Applying for Your I-20/DS-2019

Congratulations on your admission to Columbia University! Now that you have been admitted to a full-time program of study, we will help you obtain the Certificate of Eligibility (COE) for F-1 (I-20) or J-1 (DS-2019) student status.

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Processing Time

If your application is complete, your COE will be processed within 3 weeks.

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A COE is an official document processed by educational institutions that certifies your eligibility for F-1 or J-1 student status to visa officers at U.S. consulates,  immigration inspectors when arriving to the U.S., and other government agencies.  A COE is processed through SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System), a government database.

You will need a COE:

You must:

F and J Status

If you meet the two conditions for qualifying for a COE, you are eligible for F-1 student status. Most students come to the U.S. in F-1 status.

J-1 status has additional criteria and is less common. It is limited to students who are getting at least 51% of their tuition and fees paid for by:

  • the U.S. government
  • student’s home government
  • Columbia University
  • employer sponsorship (not common)

If you’re eligible for both F and J status, review our Comparison Chart to see which status is best for your personal situation.

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How to Apply

Before you begin, do any of these situations apply to you?

If you are a former student returning after a temporary leave from Columbia, you should not apply through this page. Follow the instructions on our leave of absence page.

If you are a current student at Columbia -- or on Post-Completion OPT after completing a program at Columbia -- you should not apply through for this page for a new COE for a new program. Follow the instructions on our beginning a new program page.

If you will study English at Columbia's American Language Program (ALP):

  1. Apply for your ALP I-20. This is from a different office at Columbia.
  2. Use the I-20 from ALP to apply for your F-1 visa and to enter the U.S.
  3. Before  you complete your ALP program, ALP will send you instructions on how to transfer your ALP SEVIS record to the ISSO and apply for an I-20 for your academic program. 

If you will study English at another school in the U.S.:

  1. Get your I-20 from your English as a Second Language (ESL) school

  2. Apply for your F-1 visa and enter the U.S. with your ESL school’s I-20

  3. After your ESL program is complete, follow the F-1 transfer instructions to transfer your SEVIS record to the ISSO.

If You Are Married

Your spouse (and children under 21 years of age) will need a dependent COE to apply for an F-2 or J-2 visa. You will need to provide proof of additional funding beyond your personal expenses. Your dependents’ information will be part of your application and their COEs will be processed and sent to you at the same time.

If You Are Not Yet Married

If you are not yet married at the time of your application but will be married before you come, you may include your future spouse in the application. However, you must be legally married at the time your spouse applies for an F-2 or J-2 visa.

If You Are in a Relationship

If you are in a relationship but not legally married, your partner is not eligible for a dependent visa, but may apply for a B-2 visitor visa to accompany you under a provision for Cohabitating Partners described in the Foreign Affairs Manual for visa officers. Look for 9 FAM 402.2-4(B)(5).

Ready to Apply?

Steps to Apply for I-20 or DS-2019
Step 1.

Gather your information and documents

Items 7 - 10 below are for SEVIS transfer students (in addition to the items above). Disregard if you are not a SEVIS transfer student.

The processing fee is required and cannot be waived.

Use University Express Mail Services (UEMS) for FedEx or other courier service. Follow these directions for UEMS shipping and have your order number available.

Step 2.

Login to Compass to apply for your COE

There are two ways to login to Compass: with a PID or with a UNI

With a PID (ISSO Morningside and ISSO-CU Medical Center (CUMC)

Your PID is the 9-digit number beginning with “C” you will receive from your admissions office or department (e.g. C123456789).

Don’t have a PID?

  • Contact your admissions office.

You will need your PID to request a temporary Limited Services PIN to login to complete your application.

How to receive your Limited Services PIN

  1. Go to the Limited Services PIN Lookup page to request a Limited Services PIN. Enter your PID in the "University Identification Number" box. You will receive a confirmation on your browser screen that your request was successfully processed.
  2. Receive your Limited Access PIN. Your Limited Access PIN is sent to the e-mail address you used to apply to Columbia.
  3. Login to Compass. Make sure you have your PID, Date of Birth and Limited Access PIN ready. Please click the appropriate link below:

Not sure of your campus? Check our campus school list.
Need help using Compass? Learn more on our Compass User Guide.

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If you do not receive your Limited Access PIN

If you do not receive your Limited Access PIN within a few minutes, please check your SPAM folder. If you still do not receive it, please email the correct ISSO office only and be sure to include your PID and your preferred email address in the body of the email. In the subject line write “Limited Access PIN”:

Not sure of your campus? Check our campus school list.

If you were recently accepted to Columbia, your record may not be in our system. Make sure you have accepted your offer of admission and paid your deposit, if applicable. If you cannot access the system after 10 business days, please contact the ISSO office for your campus only:

Don't know your Campus? Please check our Campus school list.

With a UNI (ISSO Morningside only)

The UNI consists of your initials plus an arbitrary number, e.g. AB123, and is part of your Columbia email address. Learn more about your UNI on the Columbia University Information Technology (CUIT) website.

This means you have activated your UNI and created a password as instructed by the Columbia University Information Technology (CUIT) website.

How to login to Compass with an active UNI

  1. To login to Compass, please click the appropriate link below:

Not sure of your campus? Check our campus school list.
Need help using Compass? Learn more on our Compass User Guide.

If you have not yet activated your UNI via the CUIT website, you will need to activate it before you login to Compass.

How to activate your UNI to login to Compass

  1. Go to CUIT’s Account Activation page.
  2. Follow the instructions until you have successfully created a password and activated your UNI.
  3. Now you are ready to login to Compass. To login, please click the appropriate link below:

Not sure of your campus? Check our campus school list.
Need help using Compass? Learn more on our Compass User Guide.

Don't worry! You can follow the steps above (With a PID) to login to Compass without a UNI.

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Step 3.

We will contact you

  • Complete applications will be processed per the processing time indicated above.

  • We will email you If we need additional information. Your application will not be considered complete until we have received and reviewed the additional information.

  • We will notify you by email when your COE has been issued.

Step 4.

Receive your COE

Review, sign and date. You will need to have this with you when you enter the United States.


Step 5.

Pay your SEVIS fee

Note: SEVIS transfer students do not need to pay a new I-901 SEVIS fee.

Step 6.

Apply for your visa at a U.S. consulate.

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Do You Have Questions Not Addressed on This Page?

Email the ISSO office for your campus.

Don't know your Campus? Please check our Campus school list.