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Undergraduate Student Life

Alternative Break Program Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Who is eligible to participate in an Alternative Break Program-supported project?
  2. How do I get involved in a project? 
  3. How can I be a project leader?
  4. What is the Minimum/Maximum size of an ABP project team?
  5. How much does it cost?
  6. Is there ABP financial aid or scholarships available?
  7. What immunizations do I need?
  8. What kind of insurance do I need to have?
  9. Are the projects safe?
  10. When do the prjects take place?
  11. What are the rules Project Leaders need to be aware of?
  12. Can I get my nonrefundable contribution back if I decide I don't want to participate in my project?

 

Who is eligible to participate in an Alternative Break Program-supported project?
Any Columbia University affiliate can participate on an ABP-supported project. Only currently enrolled Columbia College, Columbia Engineering, Barnard College and General Studies students, however, can receive financial support.

How do I get involved in a project? 
There are two ways to get involved with an ABP-supported project: (1) Project leaders design and organize civic engagement projects and recruit and develop a team to work on the project. (2) join an already-organized project and help the team shape the experience! Visit our current list of projects looking to add members to their rosters.

How can I be a project leader?
All you need is a great idea to improve a community and the commitment to see it through!

Project leaders start with an idea and develop the various aspects of that idea like, developing the project, working with an organization in the community you want to work with, forming a team, and fundraising for the project. The ABP has set up a system to keep you on track:

First, you submit a Preliminary Proposal, or a solid idea of how to improve a community. At this stage you should be thinking about what the project may look like, how big of a team you will need to pull it off, and possible community partners who may be able to help you be successful.
If the ABP agrees with you that your project can help a community and is feasible, you'll be invited to submit a Final Proposal, or an idea that has been fully flushed out. The Final Proposal should be able to articulate exactly how the project will help a community, the specific steps you're team will take, what you're team will look like (though you do not need to have your team formed at this time), the project budget developed, a community partner established, and the trip logistics established.

If the ABP supports your project, you're off and running! The ABP will support your work every step of the way from the beginning to end, including funding some of your travel needs. While the ABP is here to help, please understand that ultimately you will be responsible for the project and team goals and working to achieve those goals.

For more information, please check out the project leader expectations outlined in the application. In addition, you can make an appointment with Student Engagement or ABP student committee to ask questions or speak about your ideas. 

What is the Minimum/Maximum size of an ABP project team?
ABP teams can be as small as two and as big as necessary to effectively achieve the mission and goals of your project. However, due to program budget limits, the ABP can only fund travel for six members of your team. Most commonly, ABP teams with more than six people fundraise for additional travel costs of their team.  

How much does it cost?
That is entirely up to your project idea. The ABP is set up so that students create their own civic engagement project -- including what kind of work they will do, whom they work with, where they work, how they travel and where they stay, and how long they serve. All of these factors will determine the costs for each team member. The ABP may provide travel grants for up to six project participants. 

Is there ABP financial aid or scholarships available?
The ABP provides project funding for selected projects. The funding provided may cover the travel costs of up to six of the project's participants. However, beyond the travel grants awarded to selected projects, there is no additional financial aid from the ABP for individuals or groups. 

What immunizations do I need?
You are responsible for talking with your physician and looking on the Center for Disease Control website to make informed choices of which immunizations you will need. Look on the travel health page and then search for your destination country. ABP does not cover immunization expenses. However, some may be paid for by student health insurance plans. 

What kind of insurance do I need to have?
ABP-supported teams DO NOT need to purchase any additional insurance for their project.


As a Columbia student you already must have health insurance. And as a part of ABP support, all team members have access to Columbia's travel insurance, International SOS (ISOS). ISOS is travel insurance that provides various travel-related protections and services, including emergency medical services that supplement regular health insurance. It is free and available to all Columbia students and provides worldwide assistance in the event of an emergency that requires special evacuation and repatriation services, or immediate medical intervention. 

Are the projects safe?
It is the responsibility of the team, working with the ABP and its sponsor organization, to design and carry out projects that are safe for everyone involved.

Columbia has a general policy that it cannot support projects in countries that appear on the U.S. State Department's travel warning list, although exceptions can be made if a team can show how their particular project can be safe. It is critical to understand that these exceptions are not a given in every situation. Projects impacted by the U.S. State Department travel warming list or for other safety reasons, may be rejected, or even cancelled, even at the last minute, if Columbia determines travel is unsafe. In these situations, the team needs to understand that the team members are responsible for any costs associated with a cancelled trip. 

When can the projects take place?
All ABP-supported projects must have a significant component that takes place over one of the University's official academic breaks - winter, spring or summer. Most of the work for projects, however, will take place either before or after the actual trip as teams prepare or work on their projects. In addition, the ABP expects that all of the teams it supports will have substantial reflection components to their projects following the end of their work.

NOTE: The ABP is unable to support winter break projects for the 2014-2015 academic year. 

What are the policies and procedures Project Leaders need to be aware of?
All ABP-supported teams are expected to follow all ABP policies, Columbia University policies and the laws of the communities to which the teams travel. In addition, the ABP recommends that teams create their own internal expectations of each team member. Teams can choose to use Break Away's 8 Quality Components as a guide. Lastly, the ABP recommends that teams study and follow all international trip recommendations of the U.S. State Department.

Can I get my nonrefundable contribution back if I decide I don't want to/cannot participate in my project?
No. In addition to funds that your team spends on you once you commit to the program, the ABP will be funding part of your project and not someone else's. We make a commitment to you and in order for the program to work properly, it is necessary that you make a commitment in return. 

If you have other questions, feel free to email us!

Alternative Break Program

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