External Fellowship Policy

Applying for External Awards

GSAS considers support of its PhD students essential to their success and timely completion of the degree. External fellowship awards help students remain funded for additional semesters past their GSAS fellowship years, develop grant-writing skills, and enhance their curriculum vitae for their subsequent job search. The GSAS multiyear fellowship is guaranteed for PhD students during their funding years, which in almost all cases are years 1-5. The external fellowship policy does not apply to students beyond the guaranteed years, since they are not eligible for its benefits. Students should refer to their letter of admission to confirm the number of guaranteed years that they received.

As part of an application for renewal of a multiyear GSAS fellowship, GSAS requires that students apply for at least one academic-year external award during years one through four of their GSAS fellowship years. Students will be required to submit evidence of at least one good-faith effort to obtain funding from a funding source external to the university to their director of graduate studies (DGS); students should consult with the DGS to determine what constitutes such an effort for a particular field and stage in the program. The DGS supplies this information to the dean of the Graduate School.

Humanities and Social Sciences

As an incentive to seek outside awards, PhD students who receive a competitively awarded external fellowship during an academic year (September through May) in which they would have otherwise received a GSAS-funded fellowship may choose to either:

  1. receive a supplement to the external fellowship (top-off)
  2. extend a year of GSAS funding.
1. The Top-Off of an External Fellowship

Students in the Humanities and Social Sciences who choose the top-off option to supplement their outside award with their GSAS funding will receive GSAS funds up to a maximum of $6,000 above the standard academic year stipend. Students whose academic year awards exceed this amount may prefer to use option 2, extending a year of GSAS funding, and “banking” their GSAS fellowship for future use.

Students in the Humanities and Social Sciences who wish to top-off an external fellowship should complete the Statement of Understanding form, sign it, have it signed by their departmental administrator, and send it to the GSAS Office of Financial Aid, 107 Low Library, MC 4304, by August 1 (for the fall semester or for the academic year), or by December 16 (for spring-semester-only awards).

Students who receive either an outside award during the academic year for which the stipend is at least two-thirds of the GSAS standard academic year stipend or who receive an academic year Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) award will not be required to teach during the period of the outside award unless the student will not have another opportunity to complete the GSAS one-year instructional requirement.

Beginning in fall 2020, GSAS will allow students who hold new external awards that are renewable for four or more years but are between $6,000 and two-thirds of the GSAS standard academic year stipend to top-off their external award up to a maximum equal to the GSAS standard academic year stipend for each year of the award.  Students who choose this option will not be required to teach for one of the years that they would otherwise be required to teach.  Students who hold continuing four- or five-year awards that meet the criteria described above in fall 2020 may opt to receive a top-off up to the GSAS standard academic year stipend in that semester and all future semesters for which they are eligible.  Students who exercise this option will not be required to teach for one semester. Please be advised that in selecting this option, students will need to commit to this payment arrangement for the duration of their award.

Students in the Humanities and Social Sciences who receive an external fellowship that is awarded explicitly for the months of June, July, and August will also receive their GSAS summer stipend.

2. Extension of GSAS Funding

Instead of topping off, students in the Humanities and Social Sciences may choose to defer a year (or, a semester, for semester-long awards) of their GSAS multiyear fellowship, subject to the GSAS instructional requirement for PhD students. Students who select this option will not be topped off. 

Students in the Humanities and Social Sciences will receive neither option until GSAS receives the Statement of Understanding form. Students whose forms are not received by August 1 (for the fall semester or for the academic year) or by December 16 (for spring-semester-only awards) will automatically receive the "Top-Off of External Fellowship" option and will not defer their GSAS funding.

Students who do not use their deferred GSAS fellowship by the end of their seventh year will not receive retroactive top-off funding.

Students Beyond Their Guaranteed Funding Years (Funding-Eligible Years)

GSAS will provide coverage for M&F tuition and health fees, as well as the international service fee if applicable, for 6th and 7th year students in the Humanities and Social Sciences who have external awards when the following conditions apply:

  • the external granting agency requires that Columbia covers the tuition and fees, OR
  • the value of the external award is greater than or equal to what we define as a "significant award" under our external award policy (i.e. two-thirds of the standard academic year stipend)

For awards that are less than two-thirds of the standard academic year stipend, GSAS is willing to negotiate a cost-sharing arrangement with the department to cover the M&F tuition and related fees. 

