Archive for cost

financial aid is always on top of mind

Each year we receive a few questions about financial aid  — and that’s understandable.  Graduate school is expensive.  Here are five of the most frequently asked questions regarding financial aid…  We’ll follow back with a few more next week.

Q: How do I apply for aid?

A: You apply for aid simply by submitting your application for admission.  All applicants for first-year admission to SIPA are automatically considered for institutional aid (fellowships and scholarships) regardless of nationality.  For more details, click here.

Q: How much does it cost to attend SIPA?

A: You will be able to find information on SIPA’s current cost of attendance here.  Costs are established on an annual basis, and the tuition rates for fall 2014 and spring 2015 are yet to be determined.  Estimates will be available in the spring.

Q: What types of financial aid are available at SIPA?

A: SIPA offers a range of fellowships, scholarships, assistantships, student loans and Work Study to qualified students.  Merit-based Fellowships and scholarships are offered to first and second year students, and second year students can also apply for a number of assistantships, which include both a scholarship and a salary.  Some SIPA students also borrow student loans or are employed on campus in Work Study positions.  Click here for more information.

Q: Can financial aid cover my living expenses?

A: Yes, educational loans may be used to cover living expenses as well as tuition.  Students can borrow up to their full cost of attendance.  Aid first goes toward covering direct costs (tuition and fees) and any excess funds are refunded to students to use for their living expenses.

Q: Is funding available for international students?

A: Yes.  SIPA scholarships, fellowships and assistantships, although competitive, are available to both domestic and international students.  Columbia University also maintains a list of private student loan lenders who will lend to international students; click here for more information.  There are also many international students at SIPA who receive funding from agencies in their home country.

Financial Planning – Now, Not Later

I know what you are thinking . . . the January 5th admission deadline has passed, now I can kick my feet up and wait for my admission decision in March.  While this might be one possible option, it is not the option I recommend.

It is no secret, attending graduate school can be expensive.  The time to look into financing your education is not after you get an offer of admission, it is now.  It is a terrible feeling to get an offer of admission and only then realize you might not be able to attend due to financing.

My advice is that if you have not started already, that you set aside time each week to research issues related to the cost of graduate school and the payment options available.

There are many kinds of aid available including:

  • Institutional funding provided by SIPA
  • External Scholarships (i.e. Fulbright, Pickering)
  • Federal Loans (for U.S. citizens and permanent residents)
  • Private Loans
  • Work Study
  • Grants
  • Sponsorship funds from agencies/organizations

Most SIPA students utilize a combination of resources to make attending possible.  Each year students bring in several million dollars of funding that does not need to be repaid by researching and applying for funding.  My feeling has always been that applicants should spend twice the amount of time researching financial aid as is spent on the process of applying for admission.  I covered this topic in a past post entitled The Rule of Two.

I highly encourage you to review the entry but the analogy used is one that you might have heard before from a teacher.  It is not uncommon to hear a teacher say that for every hour spent in the classroom, at a minimum a successful student will spend two hours outside of the classroom.

My feeling about admission and financial aid is the same. At a minimum, one should spend twice as much time researching financial aid options as researching admission to a program.  While SIPA does allocate around $6 million each year on fellowships for students, a limited number of first year students receive funding (around 10-15%).

With this in mind, it will benefit you to research costs and other sources of funding so that if admitted you have a plan.  Not having a plan and not having done research is a strategy that most often leads to frustration.  Here are some tips to get you started:

• Check out SIPA’s own fellowship database. We search for scholarships for you and post them to the database.  The database is not SIPA specific.  As we search for and hear about funding, we make the information available to you.

• Use RSS technology to deliver news to your email account or RSS Reader.  RSS allows for news to be delivered to you without having to go look for it every day.  As an example, Gmail accounts have something called the “Alert” tool and I am sure other providers have the same capability.  All you have to do is put in text for searches and a search engine will perform the searches daily and deliver news to your email account.  You can type in search terms like “Graduate School Scholarships” or “International Affairs Scholarships.”  You can also utilize an RSS reader.  RSS readers are free and if you do not know what an RSS reader is, click here for a YouTube tutorial.

• Talk to people you know who have gone to graduate school and find out if they were able to find scholarship opportunities.

• Contact people that have written you a letter of recommendation and have them make multiple copies of the recommendation letter and give them to you in sealed envelops so you are ready if a scholarship opportunity arises and there is a tight deadline.

• Start to familiarize yourself with the cost of living in New York City.  SIPA is only able to provide housing for approximately 30% of our students and most students must find housing the city.  A great resource to get started is Craigslist.  I recommend signing up for an email feed for NYC apartments.  Following rental trends will help familiarize you with costs around the city.

• Familiarize yourself with the payment and billing options available to SIPA students.  You can get started by visiting the Columbia University Student Financial Services home page.

I will not say the process of searching for funding and familiarizing yourself with costs is easy and it can take a considerable amount of effort.  However, the sooner you start to look the more doors you will possibly open – figuratively and literally.

The Fellowship Search: The Rule of Two

I remember in college I was always told that for every hour spent in class, I should expect to spend two hours outside of class studying.  I believe that a similar maxim applies to the search for funding to help pay for graduate school.  My belief is that for every hour you spend working on an admission application for graduate school, you should spend at least 2 times the amount of time looking for fellowships.

At first this might seem like a very strange thing for me to say so let me provide some background.  First off, most professional schools like SIPA do provide fellowship funding, but nowhere near the amount that would cover all educationally related costs.  Our program is full-time and you need to pay for tuition, books, rent, food, travel, etc.

