International, Transfer, & Special Circumstance Students

International Students

Columbia University School of the Arts welcomes applications from international students. In Fall 2023, international students from 55 countries comprised 35 percent of the student body.

International applicants should have the equivalent of a U.S. baccalaureate degree, and should understand idiomatic English and speak, write, and read English with a high degree of facility.          

Before you apply, and especially if you are accepted, here are some important things to consider:                    

  • Funding sources for international students are extremely limited. It is critical that international students arrive with a plan in place for funding the entire length of the program, not just the first year
  • All School of the Arts students, both international and domestic, are ultimately responsible for funding their education. While the School of the Arts offers some scholarship support based upon a combination of merit and need, such funding is not guaranteed and, if granted, would likely apply only to the first and/or second year(s)
  • Each School of the Arts MFA Program requires at least two years of full-time study. Some allow a third year for completion of the thesis project, although during the thesis period (also referred to as “Research Arts”) tuition is greatly reduced. Current tuition and fees can be found here
  • If you are admitted, Columbia’s International Students and Scholars Office will, as part of your visa application, require proof of your ability to fund your education. It is essential that students have a plan in place to fund the cost of attendance for the duration of their program
  • While loans to international students by U.S. lenders are available, most require a cosigner who is a creditworthy U.S. citizen or permanent resident. For more information, click here
  • A monthly tuition payment plan is available. Information about the Nelnet Payment Plan, can be found here

Timely tuition payment is critical each semester. Current students who are beyond the first semester and who have student account balances over $999 from a previous semester are not allowed to register for subsequent semesters. This may place international students in jeopardy of violating their student visas.

Please see the Graduate Admissions page for all information (application requirements for international students do not differ from those for all applicants).

International applicants must supply certified translations of all documents not in English.

All international applicants must submit proof of English language proficiency. This must be provided in one of the following ways as part of your application requirements:               

  1. The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) exam meeting the minimum score of 100 on the Internet-Based Test (iBT) or 600 on the Paper-Based Test. Information about the TOEFL can be found at the ETS TOEFL website.
  2. The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) exam meeting the minimum score of 7.5. Information about the IELTS can be found at the IELTS Website.
  3. The Duolingo English Test meeting the minimum score of 125. Information about the Duolingo Test can be found at Duolingo English Test.
  4. Cambridge English with C2 Proficiency or a minimum score of 191 on C1 Advanced. Information about Cambridge English can be found on the Cambridge English website
  5. Uploading a transcript to your application showing a degree obtained from an undergraduate or graduate institution where English is the primary language of instruction, or showing at least one year of full-time undergraduate- or graduate-level study at an institution where English is the primary language of instruction in addition to your unofficial undergraduate transcript.

The School of the Arts reserves the right to verify your English proficiency through an interview. TOEFL and IELTS scores are valid for two years from the test date. Applicants whose scores were received over two years ago must retake the test and submit their current scores.


Applications should request that TOEFL send results to school code 2171. We will not be able to verify your TOEFL score unless our school code is entered.


We only accept official IELTS scores submitted electronically by the IELTS test center via E-Delivery service. Scores must be sent to Columbia University School of the Arts Graduate Admissions. We do not accept paper Test Report Forms (TRF’s). Only IELTS Academic scores will be accepted.


The Duolingo English Test is an online English proficiency test that can be taken online, on-demand, in under an hour for only $49. The test is taken via a computer with a camera and includes a proficiency score, video interview, and writing sample which are shared with Columbia University - Schools of Arts when you send your results. Certified results are available within 48 hours of the test session.                          

An F-1 or comparable student visa is required for all international students who attend Columbia University. International students who are accepted will receive information on applying for a visa in their acceptance materials (students may not apply for a visa until after they are accepted). Be aware that certain visas may limit international students’ ability to work in the United States.   

It is required that any applicant wishing to be considered for institutional financial aid complete all appropriate applications by the application deadline. Please see Tuition, Fees, and Financial Aid for more information.

Application and Admissions for Special Students

On occasion, and at the discretion of the faculty, students who have demonstrable need to take School of the Arts courses but who do not wish to enroll in a degree program are permitted to register as non-degree special students. Typically, special students are allowed to apply by faculty invitation only. Spaces for special students are limited, if available at all. Special students are eligible to enroll in courses for a maximum of four semesters (two academic years).

Due to Immigration and Naturalization Service regulations, international students who are special students must take a minimum of 12 credits and be in possession of an F-1 student visa.

Although acceptance as a special student entitles the individual to enroll in School of the Arts courses, it does not guarantee that space in the desired class or classes will be available in any given semester, or that permission to take such classes will be granted by the instructor. During the registration period, the special student must visit the program(s) in which he or she wishes to take courses. The Program's and, where necessary, the instructor's permission for any courses the special student wishes to take must be obtained at that time.

Special students are not eligible for independent study or advisement. While in certain exceptional cases credits earned as a special student may later be applied to a full-time degree residency, special student status should not be viewed as a prelude or aid to the attainment of full-time status. Past or present status as a special student is not considered during evaluation of a candidate's application for full-time study; the latter is considered a separate application, and different admissions criteria are applied. In any case, no more than 12 points of coursework earned as a special student can be applied to the MFA degree.

Special students are not eligible for financial aid in any form, or for University housing or health insurance. All special students must comply with New York State immunization regulations.

Admissions procedures for special students differ from those for degree candidates.

Special students apply and are admitted as students in the School of the Arts, not as candidates to any of the programs. To enroll in undergraduate classes, students must have taken a minimum of two years of coursework toward their undergraduate degree at an accredited undergraduate institution. To enroll in MFA classes, students must have a bachelor's degree.

To apply, special students must submit a paper application and write "Special Student" at the top (special students cannot apply online). To request a paper application, send an e-mail to [email protected] with “Special Student Application Request” in the subject line. Special student applicants must also submit an application fee of $175 in the form of a check or money order, made out to Columbia University, drawn on a U.S. bank and denominated in U.S. dollars only; and an official undergraduate transcript (see for transcript guidelines). Neither letters of recommendation nor creative materials are required with the initial application, although the submission of portfolio materials may be requested later as an application is reviewed.

International special student applicants must meet TOEFL and English proficiency requirements.

Deadlines for application are September 3 for the fall semester, and January 14 for the spring semester.

Transfer Student Admissions

There are no transfer admissions into the School of the Arts, however, our Writing MFA Program accepts a maximum of three semester credit hours that may be considered transfer credits. There are no other School of the Arts degree programs that accept transfers of credit.

Please make sure that any requests for transfer credit are in writing and with an official transcript showing successful completion of the course(s) for which transfer credit is requested. An official course description may be required at the program's discretion. The deadline for the request is August 31, immediately before the student's first semester of enrollment. The credits will be transferred upon receipt of a transcript or evaluation indicating successful course completion.