The Bachelor's Degree
General Studies students earn a Bachelor of Arts degree (BA). The Bachelor of Arts combines breadth of study in a range of subjects and disciplines, represented by the core requirements, with specialization in a major field of study. Whether they major in the sciences, humanities, or social sciences, all GS students receive a BA degree.
To qualify for a bachelor's degree, students are required to complete 124 points with a minimum grade point average of 2.0. The 124 points are distributed among three general categories: core requirements, major requirements, and electives. GS students are required to complete a major in order to graduate. See Majors and Concentrations for details about individual major programs.
In addition to the Core, all GS students must fulfill the requirements for a major to qualify for a bachelor's degree from Columbia. The purpose of a major is to provide students with an opportunity to delve deeply into the study of a particular subject, developing expertise and critical thinking through sustained and advanced work. Students may declare their respective majors as early as their first semester at GS provided they have completed at least 45 points toward the degree, with at least 12 points in progress at GS. Majors are noted on the Columbia transcript.
Policies Governing Majors and Concentrations
Students should consider various options and become familiar with the requirements for a particular major before filing a major declaration. In most cases, students should have begun coursework in the discipline before declaring the major. Faculty members are often excellent resources for discussing possible majors. Many departments sponsor open houses for potential majors during the academic year.
Students may also link to department websites to obtain additional information. It is recommended that students also attend a department open house to obtain more information about the major from faculty and students in the major department. Major open houses are usually held in the spring term and are publicized through the DOS News & Announcements newsletter. Many departments also have informational handouts for potential majors in their departmental offices. Certain majors require an application process and approval by the department.
Students eligible to declare a major may do so during designated major declaration periods, namely October 7 - 21 in the fall, and February 15 - March 15 in the spring.
Students are expected to meet the requirements for the major that are in place at the time they declare their majors. Students who do not complete the major requirements within five years of declaring the major may be expected to comply with any new requirements that have been subsequently established.
The following rules pertain to all majors; exceptions to any of these rules are noted by individual departments on their official websites:
- No course with a grade of D will be credited toward the major.
- No course with the mark of P (Pass) will count toward the major.
- No more than two courses may overlap with GS core requirements.
- Students must check with departments for permission to count summer session classes and courses taken while studying abroad toward the major.
- No more than 12 transfer credits may count toward the major (some departments have a different limit).
- Students must submit all required paperwork relevant to petitioning major departments for transfer credit toward the major in the same semester in which the major is declared; failure to meet this deadline may result in the loss of eligibility to transfer credit toward the major.
- At least 18 points of coursework toward the major must be taken at Columbia.
- Students who have not declared a major prior to earning 90 points will be placed on Registration Hold and be subject to Academic Warning.
Concentrations are optional and provide students with the opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of a secondary field of study in addition to the major. Most departments and programs offer a concentration. Some programs offer only a concentration. See Major Fields of Study for more information about concentrations and requirements.
Choosing a Concentration
Courses counted toward a departmental concentration may simultaneously fulfill core requirements as long as the total number of overlapping courses from the major and/or concentration counted to the core does not exceed two. (Since the premedical concentration is not considered a departmental concentration, it is exempt from this policy.)
Students interested in choosing a concentration in addition to a major must do so before completing 80 points toward the degree and must have a minimum GPA of 3.2. In order for a concentration to appear on the Columbia transcript, students must file paperwork with their GS advisor.
Transfer Credit Toward the Major and Concentration
The director of undergraduate studies (DUS) in each department is authorized to accept up to 12 GS-approved transfer credits toward the major; some departments have a different limit. The limit on transfer credits toward a concentration is six. Students must check individual department policies concerning transfer credits. Credits from other institutions of higher education do not automatically transfer—and in some cases are not approved—toward the Columbia major or concentration, although they may count as electives or core requirements.
It is the student's responsibility to discuss with the DUS the possibility of counting transfer credits toward the major or concentration and to provide the department with any materials needed in order to make a decision about transfer credits. When reviewing transfer credits the DUS needs copies of official transcripts from the other institutions and often the syllabus for the course in question (supplied by the student).
