Frequently Asked Questions

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What majors are offered at Columbia Engineering?

There are 9 Departments of Instruction offering 16 majors for students in Columbia Engineering. A complete listing of majors offered by Columbia Engineering is available under Columbia Engineering Programs of Study.

Can undergraduates take classes at Columbia’s graduate and professional schools?

Yes. Columbia undergraduates may generally take up to four classes toward their degree in most of the graduate and professional schools at Columbia, with the exception of those at Columbia Law School and the Columbia Medical Center. Special restrictions may apply.

How are classes selected?

First-year students register during orientation week of their first semester.

In subsequent years students are assigned a registration time; this registration time gives seniority to upper class students, and times are distributed by lottery within each class year. Students then can participate in on-line registration for courses.

For more particulars about the registration process, consult the academic bulletins for the College and the Engineering School.

How large are Core classes?

Though celebrated for their content, these courses are equally important for their small class format. The hallmark courses in the Core (Literature HumanitiesContemporary CivilizationArt Humanities and Music Humanities) are taught in seminars of approximately 22 students; these courses ensure that education at Columbia begins with an emphasis on every student’s active intellectual engagement.

How many courses do Columbia students take per semester?

Columbia students usually take an average of 16 points (generally five classes) per semester. Students must be registered full-time and therefore must take at least 12 points per semester.

How often do professors teach courses?

Professors lead every departmental level course at Columbia. In the Core Curriculum, full-time professors teach the vast majority of the courses with select advanced graduate students leading some sections.

Can I minor in Columbia College?

No. Columbia College does not offer minors, but students may elect to complete a concentration which demands fewer requirements than a major. A concentration is alone sufficient for graduation.

How many students go on to top professional schools?

Columbia does not officially track this information, since many students may choose to apply to graduate or professional school many years after college and other students choose to go into careers where their undergraduate degree is sufficient.

Nevertheless, a large number of students and alumni benefit each year from the support of the Office of Pre-professional Advising and gain admission to preeminent graduate and professional schools around the country and all over the globe.

Does Columbia provide support for students applying to major fellowships?

The Fellowships Office works with students at all levels in preparing for a variety of fellowship applications. In recent years, Columbia students have won more Fulbright grants than those of most other universities, in addition to many other prestigious fellowships and grants.

How available are research opportunities?

Since Columbia is a major research institution distinguished across a wide variety of fields and subfields, research opportunities are plentiful for students who wish to begin research immediately.

Please review our Research page for some special programs for research at Columbia, a sampling of some student work and an introduction to Columbia’s more than 200 different research institutes.

How does the Core differ for Columbia Engineering students?

Engineering students will take half of the humanities Core: they can elect to take either Literature Humanities or Contemporary Civilization or a Global Core course and either Art Humanities or Music Humanities. They must also complete University Writing and the Physical Education requirement. In this regard, all students at Columbia are fully integrated into the philosophy beyond the Core-critical thinking, debate, respect for ideas-and the unifying educational experience which is a hallmark of Columbia.

Columbia engineers will also take courses specifically designed to better prepare them for their lives as innovators and entrepreneurs. These technical courses will prepare students in the five major areas of technical inquiry: engineering, mathematics, physics, chemistry and computer science. The level of inquiry will depend on an individual student’s prospective major choices.

The technical Core courses consist of the following:

  • Calculus
  • Chemistry
  • Computer Science
  • Design Fundamentals Using the Advanced Computer Technologies
  • Physics

Is it possible to be able to work while going to class?

Columbia holds classes from early in the morning until late at night. This allows students to hold on-campus jobs, pursue internships in the city and adjust their schedules to make the most of their academic and extracurricular experience. Many students, moreover, have no classes on Fridays, so many use Fridays as an opportunity to pursue internships and other commitments. The Center for Career Education also provides students with opportunities for employment on and off campus.

What academic requirements are necessary for graduating from Columbia College?

All students in Columbia College must complete either a major or a concentration as described in the departmental sections of the school bulletin. Moreover, students must complete the entirety of the Core Curriculum, and in total earn 124 points, approximately 40 classes.

When do students take Core courses?

Students will primarily take Core courses in their first two years, but only in the first year will students be pre-registered for specific Core courses.

Columbia College: students will be pre-registered for Literature Humanities and University Writing. Most students will elect to take Contemporary Civilization in their sophomore year and then have the choice of when to complete the remaining Core courses. In general the Core will make up roughly one third of the courses a student will take in the College.

Columbia Engineering: students will be pre-registered for The Art of Engineering, University Writing and Principles of Economics. Most students will complete most of their technical Core courses in their first two years to better prepare them for specific majors. Students will complete the remaining humanities requirements throughout their tenure at Columbia. In general the Core will make up roughly one fourth of the courses a student will take in the Engineering School.

