Ph.D. Admissions

Application Requirements

Frequently Asked Questions

Ph.D. application deadline: December 1, 2016

Applications are submitted online.

Application to the Department of Political Science should be made through the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS).  Apply online.

Questions regarding the admissions process should be directed to the GSAS Office of Admissions at 212-854-8903 or gsas-admissions@columbia.edu. Applicants may submit letters of evaluation online or as hard copies. Transcripts and standardized test scores should be submitted online.

All materials should be sent to the Office of Admissions:

GSAS Office of Admissions
Columbia University
107 Low Library, MC 4303
535 West 116th Street
New York, NY 10027

Applicants should not send any materials to the department.

ETS code for GRE and TOEFL: 2162

Application requirements:

  • Bachelor's degree or equivalent (a master's degree is not required for eligibility)
  • Online application
  • Application fee: $105
  • Resume or curriculum vitae
  • Writing Sample no longer than twenty pages
  • Statement of Purpose
  • Three letters of recommendation, submitted online: Reapplicants may, through SLATE, elect to reuse letters of recommendation from the previous year’s application. (Note: This option is only available to reapplicants who applied in the immediately preceding year; reapplicants who applied in an earlier year will have to submit new letters.)
  • Transcripts of all post-secondary (after high school) education, submitted online
  • GRE exam (required of all applicants including those with graduate degrees)
  • TOEFL exam (required of international applicants, see GSAS policy here for more information)

Admissions FAQ

Procedural Matters

Q. How do I obtain information about the program?

A. The department does not print a paper brochure for distribution through the mail. Information about the program is available throughout this site and in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Bulletin

Q. How do I obtain application forms?

A. All prospective students must apply online. The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences does not print applications. Transcripts and supplemental material should be submitted online. Standardized test scores should be reported officially by ETS. Letters of evaluation can be submitted online.  

Q. Is it possible to waive my application fee?

A. Applicants who are a currently enrolled in a U.S. college or university and whose financial aid office certifies their need for a fee waiver may request a waiver of the application fee. Please see the Graduate School's website here for more information.

Q. How do I submit transcripts?

A. GSAS does not require submission of official, paper copies at the time of application.  However, unofficial transcripts from all schools attended are required and must be uploaded. Transcripts from schools attended in exchange-student status are also required. 

International students must submit transcripts in the original language as well as a certified English translation for each foreign language transcript. Students from countries in which English is the official language of instruction need submit only the English copies.

Q. Do you require a writing sample or other supplementary material?

A. Yes, a writing sample is required for the GSAS application. The online application allows students applying to the Department of Political Science department to upload supplementary materials directly. Please limit all submissions to twenty pages.

Q. Is it a problem if my TOEFL scores arrive late?

A. Those applicants who are required to take the TOEFL cannot be considered without TOEFL scores. Scores may be received up to two weeks after the deadline date.

Q. How will I know if you have received all the parts of my application?

A.  Application materials received are posted to the tracking system only after an application has been submitted. It may take ten to fifteen business days after submission of the application for information to be posted to the online tracking system. Applicants should allow this time before contacting the GSAS admissions office.

Letters of recommendation submitted through GSAS's system, ApplyYourself, do not automatically post to the tracking system. Their receipt must be manually entered by the admissions office, resulting in a delay between the notification of submission of the letter by the evaluator and posting of its receipt to GSAS's tracking site.

GSAS offers a grace period of two weeks after the application deadline for receipt of supporting materials.

Q. Can I call the department to find out if my application is complete?

A.  Materials for the application should be submitted to the GSAS Admissions office at 107 Low Library.  As the department does not hold any files at its office, inquiries as to the status of applications, including what items have been received or are missing, should be directed to the GSAS Admissions office. The GSAS Admissions office phone number is (212) 854-8903.  The email address is gsas-admissions@columbia.edu.

Q. Does the department conduct admissions interviews? Can I visit campus, visit the department, speak with someone about admissions?

