School of General Studies

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Columbia University School of General Studies
Established 1947
Dean Peter Awn
Degrees BA, Postbac Certificate in Premedical Sciences, BS until 2014
Enrollment 2038 (2011)

The School of General Studies, commonly referred to as General Studies or simply GS, is one of the three official undergraduate colleges of Columbia University. GS is highly selective and widely considered to be "the nation’s finest undergraduate college for nontraditional students."[1] GS students themselves are known as GSers.

GS confers the Bachelor of Art degree in over seventy different majors, although until May 2014 it also conferred Bachelor of Science degrees. GS students take the same courses with the same faculty, are held to the same high standards, and earn the same degree as all other Columbia undergraduates. GS students, who comprise of approximately 25% of all Columbia undergraduates, have the highest average GPA of all the undergraduate schools at Columbia.[2]

GS introduced Columbia's Postbaccalaureate Premedical Program in 1955, which is the largest and oldest in the United States. Around 90 percent of Postbac Premed students are accepted to top US medical schools. GS also runs a number of dual BA programs. In 1954, GS introduced the Joint Program with List College of the Jewish Theological Seminary. In 2010, GS introduced a dual degree program with Sciences Po, a French grand établissement institution. Subsequently it began piloting a similar dual degree program with the City University of Hong Kong.


Nontraditional students

GS defines the term "nontraditional" very loosely so as to accommodate the unusual backgrounds of potential students. That said, GSers typically need to have "a break in their education" for more than one year after high school; a previous undergraduate degree; some sort of weird international background; or a compelling reason to obtain the flexibility of optional part-time status and off-campus housing.[3]

GS students are an eclectic group that includes world-class artists, Olympic athletes, and musicians; investment bankers and business owners; published authors and military veterans; and people who come from as far away as China, Israel, and Germany. Many students work full-time while pursuing a degree, and many have family responsibilities; others attend classes full-time and experience Columbia's more traditional college life.

Many have enjoyed successful careers in fields such as investment banking and information technology and quite a few are nontraditional due to previous conscription or community service requirements in their home countries. A substantial portion of the population enter as transfer students; the previous schools of these students range from community colleges to Columbia's peer institutions.

It is important to note that whether a student has a one year break or ten year break, most students who choose GS usually see themselves as being more mature and independent than a traditional student.[4]


A Columbia undergraduate class could include students from any of the following schools: GS, 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 the Columbia 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.

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. [5]


Admission to Columbia GS is highly selective and "extremely competitive."[6] According to the most recent data available, the SAT score range (25th -75th percentiles) for admitted students is 650-760 for Critical Reading, 670-760 for Math, and 670-760 for Writing. The average GPA of admitted students is approximately 3.9.[7]

According to data from the College Board, the GS acceptance rate was 34% in 2014. The relatively higher acceptance rate can be attributed to the very small and self-selected applicant pool of GS (less than 1000 applicants) relative to that of CC/SEAS (over 30,000 applicants).

Admissions officers examine high school records, test scores, extra-curricular activities, resumes and essays. They conduct interviews in person and on the phone. They also consider college-level work and real-life experience. GS also requires standardized test scores for entry. The school will use scores from the SAT, ACT, or the school's own General Studies Admissions Exam. A list of admissions requirements and procedures is available from the General Studies website and statistics on application, admission, and matriculation are available at the website of Columbia's Office of Planning and Institutional Research. GS admissions statistics are not reported in conjunction with CC/SEAS statistics. This is related both to GS's different admission deadlines and the fact that CC/SEAS and GS have different applicant pools.

Applicants to the School of General Studies must have a break of one academic year or have compelling personal or professional reasons for part-time attendance to be eligible to apply for admission. Prospective Columbia undergraduates who have had a break of a year or more in their education are considered nontraditional and are required to apply to the School of General Studies (such persons are automatically ineligible for admission to Columbia College). GS students have the option to attend part- or full-time unlike Columbia College students, who are required to attend full-time. Also, scholarships at Columbia GS are merit based rather than income based like that of Columbia College or SEAS. In the 2006 class, the average age was 27 for incoming students, and the majority attend full-time.

78% of the admitted class in 2006 transferred some college credit (which includes AP credits).[8] A list of admissions requirements and procedures is available from the General Studies website

Additional statistics on application, admission, and matriculation are available at the website of the Office of Planning and Institutional Research. [1]


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.


