Applying to the Ph.D. Program Frequently Asked Questions

Producing a Better Application
Deadlines
Standardized Test Scores
Grades and Transcripts
Application Status and Decisions on Admission
M.S. vs. Ph.D. Programs
Financial Aid
The Online Application System
Letters of Recommendation
Miscellaneous Questions

PRODUCING A BETTER APPLICATION

How can I improve my chances for admission into the Columbia Ph.D. program?

The Columbia University Department of Computer Science is looking for students who have excellent research potential in computer science as well as good grades, test scores, and English language skills. Evidence that you possess these will help your case. So be sure to include with your application materials any evidence of your research experience and qualifications, including substantial course projects or technical employment. Publications in international conferences and journals are important to mention; you may want to submit up to two of your best such papers in the "Research Papers" section of your online application. You must also submit your curriculum vitae/resume, which should list all papers that you have co-authored. If possible, at least two of your recommendation letters should address your research qualifications.

You should also carefully choose the "Areas of research interest" and the "Professors and researchers with research interests close to yours" in the "Research Interests" section of your online application. This section is critical to match faculty and Ph.D. applicants, and hence to make admission and funding offers to applicants. Carefully review the background, interests, and current directions of faculty members before contacting them by email. If you live in the area or will be visiting New York City, request an in-person interview with faculty members whose research interests are close to yours. Arrange any visit far in advance; do not just arrive unannounced, or you will almost certainly be disappointed when no one is available to see you. (Note: do not request a meeting with the Ph.D. Admissions Chair unless he/she happens to be one of the faculty you are considering for an advisor. The Ph.D. Admissions Chair does not interview applicants.)


Who should I ask for recommendation letters?

It is usually best to ask professors from your current or most recent academic institution. Research supervisors are strongly preferred over classroom teachers, unless the course(s) involved a substantial project. Otherwise, it is better to obtain letters from faculty who gave you high grades. Obtain letters from regular faculty members if at all possible, rather than from adjuncts, staff, or graduate students. Supervisors from summer internships, particularly research labs, are also good choices.

Applicants returning to school after several years away from academia should submit recommendations from work supervisors and advanced colleagues, preferably those who hold a graduate degree and/or have published articles in major research forums. It is less useful in these circumstances to request letters from former professors who have had no contact with you in many years. It is not recommended that you submit character references from people with no academic or research experience or from persons who are unfamiliar with your academic credentials, your technical, research, or teaching experience, or with your qualifications and research potential. Do not write your own letters. It is generally useful for your references to include in their letters information about their own background (e.g., whether they hold a Ph.D. degree themselves and from what school, whether they have held a faculty position in the past at a major university, and so on).


How long should my personal statement be? Can I submit a three-page document?

You can certainly submit a three-page document, but a concise one-page statement is preferable. The department must consider many hundreds of applications, so a short statement focused on your research experience, interests, and goals, is generally most effective. Except in unusual circumstances, information on your personal history, childhood, and how you became interested in computer science is less useful.


Can I submit additional materials online once my application is under review?

Yes, you can. However, we cannot guarantee that these will be considered during the review of your application, since we try to review applications as soon as they are officially complete.


I will be completing my Master's degree in May next year. Can I still apply for fall admission to the Ph.D. program? Do I need to have a Master's degree before applying to the Ph.D. program?

You may certainly apply to the Ph.D. program without a Master's degree. Many of our Ph.D. students come to our department directly after receiving their Bachelor's degree.

DEADLINES

What are the deadlines for spring and fall semesters?

Please check the Ph.D. application web page at http://www.cs.columbia.edu/education/admissions#phd.  To start the Ph.D. program in the spring, the deadline for new applications is October 1 of the previous year; to start the Ph.D. program in the fall, the application deadline is December 15 of the previous year.


I was looking into the Computer Science Ph.D. program and I am really interested in applying for admission. Unfortunately, I just missed the application deadline by a few days. Can I still apply?

Yes, you can still apply. However, be aware that applications are usually reviewed soon after the deadline, so late applications may not be processed as quickly or have the best chance of getting funding from our department.

STANDARDIZED TEST SCORES

I have just taken the GRE exam, but I don't know my scores yet. In fact, my scores will not be available until after the application deadline. Can I still apply? What should I do with respect to the online application system?

Yes, you can still apply. Please follow all of the following steps:

(1) In the "Test Scores" section of the online application system, check the appropriate "score not yet known" boxes.

(2) Once you are informed of your test scores, report the scores in the "Test Scores" section of the online application system, even if you learn your scores after the application deadline. We use your self-reported scores in the application review process while we wait for the official score reports from ETS, so it is important that you self-report your results as soon as you learn about them.