A. The department does not conduct admissions interviews. However, questions may be emailed to the Graduate Program Coordinator. Applicants may also send email inquiries to professors with whom they may want to study.

The department does not make arrangements for applicants to meet with faculty and current students prior to admission to one of its graduate programs. All students who are offered admission to the Ph.D. program are contacted personally by members of the department and are invited to attend a two-day prospective student event prior to the student response deadline. 

Prospective students are welcome to take self-guided tours of campus and to take a campus tour hosted by the University's visitor center. Please see the Visitor's Center website for details.

Q. I have previously applied to the Graduate School. Do I need to resubmit all the application materials, such as transcripts, letters of recommendation, GRE scores, etc.?

A. Yes. Applicants who have previously applied must submit a new application and new supporting documents. The one exception is GRE and TOEFL scores. GRE and TOEFL scores need not be resubmitted if ETS has already reported the scores to GSAS and if they are still valid. GRE scores are valid for five years from the date taken. TOEFL scores are valid for two years from the date taken.

Q. I would like to transfer to the Ph.D. program from a Ph.D. program at another university. Is this possible?

A. The process for applying as a transfer student is the same as the process for applying as a first-time graduate student. Applicants who are already enrolled in another graduate program must follow standard application procedures and their applications are considered on the same basis as the applications of all others. Upon admission and enrollment, students who have taken graduate-level courses may petition to the Director of Graduate Studies to have some of those courses counted toward fulfillment of specific Columbia degree requirements. Such petitions are reviewed only on a case by case basis after the student has enrolled at Columbia.

Q. Does The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences accept letters of recommendation uploaded through Interfolio? 

We accept letters from dossier services, such as Interfolio, or university career services offices. These letters may be submitted in two different ways.

  • Hard Copy Submission:

If the letter service will be mailing hard-copy recommendations to our office, you are still required to enter the names and email addresses of your evaluators on the online application. You may inform your referees that they may disregard the email requesting a letter on your behalf. The letter service should then mail the letters to the Office of Admissions; we will then upload scanned copies of the letters into our application system. Please be aware that mailed letters require a longer processing time.

  • Electronic Submission:

If you are using Interfolio, please see the Interfolio Help Center for instructions on how to use the Interfolio service to deliver the letters to your Columbia application.

If a career services office will be submitting the letters on your behalf, you will have to ascertain directly whether that office has capacity to submit your individual letters electronically to our online application.

Note: In order to make use of electronic submission, the letters must be emailed as individual documents directly to our application system. We do not accept letters via email or as email attachments.

Other Questions

Q. What are my funding opportunities?

A. All Ph.D. program applicants, including international applicants, are eligible for fellowship support. Except in very rare cases, students admitted to the program are admitted with an offer of multi-year fellowship support guaranteed for up to five years.

The fellowship covers tuition, the health services fee, basic medical insurance premiums under the university's student health insurance program, a nine-month stipend ($26,286 for 2015-2016), a summer stipend ($3,372 for 2016), and the university facilities fee. Students are responsible for other fees, including the university transcript fee, which is charged only once, and the student activities,and international student fees. 

Unfortunately, there is no fellowship support available for the M.A. program.

Details about the cost of attendance are available on the GSAS website here.

Q. Is there any part of the application that is more important than the others?

A. All parts of the application are important. All applications are given serious consideration and are read by faculty members. Faculty members may weigh elements of applications differently; however, it is not the case generally that any component is more important than the others. 

Q. What is the minimum score you require on the GRE exam?

A. While there is no minimum GRE score required for admission, applicants who are admitted tend to score in the upper percentiles. Lower scores do not preclude admission, and the significance of weak GRE scores may be offset by strength in other components of the application. 

Q. I have already taken the LSAT or GMAT. Can I use that instead of the GRE?

A. No. All applicants must take the GRE. Other scores are not comparable.

Q. When should I take the GRE's?

A. If you take the "pencil-and-paper" GRE, we recommend that you do so no later than October. This will ensure that we receive the scores before the admissions deadline.

