Graduate: Frequently Asked Questions

When are applications due?

Is financial aid available?

What are the Department's faculty and research scientists currently working on?

What are the Department's prerequisites for admission?

Are Spring applicants accepted?

What about graduate housing?

What is the cost of living for a typical graduate student?

Do I have to take the subject GRE?

Can prospective students come to visit?

What are the demographics of the graduate student body?

What kind of jobs are available to your students upon graduation?

Do students have a teaching commitment as part of their fellowship?

I have never been to New York City, and am concerned about living there -- or even attending classes on the Columbia campus. Is it safe?

How long does it take to finish a PhD in the Department?

When are applications due?

The application deadline for the Ph.D. program is January 5th. The priority deadline for the Climate & Society Masters program is February 2nd. The final deadline for the Masters program is March 30th.

Is financial aid available?

Yes. All PhD students admitted receive fellowships or assistantships including full tuition, health insurance, and a uniform monthly stipend for the academic year. 12 months funding is guaranteed for five years for PhD students in good academic standing; petitions are required for a sixth year of support and are usually granted if the student's progress is satisfactory.

Applicants to the Climate and Society Masters Program who are US citizens or permanent residents are typically eligible for Federal Stafford loans. Additional financial support in the form of private loans can help to meet the full cost of tuition. A limited number of merit based full and partial scholarship are also available to these students for the academic year.

What are the Department's faculty and research scientists currently working on?

Please view the faculty profiles for more information about each faculty members current research interests. Many of the profiles include links to recent publications.  Information about researchers at our affiliated research centers can be found on each institution's website.

What are the Department's prerequisites for admission to the Ph.D. program?

Undergraduate grades, science background, GRE scores, statement-of-purpose, and reference letters are all important predictors of success in our Ph.D. program. An undergraduate grade average no lower than a B+ in the sciences is generally expected. Each applicant is considered individually and thoroughly -- not according to arbitrary numerical cutoffs, etc. An applicant will not be admitted with deficiencies in more than two of the basic sciences. Anyone entering with deficiencies is expected to correct them during the first year of his or her studies.

One potential deficiency is the ability to communicate in English. Columbia University requires a TOEFL score of 100 or an IELTS score of 7.5. This is so important to one's success here that students whose first language is not English are expected to reach the highest grade level in Columbia's English Placement Test by the end of their first year, or they will not be able to continue in the program. Intensive English courses are available to all who need them through Columbia's American Language Program.

Please visit the Ph.D. admission procedure web page for more information.

Are Spring applicants accepted?

Generally not, but under special circumstances, we may consider outstanding applicants to begin in January. However, we prefer to judge all applicants at the same time for comparison purposes, and all fellowship funds are awarded to Fall entrants.

What about graduate housing?

Each admitted student is offered Columbia housing near the main campus in NYC for five years (up to two more years are possible depending on timely progress toward the degree and the approval of the dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences). Students who prefer to live outside the Columbia area are on their own vis-a-vis finding housing. Some Lamont-based students prefer to live in Rockland County or nearby New Jersey. The Department keeps an informal housing book with listings of local landlords, and will be happy to help incoming students find a place to live near Lamont. This choice virtually necessitates owning a car, whereas for those living near Columbia, a car is not needed; also, parking and jockeying a car around the city streets can be tedious.

What is the cost of living for a typical graduate student?

The greater New York City area is a fairly expensive place to live. But it is entirely manageable on the stipend we pay, especially if one is willing to share living quarters. (Living alone can be prohibitively expensive, while renting a room in someone's home can be correspondingly cheap.) Most students share apartments or houses with other students, at a monthly rental of between $850-$950. Overall, there is no appreciable difference in the cost of living in the Columbia area vs. the Lamont area.

Do I have to take the subject GRE?

Submission of a GRE Advanced Test in a specific discipline is not required. The GRE general aptitude test is a firm requirement.

Can prospective students come to visit?

Accepted students will be invited to visit in the spring. Students who wish to visit before admission may contact any of the faculty or research scientists whose work is of interest to arrange a visit. This allows prospective students to arrange their schedules with the person or persons they would like to meet. With so many commitments and travel we find this works the best. The department staff is then happy to coordinate other aspects of the visit and can provide a list of nearby accommodations if necessary.

What are the demographics of the graduate student body?

Currently, there are 93 graduate students in residence, about 42% of whom are over 30 years old. 58% are female, 39% are international students. About 38% entered our program with external master's degrees in hand. Most had some post-college work experience before beginning to study here. We enroll about 17 new Ph.D. students each year, and another 40 or so in the Climate & Society masters program. As to fields of study, they break down roughly as follows:

  • Atmospheric Science: 14%
  • Biogeoscience: 10%
  • Geochemistry: 14%
  • Geology/Paleontology: 13%
  • Geophysics: 13%
  • Modern and Future Climate: 7%
  • Oceanography: 15%
  • Paleoclimate: 14%
  • Climate & Society: 34

What kind of jobs are available to your students upon graduation?

Our students have gone on to satisfying careers in government, industry and academia. Of all graduates since 1980, approximately 15% have entered government positions, 10% are employed in industry, and the rest (75%) are in academia, teaching and/or doing research. Some of the academic institutions employing our recent graduates are MIT, Caltech, Woods Hole, U. Chicago, Hawaii Institute for Geophysics, Middlebury, Wesleyan, Duke, Scripps/UC-SD, U. Colorado, UC/Santa Cruz, Texas A&M, Harvard, Rutgers, Cornell. As to industry, our graduates have found jobs in both environmental consulting firms and major oil companies. Those working in government positions are at the US Geological Survey, Office of Naval Research, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, Oak Ridge and Lawrence Livermore National Labs. Though the current overall job market is tight, our graduates tend to have a competitive edge and have been successful candidates for many good positions.

Do students have a teaching commitment as part of their fellowship?

Yes. All PhD students serve as teaching assistants, usually for three semesters and normally not until their second year in residence.

I have never been to New York City, and am concerned about living there -- or even attending classes on the Columbia campus. Is it safe?

New York City is a wonderfully invigorating and stimulating place; however, some students may find it overwhelming at times. As with any large city, New York is a place where awareness of one's surroundings and exercising caution are essential. The Columbia neighborhood, Morningside Heights, has experienced widespread gentrification in the last decade. This fact, and the presence of on-campus Columbia University Security, makes the campus and its surroundings fairly safe. In general, the Department's classes are held on Tuesdays and Thursdays at the main campus, and on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at Lamont. The majority of our students also do their research at Lamont, and many (96%) prefer living in NYC. For those not fond of the urban scene, the towns and villages of the suburbs around Lamont provide a pleasant alternative. Frequent shuttle bus service between the Observatory and Morningside campus is available six days a week, and the 30-40 minute ride provides a great opportunity for students to mix and discuss student life and research.

How long does it take to finish a PhD in the Department?

Ours is a full-time PhD program; with the exception of those enrolled in the Climate & Society master's degree program. Students entering the Ph.D. program with bachelor's degrees take about 5.5-6 years to complete their doctorates. Those entering with master's degrees may finish sooner.