Archive for Financial Aid

Beware of student loan scams

From time to time, we see some bad actors preying on confusion or spreading misinformation to try to coax student loan borrowers into paying for services they are entitled to at no cost. The economic stimulus bill recently passed by Congress provides relief for borrowers by suspending payments and the accumulation of interest on most student loans in the U.S. from March 13 until September 30.

Unfortunately, some have taken advantage of this provision to start up new scams.

If you currently have a federally held student loan, all payments are suspended, and no action is necessary on your part. If you get any communication from an entity requesting payment to help you take advantage of this payment relief, it is a scam. Note that not all student loans are federally held, and if you have any questions or are experiencing economic hardships, reach out your loan servicer (the company to whom you make payments). Some private student loan lenders are offering similar relief for borrowers of privately held student loans, but that was not included in Congress’ stimulus bill. If you are an international student with student debt from outside the U.S., contact your lender or your country’s student loan agency for further instructions.

Some resources you may find helpful include this Federal Student Aid information and this post from

Know your rights as a student loan borrower! For more information, visit SIPA’s loans and federal aid page or contact the SIPA Office of Financial Aid — we will be happy to help you navigate this process.

Application submitted! What now?

So you’ve just submitted your application and, like I was, you’re probably dreading the thought of waiting for decisions to be released. March seems so far away right now, but it will come sooner than you think! While you wait, there are several things you can do to make productive use of the time and keep your mind occupied.

1) Take a break!

First off, congratulations on finishing the application process! I know from personal experience that writing and editing numerous essays, studying for the GRE, coordinating with recommenders, and gathering all of the other required documents is a significant, and sometimes stressful, task. Take some time to celebrate your accomplishment and relax. Emerge from your GRE studying cocoon and spend time with friends, re-engage with your hobbies, and stop thinking about graduate school for at least a week or two.

2) Have a backup plan

SIPA receives thousands of impressive applications each year. Unfortunately, this inevitably means that some applicants do not receive the decision they are hoping for, and therefore its vital that you have a backup plan in case SIPA is not in the cards this year. Take this time to think about your plan in the event that you don’t get admitted. Maybe you’ll want to stay in your current job for another year and reapply, or maybe you’ll spend the summer taking an economics course to strengthen your next application. Also make sure you don’t make any major life changes until decisions are released. Please don’t quit your job and move to NYC just yet! (We love to see the enthusiasm, but really, it’s a bad idea.)

3) Plan your budget

This is a great time to plan your budget for graduate school. Take the time to apply to outside scholarships and fellowships, and explore any other means of funding. Subscribe to the SIPA Admissions blog for updates on upcoming scholarship deadlines, research outside funding on the SIPA financial aid page, and read this great blog post on budgeting by the Associate Director of Financial Aid.

4) Visit SIPA

If you’re admitted, we highly encourage you to attend our Admitted Students’ Day in April. While you wait for your decision, however, please consider visiting a class if you find yourself in the NYC area. There is simply no better way to learn more about our academic programs, meet current students, and meet a faculty member. It’s also important to get a feel for the campus and the community, something that can’t be done through online research alone. Visiting SIPA made the decision to come to SIPA easy for me. I felt that the staff and students were extremely welcoming, the faculty were impressive, and that living in NYC would be an exciting adventure. The last year and a half has proved all of that to be true.

Completing your FAFSA and Budgeting

Thanks to Cecilia Granda, Associate Director of Financial Aid, for this guest post. 

The idea of budgeting makes everyone cringe. Picture days of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches followed by nights of staying at home staring at a spreadsheet wondering where all your money has gone. But take it from a lifelong New Yorker who has lived in the Upper West Side, Gramercy, Inwood, and the Bronx — by creating budgeting plans, I have been able to continue to call New York my home, raise a family, create an emergency fund, and enjoy the occasional Sunday brunch.

The FAFSA and federal student aid

If you are a U.S. citizen or permanent resident applying to SIPA and would like to be considered for a scholarship, you must submit your FAFSA with your SIPA application. The FAFSA for 2020-21 is available as of October 1st, so you can complete it before you submit the SIPA application. The SIPA school code is 002707. Be sure to input your 2018 income information; do not include your parent’s information.

Once this is done, you will have at least put yourself in the running for any potential SIPA scholarship funding.  But don’t stop there.  Start researching external funding sources to determine if you are eligible.  Keep track of application deadlines and requirements so that you don’t miss opportunities.

Photo: FAFSA Facebook page


For me, budgeting is all about planning ahead, self-awareness, and adjusting habits in order to save small amounts of money that can add up fast to help me reach my goal. When budgeting, I like to prioritize needs versus wants. Everyone’s priorities are going to be different. For graduate students the top three needs are clear: food, shelter, and education.

