Commuting to Columbia University’s campus

We often discuss the wonderful diversity of students at SIPA on this blog. That diversity means students are moving to New York from all over the country and the world so inevitably one of the first questions admitted students have is about where they should live. Some students move to the city just before they begin their studies and live right by campus; some used to live in New York, move back and crash with friends for the first few weeks; some live with family off commuter train lines; and others have been living here for years in all corners of the city. No matter when or how you arrive, all of us have to figure out what our commute to Columbia will be.

I am one of those students who was already living and working in New York before coming to SIPA so this post is to share some thoughts and advice on living farther from Columbia than walking distance or just off the 1 train. I live on the East side of Manhattan and my commute to campus takes forty minutes on a very good day, or an hour on a bad day. I decided to stay at my current apartment, despite the long commute. Thankfully, I have been happy with my choice and discovered I get all my reading done during my commute!

I have friends who live in Midtown and Brooklyn, and I’ve even met a few students who commute via the Metro-North line from even farther outside the city. So it’s definitely possible to live beyond campus! It just depends on what you’re looking for in your SIPA experience. If you are someone who has extreme FOMO (fear of missing out), living farther away might be frustrating for you as you can’t run over whenever a spontaneous happy hour or study group occurs. If you’re someone who is coming to SIPA because you want to be in the heart of New York City and go to shows and museums in your spare time, you might enjoy living further downtown or in Brooklyn, depending on the environment you’re looking for.

One second-year student told me that living far away (he lives in Midtown East) means he actually spends more time on campus because he knows he can’t commute back and forth within the day. Another student said that a longer commute can be frustrating and sometimes tiring but added that living far away teaches you time management and to operate more efficiently.

Rebecca Krisel, MIA 2016, lives in Brooklyn, and sees her commute as a benefit: “Though I spend nearly two hours a day underground, commuting from Crown Heights in Brooklyn to SIPA, it is an opportunity to have uninterrupted time to read the newspaper or to get lost in a novel, as well as catch up on some podcasts,” she says.

“The commute each way is exactly the right amount of time to enjoy any genre of storytelling and my Kindle is my best commuting friend. Since I already lived in Brooklyn before beginning my degree at SIPA, I felt tied to the community and my home. Uprooting to Harlem would have felt like I was moving to a new city and I am glad I made the decision to stay in Brooklyn. It allows me to engage with the rest of the city while I study urban policy at SIPA, and it creates an incentive to enjoy what New York has to offer. From a social perspective, there are times when I feel as though living far away cuts me off from the social life at SIPA. However, I have never had an issue convincing SIPA peers to visit me in Brooklyn on the weekends.”

Here are some tips if you decide to live beyond Morningside Heights (where SIPA is located):

  • Be sure to consider transportation costs of MetroCards when you make your budget for the school year!
  • Download a mobile app or two that will help you check if trains are delayed or out of service—you don’t want to get stuck on an already long commute, nor do you want to miss class. Here is a list of mobile apps that can help you get around the city. When it snows, be sure to check closures and leave extra time for your commute—you’ll even walk a bit slower when it’s icy outside.
  • Set up a system for yourself to be productive on the train or bus. I get all my reading done for class during my commute by planning ahead and downloading all my readings to an iPad. Other options include printing your readings on campus and taking those with you or using another e-reader, such as a Kindle.
  • Be upfront with any homework groups you are in that you are not able to run back and forth to campus, so if you need to meet in person they know when you’ll be on campus.
  • And if you find your commute too long, you can always move closer to campus! Maybe only sign a one year lease when you first move to New York if you want to give yourself the option to move elsewhere for your second year.

Want to practice the commute to Columbia University? Come to a SIPA information session or tour, by signing up here.