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: November 30, 2023
For M.A. admission: February 8, 2024
For B.A./M.A. admission: October 19, 2023

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 website for more information about submitting the application.

Special instructions for M.A. applicants

The department requests that M.A. applicants address the following questions in the statement of academic purpose.

  1. Please describe a concept or idea that you encountered in a political science or related course that you found particularly interesting and would like to study further (maximum 300 words).
  2. Please describe why you believe you are prepared for graduate-level quantitative methods training or, if you are applying as a political theorist, please describe your background in political theory and any particular areas of focus that are relevant for theorists (maximum 200 words).
  3. Please explain why you believe a master's degree in political science is a good fit for your career plans (maximum 200 words)

Special instructions for Columbia and Barnard B.A./M.A. applicants

Applicants must be current Columbia or Barnard undergraduates. A political science major or concentration is not required although demonstrated success in the political science curriculum strengthens a student's application for advanced study in political science.

Students applying to the B.A./M.A. program follow the regular online application procedure and follow the instructions for internal admission. Students must apply by October 30 of their senior year. Admission decisions will be made no later than November 15.

Applications must include all of the materials specified for the regular M.A. application, including personal statement, undergraduate transcript, letters of recommendation, and a writing sample. The GRE is not an admissions requirement for B.A./M.A. 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 8, 2024, for the Fall 2023 M.A. class.

Although the application deadline is February 8, 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 February, 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?

A. Between 1.5 and 2 hundred prospective students apply to the M.A. program each year.

The target cohort size varies between 25-30 students from year to year. Because the target cohort size, the yield, 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 decisions for the M.A. program are made on a rolling basis. Beginning as early as mid- to late February, 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.

Because the department makes admission decisions through the spring, some applicants may not receive decision notifications until the early summer. Although this timing may present challenges for some applicants 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 (M.A.) degree at Columbia for courses taken outside Columbia University. Courses at Columbia University affiliate schools (Jewish Theological Seminary, Teachers College, Union Theological Seminary) are also ineligible for transfer credit for M.A. students.

Q. What kind of financial aid is available?

A. Unfortunately, the department is able to offer only a few fellowship opportunities for M.A. candidates. However, 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 for the application?

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 GPAs vary quite a bit. In general, persons offered admission to the Ph.D. program achieve GPAs 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 only 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 in political science research and scholarly writing.

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 more similar to a first-year Ph.D. course of study, and students who enroll in the M.A. program in political science are interested in jobs that involve political science research within or outside academic settings (see our alumni page here.)

Q. What is the difference between the MA program in Political Science in the Department of Political Science and MS program in Political Analytics at the School of Professional Studies?

The School of Professional Studies offers a program in Political Analytics in partnership with our department that aims to train individuals for “careers in politics who are uniquely equipped in the substance of politics and quantitative methods to understand the data that drives decision-making […] The program provides quantitative skills in an explicitly political context, facilitating crosswalk with nontechnical professionals and decision-makers—and empowers students to become decision-makers themselves.” (see more at SPS overview)

The MA program in Political Science embedded in our department aims to train students in a well-rounded understanding of both the methods (quantitative and qualitative ones) and theories used and discussed in political science. The courses offered cover a variety of topics and approaches —from International Relations to Political Theory, from Comparative Politics to American Politics. The students have the opportunity to tailor the curriculum around their research interests. The program prepares for careers both in academia and in other sectors such as consulting, media, government, international organization, and think tanks (see our alumni page here).

While the applicants for MS in Political Analytics at SPS are expected to have “significant understanding of politics through professional experience, internships, or volunteer work” (see SPS admission FAQs), the MA program encourages also applicants with little to no prior work experience.

Q. Is a part-time option available?

Part-time enrollment is available only under exceptional circumstances, based on a combination of need (e.g., full-time employment in a relevant sector at the time of application) and previous academic achievements (top five percent of applicants). The intention to enroll as a part-time student must be clearly stated in the application and cannot be requested after a decision has been made. International students are advised to check eligibility for part-time study with the International Students and Scholars Office at Columbia University since certain visa types require full-time study. Please note that the structure of the M.A. program does not facilitate part-time enrollment because the majority of courses, including the required Proseminar, are scheduled throughout the day.

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 recommendation must be submitted by the recommender directly to the application system.  

Q. Is it possible to waive my application fee?

A. Applicants who are 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. Transcripts should be uploaded on the Educational History page of the online application. Transcripts should not be combined into one document; they should be uploaded as individual documents.

Details and instructions for uploading transcripts may be found on the GSAS website.

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

A. Yes, a writing sample is required. 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. Applicants may check the status of their application on the Application Status screen after the application has been submitted.

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

A. The department lacks the resources that would be required to accommodate all requests for personal visits on an equal basis.

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.

Currently, the university's COVID-19 response permits prospective students and family members to visit for the purpose of viewing the campus; however, these visits are restricted to outdoor spaces. 

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. Prospective students who wish to reapply must submit a new application and upload a statement of purpose, CV, and writing sample. Any transcript already on file from the previous 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, applicants may reuse any or all of the letters of recommendation submitted in support of the prior 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 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.

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, medical insurance premiums under the university's student health insurance program, a nine-month stipend ($31,140 for 2021-2022), a summer stipend ($4,000 for 2022), 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 GREs?

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 GPAs 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. Applicants who 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) may fulfill the English proficiency requirement by uploading a scanned copy of the score report to the online application. However, students who did not score above the Columbia GSAS required minimum or do not have a copy of their old results 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. Applicants 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, applicants may elect to be reviewed by a second program or department within GSAS if they are not offered admission by their 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.

Applicants 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, applicants 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 members 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 that corresponds to a billing category. Each Residence Unit is the equivalent of one semester of full-time tuition and study. Two RUs 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 greater metropolitan area during the academic year).

Q. How does Transfer Credit work?

A. Transfer credit is explained on the GSAS website. Please click 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" 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 taken 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 applicant unable to register in the term for which admission is granted must make a written request to the Office of Admissions to reactivate the initial 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.  Unfortunately, the department lacks 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 of application to the Ph.D. program. 

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

A. Any fewer than three courses would not allow any financial savings 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: Undergraduate advisers or deans can verify courses taken in excess of B.A. requirements.

Q: Can I transfer any undergraduate courses?

A: Only graduate courses (4000 level or above) completed for the undergraduate degree can be transferred.