Graduate Admissions

Application instructions

Application to the department's graduate programs must be made online through the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

Applications for both programs are accepted for full-time study only, and for the fall semester of each academic year. No applications are reviewed for spring semester admission.

Please click here for application instructions.

Application deadlines

For Ph.D. admission: December 1, 2021
For M.A. admission: February 7, 2022
For B.A./M.A. admission: October 19, 2021

Application requirements

The ETS code (the GSAS Institution Code) for submitting TOEFL and GRE scores is 2162. There is no separate department code for political science.

Tuition deposit: A $1,000 tuition deposit is required for M.A. students, which must be paid via credit card upon acceptance of the offer of admission. Doctoral students are not required to submit a tuition deposit.

Please visit the FAQ section of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Admissions web page for more information about submitting the application.

Columbia University B.A./M.A. program

Columbia undergraduates who wish to earn a Columbia M.A. degree in a participating department or interdisciplinary program may make progress toward the M.A. degree during their senior year. Interested juniors should meet with the M.A. Director and department faculty in their spring term in anticipation of choosing and registering for courses to be taken their senior year. Such students then apply in the fall of their senior year for admission to the M.A. program the following fall, after completion of their B.A.

The requirements for the M.A. degree are the same for Columbia students entering through the B.A./M.A. option as for students entering through the standard M.A. admissions procedure. However, admitted B.A./M.A. students can request the transfer of three courses taken during their undergraduate program (if taken in excess of their requirements for the Columbia B.A. degree) and/or half a RU. These can be used toward the M.A. degree (both in terms of costs and coursework). Please see more details below.

A B.A./M.A. student may be granted up to one-half Residence Unit (.5 R.U.) and/or up to three courses (nine to twelve credits) of transfer credit for graduate courses (4000 level and above) taken in excess of the requirements for the Columbia bachelor's degree, as certified by the Dean of his or her undergraduate division. These courses count as .5 R.U. of the 2 R.U. requirement for a Master’s degree.

  • Students cannot count toward M.A. course requirements any course that has counted toward any undergraduate major or concentration or toward the 124 credit points for their overall undergraduate degree. After the senior year, an undergraduate dean which completed courses did not count for the B.A. degree and therefore can be applied to the M.A.. However, students should consult with deans and advisers before the senior year when designing a course of study for completion of the B.A. and then the M.A. degree.
  • Regardless of the number of credits that students have accumulated prior to the fall of their senior year, students must register for at least one-half residence unit in the fall semester following their senior year. Since two residence units total are required for the M.A. degree and GSAS will grant at most one-half residence unit of advanced standing for courses taken as an undergraduate, it is recommended that students register for a full residence unit in the fall following their senior year.

Applicants must be current Columbia or Barnard undergraduates. Applicants do not have to be political science majors although demonstrated success in the political science curriculum obviously strengthens a student's application for advanced study in political science.

Students applying to the B.A./M.A. program follow the standard online application procedure and follow the instructions for internal admission. Students must apply by October 19 of their senior year. Decisions on admission will be made as soon as possible but no later than November 15.

Applications must include all of the materials specified for the standard M.A. application, including personal statement, undergraduate transcript, letters of recommendation, and a writing sample. The GRE is not an admissions requirement for BA/MA applicants.

Admission to the M.A. program may be revoked if after admission students fail to make adequate progress toward either the undergraduate or graduate degree. Examples of failure to make adequate academic progress include severe declines in GPA and cases of academic dishonesty.

Admitted students maintain access to the financial aid and housing facilities of their undergraduate division until they complete the bachelor’s degree. There is no guaranteed university housing for master’s students in GSAS programs.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What is the deadline to submit an application?

A. The application deadline is February 4, 2021 for the Fall 2021 M.A. class.

Although the application deadline is February 4, prospective students should submit their applications at the earliest possible date. The M.A. admissions committee will begin reviewing applications as early as the first week in March, and may begin admitting students whose files are complete as soon as they have been reviewed.