Note: Students must submit all required paperwork relevant to petitioning major departments for transfer credit toward the major or concentration in the same semester in which the major or concentration is declared; failure to meet this deadline will result in the loss of eligibility for transfer credit toward the major or concentration.
Students should have a strong academic record, and excellent academic reasons for choosing to declare two programs (majors and concentrations). Students who wish to pursue two programs must declare both programs prior to completing 80 points toward the degree. Students who wish to declare two programs must have a minimum GPA of 3.2.
Students cannot declare two programs owned by the same offering unit (department, institute, or center). For example, a student may not declare programs in Russian Language and Culture and in Slavic Studies, both of which are owned by the Department of Slavic Languages; similarly, a student may not declare programs in Mathematics and in Applied Mathematics, both of which are owned by the Department of Mathematics. All joint majors (e.g., Economics-Political Science) will be considered as owned by both offering units, so that a student may not, for example, major in both Political Science and Economics-Political Science.
Students who declare two programs may, in some cases, overlap requirements for the two programs. There are three scenarios in which students may double-count program requirements; students may take advantage of any or all of these scenarios:
- If two programs both require the same coursework to teach fundamental skills needed for the field, those courses may be applied to both programs; specifically: (1) elementary and intermediate foreign language courses, (2) the calculus sequence (I through IV, or Honors A and B), (3) introductory courses in Statistics (STAT UN1101 Introduction to Statistics or STAT UN1201 Calculus-Based Introduction to Statistics), and (4) the introductory course in computer programming (COMS W1004 Introduction to Computer Science and Programming in Java).
- Students may also apply a maximum of two courses to both programs, if each course is already approved toward the fulfillment of the student’s two declared programs. Offering departments, institutes, or centers may choose to restrict the double-counting of particular courses, and such restrictions cannot be appealed.
- As with students with one declared program, the maximum number of courses students with two declared programs may overlap to the Core is two. Students may not overlap core courses with both of their programs (triple-counting).
Declaring a Major or Concentration
From anthropology to astronomy, from economics to ethnicity and race studies, Columbia offers over eighty majors across foundational disciplines in the liberal arts. We encourage you to explore the many fields of study in the Arts and Sciences. Whichever department you choose as your academic home, you will have the opportunity to develop your critical thinking, refine your research skills, challenge your intellectual presuppositions, and expand your cultural horizons.
Beginning the Major Declaration Process
- October 7 - 21 for the fall term
- February 15 - March 15 for the spring term
GS students must fulfill the requirements for a major to receive a bachelor’s degree from Columbia, and must formally declare a major program before completing 90 points towards the degree; concentrations must be declared prior to completing 80 points. Ideally students should declare a major after completing 45 points of coursework toward the degree. Students who matriculate with at least 45 transfer credits may declare their respective majors in their first term at GS as long as they have 12 points in progress.
Before declaring a major, students should read the information on majors and concentrations on the Degree Fulfillment page in order to understand the choices and policies relevant to these academic programs. Students may also wish to consult with GS academic advisors, faculty members, department websites, and the department descriptions on the GS website when deciding on a major.
Criteria for Declaring a Major
In order to declare a major students must meet the following criteria:
- Enrollment in at least one semester at GS with a minimum of 12 points completed or in progress
- Completion of at least 45 points toward the bachelor's degree (including transfer credit)
- Regular and satisfactory progress toward fulfilling the GS core requirements
Students who have completed 90 or more cumulative points without a major on record will be placed on registration hold and may receive an Academic Warning. Additionally, students who wish to make any changes to their declared major and/or concentration must see their academic advisor.
Policies Governing Major Declaration
Before using the online major declaration system to declare an academic program, GS students should review the following academic policies, if applicable:
Major/Concentration Degree Requirements
All students must complete at least one major to fulfill the degree requirements, and may select a second major, concentration, or special concentration in addition to this first selection. Selecting only a concentration will not fulfill the requirements for the bachelor’s degree.
