Student Life at Columbia
Questions and answers in this section are of a general nature and include topics such as life in the residence halls, getting involved on campus, in New York City and with alumni, eating on campus, activities during academic breaks, and personal business like banking, health care and taxes.
I want to be involved in student groups. Are there groups that are good for international students?
Columbia has nearly 500 student organizations and international students are encouraged to join any group(s) of interest. Group categories include academic, activist, advocacy, club sports, competition, cultural, dance, governing boards, humanitarian, community service, Fraternity and Sorority Life, LGBTQA, media, music performance, performance, pre-professional, publications, religious, spiritual, social education, special interest, student councils and theater. For a list of those student organizations, please login into Columbia LionLink. You can attend the Meet and Greets during NSOP and Activities Day at the beginning of the school year for more information.
Can I join any student group?
Yes. While student groups are open to all students, some groups may require an audition, application or other requirements to join. Many simply allow you to start attending meetings at any time to participate and encourage you to do so. Two large-scale events that showcase student groups at Columbia include an Activities Fair during New Student Orientation Program and the Activities Day fair held every September.
How can I meet other international students, students from my country or with my background?
While we always encourage every student to learn from various communities and cultures while at Columbia and in New York, we understand the need to connect with others who share a similar background during your transition to campus life. Columbia offers over thirty cultural organizations that create spaces for all students who are interested in and/or share a particular culture, and who are excited to share that culture and experiences with the greater campus community. Programs like International Student Orientation Program, the Columbia Mentoring Initiative, International at Columbia, and International at Columbia events during academic breaks are also great opportunities to connect with other international students.
What is the best way to connect with others who share my religious beliefs?
A great place to start is the Office of the University Chaplain (OUC). The OUC ministers to the individual faiths of Columbia University's diverse community of scholars, students and staff from many different faith traditions while promoting interfaith and intercultural understanding. Toward this goal, the Office of the University Chaplain creates and sponsors programs concerning justice, faith, and spirituality. Part of the OUC is the United Campus Ministries (UCM), an umbrella organization comprised of clergy of different faith traditions and serves the needs of the diverse religious communities at Columbia, including weekly meetings and worship services. In addition to connecting with others through traditional religious ceremonies, services and pastoral counseling, you can meet others through their wide assortment of lectures, outreach projects and discussion groups.
Columbia also has a diverse array of over thirty religious, spiritual, and faith-based student organizations. All groups are open to every student, including those who may practice the same beliefs as well as anyone interested in learning more about various faiths and practices.
How can I learn more about Gender and Identity in the U.S. and at Columbia?
College is a time for students to explore and learn more about themselves and others, including their identities such as gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and socio-economic class. Multicultural Affairs is a great resource to engage in dialogues, workshops, weekend retreats, one-on-one conversations with a peer or staff member, and programs about identity. From your first dialogue in Under1Roof to the many conversations within the Intercultural House to the programs presented by student groups, we encourage you to take advantage of all the opportunities that allow you to engage in and grow from the diversity that surrounds you at Columbia.
Within the classroom, Columbia provides a more formal structure for learning about the intersections of identities. Academic spaces such as the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race, Institute for Research on Women and Gender, Institute for Research on African-American Studies, and Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies and others offer wonderful interdisciplinary academic courses and public lectures.
How can I contact alumni to work with my student group on campus?
If your student group is interested in connecting with international alumni, please contact Chia-Ying Pan, Director of Education, Outreach & International Student Support, with your request. You may be asked to provide further detail.
How do I get involved with the alumni club in my home city?
If you would like to get involved with alumni in your city, please visit the Alumni Clubs website to search domestically or internationally for a club. Each club has listed a contact to email. The Center for Career Education offers advice on other ways to connect with alumni.
I am interning abroad in XYZ city; are there events going on or any opportunities where I can meet other students and alumni?
To find events abroad, first check the alumni events calendar. Events listed with green stars are school based and may be restricted. Alternatively, you may send an email to the Office of Alumni and Development with the region and dates in question and someone will let you know. The Columbia University Internship Network (CU IN) offers alumni connections in select cities for summer interns in the United States.
