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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, Student Life at Columbia

I want to be involved in student groups. Are there groups that are good for international students?

Columbia has nearly 350 student organizations and international students are encouraged to join any group(s) of interest. Group categories include academic, activist, advocacy, club sports, competition, cultural, dance, governing boards, humanitarian, community service, Fraternity and Sorority Life, LGBTQA, media, music performance, performance, pre-professional, publications, religious, spiritual, social education, special interest, student councils and theater. For a list of those student organizations, please go to the Undergraduate Student Life's listing of current organizations.  There will be programs during the New Student Orientation Program (NSOP) to introduce you to other students with similar interests.  First-year students should review their Countdown to Columbia information at the beginning of the school year for more information.

Can I join any student group?
Yes. While student groups are open to all students, some groups may require an audition, application or other requirements to join. Many simply allow you to start attending meetings at any time to participate and encourage you to do so. Two large-scale events that showcase student groups at Columbia include an Activities Fair during New Student Orientation Program and the Activities Day fair held every September.
How can I meet other international students, students from my country or with my background?

While we always encourage every student to learn from various communities and cultures while at Columbia and in New York, we understand the need to connect with others who share a similar background during your transition to campus life. Columbia offers over thirty cultural organizations that create spaces for all students who are interested in and/or share a particular culture, and who are excited to share that culture and experiences with the greater campus community. Programs like International Student Orientation Program, the Columbia Mentoring Initiative, International at Columbia, and International at Columbia events during academic breaks are also great opportunities to connect with other international students.

What is the best way to connect with others who share my religious beliefs?

A great place to start is the Office of the University Chaplain (OUC). The OUC ministers to the individual faiths of Columbia University's diverse community of scholars, students and staff from many different faith traditions while promoting interfaith and intercultural understanding. Toward this goal, the Office of the University Chaplain creates and sponsors programs concerning justice, faith, and spirituality. Part of the OUC is the United Campus Ministries (UCM), an umbrella organization comprised of clergy of different faith traditions and serves the needs of the diverse religious communities at Columbia, including weekly meetings and worship services. In addition to connecting with others through traditional religious ceremonies, services and pastoral counseling, you can meet others through their wide assortment of lectures, outreach projects and discussion groups.

Columbia also has a diverse array of over thirty religious, spiritual, and faith-based student organizations. All groups are open to every student, including those who may practice the same beliefs as well as anyone interested in learning more about various faiths and practices.

How can I learn more about Gender and Identity in the U.S. and at Columbia?

College is a time for students to explore and learn more about themselves and others, including their identities such as gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and socio-economic class. Multicultural Affairs is a great resource to engage in dialogues, workshops, weekend retreats, one-on-one conversations with a peer or staff member, and programs about identity. From your first dialogue in Under1Roof to the many conversations within the Intercultural House to the programs presented by student groups, we encourage you to take advantage of all the opportunities that allow you to engage in and grow from the diversity that surrounds you at Columbia.

Within the classroom, Columbia provides a more formal structure for learning about the intersections of identities. Academic spaces such as the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race, Institute for Research on Women and Gender, Institute for Research on African-American Studies, and Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies and others offer wonderful interdisciplinary academic courses and public lectures.

How can I contact alumni to work with my student group on campus?

If your student group is interested in connecting with international alumni, please contact Chia-Ying Pan, Director of Education, Outreach & International Student Support, with your request. You may be asked to provide further detail.

How do I get involved with the alumni club in my home city?

If you would like to get involved with alumni in your city, please visit the Alumni Clubs website to search domestically or internationally for a club. Each club has listed a contact to email. The Center for Career Education offers advice on other ways to connect with alumni.

I am interning abroad in XYZ city; are there events going on or any opportunities where I can meet other students and alumni?

To find events abroad, first check the alumni events calendar. Events listed with green stars are school based and may be restricted. Alternatively, you may send an email to the Office of Alumni and Development with the region and dates in question and someone will let you know. The Columbia University Internship Network (CU IN) offers alumni connections in select cities for summer interns in the United States.

Are students invited to all alumni events?

This depends. Check the alumni events calendar for events and contact the event lead with any questions. Events in the U.S. may not be open to current students and will specify.

Can I open a bank account? What do I need to set up an account?

