Archive for Student Life

All About Columbia, NYC and Bicycles

I may or may not live a further from campus than the average student, but I delight in my commute to Columbia: a seven-mile bike ride through New York City, 14 miles round trip. Sounds terrifying exhilarating, right? Here’s why biking is great.

Biking is Fast.

New Yorkers tend to be impatient about getting places. Prime ways to get around campus: Walking (invest in comfortable shoes if you haven’t already); NYC subways and buses (get your MetroCard once you’re in NYC!); the (electric!) intercampus buses.

But one of the fastest ways factoring in your route and traffic? Biking. From the Columbia School of Social Work on 122nd St. to the Hungarian Pastry Shop on 111th, walking those 11 blocks will take 11 minutes, while biking will get you there in 4.

Biking is Convenient.

You don’t even need to own a bike, to bike. Citi Bike is NYC’s bike-sharing service (and the largest bike share program in the U.S.). The bike docks are located all across New York City and is ideal for quick trips. Their app also makes it convenient to find the nearest dock with real-time bike availability, and you can unlock a bike with the app.

If you do own a bike, Columbia offers free bicycle parking enclosures, which also has bike repair tools and tire pumps (there’s an enclosure that is a 2-minute walk from the International Affairs Building). Don’t want to show up sweaty to class? You can get a Commuter Shower Pass at the Dodge Fitness Center for just $38 a semester. Columbia also offers bicycle store discounts, free bike registration with public safety, and many more perks.

Biking is Fun.

Of all the cardio exercises, biking has to be near the top in terms of enjoyability. New York City has some beautiful bike paths: The Hudson River Greenway trail, which is separated from car traffic, is on the West Side, and Central Park is teeming with cyclists. This is even without all the trails in Brooklyn!

If you’re already on campus or will be here before Orientation, take advantage of Summer Streets. On the first three Saturdays of August, 6.9 miles of Park Avenue will be closed to cars and open only to cyclists, pedestrians and joggers. You can bike through NYC landmarks normally closed to pedestrian traffic like Grand Central Terminal, and there will be free food, activities and giveaways along the route.


Always remember to put Safety First when you’re biking. The Morningside Heights neighborhood is easier to bike in since there’s less traffic and pedestrians relative to busy areas like Times Square. Still, this is the big city, and you should always put safety first:

  • Wear. A. Helmet. You’re going to really need your brain for Columbia. If you don’t have a helmet, use your Columbia ID at nearby bicycle stores for a 10% discount.
  • Obey traffic rules and be predictable. NYC is a busy and dense place, so along with following traffic rules, don’t make any sudden swerves in and out of traffic. It’s dangerous and the traffic around you can’t always account for it.
  • Be Aware. Someone flings open their taxi door into the bike lane, or a pigeon flies into your face — you can’t predict what’s going to happen around you, so be aware. This means no headphones or texting while biking, too.

A bike-friendly Columbia means less traffic and parking congestion and an improvement in health of the University. Improving and encouraging healthy commute alternatives will be an ongoing mission on campus as part of our Sustainability Plan. So grab your helmet and have fun exploring New York City by bike!

NYC Apartment Hunting Tips

We like to plan early when we can, and this time it turns out that our scheduled Off-Campus Housing webinar was planned directly during a World Cup match. Actually, the webinar was right in the middle of Croatia vs England. We understand. This one’s on us. But to our incoming students, don’t worry – the webinar was recorded, and we’ll send an email out once it’s up on the Welcome Portal.

Because apartment hunting in New York City is its own unique adventure, here are three insider tips for off-campus housing:

  1. If you find an apartment you like, be prepared to commit to it that day. Apartment-hunting is extremely competitive in the summer, so be ready to commit the day of. We know our students like to prepare early, but it’s almost impossible to secure an apartment until about 4-6 weeks before your actual move-in date.
  2. Never pay cash to secure an apartment. So you’re ready, you’ve got your documents, you’re ready to put down the deposit. Make sure you leave a paper trail! Most reputable brokers and landlords accept a certified check, and in rarer cases a credit card. Just make sure they issue you a receipt.
  3. Connecting with possible Columbia roommates. There are many, many resources for Columbia students and NYC folks in general looking for housing and roommates. A 5-year Columbia student lists a couple of Facebook groups to check out in this post, while a Texas transplant lists some more resources here. And don’t forget, Columbia also has its Off-Campus Housing Assistance (OCHA) website here.