Q. How many people apply to the program each year? What percentage are admitted?

A. The cohort for AY21/22 will be larger than our usual MA cohort. The cohort will be around 35-40 students. This is due to the fact there will be no incoming PhD students (we paused PhD admissions for the year). The logic behind admitting a larger MA cohort is that the number of graduate students in the department will remain relatively constant and we will be able to offer the same quantity and quality of graduate level courses while maintaining the same faculty-to-student ratio. The cohort will most likely be around 30 in AY 22/23.

There are approximately one hundred prospective students who apply directly to the M.A. program each year. In addition to this number, some students who are not offered admission to the Ph.D. program for that year are given the option of being considered for the M.A. program. Thus, the number of students being considered for the M.A. program can vary from year to year from only seventy-five to two hundred or more.

Because both the target class size and the number of applications vary from year to year, it is not possible to calculate a percentage that would accurately reflect the likelihood that an application will be successful in a given year.

Q. When are decision notices sent?

A. Admission to the M.A. program is made on a rolling basis. Beginning as early as mid to late March, students who have been admitted to the program will be notified of their acceptance. The department continues to admit students until the desired class size is attained.

The department continues to admit students through the spring. Hence, notifications to students who are declined admission usually are not sent until the early summer. Although the department recognizes that this is less than ideal for most candidates who may be weighing other options, the department cannot respond to applicant inquiries until the admission process is complete.

Q. Are Transfer Credits Accepted?

A. No transfer credit is granted toward the Master of Arts (MA) degree at Columbia for courses taken outside Columbia University. Courses from Columbia University affiliates (Jewish Theological Seminary, Teachers College, Union Theological Seminary) are also not eligible for transfer credit for MA students.

Q. What kind of financial aid is available?

A. There is no fellowship support available for the M.A. program.

The department has compiled a list of potential outside funding resources. To receive this document, please contact the Graduate Program Coordinator.

Q. Is the GRE exam required as an admissions material?

A. The GRE exam is optional and not required.

Q. What is the minimum GPA that you require?

A. There is no minimum GPA required. Applicants come from all over the world, and grading systems are not uniform. Therefore, applicant GPA’s vary quite a bit. In general, persons offered admission to the Ph.D. program achieve GPA’s that are high for the institutions they attended--usually in the top five to ten percent of their class and 3.6 and above at U.S. institutions. The averages are slightly lower for students admitted to the M.A. program.

Q. What is the minimum TOEFL that you require?

A. The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences requires a minimum of 600 on the paper-based exam and 100 on the internet-based exam. Applicants whose scores are below these levels should not apply. See GSAS information for international students here.

Q. What is the difference between the programs of the School of International and Public Affairs and the programs of the Department of 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 a two-year Master of International Affairs degree and a two-year Master of Public Affairs degree. Although the subject areas of the degree programs of SIPA and the Department of Political Science overlap, and students in each program can and do take classes in the other program, the two institutions and their respective programs are wholly separate.

Generally speaking, the M.I.A., M.P.A., and certificate programs at SIPA are professional degree programs for students who intend to work on policy for the U.S. or foreign governments, inter-governmental organizations, non-government organizations, think tanks, or other entities engaged in policy. The courses taken by M.A. students in the Department of Political Science focus on theoretical and research approaches in the discipline, and the program is oriented toward training students for research and teaching.

Many students who complete the M.A. in political science pursue fields and careers similar to those pursued by students who complete the M.I.A. and M.P.A. However, the M.A. program in political science is similar to a first-year Ph.D. course of study, and many of the students enroll in the M.A. program in political science in order to assess their interest in completing a Ph.D. program in political science.

Although it is possible to submit applications both to SIPA and to GSAS, students considering the M.A. and the M.I.A. or M.P.A. programs should carefully review the information available on both programs before submitting an application.

Procedural Matters

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 to upload supplementary materials directly. Please limit all submissions to thirty pages.

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

A. 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.

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.  The department does not receive, post, or track application components. You may check the status of your application on the Application Status screen. You will be able to access this screen once your application has been submitted.

