Student Handbook

The student handbook has all the information you need to make your English studies at the American Language Program useful, enjoyable and memorable. It also explains how to follow the rules and how to make the most of facilities on and around campus.


Some ALP registrants have a choice of a Letter Grade or Pass/Fail:

  • Fall and Spring Intensive
  • Summer Advanced Academic Preparation
  • Part-time Academic Writing

Letter grades are considered the default setting— teachers always submit letter grades. However, if students want Pass/Fail, they have to officially do so by contacting the ALP advisor and submitting a Registration Adjustment form to the Registrar’s Office (205 Kent Hall). In that case, the letter grade submitted by the teacher will automatically be changed to Pass/Fail by the Registrar. Note: Check http://registrar.columbia.edu/event/academic-calendar for the deadline to submit a Pass/Fail request.

A = excellent; exceeds Student Learning Objectives for the level; grade of 90-100
B= good; masters Student Learning Objectives for the level; grade of 80-89
C = fair; partially masters Student Learning Objectives for the level; grade of 70-79
D = poor but passing; shows little or no mastery of Student Learning Objectives; grade of 50-69
F = failing; has failed to meet attendance, work, and/or progress requirements for the class
UW = unofficial withdrawal; has not attended any teacher’s class for 2 weeks or more, without explanation

Some ALP courses have a “Pass/Fail Only” designation in the University Registrar’s system. For these courses, it does not matter in which school the student is registered. ALP courses for which P/F is the only option are:

  • Listening and Speaking for International Students
  • ALP Summer A, B, and C
  • Winter Institute
  • Pronunciation
  • International Teaching Fellows Training
  • English for Professional Purposes: Business
  • English for Professional Purposes: Law

Some ALP courses have a “Letter Grade Only” designation in the University Registrar’s system. For these courses, it does not matter in which school the student is registered. The ALP courses for which a letter grade is the only option are:

  • English for Professional Purposes: Strategic Communication
  • English for Professional Purposes: SIPA
  • Advanced Academic English for Graduate Students

Non-ALP registrants (in GS, CC, SEAS, GSAS, Law, Business, SIPA etc.) must take their ALP course(s) for a Letter Grade only, with the exceptions for “Pass-Fail Only” courses listed above. Non-ALP registrants must take Letter Grade only if they are in:

  • Academic Writing for International Students
  • Intensive classes: Fall, Spring

For more information on grades, visit:


Promotion decisions are based solely on each student's proficiency in the various language skills. In general, oral fluency and listening comprehension are the most important skills to consider at the lower levels, while writing becomes increasingly critical from Level 5 or 6 upward. (Promotion decisions are not based on a student’s effort, attitude, attendance, or participation, which tend not to be good indicators of the student’s ability to handle the academic challenges of a particular level.)

A “typical” promotion in the intensive program is considered to be one full level (4b to 5b, for example) after 14 weeks of solid progress. For part-time students in the 6-point program, Academic Writing for International Students, a half-level promotion might be considered “normal” and a full-level move possible, but anything more than that is highly exceptional. Students in Pronunciation will receive grades, but not promotions.

There are no level promotions after individual four-week sessions. It is not enough time to make progress to handle a new level. Only exceptions: Students who have completed A+B+C (12 weeks) may be eligible for a level promotion. Promotions (if any) will be based on a final exam and instructor recommendation. This will be the ONLY way students can receive a full level promotion. Students taking Advanced Academic Preparation may receive a level promotion, if they choose to take the optional Qualifying Exam, but this is not the main aim of the course, and there is no guarantee enough progress will be made to receive a level promotion after only 8 weeks. 


Level Repetition

Some students may need more time at a level before they are ready for a promotion, especially at the upper levels of the program. The ALP permits students to repeat a level more than once, provided they are attending regularly and are in good academic standing. A student who does not receive a promotion after two full semesters may be placed on Academic Probation. A student who does not receive a promotion after three full semesters may be asked to withdraw or face Academic Dismissal.

Students on an F-1 student visa are required to make regular progress in order to maintain their immigration status. 

Program Completion

1. Intensive language program applicants who, upon arrival at the ALP, test into ALP Level 10 may study for one term only in the highest intensive level available at that time; normally, this is a class at Level 8-9. 

2. Students who are taking the Fall or Spring ALP Intensive Program or part-time Academic Writing course at Level 7, 8, or 9, and who are not current Columbia degree candidates must take the ALP’s end-of-term Qualifying Exam. The promotion score on that exam will determine the ALP level the student may take in the subsequent term of study.

3. Columbia University degree candidates referred to the ALP for language instruction in the ALP Intensive Program or part-time Academic Writing course regardless of current level must take the ALP’s end-of-term Qualifying Exam. The promotion score on that exam will determine whether the student has met the English proficiency requirement set by his or her degree program, or whether a subsequent term or terms of study will be required.

4. Students who are promoted to ALP Level 10 at the end of an intensive class have completed the ALP program. This is a great achievement and demonstrates a very high level of English proficiency. Students who have completed our program may not repeat intensive level 8-9. Such students must either transfer to another program or begin their university studies.



Students are expected to attend all classes. Certificates of Attendance are given to those full-time Intensive Program students who attend 90% or more of the classes. (Part-time students do not get certificates.) For full-time students who arrive later than the first day of class, absences are counted from the day the student begins.