A reminder to those who want to learn more about policy school (and are ready for that NYC apartment hunt) — we’ll be at Summerfest NYC and Summerfest D.C. on July 18th and 19th. These are free mini-graduate school fairs held with four other top policy schools. Come by, say hello, and get all the info you might need from our alumni and admissions staff.

A Texas Transplant’s Take on the NYC Housing Market

Let’s be real folks, finding housing in New York can be really stressful, especially if you are not from the area. As a transplant from Texas the housing market was a completely foreign and new experience for me and honestly I could have benefited from a blog like this.

This blog will cover the 4 things you need to know on finding off-campus housing. There is no science to the method of madness except for just madness….but when you do secure your housing and sign that lease it is one of the most amazing feelings you will ever have.

  1. Timing
    Traditionally, most people do not start looking for apartments in NYC until two weeks before they are supposed to move. Yes, I said two weeks. If you are like me, that short time span may freak you out, but it is just how the housing market works here. If you are looking for housing around Columbia University there is actually a good window of time to find housing. The best time to find empty apartments around Columbia is when everyone is leaving their leases…right around end of July and beginning of August. There are a lot of apartments and room vacancies in this time frame.
  2. Options and Finding Roommates
    There are many options to finding housing in NYC. What I am listing is a short list of what is all out there but there are many, many more. Columbia OCHA is Columbia’s Off-Campus Housing Assistance site. This site is actually great and credible for finding empty apartments, as well as apartments looking for subleasers. Another NYC option that locals use is Gypsy Housing. This is a Facebook page that you can Like and people and brokers will post apartments and vacancies. I know a few friends at SIPA who found an apartment through Gypsy housing. Lastly, SIPA has a form for other Seeples to find roommates and rooms. The form is really helpful for finding groups of people to live with.
  3. Unaccounted-For Costs
    Something else to keep in mind as you are shopping for apartments is unaccounted-for costs. For starters, most people find apartments through brokers. It is common for brokers to have a fee which is a certain percentage of the annual lease. This is essentially a variable cost since it varies from lease to lease. The broker fee is something you would pay upfront when signing the lease. Another upfront cost maybe a security deposit of the first and last month rent, which is something you may pay when signing the lease. There may also be a lease application fee that can sometimes range from $100-250 per person, this varies on the landlord and agency. When you consider off-campus housing, lease agreements may also request that future tenants make 40x – 90x the annual rent or have a co-signer that meets this requirement. You should not be alarmed by this, it’s pretty common in NYC. Lastly, know that tenants in NYC do not have to pay water as a utility bill. Standard utility bill is normally electricity, which includes heating in most cases, and then internet and other leisure utilities you and your roommates decides to add.
  4. Securing the bag!
    Once you have secured your lease, you have done 85% of the work and relieved a lot of moving anxiety!! You can now start to fill your space with furniture and feel good homey things. If you want to cut costs on buying brand new furniture, there is a Columbia Facebook page called Free and For Sale for Columbia students and you can find things at a fraction of the cost or sometimes for free.

Note from Admissions: Incoming students, want more off-campus housing advice? Register for our Off Campus Housing Webinar on July 11 through the Welcome Portal!

Life Beyond the Classroom: Spectrum

SIPA has so much to offer beyond the classroom, and we’re excited to hear from Spectrum during this Pride Month! Read on to learn more about what they do and stand for here at SIPA.

Spectrum is a student organization at SIPA that uses advocacy and information to advance local, national and international transformations, in favor of LGBTQIA rights. We bring together the talent of SIPA students who wish to make a difference in favor of equality and non-discrimination, particularly with regards to sexual orientation, gender expression or identity.

One of the most important goals of Spectrum is to maintain a friendly community where everyone feels welcomed. Spectrum is committed to supporting our members in their well-being. We’re committed to providing safe spaces for all students and take anonymity seriously.

What do we do? Along with panels and working lunches on topics related to LGBTQIA rights in the U.S. and the rest of the world, we throw the best happy hours to unite our community over a drink or two in informal settings!

  • Spectrum panelistsThis spring semester, we held a panel on Sexual Violence and Mental Health. Our guest speaker Jessica Stern, president of OutRight Action International, spoke on the importance of creating new and adjusting old policies that would address sexual violence in the United States. Monica Pombo, representative of the Sexual Violence Response unit at Columbia University, talked about counseling and medical services available for students on campus. Dr. Cindy Veldhuis, a postdoctoral research scientist at Columbia University’s School of Nursing, talked about the phenomena of sexual violence and how to address it.
  • We invited former and current SIPA students who successfully landed a job to share their experience in finding that job. Guest speakers included Jason Fauss (BlackRock), Nick Donias (KPMG), and Daniel Peciña-Lopez (European-American Chamber of Commerce in New York).
  • Spectrum also unites queers across the entire Columbia University. This past April we recently had a joint happy hour with LGBTQ communities from Columbia’s Law School, Business School, School of Science and Engineering, School of Social Work and School of General Studies.

