Archive for SIPA

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.

New York v. DC: Battle of the Grad School Cities

When thinking about policy graduate schools and careers in the U.S., Washington, D.C. seems to be the hub of policy. They have multiple schools, tens of thousands of jobs in policy, and the entire U.S. federal government is based in of the city. Many prospective SIPA students wonder, “Why go to SIPA in NYC when I can be so close to the action in D.C.?” 

I’m here to tell you how I answered that question.

I knew that I was going to be living in D.C. once I graduated. As a 2017 Rangel Fellow, my entire career will be between U.S. Embassies abroad and the State Department in D.C. So naturally, I applied to policy schools in D.C. even though I felt my grad school calling was in New York.

But I was hesitant. I thought if I went to the Big Apple, I would be missing out on the networking opportunities in D.C. that would boost my future career. But I knew that D.C. was not really for me in terms of the graduate schools’ curricula or the bureaucratic culture. If I went to D.C. for graduate school, I knew I would likely be miserable as the Capital lacks the diversity and cultural aspects that was so appealing in NYC. I definitely had some deciphering to do in which was right for me.

I’m proud to say now that choosing NYC over D.C. for policy school was the right move for me personally AND career-wise.

First, being in NYC does not remove you from the D.C. network of policy. SIPA has thousands of alumni based in D.C., and it’s very easy to reach out to them. We also have a D.C. career conference every January in which SIPA students get the opportunity to connect to government agencies, think tanks, or private companies working out of the Capitol. Even on days you want to attend an event in D.C., the train can get you there in three hours, so you could possibly make a day trip of it.

Second, and personally, New York was the right city for me. Compared to D.C., New York’s arts scene is drastically larger. There’s Broadway, hundreds of music venues, thousands of art galleries, and enough museums to rival the Smithsonian. The food scene here is much more diverse, with cuisines from every country and culture you can think of. The bureaucratic culture of D.C. also tends to bring similar people whereas New York’s multifaceted job market brings a plethora of different kinds of people to the city. The diversity and options of New York are unparalleled.

Overall, I know I made the right decision with coming to SIPA over my D.C. options. I’m still gaining the career network I was hoping for while feeling fulfilled in my creative exploration and personal interests. Come to SIPA and experience the same.

Where to Live in New York

When it comes to making the big move to the Big Apple, finding a place to live can be confusing for an incoming student. Online searching can easily bring you great prices on places but you may also be an hour away from class. Or there may be somewhere close to school but the space is limited and it’s far away from the vibrant downtown life you may be looking for. Here is a guide on where to live in New York as an incoming SIPA Student and finding the neighborhood that is perfect for YOU!

Morningside Heights

Morningside Heights is the neighborhood in which Columbia University resides in. It spans from west of Morningside Park to Riverside Drive and from 110th to 125th. Some of the landmarks in Morningside Heights include Morningside Park, Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, Mt. Sinai Hospital, and Riverside Church.

Pros: This neighborhood is great for anyone who is trying to live close to school. With everything from grocery stores to bars to classes being within a 15 minute walking distance, you’re close to the academic action, school happy hours, and classmate study sessions.

Cons: You may feel that you’re trapped within the Columbia bubble when living so close to school. Downtown can easily take 40-50 minutes to get to. It’s also quite an expensive area. You won’t get much size for your buck in this neighborhood, the grocery stores can be fairly expensive and an average meal at a local restaurant will cost you upward of $15.


Harlem, while contested where it actually begins and ends, is generally considered the large neighborhood east of Morningside Park. A historically black neighborhood undergoing gentrification, Harlem is not what it used to be but has always been a culturally rich area to live. Its major landmarks include the Apollo Theater, Sylvia’s Soul Food, El Museo Del Barrio, and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

Pros: The neighborhood has a wide range to accommodate wallets of every size. There’s top tier restaurants like Red Rooster and Minton’s Playhouse and homey, cheap and delicious eateries like Lolo’s Seafood Shack and Lolita’s Mexican Restaurant. For apartments, sizes are much bigger for much cheaper than surrounding neighborhoods. The further east and north you go in Harlem, the cheaper the prices are. There’s also a lot to do in Harlem, from theaters to museums to bars. It can accommodate anyone’s extracurricular interests.

