muster, hit submit, and prayed that luck was on my side.

Of course, rejection of any kind can sting a bit. However, if there’s one thing I learned from the graduate school application process it’s que sera, sera — what will be will be. It sounds cliché, but I really do think applicants need to remember that life will go on after decisions are rendered. You may find yourselves in a place where you are accepted to all the schools you’ve applied to and you now have to choose between too many options. Pre-decision anxiety is real, but post-decision anxiety is a far greater beast.

My final piece of advice for those applicants currently in the thick of decision season is: No matter what happens this application cycle, you will be okay. You cannot make a wrong choice. You will end up where you are meant to be, and soon this will be a distant memory.

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt: MPA/MIA v. JD

This piece was co-authored by Julia Chung, my fellow program assistant at the Admissions Office.

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Image result for shrug emojiMadeleine Albright

For those of you who don’t know the International Affairs Building, where SIPA is housed, is directly attached to Columbia Law School. It is a very subtle reminder of the decision we, Julia and Samantha, made two years ago before they started graduate school. Julia, studied for the LSAT for a year after graduating undergrad, fully anticipating a career in law. Samantha, worked as a legal assistant for three years at a law firm in Washington, D.C., and similarly thought law was in her future.

Today, both Julia and Samantha are SIPA second-year MPA and MIA students respectively, and both made the crucial decision to pick graduate school over law school. We recently had a conversation about the decision to go with public policy instead of a legal degree:

Why did you want to go to law school in the first place?

Julia: In undergrad I thought that if I wanted to do public service and civil rights, the path was a law degree. I thought that to make the change I wanted to see in the world, I needed to do it through litigation. With this limited perspective on career paths, I studied for the LSAT in my senior year in undergrad and the year after graduating. (As a side note, my family told me that because I was good at arguing, I should be a lawyer. Don’t think that was sound career advice though!)

Samantha: I wanted to go to law school because I wanted to work in policy, and had met a lot of people in the industry, who happenstance all had law degrees. I thought that was the way it worked. After I graduated undergrad, I took a job with a law firm in Washington D.C. in order to gain experience in the field. It was sort of a test run, which I recommend everyone interested in law do before deciding on whether to go or not. It was long hours, a lot of work, but I loved it. Despite the intensity at times, the experience really made me think the life was for me, but I still was not 100% sold. I wanted to do policy, and I had yet to work with someone that was doing work in that realm.

What changed?

Julia: After taking the LSAT, I spoke to a Vassar alum who was a lawyer and he said: Only go to law school if you actually want to practice law or if you have $150k to spare. He said that I seemed to have passions other than law and I should pursue those first. Taking that advice and knowing that my heart was in civil rights, I started working at a community-based organization in Flushing, Queens, doing civic engagement work. After two years of working with many lawyers, I decided that the great work they did was not for me. I realized that law wasn’t my tool to make the changes in the world I wanted to see. I didn’t want to be worrying about legal precedence or writing briefs. I wanted to be more on-the-ground and not limited to finding solutions through law.

Samantha: A coworker was talking to me about how he was going to graduate school for a degree in international affairs, and this really piqued my interest. I started researching graduate institutions around the world, to see what kinds of programs were out there for international affairs and security policy. That’s when I came across a couple of schools whose programs really spoke to me. I ended up speaking to one of the partners I worked for about my career trajectory, and he told me not to go to law school unless I was 100% sure it was for me. He also said that we no longer live in the days where you need a law degree to inform policy. Since I was not 100% sure of whether law school was for me, despite my experience, I chose to apply to graduate school.

Why did you choose Columbia SIPA?

Julia: I looked at graduate school to switch career paths. I wanted to shift from community organizing to something else, even though I wasn’t sure exactly what “something else” was when I applied to graduate school. I came to SIPA because it is a full-time program that is academically rigorous with a strong student community, and has a strong Urban and Social Policy program with practitioners teaching courses. I sat in on Mark Steitz’s “Data Driven Approaches to Campaigns and Advocacy” and knew instantaneously that SIPA was right for me. I knew that SIPA would teach me the hard skills I needed to take the next step in my career.

Samantha: I chose SIPA because I felt the MIA program and the International Security Concentration would provide me with both the theoretical and practical foundation I needed to pursue my future career goals. I also liked the fact that SIPA’s cohorts are very diverse, and that I would be studying with students from all around the world. I felt very welcomed at SIPA when I came to visit during the application process.  I think I had some preconceived notions of what SIPA and Columbia University in general were going to be like; however, everyone was very welcoming and I just had a feeling that I was in the right place.

How will an MPA/MIA degree work towards your future?

Julia: I came to SIPA knowing that I needed more hard skills – policy analysis, data analysis, memo writing, program evaluation, etc. SIPA provided those hard skills and the opportunity to explore different policy areas. I came to SIPA only interested in civil rights, but will be leaving in May with knowledge on urban sustainability, design thinking in the public sector, and technology used in international crisis response. I think my MPA degree prepares me to think critically on today’s most pressing issues, but also gives me tools and the network to be able to address them. I also think that with a MPA degree, I have more flexibility to create the career path I want than I would have if I went to law school.

Samantha: I believe the MIA will help me in my future endeavors because it helped me develop both hard and soft skills which can be applied to the jobs I am seeking in the foreign policy and international security fields. In law school I would not have been required to take a quantitative analysis course, or a cyber-security course, and I think these courses have really helped inform the way in which I evaluate the world around me. While law school would be useful in terms of understanding legality and jurisdiction for policy, I believe the MIA program has given me the opportunity to think critically about current international security policy issues, in order to better understand the nuances the make them complex and challenging to resolve.   

Do you have any regrets about your graduate school decision?

Julia: None – I’m excited to graduate and put all that I’ve learned to test!

Samantha:  I have no regrets about choosing to get my MIA at SIPA.  Every now and then I do think about law school and reflect back on when I made the decision to not pursue a JD. I remember where I was in life, and what career goals I had at the time that made me think I was not 100% ready to get my JD. If you asked me today if I think law school is in my future, I would say “yes.” But if you asked me if I could go back in time and remake the choice between and MIA and JD again, would I choose differently? I would say “no.” This has been a life-changing experience for me, and I would not change a thing.

Look, if you are a prospective applicant of SIPA and you still can’t make a choice, feel free to call or drop by the Admissions office and talk to a current student or Admissions Officer.

And don’t worry, if you decide that you want both an MPA/MIA and a JD, you can also apply for a SIPA/Law School dual degree. For more information, you can take a look at the website here.

"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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