Archive for budget

A Seeple’s take on managing a student budget

Being a student generally means you’re poor. Or you feel poor. There, I’ve said it! Now, that’s not necessarily the case for everyone, or all the time, or an inescapable situation. SIPA makes shrinking budgets particularly painful, because most students come from working for a few years before SIPA (it is a graduate/professional school, after all), and losing that stream of full-time income can be downright depressing. However, fear not, future or current SEEPLES, there is a method to the (financial) madness! Read on!

If you’re lucky enough to have generous support from your family, significant other, awesome government, etc., and ALL of your living and tuition expenses are covered, great! You may read the rest of this post as pure amusement or if you really care about saving a few pennies. But really, you can just skip the rest of the post and go have a relaxing afternoon!

For the rest of us plebes: it really comes down to three things: take advantage of cost-managing resources (campus and off-campus), try finding additional sources of income, and manage your expectations.

  1. Cost-managing resources: while general wisdom dictates that being a student is financially sucky, I tend to disagree. Students have a variety of perks available to them, which allow them to get access to everything from academic resources to leisure/entertainment choices for a fraction of the cost “normal people” have to pay for them. A few of my personal favorites include:
    • Cuts on buying and renting books (if you think you need to pay at all! I haven’t bought a book since my freshman year of college. They’re all usually at the library, or the profs have copies you can borrow).
    • Cuts on electronic and IT equipment and software (stores from Apple to B&H offer student discounts)
    • Fitness/physical education discounts at gyms throughout the city, including Columbia’s own Dodge Fitness Center, where you get special rates
    • Entertainment/art discounts (see Columbia’s Art Initiative for free concerts and plays, discounted performances, and special events; also, if you’re a Met Opera fan, like me, check out their Met Students Program – you pay $ 25 for seats that are normally in the hundreds!) Cost management also includes assiduous financial aid research – apply to everything you are eligible for!
    • You should also talk to the Admissions and Financial Aid Office, OSA, advisors, etc., and identify external and within-Columbia/SIPA fellowships, scholarships and funds you can apply for. I had my second year and half of my first year entirely covered, tuition-wise, all thanks to fellowships and scholarships! I also got reimbursed for participating in conferences and other academic opportunities, such as research fellowships.
  2. Find additional sources of income: from campus opportunities (assistantships: TA-ships, PA-ships, Reader-ships; paid research opportunities; fellowships and scholarships) to off-campus streams of income (paid internships, part-time jobs, consultancies, etc.), you will find that with careful planning and excellent time-management skills, SIPA allows for enough room to take advantage of these options. But it’s up to you to find them. They will rarely fall into your lap. I have successfully supplemented my income with most of the above-mentioned (some of the oddest, and least-SIPA related have involved modeling and selling stock photography. Some of the most-SIPA related have included paid research and assistantships).
  3. Manage your expectations: you will see this stressed everywhere, and even though I’m not personally a great believer in it (do you adjust your dreams to your life, or your life to your dreams?), it is worth mentioning. My mother always reminds me that I’m a “student” now (again! gah!), and that I’m supposed to live within my means. Luckily, I have a SO who disagrees, and an ambitious, resourceful personality that helps me in finding opportunities to support my needs and interests. But generally, yes, it is a very wise and mature approach to downsize your travel, living arrangement, eating preferences, entertainment, etc. to match your available resources while at SIPA. It might hurt in the beginning, but you’ll get used to it, and remember: it’s temporary!

So there you have it, peeps, the essence of managing a student budget! Fret not, you will not be on it for long! 🙂

[Edited Photo by Donald Bowers Photography | Adriana Popa, MIA 2016, holding stacks of money and listening to music, because why not?!]



It is highly recommended to visit the programs that you’re interested in applying to. When I was applying, I took  two weeks off of work and visited eight MPA programs. While I researched these programs, I instinctively ranked them in my mind from the one that I wanted to attend the most to the least. Surprisingly, after visiting the programs, my ranking of programs changed drastically! Programs on the top of my list were crossed off entirely, while schools I were on the fence,  jumped up high on the list. Factors for the rearrangement of my list include; approachability of professors, friendliness of students, sitting in on classes, as well as the ambiance of the city where the school was located.

In regards to SIPA, it was the one school that did not shift position. It was on the top of my list and remained there after my visit. The professors took the time out of their schedules to meet with me, the students took me out for some drinks at the end of the day and offered me candid answers to my questions, the classes were extremely stimulating, and New York City is amazing!

