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3 Tips for Adjusting to the Grad School Grind

Thanks to Hon W. for submitting this blog topic. Submit your idea for a blog post here.

The average age of a SIPA student is 27, which means most of us have had at least a few years of work experience before starting school. While we made the decision to go back to school for our Master’s, there’s little that can prepare you for going back to school.  There are some students who make the adjustment from work-life to school-life seamlessly. There are others, like myself, who found it a bit challenging.

When you’re working you have deadlines and short-term projects, and you don’t always have to work on the weekends or past 5 PM. But when you get to SIPA, you are running a marathon. You have to make it through midterms and finals, and you may have to study on weekends or until 11 PM (this depends on the diligence of the student). So naturally, when you’ve been out of academia for a minute, the adjustment back into it can be hard to grapple with.

Here are my top three tips for those thinking about applying to, or arriving at SIPA from the working world.

  1. Be prepared to play the long game and train yourself to study again. School is hard, and it’s okay to admit that. It’s important to be honest when you need help, and to seek assistance. Professors don’t want you to be overloaded to a breaking point, so if you’re feeling overwhelmed I recommend you communicate that to them. Generally, they’ll work with you to find a solution. Also, make an effort to train yourself to study again. As one professor said to me my first week at SIPA, “If you’re reading every line of the assigned readings, you’re doing it wrong.” Remember this, because there is no way you can do 600 pages of reading a week with everything going on. To strike a balance, I recommend forming study groups, or reading groups with classmates to divide up the work. This really helps if you’re taking a reading intensive course such as “War, Peace, and Strategy” (get ready, all those ISPers out there).
  2. Make a schedule similar to that of the one you maintained when you were at work. A lot of fellow classmates told me one way they adjusted to school-life was by making a schedule that mirrored the one they had prior to SIPA. They stuck to working hours from 9AM-6PM, and this included classes, recitations, and study/homework hours. This helped them think of school like work, and therefore, they were able to maintain a healthy work-life balance. I failed to do this my first semester and wish I had, because I think it would have forced me in to a school=work mentality that I just didn’t come into grad school with.
  3. Cut yourself a break, and make sure to factor in “Me Time.” Taking time for yourself is important in preventing burnout. Plan time for you to workout at Dodge Fitness Center (or another gym), carve out time to not work on at least one day during the week (for me it was Saturday), or simply make time to go see New York. Getting out of the SIPA bubble is beneficial for a student’s mental health, and can really help put things in perspective. It’s also a great way to connect with fellow classmates outside the classroom.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of things a student coming back in to academia can do to adjust, but these are the main ones I think a lot of us talk about most. Finally, everyone reacts differently to re-entering academia, but we all come out the other end with a Master’s degree and a boatload of experiences. Now that I find myself back in the working world, I feel I have the necessary toolset I need to get to that next level — one that wouldn’t have been possible unless I went back to academia and to SIPA.

Apps on Apps on Apps on Apps

(*Disclaimer: The applications identified in this article are based personal recommendations, and SIPA is not receiving any form of compensation for mentioning them in this blog post.)

Alright incoming Seeples, because it’s 2019 and we use our mobiles for nearly everything I’ve compiled a list of useful Apps to download prior to your imminent arrival in NYC. Of course, none of them are a must-haves, however, many SIPA students find them useful especially if you’ve never lived in this city before (i.e.: students like me). I’ve got recs. on everything from rideshare Apps to money saving Apps. Hopefully, by the end of this article I’ll have you feeling App-solutely prepared to conquer this city!

Your Compass to Campus

Look, New York is a big place, and can be difficult to navigate if you are not familiar with your cardinal directions. Just in case you do not have this skill set, are unfamiliar with how a grid system works, or are just want to figure out how to get to that bespoke coffee shop in Brooklyn here are some Apps to help you get there:

Google Maps: This App will map out step-by-step instructions for your preferred route no matter where you are trying to go and in real-time. It will allow you to map it by car, transit, or walking. It also allows users to route maps offline and discover new places across the city. Personally, this is my go-to App for getting around NYC.

Apple Maps: If you’re an iPhone user, this App should already be somewhere on your Apple device. It does pretty much the same exact thing as Google Maps, but because of #BrandLoyalty, some prefer the trusty insights of this Apple-led navigation.

MTA: Many Trains Absent, but Here’s how to Know Your Train is Approaching

As you will come to learn, taking the MTA is by far the quickest and cheapest way to get anywhere in this city. However, it is also a somewhat unpredictable and illogical mode of transportation.

My MTA: This is a New York must have. It will allow you to plan your trips, provided you with updates on planned and unplanned services changes, as well as real ETA’s for you trains.

Transit: Very similar to the My MTA App, it allows you to plan your trip and provides you with real-time updates of your transit options. The App also allows users to compare their transit options in the App, and includes options for Bikeshare, Rideshare and walking routes.

Sharing that Ride is Caring AND Good for the Environment

Sometimes you find yourself out at 3 AM in the Lower East Side (LES) and the thought of taking public transportation is too much to bear.  This is where riding home to the Upper West Side (UWS) in the comfort of a strangers car is by far the most tantalizing option. Of course, you can take the classic NYC yellow taxi cabs, or you can use any of the below ridesharing options.

