Declaring a Major or Concentration
Declaring a Major or Concentration
GS students may declare a major or concentration online during the months of March and October.
Beginning the Major Declaration Process
GS students must fulfill the requirements for a major to receive a bachelor’s degree from Columbia, and must formally declare a major program before completing 90 credits towards the degree; concentrations must be declared prior to completing 80 credits. Ideally students should declare a major after completing 45 credits of coursework toward the degree or, for students who received 60 transfer credits, after completing a total of 72 credits.
Before declaring a major, students should read the information on majors and concentrations in Degree Fulfillment in order to understand the choices and policies relevant to these academic opportunities. Students may also wish to consult with GS academic advisors, faculty members, department websites, and the department descriptions on the GS website while deciding on a major.
Criteria for Declaring a Major
In order to declare a major during major declaration month, students must meet the following criteria:
- Completion of at least one semester at GS with a minimum of 12 letter-graded credits;
- Completion of at least 45 points toward the bachelor's degree (including transfer credit);
- Regular and satisfactory progress toward fulfilling the GS core requirements;
Students who have completed 90 or more cumulative credits are not allowed to declare their majors online and must meet with their academic advisors to do so. Additionally, students who wish to make any changes to their declared major and/or concentration must see their academic advisor.
Policies Governing Major Declaration
Before using the online major declaration system to declare an academic program, GS students should review the following academic policies, if applicable:
Major/Concentration Degree Requirements
All students must complete at least one major to fulfill the degree requirements; students may select a second major, concentration, or special concentration in addition to this first selection. Selecting only a concentration or special concentration will not fulfill the requirements for the bachelor’s degree.
Students should have a strong academic record and excellent academic reason for choosing to declare two majors. Students who wish to double major must declare both majors prior to completing 75 credits toward the degree. Double majors are different from combined majors such as Economics-Philosophy or Economics-Statistics. For a double major, students must complete all the requirements for each major as outlined by the department. Candidates for a double major must have a minimum GPA of 3.2 and need to provide the Committee on Academic Standing with a compelling statement about their reasons for double-majoring. Double majors are required to complete separate sets of requirements for each major; a single course may not be counted twice. Any allowable exceptions must be stated in the description of the major. Double majors are bound by the rules applicable to all GS students concerning overlap between major and Core requirements, which limit this overlap to a maximum of two courses.
The purpose of a premedical concentration is to allow students who are completing the requirements for medical school to be able to benefit fully from a liberal arts curriculum. Therefore, students declaring a premedical concentration may not combine it with a science discipline (i.e. Biology, Chemistry, Neuroscience and Behavior).
Using the Online Major Declaration System
The online major declaration system will be available on the first day of each major declaration month.
Students who use the system must declare at least one major and are limited to a maximum of two program selections (the second choice of program may either be a major, concentration, or special concentration).
If you wish to add more than two programs at this time, you must schedule an appointment to speak to your academic advisor.
Students will receive an email confirming their academic program and providing information about their department’s system for advising new majors.
Majors Requiring Departmental Approval
While most majors can be officially declared using the online system, the departments listed below require written departmental approval.
Students selecting a major from any of the departments listed below must print and fill out the GS Major Declaration Form (available in the online major declaration system or from your GS advisor) and take it to the appropriate department (addresses listed below). Once departmental approval has been obtained, bring your form to 403 Lewisohn to finalize your declaration.
- African Studies (201 Knox Hall)
- Architecture (500 The Diana Center)
- Biological Sciences (Last Name A-L: 744 Fairchild Extension; Last Name M-Z: 716 Fairchild)
- Chemistry (340 Havemeyer)
- Comparative Literature and Society (Heyman Center)
- Dance (204 Barnard Annex)
- Earth and Environmental Sciences (557 Schermerhorn Extension)
- East Asian Languages and Cultures (407 Kent)
- Film Studies (513 Dodge)
- Italian (502 Hamilton)
- Latin American and Iberian Cultures (101 Casa Hispánica)
- Mathematics (410 Math)
- Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies (401 Knox Hall, Union Theological Seminary)
- Physics (704 Pupin)
- Religion (80 Claremont, Room 103)
- Sociology (501, Knox Hall, Union Theological Seminary)
- Urban Studies (236 Milbank Hall, Barnard)
Before visiting the departmental advisor, students should create a plan of study based upon the major’s prerequisites, requirements, and course offerings, and bring this plan to the meeting with the departmental advisor.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I take courses that may count toward my major prior to declaring the major?
In sampling courses across the curriculum, many students end up taking courses that will count toward their major prior to actually declaring the major. This is usually not a problem and it is a good way to receive an introduction to a major and to get a head start on the major prior to declaring. However, students should be aware of the following:
- Most departments do not allow a student to count toward the major or concentration courses in which the final grade earned is a “D” or a “P”. (Exceptions are noted in departmental guidelines for the major.)