This policy does not apply to dissertation fellowships supported by departmentally controlled noncentral endowments, faculty research grants, awards that are granted through internal selection committees, or teaching assistantships, such as the Cordier, PEPM, IRAAS, IRWAGS, and CSER, for example.

Natural Sciences

GSAS allows students in Natural Sciences departments to top off their external awards with their multiyear package up to a maximum funding cap. Students in departments that support students in the summer on faculty research grants* who hold external awards whose stipend value is greater than $15,000 may combine their GSAS and external awards up to a maximum of $43,000. Awards that are below the $15,000 threshold will be topped off up to the annual stipend rate. Students in the remaining Natural Sciences departments whose awards include stipends greater than $15,000 and a tuition grant (“cost-of-education allowance”) of at least $10,000 will be topped off to a maximum of $43,000. If those levels of stipend and tuition are not met, students may combine their GSAS and external awards up to a maximum of $6,000 above the academic year (September through May) stipend. Students in Natural Sciences departments are not eligible to extend a year of GSAS funding. Accordingly, students in the Natural Sciences do not need to submit the Statement of Understanding form.

*Those departments include Astronomy, Biological Sciences, Chemistry, Earth and Environmental Sciences, Physics, and Psychology.

It is important to note the following:

  • External fellowships are defined as those awarded in a competitive application process external to the university. Substantial, or significant, external awards are defined as awards that are equal to or greater than two-thirds of the GSAS Standard Stipend.
  • Unless the outside award's policy explicitly requires the university to permit deferral of the award, fellowship students are not allowed to defer outside funding.
  • GSAS funds must be used in the first seven years of the PhD program.
  • With the option of extended GSAS funding, a teaching fellowship year remains a teaching fellowship year, regardless of which year the funding is used. Students who receive an external award in a year when they would be teaching (according to the terms of their multiyear fellowship) and who extend their GSAS funding are required to complete the teaching obligation when they use the GSAS funding extension. For example, if a year of teaching fellowship is replaced with an external fellowship, then the extended funding year remains a teaching fellowship year. Regardless of how a student is supported, all PhD students must complete the mandatory one-year GSAS teaching requirement.
  • Students on external fellowships must be registered full time during the term of the fellowship. If the fellowship does not cover students' tuition and fees, the appropriate full-time tuition and health-related fees (basic insurance plus access to Columbia Health Services) will be covered by GSAS for students who are funding eligible here. In the event that the external award pays some of the tuition and health fees, GSAS will pay the difference. Funding-eligible students holding research travel awards who wish to extend their time in the field by up to two semesters may request from their department a fellowship to cover M&F tuition and health fees. In such cases, GSAS will provide matching funds to offset the cost of the fellowship.
  • Students receiving Lindt and other awards that are granted through internal selection committees may not choose the extended GSAS funding option. In addition, teaching assistantships, such as the Cordier, PEPM, IRAAS, IRWAGS, and CSER, for example, are not considered external awards.
  • Students who receive a GSAS international travel awards are not permitted to teach or hold another fellowship concurrently with this award.
  • Students who receive awards which include a Cost of Attendance component must have those funds applied to the recipient’s tuition and fee charges.
  • Students who receive GSAS International Travel and Lurcy awards and are eligible for GSAS funding through the multiyear funding package awarded upon admission will have their GSAS funding extended by up to a year (option 2 above).
  • Students who receive an academic year FLAS award and spend that year abroad deepening proficiency in the target language, GSAS will not count that year as one of the student’s funded years. The top-off option will be applied for FLAS recipients who are not studying abroad. 
  • Funding-eligible students who receive a significant external award (see definition above) and a Teaching Scholar position may opt to forgo the teaching fellow (TA) semester of the award and be supported solely by their external award for that semester.  In the Teaching Scholar semester, such students may combine their external funding and the GSAS Teaching Scholar award up to the semester standard stipend plus $3,000.  For both semesters, GSAS will cover any tuition and fees above what the external award may provide. 

If you have questions about these policies, please see these Frequently Asked Questions.