Uber: One of the most popular ridesharing options, Uber will get you a ride anywhere in the city. It provides users with price estimates before selecting rides so you can be assured you’re getting the best price for you. Uber offer wheelchair accessible rides, black SUV options for big groups, and UberPool where users who are going in the same direction can carpool for a discounted rate. The only downside to this App is that on holidays or days when big events are happening there can be surge pricing and long wait times.

Lyft: Is also one of the most popular ridesharing options in NYC.  Lyft offers pretty much the exact same services as Uber, such as a pool option, private car and SUV rides for larger groups. However, there are some differences, so here’s a New York Times article that weighs in on the millennial age-old debate: Uber v. Lyft.

Via: While it isn’t the most used ridesharing platform, do not discount it here in NYC. Via is all about the carpool. It allows passengers headed in the same direction to share their rides. For SIPA student’s conscious of their carbon footprint, carpooling with VIA is a great way to be a friend to our environment. Via also allows users to use commuter benefits to pay for rides on their platform, a feature neither Uber nor Lyft have.

Foodies Unite

I think most of us can agree food is life, and with over 24,000 restaurants in Manhattan alone, the options to dine out in NYC are endless. These Apps are perfectly curated to placate the palate, especially if you need to refuel during a late night study session or need to order a bagel and coffee ASAP after a night out. Don’t worry, you won’t get quizzed on this Cuisine, but you will have to decide on where to eat.

Seamless: This App has all the noms, and is extremely useful in Manhattan. It allows its users to order their food from over thousands of restaurants across Manhattan and will bring it right to your door. This App is excellent and the perfect option for a late night snack, or those who refuse to cook because grad school is hard enough.

GrubHub: Classic move here, and when Seamless doesn’t have your local artisanal handmade pasta available, you should really check out GrubHub. The platform is similar to Seamless and brings your food cravings to life. I highly recommend for any student who just can’t bring themselves to leave the couch after getting through a 20 page essay.

SIPA: Where the World Connects (Through Social Media)

For some of us luddites social media may seem like the bane of our existence, however, I assure you it is alive and well at SIPA.

WhatsApp: All I have to say is, in WhatsApp we Seeples, stan. If you don’t have this end-to-end encryption messaging App you need to get it. SIPA students use this platform to connect more than any other. The App lets you message 1 person, or start a group chat to firm up plans, and is considered the preferred method of communication for your average Seeple.

Facebook: This social media platform is where Seeples create events. Personally, I keep a light social media presence, but almost everyone creates events throughout their time at SIPA on this platform.  If you have FOMO, you need this App just to keep your social calendar in check.

Eventbrite: this App is utilized at almost every single SIPA function including the famous LASA parties (don’t worry you will soon know what these are).  I recommend getting it to make sure you have your tickets at the ready. It’s also a cool App because it will inform you of other events happening around NYC—a great way to explore the city.

Explorest: For all my Seeples out there doing it for the #gram. This App gives users the information they need to take the best photos in their city. The spots are listed by local photographers, and come with tips such as the best time to go and what to wear.  It’s great if you’re trying to live your best New York Life and want to show the Fam. back home.

Spotify: A classic music platform to perfectly curate that intense study playlist. While Spotify is free to download, Spotify Premium is just $5 a month for students and includes: no ads, offline playing, and a free subscription to Hulu and Showtime (who needs cable at this rate).

The Grad School Hustle is Real

Digit: This App allows users to unknowingly save money as they spend. It tracks your spending habits, helps you budget your spending, and saves a bit of your money without you knowing its being withheld. It truly is an App curbs your spending, and saves you money!

Acorns: With Acorns, users are able to use their spare change to micro-invest. This App allows users to track their spending, but also grow their funds by crafting a set of personalized strategies that allow them to invest at their discretion.

Honey: This App is one of my favorites, and also comes in Google Chrome Plugin form.  Its purpose is to find its users the best deals, coupon codes, and promo codes for whatever website they are looking to make a purchase on. Everyone loves a good discount, and Honey is your best virtual shopping friend. Trust me, your bank account will thank me.

“Because it’s Never too Early to Start that Job Hunt”- Every OCS Advisor

I know you’re just about to start SIPA, but to be honest it is never too early to start looking to your future. Trust me when I say your OCS advisors and your professors will all say this. So, if you’re interested in job hunting here are a few Apps to help.

LinkedIn: This is a must at SIPA, and your Professional Development professors will implore you to create a profile. It’s a great way to connect with SIPA alumni, and those whose industries you are looking to enter. Do yourself a favor and create a job profile—it’s a great networking tool.

ZipRecruiter: Another job App that gives you access to hundreds of job postings instantly.  It is rated the # job search App for Android and iOS, and will alert you when a job posting in your desired industry is released.

Well, thanks for bearing with me, and I hope you found a few of these Apps useful. I know there are plenty more out there that would be useful, but these are the most used at SIPA and the ones I think new students would find useful. Hope you enjoyed it, and are furiously checking the App store to learn more!

