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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
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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.

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Do international students need to file and pay U.S. taxes?

All international students in F-1 (and J-1) status are required to file at least one tax form if present in the US at any time in the previous calendar year—even if they had no US income. This process happens between January and April each year for the previous year. For example, 2013 taxes will be filed by mid-April of 2014. Students with U.S. income do pay taxes (taken out of their paycheck) and need to file taxes by April 15. Students without income (no tax has been paid) need to file by 15.

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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).

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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.

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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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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.

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