(3) Ask ETS to submit official score reports to us, following the instructions in the "Test Scores" section of the online application system.


I will be applying to your Ph.D. program, and my TOEFL/IELTS and GRE scores will expire just a month or so before the application deadline. If I apply before the expiration date of my test scores, will they be considered valid?

Unfortunately, no. Your test scores must be valid as of the application deadline. Scores that expire before the deadline will not be accepted.


What are the minimum acceptable GRE and TOEFL/IELTS scores?

There are no minimum test score requirements. As a reference, however, the average GRE scores for the entering class of Fall 2012 were Verbal: 568 (on the 800-point scale) or 159 (on the 170-point scale), Quantitative: 781 (on the 800-point scale) or 165 (on the 170-point scale), and Analytical: 4.0. The average TOEFL iBT score was 106. If instead of the TOEFL you take the IELTS exam, your IELTS scores should be at least 7.

I have entered my test scores myself in the "Test Scores" section of the online application. Do I still need to get an official score report sent to Columbia?

Yes. You must both self-report your test scores in your online application, and request that an official score report be sent directly by ETS (for the GRE and TOEFL exams) and by IELTS, if appropriate, to Columbia University. The unofficial scores will be verified against your official scores. All GRE scores are valid for five years. TOEFL and IELTS scores are valid for two years.

Only two groups of applicants may be exempted from this requirement: (1) applicants who have applied to any Columbia FFSEAS Computer Science graduate program in the last year and (2) current Columbia FFSEAS graduate students. If you are in groups (1) or (2) and have submitted official scores to Columbia in the past, there is no need to send your official score report again as long as your test scores are still valid as of the application deadline. Note that you still must enter those scores yourself in your online application. If your test scores expire before the application deadline, then you must retake the exams. We cannot make exceptions to this rule.


I have done my Master's degree in the U.S. but my undergraduate degree in a country where English is not spoken. Do I still need to submit my TOEFL/IELTS scores?

No, in this case you do not need to submit your TOEFL/IELTS scores, as long as you will have completed your Master's degree before starting your Ph.D. at Columbia.


I have been working in the U.S. for many years and I am very fluent in English. Do I still need to take the TOEFL or the IELTS exams?

Yes, you do. The TOEFL or IELTS exam is required for all applicants who have received their undergraduate degree in a country where English is not the official and spoken language, unless they will have completed a Master's degree in the U.S. before starting their Ph.D. at Columbia. Working in the U.S. does not exempt you from taking the TOEFL or IELTS exams.

Note that you must report your unofficial test score in the online application, and also request that an official score report be sent directly to Columbia University, as specified in the "Test Scores" section of the online application. The unofficial scores will be verified against your official scores. TOEFL and IELTS scores are valid for two years. We cannot accept old scores so please do not request an exception.

Only two groups of applicants may be exempted from this requirement: (1) applicants who have applied to any Columbia FFSEAS Computer Science graduate program in the last year and (2) current Columbia FFSEAS graduate students. If you are in groups (1) or (2) and have submitted official scores to Columbia in the past, there is no need to send your official score report again as long as your test score is still valid as of the application deadline. Note that you still must enter the score yourself in your online application. If your test score expires before the application deadline, then you must retake the exam. We cannot make exceptions to this rule.


I am an international student. Should I take the TSE and TWE tests?

No, we do not require these exams. You do not need to take the TSE and TWE tests.

GRADES AND TRANSCRIPTS

My transcripts are not in English. What should I do?

Materials that are not in English must be translated by an official and notarized transcription agency. You must find such agencies yourself; we cannot provide referrals, unfortunately.


My course grades are based on a different grading scale from Columbia's. How can I determine my GPA?

Several agencies provide grade-translation services. You must find such services yourself; we cannot provide referrals, unfortunately. As a reference, here is the key for our grading system:

Letter Grades and Numerical Equivalents:

A+/A  A-    B+    B     B-    C+    C     C-    D+    D     D-    F
4.00  3.67  3.33  3.00  2.67  2.33  2.00  1.67  1.33  1.00  0.67  0.00

 

APPLICATION STATUS AND DECISIONS ON ADMISSION

How can I verify that my official transcripts, GRE General and Subject exams, and/or TOEFL/IELTS scores have been received?

All official transcripts, GRE exam scores, and TOEFL/IELTS scores for all graduate programs in the School of Engineering are sent to the Office of Graduate Student Affairs. You may contact them at to confirm receipt of your documents. The staff will respond to your requests to check the receipt of application materials whenever possible. Please be aware that during peak periods, when the volume of inquiries is high, the Office of Graduate Student Affairs might not be able to answer your requests. However, if additional materials are needed for your application, you will be contacted by email.


