Updates for Students

UPDATE - November 16, 2020

President Lee Bollinger announced that some undergraduate students will be able to return to campus in the spring semester while maintaining reduced density. Columbia Engineering will offer single rooms to all seniors. Depending on campus density considerations, we may be able to provide housing to juniors or those with special circumstances who have expressed interest through the Housing Request Form.

Please read the President’s Message regarding the spring term.

Please also see Our Path Forward: FAQs for Fall 2020.

UPDATE - November 17, 2020

Academic Policy Changes: Columbia Engineering announced changes to its academic policy. In an email to students, Vice Dean for Undergraduate Programs Barclay Morrison shared that in light of ongoing challenges related to the pandemic, students could take one course P/D/F this semester and will have until December 14, 2020 to choose this option.

Please read Vice Dean Morrison’s email.

Academic Life

Undergraduate degree programs are being adapted to take advantage of the announced three-term format: Fall/Spring/Summer (A and B) to offer new flexibility in individual schedules.

Students may enroll in a full course schedule during the fall and spring; the expanded calendar offers additional flexibility to spread courses over the three terms and/or take additional courses over the arc of three terms. Each SEAS department will be offering courses across Fall/Spring/Summer A to enable flexibility for all majors to take advantage of the expanded academic calendar. Indeed, every major will add classes to Summer A while also providing course offerings during Fall and Spring. Furthermore, Summer B will offer a selection of SEAS courses of broad interest.

Fall and Spring

We expect that all students will take a minimum of 12 credits in the Fall and 12 credits in the Spring (satisfying full-time status requirements), enabling them to stay on track for completion of degree requirements.


We will be offering courses in Summer A for every major and we encourage students to consider taking two immersive seven-week courses in the Summer A period. The three-term alternative offers the advantage of spreading courses out over three terms.

Students may choose to complete normal schedules over the Fall and Spring, and either leave the Summer free for other opportunities or use the Summer to expand their course portfolio. If interested, students may choose to enroll in as many as 40 credits over Fall/Spring/Summer (A and B) and use the expanded academic calendar to pursue a minor or other interest.

Seniors who desire to complete their degree requirements by the end of Spring term will be able to do so. Summer A completes by June 18 which enables a full July and August summer internship, field, or research opportunity.

Remote Learning

All Fall 2020 classes for undergraduate students will be taught online. Courses for undergraduate students that were planned as hybrid or in-person courses will be changed to fully online courses. If the change to a fully remote undergraduate curriculum results in any change to a particular class (e.g., a change in schedule), students enrolled in the class will be notified immediately. Please let your adviser know if you have concerns about your academic schedule in light of the move to a fully remote curriculum.

Spring 2021: The majority of courses will be taught in remote mode; some hybrid courses will be made available. Information about spring courses and modes of instruction will be shared soon. Course registration will begin December 1.

Decisions about Summer 2021 courses will be finalized as public health guidance develops over the coming months.

Faculty have been actively engaged in preparations throughout the summer to ensure the richest academic experience possible, in keeping with Columbia's standards of excellence. We have reviewed student feedback about remote learning in the spring, and faculty are reflecting on ways to continue to improve the learning experience for everyone. The University has also created a resource site for students that offers strategies and tips for a successful experience in online courses. Students are also encouraged to talk with the instructor of each of their courses about the different ways in which you can participate effectively in online class meetings and assignments.

Faculty are sensitive to the concerns of students who may be studying in time zones that are quite distant from New York City, and they are considering the use of asynchronous materials so that students can access course content at different times of day. 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). Students 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. Information will be shared in mid-August about the online process for the “shopping period” at the beginning of the semester. Students should also talk with their adviser about any concerns they have about their schedule of classes and access to course meetings and materials.

Laboratory-based classes and projects

We are developing ways to accommodate students in remote mode, including development and deployment of experiment kits for some classes.

Academic Support

Advisers from the James H. and Christine Turk Berick Center for Student Advising (CSA) are here to help students navigate their college experience both in and outside of the classroom. Given that most classes will be taught entirely or partially online, we have compiled these tips for online learning. Advisers will be checking in regularly with their student advisees once the school year commences, to offer support and discuss strategies for success. Please also check the CSA website for updates about the upcoming academic year.

Campus Life

Programs, activities, and services across undergraduate student life will continue, however, they will look different than in previous years. Opportunities will be offered to connect virtually with creative new programs under development.