Are students invited to all alumni events?
This depends. Check the alumni events calendar for events and contact the event lead with any questions. Events in the U.S. may not be open to current students and will specify.
Can I open a bank account? What do I need to set up an account?
Yes, you can open a bank account and many students choose to do so to help manage money and pay for certain items. International students do not need a Social Security number or a letter from the ISSO or any other university office to open a bank account. You do need your passport, I-20 or DS-2019, and letter of admission to Columbia. Other items that could be helpful if you have them are your Columbia ID, a lease or housing contract with your name on it, and, if you have a bank account at home, a statement from your home country with your name and address printed on it. The bank that is opening an account for you will let you know if there’s anything else they need. ISSO has compiled a list of banks in the Columbia neighborhood.
Where can I get a letter confirming my address or student status?
Should you need to provide a letter confirming your address, you may contact the Hartley Hospitality Desk to request one. If you need to prove your student status at Columbia, you may request Academic Certification from the University Registrar.
What are the policies I have to follow in the residence halls?
Undergraduate students who live in the residence halls are subject to the policies outlined in the Guide to Living. These policies, which range from the Cable Television and Cooking policies to the Alcohol and Other Drug policy, are put in place to ensure a residential community that is engaging and safe for all its members
Lots of students leave campus during the holidays. What are my options as an international student?
While many students choose to leave campus during academic breaks (U.S. Election Day, Thanksgiving, Winter Break and Spring Break), the residence halls remain open to their residents and you may stay on campus from move-in to the end of Spring semester. Although campus will generally be quieter during these times, administrative offices are open and operational and students (international and domestic) do stay on campus. International at Columbia will advertise break events and we encourage students to take advantage of events or advising offices open during break. Please check the Academic Calendar for the current year’s schedule.
Dining services shut down during the holidays. Where should I eat?
It is true that Dining Services are closed during academic breaks. During break periods, students remaining on campus are still able to use their Flex Accounts to purchase food at off-campus vendors. You can add money to your Flex account through SSOL. First year students have the option of choosing a meal plan (Plan 3) that includes flex. This is a nice time to gather with your peers and try local neighborhood eateries or explore another area of the city together.
I need someone to talk to. What are my options?
Talking to someone is one great way to organize your thoughts. If talking is what you need, consider connecting with a roommate, a suitemate, or hallmate. There is a community of advisers at Columbia to speak with about any feelings, issues, or concerns that may arise at Columbia. During operating hours (typically 9:00am to 5:00pm), administrative offices are open for conversations with students regarding academics, student life, internships and careers, studying abroad, financial aid, health and well-being and many other topics.
When offices are closed, there are still resources for support, depending on your need:
Do I need health insurance?
Yes. Under New York State Law, all enrolled students are required to have health insurance. Columbia students are automatically enrolled in the basic student insurance plan administered by Aetna. If you already have private health insurance or are covered by a parent/guardian, you can request a waiver if the coverage meets or exceeds the New York State requirements. However, it is strongly recommended that all international students utilize the Columbia plan as if offers the best coverage and providers in the neighborhood. For more information, visit the website on student health insurance.
I am sick and not sure how to utilize the American health care system. What do I do?
As a student, you have access to on-campus health care at Columbia Health Services. Columbia Health consists of three primary areas; Medical Services, Counseling and Psychological Services, and Disability Services. When you enroll, you are automatically assigned a Primary Care Provider (PCP). Your PCP is a physician or nurse with whom you schedule routine appointments (like an annual physical exam). It is important to get to know your PCP – s/he will be an important resource for you during your time at Columbia – even if you are not sick. Most appointments can be scheduled online using the Columbia Health website.
If you are ever feeling sick, you can call Columbia Health at (212) 854-7426 during office hours and schedule an appointment or speak with a health care provider. If you have an urgent care need, you can also stop by the Urgent Care Center during office hours in John Jay Hall to be seen without an appointment. If you require emergency medical care, please speak with your Resident Assistant (RA) or Public Safety in your residence hall lobby. You can also call Columbia Public Safety directly at (212) 854-5555 or 911 for emergencies. Use 911 for emergencies when off-campus.
