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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!

A View from the Class: Sarah Goddard MIA ’19

The SIPA Office of Alumni and Development is pleased to share A View from the Class, a series featuring current SIPA students, recently graduated alumni, and faculty. In this issue, we feature recently the graduated Sarah Goddard MIA ’19. Sarah earned a dual degree Master of International Affairs concentrating in Urban and Social Policy with a specialization in United Nations Studies. She also has a Master of Public Health degree concentrating in Sociomedical Sciences at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health.

What were you doing prior to attending SIPA?
I taught English at a high school in Toulouse, France. Afterwards, I served a year with AmeriCorps in Western Massachusetts at an affordable housing nonprofit, working on a community health and public safety project in a low-income urban area. This opportunity inspired me to apply to SIPA.

Why did you choose SIPA?
I chose SIPA because of the ability to combine my interest in urban and social policy with a degree in international affairs, and SIPA’s course offerings in community development, gender, and international relations theory inspired me. I also chose SIPA because of its location and access to the many opportunities and resources in New York City, including the United Nations. Attending the admitted students’ day and walking through the campus with future peers and colleagues solidified my decision.

Why did you choose your particular areas of study?
I chose urban and social policy because I wanted to bridge the gap between my pre-SIPA professional experiences working internationally in education and domestically in urban community development. I decided to specialize in United Nations Studies because I wanted to become more familiar with international organizations, and I became increasingly interested in the UN through internships, coursework, and exposure to the Sustainable Development Goals while at SIPA. I applied to the dual degree program with the Mailman School to better focus on the links between urban and social policy and health.

What have been some of your standout SIPA experiences?
At the end of my first year, I interned at the United Nations Development Programme in New York in their HIV, Health and Development group. This was the first time I really saw my interests in health and social development come together professionally, and it was exciting to gain first-hand experience in the UN system.

For my SIPA Capstone, I chose an Economic and Political Development (EPD) Workshop related to urban development and the Sustainable Development Goals in Colombia. This was a defining part of my SIPA experience. I got to travel with a great team to do fieldwork in multiple cities, and our project was selected for a microgrant from the Sustainable Development Solutions Network and as a top project to present at the UN’s High Level Political Forum.

What have been some of your favorite SIPA courses?
I have taken a number of great courses with great professors at SIPA, but two courses stand out. The first is Yumiko Shimabukuro’s course on Comparative Urban Policy. Professor Shimabukuro made the course extremely dynamic and engaging by bringing in real life examples of urban policy failures and successes that brought the material to life. Beyond that, she transformed the class into a supportive family and became a mentor to many of us, and for that, I am grateful.

The second is Barbara Magnoni’s course on Working with the Private Sector for Development Outcomes. Professor Magnoni brought to the course expertise in private sector development and used many case examples from various sectors to make the material engaging and relevant. More importantly, she orchestrated a supportive classroom environment where students could debate and provide constructive feedback. Opportunities like this have shaped my experience at SIPA and are what make SIPA such a unique place.

What are your plans after SIPA?
I recently accepted an offer to work at Global Communities, an international development nonprofit, as a Program Officer in the Governance and Global Health pillar.

Why I Chose SIPA

I remember receiving the email on my decision like it was yesterday. I was sitting in my undergraduate institution’s computer lab, lazily scrolling through my email account, looking for a message a professor sent me earlier that week. Then I saw the subject line from SIPA Admissions; I froze for a second and then clicked on it. I had trouble remembering my account password and after a few anti-climatic minutes of picking my brain for my password, I eventually got into the system. I was greeted by streaming confetti down my screen and an audio clip of Frank Sinatra singing “New York, New York”. I had been accepted.

If I said that letter didn’t factor into my decision I would be lying! But in reality, Columbia was one of my top choices, if not my top. By the end of the admissions cycle, I was debating between two programs. One, an elite urban studies school located in the heart of one of America’s great cities. The other was SIPA. I went back and forth. I made charts and attempted to map my decision, listing pros and cons to every program and institution. I thought about how my degree would be perceived and the name recognition for both. I considered the reach of both programs alumni networks and looked over the biographies of dozens of professors I was interested in taking classes with.