I believe that some people apply for graduate school and count on fellowship aid from the school being available.  While it is true that approximately 70% of eligible second year students at SIPA receive fellowship funding, only approximately 10-15 % of first year students receive SIPA fellowship funding.

For many who are admitted without SIPA fellowship funding, the confounding question of how to pay for everything comes up almost immediately.  The good news is that there is evidence that many SIPA applicants are looking for external fellowship funding.  This is evidenced by the fact that each year for the past few years students have brought in close to $5 million total in outside scholarships, fellowships, and grants.  This does not come without a price – and that price is time and effort looking for funding.

So let’s break down an estimate of how many hours go into the application process.  Part 1 of the application process is pretty simple, fill out the online application and submit it, about 30-45 minutes, but let’s round up to 1 hour.  You also have to contact those that will be writing letters of recommendation for you, let’s say 20 minutes per for a total of 1 hour.  So 2 hours on Part 1.

Part 2 is a bit more complex and these are only estimates to get a ballpark figure.  The two required résumés will probably take around 3 hours.  The personal statement is hard to gauge but by the time you are done, three hours is probably a good minimum.  Let’s give getting your transcripts in order and uploaded 1 hour.  Finally there are test scores.  This is a toughie because the time spent studying for these exams can be excessive.  Everyone is different, but let’s give it a nice round figure of 10 hours for calculation purposes.  So what do we have . . .

  • 1 Hour on the Application
  • 1 Hour on contacting those who will write letters of recommendation
  • 3 Hours on résumé preparation
  • 3 Hours on your personal statement
  • 1 Hour ordering and scanning transcripts for upload
  • 10 Hours on test taking and preparation

That puts you at around 19 hours of preparation that go into the application process.  Let’s round up and call it 20 hours.

Thus my belief is that you should spend a minimum of 40 hours looking for and applying for fellowship opportunities.  How do you do this?  There is no one right answer, sometimes we find out about opportunities by happenstance.  However you can improve your chances by engaging in the following:

• Check out SIPA’s own fellowship database. We search for scholarships for you and post them to the database.  The database is not SIPA specific.  As we search for and hear about funding, we make the information available to you.

• Use RSS technology to deliver news to your email account or RSS Reader.  RSS allows for news to be delivered to you without having to go look for it every day.  As an example, Gmail accounts have something called the “Alert” tool and I am sure other providers have the same capability.  All you have to do is put in text for searches and a search engine will perform the searches daily and deliver news to your email account.  You can type in search terms like “Graduate School Scholarships” or “International Affairs Scholarships.”  You can also utilize an RSS reader.  They are free and if you do not know what an RSS reader is, click here for a YouTube tutorial.

• Talk to people you know who have gone to graduate school and find out if they were able to find scholarship opportunities.

• Contact people who are willing to write you a letter of recommendation and have them make multiple copies of the recommendation letter and give them to you in sealed envelops so you are ready if a scholarship opportunity arises and there is a tight deadline.

• Speak with people at your undergraduate university – alumni relations, career services, faculty members, etc.

• Talk to the organization you work for to find out if they sponsor students or have grants for furthering your education.

In summary, don’t let “the funding issue” sneak up on you.  Spend adequate time searching for funding sources and to help make your graduate dream a reality.

Now What?

So you have submitted your application and you are patiently waiting for us to match all of your documents to your application . . . now what?

The answer for most of you is to not just wait – there is more to do if you want to increase your chances making your goal of attending SIPA a reality. More on that in a bit but first some notes on our time line.

We will have our first batches of admission files ready for distribution to the Admissions Committee in the third week of January. It takes four to eight weeks for a file to run through the review process. Our goal is to have the majority of our decisions made and available on the application Web site by early March.

About 80% of our admission decisions are posted to the application Web site on a single day. We do not post decisions as they are made and we do not want to wait until all decisions are made to send out notifications. Approximately 20-25% of applicants selected for admission will be set aside for the SIPA Fellowship Committee to review. This takes an additional one to two weeks so some applicants may have to wait an additional period of time for a decision.

Applicants who are admitted will have the opportunity to participate in an online message board in order to interact with current students and we will host an Open House for admitted applicants on Tuesday, April 14th.

A concern for most of our applicants is how to pay for all of the costs associated with attending graduate school. Tuition, housing, food, travel, books, and all of the associated costs for a two year program can be well over $100,000.  

Some applicants have already obtained funding commitments through government agencies, private foundations, and other scholarship programs. If you have not obtained funding it is certainly not too late to start looking and my highest recommendation is that you make the process of searching for funding a part of your weekly routine.

The more time you spend looking, the more you increase your chances of obtaining funding that does not need to be repaid. While it is not a perfect analogy, think about retirement. When is the best time to start saving for retirement? The answer is, as soon as possible. It is not wise to wait until late in your life to start saving for retirement.

Similarly, the time to start searching for graduate school funding is as soon as possible. That means if you have not already incorporated scholarship research into your routine you should start today. Just like you may plan time to go to the gym or watch your favorite T.V. show, you should set time aside on consistent basis to look for funding opportunities and fill out applications.

The Internet is certainly the easiest way to get started. Search engine queries and RSS feeds should be at the top of your list. If you do not know what an RSS feed is, see this previous entry. We have our own RSS enabled, searchable scholarship database to assist you as well – click here to access it.

You can also network. Talk to people who have gone to graduate school, former professors, and to work colleagues. If you are U.S. citizen become familiar with federal aid options as well as options available through your state of residence. If you are an international student you can start researching opportunities here.  General search engine queries will reveal sites such as these:  Gradview and Education Database.

I know it might be easy to simply sit back and await an admission decision in March, but if you are interested in increase your chances of obtaining funding that does not need to be repaid, the time to start looking is now.  

"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