Archive for Student Life

Do you even lift?

Hi everyone, I’m Diane – a member of the Admissions team here at SIPA (and the in-house certified personal trainer 💪) . I’d like to introduce a few resources about adopting and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, wellness and self-care as a Columbia University student. With the academic rigor of the MIA/MPA programs, internships, extracurricular events, or even family obligations, it can be overwhelming at times to try to balance these various commitments. What students may not realize or tend to forget is that a healthy lifestyle is valuable in managing your stress, boosting productivity, and setting you up for success in your academic goals.

A great resource to start with is Columbia Health – here you’ll find information about the benefits of physical activity and tips/advice on how to incorporate this into your everyday life. This can range from walking, cycling, yoga, weightlifting, etc. My advice is to start with a measured, attainable goal in a specific timeframe. For instance, establishing a goal of walking 10,000 steps per day within two weeks is attainable; you can start out with taking 1,000 steps the first day and gradually increasing this number day-by-day. If you want to implement resistance training – you can begin with two full-body workouts in the first week, then increase to 3 workouts the next. These small steps will allow you adhere to an active lifestyle much easier.

Within Columbia Health, there are a couple of programs that explore wellness and self-care from a holistic approach. The Alice! Health Promotion program houses health promotion initiatives and services like women’s health, stress coping, sleep assessments, men’s health, alcohol awareness, etc. The Gay Health Advocacy Project is another program that is committed to LGBT students and provides services and resources to students from all identities and orientations such as STI testing, peer counseling, birth control education, hormone therapy, and much more.

The main gym on campus is Dodge Fitness Center, which is a tri-level center that boasts two weightlifting areas, two cardio areas, an indoor track, aerobic rooms, basketball court, squash courts, and swimming pool. In order to access the gym, you’ll need to purchase a membership which isn’t included in your tuition and fees. Note: It’s better to purchase a package for the entire academic year because it’s more cost-effective. As a CU employee, my membership came out to be approximately $30 per month for the fall and spring semesters; it’s less expensive as a student. The prices for the academic year will be made available later this summer.

For those who enjoy lifting, the strength training areas, primarily found on the second floor and make up a portion of the ground floor next to the basketball court, are decked out. There’s your standard dumbbell equipment, cable machines, bench press, squat racks, as well as Olympic lifting platforms with bumper plates. It can get crowded, starting from 5 PM onwards, but if you have time in the mornings or during the day, you’ll find what you need to get your lift on.

The cardio areas are robust and can be found on the top level and part of the ground floor. There’s plenty of treadmills, elliptical machines, spin bikes in addition to a couple of Stairmasters and rowing machines. Cardio machines are readily more available but during evening peak times (5 PM and later), you can reserve your spot for a machine 30 minutes in advance. Guests are limited to 30 minutes of usage. The basketball court is usually open except for university events and intramural sports.

I highly encourage you to visit the Health office and website to explore your options. Establishing and maintaining a healthy lifestyle as a full-time, graduate student will really make a difference in how you handle different situations, balance competing priorities, and take care of your body physically, mentally, and emotionally.

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.)

What I Wish I Knew About Taking a Language

Thanks to Amanda Schmitt MIA ’19 for this guest blog post! Amanda’s concentration is Human Rights and Humanitarian Policy with a regional specialization in the Middle East.

When I started at SIPA, I knew that my goal was to reach a proficient level of Modern Standard Arabic by the time I graduated so thereafter I could spend time working in the Middle East or in an intensive Arabic program to convert that knowledge into working level proficiency. But I also knew that taking four semesters of Arabic, at 5 units/class, with daily homework and four sessions each week, would mean giving up other SIPA opportunities. Besides the language courses that SIPA offers, most other language courses are offered through Columbia University with both undergraduates and graduate students from other Columbia programs. When deciding between the MIA or MPA degree and before deciding on your course schedule, I strongly suggest considering the tangible cost-benefit of taking language courses during SIPA for your career upon graduation. 

