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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, Parents & Families of International Students

How do I get to campus from the major New York City airports?

Columbia’s campus is accessible by public transportation as well as yellow taxi and car service. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) serves the New York Metro area by subway, bus, rail and bridges and tunnels and has a nice How to Ride the Subway guide. Metro cards are used to travel public transportation, including the subway and bus systems which connect to both LaGuardia (M60 Bus) and JFK (Airtrain to subway) airports. Newark is connected by rail on New Jersey Transit or Amtrak to Penn Station where public transit (#1 Uptown train) can be taken to campus. Comprehensive directions provided by Columbia admissions will help you plan your trip.

Where can I stay when I am visiting campus? Can I just stay on campus?

We recommend you secure reservations off-campus. For a list of hotels that give a Columbia rate, please visit the Travel Portal and click on hotels on the left menu. Budget friendly options near campus include:

Many families travel to campus during the move-in period and families traveling long distances often plan a vacation or stay a few days to enjoy New York City. We encourage the visit to occur prior to move-in or after students are settled in order to assist incoming students with their transition. Throughout move-in and orientation (NSOP) it is critical for incoming students to connect with their neighbors and focus on settling into their new community. Additionally, students should be familiar with the Guest Policy. Families traveling for commencement will receive additional information and can browse the GradZone website.

Do I as a parent or relative need a support letter to obtain a visa to visit my student on campus?

No. A support letter is not required by the U.S. Consulates for visitor visa applications. As a visitor to the United States, it is important for you to be aware of visa requirements. Citizens of certain countries that participate in the Visa Waiver Program may come to the United States without a visa if certain conditions are met. Other visitors will need a nonimmigrant visa. We encourage you to visit the U.S. Department of State website to learn about your specific travel requirements. Columbia University will extend an invitation to events like commencement, and as a courtesy will offer a letter of support to assist with your visa application upon request.

Does Columbia offer translation services for families? Is everything in English?
Most Columbia University publications and websites are available in English only. As our campus and the City of New York are global and multilingual environments, we provide translation services in emergency situations.
How do I help my son or daughter open a bank account?

While most U.S. banks require that your son or daughter open an account once in the United States, some international banks may allow an application to be started beforehand. Check with your local bank to see if this is possible or for recommended services. Once here, students may open a bank account. The International Student and Scholars Office (ISSO) has compiled a list of banks in the Columbia neighborhood.

Where can my son or daughter store personal belongings over the summer break?

While Columbia is unable to offer summer storage, there are several vendors in the area that students may use for a fee. Columbia has no affiliation with these companies, however more information can be found at Hudson and Manhattan Mini Storage. For other ideas on disposing of personal items, please read the Green Check Out tips.

What do FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) and HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) mean?

FERPA stands for the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974. Under FERPA, when a student enters university in the U.S. at any age, all rights and responsibilities to privacy of educational records are transferred to the student. Educational records can include grades, financial aid records, disciplinary records, student account information, Dean’s Office files, and Residential Program files.

HIPPA is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. HIPAA protects the privacy of student information in health and medical records, including electronic files.

While the type of information protected by FERPA and HIPAA will not be automatically disclosed, the University has protocols in place to contact families in the event of a medical emergency or when the student requests information be released. Importantly, Columbia Student Affairs is here to engage with students and families in an open dialogue during their time at Columbia. We encourage students and their families to ask questions, attend events and information sessions while on campus or contact us for additional information.

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