The first step is an inventory check. How much money do you have? How much do you spend in one week or one month? Keep all your receipts and calculate how much you spent. Categorize your expenses between essential and discretionary; then priorities your expenses. If you are considering a graduate program, you can start early in transitioning your lifestyle from “working” to “grad student.”

Next, set your goals. Once you’ve determined how much you have and how much you are currently spending, decide how much you need to save. Become familiar with the tuition and fees associated with each program you’re considering. Consider how you will manage these costs and how much you need to save now in order to achieve your educational goals. You can start small by calculating how much you need to save on a weekly basis. It might be $50 a week, which becomes $200 a month, and turns into $2,400 a year. Once you find the right number, see if you can find ways to increase your weekly savings. One easy way to save, and a habit that you can bring to the big city, is shopping generic brands. Non-perishables like tissues, toilet paper, medicine, paper towels, toothpaste, toothbrushes, cleaning products, detergents, shampoo, and soap are all great options. This small change in purchasing can save you hundreds of dollars.

Now you want to be sure your able to track and not touch your savings. Be honest with yourself. This is where self-awareness comes in handy. Can you set aside $50 each week? Do you need a budgeting app like Mint or Digit that will help you manage your money, track your spending, and force you to save? You might decide to give yourself an allowance for the week, only spend the amount in your wallet, and not use a credit card. Find a method that you can stick to and hold yourself accountable.

Remember, you don’t have to do this alone. You most likely have friends who have similar financial goals. Make a pact! Agree to only go out to dinner once a week. This will help you transition to graduate school life. Many Seeples are very responsible about their finances. Some share a Costco membership so they can buy food in bulk and split the quantities (there’s a Costco in East Harlem). Others put together meal prep plans, share recipes, and organize pot lucks. One great thing about Seeples is they come from all over the world and have wonderful cuisine to share!

I hope this information is helpful and don’t fret if you aren’t able to do it all. Even the smallest change in habit or savings will help you prepare for your next step.

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

Next Steps for Admitted Students, Fall 2019

First, another congratulations to you on being accepted to Columbia SIPA! I hope you celebrated this achievement – it was a competitive applicant pool – and are now ready to go over a few things that every newly-admitted student should know. Top takeaways for you:

  • Check the Welcome Portal – a lot. Even if you’re not sure if you’ll end up here yet. Honestly, the Welcome Portal has everything you need regarding next steps. If you don’t want to read two iterations of this information, I would recommend the Welcome Portal.
  • Submitting your official documents and transcripts. This probably applies to you and is a new policy for SIPA.
  • Check your Status Page to avoid delays in registering for classes at SIPA.
  • Money, deposits and financial aid.

Check the Welcome Portal, even if you’re not sure where you’ll end up yet.

The Welcome Portal has everything you need regarding next steps. Even if you’re still deciding where you’ll be for the next few years, the Welcome Portal provides information to help you make that decision: about accepting your offer, upcoming deadlines, student housing information, and special events and webinars, including Faculty Q&As and Financial Aid advice.

The Welcome Portal also breaks down the following information about official transcripts, test scores, and other items that require a few extra steps for you to ensure you can start your school year off with no delays.

(For conditional admitted students: Some applicants were admitted on the condition that they take additional quantative preparation courses, or to enroll in ALP courses for the summer/fall, prior to enrolling at SIPA. Your overall application and achievements are admirable, and we believe you’ll be better equipped for success at SIPA by completing this coursework. Please check the Welcome Portal of the specific requirements and deadlines for these conditions.)

Submit your Official Documents – This is really important!

When you review the Welcome Portal, you’ll see a section that outlines upcoming deadlines for the Application Checklist materials, also known as official documents. These are hard deadlines for the Admissions Office to receive your official documents, mainly transcripts and test scores.

I suggest you triple-check your Status Page to make sure all official Transcripts and Test Scores have been received by our office. If we don’t get these official documents by August 20, you will not be able to register for classes.

In the past few years, at least 90% of our accepted students did not submit all of their official documents to our office. This might be because you just haven’t submitted it because it wasn’t required until now. Another possibility is that items are sent to the wrong address or not delivered correctly, or for some reason the document submitted is not considered “official.” For example, even if you opened and scanned your official transcript from your college registrar, we cannot consider it “official” because it has technically been altered.

Check your Status Page

The last thing you want is a delay to starting off your school year, and that is easily avoided by checking in with the Status Page. This is where you’ll go to review your Application Checklist. Even though you’ve been accepted, there are a few items on the checklist that we need to finalize your academic record before August 2019. And if your record isn’t finalized, you won’t be able to register for classes during orientation. Don’t be that person!

Distinguishing if you’ve submitted your official vs unofficial documents can be confusing, so I’ll walk you through how to check this on your Status Page.

When you look at your Status Page, you see a green checkmark that indicates what we’ve received. Hover over this checkmark to see the pop-up text that will indicate if this item was “Received,” or we’ve only “Received Copy.”

