Archive for borrowing

Borrowing Part 3 – International Students

The following post is part of a three part series written by a member of the admissions and financial aid staff, Colin Sullivan.


If students from overseas (or across great lands) require additional funding to supplement any fellowships, sponsorships, or grants they may receive, they can apply for the very same private loans as their American compatriots, but they must have a US citizen or permanent resident willing to cosign.

We also advise that our international students contact banks in their home countries to research the possibility of education or personal loan opportunities to help cover the full cost of attendance.  Something as simple as a Google search with various applicable keywords (i.e., “student”, “loan”, “international”, etc) can often yield a deep well from which you can siphon exactly the type of financing you may require.

International Applicant Frequently Asked Questions:

Question: I’m an international applicant. Can SIPA or any SIPA employees cosign on my private education loan for me, or can Columbia University provide me with a cosigner?

Answer: SIPA cannot serve as a cosigner on any loans, nor can we refer a cosigner. A cosigner should primarily be an individual with whom you share a personal relationship, and someone who would be willing to assume responsibility for the loan should you become unable to pay.

Question:  I’m an international applicant, and my uncle is a wealthy banker in my home country. Would he be able to cosign on my loan?

Answer: Unfortunately at this time, US private education lending institutions require that either a US citizen or permanent resident cosign on your loan, with no exceptions.

Question: Would I be able to use my personal assets as collateral in the absence of a US cosigner?

Answer: At one time, private education loan lenders were willing to accept collateral, but due to the recent “credit crunch” in the US, they have since discontinued this practice. However, a bank in your home country may be able to provide funding for you in a similar manner.

Question: I have been unable to find a cosigner. Is there any additional financial aid available to me, and does SIPA offer any school-originated loans or financing that I can utilize?

Answer: At this time, Columbia University offers no such programs for either domestic or international students, as we do not operate as a lender.

Borrowing Part 2 – U.S. Citizens and Permanent Residents

The following post is part of a three part series written by a member of the admissions and financial aid staff, Colin Sullivan.


To participate in the Federal Direct Loan Program, US citizens/permanent residents must first complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) online at to determine their eligibility. From there, they have three options:

1. Federal Direct Stafford Subsidized/Unsubsidized loans:

* $20,500 annual limit = $8500 subsidized, $12,000 unsubsidized

* 6.8% fixed interest rate (“fixed” meaning for the life of the loan)

* 10 year standard repayment term, beginning 6 months after graduation or separation

2. Federal Perkins loans:

* $6000 annual limit for graduate students

* 5% fixed interest rate

* 10 year standard repayment term, beginning 9 months after graduation or separation

3. Federal Graduate PLUS loans:

* complete entrance counseling and Master Promissory Note

* take cost of attendance and subtract other financial aid awards = maximum amount you can borrow

* 7.9% fixed interest rate

* must pass a credit check, and not have any adverse credit history (e.g., 90+ delinquencies, bankruptcy discharges within past 5 years, default, foreclosures, tax liens, etc)

* 10 – 25 year repayment term, beginning 60 days after final disbursement, but may be deferred while enrolled at least half-time

Should any fellowships and federal financial aid fail to cover your total cost of attendance, you may then opt to apply for private education loans. In many cases of private lending (depending on your personal finances and credit history) a credit-worthy cosigner may be required, while your interest rate and repayment terms could vary significantly. Additionally, you cannot consolidate federal and private student loans together.

International students, stay tuned; we will post your borrowing options in the coming days.

Borrowing Part 1 – An Introduction

The following post is part of a three part series written by a member of the admissions and financial aid staff, Colin Sullivan.


What is $20,000 to $70,000?

a). The price range of a typical brand-new automobile (depending on how jewel-encrusted your steering wheel is)

b). 5,000 to 17,000 rounds bought at happy hour (depending on how frustrating your finals were)

c). the range of loan indebtedness a two-year, full-time SIPA student might have when graduating (depending on how much time and effort that student is willing to spend on seeking out scholarships, grants, and other loan alternatives)

The answer — d)., all of the above. Now, we won’t sell you a car, and we won’t buy you a drink, but we will administer your financial aid. And while Office of Admissions and Financial Aid cannot help you carry the load, we hope to help you lift with your legs and not your back, and avoid any hernias in the process.

In his February 10th blog post, Matt touched upon the notion of education loans as “financial aid”. The whole idea of “aid” (which, for the sake of argument, I’ll define as “assistance”) is not typically that of something that must be repaid (well, maybe karmically), but loans are one instrument that assist, or aid, students in achieving the goal of higher education (another being thousands of milligrams of caffeine).

They’re also one of the first significant investments that many people will make, and can enable increased employability, a higher salary, contributing to retirement accounts, the purchase of property or stocks with that higher salary, etc. As with any investment, the prospective borrower must carefully weigh the risk versus reward of borrowing such large sums for a SIPA education, especially considering that many graduates will pursue careers in the non-profit and public service sectors (not historically known for their piles of money).

Nearly 60% of our student community borrows in order to help fund their studies. Depending on your country of origin, you have different options: US citizens and permanent residents have the right to apply for financing through the Federal Direct Loan Program, while also seeking out private education loans to help cover the full cost of attendance. International students, however, may face more challenges; they do not qualify for financing through the US Department of Education, and must have a US citizen or permanent resident who is willing to cosign on any private student loans.

The Office of Admissions and Financial Aid also maintains a comprehensive external fellowships and grants database, that we strongly suggest all of our US and international applicants and students review. It thoroughly details funding opportunities that may minimize your need for borrowing, a practice which can feel a bit overwhelming at times.

Now, whether you’re motoring across a scorched stretch of desert on your new car’s first road trip, feeling your way home after a 4am Thursday night, or folding paper airplanes with your financial aid forms, it always helps to have a path winding in front of you. In the Financial Aid office, that path first diverges for domestic and international students.

It two follow up entries I will detail the different loan options for US and international students, as your indoctrination into the world of graduate education borrowing. Because, while the cost of funding one’s education at SIPA may initially seem a daunting, the price you pay for not exploring every possible avenue to ensure an amazing SIPA education may end up being much greater.

"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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