Frequently Asked Questions About the 2020-21 Academic Year

This page will be regularly updated as we near the beginning of the fall semester. For more information about the fall semester, visit the 2020-21 Academic Year at GS page. 


Courses for the coming academic year will be spread across three semesters of equal length, allowing greater flexibility for faculty and students. To accomplish this, some classes originally planned for fall or spring will be moved to the summer term, and students will be able to make progress toward their degree during every term, including completing major, Core, and premedical certificate requirements. 

The dates for the terms are as follows:

  • Fall Term (September 8- December 23)
  • Spring Term (January 11- April 26)
  • Summer Term (Summer A: May 3- June 18, Summer B: June 28- Aug. 16)
  • Commencement will be scheduled for the last week of April

Course offerings can be found in the Bulletin, in the online Directory of Courses, in Vergil, and on department and program websites. Information about the format of each course (online, hybrid, or in-person) is also available in these resources.

By July 20, students will be able to see the combination of 14-week and 7-week courses offered in Fall in the online Directory of Courses, and on department/program websites. Information about the format of each course (online, hybrid or in-person) will also be available in these resources, which are currently being updated. These sources are currently being updated, and advisers will let students know when they can see the final curricular plan for Fall, as well as the curricular offerings planned across all three terms.

If you are a returning student and you previously registered for Fall 2020 courses that will still be offered as planned, your registration status will remain the same; there is no need to re-register for the courses. If you are a returning student and courses for which you had registered have been canceled or moved to a later semester, you will have the opportunity to register for other courses during the upcoming registration periods. Registration will re-open for the fall term August 3 - 7, with an additional registration window the week of August 25.

All Fall classes will have an online component: some courses will be taught entirely online, while other courses may be taught in a hybrid model that combines in-person and online components. To support hybrid instruction, every classroom on our campus has been outfitted with cameras and microphones to allow students joining from on- and off-campus to learn in an integrated environment. Classroom capacities have also been reduced to ensure the capacity for social distancing.

There will also be a small number of classes held entirely in-person. Decisions about Spring and Summer courses will be finalized as public health decisions develop over the coming months.

As an undergraduate campus built on in-person teaching, we favor synchronous instruction for the majority of our curriculum. Students intending to study remotely should select classes that they are able to attend in real time, though faculty will also be asked to record class sessions for reference.

The University is now actively engaged in preparations for Fall that will ensure the richest academic experience possible, in keeping with Columbia's standards of excellence. We have reviewed your feedback about remote learning in the Spring and faculty are reflecting on ways to continue to improve the learning experience for everyone and to take advantage of the latest technologies to support remote instruction. 


In addition to the typical 14-week long courses, some departments and programs will also offer 7-week “immersive” courses, which will cover a semester’s worth of material in a compressed time period and will meet for twice as many hours per week, allowing more contact between faculty and students and more sustained focus on the class content. Students are encouraged to talk with their advisors about how they might fit immersive courses into their semester schedule, if they are interested.

In a typical semester, students have an opportunity at the beginning of each semester to visit classes for which they are not registered to help students decide if they would like to enroll. For Fall 2020, the shopping period will be online for all classes. Students can navigate to the Courseworks site for any course they would like to visit via Vergil. Through Courseworks, students will be able to find the Zoom links for courses they wish to visit.

This past Spring required a sudden shift to remote learning, in which faculty and students had to transition with no notice, and in this context, the Committee on Instruction made the decision to move all grading to pass/fail. As of Summer 2020, evaluative (letter) grading has been restored, and will be in place for the coming academic year.

The two year-long Core courses—Contemporary Civilization and Literature Humanities—will each continue to be offered in the usual Fall-then-Spring sequence.  Most of the one-term Core courses—Art Humanities, University Writing, Music Humanities, and Frontiers of Science—will be offered in Fall, Spring, and Summer.  Core classes will not be offered in an immersive (half-term) format.

Faculty will share information at the beginning of the term about their office hours (e.g., when they will be held each week, whether they will be held online or in-person when possible) and other ways to interact. Students can continue to schedule appointments with their GS advisors  using the online appointment system.

Housing and Residential Life

GS Student life and/or Residential life staff will offer programs and activities; however, they will look different than in previous years. Opportunities to connect virtually will exist whether a student is on or off-campus. Additionally, in-person programs will be adjusted for physical distancing and adjusted room capacities.

Due to the distancing protocols, students who are not in residence are unable to enter in and visit friends in residence as access will be restricted.

Educational Financing

The rate increase for Tuition is 2%, which was reduced from the originally planned increase of 4%.

Tuition has increased due to greater costs associated with supporting students, including instruction and technology support as we teach in multiple modalities. To adhere to public health guidelines, there will also be additional cleaning and facilities enhancements to mitigate risk in our current health environment. 

Columbia University does not typically recoup the full cost of educating a student from Tuition, Room and Board, and other associated fees. Fundraising and other revenue sources cover the difference between what a student pays and the actual cost of attendance but given the current economic and health environment we anticipate significant challenges in fundraising activities and generating other revenues.

The Office of Educational Financing is preparing financial aid award letters that reflect the costs of tuition, housing, and other allowances taking into account whether or not you will be living on- or off-campus and for which portion of the academic year.   

In an effort to respond to the needs of GS students at this moment, and understanding that many GS students are working hard to manage complex financial situations and concerns, GS has worked with Arts & Sciences and the University to triple the planned increase to the GS financial aid budget. This increase amounts to an additional $1.5 million added to the GS Financial Aid budget as a one-time enhancement. These additional funds will be used to offer enhanced aid to full-time students (12 or more credits), with a particular focus on students with greatest demonstrated need taking 13 to 15 credits—the first time incremental aid will be offered at these higher credit thresholds.