An example of an official received item – hovering over the green checkmark shows a popup of Status: Received.

However, this applicant’s popup states “Status: Received Copy” next to their PTE Score Report. This means that their official test score has NOT been received by the Admissions office. (We’re sorry about this, we know it’s a hassle, but it’s a quirk of the system that we’re working with here.)

“How do I send in my official transcripts and test scores?”

All of this information is in the Welcome Portal (seriously, check it out if you haven’t already), but: Official transcripts and test scores must be on file by August 20, 2019. International students who won’t have conferred degrees until after the deadline should email us and we’ll make a note on their account.

There are extra requirements for students who attended Chinese institutions and students who attended a non-U.S. university. Specific instructions for all of this are, again, in the Welcome Portal.

A note on official test scores: If you truly know you sent us your official scores but we haven’t received them, there may be a workaround from re-ordering your test scores. Chances are your application name and email address are not recorded the same as the name and email address you registered to take the GRE/GMAT or TOEFL/IELTS/PTE with a few months ago. Thus, we couldn’t match the exam to your account because of the mismatch.

If that’s the case, contact the testing center and confirm your full name, date of birth and email address associated with your account. You’ll need to send us that information, along with the batch/cycle number and test registration number, for GRE and TOEFL scores; the appointment number and identification number for GMAT scores; or send us the official score report for IELTS/PTE scores.

Money, Deposits, and Financial Aid

Your enrollment deposit: You have until the date on your admission letter to accept your enrollment offer AND pay the $2,000.00 USD admission deposit. This deposit ultimately goes towards your tuition bill. While you don’t have to accept and pay the deposit at the same time, your deposit payment must be paid in full at once (so no partial payments). (UNIs will be generated within 1-2 weeks.)

Financial Aid and Fellowships: If you received a scholarship or fellowship, you will have received a separate notification letter about your funding along with your letter of admission. (Early-action candidates had to wait until now to learn about their funding status.)

All students, whether funded their first year or not, will be able to apply for second-year funding. Most of this funding is in the form of assistantships for second-year students who succeeded in their first year of studies. (You’ll learn more about these opportunities during the spring semester of your first year.)

We also encourage you to visit the Financial Aid page for more information about funding your education, which includes a database of external funding opportunities.

Tuition, Fees, and Billing: Columbia University releases an annual estimated cost of attendance, which you can view for the 2019-2020 year here. Your tuition bill will be generated closer to the start of the academic term. You also have the option to set up a payment plan or coordinate your payments with a third-party sponsor. For more information on that process, browse the Student Financial Services website. (Note: The Office of Admissions & Financial Aid is not involved in this process.)

Contact Us

If you need anything give us a call or send an email. If you’re an admitted student with specific financial aid or fellowship inquiries, please email them with a descriptive and informative subject line to [email protected]. Admissions questions can continue to go to [email protected] or [email protected].

You should also follow us on Instagram @Columbia.SIPA to share your admissions story and connect with future classmates!

And once again, congratulations to our admitted students!

On financial aid, the JJWBGSP Scholarship, and student loan scams

To our Fall 2019 MIA, MPA and MPA-DP applicants: Thank you for your patience as the Admissions Committee reads your applications. Decisions will be released in mid-March (so, soon!), and you’ll receive an email telling you to check your Status Page.

We’ve already been receiving some questions about financial aid and wanted to give a few updates about that:

First, we’ll have a number of admitted students events, online and in-person, that will fully cover financial aid options at SIPA. A reminder that your financial aid information is confidential, and often the best way to get personal information tailored to you is by contacting our Office of Financial Aid at [email protected]

Second is a scholarship reminder: In case you didn’t mark your calendars last time we posted about it, the 2019 Joint Japan/World Bank Graduate Scholarship Program application opens tomorrow, March 7th, and closes on April 11, 2019. Find the full information for the JJWBGSP Scholarship on their website.

Finally, if you have a phone number, there’s a good chance that you have recently received numerous calls from someone telling you that your student loans are eligible for reduced monthly payments and/or forgiveness. There are a number of ways that student loan borrowers may be able to reduce monthly payments and/or qualify for partial forgiveness of their loan, but please be aware that these phone calls are all scams.

An article in the morning Metro describes an example; a borrower learns about repayment options that provide some relief, but doesn’t realize that the $50 monthly fee she’s being charged to sign up and remain in that option is completely unnecessary. Student loan borrowers have many options for repayment, and thanks to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program, many can get part of their loans forgiven, but all of this can be arranged by working with their loan servicer – completely free of charge. The monthly payments themselves might be a big enough financial obligation; don’t add an extra fee for services that shouldn’t cost anything.

Again, any SIPA students with questions about student loan repayment can always meet with or contact ([email protected]) a member of the Financial Aid Office staff for guidance; we also have information on repayment and PSLF here. We know that student loans can cause stress, but take the time to get all the facts.

"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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