When Columbia Health Services is closed, you should speak with your RA or Columbia Public Safety. You will get connected to an on-call physician who can help you decide whether you should seek care in the hospital emergency room or Columbia Health the next day. If you are ever taken to the hospital for emergency care, a Columbia staff member will be notified and will accompany you to the hospital for support.
Academic Life & Advising at Columbia
I am choosing a major. What do I need to consider as an international student?
The Liberal Arts nature of Columbia allows students to explore different areas of academic interest before declaring a major. While there is flexibility in what you can study and pursue at Columbia, where you might head afterwards brings the reality of strategic decisions. While you are considering your major choice, think about your academic and personal passions, your career interests, and what you would like to do after graduation and where. Is a graduate degree on your mind? Do you want to work in the U.S., your home country or another country? If you are looking to gain work authorization in the U.S., you must consider how classes and majors relate to your career. While students are encouraged to major in something that interests them, major choice impacts Optional Practical Training (OPT), a benefit of F-1 student status to help you gain work experience in an area related to your field of study. You major may also impact your application for a visa to work in the United States after graduation. Because there are several factors at play here (the student’s interests, the employer’s interests and immigration law), advanced planning and research is a must. The good news is there are options to explore and resources to help inform your path. One-on-one conversations with an adviser from CCE, CSA, or ISPS supplement your research and can help pinpoint your interests. As CC and SEAS students you may use both Going Global and Uniworld (same log-in as SSOL) to a view a list of companies that sponsored H1-B working visas in the past year or research U.S. firms that operate abroad, foreign firms that operate in the U.S. Attend ISSO sessions with an immigration attorney in the fall or spring of your first or second year to gain an understanding about the process early on.
What is a liberal art education and how will it help in the future?
The liberal arts education has its roots in ancient history and the subjects deemed necessary for a citizen to take part in civic society. In the modern era, a liberal arts education stems from the belief that an interdisciplinary education prepares students for society through exposure to a breadth of academic disciplines while allowing for depth in a major area of study. Students need to be adaptable in a fast-paced, interconnected world; through a four-year discourse with peers, students will learn analysis, argument, quantitative reasoning, logical inference and creative thinking. Students are encouraged to ask critical questions; not just the how, but the why. Not only will this instill personal passions for students, but many employers rank skills such as working in a team structure, communication, decision making and problem solving, and obtaining and processing information very highly in job candidates. A true liberal arts education is achieved without concern for vocational utility, yet at the same time prepares students for the evolving world and job market within which we operate today. The mission of Columbia College is for students to achieve Intellectual, Social and Career mobility that will allow them to adapt to any surrounding, any circumstance – including those not yet encountered or even in existence. Similarly, the mission of Columbia Engineering focuses on training socially responsible individuals through interdisciplinary education.
What is the Core Curriculum and why is it necessary?
The Core Curriculum is Columbia’s long-established program in the liberal arts. The Core consists of a set of required courses in literature, history, writing, music, art, philosophy, science, language, and cultural studies that are required of students in both Columbia College and Columbia Engineering. For College students, Core classes comprise between one third to one half of their total courses and for Engineers it is approximately one fourth. The Core introduces students to central concerns in human life and civilization as embodied in the literary, philosophical, artistic, and scientific achievements of the West as well as in those of other global cultures. The Core fosters individual and community development through small classes and shared conversation across class years. This communal approach to learning cultivates in students a sense of critical inquiry and historical depth that they will employ long after college. The Core distinguishes a Columbia education from that of its peers and is typically valued by alumni as the most important aspect of their academic experience.
Are international students eligible for fellowships?
Yes. Many fellowships support work and other experiences in the U.S. and abroad and are open to international students. Those with a U.S. location will require U.S. work eligibility.
Can international students go on a term abroad?