Are there any tutors available?

Tutoring for all subjects is available for students through Academic Success Programs.

Does Columbia grant credit for college courses and credits earned during high school?

No. Entering first-year students are not granted credit for college courses taken before graduation from secondary school. However, a maximum of six credits may be awarded for college courses taken after graduation from high school and prior to matriculation at Columbia. For more specific information, please consult the bulletin of Columbia College or The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science.

Does Columbia grant placement, advanced standing or credit for standardized examinations?

Yes. Some placement, advanced standing or credit may be granted for nationally or internationally standardized examinations. Columbia will grant a maximum of 16 credits toward the bachelor’s degree. For more specific information, please consult the bulletin of Columbia College or The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science.

Are there advisors for specific departmental majors?

Yes. All departments will assign faculty advisors to every student committing to either a major or concentration in that department.

What are the advising and support services on campus?

All Columbia undergraduates will have a single all-purpose advisor from the Center for Student Advising for all four years.

What are the courses of the Core Curriculum for Columbia College students?

Is Columbia on a semester or quarter system?

Columbia College and Columbia Engineering run on a semester system.

Is there a maximum number of students admitted from a particular country, region or school?

No. Columbia seeks to enroll students with unique achievements and talents as well as diverse economic, social and geographic backgrounds. We do not have any quotas for any particular population (i.e., race, ethnicity, religion, state, etc.). Applicants are compared to all other applicants, both regionally and globally.

Find out more by visiting What Does Columbia Look For?

May students rejected from Columbia appeal their admission decision?

No. If your application to Columbia is denied, that decision is final. There is no appeal process for admission decisions, and applicants are not reconsidered for admission. Every application receives a review from members of the professional admissions staff. As we do feel confident that our decisions, however difficult, are commitments that we make only after the care and deliberation that all our candidates deserve, we must say once again that we cannot accept any requests for reconsideration of these decisions.

What does it mean if I am “deferred” from the Early Decision applicant pool?

A small number of Early Decision applicants receive notification that we are deferring a final admission decision until April. Their applications will be reviewed and evaluated again among the Regular Decision applicant pool. Those Early Decision candidates whose applications are deferred to Regular Decision and who subsequently are offered admission in April are not then bound by any commitment to enroll at Columbia.

Will Columbia ever rescind an offer of admission?

If a candidate is offered admission, Columbia reserves the right to withdraw that offer of admission if:

  1. The candidate shows a significant drop in academic performance or fails to graduate.
  2. The candidate has misrepresented himself or herself in the application process.
  3. We learn that candidate has engaged in behavior prior to matriculation that indicates a serious lack of judgment or integrity.
  4. The candidate is holding both a place at Columbia and a place in the first-year class of a college other than Columbia after the May 1 deadline.

Columbia further reserves the right to require the applicant to provide additional information (and/or authorization for the release of information) about any such matter.

Will my chances for admission be affected if I apply for financial aid?

All applicants who are citizens or permanent residents of the United States or students granted refugee visas by the United States are read in a need-blind manner, no matter where they attend school or where they reside. The term “need-blind” means financial need has no bearing on the admissions decision. All other applicants are evaluated in a need-aware manner, which means that the admissions committee takes into consideration how much financial aid a student requires when rendering an admissions decision. Columbia admits a large number of foreign students who receive a substantial amount of financial aid.

Columbia is committed to meeting the full need of all applicants admitted as first-year students for all four years of study, regardless of citizenship.

As a foreign student, you should determine what amount you feel you and your family could afford to pay each year for four years of study. If you conclude that you and your family will be unable to assume the estimated total cost of attendance, you should apply for financial aid at the same time you apply for admission. If you are traveling to Columbia from another country, you will also want to consider travel expenses. If you do not apply for financial aid at the time of applying, you cannot be considered for financial aid in the future unless there has been a drastic and unforeseeable change in your family’s circumstances.

The Office of Financial Aid & Educational Financing website has information for foreign students interested in applying Early Decision and Regular Decision.

Are my chances for admission to a Columbia graduate school greater if I attend Columbia as an undergraduate?

Not necessarily. Columbia’s graduate schools make admissions decisions independent of those decisions made for admission to Columbia College or to Columbia Engineering; students who graduate from Columbia’s undergraduate programs are not given any automatic preference at the graduate schools.

However, many Columbia graduates do choose to continue their professional education at Columbia. In 2008, 14 Columbia undergraduates matriculated at the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons, the largest undergraduate cohort in the school’s entering class. At Columbia Law School, 50 students matriculated, which was also the largest cohort of students in the entering class.

Are admissions requirements different for home-schooled students?

Home-schooled students receive the same evaluation as other Columbia applicants – every application receives the careful attention of several members of the professional admissions staff, and decisions are made only after review by a committee of these officers. 

