Admissions Blog

Residential Life at SIPA: a look at Columbia Residential and International House

By Reena Mensingh '24
Posted Apr 15 2024
Photo from Butler Hall Rooftop

Many of you have asked about accommodations in New York, specifically housing through Columbia University. This blog is a deeper dive into Columbia housing for SIPA students!

Many Columbia Housing apartments are a short walk from campus, and the ones that are further away tend to have a shuttle service to campus.

I personally use campus housing, with an apartment approximately a 5-minute walk from SIPA. My apartment is unfurnished, and I share it with a roommate assigned to me through the housing portal. She is also a Columbia student attending the Journalism school. Our apartment features a shared bathroom, a kitchen equipped with a fridge, stovetop, and oven, as well as a living room. Throughout the housing application process, Columbia Residential proved to be an invaluable resource. Their online FAQ section provided clarity on necessary steps and eligibility criteria, for the high-pressure selection process. This section also offers information about the housing options available. There are explanations regarding the different kinds of units, along with questions about your housing appointment during the selection process.

Upon your admission to SIPA, access the Columbia Housing portal with your UNI. This is where you will select your housing. You will also use the portal to view personal housing information, your roommate assignment, and move-in/check-out procedures. 

Additionally, I had the opportunity to speak with two SIPA students residing in different forms of Columbia Housing, and I’m excited to share their insights.

Davira’s experience at Butler Hall

Davira, a second-year SIPA student, recently relocated to Butler Hall. She has written lots of blogs here too! Here’s what she shared:

Why did you decide to move into Columbia Housing instead of other housing options? It’s been my fourth time applying for Columbia housing and finally securing a unit in my final semester. The reason for me to move to on-campus housing is because it’s close to campus, making it convenient for students to access classes. Second, Columbia housing is generally more affordable since the price is inclusive of all utilities, especially for international students. Furthermore, I heard from my fellow colleagues that living on-campus allows us to have good maintenance assistance, package delivery, and resident advisors who can provide guidance and support.

Which housing did you choose and why? In my case, the only housing option that showed up during my appointment viewing was a unit in Butler Hall. Since I heard many positive reviews about the building and also its proximity to the SIPA, I decided to secure the unit immediately.

What can you tell us about the housing application process? You need to apply online to the Columbia Residential portal to access the housing applications and make sure to apply by the application deadline each semester. The housing application will require us to provide various details such as personal information, preferences for roommates (if applicable), housing preferences (i.e. private unit, shared apartment), and any specific accommodations or requests. The housing application then will be reviewed by the SIPA Housing Liaison which will determine if we get a housing allocation for the semester. Honestly, this is the hardest part as it is not guaranteed for us to obtain a spot for housing. Remember, it is not just SIPA students applying for Columbia Residential; it is students across all the Columbia graduate programs. If our application gets approved, there will be a room selection process. This process involves lottery systems, priority based on enrollment status, or other criteria determined by the university.

Is your apartment furnished? My apartment is furnished and comes with a full-size bed, dining table, study desk, drawer, microwave, stove, and refrigerator. However, I suggest you check before choosing your unit as many Columbia housing units also come unfurnished. My place also has a private kitchen space since it’s a private unit. It’s not that spacious, but I think it is sufficient for cooking for two people. I love the fact that there's a microwave attached to the kitchen. However, I hope that Columbia Housing uses gas stoves rather than electric stoves.

Do you have a roommate? I live in a private studio unit with a bathroom with my husband.

How many people live on your floor? I am not sure how many people exactly live on my floor. However, there are 305 residential units across 15 floors, so on average, there are 20 units in each floor.

Are there any community events you attend? As far as I know, there are no community events conducted in my building. Yet, we have a beautiful roof deck that showcases breathtaking views of the upper Manhattan skyline! I think this is a perk of living in Butler Hall, I usually study, work, and invite friends to hang out there.

What advice do you have for newly admitted SIPA students looking for housing options? I suggest that newly admitted students apply for Columbia housing as soon as possible after you are admitted. I think it’s the best deal to secure on-campus housing in New York City. Columbia Housing does not ask you for additional fees associated with housing (i.e. broker’s fee, guarantor fee for international students), other than the upfront deposits you need to pay which will be deducted from your first month’s rent. In addition, it’s very convenient to live around the campus buildings.

Would you live here again or choose another option? I would totally live here again! It feels so nice living in Butler Hall and I feel happier since I moved to the campus housing.

Phil’s experience at International House:

I also spoke with Phil, a second-year MIA student who lives at the International House. Here’s what he shared:

Why did you decide to move into the International House instead of other housing options? I decided on International House because it provided a really diverse and vibrant community outside of Columbia University. I was also intrigued by its program of events, including guest speakers, cultural events, music and dance performances, etc. The affordability of a single room and meal plan included in rent was also attractive.

What would you have wanted to know about I-House when you applied? I would have liked to know more about the financial aid and scholarship opportunities provided by I-House. They also have a fellowship program that I was not aware of before moving in.

What can you tell us about the housing application process? It was almost like another college application! In addition to proof of admission for an NYC masters program, a motivation statement was required to illustrate why I was interested in joining the I-House and what I would bring to the community. A financial statement was also required to show proof of my ability to meet tuition and living expenses for the application period.

What kind of living space do you have? I have a single dorm-style room without a sink. However there are a range of options including rooms with sinks, studio apartments, and multi-bedroom apartments.

How many people live on your floor? I believe 30-40 people live on my floor.

Do you have a shared or private kitchen space? There is a shared community kitchen as well as common areas on each floor with some basic kitchenwares.

Do you enjoy cooking in that space? I personally don't cook a lot. Part of our semester's rent goes to a meal plan to use at the I-House dining hall. The meal plan generally lasts me the entire semester.

Are there any community events you attend? A lot! A favorite is Sunday Supper, a long-standing tradition where the community dresses up to share a family-style dinner with guest speakers and resident performances. Another popular event is Night of Nations--an annual spring festival featuring resident music and dance shows, international cuisine and cultural exhibits. 

How do you get involved with the community there? I am currently a member of the Resident Council, an elected resident body that plans events, disseminates important information, and conveys resident needs to the I-House administration. I also enjoy bartending at the I-House Pub which is open to residents every Wednesday-Friday.

What advice do you have for newly admitted SIPA students looking for housing options? Regardless of what housing option you choose, I highly suggest you consider living close to campus. Every week is so full of events and socials, you don't want the long commute to Brooklyn to limit your involvement in SIPA student life.

Would you live here again or choose another option? I-House, 100%

Moving to a new city like New York can be daunting, but these housing options have greatly benefited many SIPA students. Feel free to reach out with further questions as you navigate your housing decision in the Big Apple.