Yes. Study abroad opportunities are available for a semester, full academic year, or summer to all Columbia undergraduates. The staff of the Office of Global Programs helps students learn more about these opportunities. As an internationally-minded office, the staff is well-equipped to discuss cross-cultural issues and the benefits of enhancing students' international experiences.
What can I do to improve my English skills?
Living in a location where the language spoken is not your first or even second language can be a difficult part of adjusting to Columbia. It is useful to keep in mind that in the English speaking world, terms and phrases vary widely, so in a sense, everyone is getting used to Columbia’s language and academic rhetoric. One option for first year students looking to improve their English skills is a section of University Writing designed for English Language Learners (non-native speakers). This section is identical in content and rigor to other sections with added support and instruction on sentence-level issues and expectations of American academic writing. Please email your Advising Dean before class registration if interested. Columbia is home to the American Language Program (ALP), another option you may discuss with your adviser.
One of the more informal ways to strengthen English skills is to practice with native speakers. Engage in conversations with your floor-mates, peers and friends. Watch TV shows and listen to the radio or your friends’ music playlists. Reading a U.S. based English newspaper everyday will build vocabulary and comprehension skills; if you’re crunched for time, start will a small section and expand as your reading speed increases.
Official resources used by many students include the Writing Center, located in 310 Philosophy, for writing consultations in a variety of subjects (academic and personal), and some of the consultants have a specialty in English as a Second Language. For practice with conversational English, The Language Resource Center offers Language Maintenance Tutorials (LMT), which are non-credit courses for a fee. English is one of the LMT options and you can register for Individual Tutorials or Group Conversations. LMTs are open to Columbia students at the undergraduate and graduate levels.
Who needs to complete the language requirement at Columbia?
Columbia University teaches nearly 50 languages to the advanced level and over 170 languages are spoken in New York City, which makes your time at Columbia a fascinating way to connect language with culture and community. Study of a foreign language is required for Columbia College students and may be satisfied in different ways. Students who completed secondary school in a language other than English are not required to take an additional foreign language or an achievement test. If the secondary school was taught primarily in English, natives speakers of other languages must fulfill the language requirement with a placement test. Columbia Engineering undergraduates do not need to complete a foreign language requirement.
Do I get credit for the advanced work I did in High School?
CC and SEAS may grant up to 16 credits earned from Advanced Placement (AP), General Certificate of Education Advanced Level Examinations (A levels), the International Baccalaureate Examination (IB), and other national systems. Credit is typically awarded after the first year. A complete description of policies, credits, and/or exemptions can be found in the College and Engineering bulletins.
Career Considerations for International Students
Many questions arise surrounding how international students on an F-1 visa may work while at Columbia and beyond. This section addresses these questions with resources listed through the Center for Career Education.
What is OPT (Optional Practical Training)?
Optional Practical Training (OPT) is a benefit of F-1 student status that allows students to gain experience in their field of study by applying for off-campus work authorization. Students in F-1 status are eligible for 12 months of OPT per educational degree level. OPT may be granted and used before graduation (pre-completion OPT ) for part-time work during the school year or full time work during vacation periods. Remaining OPT may be granted to complete after graduation (post-completion OPT). Certain STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) may be approved for an additional 17 months of OPT. You must apply for OPT to be granted work authorization for paid work off-campus. If the internship is unpaid (no compensation of any kind), you do not need to apply for OPT. Please make sure to attend a session by ISSO on OPT and/or click through the above information before stopping by the office with questions.
Does the undergraduate program at Columbia offer CPT (Curricular Practical Training)?
No. CPT is employment authorization for an internship requirement or internship elective which is an integral part of the established curriculum of your school. CC and SEAS do not have an internship requirement for all undergraduate degree candidates and do not have any electives that require an internship for which academic credit is earned toward the degree. Undergraduate students may apply for OPT if they need employment authorization for summer internships. This time is deducted from the 12-month total at graduation.
I would like to get a job on campus. What do I need to know?