Home-schooled students should follow our Required Standardized Testing policy for the necessary tests. If you elect to take any SAT Subject Tests, we encourage you to submit those Subject Test scores. We also recommend that if you have a specific area of academic interest, you submit Subject Test scores in that area of interest, if available. Your scores can assist the Admissions Committee in evaluating content knowledge and mastery in individual disciplines.

I have already graduated from high school. How may I apply to Columbia?

The answer depends on a number of factors, so pay careful attention to the distinctions below. You should also consult the instructions in the application itself. If you still are unsure of your status, please contact us by phone.

The distinctions below apply to all candidates as specified, regardless of citizenship or visa status or need for financial aid. If you are enrolled at a college or university overseas that follows a U.S.-style curriculum (e.g., the American University of Paris), then you should follow the same policy as a student at a college or university in the U.S.

Prospective Columbia Engineering Applicants

A gap in your schooling, whether for military service or any other reason, does not affect your admissions status as delineated in these distinctions.

  1. If you have not already spent a full academic year or more in a college/university in the U.S. or Canada, then you must apply to Columbia Engineering as a first-year student.
  2. If you have already spent a full academic year or more in a university in the U.S. or Canada, then you must apply to SEAS as a transfer student.
  3. If you have spent more than two full academic years in a college/university in the U.S. or Canada, then you are no longer eligible to apply to Columbia Engineering as an undergraduate at all.
  4. If you have spent a full academic year or less in a university outside the U.S. or Canada, then you must still apply to Columbia Engineering as a first-year student.
  5. If you have spent more than a full academic year in a university outside the U.S. or Canada, then you are no longer eligible to apply to Columbia Engineering as an undergraduate at all.

Prospective Columbia College Applicants

I. If you have had no interruptions in your schooling of more than one academic year in total, or if the interruption in your schooling has been for the minimum length of your country’s mandatory military service:

  1. If you have not already spent a full academic year or more in a college/university in the U.S. or Canada, then you must apply to Columbia College as a first-year student.
  2. If you have already spent a full academic year or more in a college/university in the U.S. or Canada, then you must apply to Columbia College as a transfer student.
  3. If you have spent more than two full academic years in a college/university in the U.S. or Canada, then you are no longer eligible to apply to Columbia College as an undergraduate at all. (See paragraph II.)
  4. If you have already spent a full academic year or less in a college/university outside the U.S. or Canada, then you must apply to Columbia College as a first-year student.
  5. If you have already spent more than a full academic year in a college/university outside the U.S. or Canada, then you are no longer eligible to apply to Columbia College as an undergraduate at all. (See paragraph II.)

II. If you have had any interruptions in your schooling of more than one academic year, or if you have been referred here by item I.3 or I.5 above, then you are strongly advised to apply instead to Columbia University’s School of General Studies, Columbia’s college for nontraditional students who want to earn a degree while attending full- or part-time. Nontraditional students have had a break of one year or more in their educational paths or have compelling personal or professional reasons for completing their bachelor’s degrees part time. Students in the School of General Studies take the same courses with the same faculty and undertake the same majors as all other undergraduates at Columbia.

By visiting the General Studies website, you will find information on applying either as a first-year student or as a transfer. Financial aid is available to all candidates who qualify.

If the foregoing criteria apply to you, you may still apply to Columbia College if you insist, but you should be aware that you are doing so at a great disadvantage and that your acceptance is extremely unlikely.

What are your secondary/high school course requirements for admission?

Columbia College

The College has no explicit number of unit requirements for admission, but applicants must present evidence that they are prepared for college work in the humanities, mathematics, social sciences, foreign languages and natural sciences. Accordingly, the College strongly recommends the following preparation:

  • Four years of English literature and composition
  • Three to four years of mathematics
  • Three to four years of history and social studies
  • Three to four years of one foreign language (ancient or modern)
  • Three to four years of laboratory science

Students who plan to become scientists, engineers, physicians or dentists should be as solidly grounded in mathematics and the sciences as their high school schedules and curricula have permitted. The study of mathematics, at least through pre-calculus, is strongly advised wherever possible.

Modifying the preparatory program just outlined - by taking more work in some subjects and less in others - is not only acceptable but may be desirable in individual cases. The vast majority of successful applicants to the College have taken five academic courses per term for all four years of secondary/high school.

Columbia Engineering

The School of Engineering and Applied Science prescribes no standardized course of study for secondary school students applying for first-year admission. The School does, however, strongly recommend the following academic preparation:

  • Four years of mathematics (preferably through calculus)
  • One year of physics
  • One year of chemistry
  • Four years of English
  • Two to three years of a foreign language
  • Three to four years of history and social studies

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