Frequently Asked Questions

Prospective Students

What are the requirements for the Coordinated Doctoral Programs in Biomedical Sciences at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons?

There are no specific requirements for our PhD programs. Admissions decisions are made solely at the discretion of each program's faculty committee on admissions. Admissions committees are encouraged to take a comprehensive view of each applicant, including, but not limited to, academic preparation, such as educational history, test scores, and research experience. We receive many applications for our programs, but regrettably we are unable to offer admission to every qualified applicant.

May I apply to more than one program at Columbia University?

Columbia University's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) will only accept applications to one PhD program for any given term, regardless of the location of that program. For example, a student cannot apply to both the PhD program in biological sciences and one in Coordinated Doctoral Programs in Biomedical Sciences at the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons (P&S), even though they are on two different campuses. However, applicants to the PhD programs in biomedical sciences will have the option of identifying a second program, which will only be considered if their first choice declines the admissions review.

I want to transfer into the Coordinated Doctoral Programs in Biomedical Sciences. Is there a special application I need to submit?

The PhD programs in Coordinated Doctoral Programs at P&S do not accept applicants as transfer students, including current students in other programs at GSAS; therefore, there is no special application. You must apply for admission using the normal procedures.

How do I apply for an application fee waiver?

Our programs will waive the application fee for US citizens or permanent residents currently enrolled in a US college/university or a post-baccalaureate program who demonstrate financial need. Please email your request to BiomedicalSciences@cumc.columbia.edu and provide a letter verifying your estimated family contribution signed by you and a financial aid officer at the institute/program you currently attend.

What is the minimum GRE score needed to apply?

The following program does NOT require GRE for admission for 2020:

The Pathobiology and Mechanisms of Disease Program

Applicants for all other programs are required to submit their general GRE scores, which should be no more than five years old. We recommend, but do not require, a score for an advanced (subject) GRE test. Our institution code is 2619. No department code is required. Please schedule your examination so that the scores will be received by this office by the deadline date. After the examination, allow several weeks for transmittal of test results. An application is considered incomplete without these scores. Applicants who took the GRE more than five years ago but have subsequently enrolled in a graduate-level program at a US institution may petition this office to accept their old scores. Some programs will consider MCAT scores in place of the GRE exam. Applicants who wish to substitute the MCAT for the GRE should contact this office for special approval.

How can applicants fulfill the English proficiency requirement?

Applicants whose native language is not English and who have an undergraduate degree from an institute located in a country where the official language is not English must complete the English proficiency requirement. The English proficiency requirement can be fulfilled through the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or the International English Language Testing System (IELTS). For TOEFL, our specify school code is 2619 and department code is 45. Allow six weeks for transmittal of test results. An application is considered incomplete without these scores. GSAS requires a minimum TOEFL score of 100 on the internet-based test or a 7.5 for the IELTS for all admitted applicants. TOEFL and IELTS scores are valid for two years after the test date.

Applicants who have studied for at least two years at an institution in the US or another country where the official language is English and earned an undergraduate (or bachelor’s) degree at that institute are not required to complete the English proficiency requirement. Students who have earned a master’s degree but not an undergraduate or bachelor’s degree in the US or another country whose official language is English are required to complete the English proficiency requirement; however, if you took the TOEFL or IELTS exam when applying to a graduate program at another institute and scored above the GSAS minimum requirement of 100 (TOEFL) or 7.5 (IELTS), you can fulfill the English proficiency requirement by uploading a scanned copy of the score report with your online application.

What if my supporting documents, such as letters of recommendation and official exam scores, arrive after the application deadline date?

Supporting documents will not be accepted after the deadline date.

How do applicants submit transcripts?

Please upload a copy of your transcripts with the online application. All documents not issued in English by the official signing them must be accompanied by English translations. Official copies of transcripts will be requested for accepted students.

Instructions for Submission of Transcripts When Accepting an Offer of Admission

  • Students who have attended schools in the US: Please submit electronic transcripts directly from your school or via the vendor that provides that service for your institution to BiomedicalSciences@cumc.columbia.edu
  • Students attending Chinese institutions: You are required to contact CHESICC to arrange submission of a “Verification Report of China Higher Education Student's Academic Transcript” and a “Verification Report of China Higher Education Qualification Certificate” (for those earning a degree in China) to BiomedicalSciences@cumc.columbia.edu
  • All other students who have attended an international university: If your school offers secure online delivery, please submit an electronic transcript to BiomedicalSciences@cumc.columbia.edu. If the transcript is not printed in English, please have the English translation submitted electronically as well. The transcript and translation must be sent together, directly from your school, to BiomedicalSciences@cumc.columbia.edu. If the school cannot send transcripts electronically via a secure, password-protected system, or if a required translation cannot be submitted directly from your institution, you must contact World Education Services (WES) and order a Course-by-Course Evaluation and an International Credential Advantage Package to be mailed to Office of Graduate Affairs, Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, 630 W 168th Street, P&S 3-435, Box 108, New York, NY 10032.

When will I receive a decision on my application?

Notification of decisions for all PhD applicants generally takes place by March.

What constitutes an official offer of admission?

Only the deans of the graduate school have the authority to make an offer of admission. A letter or email from a faculty member is not an official offer of admission. Only when you receive the official offer signed by the deans of the graduate school are you considered admitted. However, the offer of admission is only considered fully official after we have received your official transcript(s) and are able to verify authenticity. Any discrepancies between the uploaded and official paper transcripts may result in the rescinding of the offer of admission.