Due to the format of MIA vs MPA and our very international program, most students come in already speaking multiple languages and can pass out of the MIA language requirement, or they choose an MPA (though a concentration in EPD still has a foreign language component). But for Seeples who feel they need the international emphasis of the MIA degree and have certain language requirements yet to fulfill, I have some advice.

Questions to ask yourself about learning another language in graduate school:

  • Is it necessary for your job aspirations and anticipated job applications to leave SIPA at the intermediate etc. level of language proficiency? I knew that my short-term career goals required these language skills, but for peers that anticipate language needs in the long-term, there may be more inexpensive ways to learn the language after SIPA. This consideration should also take into account the skills you perceive as most necessary for job applications after SIPA and which courses would most effectively fulfill those needs, language or otherwise. 
  • If you are starting from Year I, Level I and plan to take 4 semesters of language courses, are you willing to give up 4-7 SIPA/policy courses for your language coursework? Language courses range from 3-5 units. Since Arabic is 5 units each semester, I put 20 units toward Arabic, giving up potentially 6+ SIPA courses. 
  • Are you prepared to take on a heavy course load each semester to complete the language courses required and your SIPA requirements? For me, this meant taking about 18 units three of four semesters. (If you want to take over 18 units in a semester, the additional cost for me was $1100/credit.)
  • What other priorities do you have for your time at SIPA? I did not get as involved in student organizations, campus jobs, or internships because I had 16-18 units most semesters with daily language homework. However, this varies by individual and what you feel comfortable taking on. 
  • Is it necessary for you to take Columbia language courses? Or could there be another way you could study the language (external language courses, summer courses, Language Resource Center tutoring, group language practice sessions, etc.)? This consideration varies by language and individual learning style. Since Columbia emphasizes Modern Standard Arabic as a baseline for beginning to study Arabic, I will still need to learn colloquial Arabic afterward, which (inshallah) should be easier because of this background. For people learning a language that does not significantly distinguish in form between formal and colloquial, the courses may allow you to reach a working level proficiency if starting from scratch, or be unnecessarily formal if starting from some base of understanding. I highly recommend assessing which format of study would be your most efficient, cost-effective, and timely to your goals. 

The main takeaway: before taking a language at graduate school, consider how critical it is to your short-term career goals and whether you are willing to take the tradeoff of the other potential policy coursework that it would necessarily replace. The Admissions Committee looks for clarity of vision among applicants, regardless of language determinations, so I recommend focusing on how to most effectively enjoy your learning opportunity while converting your time at SIPA into tangible growth for your career.

I think language skills are extremely important, both for professional application and personal cross-cultural understanding and growth, so this piece is not at all intended to discourage Seeples from learning additional languages! I just hope to help incoming students more pragmatically assess the most effective use of your two years at SIPA. As you decide MPA vs MIA and whether to take language courses, please consider these components so you can maximize your time at SIPA.

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?

Peter Zheng MPA ’20 reflects on his first year at SIPA

Hi! I’m Peter Zheng, MPA Class of 2020 and concentrating in Economic and Political Development and triple specializing in East Asia, Management, and Technology, Media, and Communication Studies! I was part of the 5-10% accepted from undergrad so I did not have work experience prior to SIPA. I graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of Pittsburgh Honors College with quadruple majors in Economics, Political Science & Government, Business Administration, and a Bachelor of Philosophy (master’s-level degree) in Psychology within 4 years.

What was your first year of policy school like?

Whenever people ask me about policy school, I always say, “It’s a choose your own adventure.” It’s not hard if you don’t want it to be hard, but it can be hard if you make it hard. You prioritize what is important to you.

To me, I value experimental and classroom learning. In my first year of graduate school I took 12 courses at SIPA, 2 courses at Columbia Business School (CBS), and 4 courses at a rigorous online business certificate program outside of Columbia University. Boy, OMG did I learn. It’s probably something I will never ever do again, but I learned a lot and met so many cool humans because of it. So, for that, I am super grateful.