Using the Online Major Declaration System
The online major declaration system will be available on the first day of each major declaration period.
Students who use the system must declare at least one major and are limited to a maximum of two program selections (the second choice of program may be either a major or a concentration).
Students will receive an email confirming their academic program and providing information about their department’s practice for advising new majors.
Students with questions about declaring a major, or who experience any technical difficulties with the online major declaration system, should email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Majors Requiring Departmental Approval
While most majors can be officially declared using the online system, the departments listed below require written departmental approval.
Students selecting a major from any of the departments listed below must print and fill out the GS Major Declaration Form (also available from the GS Dean of Students Office) and take it to the appropriate department (addresses listed below). Once departmental approval has been obtained, students should bring the form to 403 Lewisohn to finalize the major declaration process.
- Architecture (500 Diana Center, Barnard College)
- Astronomy (1328 Pupin Hall)
- Astrophysics (1328 Pupin Hall)
- Biological Sciences (Last Name A-L: 744 Fairchild Extension; Last Name M-Z: 716 Fairchild Extension)
- Chemistry (340 Havemeyer Hall)
- Comparative Literature and Society (Heyman Center)
- Creative Writing (617 Kent Hall)
- Dance (204 Barnard Annex, Barnard College)
- Earth and Environmental Sciences (557 Schermerhorn Extension)
- East Asian Languages and Cultures (Contact John Phan, email@example.com)
- Film Studies (513 Dodge Hall)
- Italian (502 Hamilton Hall)
- Latin American and Iberian Cultures (101 Casa Hispánica)
- Mathematics (410 Mathematics Hall)
- Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies (401 Knox Hall, Union Theological Seminary)
- Physics (704 Pupin Hall)
- Religion (80 Claremont Avenue, Room 103)
- Sociology (501 Knox Hall, Union Theological Seminary)
- Sustainable Development (The Earth Institute)
- Drama and Theatre Arts (507 Milbank)
- Urban Studies (236 Milbank Hall, Barnard College)
- Visual Arts (310 Dodge Hall)
Before visiting the departmental advisor, students should create a plan of study based upon the major’s prerequisites, requirements, and course offerings, and bring this plan to the meeting with the departmental advisor.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I take courses that may count toward my major prior to declaring the major?
In sampling courses across the curriculum, many students end up taking courses that will count toward their major prior to actually declaring the major. This is a good way to receive an introduction to a major and to get an early start on some of the major requirements prior to declaring. However, students should be aware of the following:
- Most departments do not allow a student to count toward the major or concentration courses in which the final grade earned is a “D” or a “P”. (Exceptions are noted in departmental guidelines for the major.)
- Some Columbia departments have restrictions on the number or kind of Barnard courses that will count toward the Columbia major or concentration.
- Some departments, like Economics, will not count courses taken out of sequence.
- When in doubt, check the department website.
What if I cannot decide among several different options?
Students are urged to schedule an advising appointment with their GS advisor to discuss their interests and options. A student’s advisor can help in thinking about the important questions to consider when choosing a major. Students are also encouraged to visit departments, attend Major Open Houses, review their undergraduate handbook (several departments have these), meet with the Director of Undergraduate Studies or another faculty member in the department, and review the departmental websites. Many departments and programs host open houses for potential majors during February and March; watch for announcements in the GS weekly newsletters, or contact a department directly to find out if/when an open house is scheduled.
For tips on exploring majors and how a major may relate to a future career, visit the Career Exploration page to learn more.
What if I am interested in a concentration?
All GS students must complete a major in order to graduate from GS. Concentrations are optional but, if pursued, should be declared. Students who want to declare a concentration must do so before completing 80 points of coursework toward the degree. Prior to declaring a concentration, students must declare (or have declared) a major and must have a minimum GPA of 3.2. In some cases, students who have attempted a double major choose, later in the process, to change the second major to a concentration.
What if I want to pursue a double major?
Students interested in double-majoring should discuss the viability of this with their respective GS advisors. Students may also consider doing a concentration in one area and a major in the other. Students who are interested in double-majoring must declare both majors before completing 80 points toward the degree; exceptions to this rule may be made if the student has already made significant progress toward major completion prior to the formal declaration.
