Frequently Asked Questions About the 2020-21 Academic Year

The University continues to make improvements to ensure the richest academic experience possible, in keeping with Columbia's standards of excellence. We have reviewed your feedback about remote learning and faculty are reflecting on ways to continue to improve the learning experience and to take advantage of the latest technologies to support remote instruction. Classrooms have been outfitted with cameras and microphones for an optimal virtual learning experience. 

The University has also created a resource site for students that offers strategies and best practices for an optimal online learning experience, and the GS Academic Resource Center has extensive programming to help support your academic success this year.

Updated December 10, 2020



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. GS students may take courses on a full-time or part-time schedule to best meet their needs

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. 

Students can see the combination of 14-week and 7-week online courses offered in the online Directory of Courses, in Vergil, and on department/program websites. Information about the modality of each course will also be available in these resources. 

For Spring 2021, undergraduate and graduate courses will be offered in two modalities: remote or hybrid. Most courses will continue to be remote-only. Courses taught in a hybrid format will vary in how they accommodate in-person participation. Please refer to the syllabus or contact the instructor for more detail. Modality of instruction will be indicated in the Directory of Classes. 

Yes. All classes will be either remote or hybrid. Even classes being offered in a hybrid modality will allow for remote participation. Modality of instruction will be indicated in the Directory of Classes and details of hybrid modality will be provided by individual professors for their classes.

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.

As an undergraduate campus built on in-person teaching, we favor synchronous instruction, and students should select courses offered at times when they are able to participate live. Courses may have both synchronous and asynchronous elements, and students can learn more by looking at the course’s syllabus when it is posted on CourseWorks and by attending the first class session and speaking with the instructor. Students should also talk with their advisor about any concerns they have about their schedule of classes and access to course meetings and materials.

You are expected to be available at the course meeting time for all classes. While faculty may choose to make some course elements as recordings, in no case will all class content for a course be delivered asynchronously. 

Faculty recognize that many students may be studying in time zones that are different from New York City and they will continue to consider effective use of asynchronous materials so that all students can access course content in flexible ways. Faculty will make individual decisions about the ways that they will deliver their classes (for example, some faculty will record class meetings or lectures, while others may not — the decision is that of the individual faculty member). You can learn more about the synchronous and asynchronous elements of a course by looking at the course’s syllabus when it is posted on CourseWorks and by attending the first class session.


The University has created a resource site for students that offers strategies and tips for a successful experience in online courses. You should also talk with the instructor of each course about the different ways in which you can participate effectively in online class meetings and assignments. 

Students should consider whether they have the necessary technology to participate effectively in online courses. Students should have access to a computer with a camera, and with a laptop sized screen (on which they can see participants in a Zoom session as well as view presentations and access the chat function) and on which they can download required PDF files and other required course materials. Please note that a smartphone alone will not provide the adequate capability needed to engage fully in your online courses. It is recommended you view the syllabi of the courses that you plan to take to see what requirements your instructors may have.

Please note that his technology does not have to be at the highest and most expensive end of the spectrum; there are many low-cost laptops as well that can provide these capabilities. If you are worried about the cost of the technology required to engage successfully in your online classes, please let your advisor know right away.

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.

Fall 2020 update: Students will be able to elect the pass/d/fail option for one class this semester without restriction (the course chosen for this grading option can fulfill a requirement for the Core Curriculum; a requirement for a major, concentration, or special concentration; or an elective). Students who completed an immersive course in the “Fall A” term can choose to retroactively apply the pass/d/fail option to that course as their one pass/d/fail course for Fall 2020. The deadline for declaring the pass/d/fail option for a course will be extended to the last day of classes for the term, December 14.

Each of the Fall and Spring semesters has been divided into two equal parts — Part A and Part B, with some departments and programs offering half-term immersive courses that students have the option to take in addition to their semester-long courses. The goal of these immersive classes is to allow for a depth of engagement and learning over a shorter and more intensive period of time. There is no requirement that you enroll in an immersive course, but it may be an option you wish to explore. Lists of immersive courses can be found in the GS bulletin and on the departmental pages listing curricular plans for the 2020-21 academic year. For the most updated scheduling information, please visit the Directory of Classes.


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 them decide if they would like to enroll. This year, 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.

Please note: some courses may not be available for shopping, or shopping may be limited to students on the waitlist.

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.  

Please note that students who were registered in the fall for Contemporary Civilization and Literature Humanities will be automatically registered for the spring section of the same course.


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.

Six of the Columbia libraries are now open to students: Butler, Avery, Business, Lehman, Starr East Asian, and Science & Engineering. Study spaces will be available by reservation. Students and faculty at Columbia who have signed the Columbia Community Health Compact are eligible to visit. Special collections visits are available for research by appointment only

Library stacks are closed; there is no direct access to browsing or handling library materials at this time. However, book pick-up service is now available for select print collections. Eligible items will have a "Pick-up" hyperlink in the CLIO record. 

The Columbia Libraries continue to post regular updates on re-opening and availability of resources.

As of June 22, 2020, the University has resumed its clinical and laboratory research. Undergraduate students may participate in on-campus laboratories and research in the Fall 2020 semester, and may spend time in a research laboratory pursuant to plans that are developed by principal investigators. In order to participate in laboratory work, students must complete the Safe Research at Columbia training, and must comply with the University’s COVID-19 Public Health Protocols and any requirements that have been put in place by the laboratory, including following scheduling assignments, physical distancing, wearing a face covering, and other critical requirements.  Students with research positions should contact the Principal Investigator (PI) for their laboratories to obtain information about COVID-19 safety training and testing requirements.

All undergraduate courses with lab components will be offered online. Students writing senior theses or participating in any research/capstone courses may use campus resources, such as libraries and laboratories, as they become available and in accordance with University guidelines.

An unusual number of new courses will also be available in the coming year. Faculty are working to design innovative courses that respond to our unprecedented historical moment, and you will see new course offerings on topical issues in public health, social justice, electoral politics, and more. Over the course of the year, we will be highlighting new course offerings through the GS newsletters and social media.

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

For the 2020-2021 academic year, Columbia will absorb the tuition increase previously published (below). The effective rate for the 2020-2021 academic year is $1,896 per point, the same rate as the 2019-2020 academic year. Student accounts will be updated to reflect this, and Student Financial Services will communicate directly with GS students to provide specific information detailing these changes.

The previously-planned rate increase for tuition was 2%, which had been reduced from the originally planned increase of 4%.

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

Please consult ISSO directly for all visa-related questions.

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.

Our GS teams have continued to modify and improve those opportunities throughout the summer, which will allow us to continue with a full program of initiatives, support services, and events for the 2020-2021 academic year, across multiple modalities. Our academic advising, educational financing, academic support, and student well-being staff will continue to be available to GS students via virtual advising appointments, as they have throughout the spring and summer.

We will be sharing our full and detailed events calendar for the academic year later this month, and are able to host all of these programs online should that be needed for Fall 2020 and/or Spring 2021. Moving forward, we will continue to look for safe opportunities for our New York City-based students to connect in person when health and safety circumstances allow for it.