International Students

All newly-admitted international students must complete additional steps prior to matriculating, which include completing the Certificate of Eligibility, and in some cases sitting for the American Language Program Essay Exam.

Postbac Premed Program international students are also required to be enrolled full-time throughout their tenure in the Postbac Premed Program.

Consult the website for Columbia’s International Students and Scholars Organization for information about making the transition to Columbia, the international student orientation program, and other activities for international students.

Upon admission, international students must complete the online Certificate of Eligibility.

The International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO) offers many services for the international community of students, interns, and scholars at Columbia University. The ISSO provides immigration-related and document services including the Application for Visa certificate.

In addition to a complete Certificate of Eligibility cover sheet, students must submit the following documents, with official English translations, to the ISSO:

  • A copy of the identification page of your passport
  • A copy of your letter of admission from the School of General Studies
  • A letter from you describing how you will finance your course of study
  • Financial documentation that covers all expenses for one year and describes reasonable means of support for future years

The ISSO will review your documentation and send the I-20 form. This is required to apply for an F-1 student entry visa at a U.S. Consulate in a student's home country or to complete the SEVIS transfer process for students already in F-1 status.

I-20 forms are usually sent four (4) weeks after the ISSO has all required documentation and a student's application is complete. The Certificate of Eligibility will arrive two to six business days after shipment, depending upon the student's location. Please be sure to allow for time delays.

Columbia University students must be fully proficient with written and spoken English. They must also be able to produce academic essays that display grammatical accuracy and lexical sophistication, as well as cogent argumentation at a level commensurate with that of educated native speakers of English. Upon review of your application and as a condition of your admission, you are required to take the Columbia University American Language Program (ALP) Essay Exam prior to finalizing your course registration. The need to take the ALP Essay Exam is a determination made by the Admissions Committee at the time of acceptance and your enrollment at Columbia University is contingent on taking the exam.

No exceptions will be granted to the requirement; this includes but is not limited to the fact that you may have taken the TOEFL, the Duolingo English Test, IELTS, SAT, Online GS Admission Exam, or ACT exams prior to admission. Coursework completed at any other university or college also cannot be considered as an exception from the need to take the exam.

Exam Description

The ALP Essay Exam is designed to measure a test-taker's ability in writing; no speaking portion is included. Test takers will be given 105 minutes to write an essay in response to two short reading passages.


The ALP Essay Exam will be held for incoming GS students on the dates below.

Exam Results

The ALP Essay Exam results will be emailed to students and to their respective department ten business days after the exam date. Results will be used by a student’s academic advisor to determine the appropriate academic plan for the first semester. Students will be required to take additional English language courses if their score on the examination is below level 10. A score below level 8 may require a deferral of the offer of admission to facilitate further, full-time, English language study.

All students who earn a level 9 on the ALP Essay Exam are required to take a 3-point advanced writing course designed for international students.

More information about scores and score appeals may be found on the American Language Program website.


If you are currently enrolled in the American Language Program or have already taken the ALP Essay Exam please contact ALP at and ask that your results be forwarded to the School of General Studies Office of Admissions.

What should I do before arriving?

Before arriving, students should review the Getting Started section of the International Student and Scholars Office website (ISSO). It provides information regarding entry to the U.S. and initial weeks at Columbia. Questions regarding student status and visas should be directed to the ISSO.

I arrive several days before the semester commences. Where can I stay?

If you are interested in obtaining University Housing, you are advised to complete the online housing application as soon as possible (login information is included in your acceptance packet). Please ensure that your selected housing date corresponds to your anticipated arrival date. Students arriving before the specified arrival dates will be required to find temporary accommodation in the area.

For more information on housing, consult the GS Housing page and the University Apartment Housing website.


Columbia University International Students and Scholars Office
524 Riverside Drive
New York, NY 10027
Telephone: (212) 854-3587
Fax: (212) 854-3966

The Guide for International Students has been created to assist international students in navigating Columbia University. Please continue to review this resource as you move through your academic career here at Columbia. The guide will answer many common questions posed by international students while also providing information about the purpose and scope of a wide range of on-campus resources.

Guide for International Students

Upcoming ALP Exam Dates

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