What happens if I do not declare a major?
Students who do not declare a major by the time they have earned 90 points toward the degree will be placed on registration hold.
What if I want to change my major or concentration after one or both have been declared?
Students should schedule an appointment with their GS advisor to discuss why they want to change their major as well as the new major they are considering. The student and advisor will then complete the necessary paperwork for deleting the old major and declaring a new one, as this cannot be done online. Students normally are not permitted to declare a new major after earning more than 90 points toward the degree, but for compelling reasons exceptions can be made. Students should follow a similar process for changing or dropping a concentration.
Can any of my transfer credits count toward my major?
- Each department has the discretion to count up to 12 credits in transfer toward the major; some departments have a different limit and may accept a different number of credits. Approval by GS of transfer credit toward the degree does not mean that this credit will automatically count toward the major.
- At least 18 points toward the major must be taken at Columbia.
- Students should consult with the Director of Undergraduate Studies (DUS) about which transfer courses may count toward the major and satisfy existing departmental requirements.
- Directors of Undergraduate Studies usually require transcripts and syllabi to make decisions about whether transfer credits will count toward the major.
Can courses taken as part of study abroad count toward the major?
Students who are approved for study abroad by GS must receive approval from their major department with respect to any courses taken abroad that may be counted toward the major.
Can summer term courses count toward the major?
Students must make sure that summer term courses at Columbia will count toward the major. This permission comes from the department, not the student’s GS advisor.
Any other exemptions to the above rules are clearly articulated on the GS website or on departmental websites.
In addition to the core requirements and the major requirements, many students will meet part of the 124 points required for the bachelor's degree with elective courses chosen from a range of programs and departments.
Students are encouraged to choose as electives those courses that will broaden their knowledge base, provide an opportunity to acquire or improve certain skills, introduce them to a new field of inquiry, or give them access to a unique Columbia strength or resource.
Personal interests as well as professional objectives often inform the selection of elective courses.
Electives may be taken Pass/D/Fail; however, GS students may only elect the P/D/F option six times, for a total of eighteen points, during their undergraduate careers at Columbia and may only choose the P/D/F option in one course per term.
GS students are permitted only 6 points of professional studies coursework toward their GS degrees. These six points may be counted in transfer credits or courses taken at Columbia, or a combination thereof. “Professional studies” include professional level courses in law, business, journalism or any of Columbia's other professional schools, as well as any comparable courses clearly professional in orientation.
GS students are not allowed to count professional courses in any of the professional studies programs offered through Columbia’s School of Professional Studies toward the degree. Undergraduate cross-registration in courses offered by Columbia’s graduate and professional schools is restricted and requires special approval.
Any professional course that is listed or cross-listed as an undergraduate course in business, public health, international and public affairs, journalism, or within a Columbia Arts and Sciences department is excluded from the six-point limit. The final decision of whether or not a course is professional rests with the GS Committee on Academic Affairs.
Physical Education Courses
The Physical Education (P.E.) Department offers a variety of courses in the areas of aquatics, dance, fitness, martial arts, individual and dual “lifetime” sports, team sports, and outdoor education which are available for academic credit. Since P.E. is a requirement for undergraduates in Columbia College and the School of Engineering and Applied Science, preference is given to CC and SEAS students when registering for P.E. classes. If space is available, undergraduate General Studies students are permitted to take courses in the Physical Education academic credit program. The grading in all physical education courses is Pass/Fail. Students who fulfill the attendance and participation requirement receive a Pass.
Normally students may take only one P.E. course per semester; enrollment in more than one P.E. course per semester requires the approval of the Director of Physical Education Programs, to whom students should submit a petition. GS students may count up to two points of Physical Education toward the degree requirements.
Dance Technique Courses
A maximum of six (6) points of dance technique courses may count to the degree for GS non-dance majors. GS students registering for a dance technique class must register for at least one credit. GS students may not register for a 0-credit dance technique class.