Co-curricular research and innovation projects

We will continue to provide virtual research experiences for undergraduates. SEAS will continue to offer Design Challenges, as well as small projects and research experiences that focus on the intersection of engineering and applied science with the pressing issues of our time—from Pandemics to Climate Change to Social Justice. The Office of Undergraduate Global Engagement has also introduced the Columbia Global Collaboratory to further engage undergraduates across Columbia in complex global issues.

Undergraduate and Graduate students will also hear more about opportunities through our Professional Leadership Development (PDL) program, Venture Competitions, hackathons, and a new program on conversations with technology leaders in the coming weeks and months.

Considerations for Residential Living

Students who had been approved for spring housing will be contacted by Columbia Housing with updates regarding the status of their housing assignment. Adherence to health protocols and agreement to the Columbia Community Health Compact are still required for anyone who will live on campus.

Students who enroll in the 2020-2021 academic year but do not live on campus will still maintain guaranteed housing for the next academic year.

Housing and Dining

To adhere to physical distancing requirements, students approved to live in residence halls this upcoming year will be assigned to single rooms and spaced appropriately throughout residence halls. Students will only be given swipe access into their assigned residence hall and will not have access to other halls. In addition, students living on-campus will not be permitted to sign-in or host guests, including Columbia students living in another residence hall, Columbia students living off-campus, or family members.

Columbia Dining will be serving students on campus this year. Food service will be take-out only to start the year. Options will include hot and cold foods, as well as an enhanced selection of prepared grab-and-go items.

For comprehensive FAQs about housing, residence life, facilities and more, visit Columbia Housing and Columbia Dining for more information.

International Students

International students are no longer able to be in residence this fall. Students should reach out to their advisers for additional guidance for fall.


The Ivy League Presidents have determined that there will be no athletic competitions through the fall term. Fall sport student-athletes will not use a season of Ivy League or NCAA eligibility in the fall, whether or not they enroll. Students who wish to pursue competition during a fifth-year will need to work with the University to determine their options beyond the current anticipated graduation date.


The University has extended the suspension of all international Columbia-related travel for all affiliates until further notice. 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.

Health and Well-Being

The University has introduced the Columbia Community Health Compact, a compact for all Columbians to agree to abide by the public health protocols as part of our culture and in the interest of the health and safety of everyone.

Faculty, students, and staff on campus must be aware of and follow all public health protocols in the interest of the health and safety of the entire community:

  • SARS-CoV-2 Diagnostic Testing
  • On-Line Return to Campus Training Module
  • Daily Symptom Checking
  • Subsequent Sample Testing
  • Face Coverings
  • Physical Distancing (6 feet whenever possible)
  • Hand Washing and Sanitizers
  • Expanded Cleaning Services and Practices in all spaces

See the Enhanced Health and Safety Policy.

These protocols are mandatory and will be updated regularly following any new updates in conditions and best practices.

Physical Distancing

This guidance addresses questions related to the University’s Enhanced Health and Safety Policy on face covering, physical distance, and related issues that went into effect on June 22, 2020 and will continue to evolve as we near the fall.

Eating or drinking

When you remove your face covering to eat or drink, you must be at least 6 feet (2 arms’ length) from others. Being side by side at that distance is fine, but try to avoid being directly across from someone else. If you smoke, this same rule applies—and only in outdoor areas on campus where smoking is permitted.

Passing someone in a narrow hallway/stairwell or other narrow space

Keep as much space as you can, wear your face covering and keep moving.

Riding an elevator

Elevator capacity will be limited. Follow the instructions on the sign nearby whatever elevator you plan to use. If the elevator permits more than one person at a time and you’re in the elevator with someone else, stay as far apart as the space allows, and keep your face covering on. Everyone will know that this is about keeping our community safe. And if you are able, take the stairs instead.

Using the restroom

Keep your face covering on.

  • Restroom signs will show how many people can use the restroom at one time. This occupancy limit will be based on restroom size to ensure at least 6 feet distance between individuals.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly (20 seconds, with soap) afterward to reduce the potential transmission of the virus. If there is someone already at the sink, wait until they have left the restroom to use the sink yourself.
  • In certain shared facilities, Columbia Facilities and Operations/CUIMC Facilities Management and Campus Services will have easy-to-use cleaning materials for you to wipe your sink area.