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

A. Due to the large number of requests received, the department unfortunately is unable to make arrangements for applicants to meet with faculty and current students prior to admission to the PhD program.

All prospective students are welcome to take self-guided tours of the 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 of Arts and Sciences. Do I need to resubmit all the application materials, such as transcripts, letters of recommendation, GRE scores, etc.?

A. In order to reapply, you must submit a new application and upload a statement of purpose, CV, and writing sample. Any transcript already on file from last year's application need not be resubmitted, unless it does not reflect all currently completed academic work or the award of a degree. If test scores (GRE, TOEFL, etc.) are already on file, there is no need to resend those score reports. Through the online application, you have the option of reusing any or all of the letters of recommendation submitted in support of last year's application.

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 GSAS, you are still required to enter the names and email addresses of your evaluators on the online application. Please check the box that indicates that the letter will be sent by mail. The letter service should then mail the letters to the GSAS Office of Admissions; admissions staff will then upload scanned copies of the letters into the 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 contact that office to ascertain whether they have a system in place which permits electronic submission of individual letters to our online application.

    Note: In order to make use of electronic submission, the letters must be submitted as individual documents directly to the application system, using the unique link created by the application system for each recommender you list. We do not accept letters emailed from letter services to a Columbia GSAS email address.

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 ($30,232 for 2019-2020), a summer stipend ($3,884 for 2019), 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. 

Please click here for details about the cost of attendance.

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

A. All parts of the application are important. Members of the faculty admissions committee 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. All tests should be taken at least six weeks before the application deadline to ensure timely receipt by the admissions office.

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 grading systems are not uniform. 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. If you took the TOEFL or IELTS exam when applying to a graduate program at another institution and scored above the Columbia GSAS minimum requirement of 100 (IBT), 600 (PBT), or 7.5 (IELTS), you may fulfill the English proficiency requirement by uploading a scanned copy of the score report to the online application. However, if you did not score above the Columbia GSAS required minimum or do not have a copy of your old results, you must retake the exam.

Note: Applicants who upload a copy of the old score report should send an email to [email protected] after they have submitted their application to request that the English proficiency test requirement be removed from their application record.

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 department primarily seeks 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.

Q. 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?

A. You may not submit more than one application to a Ph.D. program or department within the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and apply to any of the programs at the College of Physicians and Surgeons. However, you may elect to be reviewed by a second program or department within GSAS if you are not offered admission by your first-choice program. Please see the application instructions for a more detailed explanation of this policy and the various restrictions that apply to a second choice.

You may apply concurrently to a program housed at GSAS and to programs housed at other divisions of the university (except GSAS programs at the College of Physicians and Surgeons). However, since GSAS does not share application materials with other divisions, you must complete the application 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 Department of Political Science, 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 students 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 Department of Political Science focus on theoretical and research approaches in the discipline, and the program is oriented toward training students for research and teaching.

Q. How can I find out if I can receive training in my specific academic interest 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 review the faculty areas of expertise and course offerings available on this site. Prospective students may send email inquiries to faculty member's whose expertise aligns with their interests after thoroughly reading the professor's professional biography and related information available on this site.

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 not compel students to live 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).

Q. How does Transfer Credit work?

ASee 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 makes a five-year funding commitment to each admitted student. All students in years one through five of the program receive fellowships. Students who are available to serve as teaching assistants in years six and seven may receive teaching fellowships, contingent upon the department's need for additional teaching assistants in a given semester after all students in years 2 through 5 are placed. In general, 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.


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

A. Decisions are made by early March.

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. 

Q: What if I cannot transfer three courses from my B.A.?

A. Any less than three courses would not allow any financial saving to the applicant. However, the transfer of fewer courses can still be used in terms of coursework requirements.

Q: Who I should ask about courses taken in excess of my B.A. requirements?

A: Please contact your undergraduate advisor or dean.

Q: Can I transfer any undergraduate courses?

A: Unfortunately, no. Only grad-level courses taken during the undergraduate degree can be transferred.