That being said, visit SIPA! See if it is a good fit, as well as NYC. While here explore the City. It can be quite daunting if you don’t know where to start. One of my passions before coming to SIPA was splurging on food. My desire for quality food has not diminished, although my wallet has since I am now a full time student. So, I have created a list of AMAZING restaurants to try when you’re here, while on a graduate student budget. This is clutch. These restaurants are scattered throughout Manhattan which will allow you to explore your new home if you decide to enroll. Good luck on your application and bon appetit!



Beware: cool stuff in NYC on a grad-student-friendly budget

Orientation week has ended.  Classes have begun.  One of our new students at SIPA, Joel Putnam, MPA 2015 posted this in our new student group discussion group but we thought this would be great to share with anyone thinking of coming to New York — the best city in the world.


It’s been great meeting so many of you guys, finally! Since orientation was (understandably) focused on what’s happening in the IAB and on campus, I thought I’d toss a few ideas to orient new New Yorkers to cool stuff in the city on a grad-student-friendly budget. Because if you spend your two years here and never go below 90th or east of Central Park, you are making a huge mistake (or, as we like to say here on the internet, yr doin it wrng).

First off, New York has a lot of cool sights to see, but you probably know about all of them. Statue of Liberty, Times Square, etc I’m not worried about you missing. The really cool thing about the city in my opinion is what’s happening here at any given moment. There are lots of ways to find cool stuff in this category, but my two favorite are these:

NonsenseNYC Mailing list— weekly mailing list with all kinds of crazy stuff going on. Music? Check. Standup Comedy? Check. Pillowfight wth hundreds of people in union square, bring your own pillow? Check. Much of what’s listed is a little Brooklyn-centric, but that’s kinda the nature of NYC culture at the moment.

The Skint Blog: Emphasis here is on free and cheap. Aside from cool happenings around town, it often features giveaways and other really good deals on food, drinks, etc. Posted daily with special weekend editions.

Aside from that, Time Out NY ( is also very good and is much more comprehensive than the other two. I find it more useful as a reference than inspiration, just because it has so much stuff that it will sometimes get a bit unwieldy. Also of note (though with less cheap and slightly male-centric slant) are Thrillist ( and UrbanDaddy (

Aside from those, some people swear by Groupon (, LivingSocial ( and other similar daily coupon sites. I’ve never liked them as much myself, but I’m not you, and you might find they’re useful if you sign up. Costs nothing up front and you can always cancel.

Don’t forget your unlimited 30-day metrocard for the subways and buses (yes it is overwhelmingly worth it unless you’re very very rich and can take taxis everywhere). Don’t bother with the “express bus+ Subway” metrocard unless you’ve got family way up in Kingsbridge, just get the regular card, it’ll get you everywhere you need to go, buses included. Finally consider a citibike membership if you don’t own a bike. I know it doesn’t come up to Columbia and won’t till we’re long gone, but it’s really handy in a pinch when you’re out exploring with friends, especially late at night.

Live Like a College Student, Not Like a Rock Star

Most SIPA students have, since they were last enrolled in college, worked full-time and began establishing careers throughout the world, living on their own, perhaps marrying and starting families…these experiences are part of the perspectives that they bring with them to SIPA.  And it’s normal for lifestyles to change during the period of young adulthood…nicer clothes, a bigger apartment, more restaurants and fewer ramen noodles, maybe finally scrapping that 1991 Honda and buying a new car.

But when people make the decision to be a full-time graduate student, it may mean a brief period of financial adjustments and temporarily resetting priorities.  You are entering a rigorous academic program and are very unlikely to be able to hold down a full-time job or anything close to it.  Financing options are certainly available to help defray costs that you cannot cover out of pocket, but don’t forget that loans have to be repaid later…it’s hardly the same thing as income.

NYC housing prices make it worth the effort to find a roommate or two.  Pare down the wardrobe (you’ll quickly observe that SIPA is a pretty informal place in terms of fashion).  Parking in the city often makes a car more trouble than it’s worth, and no city anywhere has more mass transit options.  New York may be home to countless trendy restaurants that foodies from around the world flock to, but food trucks and bagel shops serve up good food at affordable prices.  Find the cheap eats, they’re all over our neighborhood.  Learn where and when Columbia University student ID cards get you reduced prices (or better yet, free admission) at museums or concerts.

Give yourself a budget and work hard to stick to it.  About 40 percent of SIPA students rely on student loans to meet some of their tuition and/or living expenses, and student loan repayment is flexible and manageable, but debt is debt and shouldn’t be taken on just to maintain lifestyle choices for the 21 months you’ll be a SIPA student.  It’s one thing to choose to live like a college student while you are one…it’s another to have to later.


"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

Boiler Image