Admissions Process and Requirements

Applications may be filed online through the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) online application.

For the application, all students must submit:

  • An official transcript showing courses and grades per school attended
  • A statement of academic purpose
  • A writing sample (course paper, term paper, etc.) 
  • Three letters of recommendation from academic sources
  • Standardized tests scores:
    • Graduate Record Examination General Test (GRE) scores
    • GRE Subject Test scores, if required by the department or program
    • Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or International English Language Testing System (IELTS) scores for all international students whose native language is not English or whose undergraduate degree is from an institution in a country whose official language is not English.


Applicants should upload a transcript or record (e.g., web-based transcripts, mark sheets, relevé de notes) of any academic work from each university-level institution you have attended for use in review of your application. Official transcripts are required only after an offer of admission has been made and accepted. GSAS retains official documents for admitted applicants only. If an official document is sent to us by an applicant who does not enroll, the document will not remain accessible, even if an offer of admission is made at a later time.

Transcripts should be uploaded on the Educational History page of the online application. Transcripts should not be combined into one document, but should be uploaded as individual documents.

In selecting applicants, we place a lot of emphasis on the statement of purpose because this is where you express your intellectual imagination, and it is where you demonstrate your capacity to think practically by formulating questions. Sometimes described as a “personal statement,” the statement of purpose should nonetheless be focused on the ideas and issues that are at the center of your proposed research. Only include personal information that directly informs your research, such as preliminary fieldwork and course preparation, language study, writing, and professional ambitions.

We are interested in how you came to be interested in your proposed topic, but we do not encourage autobiographical accounts in which travel or exposure to different cultures is made to appear like an explanation. Many people travel and come from diverse backgrounds, but this does not necessarily compel them to study anthropology. The statement of purpose must address this latter issue.

In this, as in all other academic pursuits, write clearly and make your case as elegantly as possible. If you need to invoke the work of other scholars to explain your thought, or if you feel it necessary to acknowledge the ideas that have influenced you, do so, but don’t clutter your application with citations and arguments with other thinkers. The statement of purpose is about your ideas; it is not a test of your previous reading, which should be implicit. In essence, the statement of purpose must describe what you want to do and why it is so compelling, explain what you think you need to do in order to undertake this project, and provide a rationale for pursuing it at Columbia.

In the end, we are looking for evidence of truly original thought, intellectual rigor and creativity, and knowledge of a field, along with a real curiosity and a sense of questions still to be answered. We hope for sparkle, intellectual commitment without myopia, and a commitment to profoundly understanding some set of social, cultural, and political issues through fieldwork in a particular region or place. There is no formula. Nonetheless, the above remarks should provide some basic contours.

We require that you submit a writing sample in addition to the statement of purpose. This should be exemplary of your best written work and indicative of the kinds of questions and sorts of analysis that you think are appropriate to pursue in a doctorate in anthropology. It does not have to be on an “anthropological topic”; it may be a piece of literary analysis, legal scholarship, journalism, or experimental writing. The point is for it to show us a quality of mind and a style of exposition. Don’t send papers that were produced for courses in which you had no particular interest but received high grades for. Additionally, please do not send papers that have comments or other marks from previous readers visible. It is fine to send excerpts from longer works or theses (published or unpublished), but in that case we advise that you include a brief (1 page) cover that describes the overall project and explains the place of the excerpted pages in it. Please be aware that material submitted, including non-­written media materials, cannot be returned to you.

Letters of recommendation must be submitted through the GSAS online application system. Letters of recommendation may not be sent via email, nor may paper letters be sent via postal mail. All letters must be uploaded by the recommender directly to the application system. Three letters of recommendation are required, but GSAS accepts up to five letters.

You may submit your online application even if your letters of recommendation have not yet been submitted. Once the letters are received, we will append them to your application.


You are required to take the GREs and to have these scores sent as part of your application. This means that you must ensure a timely sitting of the exam. Be aware of the schedules in your home location, and remember that failure to take the exam and submit scores will exclude you from consideration. Scores are assessed relatively and in combination with other factors, but we prefer students whose combined scores are 310 or higher in the new system (post 2011), and we privilege scores in the verbal and analytic categories.


For students whose first language is not English, TOEFL or IELTS scores are also required. The graduate school dictates that students admitted to the department have minimal scores of 600 on the paper-based test and 100 on the internet¬‐based test. In some cases, we encourage and even demand that students continue to work on their English through supplementary programs offered through Columbia University.


Applicants who applied previously should log in to the application account created during the prior application season and use the same profile to create an application for the new term. Letters of recommendation from the earlier application can then be included in the new application. See the Recommendations page in the online application for more information.

All Applicants

The applicant must submit all materials directly, not through an agent or third-party vendor, with the exception of submissions by the US Department of State’s Fulbright Program and its three partner agencies IIE, LASPAU and AMIDEAST; the Danish-American Fulbright Commission (DAF); and the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD). 

In addition, the applicant will be required to attest to the accuracy and authenticity of all information and documents submitted to Columbia. If you have any questions about this requirement, please contact the GSAS Office of Admissions at [email protected]. Failure to submit complete, accurate, and authentic application documents consistent with these instructions may result in denial or revocation of admission, cancellation of academic credit, suspension, expulsion, or eventual revocation of degree. As part of the application review process, applicants may be required to assist admissions staff and faculty involved in admission reviews in the verification of all documents and statements made in the documents submitted by students.

Application materials are available in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences' Office of Admissions and Financial Aid. For more information, please refer to the Admissions Supporting Materials and Frequently Asked Questions pages on the GSAS website. To request a Bulletin of General Announcements and an application, please call or write to:

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
Office of Admissions
107 Low Library, MC 4303
535 West 116th Street
New York, NY 10027
(212) 854 6729
[email protected]