Keep your face covering on, both inside and outdoors. We understand it can get hot – if you need to pull your face covering down for a moment to wipe off your face, be sure you’re more than 6 feet from others.

Sitting or walking outside on campus with someone

Keep your face covering on and keep six feet between you. Even if you’re with a roommate, partner or family member, keep your face covering on and keep at least six feet from other individuals or groups.

Alone in a private office

Keep your face covering on unless you are alone in an enclosed office with the door closed.

Hanging out/studying/organizing/working on a project with friends or colleagues

Keep your face covering on and stay 6 feet (2 arms’ length) apart.

Getting around campus and NYC

Keep your face covering on. It’s important for your health and the health of others and it’s required by NY law in public places whenever you cannot keep 6 feet apart. Avoid crowds and remember to use hand sanitizer too.

Self-monitoring, Testing, and Contact Tracing

Information on self-monitoring can be found on the University’s COVID-19 resource website.

Facilities Management and Cleaning

Cleaning and Disinfecting information can be found on the University’s COVID-19 resource website.

Cost of Attendance and Financial Aid

Students who enroll for the academic year must enroll in a minimum of 12 credits in the Fall and in the Spring. This constitutes full-time status and will also ensure successful progression towards completion of your degree requirements. Fall and Spring will have the normal tuition structure.

For undergraduate students enrolled full time in both Fall and Spring, Summer (A and B) courses will not incur tuition. Students may enroll in up to 40 credits over the Fall/Spring/Summer (A and B) terms.

Student financial aid packages will accommodate enrollment in courses over this expanded three term calendar. This expanded three-term structure then gives students flexibility to either spread their full set of courses over three terms and/or to pursue additional courses towards a minor and explore wider interests across the academic year.

Adjusted Cost of Undergraduate Attendance in 2020-2021

We recognize how challenging this time is for many in our community. In response, Columbia will absorb the previously communicated 2% tuition increase, bringing the 2020-2021 undergraduate tuition rate flat to last year's value.

To enhance the experience of attending Columbia in this unprecedented academic year, Columbia Engineering students who enroll in both fall and spring will also be able to take classes for a third term, Summer 2021, for up to a total credit limit of 40 credits at no additional tuition charge. Note that most Columbia Engineering students typically take 30, 33, or 36 credits in an academic year. Taking advantage of the summer term enables students to spread their coursework over three terms to further progress their degree and/or to take additional courses to explore other areas of interest.

Further note, in accordance with past academic policies, SEAS students may also continue to take up to 21 credits in each of the Fall and Spring semesters as an overload—a long-standing policy utilized by a small percentage of students.

Room and Board

Students who were planning to live in residence but must now remain off-campus will have their financial aid award recalculated to reflect their revised costs. This will include removing Room and Meal Plan costs as well as travel allocations for those who will no longer be on-campus. These changes will include an off-campus living allowance of $4,000 per semester to help with living and technology expenses related to remote learning.

For students who applied and were approved for full-year housing (for both fall and spring terms) due to special circumstances and will be provided with Columbia Housing in Fall 2020: Room and Board for 2020-2021 will be $15,130 for first-year students. This covers on-campus living charges for the fall and spring semesters. Upper class rates will vary based on meal plans selected.

Special COVID-related Support

In recognition of challenges that students and families may be facing during this pandemic, Columbia is offering the following additional support in the upcoming year:

  • Off-campus Living Allowance: When calculating financial aid awards for students living off-campus, Columbia College will take into account an off-campus living allowance of $4,000 per semester to help with living and technology expenses related to remote learning.
  • Waiver of Student Work Contribution - Fall 2020: For students on financial aid, Columbia Engineering will waive all student employment expectations for the fall semester, in recognition that students will not have the typical on- or off-campus work opportunities available.
  • Change in Family Circumstances: Columbia Engineering continues to be committed to providing need-based aid to our students. We recognize that during this pandemic family circumstances may change. As always, our Financial Aid Office will work with each family to evaluate changes in circumstances and potentially adjust financial aid awards.

All financial aid questions should be directed to the Financial Aid and Educational Financing office at (212) 854-3711 or ugrad-finaid@columbia.edu


  • Fall: September 8 – December 23
  • Fall B: October 26 –December 23 for select upper level and graduate courses
  • Spring: January 11 – April 26
  • Summer A: May 3 – June 18
  • Summer B: June 28 – August 16

Helpful Links