Columbia School Of General Studies Essay Outline

Applicants are admitted to the School of General Studies as matriculated degree candidates. Students may enroll either full or part time and may change their status from semester to semester. 

Applicants are only eligible for admission if they have taken a break of a year or more in their educational paths or have a compelling reason for which they can only attend Columbia as a part-time student.

How to Apply

Undergraduate degree applicants must submit the following:

  1. A completed application, using either of two methods:
  2. Official* high school transcripts, secondary school records, or GED/TASC test results. Applicants with a GED or TASC and two or more years of high school will need to submit their high school transcripts.
  3. Official* transcripts from all colleges or universities attended
  4. Official* test score
    1. If your native and predominant spoken language is English, or if the primary language of instruction in your high school or secondary education was English, you must submit an official score report from a Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) or American College Testing Program (ACT) score. Official score reports are sent directly to the GS Office of Admissions from the testing service. The SAT code number for General Studies is 2095 and the ACT code number is 2716. Students who have no test scores or test scores older than eight years may take the General Studies Admissions Examination (GSAE) at a cost of $50.


    2. If your native or predominant spoken language is not English and the primary language of instruction in your high school or secondary education was not English you must demonstrate proficiency in English by submitting official scores from TOEFL, the Duolingo English Test or IELTS. The Duolingo online exam takes about 30 minutes to complete, and test results are available within 48 hours. The TOEFL or IELTS must be taken within two years of application to the School of General Studies. To be eligible to apply for admission, GS requires a score of 100 on the Internet-based TOEFL, or a 600 or better on the paper version, a minimum score of 75 on the Duolingo or a score of 7.0 on the IELTS. Applicants should arrange to have recent test scores sent to the GS Office of Admissions directly from the testing service. The Educational Testing Service (or ETS, the organization that administers the TOEFL) code for GS is 2095. English proficiency may also be demonstrated by applicants to GS who are already enrolled in Columbia’s American Language Program (ALP) who have achieved a minimum level of 8 on the ALP Essay Exam.
  5. One typed, double-spaced essay of approximately 1,500-2,000 words. See the Application for Admission for essay question.
  6. Two letters of recommendation from academic and/or professional sources.
  7. A nonrefundable application fee of $80 in the form of a check or money order payable to Columbia University. Applicants using the online application may use a credit card to pay the $80 fee.
  8. New Student Scholarship Application**

*Official documents are those that arrive in a sealed envelope directly from the institution or testing service.

** Submitting the GS New Student Scholarship Application is optional, but highly recommended. The New Student Scholarship Application must be completed and submitted by the appropriate deadline in order to receive priority consideration.

Please note: Documents not in English must be accompanied by certified translations.

Mailed Applications

Completed applications should be sent to:

Office of Admissions and Educational Financing
Columbia University School of General Studies
408 Lewisohn Hall, Mail Code 4101
2970 Broadway
New York, NY 10027

Once submitted, admissions materials become the property of the School of General Studies and are not returnable to the applicant. Applications are processed when files are complete. Admissions decisions are made on a rolling basis.

Admissions Decisions and Tracking Your Application

Information about when admissions decisions are rendered may be found here.

If you have already applied to Columbia University School of General Studies, you may check the status of your application online.

Applying to Other Undergraduate Schools of Columbia University

Applicants may not simultaneously apply to the School of General Studies and to any other undergraduate division of Columbia University—Columbia College (CC) or the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS)—nor are candidates eligible to apply to the School of General Studies if in the last three years they applied to either of these divisions and were not accepted.

The School of General Studies is a highly selective liberal arts college and one of three official undergraduate colleges at Columbia University, situated on the university's main campus in Morningside Heights, New York.[1] GS is known primarily for its traditional B.A. degree program for non-traditional students (those who have had an academic break of one year or more, or are pursuing dual-degrees).[2]

GS students make up almost 30% of the Columbia undergraduate population and have been known to consistently earn the highest average GPAs among undergraduates at Columbia University.[3][4] Despite the relatively small size of the college, a disproportionately large number of GS alumni have gone on to win prestigious fellowships, including the Rhodes Scholarship, the Gates Cambridge Scholarship, and the Fulbright Scholarship.[5][6][7][8]

GS offers dual degree programs with Sciences Po in France, the City University of Hong Kong, and List College of the Jewish Theological Seminary.[2] GS is the historical home to dual-degree programs at Columbia University—the school is the first undergraduate college at Columbia University to offer joint programs with other universities.[9] GS is also home to the Postbaccalaureate Premedical Program.

Notable alumni include Nobel Prize winners Simon Kuznets and Baruj Benacerraf, as well as Isaac Asimov, J.D. Salinger, Amelia Earhart, and Princess Firyal of Jordan.


