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   Admissions and Degree Requirements

Chair: James Leighton, Ph.D 
Dir. of Admissions: David Reichman, Ph.D
Dir. of Graduate Studies: Ruben Gonzalez, Ph.D.

Office: 344 Havemeyer Hall; Tel: 212.854.2433

For more than a century the Columbia Chemistry Department has played a major role in the development of the study of chemistry in the U.S. Until World War II, Columbia University dominated the academic scene by numbers, graduating more Ph.D.s and staffing more academic posts in chemistry than any other U.S. university. Since the 1940's graduate programs have grown and expanded at many other institutions, and now Columbia is known more for quality than for quantity. The department runs one of the best graduate research and training programs in the country, famous for its lively intellectual atmosphere and for the intensity of effort put forth by its faculty and students.

The first year of graduate study is largely given to course work, the course requirements for each student being determined individually in accordance with previous training and interests. To some extent during the first year, and increasingly thereafter, students are engaged in research for the doctoral dissertation. Research is the most important part of the graduate program, and the selection of a sponsor to guide the research is the most important decision a student makes. To help with this decision every faculty member discusses his or her research at a symposium held during the first term. Students choose a sponsor only after attending this symposium and talking privately with at least three faculty members. All students are expected to complete the degree requirements and defend their theses within five years of entry into the program. The system works well; the percentage of entering students who complete the program is very high, and about twenty-five Ph.D. degrees in chemistry are awarded by the University each year.

Columbia offers a remarkable variety of seminars in all areas of chemistry as part of the graduate program, and the department maintains comprehensive support services and the wide array of complex instrumentation necessary to modern chemical research. The department is housed in three connected buildings: Havemeyer Hall, a magnificent limestone and brick structure built in 1897 and recently renovated into modern labs in a manner that respects the dignity of the original structure; Chandler Laboratories, named for the famous Columbia chemist and founder of the American Chemical Society; and Havemeyer Addition, a well-designed combination of teaching and research labs completed a number of years ago.

Fellowships are awarded in recognition of academic achievement and in expectation of scholarly success. Teaching experience is considered an important aspect of the training of graduate students, so all graduate fellowships include some teaching apprenticeship. 


Full-Time Degree Programs: M.A., M.Phil., Ph.D.

The requirements listed below are special to this department and must be read in conjunction with the general requirements of the Graduate School.

Comprehensive Examinations

All graduate students are required to take comprehensive examinations on the material of undergraduate chemistry courses during the registration period preceding their first term of residence. The results are used in advising the student on the choice of courses, and if the student does not achieve sufficiently high standing on one or more of these examinations, he or she must retake the comparable examination given later inthe year.

Students in the doctoral program receive three degrees in the course of fulfilling the Ph.D. requirements in the Department of Chemistry: the M.A.,M.Phil., and Ph.D. degrees.

The department accepts only candidates for the Ph.D. degree. The M.A. degree is awarded as the first step toward the Ph.D. The requirements, which must be met satisfactorily by the end of the second year, are listed below.

For the M.A. Degree

Required courses: Students must take the equivalent of five 4.5 point graduate-level courses (two 2.5 point courses are considered equivalent to one 4.5 point course). The courses must be selected from at least two of the following categories, with the equivalent of at least one 4.5 point course (or two 2.5 point courses) taken outside a student's declared research area: (1)physical and theoretical chemistry; (2) organic chemistry; (3) inorganic chemistry; (4) biophysical chemistry. All courses must be completed to the satisfaction of the graduate committee by the end of the student's second year of study. The graduate committee monitors the academic progress of first year graduate students and in general expects students to maintain at least a B+ average.

Students may be exempted from a course if they have previously taken an equivalent course at another institution and pass an exam given by the instructor at Columbia on the course material.

Examinations: The comprehensive examinations described above.

Residence Units: Two.

For the M.Phil. Degree: The M.Phil. degree is a prerequisite to the doctoral degree and is conferred on candidates who have received the M.A. degree upon satisfactory completion of the requirements listed below.

Required courses: Same as for the M.A. degree. Depending on the student's interests and field of specialization, additional courses may be taken for either letter grade or R credit. The course programs of all students must be approved by the Graduate Committee of the department.

Teaching requirement: Participation in the instructional activities of the department for a minimum of one and a half years. As a rule, for three semesters in the first and second years of study, students gain exposure to teaching as recitation and laboratory leaders.

Examinations: Six cumulative examinations in inorganic,biophysical, organic, and/or physical chemistry. In addition, each student is required to submit and defend a report on research progress at the end of the spring term of the second year of graduate study and is required to submit and defend an original research proposal in the fall term of the fourth year of study.

Residence Units: Six (including the two for the M.A.), at least four of which must be completed at Columbia. The department recommends candidates for the M.Phil. degree upon satisfactory completion of all the requirements.

For the Ph.D. Degree: A candidate for the Ph.D. degree must have earned the M.Phil. degree at Columbia. The student must prepare, with the approval of his or her sponsor, a dissertation embodying the student's original research and must successfully defend it in a final examination before a committee of the faculty. It is expected that the thesis defense occurs before the end of the fifth year of graduate study at Columbia.

Note: Programs leading to the Ph.D. degree in chemical physics are offered under the auspices of the Doctoral Program Subcommittee on Chemical Physics.


The departments of Chemistry and of Biological Sciences offer a joint training program, the Chemical and Molecular Basis of Life Processes. The departments cooperate closely in administering programs of courses and subsequent graduate training in the chemical aspects of molecular biology, including biochemistry and biophysical chemistry. Dual sponsorship of graduate research is possible under this program. Students interested in these areas may apply to either department.


The Graduate Committee supervises the doctoral program and examines the status of all graduate students at regular intervals.  A satisfactory rate of progress toward an advanced degree is required at all times. A student whose progress is insufficient may at any time be requested to withdraw.


A comprehensive program of financial aid is available, including fellowships and appointments in teaching and research. All Ph.D.students receive the annual prevailing stipend and appropriate tuition and health fees for five years, provided that they remain in good academic standing. If students receive a year of advanced standing they are entitled to only four years of fellowship funding.


To apply online, click here

If you have questions, contact:
Director of Admissions
Department of Chemistry
Columbia University
3000 Broadway, Mail Code 3176
New York, NY 10027
(212) 854-2433
email: gradapp@chem.columbia.edu