Full time F-1 and J-1 students are eligible for “casual” employment on campus, defined at Columbia as an employee on the Columbia University payroll who is performing non-exempt work (i.e., hours worked are tracked) for a limited period of time. This does NOT include work-study positions (work-study is a government subsidized financial aid program for U.S. citizens and permanent residents). On-campus work is limited by immigration regulations to part-time (maximum of 20 hours /week), except during official school vacation periods. See the Center for Career Education (CCE)’s Tip Sheet, which includes campus offices and contacts for casual jobs for help with your search.
How do I get paid for working on campus?
Once you secure an on-campus job, the hiring manager will provide you with required paperwork to complete and have processed by Columbia University’s Human Resources Department to be added to the University’s payroll. If you do not yet have a Social Security number (SSN), you will have to apply for one. Information is on the ISSO website about the forms you will be given to get on the university’s payroll and to apply for a SSN.
Do international students need to file and pay U.S. taxes?
All international students in F-1 (and J-1) status are required to file at least one tax form if present in the US at any time in the previous calendar year—even if they had no US income. This process happens between January and April each year for the previous year. For example, 2013 taxes will be filed by mid-April of 2014. Students with U.S. income do pay taxes (taken out of their paycheck) and need to file taxes by April 15. Students without income (no tax has been paid) need to file by 15. ISSO offers free access to a web-based tax preparation service for nonresident aliens called GLACIER Tax Prep. Please review Tackling Your 2012 Tax Return for Students for important information. Nonresidents do not need to file for income earned outside of the United States. Should you wish to read more generally about taxes, you may wish to consult this Federal Income Tax Brochure by NAFSA.
Regarding my career search, where and when do I start?
Start in your first year by visiting Columbia’s Center for Career Education (CCE) website and the International Students section. Then visit CCE to speak with a career counselor to learn more about the resources to support your internship/ job search as an international student. You may also want to connect with the Office of Fellowship Programs and the Office of Preprofessional Advising.
Note that CCE works with international undergraduate and graduate students and alumni to help them define career goals and gain meaningful work experiences through*:
- LionSHARE internship/jobs database - Set up a job agent to be notified in a daily digest of internship and/or jobs
- Domestic and international internship programs
- Career Fairs - Science Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Career Fair/Networking Reception, Start-up Career Fair, Fall & Spring Career Fairs
- Alumni Connections and Networking Events, including Media Networking Night, Columbia Career Connections on LinkedIn, Engineering Student-Alumni Speed Networking, Employer Site Visits, and Professionals in Residence
- Individual career counseling, workshops, and online resources to help with internship/job applications, interviewing, networking, negotiations, and the decision to pursue graduate school
- Industry specific resources covering career paths, employers, professional associations, internship/job sites, and research opportunities
*Some services for Visiting and Exchange students may be limited
What do I need to consider regarding eligibility to undertake an internship or job?
As an international student, it is essential that you fully understand your eligibility to work in the location of the internship or job and the process to gain work authorization. Eligibility to work considerations include:
- Location of the internship or job, i.e., is it in the U.S. or another country?
- Your visa/work authorization for the location of the internship or job
- How long you have been in full-time student status in the U.S. for positions in the U.S.
- Requirements specified by the employer for the internship or job
- Whether the position is paid or unpaid (Note: for off-campus positions in the US, any wages or other compensation like a stipend or housing requires authorization through Optional Practical Training (OPT). OPT is approved in your field of study and requires an application to the immigration agency. The ISSO will assist with this. Refer to this summary of employment possibilities)
There is no list available of internships or jobs that are open to international students. Each employer determines eligibility requirements and states them in their job/internship descriptions so you must read internship and job descriptions closely. With respect to employers recruiting at Columbia, the Center for Career Education (CCE) provides a list of participating employers at career fairs willing to sponsor international students to work in the US. CCE also provides access to a list of employers who have sponsored international students in the prior year through its subscription to Going Global, which you can access using your UNI and password used for SSOL.
How do I get work authorization to take a paid internship or job off-campus?