The Office of Educational Financing is sending out award letters for the 2020 - 2021 academic year by the end of July.

If your family’s financial situation has changed significantly from what was originally reported in your application materials, we recommend making an appointment with your Educational Financing counselor to discuss your situation and possible options.

Certain fees may be adjusted based on the availability of specific campus activities or operations, and the location of a student (on-campus or off-campus). This includes the Student Life fee. More details will be provided after course registration and housing confirmations are finalized.

If the University decides at any point in time (e.g. due to public health guidance) that it is necessary to depart campus mid-semester the University will prorate the charges for housing and dining as appropriate. This is similar to what occurred in Spring 2020. The off-campus living allowance would remain unchanged.  Please visit the Columbia Residential website for more information:

It is vital that students direct all financial aid questions to the GS Educational Financing office at (212) 854-5410 or as there are significant implications to taking a leave mid-term.

Students who attend class from off-campus/home will have their cost of attendance adjusted to reflect the costs of a remote term. Their dining and room costs will instead be replaced with a remote living allowance. Financial aid recipients whose grant exceeds the student account balance will receive a refund for the semester to help support costs associated with attending class from home.

Housing for Summer term is an additional expense. The application for Summer housing will be available next Spring. Summer courses will also be available online, and therefore can be taken from whatever location you are in.

Taking a voluntary leave may impact financial aid eligibility. If you take a voluntary leave before the start of the term, there is no impact to your financial aid. However, if you take a voluntary leave after the start of the semester, that semester may count towards your eight semesters of financial aid eligibility. As each student’s financial situation is unique you should contact the Financial Aid and Educational Financing office when considering taking a leave of absence.

There are two types of positions students may secure while enrolled: federal work-study or casual employment. Both types of positions are on-campus work; however they are funded by different sources. Eligibility for federal work-study is determined by the FAFSA. The financial aid award will indicate whether a student is eligible for federal work-study. Federal work study jobs are posted online.

Students not eligible for federal work-study can obtain campus jobs, but would search for them in the casual-employment section. Casual employment campus jobs are posted on the LionSHARE portal.

Students are paid directly; their earnings are not applied toward the bill. Information on the requirements for student job paperwork as well as payroll is available online.

You should check with the department listing the job as to whether or not a remote work arrangement is possible. 

International Students

The International Students and Scholars Office is a wonderful resource for all of our international students. Please consult their website regularly for information about this coming fall term and contact the ISSO staff should you have specific questions about your case.

If you are a continuing GS international student, you may take all courses online whether you are located in NY, out of state, or abroad. You must be enrolled full-time to maintain F-1 Visa status.

If you are a new GS international student, this includes transfer students from another University, and you reside in the U.S. prior to the start of the fall semester you may take all your courses online. You must be enrolled full-time to maintain F-1 Visa status. If you are residing abroad, you may take all your courses online, however, the semester will not count for immigration purposes as the I-20 start date will be amended to Spring 2021.

Incoming new international students planning to arrive in the United States for the fall semester must register for at least one three-point hybrid course. You must be enrolled full-time to maintain F-1 Visa status.

No, you are not required to live on campus.

The Registrar will require online submission of photos for the student ID card of all students and will send ID’s to schools to distribute to students.

New Students

Due to concerns about large gatherings, New Student Orientation (NSOP) will be held virtually. All events for the Fall 2020 New Student Orientation Program will be made available online to accommodate new students unable or unwilling to come to the Morningside Campus in New York City.

Limited in-person activities and on-campus programming will be made available for new students who plan to reside in Columbia Residential Housing or within commuting distance to campus.

GS Student Life and the Dean of Students Office are currently finalizing the schedule of events, online resources, and support, and will share further details about the Fall 2020 New Student Orientation Program in early August.



Beyond the Classroom

Employer engagement and career counseling is planned to take place virtually this fall. Students can expect career fairs and other usual recruiting events, all delivered virtually. As in prior years, on-campus interviews will all be virtually scheduled through LionSHARE. Internships and other employer opportunities will be posted in LionSHARE, and career counseling continues to be available via Zoom. Students should update their LionSHARE profiles to receive up to date information directly from the Center for Career Education (CCE). They can also review CCE's COVID Updates and FAQs.

Many aspects of the student experience are being developed to live in a virtual mode so that all students can have access to these programs and opportunities, whether on or off-campus. GS will continue with its full program of initiatives, support services, and events for the 2020-2021 academic year, across multiple modalities. We are able to host 100% of these programs online should that be needed for Fall 2020 and/or Spring 2021.

Mindful of the University’s service mission and of its need to safeguard against the COVID-19 threat, the University has determined to extend the suspension of all international Columbia-related Travel for all affiliates until further notice. For CUIMC and Morningside faculty and staff domestic Columbia-related Travel is permitted only if video participation is not available. For students, domestic Columbia-related Travel continues to be suspended. Additionally, all Columbia affiliates are strongly urged to postpone any non-essential personal travel abroad, and to follow state guidance for personal domestic travel.

Consistent with CDC guidance, Columbia University advises all affiliates who have returned from ANY international travel, stay home for 14 days after returning from travel, monitor their health, and practice social distancing. Follow the self-isolation guidance found on the Columbia Preparedness COVID-19 FAQs.