During my first year, I created a startup (but decided to pause after talking to media executives because the media ecosystem is highly distorted, and barriers of entry are super high). I started an independent research project at Columbia Business School with a CBS PhD student, and did research in the management division at CBS, which was a continuation from my summer internship before SIPA. I applied and received five fellowships from CBS/SIPA, joined the board of SIPA’s Technology Student Association, learned how to live alone in Manhattan (Hell’s Kitchen is lit), and met some really cool people who have become dear friends!

What are your plans this summer?

I’ll be spending my summer working at UNICEF as a business operations analyst (networked from a SIPA professor). I was also accepted into a joint healthcare entrepreneurship program at Harvard Medical School and MIT in June. I’ll be TA-ing the Executive Ethics EMBA course at CBS (networked through a CBS professor). I’ll also be creating a new social impact startup, synthesizing both SIPA and CBS resources.

Do you have any regrets?

I used to question whether coming straight into an MPA program without full-time work experience was the right choice, and whether I should have pursued a different degree because my interests span across disciplines. I was considering a deferred MBA or a PhD in Management. I didn’t know if the MPA was worth the investment or whether this degree was right for me.

A year later, I learned it’s not the letters on the degree that matter (our graduates enter each sector at a proportional rate: private sector, public sector, and government) but the connections you make, which land you the opportunities.

As a SIPA student with access to all of Columbia University’s resources, I was able to spend my time pursuing interests at both SIPA and Columbia Business School. This created rare, intersectional opportunities that make this question easy to answer. It was most definitely worth it, and I don’t question it anymore!

Why did you choose SIPA?

Location, faculty, school brand, and job placements (median salary & industry) — These were the most important things to me! I was deciding between 9 schools (Cornell, Georgetown, Duke, Oxford, Brown, Carnegie Mellon, McGill, University of Chicago, and Columbia), but chose Columbia for the aforementioned reasons.

I approached my decision objectively by creating a grad school utility function and allocated criterion with separate weights and running it through Excel. I included additional personal reasons as well: I wanted to be in a progressive city; I’m a foodie so food options were a must; living and tuition costs; and a place where my parents and friends could easily visit me!

The location of SIPA is unbeatable and something you should consider heavily if you are a go-getter and want to network with people. It is so easy in Manhattan! The faculty is top-notch at SIPA and Columbia University as a whole. You have amazing guest speakers e.g., former Secretary of Education John King Jr., Hillary Clinton, Wendy Kopps, and talented adjunct faculty who are working in these fields that bring their work experience into the classroom settings. These are just to name a few!

What is your advice for student starting their first year?

  1. Stay true to your core values. If you don’t like drinking, ditch the happy hours and attend other events that don’t circulate around booze! I don’t drink so I invite people to coffee/tea/food outings and create meaningful connections there.
  2. Don’t lose confidence in yourself and ditch the imposter syndrome! You were admitted for a reason.
  3. Consider taking cross-registered courses for Pass/Fail if you don’t need the credits for a concentration or specialization. Grades can vary across classes, so if you cross register in other schools at Columbia, know that an “A” there may translate to an “A-/B+” at SIPA.
  4. Engage in intentional networking and relationship building.
  5. Taking all of your core curriculum courses during your first year can get exhausting. Frontloading your core can mean doing multiple problem sets and studying for exams every week. I took half the core my first year with interesting electives and will take the other half my second year with some fun electives. This makes the semesters more fun for me. This also gives ample opportunity to spread yourself across Columbia, engage with the greater NYC community, and do fun things.
  6. You’re here for a terminal degree: Spend less time in the library, take advantage of Columbia University’s resources and not just SIPA (you are only here for two years, so maximize the university’s resources while you can as a student), and create your own unique SIPA experience.

If you have more questions about SIPA or want to chat, please reach out! I’m on Instagram at @peteey27 and SIPA Admissions can connect us by email. I’ll show you my favorite food and coffee spots! 🙂

Pictured at the top: Peter hosting a housewarming party with SIPA classmates.

"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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