When will I receive a decision on my application? Can you tell me the status of my application? Has a decision been made? Please let me know now, since I have been accepted to a few other universities but Columbia is my top choice.

Unfortunately Ph.D. admissions staff cannot answer these questions. As soon as a decision is made, you will be notified by email to the address that you specified in your online application.


If I have been denied admission, may I receive feedback on the reasons behind this decision?

Unfortunately, the volume of applications that we receive every year makes it impossible for us a) to admit all of the highly qualified persons who apply to our Ph.D. program or b) to provide specific feedback on our decisions. We understand that the application process is extremely stressful, and we deeply regret that we cannot provide specific reasons why individual applicants were not accepted into the program.

M.S. VS. PH.D. PROGRAMS

What is the relationship between the M.S. and the Ph.D. programs?

They are completely independent programs with separate admissions; one does not "lead to" the other. Some students complete the "terminal" M.S. program first and then apply to the Ph.D. program; some students enter the Ph.D. program directly without an M.S. degree; other students complete their M.S. degree at some other institution prior to enrolling in our Ph.D. program. Some students leave after completing the M.S program.


In the application form, you ask whether I would consider admission to the M.S. program if I am denied admission to the Ph.D. program. If I answer "yes" and attend your M.S. program, does this mean that after getting my M.S. degree I would be able to continue with my Ph.D.?

Not necessarily. After completing your M.S. degree you would still have to apply (again) to the Ph.D. program. You cannot automatically transfer from the M.S. program to the Ph.D. program.


I applied to the Ph.D. program but have just received a notice saying I have been admitted to the M.S. program. What does this mean? I did not apply to the M.S. program.

This means you have not been admitted to the Ph.D. program but that you have been admitted to the M.S. program. Recall that the application form asked you if you would consider admission to the M.S. program if you were denied admission to the Ph.D. program. If you enter the M.S. program you may still apply again to the Ph.D. program next year.


I applied to the Ph.D. degree program. However, my application was denied. I was admitted into the M.S. program. If I join the M.S. program, can I still apply to the Ph.D. program again later?

Yes. After entering the M.S. program, you can re-apply to the Ph.D. program, and transfer to it if you are admitted.

FINANCIAL AID

What types of financial aid are available and who is eligible to apply for financial aid? What kind of department funding is available? How do I apply for funding?

There are two broad categories for financial aid:

(1) Federal Aid. Domestic students (i.e., U.S. citizens or permanent residents) are eligible to apply for scholarships, merit fellowships, and loans. International students cannot apply for this type of financial aid. Please refer to http://www.engineering.columbia.edu/financial-aid for further information and all inquiries.

(2) Institutional Aid/Departmental Funding. All applicants (i.e., both international and domestic students) who indicate in the online application that they would like to apply for financial aid will automatically be considered for funding by FFSEAS and by the Department of Computer Science.  The Columbia Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science awards a small number of prestigious "Presidential Distinguished Fellowships" to new applicants, while the Department of Computer Science also awards selective "Departmental Fellowships."  Eligible Ph.D. applicants for the fall semester will automatically be considered for these fellowships, which provide full financial support to their recipients.  The department offers both Graduate Research Assistantships (GRA) and Teaching Assistantships (TA). All applicants who indicate in the online application that they would like to apply for financial aid will automatically be considered for all these types of funding. It is not necessary to do anything else in order to apply for this funding.

(3) IGERT Fellowship. Qualified students who are either U.S. citizens or Permanent Residents should also consider applying to the IGERT program funded by the National Science Foundation. Please go on to http://www.cs.columbia.edu/igert/howtoapply.shtml for details.


Can you tell me the difference between GRA and TA funding? Which one should I apply to? Will I have better chances if I apply for GRA than for TA?

Both the GRA and the TA funding provide the same level of financial support: full tuition exemption (which amounts to over $34,364 per year), basic health and medical insurance fees, and a monthly stipend. In the 2012-13 academic year, the stipend is $3,017 per month, and generally increases about 4% per year. Both forms of funding (i.e., GRA and TA) are officially offered to admitted students for only the first academic year. Funding beyond the first year is always contingent upon satisfactory progress and availability of funds. However, GRA funding typically continues throughout the doctoral program (up to a maximum of 5-7 years). Most TAs switch to GRAs after the first year, but it is possible to apply for continuation of TA funding, or to switch from GRA to TA funding.


Is it true that funding is more limited for spring admissions than for fall admissions? Will my chances of gaining admission with funding be better in the fall than in the spring?

Generally many more students are admitted (with funding) in the fall than in the spring.


Will my chances of admission improve if I have outside funding or otherwise do not require financial aid?