Attendance is reported on the final grade reports.

Students are expected to arrive on time for all classes. If a student is more than 10 minutes late, they will be marked an hour absent for that hour. It is the instructor’s right to deny entry until break if students are regularly late for class.

Students may miss up to 10% of classes without penalty. See below for the number of permitted absences in each session:

• Fall and Spring Semesters (14 weeks each) - 10% = 25 hours

• Summer A, B, and C (4 weeks each) - 10% = 7 hours

• Advanced Academic Preparation (8 weeks) - 10% = 14 hours

Whatever the reason, an absence is an absence: there are no 'excused' absences. Every absent hour counts toward the 10%, so use them carefully.

Keeping good attendance:
90% attendance means “90% at all times during the session.” For example, it does not mean “I have 25 hours I can use any time.” 25 hours = by the end of the semester.

Lack of attendance = violation of visa status.
If you do not attend classes and maintain your immigration status, you may be dismissed from the ALP, and your I-20 and visa may be canceled.


“Good Standing” in the American Language Program


A student in good standing at the American Language Program is one who:
— regularly attends class (90% of class hours)
— regularly completes in-class and out-of-class work at an average level or higher
— respects University behavioral standards and academic discipline
— makes progress in English
— receives a final grade of “B-” or better

Grounds for Academic Probation and Dismissal 

A student is not in good standing if one or more of the criteria stated above is not being met during the term or by the end of the term. The student may be given a First Warning and may be placed on Academic Probation.

First Warning means that the student is referred by the Level Leader to the Interim Director for advisement. The student’s progress is then monitored for the rest of the term.

First Warning may be given to a student who fits one or more of these criteria:
— Has missed more than 11-14% of class
— Is not regularly completing in-class and out-of-class assignments
— Is making little or no progress in English
— Not good academic behavior
— Receives a final grade C or C+

Academic Probation means that the student’s case is referred by the Program to the Dean of Students. If the student does not make significant progress in that semester, Academic Dismissal may result.

A student may be placed on Academic Probation if:
— No improvement  following the First Warning.
— At any point of the semester, the student fits one more of these criteria:

  •   Has missed 15% or more of classes
  •   Has not completed in-class and out-of-class work at an acceptable level
  •   Has made no significant progress in English after 2 semesters
  •   Inappropriate ( =very bad) academic behavior
  •   Receives a final grade of “C-”

— Significant progress = a level promotion at the end of the semester. Two semesters = Fall + Spring or Spring + Fall. [ALP summer is considered different because of the shorter sessions, and the main focus is not a level promotion. However, grades and level may be taken into consideration for students studying the full summer: ABC or A+AAP.] 

At any time, a student may be placed on Academic Probation and may face Academic Dismissal if the student demonstrates disrespect for University behavioral standards and academic discipline.

A student may face Academic Dismissal if:
  — No improvement since Academic Probation
  — Missed more than 20% of class at any point in the session
  — Received a final grade of UW, D, or F

Academic Dismissal means that the student is required to leave the university and may not enroll in any future courses at the American Language Program. The dismissal will remain on the student’s permanent university record and may affect acceptance into any other program at Columbia University.  If you are dismissed and have an F1 student visa, your SEVIS record and I-20 will be terminated immediately. 


Behavioral Standards and Academic Policies

Columbia University expects students to act with honesty and proper behavior and to respect the rights of others at all times, both on campus and off. Any academic dishonesty in any form, or any personal behavior that disrupts the life of the University hurts members of the University community will not be accepted and will result in serious action.

Because the School of Professional Studies takes matters of intellectual honesty very seriously, academic dishonesty is not tolerated. Acts of academic dishonesty include but are not limited to:

  • Cheating on examinations, including the American Language Program’s English Placement Test and ALP Essay Exam.
  • Making up (inventing) information in any course or laboratory work.
  • Misrepresenting (giving incorrect information) about one’s academic record at Columbia or elsewhere.
  • Plagiarizing (copying) another’s work or one’s own, including the submission of work prepared or purchased (bought) from another.
  • Helping others in plagiarism.
  • Lying in connection with any academic matter, including applications for admission or financial aid.
  • Creating, changing or misusing University documents.
  • Improperly using libraries or the materials they contain.

The School also prohibits behavior that interferes with the operation of the University or with the activities of other members of the University community. Examples of these behaviors include but are not limited to:

  • Harassing (annoying) or intimidating (scaring) others.
  • Making rude, abusive, or insulting comments about another person’s gender, race (skin color), nationality/ culture, religion, disability, age or sexual orientation.
  • Interfering with research or instruction.
  • Improperly using (not using correctly) University services, equipment, or facilities, including University e-mail and telephones.
  • Failing to follow (not following) a legitimate order of the University authority.

Academic and behavioral misconduct carry severe punishment. Plagiarism (copying someone else’s writing or one’s own writing), whether or not it is intentional, results in a failing grade on the assignment and in the course. For degree candidates in the School of Professional Studies, it also means immediate dismissal from their program of study. Students enrolled through other divisions of the University, if accused of any of the offenses mentioned above, may be referred to their home schools for disciplinary hearing and possible suspension or dismissal.

Ignorance of, (not knowing) the School’s policy concerning academic dishonesty is not a defense in any situation. The American Language Program and the School of Professional Studies hold each member of the community responsible for understanding these rules and for following them.