After many days of deliberation, I ultimately decided on SIPA because of something I touched on in an earlier post; that is, out of all my options, SIPA seemed like it would provide the most comprehensive and interdisciplinary education I could find. Both programs are comparable in terms of reputation and both have very strong urban studies programs. However, I felt like SIPA’s ‘global’ and international curriculum provided me with more opportunities to take classes outside of my comfort zone, and to find synergies between my own areas of interest and entirely new subjects. I appreciated that the majority of my peers would be international; I knew that their perspectives in the classroom and outside would be invaluable as a future diplomat. I also liked that SIPA offered numerous opportunities to take classes at many of Columbia’s prestigious graduate schools, including the Journalism School and Teachers College. On a personal level, I relished the opportunity to attend events at these elite institutions and to be able to interact with a range of professors, like Sunil Gulati, the ex head of the U.S. Soccer Federation, to former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter. Relative to other locations, I knew that access to NYC and its immense social and cultural offerings would also further my education, and my personal growth.

When I fully realized that by attending SIPA I was really gaining access to all that Columbia offers, from its world class libraries to its world class faculty, I came to a decision very quickly. Before I accepted it officially, I played “New York, New York” once more on the acceptance letter portal just for fun and then I made one of the best decisions ever; I clicked the button to begin the enrollment process!

Finding Community at SIPA

Thanks to a former Admissions program assistant and SIPA ’18 graduate for this post!

One of the reasons why I chose to attend SIPA was because I wanted to engage with and learn from the large and diverse student body. That being said, I was also concerned about getting lost in a larger program – my fears were quickly assuaged given that SIPA provides numerous opportunities to build community from Day 1.  Activities ranging from orientation week to organization fairs are abundant. Below is a list of some places that I found strong community.

Orientation Cohorts

Orientation week was a great way to meet fellow students was through my cohort (Seeples Group D!). Spending a week with a group of students, learning about SIPA, Columbia, and New York was both fun and allowed me to build a strong sense of community within my first several weeks on campus. My cohort still has reunions and some of my best friends at school were in that group!

Student Organizations

I was involved in a variety of student organizations at SIPA, which really added to my experience. It took me a semester to decide which ones I ultimately wanted to join. These groups range from SIPA Vets to Women in Leadership and are a fantastic way to not only learn about a wide array of topics but also provide extensive leadership opportunities. I also became involved in groups at both the Law and Business schools to gain a different perspective.

Regional Institutes

Columbia’s regional institutes are a tremendous asset to SIPA’s program. Ranging from the Weatherhead to the Harriman Institutes, these institutes are a fantastic place to find community both with fellow Seeples in addition to students from the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. The institutes provide a wide array of cultural activities throughout the year, book talks, discussion groups, and many other events and resources. They were a major part of my life and community throughout the past several years!

International Trips

I participated in multiple student-led international trips during my time at SIPA. They were the highlight of my time here, and there is nothing that builds community like wandering around ancient ruins or being stuck on a train for 15 hours straight with a group of fellow Seeples. The trips allow you to experience the best of what SIPA has to offer – learning about international relations, policies, and cultures. Try to take advantage of these experiences – you will come away with lifelong friends!

Columbia Community Service

There are a myriad of community service opportunities sponsored by the University. They are a fantastic way to serve with fellow students and faculty as well as get to know residents on the Upper West Side.

Being a First-Generation Latina at Columbia SIPA

Thanks to Karla Henriquez MPA ’19 for this post, in response to a topic submitted by Adam B. Submit your idea for a blog post here.


“I got into Columbia!” I told my mom. She did not quite know what that meant. “Obama graduated from there.”

“Ah que bueno,” she said to me.

But she still did not understand what it meant for a first-generation Latina to be accepted into an Ivy League. And to be honest, neither did I.

I would break down the process of going to grad school into four steps: Goal setting, before applying, the application process, and your time in grad school.  Each have their own different sets of challenges. Let me break down what it meant to apply for grad school as a first-gen:

1) Goal setting: 

Write your goals down and they will manifest. It is a simple step, but one that helped me know what I needed to do to get where I wanted to. My goals were:

  1. Prepare for the GRE
  2. Take the GRE
  3. Apply for Grad School
  4. Move out of California

Those were the goals that got me to where I am today. I wrote them down and worked towards them.

2) Before Applying

While I would like to forget about the GRE, it is an important step in the process. Don’t let that stop you from trying.

One of my friends who was going through her first year of law school told me, “The GRE is just a number. Don’t let that define you, you have so much more to offer than just a number.” I took that to heart and prepared as best as I could for the GRE, but also did not limit my options because of a score.

There are affordable options to prepare for it. One thing that I would recommend is to identify what works for you. If you’re great at working on your own, Magoosh is a great option, it’s affordable and they provide you with a whole schedule you can follow. If you need more structure, a class might be best (that’s what I did, it took me some time to save but it helped me set time aside to dedicate to studying).