Probably, but not necessarily. You should specify the terms and time duration of your outside funding on your online application. Warning: if you are admitted "without support," that really means you will not receive any financial support. It is not possible to apply for TA or GRA funding after admission decisions have been made. And please do not plan to "pay your own way" through outside employment: the Computer Science department normally does not permit "part-time" Ph.D. students. (However, part-time students are common in the "terminal" M.S. program.)


Will I be informed if I have received any departmental funding?

Yes, as soon as a decision is made in this respect, you will be notified by email and by physical mail.

THE ONLINE APPLICATION SYSTEM

I am not sure if I have submitted my application correctly. How can I check?

Please log into the application system. You will be able to see the contents of each of your application's sections, and check whether the data matches what you intended. You can change your application even after having "submitted" it.


Do all of my application materials need to be submitted online?

Most of your application materials must be submitted online. The only exceptions are: (1) your official transcripts and (2) your official TOEFL/IELTS and GRE test scores. The official transcripts should be mailed to the mailing address specified in the "Transcripts" section of the online application system. The official test scores should be sent to us directly by ETS (for the GRE and TOEFL exams) and by IELTS, if appropriate, using the appropriate school code and as specified in the "Test Scores" section of the online application system. All other materials, including letters of recommendation, must be submitted electronically. Unfortunately, we cannot make exceptions to this rule.


What if I don't have the latest version of Mozilla or Microsoft Internet Explorer? Will the online application still work for me?

Please try filling out the application using your current browser. If you run into any problems, we strongly suggest that you upgrade your browser and install the latest version of Mozilla or Internet Explorer. We cannot support older browsers, unfortunately.


My password will not work. Why?

Passwords are case-sensitive, so check your "caps lock" key. If you are still unable to login, then have the application system send you a new password to the email address that you provided. You can do this by just filling out your email address, with no password, in the main login page of the application system.


LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION

Do my recommendation providers have to submit their letters of recommendation electronically? What if they insist on sending hard-copies?

All recommendations should be submitted electronically by your recommendation providers. The application review process is handled completely electronically, so we cannot make exceptions to this rule.


What is the deadline for the arrival of the recommendations supporting my application?

The deadline for the arrival of the recommendations is the same as the deadline for the submission of the application. However, it is acceptable for your recommendations to arrive just a few days (e.g., a week or two) after this deadline. Be aware, though, that your application will not receive full consideration until all recommendations have been received.


Where do I find the recommendation forms that I should send to my recommendation providers?

There are no such forms. Instead, you need to add the name, email address, and any other required information for your recommendation providers in the "Recommendations" section of the online application system. After you have completed and submitted your application, we will contact by email each of your recommendation providers and give them instructions on how they can submit their recommendations. The recommendation providers submit their recommendations themselves.

MISCELLANEOUS QUESTIONS

How many Ph.D. applications do you receive every semester? How many Ph.D. students enter the program every semester?

Roughly speaking, we receive around 450 applications for fall admissions each year, and around 40 applications for spring admissions. We generally admit many more applicants to start in the fall semester than for the spring semester. Over the last few years, on average, we have had around 25 new Ph.D. students entering each fall and around 5 new Ph.D. students entering each spring.


Does the Department of Computer Science permit part-time Ph.D. students?

All Ph.D. students are expected to participate in departmental and laboratory activity full-time on-campus throughout the program, except possibly for summer jobs elsewhere. Therefore, the department does not normally consider admission of part-time students. Furthermore, it does not permit students to participate in the Ph.D. program through the Columbia Video Network. If you are interested in part-time advanced Computer Science studies, you might want to consider the "Professional Degree in Computer Science," http://www.cs.columbia.edu/education/admissions#prof.


Can I "transfer" to your Ph.D. program from the graduate program at my current institution?

No. Graduate students enrolled at other institutions or programs must apply through the regular Ph.D. application process.


I was accepted for last fall but was unable to attend due to visa problems; will I need to reapply or can I defer my admission for a later semester?

Our school does not let students defer admission, unfortunately. So you will have to apply again. Note that if you were admitted before and you reapply within a year of your original application, then you do not have to pay the application fee, plus you might not need to send official test scores and transcripts. Please see the online application for more details.


I applied to your Ph.D. program a year ago, and did not get in. Now I would like to apply again. Do I need to fill out the online application, pay the application fee again, and so on?

Yes, you will have to apply, pay the application fee, and send your official transcripts again. However, you might not need to resend official test scores. Please go to the online application for more details.


I am currently a Columbia FFSEAS graduate student, and would like to apply to your Ph.D. program. Do I need to fill out the online application, pay the application fee again, and so on?

All applicants must fill out the complete online application in all cases. However, if you are a current Columbia FFSEAS graduate student, then you do not have to pay the application fee, plus you might not need to send official test scores and transcripts. Please see the online application for more details.