Breadth Requirement Administration


Courses Taken Prior to Enrolling in the PhD Program

Students can complete part or all of the breadth requirement before formal enrollment in the PhD program, e.g., while previously enrolled at Columbia and/or by "importing" elective courses (not core courses) from another academic institution of equivalent quality.  All import applications must be submitted no later than two weeks (14 days) prior to the student's first Black Friday enrolled in the PhD program. Both core and elective courses taken at Columbia prior to formal enrollment in the PhD program qualify automatically and do not need to be "imported", provided that the grade was B+ or higher. However, in the case of courses completed more than five (5) years prior to formal enrollment, the appropriate faculty member (the person approving the import or the advisor in the case of prior Columbia courses) must judge that the course is sufficiently relevant to the goals of the PhD breadth requirement.

Exams in lieu of Courses

Area exams are offered in every core area (and sometimes elective areas) primarily as an alternative to taking the corresponding course, and are intended for students who have already obtained the appropriate background and expertise, and/or feel confident in their ability to self-study the requisite material. Exams may also be taken by students who have completed the corresponding course with less than a "PhD pass" (B+) grade and/or are taking the course concurrently. 

A written syllabus defining the content covered by each area exam should be made available no later than one week following the first faculty meeting of the semester; the exam syllabus is often the same as the syllabus for the corresponding course that semester, or the semester that course was most recently offered.  Signup sheets for exams should be made available through the Doctoral Program Administrator approximately six (6) weeks prior to exam administration, and students should sign up for all exams they intend to take at least four (4) weeks prior to the exams. Failure to show up for an exam, or leaving the exam without completion, is deemed de facto failure, unless the student presents acceptable evidence of illness or emergency to the PhD Chair. No "makeups" are offered: the student must take the course or exam in a later semester.

An area exam for a given area may be a conventional one-hour written exam, usually given in the week before the university's study days, or the area exam may be a subset of the final exam (including possibly the entire final exam) for the corresponding course, in which case its administration is co-timed with that final exam. When the final and area exam are co-timed, any reduction in time allotted to the area exam below the normal duration of the final exam must be proportional to the size of the subset, and in no case may be less than one hour.  The area exam must test only on material covered by the published area syllabus, not any other material covered only in the course but not on the exam syllabus.

A regular faculty member must be designated as responsible for each area exam.  The designated faculty member may optionally delegate to an adjunct (but not a student) the duties of preparing the syllabus, exam and grading scheme, but retains ultimate responsibility. [Added by full faculty vote on May 8, 2008. Effective Fall 2008.]

CVN Courses

CVN "pre-taped" courses are generally unacceptable for satisfying the breadth requirements, see exceptions below.  TAing or auditing a core or elective course is never acceptable in lieu of taking the course for a grade or passing the exam. 

The following refers to courses that have already been approved for core or elective credit for the PhD breadth requirement.

  • Live in-person on-campus courses that happen to also be offered by CVN always qualify.
  • Pre-taped CVN courses managed (graded) by a regular faculty member, from any Columbia department, always qualify.  Pre-taped CVN courses managed by an adjunct faculty member who has lectured the same course on-campus also qualify. Both cases are exceedingly rare.
  • The typical pre-taped CVN course, which is managed by a graduate student, does not qualify. Exceptions can be made with the approval of the full faculty, including in particular the regular faculty member(s) in charge of the corresponding course - but be warned that said approval is highly unlikely.
  • However, CVN courses taken by a student prior to formally enrolling in the PhD program (e.g., while a CVN MS, Professional or non-degree student) always qualify, regardless of who managed the course.
Last updated on August 30, 2010.