Spectrum is an inclusive community — everyone who cares about LGBTQIA is welcome to become a member. Join us through OrgSync and our Facebook group to stay up-to-date with current events.

A 5-Year Columbia Student’s Take on On-Campus Housing

Columbia’s location in Morningside Heights has, inevitably, shaped the neighborhood and its development. Over the recent years, the University has acquired a number of apartment buildings in the Morningside Heights vicinity, as well as in Harlem and the Manhattan Valley. In 2008, Columbia even acquired the Arbor, an admittedly nice apartment complex located in Riverdale. In the Bronx. (Don’t worry. Columbia offers a shuttle between the Arbor and both the Medical Center and Morningside Heights Campi. Pick your poison). Here’s a quick overview of the pros and cons of pursuing University Apartment Housing (UAH).


It’s lowkey your best bet to stay close to campus. As noted before, Columbia has acquired, and continues to acquire, many apartment buildings in the Morningside Heights neighborhood. From my experience, SIPA students who pursue UAH are placed within a ten-minute walk to the International Affairs Building (IAB). In fact, SIPA students who live on 118th Street, between Amsterdam Avenue and Morningside Drive live right across IAB. Geographically speaking, students may be placed within the rectilinear domain bounded by 106th Street, Riverside Drive, 120th Street, and Frederick Douglass Boulevard/Central Park West.

Path of least resistance. Perhaps the least work-intensive housing search can be found with UAH. If approved for UAH housing, students indicate their preferred price point, fill out a personality questionnaire, supply additional documentation, if needed, and done! Students are notified once they are placed, and the contact information of their potential roommate/suitemate is passed along. Upon arrival to campus, residents pay a visit to the UAH office (near the corner of 119th and Morningside) to sign a lease, and off they go!

‘Tis the season for sublets. School’s out for summer. But you’re not! UAH leases last for the entire duration of your student status. That means the apartment remains yours for the summer. If you’re interning or working in New York, you’re free to remain in your apartment. However, if your research sends you to Rome, or your internship places you in Iqaluit, you have the ability to sublet your apartment. The transient nature of the neighborhood means that someone would be more than happy to sublet your space. You’re also allowed to charge your subletter a premium, a rate higher than your rent, within reason. UAH has rules for that, but that discussion is best left for if you survive your first year a later time.


UAH is not guaranteed. There is no way for the University to provide housing to its close to 20,000 postgraduates. That said, the various schools are allocated housing spaces; in turn, each school has its own process to determine which students received UAH. At SIPA, the Office of Student Affairs facilitates the UAH process, approving students throughout the summer. A number of factors can determine UAH eligibility including geographic distance away from New York, ability for a student to produce a credit report or credit history, among other things. If you pursue UAH, be sure to pursue other housing options until you receive an offer from UAH.

UAH is (relatively) expensive. Going with UAH means paying for convenience. To quantify it, UAH offerings price between $850 to $1,500 per month, ($2,300 for couples/family spaces). Depending on the placement and contract, this price may or may not include utilities. The premium you pay relieves the stress of finding a place, using a broker, etc. That said, it is possible to find cheaper housing, with rooms in Morningside Heights going as low as $700, even $600. If you don’t mind venturing two or three stops north on the 1 line, you’ll surely get more for your money.


Make friends with a Columbia person who knows what’s up. They’ll be able to let you into various Facebook groups for housing (some pending activation of your UNI and email).

Use OCHA! The Off-Campus Housing Assistance site can be a happy medium between an expensive UAH while still staying within the Columbia community. OCHA compiles a list of spaces posted by Columbia affiliates. Check them out!

Bits of advice:

Morningside Drive and Morningside Avenue are two different streets! Morningside Drive is the western border of Morningside Park, closer to campus. Morningside Avenue is the Park’s eastern border.

Live where you want. Wanna live right next to school? That’s cool. All about the Chelsea life? That’s cool too. As bad gal Riri once said, “Ain’t got not time for no haters, just live your life.”

Don’t mind a 30-40 min. bus ride? Check out Astoria in Queens. Great food, affordable places, and it’s an easy trip straight to the campus gates with the M60 Select Bus Service.

Note from Admissions: To our incoming students, don’t forget to register for the Housing Webinar tomorrow through the Welcome Portal!

"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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