Breadth Requirement



Analysis of Algorithms is the core of Computer Science, which unites the many disparate subfields.  All students are expected to complete an acceptable lecture course (graduate or upper-level undergraduate) in Analysis of Algorithms, with grade B+ or higher, prior to entering the program.  However, we permit students who have not already satisfied the Analysis of Algorithms prerequisite prior to enrollment to take COMS W4231 at Columbia as part of the Breadth Requirement.  The prerequisite must be completed prior to presentation of the thesis proposal.


Breadth Requirement

The breadth requirement consists of two components, distribution and electives.


Every doctoral student must complete a distribution requirement consisting of four graduate lecture courses taken here at Columbia.   There must be one course each from the approved course lists for Theory, Systems, and AI & Applications, plus one additional course chosen from any of the three approved course lists.  In the case where a student takes the Analysis of Algorithms prerequisite here (CSOR W4231) rather than at another institution prior to enrollment, then it satisfies the Theory distribution requirement.  Doctoral students may complete any or all of the distribution courses via only the course's cumulative final exam, if it has one, without formally enrolling in the course.  Instructors are not obligated to provide a cumulative final exam suitable for students not enrolled in the course.

Approved distribution courses:

Area Approved Courses*

All COMS 42xx courses including CSOR W4231 except CSOR W4246


All COMS 41xx courses except COMS W4121, COMS 416x and COMS 417x 
All COMS 48xx courses, plus EECS 4340 and COMS 4444

AI & Applications

All COMS 47xx courses except W4776, plus COMS 416x and COMS 417x

*IMPORTANT NOTE: Regardless of the course number, courses that are labeled "certificate only" or similar may not be applied to the PhD breadth requirement.  For example, "Courses completed as part of the Certification of Professional Achievement in Data Sciences can neither be waived nor will they count towards any minimum degree requirements for any degree program at Columbia University." [from the IDSE website]

[Instituted by full faculty vote, 4/4/14, to replace the core.  Effective in Fall 2014.  Students who first enrolled in Spring 2014 or earlier may substitute the old "core" for the distribution requirement. ]


In addition to the distribution requirement, all doctoral students must pass a total of six (6) elective graduate (4000 level or above) lecture courses, each three (3) or more points.  Most COMS or jointly offered with COMS (e.g., CSEE, CSOR) courses are acceptable as CS electives.  At most two (2) electives may be outside CS, and only CS courses may be "imported" from another institution rather than taken at Columbia.  All electives require the advisor's approval.  However, courses that are labeled "certificate only" or similar by the respective department may not be applied to the PhD breadth requirement.

[Revised by full faculty vote, 11/6/13. Effective immediately.]

"PhD Pass" Threshold

The minimum passing grade for doctoral students in both distribution and elective courses is B+; the average grade across all breadth courses must be A- or higher.  The PhD Pass threshold applies to both Columbia courses and imported electives. Courses may be retaken in a later semester, or a different course substituted, with the highest grades used to compute the average. 

Satisfactory Progress

Satisfactory progress towards fulfilling the breadth requirement is defined as at least 2*N breadth course/exam passes, where N is the number of semesters enrolled thus far in the program, until the breadth requirement has been completed.

[Revised by full faculty vote on 12/18/08.]

A student who has not made satisfactory progress towards the breadth requirement is normally placed on probation at the end of the first and/or subsequent semesters that he/she "falls behind". The student can be immediately dismissed from the program at the end of any such unsatisfactory semester unless the full faculty accepts a petition from the advisor for one semester's grace.

Details of Breadth Requirement Administration

Last updated on September 22, 2014.