Authorization to work in the U.S. is given by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) with the recommendation of the International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO). Review the ISSO website to learn about your unique status before starting any search, and review the Working in Student Status PowerPoint under the “Administrative Information.”
Before working in any paid position off campus, you must get work authorization. Undergraduate CC and SEAS students are eligible for Optional Practical Training (OPT), which is a benefit and extension of F-1 status. Generally, F1 students are eligible only after two semesters of being registered full time in student immigration status, and J1 students are eligible after one semester. Students in F-1 status are also eligible to apply for permission to work for international organizations such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
Students completing a program of study are eligible for up to 12 months of employment authorization to work in their field of study. In some majors in STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) it may be possible to apply for an additional 17-month extension of OPT. Beyond OPT, you have to be sponsored for an H1B or other type of Visa. Information for Canadian and Mexican citizens can be found on the U.S. Department of State website. Other useful links:
- Apply through ISSO for a pre-OPT recommendation for a paid internship
I would like to get an unpaid internship or volunteer off campus. What do I need to know?
Interning and volunteering offer opportunities to gain experience, build your skills, and strengthen your resume. For unpaid work on or off campus such as volunteering or an unpaid internship, you may start right away and do not need OPT. You must be sure the position is unpaid for anyone (i.e. not just you because you want to take the job as a volunteer). Start by using these tools:
What if my internship requires that I get credit instead of compensation?
Columbia College, The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science and the Columbia School of General Studies, do not provide credit for internships. There is no doubt that internships are valuable experiences for students seeking an introduction to a range of careers and professional cultures. However, we expect companies to appropriately compensate students for work performed during internships. This policy is one adopted by many of our peer institutions and also is in accordance with the Fair Labor Standards Act and NY State’s Minimum Wage Act and Wage Orders. CCE has posted some helpful information regarding unpaid internships at:
We will continue to support student participation in internships and will be happy to provide letters acknowledging this support if such letters are requested by employers. To receive a letter of support, please see your advising dean.
In order to volunteer at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital, your Advising Dean must fill out this form. For full internship listings from a variety of employers, consult LionShare and the Center for Career Education.
I want to Network. What resources are available to me?
Networking is the process of making connections and building relationships that provide you with information, advice, and further contacts, all of which will enhance your ability to make informed career decisions and tap into unadvertised internship/job vacancies. Networking can take place in a group or one-on-one setting. The Center for Career Education (CCE) offers networking tutorials, receptions, alumni panels, career fairs, employer information sessions, site visits, online tip sheets, and networking preparation workshops throughout the year. Other ways to build or expand your network include joining a student club or professional association, volunteering, and talking to professors, family members and friends about who they might know in your fields of interest. See the Network section (section 3) of CCE’s core career skills page for more information and resources.
Can international students get fellowships and scholarships?
Yes. Fellowships fund a variety of experiences for study, research, and work in the U.S. and overseas. All fellowship programs have a target audience that all students searching for fellowships have to bear in mind. International students are no different. While many fellowships are targeted at U.S. citizens only, many are not. In fact, most fellowships offered by Columbia invite applicants from any nationality. To explore the broad range of options, please visit the Office of Global Programs in person in 606 Kent or on the Fellowships Website.
I want to work outside of the U.S. What resources are available to me?
Find information about volunteer, full-time, part-time, and internship opportunities on the Center for Career Education’s International Opportunities Resources page.
International Student Visas
As a quick reference, questions related to visa and status for international students will be answered in this section. For full information, please read through the immigrations section of the International Students and Scholar Office website.
What do my visa and status mean?
An entry VISA is a travel document issued by a U.S. Consulate and attached to a page in your passport that is evidence of your eligibility to be admitted to the United States in a particular status with supporting documents. After admission to a program of study, International students who require an F-1 student visa to study in the U.S. apply for a certificate of eligibility called an I-20 from the International Students and Scholars office (ISSO). The I-20 is needed to apply for the entry visa to present upon arrival. Canadian students are exempt from the visa requirement in their passports but must present an I-20 at the port of entry to be admitted in F-1 status. A visa is relevant ONLY to admission to the U.S. and has nothing to do with how long a student may stay in the U.S. after arrival. Students obtain F-1 STATUS at the time of admission (entry to the U.S.), and must maintain lawful F-1 status throughout the length of their academic program. This includes being enrolled full-time every term and NOT working without authorization.