Yes, you can open a bank account and many students choose to do so to help manage money and pay for certain items. International students do not need a Social Security number or a letter from the ISSO or any other university office to open a bank account. You do need your passport, I-20 or DS-2019, and letter of admission to Columbia. Other items that could be helpful if you have them are your Columbia ID, a lease or housing contract with your name on it, and, if you have a bank account at home, a statement from your home country with your name and address printed on it. The bank that is opening an account for you will let you know if there’s anything else they need. ISSO has compiled a list of banks in the Columbia neighborhood.

Where can I get a letter confirming my address or student status?

Should you need to provide a letter confirming your address, you may contact the Hartley Hospitality Desk to request one. If you need to prove your student status at Columbia, you may request Academic Certification from the University Registrar.

What are the policies I have to follow in the residence halls?

Undergraduate students who live in the residence halls are subject to the policies outlined in the Guide to Living. These policies, which range from the Cable Television and Cooking policies to the Alcohol and Other Drug policy, are put in place to ensure a residential community that is engaging and safe for all its members

Lots of students leave campus during the holidays. What are my options as an international student?

While many students choose to leave campus during academic breaks (U.S. Election Day, Thanksgiving, Winter Break and Spring Break), the residence halls remain open to their residents and you may stay on campus from move-in to the end of Spring semester. Although campus will generally be quieter during these times, administrative offices are open and operational and students (international and domestic) do stay on campus. International at Columbia will advertise break events and we encourage students to take advantage of events or advising offices open during break. Please check the Academic Calendar for the current year’s schedule.

Dining services shut down during the holidays. Where should I eat?

It is true that Dining Services are closed during academic breaks. During break periods, students remaining on campus are still able to use their Flex Accounts to purchase food at off-campus vendors. You can add money to your Flex account through SSOL. First year students have the option of choosing a meal plan (Plan 3) that includes flex. This is a nice time to gather with your peers and try local neighborhood eateries or explore another area of the city together.

I need someone to talk to. What are my options?

Talking to someone is one great way to organize your thoughts. If talking is what you need, consider connecting with a roommate, a suitemate, or hallmate. There is a community of advisers at Columbia to speak with about any feelings, issues, or concerns that may arise at Columbia. During operating hours (typically 9:00am to 5:00pm), administrative offices are open for conversations with students regarding academics, student life, internships and careers, studying abroad, financial aid, health and well-being and many other topics.

 When offices are closed, there are still resources for support, depending on your need:

Do I need health insurance?

Yes. Under New York State Law, all enrolled students are required to have health insurance. Columbia students are automatically enrolled in the basic student insurance plan administered by Aetna. If you already have private health insurance or are covered by a parent/guardian, you can request a waiver if the coverage meets or exceeds the New York State requirements. However, it is strongly recommended that all international students utilize the Columbia plan as if offers the best coverage and providers in the neighborhood. For more information, visit the website on student health insurance.

I am sick and not sure how to utilize the American health care system. What do I do?

As a student, you have access to on-campus health care at Columbia Health Services. Columbia Health consists of three primary areas; Medical Services, Counseling and Psychological Services, and Disability Services. When you enroll, you are automatically assigned a Primary Care Provider (PCP). Your PCP is a physician or nurse with whom you schedule routine appointments (like an annual physical exam). It is important to get to know your PCP – s/he will be an important resource for you during your time at Columbia – even if you are not sick. Most appointments can be scheduled online using the Columbia Health website.

If you are ever feeling sick, you can call Columbia Health at (212) 854-7426 during office hours and schedule an appointment or speak with a health care provider. If you have an urgent care need, you can also stop by the Urgent Care Center during office hours in John Jay Hall to be seen without an appointment. If you require emergency medical care, please speak with your Resident Assistant (RA) or Public Safety in your residence hall lobby. You can also call Columbia Public Safety directly at (212) 854-5555 or 911 for emergencies. Use 911 for emergencies when off-campus.

When Columbia Health Services is closed, you should speak with your RA or Columbia Public Safety. You will get connected to an on-call physician who can help you decide whether you should seek care in the hospital emergency room or Columbia Health the next day. If you are ever taken to the hospital for emergency care, a Columbia staff member will be notified and will accompany you to the hospital for support.

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