Cons: The only way to get to Columbia from Harlem is to ride the bus or to walk up the hundred stairs of Morningside Heights. Which on a day that’s too hot or too cold, can be quite miserable. Also, food in Harlem isn’t the easiest for restricted diets. Many have found it difficult to be a vegetarian or vegan in the area with many franchise fast-food restaurants and not too many options on health-based cuisine.

Hamilton Heights/Manhattanville

I’m bringing these two neighborhoods together into the same synopsis because they offer very similar vibes and blend together. Manhattanville and Hamilton Heights are the neighborhoods between 125th Street and 155th Street, bordering Harlem to the East and Riverside to the West. Key landmarks include City College of New York, the sub-neighborhood of Sugar Hill, Claremont Theater, and St. Mary’s Protestant Episcopal Church.

Pros: Hamilton Heights and Manhattanville is within spitting distance of Columbia University. Just take a few stops down the 1 track and you’re at the campus. Prices for housing are relatively cheap in this neighborhood also. Your average 3 bedroom, 1 bath will run around $3000-$3300/month with many rent-stabilized options available.

Cons: The neighborhood is very lively on the streets which can lead to a lot of noise. Also, living anywhere near the train station on W. 125th street, one of the few stations in Manhattan that is above ground, can be very loud. It may not be the ideal neighborhood for people looking for some peace and quiet. There also isn’t much to do in the neighborhood compared to its surrounding neighborhoods. Some may find it boring.

Upper West Side

Upper West Side is the Neighborhood between 59th and 110th and west of Central Park. Key landmarks include Lincoln Circle, the Ghostbusters Building, Julliard, and the American Museum of Natural History.

Pros: This neighborhood is known for its excellent food scene, proximity to Central Park, and nighttime quietness. If you’re looking for any type of food, you can probably find it in the Upper West Side. Central Park is all but a few steps away and at night, it’s usually a very quiet area in the city.

Cons: Upper West side brings a new definition of expensive, especially if you’re living below 100th street. There’s also not much of a nightlife in the area. To find your fun, you’ll most likely have to travel to Harlem or Midtown/Downtown. The area also lacks much of the New York culture one may be looking for. If you’re looking for art, museums, and exhibits, you’re on the wrong side of Upper Manhattan.


Midtown is truly the heart of New York, with neighborhoods like Times Square, Hell’s Kitchen, and Turtle Bay. Midtown is the entire area of Manhattan between 34th and 59th street and where you’ll find some of your fellow Seeples.

Pros: In Midtown, there is quite literally everything to do. It’s a vibrant part of the city with endless options of fun. The nightlife in Hell’s Kitchen is incredibly LGBTQ friendly. There’s also many popular food and shopping options in Times Square. The location of midtown is also perfect for anyone who wants to make a quick ride to Brooklyn or uptown.

Cons: The area is tourist central so expect it to be incredibly packed and people stopping every few feet to take pictures. Because of the amount of tourism, the area is incredibly loud. Lastly, rent in the area is sky high as it’s near so much. You won’t find any housing for cheap in this area.

SIPA Admitted Students’ Day 2019

Last week we held our annual open house for the newly admitted MIA, MPA and MPA-DP incoming Class, Admitted Students’ Day 2019. While it was fantastic for us to meet many of the names behind the emails and calls, it was especially great for the admitted students to meet each other and the larger SIPA community, including faculty, alumni and current students.

Admitted students get a lot of specialized content to better inform them of what SIPA offers as a policy graduate school. This includes Faculty Webinars like this one with Vice Dean Scott Barrett,  and additional ones with Professor Tamar Mitts and and upcoming webinar with Professor Dipali Mukhopadhyay. While we can only share the first webinar, you can learn more about Professor Mitts’s work in big data within counterrorism here,  and Professor Mukhopadyay’s work in rebuilding countries post-conflict here.

Admitted students have also been meeting up with alumni all over the world, most recently in Washington, D.C.

Overheard at this D.C. meetup? “I was on the fence but after tonight I’m sold. I can see how close the alum are and it’s great y’all came here to answer questions.”

I encourage every person interested in SIPA, admitted student or thinking of applying in a bit, to directly connect with SIPA as much as possible. This might be connecting with SIPA alumni and/or current students, but it can also include researching what courses are available, or visiting classes in the fall and spring semesters. Finding out if a graduate school is right for you can be time-consuming, so it’s never bad to start early.

It was great meeting all of the admitted students last week – we hope you had fun – and we look forward to seeing the Class of 2021 in the fall.

"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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