If you’re missing NYC during Winter Break: Favorite Places to Study outside of Columbia University

Although Lehman Library is the default, and perhaps easiest, place to study for SIPA students, there are plenty of other spaces to explore throughout the City. Sometimes it’s great to get out of Morningside Heights and make the trip to other neighborhoods. Below is a list of some of my favorite places to study off campus. 

  1. Rose Main Reading Room – The Rose Main Reading Room is located in The New York Public Library in midtown Manhattan, and the trip is well worth it! Generally speaking, the NYPL is a must see for anyone visiting New York for the first time. However, one of the best things about the library is the Rose Main Reading Room, after years of renovations, it has finally been reopened to the public. High ceilings and plenty of light make it the ideal place to study for midterms and finals (plus you feel like you’re at Hogwarts – an added bonus!). The library is divided into two sections: an area where tourists can walk around and take photos, and an area designated for quiet studying.
  1. Coffee Shops in the West Village – The West Village is easily accessible via the 1 train from Columbia University and in addition to it being a great area to explore, there are a lot of coffee shops where you can sit and do some work. A few personal favorites include Rebel Coffee on 8th Avenue and Stumptown Coffee Roasters on 8th Street.  Both of these locations have plenty of seating and are great to catch up on notes. However, they tend to get very crowded in the midafternoon on weekends, so getting there early is essential.
  1. The New York Society Library – The New York Society library is one of New York City’s oldest cultural landmarks, and though only members are able to check out books and have full access to the building, the first-floor reading room is open to the public. This is a great, quiet place to study, though it’s located on the east side, the cross town bus makes it easily accessible from Columbia University.
  1. Sheep Meadow – Sheep Meadow Is located on the west side of Central Park, from 66th to 69th Street, it is a great place to study during the warmer months. During the summer, residents flock to Sheep Meadow to sunbathe, have picnics, and enjoy the New York City skyline. The area is open from April to Mid-October and is a great place to catch up on reading and do some studying. Don’t forget to bring a blanket!

Feel free to share your own favorite locations below!

A Definitive List of the Best Libraries on Campus

Although Lehman Library is the default place of study for the majority of SIPA students, there are plenty of libraries on campus that are worth exploring. Butler Library, is of course, the quintessential image featured on every other postcard sold at the bookstore but there are other, equally picturesque places to study on campus and your Columbia Student ID card is a veritable passport to each and everyone of these locations. See below for a list of my personal favorites. 

  1. Avery Library at the School of Architecture: Avery Library is by far one of my favorite places to study on campus. As soon as you walk in you are greeted with large windows and plenty of sunlight. Although finals and midterms season makes this a popular location, there are generally plenty of seats available throughout the semester. Unfortunately, you are only able to print with Paw Print, which means you are limited to a $2.00 quota per day, but this is usually the case for printing anywhere outside of SIPA. Plus, Avery is located above Brownies Cafe, so you can easily grab lunch.
  2. Science and Engineering Library: The Science and Engineering Library is another great location to study. The upstairs area is located right next to large windows overlooking the Engineering School, with views of the Business school as well. There are always plenty of seats and computers available. Plus, it is conveniently located next to one of the best cafe’s on campus – Joe’s Coffee.
  1.  Mathematics Library: located in the Mathematics building, this library is small and generally isolated. Although the library itself may be a little quieter and smaller than the other items on this list, it has some really great views of Broadway and Barnard College. The views alone make it worth the trip from SIPA.
  1. Gabe M. Weiner Music and Arts Library: this library is located above Dodge Hall and also has some great views of Columbia University. Additionally, due to its location, you will generally find it emptier than other libraries on campus. Although a little further out of the way than other items on this list, it is one of the quieter places to study, it also doesn’t get as packed during finals and midterms like other libraries generally do.

Note from Admissions: If you have the chance to visit Columbia University in person, you should also look into visiting SIPA and sitting in on a class.

Best apps and websites for the grad school application process

One of the most important things about applying to graduate school is staying organized. There are so many deadlines/things to remember that it becomes hard to keep track.  However, there are plenty of apps and websites that will make things easier. Below is a list of some popular apps/websites that will make your graduate school application process easier. Feel free to add your own in the comments below. 

Wunderlist: This app is great, it is very easy to input reminders and you can even create a shortcut on your laptop to create notifications with ease. It also syncs with your calendar automatically. 

Wolfram Alpha: This is essentially a very fancy visual calculator. It is able to solve problems across a variety of topics, including probability, money and finance, and statistics. This comes in very handy for the GRE. 

Trello: This is a great website for keeping track of projects with multiple tasks and assignments. Trello is a popular tool for many startups, which means it can handle a large number of tasks at the same time. 

Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock: This is a great alarm clock that works naturally with your sleep cycle. It keeps track of your natural sleeping patterns and REM cycles to wake you up when you naturally would. The application process can be stressful and getting plenty of rest is important.

Youper: This mental health tracking app helps you handle stress. Although there are many apps out there that work similarly, this app stands out among the rest in that it helps you better understand your emotions in real time. Never underestimate the importance of taking care of your mental health!

"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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