I was not offered admission. How can I request feedback on the reasons for the decision?

We understand and appreciate the commitment of time and energy put into each application. However, we are unable to provide individual feedback on why an offer of admission was not made.

Current Students

How do students get paid?

Students are paid one of two ways; as a predoctoral fellow or as a Graduate Research Assistant (GRA). Fellows are paid from the dean’s funds, department monies, training grants, or outside fellowships. GRAs are paid from research grants or other sponsored projects. It is most common for students to begin their studies as fellows and then switch to GRA status in subsequent years. Fellows receive stipend payments three times a year. The summer stipend covers July 1–August 31; the fall stipend covers September 1 –January 15; and the spring stipend covers January 16–June 30. GRAs receive salary checks biweekly, on the 15th and on the last business day of each month.

Do students need to pay taxes?

All students who receive payments either as predoctoral fellows or GRAs are responsible for declaring these payments on their tax returns. However, the interpretation and implementation of the tax laws are the domain of the Internal Revenue Service and the courts. Columbia University takes no position on what the status may be for a particular taxpayer, and it does not have the authority to dispense tax advice.

Taxes are not deducted from fellow’s stipend checks for US citizens, permanent residents, or foreign nationals whose country has an appropriate tax treaty with the United States. Fellows have the option of filing quarterly estimated tax payments with the IRS. If you have not completed a tax treaty form or if you are not certain if there is a treaty in effect, please check with the Office of Graduate Affairs (OGA). Foreign nationals whose country of citizenship does not have a tax treaty with the US will have a 14 percent withholding tax deducted from their stipend check.

Taxes are deducted from GRA salary checks. The W-4 (federal) and IT-2104 (city/state) withholding forms you complete will determine the amount of the deduction.

Domestic students paid as fellows will not receive a W-2 form from the university. International students paid as fellows will receive a 1042-S form at the beginning of the calendar year. All GRAs will receive a W-2 form. Since student compensation is considered an award for training and not wages for services, Social Security is not deducted.

Can students change programs?

A student who is currently registered in the Coordinated Doctoral Programs in Biomedical Sciences may apply for a change of PhD program/track by completing the proper form and submitting a detailed description of the reason for the change. Change of department requests cannot be made within the first year of enrollment. Approval for such requests is solely at the discretion of the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) of both programs and the deans. Once the request is approved, you are considered to be a student in the new program and are subject to the academic requirements of that program.

Can students register for courses in other divisions of Columbia University?

During the fall and spring semesters, it is possible to register for courses in other divisions of the university at no additional cost. There is no cross-registration during the summer semesters. The availability of courses and procedures vary by school. Permission of your mentor and the DGS are required.

Can students secure employment outside of the doctoral program?

Enrollment in the PhD program is a full-time endeavor. While we recognize that work experience can be beneficial for your career, there are only two conditions under which students can secure employment outside of the doctoral program: The work must be science related and no more than ten hours per week.

This policy is based on years of evaluating students' successful progress in our program. We have found that working in a totally unrelated field or for more than ten hours per week often has a negative impact on student research and coursework. Of course, we advise discussing all your outside employment options with your mentor and the DGS.

What is the time to degree for the doctoral programs?

The average time-to-degree in the Coordinated Doctoral Programs is 5.7 years. Students enrolled for more than six years need the dean's approval for additional time in the programs and registration and may not be guaranteed funding and housing. Students are allowed nine years of continuous registration to satisfy all requirements for the doctoral degree. Students who do not complete all requirements for the doctoral degree by the end of the ninth year will no longer be considered GSAS PhD degree candidates and will be notified accordingly in writing by GSAS. Note that the ninth year ends on May 31.

What is the policy on time off for childbirth?

Students who give birth or adopt while enrolled are entitled to up to 12 weeks (funded) where regular responsibilities associated with their doctoral program are suspended for pregnancy, birth, and/or care of a newborn. Responsibilities that may be suspended include class attendance, course assignments, exams, and other academic requirements; and research and other work in the lab. The use of parental leave must be approved by the DGS. Either parent is eligible for parental leave.

During this period of suspension of responsibilities, full-time student status will be preserved, compensation is continued, and student health insurance and housing eligibility are retained. The policy does not affect a student’s ability to request an unpaid leave of absence to begin after the 12-week period has ended.

What is the policy for sick days?

Students may continue to receive compensation for up to 15 calendar days of sick leave per year. Sick leave may be used for medical conditions related to pregnancy and childbirth.

What is the time-off policy on vacation?

In any given academic year, students are entitled to two weeks beyond the 11 (Morningside campus) or 12 (CUIMC campus) designated university/federal holidays. A “week” is defined by the number of days in a given calendar week that students are expected to be available to discharge their responsibilities. Time off during the designated university/federal holidays is non-negotiable. Doctoral students who plan to take time off at other times may do so only after coordinating with their adviser or PI when holding a research appointment and/or the faculty instructor or lead course coordinator when holding a teaching appointment. This will ensure that the requested time off does not conflict with the responsibilities attendant to the research enterprise or course.

The period between the spring and fall semesters is considered to be an active time of research and research training, and is not considered to be a vacation or holiday.