A Columbia undergraduate class could include students from any of the following schools: the School of General Studies, Columbia College, the School of Engineering and Applied Science, or Barnard College. GS is unique among colleges of its type, because its students are fully integrated into Columbia's traditional undergraduate curriculum: GS Students take the same classes with the same students and professors and are granted the same degrees as students at Columbia College or SEAS.

The School of General Studies confers the degree of Bachelor of Arts in more than 70 majors.[10] All GS students are required to complete the Core Curriculum, which includes classes in Writing, Literature/Humanities, Contemporary Civilization/Social Science, Art Humanities, Music Humanities, Global Core, Quantitative Reasoning, Science, and Foreign Language.[11]

In addition to its bachelor's degree program, the School of General Studies offers combined undergraduate/graduate degree programs with Columbia's schools of Law, Business, Dental Medicine, Social Work, International and Public Affairs, Teachers College, and the College of Physicians and Surgeons, as well as undergraduate dual-degree programs with SEAS, the Jewish Theological Seminary, and a dual-BA program with Sciences Po. In 2012, GS launched a pilot dual degree program with City University of Hong Kong. [12]


Admission to Columbia GS is highly selective and "extremely competitive."[13] Admission standards are among the highest in the nation: the SAT score range (25th-75th percentiles) for admitted students is 1330–1530 out of 1600 on the new SAT (680-770 on the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing Section and 650-760 on the Mathematics Section). The average GPA of admitted students is 3.9/4.0.[14]

Admission requires a formal application as well as submission of official SAT or ACT test scores, academic transcripts, essays, and recommendations; if the test scores are older than eight years, applicants may instead take the General Studies Admissions Examination.[15] Interviews are conducted in person and on the phone.


Eligibility for admission requires that applicants have taken a minimum of one year or more off from academic studies, or have extenuating circumstances which preclude them from attending Columbia College full-time. Prospective Columbia undergraduates who have had a break of a year or more in their education, have already completed an undergraduate degree, or are pursuing dual undergraduate degrees are considered non-traditional and are automatically ineligible for admission to Columbia College.[16][17] GS students have the option to attend part- or full-time.[18]

Sciences Po Columbia University Dual BA Program

The Dual BA Program is a unique and highly selective program in which undergraduate students earn two Bachelor of Arts degrees from both Columbia University and Sciences Po (one of the most prestigious and selective universities in France[19]) in four years. The applicant pool consists almost entirely of high school students.[20]

Students spend two years at one of three Sciences Po campuses in France (Le Havre, Menton, or Reims), each of which is devoted to a particular region of the world. At Sciences Po, undergraduates can pursue majors in political science, economics, law, finance, history, among others.

After two years at Sciences Po, students matriculate at Columbia University, where they complete the Core Curriculum and one of over 70 majors offered at Columbia. Graduates of the program are guaranteed admission to a Sciences Po graduate program.[20]


More than 70 percent of GS students go on to earn advanced degrees after graduation. Columbia GS students have been admitted to top graduate programs all over the country including law schools at Yale, Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, the University of Chicago, NYU, the University of Pennsylvania, UC Berkeley (Boalt Hall), Duke, Cornell, and Notre Dame. They have also been admitted to medicals schools at Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania, Johns Hopkins, Duke, Stanford, UC San Francisco, Yale, Columbia, the University of Chicago, Cornell, and many others. In recent years, GS graduates have been recruited by investment banks such as Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse, UBS, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, and Citigroup.

The Core Curriculum

GS has been progressively bringing its Core closer into alignment with CC, most recently during the summer of 2012 when it replaced the Cultural Diversity requirement (1 class that may overlap with another core class, commonly Asian Music or Art) with CC's 2 class Global Core requirement. It is possible to petition core requirements in certain cases. The following table lists the core requirements for GS and CC for students matriculating Fall 2012 or later:

Major Requirements

Major requirements are determined departmentally, and are the same for CC and GS students.

Financial Aid

GS offers scholarships for both newly accepted and continuing students. These scholarships are merit- rather than need-based like that of Columbia College and SEAS.

A common complaint made by GS students is that the financial aid amounts and options offered by GS are smaller than those offered to CC/SEAS students. In the absence of need-based institutional aid, many GS students rely on a combination of loans, external grants, and personal funds. In 2006 the University announced financial aid reforms for CC and SEAS students whose parents earn less than $50,000 annually.

GS does not offer parity with the packages offered to CC/SEAS students. This is because the scholarship system at GS is independent of the financial aid system for CC/SEAS and funding is sourced from a separate GS-only pool. GS has made some recent efforts to address the issue, both through campaigns to increase the endowment and by increasing its scholarship offerings by 10 percent (in 2006). Starting summer 2012 GS is offering merit institutional aid for summer study, in addition to fall and spring semesters.


General Studies students are not eligible for the CC/SEAS Room Selection process. However, many GS students receive housing through University Apartment Housing.