The computerized GRE may be taken later. Please contact the Educational Testing Service for the schedule. Phone ETS at 609-771-7670, or access the web site

Q. Are GRE Subject Tests required?

A. No. Only the GRE General Test is required for consideration.

Q. What is the minimum GPA that you require?

A. The department does not require a minimum grade-point average. Applicants come from all over the world, and not every institution uses a four-point grading scale, so applicant GPA’s vary quite a bit. In general, persons offered admission to the program achieve GPA’s that are high for the institutions they come from--top five to ten percent of their class and 3.6 and above at U.S. institutions.

Q. What is the minimum TOEFL that you require?

A. GSAS requires a minimum score of 600 on the paper-based exam and 100 on the internet-based test. Applicants whose scores are below these levels should not apply.

Q. Am I exempt from taking the TOEFL if I have a master’s degree from an American university?

A. No. All applicants whose native language is not English must submit official scores of the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) unless they received a bachelor's degree from a U.S. institution or from an institution in which the official language of instruction is English and he or she was enrolled in that school for at least two years. This is the only exception. Applicants who have received an undergraduate degree from an institution in which the language of instruction is not English and are now studying at the graduate level in the U.S. or in another English-speaking country must take the TOEFL or IELTS.  Applicants are strongly urged to make arrangements to take these examinations in the early fall. Please see GSAS information for international students here.

Q. Are international applicants treated the same as American applicants in consideration for admission and financial support?

A. Yes.

Q. What are the main criteria that determine the likelihood of being accepted into the program?

A. The main thing the department seeks is evidence that the applicant will make an excellent professional political scientist. There are no weights assigned to the separate components of the application and the faculty members of the admissions committee review each component carefully.

Q. I am pursuing other academic opportunities for the coming year. If I receive a grant to conduct research abroad, will I have to mention it on my application? If I were to get it, can I also incorporate it into my Ph.D. program or will I have to defer my admission into the program?

A. Applicants who are admitted to the program and instead choose to pursue other academic opportunities are not registered in the Columbia program. Generally, admission deferments are not granted, and applicants who decline an offer of admission must reapply for admission at a later time.

A. Am I allowed to apply to other M.A. or Ph.D. programs in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences or other Schools at Columbia University (such as the School of International and Public Affairs, the Law School, etc.) at the same time that I am applying to the Department of Political Science?

Q. Applicantion may not be made to more than one program or department within the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and the College of Physicians and Surgeons. However, applicants may elect to be reviewed by a second program or department within GSAS if they are not offered admission by their most preferred program. The application instructions provide a detailed explanation of this policy and the various restrictions that apply to selecting a second choice. Applicants may submit a GSAS application and also apply to programs at other divisions of the University. However, since the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences does not share application materials with other divisions, applicants must separately complete the admission requirements for each school.

Q. What is the difference between the School of International and Public Affairs and Political Science?

A. The Master of Arts and Doctor of Philosophy degrees in political science are offered through the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. The School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) offers programs leading to the Master of International Affairs and Master of Public Affairs degrees. Although there is overlap in the subject areas of the degree programs of SIPA and the political science department, and students in each program can and do take classes offered by the other unit, GSAS and SIPA are wholly separate institutions, and the M.A. and Ph.D. degree programs in the Department of Political Science are distinct from the degrees offered through SIPA.

In general, the M.I.A., M.P.A., and certificate programs offered by SIPA are professional degree programs for people who intend to work in policy, whether for the U.S. or foreign governments, inter-governmental organizations, non-government organizations, think tanks, or other organizations involved with policy. The courses in the political science department focus on theoretical and research approaches in the discipline, and the program is oriented toward training students for research and teaching.

