Ph.D. in Physics

Program Information

No student may become a candidate for the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree without first fulfilling the requirements for the Master of Arts (M.A.) and Master of Philosophy (M.Phil.) degrees at Columbia.  A satisfactory rate of progress is required at all times.  A student whose progress is insufficient may at any time be requested to withdraw. 

The following represents the obligation and requirements for students who wish to obtain the Ph.D. degree at Columbia.  Please retain these guidelines for reference throughout your program of studies.

This degree is a prerequisite for the M.Phil. and Ph.D. degrees, unless a student has been awarded two Residence Units of advanced standing. 

Points of Letter-Grade Credit: 30; at least 24 within the department.

Program of Study:  15 points of physics courses numbered 6000 or higher, with an overall performance satisfactory to the Committee on Graduate Work.  The courses are to be chosen in consultation with the student’s academic advisor, to insure knowledge of classical and quantum physics.

Residence Units: 2 (minimum).  Any student who fails to complete the requirements for the MA degree within four consecutive terms (not counting summer terms) must obtain permission from the department chair in order to continue work into fifth term. 

Language Examination: None 

Essay: None 

This degree is a prerequisite for the Ph.D. degree and will be conferred upon certification by the department.

Typical length of program:  Three years, including the time spent for the

Languages:  None

Residence Units:  Six full-time, including the two earned for the M.A. degree.

Points of credit:  30 earned for the M.A. degree; none if the student  has been awarded two Residence Units of advanced standing.

Required courses:  See the list of required courses below.

*With special permission from the student's PhD advisor and DGS, the student may if justified substitute *one* of the two field specific courses with a 6000 level course outside this list from Physics or another department, by filling out this form and submitting it to physics_dgs AT

A written placement exam will be administered in the orientation week before the start of classes in the Fall semester. The purpose of the Placement Exam is to ensure the success of all students admitted to our Ph.D. program by providing individualized guidance on courses for optimal development. Our experience is that the admissions process successfully identifies students with the appropriate ability, but does not guarantee uniformity in preparation of the talented individuals admitted to our program.

The exam will consist of problems typical of those found in our introductory and advanced undergraduate courses in mechanics, electromagnetism, quantum mechanics and statistical mechanics. The exam will have two parts, each 3 hours in length. Part I will cover mechanics and electromagnetism; Part II will cover quantum mechanics and statistical mechanics. If the examination identifies for any student a gap in preparation at a level that would prevent successful completion of one or more of the required graduate courses, that student will be required to successfully complete the corresponding undergraduate course(s) before taking the graduate course on that topic. Students are expected to obtain a grade of B+ or better on the undergraduate course. All students are required to take the placement exam.


The exam will consist take place in two 3-hour session in orientation week. The first exam will cover classical mechanics and electromagnetism, while the second will cover quantum mechanics, and statistical Mechanics and thermodynamics. Students will be informed of the results of the Placement Exam in the first week of classes by the Physics Director of Graduate Studies.

The level of the material covered by the Placement Exam and the mapping onto our undergraduate courses are as follows:

• Mechanics, Physics GU4003: Classical Mechanics, Goldstein, Poole and Safko.

• Electromagnetism, Physics GU3007-3008: Introduction to Electrodynamics, Griffiths.

• Quantum Mechanics, Physics GU4021-4022: Introduction to Quantum Mechanics, Griffiths; A Modern Approach to Quantum Mechanics, Townsend.

• Statistical Mechanics, Physics GU4023: An Introduction to Thermal Physics, Schroeder; Thermal Physics, Kittel and Kroemer.

Please note that this guidance is intended to be descriptive, not proscriptive. There are many other excellent textbooks for each of these subjects

Teaching is the principal method of support for first and second year graduate students, who are appointed as Teaching Fellows.  Most assignments are to teach small laboratory sections or problem sessions in elementary courses.  In general, this program concentrates on teaching in the first two years, while the student is taking graduate courses.  The maximum teaching assignment for a Faculty Teaching Fellow is approximately four contact hours per week for four terms.

In order to assist our Ph.D. students in pursuing successful doctoral research and in furthering their professional development, the Department will appoint for each student in their third year and beyond a three-person committee which will meet at least once per year with the student. The committee will consist of the student's Ph.D. advisor and two other members of the Physics Faculty chosen by the student in consultation with the advisor and/or the Director of Graduate Studies. Alternatively, one member of the committee could be a faculty member from another department, university or the equivalent. Physics office staff will assign each student a month in which this meeting is to take place and the student will have responsibility for arranging a time for the meeting.

