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Frequently Asked Questions

The following is a list of frequently asked questions from across the offices supporting Columbia College and Columbia Engineering collected here in one place for your convenience. You can browse by topic/department or search by keyword.

International Student Programs and Services, Academic Life & Advising at Columbia

I am choosing a major. What do I need to consider as an international student?

The Liberal Arts nature of Columbia allows students to explore different areas of academic interest before declaring a major. While there is flexibility in what you can study and pursue at Columbia, where you might head afterwards brings the reality of strategic decisions. While you are considering your major choice, think about your academic and personal passions, your career interests, and what you would like to do after graduation and where. Is a graduate degree on your mind? Do you want to work in the U.S., your home country or another country? If you are looking to gain work authorization in the U.S., you must consider how classes and majors relate to your career. While students are encouraged to major in something that interests them, major choice impacts Optional Practical Training (OPT), a benefit of F-1 student status to help you gain work experience in an area related to your field of study. You major may also impact your application for a visa to work in the United States after graduation. Because there are several factors at play here (the student’s interests, the employer’s interests and immigration law), advanced planning and research is a must. The good news is there are options to explore and resources to help inform your path. One-on-one conversations with an adviser from CCE, CSA, or ISPS supplement your research and can help pinpoint your interests. As CC and SEAS students you may use both Going Global and Uniworld (same log-in as SSOL) to a view a list of companies that sponsored H1-B working visas in the past year or research U.S. firms that operate abroad, foreign firms that operate in the U.S. Attend ISSO sessions with an immigration attorney in the fall or spring of your first or second year to gain an understanding about the process early on.

What is a liberal art education and how will it help in the future?

The liberal arts education has its roots in ancient history and the subjects deemed necessary for a citizen to take part in civic society. In the modern era, a liberal arts education stems from the belief that an interdisciplinary education prepares students for society through exposure to a breadth of academic disciplines while allowing for depth in a major area of study. Students need to be adaptable in a fast-paced, interconnected world; through a four-year discourse with peers, students will learn analysis, argument, quantitative reasoning, logical inference and creative thinking. Students are encouraged to ask critical questions; not just the how, but the why. Not only will this instill personal passions for students, but many employers rank skills such as working in a team structure, communication, decision making and problem solving, and obtaining and processing information very highly in job candidates. A true liberal arts education is achieved without concern for vocational utility, yet at the same time prepares students for the evolving world and job market within which we operate today. The mission of Columbia College is for students to achieve Intellectual, Social and Career mobility that will allow them to adapt to any surrounding, any circumstance – including those not yet encountered or even in existence. Similarly, the mission of Columbia Engineering focuses on training socially responsible individuals through interdisciplinary education.

What is the Core Curriculum and why is it necessary?

The Core Curriculum is Columbia’s long-established program in the liberal arts. The Core consists of a set of required courses in literature, history, writing, music, art, philosophy, science, language, and cultural studies that are required of students in both Columbia College and Columbia Engineering. For College students, Core classes comprise between one third to one half of their total courses and for Engineers it is approximately one fourth. The Core introduces students to central concerns in human life and civilization as embodied in the literary, philosophical, artistic, and scientific achievements of the West as well as in those of other global cultures. The Core fosters individual and community development through small classes and shared conversation across class years. This communal approach to learning cultivates in students a sense of critical inquiry and historical depth that they will employ long after college. The Core distinguishes a Columbia education from that of its peers and is typically valued by alumni as the most important aspect of their academic experience.

Are international students eligible for fellowships?

Yes. Many fellowships support work and other experiences in the U.S. and abroad and are open to international students. Those with a U.S. location will require U.S. work eligibility.

Can international students go on a term abroad?

Yes. Study abroad opportunities are available for a semester, full academic year, or summer to all Columbia undergraduates. The staff of the Office of Global Programs helps students learn more about these opportunities. As an internationally-minded office, the staff is well-equipped to discuss cross-cultural issues and the benefits of enhancing students' international experiences.

What can I do to improve my English skills?

Living in a location where the language spoken is not your first or even second language can be a difficult part of adjusting to Columbia. It is useful to keep in mind that in the English speaking world, terms and phrases vary widely, so in a sense, everyone is getting used to Columbia’s language and academic rhetoric. One option for first year students looking to improve their English skills is a section of University Writing designed for English Language Learners (non-native speakers). This section is identical in content and rigor to other sections with added support and instruction on sentence-level issues and expectations of American academic writing. Please email your Advising Dean before class registration if interested. Columbia is home to the American Language Program (ALP), another option you may discuss with your adviser.

One of the more informal ways to strengthen English skills is to practice with native speakers. Engage in conversations with your floor-mates, peers and friends. Watch TV shows and listen to the radio or your friends’ music playlists. Reading a U.S. based English newspaper everyday will build vocabulary and comprehension skills; if you’re crunched for time, start will a small section and expand as your reading speed increases.

Official resources used by many students include the Writing Center, located in 310 Philosophy, for writing consultations in a variety of subjects (academic and personal), and some of the consultants have a specialty in English as a Second Language. For practice with conversational English, The Language Resource Center offers Language Maintenance Tutorials (LMT), which are non-credit courses for a fee. English is one of the LMT options and you can register for Individual Tutorials or Group Conversations. LMTs are open to Columbia students at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

Who needs to complete the language requirement at Columbia?

Columbia University teaches nearly 50 languages to the advanced level and over 170 languages are spoken in New York City, which makes your time at Columbia a fascinating way to connect language with culture and community. Study of a foreign language is required for Columbia College students and may be satisfied in different ways. Students who completed secondary school in a language other than English are not required to take an additional foreign language or an achievement test. If the secondary school was taught primarily in English, natives speakers of other languages must fulfill the language requirement with a placement test. Columbia Engineering undergraduates do not need to complete a foreign language requirement.

Do I get credit for the advanced work I did in High School?

CC and SEAS may grant up to 16 credits earned from Advanced Placement (AP), General Certificate of Education Advanced Level Examinations (A levels), the International Baccalaureate Examination (IB), and other national systems. Credit is typically awarded after the first year. A complete description of policies, credits, and/or exemptions can be found in the College and Engineering bulletins.

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