- Some Columbia departments have restrictions on the number or kind of Barnard courses that will count toward the Columbia major or concentration.
- Some departments, like Economics, will not count courses taken out of sequence.
- When in doubt, check the department website.
What if I cannot decide among several different options?
Students should use an advising appointment with their GS advisor to discuss their interests and options. A student’s advisor can help in thinking about the important questions to consider when choosing a major. Also, they should consider visiting the departments in which they are interested: review their undergraduate handbook (several departments have these), meet with the Director of Undergraduate Studies or another faculty member in the department, and look at the department websites. Many departments and programs host open houses for potential majors during February and March: watch for announcements on the GS DOS News email about these or contact a department directly to find out if an open house is scheduled.
What if I am interested in a concentration?
All GS students must complete a major in order to graduate from GS. Concentrations are optional but, if pursued, must be declared. It is important to remember that there is no overlap allowed between major and concentration requirements, unless it is explicitly noted on the GS website or in the department's description of the major/concentration. Students who want to declare a concentration must do so before completing 80 credits of coursework toward the degree. Students must declare (or have declared) a major before declaring a concentration. In some cases, students who have attempted a double-major choose, later in the process, to change the second major to a concentration.
What if I want to double-major?
Students interested in double-majoring should discuss the viability of this with their GS advisor. Students should consider doing a concentration in one area and a major in the other. The various options should be considered carefully. Students who are interested in double-majoring normally must declare both majors before completing 75 points toward the degree; exceptions to this rule may be made if the student has already made significant progress toward major completion prior to the formal declaration.
What happens if I do not declare a major?
Students who do not declare their major by the time they have earned 90 points toward the degree are subject to academic warning or probation.
What if I want to change my major or concentration after one or both have been declared?
Students should schedule an appointment with their GS advisor to discuss why they want to change their major as well as the new major they are considering. The student and their advisor will then complete the necessary paperwork for deleting an old major and declaring a new one, as this cannot be done online. Students normally are not permitted to declare a new major after earning more than 90 credits toward the degree, but for compelling reasons exceptions can be made. Students should follow a similar process for changing or dropping a concentration.
Can any of my transfer credits count toward my major?
- Each department has the discretion to count up to 12 credits in transfer toward the major; some departments have a lower limit and accept fewer credits. Approval by GS of transfer credit toward the degree does not mean that this credit will automatically count toward the major.
- At least 18 credits toward the major must be taken at Columbia.
- Students should consult with the Director of Undergraduate Studies (DUS) about which transfer courses may count toward the major and satisfy existing departmental requirements.
- Directors of Undergraduate Studies usually require transcripts and syllabi to make decisions about whether transfer credits will count toward the major. Once a student has declared the major, the GS Dean of Students Office sends the DUS copies of all the relevant transcripts on file with GS.
Can courses taken as part of study abroad count toward the major?
Students who are approved for study abroad by GS must receive approval from their major department with respect to any courses taken abroad that may be counted toward the major.
Can summer term courses count toward the major?
Students need to make sure that summer term courses at Columbia will count toward the major. This permission comes from the department, not the student’s GS advisor.
Can I count the same course toward a major and a concentration, or toward a major and GS core requirements?
Double majors cannot count the same course toward both majors. Students cannot have any course double-count toward the major and the concentration, unless it is explicitly noted on the GS website or in the description of the major/concentration. Students are allowed an overlap of two courses between the major and GS core requirements. This two-course limit holds for double majors as well. Courses counted toward a departmental concentration may simultaneously fulfill core requirements, but only if no courses from the major have been used to do the same. A student may also use one course from a concentration to fulfill a core requirement and one course from a major to fulfill a core requirement, as long as the total number of overlapping classes does not exceed two. (Since the premedical concentration is not considered a departmental concentration, it is exempt from this policy.)
Any other exemptions to the above rules are clearly articulated on the GS website or on departmental websites.
What if I want to create my own major?
The Special Major option is reserved for students whose academic interests cannot be accommodated by one of the more than 70 existing undergraduate programs at Columbia. A special major must be proposed before a student has completed 80 credits toward the degree and is restricted to students with a minimum GPA of 3.5. Students should discuss their rationale, eligibility, and proposed program with their GS advisor as well as with faculty in relevant departments before proceeding. If a student’s proposal seems reasonable, the advisor will instruct the student to submit a formal Special Major application to the Dean of Students, who will advise the student on developing the proposal further before it is submitted to the GS Committee on Academic Affairs, who will review the proposal prior to bringing it to the Committee on Instruction for approval.