Defunct Predecessors

GS's evolutionary ancestor is Seth Low Junior College, which was established in Downtown Brooklyn to help alleviate the flood of Jewish applicants to Columbia College. The entrance requirements for Seth Low Junior College were reportedly the same as those enforced in Columbia College.[24] Following completion of the two-year program, graduates could complete their undergraduate educations at the University's professional schools (many of which still conferred terminal bachelor's degrees) or earn B.S. degrees in liberal arts and scientific disciplines as University Undergraduates at the Morningside Heights campus; at the time, the University only conferred the B.A. to graduates of Columbia College.[25]

Seth Low Junior College was closed in 1938 due to the establishment of Brooklyn College in 1930 and the concomitant economic effects of the Great Depression. Henceforth, its remaining students were absorbed into Columbia's undergraduate population as students in the University Undergraduate program (previously, University Extension, which was established by Nicholas Murray Butler in 1904).[26]

The Establishment of the School of General Studies

With an influx of students attending the University on the G.I. Bill following the resolution of World War II, in December 1946, the University Undergraduate program was reorganized as an official undergraduate college for "qualified students who, because of employment or for other reasons, are unable to attend other schools of the University" and designated the School of General Studies as of July 1947.[27][28][29]

The Trustees Grant the Bachelor of Arts (B.A.)

In December 1968, the University Council permitted GS to grant the B.A. degree. Despite the objections of some members of the Columbia College Faculty, the Board of Trustees authorized the decision in February 1969.[30]

The Merging of the Columbia College and General Studies Faculties

In 1990, the Columbia College (CC), School of General Studies (GS), and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) faculties were merged into the Faculty of Arts & Sciences, which resulted in the complete academic integration between the School of General Studies and Columbia College.[31] As a result, both GS and CC students receive degrees conferred by the Trustees of Columbia University through the Faculty of Art & Sciences,[31] and GS is recognized as one of the two official liberal arts colleges at Columbia University, along with Columbia College.


GS students attend the same classes as students in other colleges at the university. Columbia offers some classes at night, but they are available to all students.
  • GS is an extension program.
GS should not be confused with the separate School of Continuing Education, which offers individual courses on non-degree basis. GS is one of the two official liberal arts colleges at Columbia University along with Columbia College. Students are expected to pursue a Bachelor of Arts degree.

Relationship to Columbia College

In December 1968 the University Council decided, over the objections of some members of the Columbia College Faculty, to allow GS to grant the B.A. degree in addition to the B.S. The Board of Trustees authorized that decision in February 1969. The creation of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences in 1991 merged the GS, CC and GSAS faculties. As a result, GS and CC students are nearly academically indistinguishable – they both receive instruction in the liberal arts and sciences from the Columbia Faculty of Arts and Sciences and receive the Bachelor of Arts degree from Columbia University. Until 2014 some did receive the Bachelor of Science degree, like SEAS students. GS students participate in nearly the same Core as Columbia College students, with a little additional flexibility, and the waiving of the swim test, PE, and Frontiers of Science. GS students have the same curriculum, but their own sections of, University Writing, Literature Humanities, and Contemporary Civilization although non-GS students may enroll if they wish and can gain permission. GS students may substitute certain other classes for the traditional Lit Hum, Art Hum, and CC that focus on non-western culture, if they wish.

The wide range of students that form the GS student body, from professionals or dropouts returning to school for a degree, to military veterans, to students who took 2 years off before attending college, to 'traditional'-age students enrolled in the Joint Degree Program with List College at JTS, to postbac pre-med students, makes it hard to say just what specific identity GS students have that makes them so different from their fellow students in the College. In 2007, the administration floated the idea of a CC-GS merger.[32] However it quickly died down.[33]


  1. ↑
  2. 2.02.1
  3. ↑
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  5. ↑
  6. ↑
  7. ↑
  8. ↑
  9. ↑
  10. Cite error: Invalid tag; no text was provided for refs named
  11. ↑Template:Cite web
  12. ↑
  13. ↑[1]
  14. ↑
  15. ↑
  16. ↑
  17. ↑
  18. ↑Template:Cite web
  19. ↑
  20. 20.020.1
  21. ↑School of General Studes Core Requirements
  22. ↑Columbia College Core Curriculum
  23. ↑University Writing is required of both GS and CC students, but the sections are divided by school.
  24. ↑[2]
  25. ↑Template:Cite book
  26. ↑Template:Cite web
  27. ↑History of the School of General Studies
  28. ↑Template:Cite web
  29. ↑Template:Cite web
  30. ↑Template:Cite web
  31. 31.031.1
  32. ↑ "University May Merge GS with CC." Columbia Spectator. November 12, 2007
  33. ↑ "The Merits of the GS, CC Integration" Columbia Spectator. March 10 2008

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