Import Policy

It is possible to fulfill some or all of the six electives for the breadth requirement by “importing” courses taken recently at other institutions of equivalent quality.  However, distribution courses cannot be imported from another institution. Important Note: In the case of new PhD students entering without an MS, at most four electives may be imported because at least two electives must be completed at Columbia in order to fulfill the requirements for the “MS along the way“.

Students cannot import multiple courses on the same subject.  Students cannot apply both an imported course and a Columbia course on the same subject to the ten course requirement.  If a student takes a Columbia course (or comp exam) equivalent to a course imported by that student, the student forfeits the imported course.

Courses taken outside Columbia cannot be imported unless all of the following conditions are met.

  1. The course must fulfill all of the requirements for PhD electives. [Revised by full faculty vote 12/17/20 to allow imports of non-CS courses.  Effective immediately.]
  2. The course must be approved by the student’s advisor (both research advisor and departmental advisor, if different).
  3. In addition to the advisor(s), the CS faculty member responsible for the most closely corresponding Columbia CS graduate course, or if there is no reasonably corresponding Columbia CS graduate course the CS faculty member deemed by his/her peers to demonstrate the most relevant expertise, has evaluated the course and presented a judgment in writing to the Director of Graduate Studies, and the DGS has concurred, that the imported course is considered of equal or higher quality and scope than the typical Columbia CS three-point graduate course, and the performance of the student is considered of equal or higher quality and scope than that required to obtain at least a B+ grade in a typical Columbia CS three-point graduate lecture course.  Note that “summer session”, other shorter-than-usual courses, and/or courses awarding less than three points (or equivalent) usually would not meet these quality and scope guidelines and thus would not be importable.
  4. All materials requested by the evaluating faculty member and/or the DGS are provided, in English or notarized English translation.  The evaluating faculty member and/or DGS may, at their discretion, ask the student to provide oral or written answers to questions regarding the material learned in the course and/or may contact members of the institution at which the course was taken for additional information.
  5. The student’s grade in the course was B+ or higher.  For those institutions that do not record plus and minus grades, a B is acceptable only if the student provides acceptable documentation that his/her grade was in the corresponding percentile of B+ or higher awarded in similar Columbia CS graduate courses. Such documentation is also required to show B+ equivalence for institutions that grade on different scales (e.g., out of 10 points).
  6. In the case of courses completed more than 5 years prior to formal enrollment, the evaluating faculty member must judge that the course is sufficiently relevant to the goals of the doctoral breadth requirement, and the DGS must concur.  In particular, the subject covered by the course should not have changed significantly since the student took the course and the student evidently still retains mastery of the course material.

Students must submit all completed Import Forms Import Forms for courses imported from prior institutions by the last day of classes of their first semester enrolled in the doctoral program.

Course imports are not treated as transfers and do not grant degree credit (“points”).  The department offers credit in the COMS E9911 research course for the purpose of fulfilling the 30 points required for masters beyond the undergraduate degree, for students who enroll without a prior masters degree, and the additional 30 points required for the doctorate beyond the masters degree.


Normally, any courses taken at another school after enrolling in the doctoral program cannot be counted towards the breadth requirement.  In very rare cases, a student may take one graduate lecture course at another institution during his/her enrollment in the doctoral program and, with B+ or higher grade and advisor approval, apply it to the breadth requirement.  This is permitted only when the advisor deems the course crucially important for the student’s research and no equivalent course is offered by any department at Columbia.  Full faculty approval is required in advance for a second or subsequent course.  [Revised by full faculty vote 12/17/20 to allow importing one non-Columbia course taken after enrollment without full faculty approval.  Effective immediately.]

In the case of importing a course taken at another institution after enrolling in the doctoral program, the import procedure must be undertaken within two weeks after grades become available (or within two weeks of the student’s return to Columbia, if absent when grades become available).

Last updated on January 24, 2022.