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International Student Programs and Services

What is OPT (Optional Practical Training)?

Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a benefit of F-1 student status that allows students to gain experience in their field of study by applying for off-campus work authorization. Students in F-1 status are eligible for 12 months of OPT per educational degree level. OPT may be granted and used before graduation (pre-completion OPT ) for part-time work during the school year or full time work during vacation periods.


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.


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:


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).


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 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.


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.


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?


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.

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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.

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International at Columbia


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