Prospective Students FAQs

Prospective students are encouraged to thoroughly review the Human Rights Studies M.A. (HRSMA) webpage, as it contains information about degree requirements, courses, academic policies, admissions, tuition, etc. Students should also make sure to carefully review the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) prospective students page and the GSAS Admissions FAQ page.

  • Successful applicants come from a variety of backgrounds and applicants can demonstrate their ability to succeed in a graduate-level program through a range of experiences. Some students enter the program with several years of professional experience; other applicants have more recently completed their undergraduate degrees. While an increasing number of students have studied human rights at the undergraduate level, the academic backgrounds of our students are varied.

    Students who get the most out of the program are able to apply the knowledge, skills, and perspectives they have acquired through a wide diversity of experiences, and are self-motivated, professional, and proactive in their studies.

  • Successful applicants must have the academic skills to meet the demands of a graduate-level program, but there is no minimum GPA eligibility requirement. We consider the student's overall academic performance and the grades received in individual courses. We also consider other aspects of the application, such as letters of recommendation, CV, personal statement, writing sample, and GRE scores (if submitted). If at some point extenuating circumstances influenced your academic performance, please feel free to submit additional information in your application explaining your situation.

  • Applicants are not expected to have already completed coursework in human rights. As such, the academic writing sample does not need to focus on a human rights issue. However, the writing sample should demonstrate an applicant's writing, analytical, and research skills.

  • Submission of GRE scores is recommended. Submission of GRE scores can contribute to a more thorough and accurate understanding of your academic ability. If you decide not to submit them, you can ignore the “test scores” section in the GSAS application unless you also need to submit TOEFL scores. 

  • The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) requires that all international students whose native language is not English and who have received an undergraduate degree from an institution in a country whose official language is not English must submit official scores of the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or results of the International English Language Testing System (IELTS).

    For additional information on score requirements, please go to the GSAS International Students page.


  • All students admitted during a given year must begin the program in the fall. The HRSMA program does not have a spring-start admissions cycle.

    There are two admissions cycles. The early deadline is in January and the regular deadline is in March. Those applying for external fellowships requiring proof of admission are encouraged to apply by the earlier deadline. Additional information on the two admission deadlines is available here.

    Applicants who apply by the mid-January deadline are notified in March and those who apply by the mid-March deadline are notified in May. The GSAS Admissions Office notifies students of admissions decisions as soon as they are available. Applicants will receive an email notification as soon as decisions are available, but students may also check the status of their application by logging into the online application system.

  • The Human Rights Studies M.A. program is offered through Columbia University’s Graduate School of Arts Sciences and is run by the Institute for the Study of Human Rights, which is responsible for several human rights education programs at Columbia University. ISHR offers courses specifically for students in the program, but students in this interdisciplinary program may also take courses offered by other departments within GSAS and other schools at Columbia.

  • Please consult the requirements section of this website.

  • International students must enroll full-time every term with the exception of their third and final semester of study to maintain their student visa. For more information about attending Columbia as an international student, please visit the International Students and Scholars Office website.

    Students should also consult the GSAS International Students page.

  • There are approximately 75-100 students in the program at any given time. Each incoming class size is 40-50 students.

  • The concentration is self-defined by the student in consultation with the HRSMA program director. Some students define their concentration more broadly, such as the human rights of women, and then become more focused as they progress in their studies. Other students begin the program with a more narrow concentration, such as women’s right to health in Southeast Asia.

    The three core required courses, which students usually take early in their studies, explore a wide range of human rights issues. The three elective human rights courses also allow you to explore different issue areas prior to committing to a concentration. For example, if you take a course in your first semester that focuses on human rights and economic development, but later decide to concentrate in women’s rights, the development and rights course will be counted towards your elective requirement. Students are also encouraged to attend extracurricular events, such as brown bags and lectures to learn more about various human rights issues that may be of interest. Our calendar has the most recently updated list of events.

    Please visit our Courses page for an overall list of courses that count towards the HRSMA degree, including possible concentration courses, depending on the student’s area of interest. Students are also welcome to meet with the Human Rights Studies program director to discuss their concentration interests.

  • Your particular research interests and goals will evolve and become more specific as you progress through the degree. However, the more specific the concentration, the easier it will be to choose appropriate courses and decide on a thesis topic. Students who plan to complete their degree within three semesters should take at least one concentration course during their first semester of study.

  • Starting in Fall 2016, tuition for the Human Rights Studies M.A. program will be calculated according to the Residence Unit model. For more information about Residence Unit model and current cost of tuition and fees, please visit the GSAS cost of attendance webpage.

  • ISHR offers a tuition-reduction award and competitive stipends for thesis research, internships, and conference participation. For more information, please see the HRSMA financial resources page and the GSAS financial aid website.

  • There is no requirement to complete an internship, but many of our students choose to avail themselves of this opportunity during their studies as a way to enhance their experience in the program and gain valuable practical skills. Eligible internships may receive up to 1 academic credits, which can be counted towards the elective requirement for the degree. We offer a number of resources to support students who are interested in pursuing internships. Please see the Professional Development page for more information.

  • The university provides a limited amount of housing for graduate students. Housing space is in high demand and is not guaranteed. Many students live off-campus. For more information about housing, please visit Columbia’s housing webpage.

  • Please contact the Visitor’s Center at (212) 854-4900 to arrange a tour of Columbia’s campus.

    A digital tour and map for a self-directed walking tour is available online.

    Columbia GSAS does not offer open house meetings, but you may come into the GSAS Admissions Office between 9AM and 4:30 PM Monday to Friday for assistance with any questions regarding the admissions process.

    If you would like to meet with the HRSMA program, please email with days/times of availability.

  • The program requires 30 credit points in total. The number of semesters it takes to complete the degree depends on whether a student enrolls full-time or part-time. More information about course and registration schedules is available here.

    All students are required to enroll each semester, unless they are taking a leave of absence.

    Additional information about GSAS requirements is available here.