In advance of this meeting, the student will distribute a few-sentence description of their current research, the plan for their doctoral research and their progress toward completing that plan. This short write-up will also include a list of items related to professional development such as conferences attended, papers submitted for publication and talks presented. This yearly meeting will last about one hour and allow more detailed discussion of the student's research activities with a focus on the plan for completing the Ph.D. thesis project. The meeting may begin with a presentation of the student's current and planned research lasting no more than 30 minutes. While a face-to-face meeting is desirable, it is possible that one or more participants may join remotely.

One of the faculty on the committee who is not the research sponsor will be chosen as chair and will transmit to physics_dgs AT a few-sentence written summary of the meeting, including recommendations for the student and the time for a next meeting if it is concluded that holding a meeting sooner than annually would be beneficial. The final portion of the meeting should be devoted to deciding on the content of this summary. The student's advance submission to the committee and this meeting summary will be become part of the student's Departmental record.

The procedures outlined above are guidelines and exceptions can be made with the approval of the Director of Graduate Studies. These annual meetings are important required evidence of the student's satisfactory progress toward meeting the requirements of the Ph.D. degree.



All candidates who are admitted to the Columbia Graduate School in Physics are invited to attend the department's Open House. This year Columbia University is hosting the Open House on March 27th and 28th, 2022.

A visit is the best way to get a feel for the department, the faculty, the students, and the research that is carried on in the department. We certainly encourage you to come if at all possible. This year's Open House will be in a Hybrid format, allowing for in-person and virtual options for participation. 

For invited prospective students, Columbia University will cover two nights of hotel accommodations for candidates joining the Open House in-person. Rooms will be shared with another candidate in a double occupancy capacity. 

Columbia University will reimburse individuals (from within the United States) a set amount for travel, which is outlined HERE. Individuals traveling internationally will not be reimbursed for travel. However if international candidates choose to join us for in-person Open House Columbia University will cover 2 nights of hotel accommodations. We encourage international candidates to join us for Open House presentations and faculty office hours virtually.

Columbia University's guidelines for visitors can be found HERE. Any individual participating via in-person open house must be fully compliant with all Columbia University guidelines as it related to COVID-19. All visitors, including those who enter any campus facility for any period of time, must be vaccinated and show proof of vaccination as part of their visitor attestation.

For questions about Columbia Physic's Open House please contact Ashley Delphia (Director of Academic Administration) at [email protected]

Applying to Columbia Physics Graduate Program

Three years of fundamental undergraduate physics courses, individual laboratories, and a working knowledge of ordinary differential equations are generally required for admission.

Columbia's Graduate School of Arts & Sciences provides an online teaching manual that is organized around the diverse teaching roles filled by graduate students and offers practical advice concerning issues that arise from instructing students. A manual for those serving as teaching assistants is available at the Teaching Program's Website.

The online application for the Columbia Graduate School of Arts and Sciences can be found here. When filing an application form, the student should specify the department or doctoral program subcommittee under which he or she wishes to study. In any given term, a student may apply for study under only one department or subcommittee. A nonrefundable fee of $120 must accompany the completed form.

A complete application includes transcripts of all previous post-secondary education, a personal statement, three letters of recommendation, scores from the GRE (if the applicant chooses to) and, if applicable, the TOEFL examination.

Students denied admission may reapply in a subsequent year if further training or experience is presented to strengthen the application


All admitted students are supported for the PhD program. Typically, students are supported by a Faculty Teaching Fellowship in the first two years followed by a Research Assistantship in subsequent years as students work for a research group.

The fellowship support amount increases on average 2.5-3% per year. Some students supplement their Fellowship by tutoring, teaching recitation sections, or by grading homework.

Please check the GSAS website for current fellowship support.


  • Year 1: Faculty Fellowship + Research Assistantship during the summer
  • Year 2: Faculty Fellowship + Research Assistantship during the summer
  • Subsequent Years: Teaching Duties or Research Assistantship (12 months each year)


Some students enter graduate school with outside fellowships or awards, or receive such fellowships or awards during their PhD. In this case, support will be supplemented with details dependent on the amount of the outside fellowship.

A number of such funding opportunities are available, and a selected list of resources are available under the External Funding page.

Students can supplement their income by:

  • Tutoring undergraduates privately (the Physics office keeps a list of those interested in tutoring). Rates are negotiated privately with the students seeking tutors.
  • Teaching recitation sections (a number of undergraduate courses have weekly recitation sections).
  • Grading homework (all undergraduate courses have weekly homework assignments that require grading).

Interested graduate students should contact the undergraduate secretary if they are interested in any of these possibilities for supplemental income.