To figure out the program that fits more with your goals, I would recommend attending the Idealist graduate fairs . Not only are schools there to answer all your questions, but you can also get a feel of the different programs offered at the schools. Another great thing about fairs and attending a school’s open house is that some schools waive application fees. That can be extremely helpful when application fees can be from $50-100 each.

3) The Application Process

I relied on a lot of my friends for help. While no one in my family had attempted this, I did have mentors from undergrad and friends who had applied to graduate school. I asked them for help reviewing my essays, my applications, for help with recommendation letters, encouragement, etc.

I applied to five schools, each with a very different application process, and I tried to start early and knock them out one at a time. I know that sometimes it’s hard to ask for help, but this is the time that we cannot be shy. Find those around you that are willing and comfortable doing this, you will see that there will be those willing to edit your whole essay and help present your best self. Talk to those that know you, to help you identify those parts of your story and professional experience that you should definitely highlight.

Guess what? I got in… to all of my schools!

It was an exciting time, but then came the time to decide. I relied on friends and family to make this decision again. One big part of this process was also money. I had saved some money from working, but I also asked my family and friends for support. My aunts and cousins helped me plan a fundraiser to get enough to cover my moving expenses and the deposit to come to school. Family and friends came over my Tia’s house one day and bought “Panes Rellenos,” a Salvadoran favorite, to help me raise money for the move. We raised around $2,000 that day and created a GoFundMe to raise more.

4) Grad School

I decided on Columbia SIPA because I felt that it would provide me with the opportunities that I did not have prior to this. While I got a chance to visit during Admitted Students’ Day, I didn’t quite know what to expect when I got here. In my mind, it would be a mix between Gossip Girl and Legally Blonde, where everyone was going to be preppy and question how a girl from a state school made it to Columbia.

I was soooo wrong. While, yes there is some of that, I was also able to find a community of people who I relied on for support and encouragement. Through SIPA Students of Color, I found classmates like me who were also first-generation, who also identified with my immigrant background, and who I did not have to explain myself to. We continued building this community by gathering over the weekends for our Women of Color brunches — a community that continued growing as the year went on.

While sometimes you will find yourself in spaces where people ask a thousand questions about what you did before school (which to be honest gets exhausting really fast), finding a community of women where it was not only about our professional goals but of who we are as people was so refreshing.

Through Columbia’s University Life – First Generation Graduate Student initiative, I was able to attend a panel of first-gen faculty where I not only felt seen, and cried as I never had, but it also felt like validation of what I was feeling. From imposter syndrome to not only doing this for yourself but also bringing your whole family with you, to sometimes not having enough money to pay rent or food — These were all things I had faced.

Going to Columbia was a whole experience, and I am not going to tell you it will be easy. As a first-generation student sometimes it’s hard to ask for help because many times you are the one person your family relies on. When things got really hard I wanted to find a way to solve things on my own, until my mom found out and asked me why I did not ask her for help. She then got my aunts together, everyone pitched in $100 or so and they helped me make sure that I had enough to cover rent.

I always thought, “She has a lot going on, I don’t want to be a burden,” but sometimes you need to let go of those thoughts and ask for help. My biggest recommendation would be to seek and ask for help. It’s okay not to have the answers to everything especially when you are used to having them in the past.

I took advantage of tutoring and the many office hours offered for Microeconomics, Macroeconomics, and Quantitative Analysis. When I did not do that great in my first exam, I spent more hours at the library.

When anxiety and sleepless nights kicked in, I took advantage of the counseling services, with many counselors being available for first-generation students. Other resources I should have taken advantage of were

  • The Food Pantry at Columbia with a mission to reduce food insecurity among students.
  • Emergency funding provided by SIPA’s Office of Student Affairs.

Last Thoughts

Never allow yourself to feel that your first-generation experience is a disadvantage. Many times in class, experiences that either my family or I have gone through were discussed. As policymakers, our unique perspectives bring a valuable point to the conversations. We have lived through things that many just read in case studies, and who is better than the people who have experienced them to solve the issues faced by our communities? I stopped seeing my experience, being a first-generation student, as a disadvantage and instead saw how my lived experience can create more inclusive policies for all.

My mom was excited to come to New York for the first time to celebrate my graduation this May. She said her coworkers all congratulated her because her daughter was graduating from Columbia. She made the trip here and I thanked her because it took her, my tias, and my friends to get me here. From pitching in $20 to help me move or pay rent, to proofreading my essays, to sending me texts of encouragement, I cannot emphasize enough that even though our families might not have a fancy Ivy League degree, they provide their support in other ways.

I hope that if you decide on Columbia, or whichever school you decide to attend, you are surrounded by a community of people who will cheer you and support you along the way.

"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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