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International students, who are adjusting to an American university setting and navigating a new city, may use the information and resources below to transition to the United States and to life as a Columbia student.



International House North, Ground Floor

524 Riverside Drive (between W. 122nd Street and Tiemann Place). Location map.

Summer Hours: (June 1 to September 4): Monday-Tuesday-Thursday 10:30 AM to 4 PM. CLOSED on Wednesday and Friday. 

Fall and Spring Hours: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday 10:30 AM to 4 PM. CLOSED on Wednesday.

Telephone: 212-854-3587.

Academic Life in the MPA-ESP Program

The Class of 2018 represents 10 different countries. The professional and educational backgrounds of students, both those who were born in the United States and those from abroad, are diverse. The diversity enhances the learning experience as students bring different perspectives and experiences to class discussions and to the projects on which they work together. The cultural exchange that inevitably happens helps prepare our graduates for the increasingly international sustainability job market.

International Student Applications and Admissions

The program requires that all incoming students be fluent in English, with exemplary reading, writing, and conversation skills. We encourage applicants, whose English language skills need improvement, to take preparatory courses. A TOEFL Score of at least 100 is required for admission. A video conferencing interview (e.g. Skype) is also required for admission.

Applicants whose undergraduate study was conducted in a language other than English ought to have their academic transcripts and other post-secondary credentials translated by World Education Services, Inc. (WES), a third party verification agency.

ISSO (International Students and Scholars Office) and Visa Information

For all questions regarding visas, immigration, and employment guidelines, please contact the International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO) directly. The ISSO provides an international student’s guide with important information for students who are admitted to Columbia.


All students are required to submit vaccination documentation in order to meet Columbia’s University Vaccination Compliance. International students should plan accordingly so that all documents are secured and submitted early, as this process can take several weeks. No students can be registered for classes at Columbia until all immunization records have been received and processed. For more information, please contact the University Health Office.

Working On- and Off-Campus as a Student

International students of the program are eligible to work on the Columbia University campus if they have an F-1 visa. All students who work on-campus may work a maximum of 20 hours per week. We recommend that students do not work during the summer semester, when the course schedule is especially demanding.

An internship is not required for the completion of the degree. The 5-credit Workshop in Applied Earth Systems Management allows students to obtain a similar professional experience as an internship. In that course, students undertake a sustainability project for a client organization in either government or the non-profit sector.

International students who wish to work outside of Columbia University should contact the ISSO office, as well as SIPA Career Services to inquire about work authorization and any adjustments to visa status.

Housing Options

On-campus housing is available for approximately 40% of incoming ESP students through the University Apartment Housing Office. The University Apartment Housing (UAH) inventory consists of apartment shares and dormitory-style rooms. There is also a limited number of studio/efficiency, one-bedroom, and two-bedroom units, for which priority is given to couples and families. Most student housing is located within walking distance of the campus in the Morningside Heights neighborhood. We encourage you to apply for on-campus housing as early as possible because there is high demand and availability is limited.

ESP students may also choose to live in International House, an independent residential community just a few minutes away from the School of International Affairs. International House regularly hosts social events and trips to facilitate community and help international students adjust to life in New York. The residence is privately owned and operated.

The real estate rental market in New York City is competitive, particularly in Manhattan. So if you plan to live off-campus, please familiarize yourself with the rental process and plan accordingly in order to give yourself enough time to rent an apartment. The Columbia Off-Campus Housing Assistance Office manages a database of vacancies, which is known as the Housing Registry. The database includes available rooms and apartments in privately-owned buildings, as well as sublets of units in Columbia-managed housing. Prospective roommates can also post and search profiles on this site. The Office can familiarize you with the requirements necessary for international students to rent an apartment, including required documentation and fees.

Please familiarize yourself with temporary housing options in order to have a place to stay during your search. Please consider the proximity to the major NYC MTA subway and bus lines when selecting housing, as ESP Students spend a great deal of time on campus.

Opening a U.S. Bank Account

Students can open a bank account at one of the banks located in the Columbia University neighborhood. Many banks have special checking services for students. In order to open a bank account, you will need your passport, I‐20 or DS‐2019 information, a letter of admission from the School of International and Public Affairs, and your Columbia ID card. The bank may require proof of your local or home address, such as a copy of a housing contract or apartment lease, or a copy of bank statement from your home country with your name and address printed on it. Some of the banks that are located near the campus includes Citibank, Chase, TD Bank, Bank of America, and Banco Popular.

Mobile (Cell) Phone Options

Mobile phone service is available either on a yearly basis with monthly payments, or on a pre-paid basis. Pre-paid plans, which can be more expensive, may be easier for international students to obtain. Mobile phone service providers can offer additional information. Students can also use free services, such as Skype, a web-based platform, to communicate with people outside the United States.

Getting to the Columbia University Campus and Around the City

There are three area international airports that serve New York City. There numerous ways to reach the campus from the airport, including affordable public transportation options. Please review your transportation options. The public transportation system of subways and buses allows students to travel efficiently throughout the city. New York is also made for walking and bicycling. Citibike is a bike sharing service in New York. Unfortunately, there are no Citibike bicycles near Columbia. But Columbia offers its own bike sharing service. Taxis, too, offer another transportation option. When telling the taxi driver your destination, it’s helpful to state both the address and the intersecting streets—for example, 400 W. 119th St. between Amsterdam Avenue and Morningside Drive.

Eligibility to Work Upon Graduation

ESP graduates who hold an F-1 student visa may gain experience in their field of study by applying for off-campus work authorization in United States for a period of up to three years, as part of the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program.

Often international students are limited to just a one-year work authorization after graduation. But because the ESP offers a rigorous science curriculum, its graduates are able to request “STEM OPT extension,” or Optional Practical Training extension for an additional 24 months. Graduates who seek this work authorization must use the Department of Education Classification of Instructional Program (CIP) code (03.0103).

Please contact the Columbia International Student and Scholars Office for more information about eligibility requirements and how to apply

Additional Resources

One to World, located at 285 West Broadway at Canal Street, helps international students interact and connect with Americans through activities and events designed to build awareness and a deeper understanding of American culture.

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