GS students must complete a total of 124 credits to graduate. Up to 60 of these credits may be transferred from another institution; at least 64 credits must be completed at Columbia University.[9]

Core Requirements

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:

GS[10] CC[11]
Writing[12] University Writing University Writing
Literature/Humanities Literature Humanities, or 1 semester of literature at Columbia and 1 semester of humanities or literature. Literature Humanities
Foreign Language 4th Semester of a Language OR exemption by university exam 4th Semester of a Language OR exemption by university exam
Art Art Humanities, Asian Humanities (Art) or exemption by similar course taken at another institution Art Humanities
Music Music Humanities, Asian Humanities (Music), exemption by exam, or exemption by similar course taken at another institution Music Humanities
Contemporary Civilization/Social Science Contemporary Civilization, which can count as either 2 social science or 1 social science + 1 humanities. Can substitute 2 approved social science classes. Contemporary Civilization
Quantitative Reasoning Exemption by exam: 600 on Math section of SAT OR sufficient grade on QR test during orientation OR any mathematics, statistics, economics, or computer science course, OR Frontiers of Science, most classes satisfy both the Quantitative requirement and count as a Science requirement Covered under Science requirement
Science 3 approved science courses (very wide range, including math, statistics, CS, psychology), one of which can be Frontiers of Science Frontiers of Science and 2 additional science courses
Global Core 2 courses from the Global Core List 2 courses from the Global Core List
Physical Education None Swim test, 2 courses

Major Requirements

Major requirements are determined departmentally. These are almost always the same for both GS and CC.

Science Po Columbia University Dual BA Program

The Dual BA Program is a highly selective program in which undergraduate students earn Bachelor of Arts degrees from both Sciences Po and Columbia University. 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. After two years, students matriculate at Columbia University, where they complete the Core Curriculum. Graduates of the program are guaranteed admission to a Sciences Po graduate program. High school students may apply.[13]

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.


GS's evolutionary ancestor is Seth Low Junior College, which was established in Brooklyn to help alleviate the steady flood of applicants to Columbia College, particularly Jews. SLJC was closed in 1936, and some students were given the option to transfer to The University Extension and finish their studies.

The University Extension program was reorganized and renamed the School of General Studies in December 6, 1947, in part to address the influx of GIs returning from World War II. It became Columbia's third official undergraduate school. It is sometimes claimed that Barnard College is Columbia's third undergraduate school, and GS is its fourth; however Barnard is officially only affiliated with Columbia University, while GS, its deans, and students are formally integrated into the university proper, along with Columbia College and the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science. Prior to the existence of GS, nontraditional undergraduates were classified as "University Undergraduates."

The first head of General Studies was Associate Professor of English Harry Morgan Ayres, who was the head of University Extension. Among the first members of the GS Administrative Board were Dean Harry J. Carman, and Dean Millicent Carrey Mcintosh. In 1954, General Studies had the largest enrollment (9,700) and faculty of any college or school at Columbia.

GS originally maintained its own faculty, classes, and programs. In 1968 the University Council first decided to allow GS to grant the B.A. degree in addition to the B.S. In the 1980s it was separated from the Division of Continuing Education. In 1990, the CC, GS, and GSAS faculties were merged into the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

The size of the GS student body has changed over the years. It was 3,000 students in 1992 when it included some programs now under the School of Continuing Ed, fell to 1,550 in 2004, and risen to 2,213 in 2013. These n umbers all include approximately 500 students in the post-bac premed program.[14][15]

The school's name refers to its diverse student body by alluding to medieval universities, which were also known as studia generalia. Studia generalia were degree-granting institutions that served a much broader, often international group of students and scholars.[16][17] Awn and others have wanted to change the name for many years, but have thus far been waiting on a suitably sized naming donation, in the $100 to $250 million range.


  • GS is night school.
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.[18] However it quickly died down.[19]


  3. Average gap in studies for a GS student in the fall 2006 entering class was 6 years (Admissions section of the 2006-07 GS Academic Bulletin, pg. 7).
  8. Source: 78% of 2006 admitted students transferred credit.
  9. Source: GS Credit Policies
  10. School of General Studes Core Requirements
  11. Columbia College Core Curriculum
  12. University Writing is required of both GS and CC students, but the sections are divided by school.
  16. Universities: Introduction
  17. Janus: ` studium
  18. "University May Merge GS with CC." Columbia Spectator. November 12, 2007
  19. "The Merits of the GS, CC Integration" Columbia Spectator. March 10 2008

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