Students who complete the political science M.A. program typically go into fields and careers similar to those pursued by graduates of SIPA's master's degree programs. Additionally, the M.A. program is flexible to serve the many interests of its students, so political science M.A. candidates often take advantage of the course offerings of the School of International and Public Affairs. However, the M.A. program in political science can be designed to be more similar to a first-year Ph.D. course of study. Indeed, many students enroll in the M.A. program to assess their interest in continuing their studies in a Ph.D. program in political science.

Although it is possible to submit applications both to SIPA and to GSAS, students considering both the political science department's M.A. or Ph.D program and a program at SIPA should carefully review the information available on both programs before submitting an application.

Q. I am interested in working on subject X. Can I receive training on subject X in the Ph.D. program at Columbia?

A. Columbia's Department of Political Science covers all major areas of research and teaching in the discipline of political science. The best way to learn about the strengths of the department is to read thoroughly the faculty pages on this website. The curricula vitae for faculty are typically available there, and applicants are encouraged to review the published work and courses listed on faculty vitae

Q. I keep seeing the term "Residence Unit." What is a Residence Unit?

A. A Residence Unit is a registration category. Each Residence Unit is the equivalent of one semester of full-time tuition and study. Two RU's are required for the M.A., and an additional four are required for the M.Phil. Registering for a Residence Unit does compel students live at on campus in a dorm or in an apartment owned by the university (although students are expected to live in the the greater metropolitan area during the academic year). See the GSAS website here for more information on Residence Units.

Q. How does Transfer Credit work?

A. See here.

Q. Can I incorporate previous graduate work into the Ph.D. program offered at Columbia?

A. It is likely that some graduate-level courses in political science or a closely related discipline completed elsewhere can be offered in fulfillment of Columbia requirements, e.g., toward "research tools" requirements or quantitative methods requirements. Depending on what courses have been completed and the grades received, there might also be one or two additional courses that can count toward requirements. However, the department's main requirement is to pass the Ph.D. comprehensive examinations, which must be done after four semesters of coursework, and courses at another institution will probably be helpful to some degree in passing these. Overall, however, it is not likely that previous coursework will shorten the time that it takes to prepare for the comprehensive exams.

Q. Are there fellowships and teaching assistantships available?

A. The department's current practice is to admit only those students whom it can fund completely, and to make a guaranteed multi-year commitment of four or five years to each admitted student. (Students admitted with advanced standing are funded for four years; all others are funded for five years). In other words, an admission offer is a fellowship offer. All students in years one through five of the program receive fellowships, as do some students in years six and seven. Most fellowships include a teaching obligation beginning after the first year. There are no separate teaching assistantships; the teaching assistantship program is incorporated into the fellowship program. See fellowship information for doctoral students here.

Q. If I do not get a fellowship, can I get a teaching assistantship?

A. See preceding item.

Decisions

Q. When will I receive a decision from Columbia University?

A. Decision letters are mailed to Ph.D. program applicants no later than mid-April. Decisions for the M.A. program are made on a rolling basis; letters will begin to be mailed in early May and will be mailed through the summer as decisions are made on each file.

Note: When applying for the Ph.D. program applicants may also be considered for the M.A. if they do not receive an offer of admission. The applicant must choose this option at the time he or she submits the application.

Q. If I'm accepted, can I defer my admission?

A. Generally, deferrals are not permitted; however, on very rare occasions it may be possible to defer admission. An admitted student unable to register in the term for which he or she was admitted must make a written request to the Office of Admissions to reactivate his or her application.

Q. I applied to the graduate program in political science but I was not offered admission. Is it possible to receive feedback on how I can improve my application?

A.  The department does not have the resources to provide feedback on individual applications.

Q. I applied to the Ph.D. program but I was not offered admission.  Is it possible to be considered for admission to the Free-standing M.A. program?

A. When applying for the Ph.D. program applicants may also be considered for the M.A. if they do not receive an offer of admission. The applicant must choose this option at the time he or she submits the Ph.D. application.