How do I stay in status?
The two most important requirements are to remain registered full-time every term, making normal progress toward your degree, and not to accept any employment, either on- or off-campus, without written permission from the ISSO, and, if necessary, authorization from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Be familiar with the information in Maintaining F-1 status. Under certain conditions status may be reinstated if lost for reasons beyond your control. You may also regain status by leaving the U.S. and re-entering with a new I-20 for a new SEVIS record.
My visa is expired/about to expire. What should I do?
An entry visa in your passport is relevant ONLY to your eligibility to be admitted to the U.S., not for remaining in the U.S. What matters while you are in the United States is maintaining your F-1 status for the duration of your academic program as reflected on your I-20. If your entry visa expires while you are in the U.S. you will have to obtain a valid one before re-entering the U.S. from a trip abroad. You cannot renew a visa in the U.S. but will have to apply for a new one at a U.S. consulate abroad, most likely in your home country.
What do I need to do if I want to travel in F-1 status?
If you are leaving the U.S. during your program of study, you need an unexpired passport, unexpired F-1 entry visa, and an I-20 which has a travel signature obtained from the International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO) on page 3 that is less than 12 months old at the time that you return. Please read Travel and Re-entry in F-1 Status for more information. If you are traveling within the U.S., although only your passport is needed as identification, it is recommended to carry the aforementioned documents with you in case enter a situation that requires proof of status.
What should I do if I forget my I-20 while traveling?
Remember to have your I-20 on your person and not packed away in checked luggage since you go through inspection before claiming bags. That said, if you forget your I-20, you should ask the immigration official for an I-515 upon entry, which will allow your admission in F-1 status for 30 days. With an F-1 visa you are normally admitted to the U.S. For 'duration of status' (D/S,) but if you are missing the I-20 it is most likely you will be admitted for 30 days with an I-515. Within that 30 days you will need to come to the ISSO for another I-20 and will need to send the new I-20 and the I-94 admission proof (departure card completed on the plane or print out from new automated system) to a government office to change your stay to “duration of status.” In a pinch you can log into SSOL to print out your registration record to demonstrate full-time enrollment.
Who can help me if I need a visa to travel to another country?
The Office of Global Programs provides basic visa advice for study abroad candidates. Whether you need a visa to visit a third country almost always depends on your nationality, not your status as a student in the U.S. You will have to look at the website of the embassy of the country you wish to visit to see their requirements for visitors. Columbia is conveniently located in New York City where you can easily visit the consulates from around the world if you do need to apply for a visitor visa.
What do I need to do if I want to work in F-1 status?
You may work part-time (up to 20 hours per week) on-campus for Columbia from your first semester. Paid on-campus work is an allowed incident to your F-1 status and does not require additional Optional Practical Training (OPT) authorization. To be eligible for paid off-campus work, you must have completed an academic year in valid student status before being eligible. Any paid off-campus work (wages, or other compensation like a stipend or housing) requires authorization through OPT. OPT is approved in your field of study and requires an application to the immigration agency. The ISSO will assist with this. Refer to this summary of employment possibilities.
For unpaid work on or off-campus such as volunteering or an unpaid internship, you may start right away and do not need OPT. You must be sure the position is unpaid for anyone (i.e. not just you because you want to take the job as a volunteer).
Parents & Families of International Students
How do I get to campus from the major New York City airports?
Columbia’s campus is accessible by public transportation as well as yellow taxi and car service. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) serves the New York Metro area by subway, bus, rail and bridges and tunnels and has a nice How to Ride the Subway guide. Metro cards are used to travel public transportation, including the subway and bus systems which connect to both LaGuardia (M60 Bus) and JFK (Airtrain to subway) airports. Newark is connected by rail on New Jersey Transit or Amtrak to Penn Station where public transit (#1 Uptown train) can be taken to campus. Comprehensive directions provided by Columbia admissions will help you plan your trip.
