External Fellowship Policy

Applying for External Awards

The financial support of our PhD students are essential to the timely completion of the degree and to their professional success. External fellowships help students extend funding for additional semesters past their GSAS guaranteed fellowship years; the application process also helps students develop grant-writing skills  and further enhance their curriculum vitae with evidence of competitive fellowship awards. 

The GSAS multiyear fellowship is guaranteed for PhD students during their funding years, which in almost all cases for students entering prior to fall 2023 are years 1-5.  (Students should refer to their letter of admission to confirm the number of guaranteed years that they received.)  Beginning with the fall 2023 cohort in Humanities and Social Science departments, students received a six-year guarantee.

GSAS requires that students apply for external awards at least once during the first four years of registration in a GSAS doctoral program. Students are required to submit to their DGS evidence of at least one good-faith effort to obtain funding from a funding source external to the university. Students should consult with the DGS to determine what constitutes such an effort for a particular field and stage in the program, though a typical packet would include copies of the fellowship applications and of the outcome notifications received from the outside grant sources. The DGS supplies this information to the Graduate School.

Humanities and Social Sciences

Humanities and Social Sciences

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

  1. Receive a supplement to the external fellowship (top-off)
    OR
  2. Extend a year of GSAS funding.

1. The Top-Off of an External Fellowship

Students in the Humanities and Social Sciences who hold an external academic year award of at least $6,000 are eligible to receive a top-off. In those cases, GSAS will provide additional stipend support to ensure that the student receives both the standard stipend for that year plus an additional $6,000. 

(If a student holds an external award while on a student officer appointment, GSAS will provide support to bring the student to the academic-year student officer appointment rate. Students who hold an external award for one semester may also choose the top-off option for that semester. In such a case, the additional support described above will be pro-rated.)

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.  The deadline for fall semester and academic-year awards is  August 1, and 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. Below is a chart with the top-off calculations for the academic year for students in the Humanities and Social Sciences, distinguishing between students “on appointment” and “not on appointment”:

2023-2024 Top-Off Chart:
Departments in the Humanities, Social Sciences

As of fall 2020, GSAS allowed 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 forgo the $6,000 supplemental stipend in exchange for teaching relief in one of the years that they would otherwise be required to teach. GSAS will provide stipend support to ensure that students receive the standard stipend rate in combination with their external award. Please be advised that in selecting this option, students will need to commit to this payment arrangement for the duration of their award.

Students who hold continuing four- or five-year awards that meet the criteria described above may similarly opt to forgo the supplemental $6,000 stipend in fall 2020 and all future semesters for which they are eligible in exchange for teaching relief 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.

2. Extension of GSAS Funding

Instead of topping off, students in the Humanities and Social Sciences may choose to use only the amount of the external award, and to defer a year of their GSAS multiyear fellowship (or, a semester, for semester-long awards), subject to the GSAS instructional requirement for PhD students. Students who select this option will receive their tuition and fee fellowships applied to their student account as usual, but will not receive a supplemental stipend payment from GSAS to top-off their external award. 

Students in the Humanities and Social Sciences are required to submit the “Statement of Understanding” form which notifies GSAS which option they have selected. 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 Beyond Their Guaranteed Funding Years (Funding-Eligible Years)

GSAS will provide coverage for matriculation and facilities (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:

  • External granting agency requires that Columbia covers the tuition and fees, OR
  • 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 will make reasonable efforts to establish a cost-sharing arrangement with the student’s department to cover partially or fully the M&F tuition and related fees.

If a doctoral student in year 6 or 7 makes a good-faith effort by applying to at least three external funding sources to secure such awards but fails to secure them, they may appeal to the Dean to request a similar cost-sharing arrangement. Copies of applications and notifications of unsuccessful outcomes will be required. The Dean and the department make the final decisions on whether such appeals are granted.

Sixth-year Exception through Academic Year 2027-28

Through academic year 2027-28, GSAS will grant the following exception to Humanities and Social Sciences students in their sixth year who receive an external award. Such students may opt to have GSAS bring their external award up to the prevailing fellowship stipend rate or bank their eligibility for a backstopped teaching fellowship until their seventh year. Students who opt for GSAS to bring their external award stipend to the prevailing stipend rate will not receive the supplemental $6,000 stipend described above.

