Graduate Program Applicant Info

Are you considering applying to one of Columbia University's PhD or DMA programs in Music (Historical Musicology, Music Theory, Ethnomusicology, or Composition)* in 2016 (for matriculation in Fall, 2017)?

If so, please make sure you read the information below carefully and before contacting anyone in the Department.



Important Notice to Prospective Applicants (Posted Fall 2017): The Columbia Ethnomusicology PhD program admits cohorts in two out of each three years. We will next admit a cohort for matriculation in 2019 (with applications due in mid-December of 2018).  We are NOT admitting a cohort in this year's cycle (Fall 2017 applications for 2018 matriculation), although the other doctoral programs in the department will be accepting applications.

Please note that in general we discourage campus visits by prospective PhD students during years we don't admit (such as this year).


PhD and DMA Applicant Info

Are you considering applying for our PhD program in Musicology (Historical Musicology, Ethnomusicology, Music Theory) or our DMA program in Composition?

If you are looking for information on the "Sound Arts" MFA Program, please start here.

Prospective PhD/DMA applicants should begin by visiting the Admissions section of the Columbia University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) website. This is the portal for online applications and contains key information regarding requirements and deadlines for applicants.

General Guidance for Applicants to our PhD/DMA Programs

Columbia offers one of the top doctoral programs in academic musicology (PhD, including historical musicology, ethnomusicology, and music theory) and music composition (DMA) in the United States. We are committed to the professional development of our students, and expect them to be committed to their own professional goals as scholars, teachers, and composers.

In the past decade, and in spite of an often challenging academic job market in the humanities fields, we have placed around 75 percent of our PhD and DMA graduates in postdoctoral fellowships and/or tenure track jobs within 2 years of graduation, among the best placement records of any Music graduate program in the United States. A significant majority of our graduates go on to professional careers.

Admission to our graduate program is extremely competitive, and only strong and well prepared candidates for doctoral study should apply. We normally admit between 8 and 12 new students (all with full fellowship support for 5 years of study) annually across all four areas of our Department, and receive several hundred applications for these few positions.

We do not offer any graduate degree program in performance or music education (the latter is offered by Teachers College of Columbia University, in a separate department from ours). We also do not offer any distance learning or online programs.

A sustained period of residency in New York is required. Doctoral students must be in residence at Columbia for a minimum of 3 and usually 4 years before entering doctoral candidacy. All newly admitted students begin in the Fall semester (there are no mid-year admissions).

We do not offer any stand-alone MA programs. All doctoral students earn the MA by the end of their second year; if you already have an MA in Music, you may be eligible for transfer credits to accelerate your program here, but you will still earn a Columbia MA in the process.

All admitted students are fully funded, with a combination of fellowships and teaching duties, for five years of study. Qe do not admit unfunded students. However, we strongly encourage qualified applicants to apply for external funding (such as Javits, Ford, or NSF fellowships).

  1. Historical Musicology: Professor Walter Frisch, Fall 2017 (wf8 [at]; Professor Julia Doe, Spring 2018 (jid2110 [at]
  2. Ethnomusicology: Professor Chris Washburne (cjw5 [at]
  3. Music Theory: Professor Ellie Hisama, Fall 2017 (eh2252 [at]; Professor Joseph Dubiel, Spring 2018 (jpd5 [at]
  4. Composition: Professor George Lewis (gl2140 [at]

When you write an email of inquiry to one of these busy people, or to any other faculty member, please include a Curriculum Vitae (CV, or résumé) detailing your prior education and any academic accomplishments or relevant employment, and include a succinct description of your research interests and your prior scholarly or compositional training.

Visiting the Department/Making Contact

Prospective graduate applicants are welcome to visit the Department (though application does not require an interview and we do not show preference to those who visit). A visit should be planned well in advance with the "Area Chair" (see list right above) of the relevant academic area, listed above. Individual arrangements will have to be made to meet any particular faculty member or audit a class.

Be aware of Columbia's academic calendar when planning a visit. Also be aware of major academic meetings (SMT, SEM, AMS, AAA), when most of our faculty in any given area may be away. These meetings may provide opportunities to meet faculty. We cannot guarantee that we can accommodate all prospective students who wish to visit the department. November and December are very busy times in our Department.

A campus visit is not an interview. You are neither required nor expected to visit before you apply. Visiting confers no advantage on any applicant. It is possible you may be contacted for a more formal interview (generally conducted over the phone) once we have begun to review applications. If you are admitted, we will generally be able to financially support a campus visit to help you make your decision (usually in early March).