Where can I stay when I am visiting campus? Can I just stay on campus?
We recommend you secure reservations off-campus. For a list of hotels that give a Columbia rate, please visit the Travel Portal and click on hotels on the left menu. Budget friendly options near campus include:
Many families travel to campus during the move-in period and families traveling long distances often plan a vacation or stay a few days to enjoy New York City. We encourage the visit to occur prior to move-in or after students are settled in order to assist incoming students with their transition. Throughout move-in and orientation (NSOP) it is critical for incoming students to connect with their neighbors and focus on settling into their new community. Additionally, students should be familiar with the Guest Policy. Families traveling for commencement will receive additional information and can browse the GradZone website.
Do I as a parent or relative need a support letter to obtain a visa to visit my student on campus?
No. A support letter is not required by the U.S. Consulates for visitor visa applications. As a visitor to the United States, it is important for you to be aware of visa requirements. Citizens of certain countries that participate in the Visa Waiver Program may come to the United States without a visa if certain conditions are met. Other visitors will need a nonimmigrant visa. We encourage you to visit the U.S. Department of State website to learn about your specific travel requirements. Columbia University will extend an invitation to events like commencement, and as a courtesy will offer a letter of support to assist with your visa application upon request.
Does Columbia offer translation services for families? Is everything in English?
Most Columbia University publications and websites are available in English only. As our campus and the City of New York are global and multilingual environments, we provide translation services in emergency situations.
How do I help my son or daughter open a bank account?
While most U.S. banks require that your son or daughter open an account once in the United States, some international banks may allow an application to be started beforehand. Check with your local bank to see if this is possible or for recommended services. Once here, students may open a bank account. The International Student and Scholars Office (ISSO) has compiled a list of banks in the Columbia neighborhood.
Where can my son or daughter store personal belongings over the summer break?
While Columbia is unable to offer summer storage, there are several vendors in the area that students may use for a fee. Columbia has no affiliation with these companies, however more information can be found at Hudson and Manhattan Mini Storage. For other ideas on disposing of personal items, please read the Green Check Out tips.
What do FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) and HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) mean?
FERPA stands for the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974. Under FERPA, when a student enters university in the U.S. at any age, all rights and responsibilities to privacy of educational records are transferred to the student. Educational records can include grades, financial aid records, disciplinary records, student account information, Dean’s Office files, and Residential Program files.
HIPPA is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. HIPAA protects the privacy of student information in health and medical records, including electronic files.
While the type of information protected by FERPA and HIPAA will not be automatically disclosed, the University has protocols in place to contact families in the event of a medical emergency or when the student requests information be released. Importantly, Columbia Student Affairs is here to engage with students and families in an open dialogue during their time at Columbia. We encourage students and their families to ask questions, attend events and information sessions while on campus or contact us for additional information.
Prospective International Students
This section includes some basic information related to Undergraduate Admissions to get you started. If you are applying for admission to a graduate school at Columbia University, please read the admission information for the school and department to which you are applying.
I want to study in the U.S. Where do I start?
Students interested in studying in the United States can start researching the process by using their secondary school’s resources (like a college or career office if one exists) or the nearest EducationUSA office. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security offers resources on the Study in the States website for further browsing.
What are the financial aid options for an international student?
Columbia does offer financial aid to international students (non-U.S. citizens). The Columbia Undergraduate Admissions reviews international students applying for admission with financial aid through a need-aware process, which means the chances of being admitted with funding are competitive. Those who seek financial aid must apply at the same time they apply to Columbia for admission. Students without U.S. citizenship or U.S. Permanent Resident status who are not admitted with financial aid are not eligible to apply for financial aid once at Columbia; however students admitted with financial aid are guaranteed 100% of financial need based on the financial aid application. Please see the Financial Aid website for information regarding the application process.