Natural Sciences

GSAS encourages students in Natural Sciences departments to seek external support and provides supplemental funding to those who secure such awards during their guaranteed funding years which are generally 1-5. Students should refer to their letter of admission for confirmation.

Students in departments that support students in the summer on faculty research grants* who hold external awards whose stipend value is greater than 40% of the annual GSAS fellowship stipend rate will receive a supplement of $1,500. In addition, if the external award is below the annual fellowship stipend rate, GSAS will provide additional stipend support to ensure that the student receives this amount. This also applies to Social Sciences students who hold an NSF Graduate Research Fellows Program grant. GSAS will provide stipend support to students holding awards that are below the 40% threshold so that they receive the standard academic-year fellowship rate. Such students will also receive a $1,500 stipend supplement but will be funded during the summer as a student officer of instruction or research.  Regardless of the value of the external award, GSAS will ensure that students who are appointed as student officers of instruction or research will receive the equivalent for students on appointment.

Below is a chart with the top-off calculations for the 2023-24 academic year for students in the Natural Sciences and Social Sciences with NSF Fellowships, distinguishing between students “on appointment” and “not on appointment”:

2023-2024 TOP-OFF CHART
12-month Departments in the Natural Sciences & Social Sciences with NSF Fellowships

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

Students in the remaining Natural Sciences departments (E3B, Math & Statistics) whose awards include stipends greater than 40% of the annual GSAS fellowship stipend rate and a tuition grant (“cost-of-education allowance”) of at least $10,000 will receive a $6,000 stipend supplement. In addition, if the external award is below the annual fellowship stipend rate, GSAS will provide additional stipend support to ensure that the student receives this amount. If these levels of stipend and tuition are not met, GSAS will provide a $6,000 supplemental stipend and additional support to ensure that the student receives the standard academic year fellowship stipend rate.  Regardless of the value of the external award, GSAS will ensure that students who are appointed as student officers of instruction or research will receive the equivalent for students on appointment.  Students in these departments will also receive their summer stipends.

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.

Below is a chart with the top-off calculations for the 2023-24 academic year for students in the 9-month Natural Sciences departments, distinguishing between students “on appointment” and “not on appointment”:

2023-2024 TOP-OFF CHART
9-month Department in the Natural Sciences (E3B, Math & Statistics)

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 annual fellowship stipend.
  • This policy does not apply to GSAS International Travel Awards, dissertation fellowships supported by departmentally managed endowments, faculty research grants, awards that are granted through internal selection committees, or teaching assistantships, such as the Cordier, PEPM, IRAAS, ISSG, and CSER, for example.
  • External fellowships are different from, and do not include external employment. The GSAS policy regarding employment or other non-fellowship activities for students holding teaching and research appointments can be found here.
  • External awards with academic-year stipends that are less than $6,000 are below the threshold for consideration under this policy.
  • 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 funding must be used within the first seven years of the PhD program.  Students who do not use their deferred GSAS fellowship by the end of their seventh year will not receive retroactive top-off funding.
  • For students with awards that exceed the standard stipend by $10,000 without specifying amounts for tuition, stipend, and/or fees, GSAS will provide a $6,000 supplemental stipend with the award covering the student's required fees.
  • 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.
  • 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 the student’s tuition and fees, GSAS will provide a fellowship to cover the appropriate full-time tuition as well as the Columbia Student Health Plan premium and the Health and Related Services Fee to those students who are funding eligible. In the event that the external award pays some of the tuition and/or 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 awards granted through internal GSAS or Columbia selection committees may not choose the extended GSAS funding option. These awards may not be deferred and must be used within the same academic year. GSAS International Travel Awards are internal fellowships, and cannot be banked for a future semester or academic year. In addition, teaching assistantships, such as the Cordier, PEPM, IRAAS, IRWGS, Kluge, and CSER, for example, are not considered external awards. The only exception to this rule is: 
    • Students who receive an academic year FLAS award and spend that year abroad deepening proficiency in a target language will not have that year counted as one of the student’s funded years. The top-off option will be applied for FLAS recipients who are not studying abroad. 
  • Students who receive any incremental GSAS fellowship such as any of the GSAS international travel awards, the Lindt Fellowship, or the Zuckerman Fellowship 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 their tuition and fee charges.
  • 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.