Please see the appropriate area pages, listed under "Academic Areas" in the left sidebar, for further information on the faculty, programs, and resources of each area. Read these materials carefully before you contact the department (DGS, office staff, or Area Chairs).

The Department's Director of Graduate Studies for 2017-18 is Professor Elaine Sisman (wf8 [at] She can answer most specific questions about the application process or forward your inquiry to someone who can, if you cannot find the answer to your inquiry through one of the linked resources below. But again, be sure your question is not directly answered here or on one of the linked web pages below.

Additional information

Composition (DMA) applicants may submit up to three works (as scores and recordings) with their application. We strongly encourage all applicants to use the online application system to directly UPLOAD these materials with the application.

If you are prevented from doing so by technical difficulties, you may send scores and recordings by mail as hard copy. If you intend to send paper scores or physical recordings by mail should use the following address:

Dept. of Music, Attn. G. Kumar, Graduate Coordinator,
621 Dodge Hall, MC1813,
Columbia University,
2960 Broadway,
NY NY 10027, USA
(tel. 212-854-3825)

Mark the envelope as "DMA APPLICANT MATERIALS" please. If you would like such materials returned, send packaging that is addressed and has appropriate postage attached. We will make every effort to return such materials, but we cannot guarantee their safe transit. Do not send us your only copy of any score, recording, etc.!

2) Late arrival of materials: It is quite common that GRE or TOEFL scores and some letters of recommendation reach us a few days or a week or two after the deadline. We will review "substantially complete" applications missing one or two items, but if a required item is not submitted by the second week of January, it may not be considered as part of your application, and we will not extend any offer of admission based on an incomplete application. Be aware that the application itself -- the part filled out online by the candidate through the GSAS website -- MUST be completed by the deadline for consideration.

Further Questions

If, after reading the relevant informational links below, you have specific questions about Music Department application requirements (such as questions about appropriate writing samples or notification that one of your letters might be arriving after the December deadline), please address them to Prof. Elaine Sisman, Director of Graduate Studies, wf8 [at] (.)

Please read the following resources carefully before contacting faculty or staff members in the department.

Once you have familiarized yourself with these materials, if you have further substantive questions about our doctoral programs, begin by sending an email to the faculty member who serves as the "Area Chair" for the subdisciplinary program to which you are applying (Composition, Historical Musicology, Music Theory, or Ethnomusicology). The correct Area Chairpersons are listed above and on our Contact and VIsitor Page.

Only extremely urgent procedural questions that require an immediate answer should be addressed by phone to the Music Department administrative office, where you should ask for Gabriela Kumar, Graduate Program Administrator (212-854-3825). The Department office staff cannot answer substantive questions about the individual area programs.

Please note that ALL applicants must submit GRE general exam scores. We can make NO exceptions to this. Most international applicants must submit TOEFL scores. Information on these exams can be found on the GSAS web links below. In response to a question we get often, TOEFL scores (required of non-Anglophone international candidates in most cases) are generally required to reach the score of 100 for admission. However, we will generally consider strong applications from international students who score a few points lower than that on their TOEFL (above 95, below 100).

We can not offer any individual guidance on expected scores or how we weight these exams. Just do your best job. We consider many factors in our decision. A test score is rarely a decisive factor.

For questions about the details of the admissions process and general admissions requirements, you should contact the GSAS admissions office via the GSAS website or as follows:

Office of Admissions
Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
108 Low Memorial Library
535 West 116th Street, MC 4303
Columbia University
New York, NY 10027
Phone: 212.854.8903
gsas-admit [at] (Email: )

Important Resources

Please read these sources before contacting the Department with questions!

AT GSAS (Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Carlos Alonso, Dean):
Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Home Page
Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Admissions Home Page
Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Frequently Asked Questions (on Admission)
Graduate School of Arts and Sciences International Applicants Information
Graduate School of Arts and Sciences - Loans, Fellowships, and Financial Aid
Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Bulletin Page for Music (PhD and DMA)

General Information on Columbia's Grad Programs in Music

Composition Area Home Page
Composition Grad Program Specifics

Music Theory Area Home Page
Music Theory Grad Program Specifics

Historical Musicology Area Home Page
Historical Musicology Grad Program Specifics

Ethnomusicology Area Home Page
Ethnomusicology Grad Program Specifics
Ethnomusicology Grad Program - Frequently Asked Questions

Profiles of Some of Our Current Graduate Students
Alumni of the PhD and DMA Programs (click on individual names to see dissertation titles and links)