Thank you for your interest in The Work Exemption Program.
THE APPLICATION PERIOD FOR FALL 2021 IS NOW CLOSED. WE ARE NO LONGER ACCEPTING APPLICATIONS. APPLICANTS WILL BE NOTIFIED OF THEIR APPLICATION STATUS THE WEEK OF October 4, 2021.
The Work Exemption Program (WEP) is part of Columbia University’s enhanced financial aid program for undergraduate students in Columbia College and Columbia Engineering. Recipients receive a Columbia Grant to support their pursuit of unpaid internships, research projects, and community outreach, locally, nationally, and internationally.
We are grateful to the many alumni and friends whose continued generosity makes this initiative possible and who contribute immeasurably to the enrichment of the undergraduate experience at Columbia College and Columbia Engineering.
Columbia Grant-eligible students have the option of applying for an exemption from their summer work expectation (Student Contribution) or their in-school work expectation (Student Employment or Federal Work-Study). WEP grants are applied towards the Fall and/or Spring Student Account balance.
The Work Exemption Program:
- Supports CC and SEAS undergraduate students who have secured unpaid or low-paid internships, research or volunteer opportunities (important note: low-paid opportunities are only eligible for WEP during the summer; academic year opportunities must be unpaid);
- Replaces a student’s summer work expectation (Student Contribution) or their in-school work expectation (Student Employment or Federal Work-Study) with a WEP grant; and
- Provides support for not-for-proﬁt, arts, government, and community outreach internship experiences as well as research and volunteer opportunities locally, nationally, and internationally.
- During the summer, all qualified students who apply for CCE summer funding and receive Columbia grant-based financial aid with a summer work expectation (Student Contribution) are encouraged to also apply for a WEP grant. Students do not need to submit a separate application to the Work Exemption Program. Simply check “yes” to the first section of the summer funding application form indicating that you wish to be considered for the Work Exemption Program.
- WEP has become increasingly competitive. Limited funding is available for this program. Many students who submit strong, compelling applications will not be able to receive funding due to the highly competitive nature of the program and the limited funding available. It is in your best interest to consider alternative options in the event that you do not receive assistance through WEP. Please note that prior receipt of a WEP grant does not guarantee you will receive future awards.
- The application process for the Work Exemption Program is jointly managed by the Center for Career Education and the Office of Financial Aid and Educational Financing.
Institutional funding through this program is made available with the sole intention of supporting students’ living expenses (such as housing, food and travel expenses). This support enables students to participate in unpaid opportunities. Funding is not provided in lieu of compensation for work and supervisors are required to acknowledge in the Employer Verification Form that participating organizations are compliant with the US Department of Labor’s Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and other applicable state and local legislation.
Work Exemption Program grants are made possible thanks to the generosity of Columbia alumni/ae, parents, and friends.
Here are a few suggestions to search for unpaid internships, research, and volunteer opportunities.
- To learn more about finding an internship please visit the Internships section of our website.
- Both the Office of Student Engagement and the Community Impact office at Columbia are excellent places to begin exploring opportunities to contribute to your community.
- Did you know that Columbia has 214 research centers and institutes? Students also frequently find research opportunities through their academic departments and professors.
|Criteria||Work Exemption Program|
|Currently registered Columbia College and Columbia Engineering students in good academic and disciplinary standing||
|Recipient of Columbia grant-based financial aid with a summer work expectation (Student Contribution) or in-school work expectation (Student Employment or Federal Work-Study). *||
|Secured an unpaid or low-paid internship prior to the application deadline (important note: low-paid opportunities are only eligible for WEP during the summer; academic year opportunities must be unpaid). (Low-paid is defined as compensated at less than the equivalent of New York State minimum wage — less than $15/hr).||
|Work commitment of at least 8 hours/week during the academic year and 20 hours/week during the summer (for partial WEP grant)||
* If you are unsure if you receive grant-based ﬁnancial aid, please contact the Oﬃce of Undergraduate Financial Aid & Educational Financing.
Student Financial Aid Requirement
- Summer 2021 Financial Aid requirement: must have a 2020-2021 Columbia Grant
- Fall 2021 Financial Aid requirement: must have a 2021-2022 Columbia Grant AND Fall Student Employment or Federal Work-Study
Spring 2022 Financial Aid requirement: must have a 2021-2022 Columbia Grant AND Spring Student Employment or Federal Work-Study
The following ﬁnancial aid recipients are not eligible to apply for WEP funding:
- Resident Advisers (RA) serving for the 2021-2022 Fall and Spring semesters are ineligible for the WEP since their student contribution and in-school work expectations will already be replaced by a Resident Adviser Grant.
- Students engaged in study abroad during the academic year are ineligible for WEP during the term while they are abroad since their in-school work expectations are replaced with a study abroad grant.
- University scholars may be ineligible or have reduced eligibility depending on whether they have a student contribution or in-school work expectation for the 2021-2022 academic year.
- Students receiving an outside scholarship, tuition beneﬁt or Veterans Beneﬁt may be ineligible or have reduced eligibility depending on whether they have a student contribution and/or in-school work expectation for the 2021-2022 academic year.
The following opportunities are not eligible for the work exemption program:
- Any opportunity that is a component of an academic program of study or for which course credit is being offered (including research conducted for the sole purpose of a senior thesis project).
- Any opportunity that is not compliant with the US Department of Labor’s Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Employers must sign and acknowledge compliance when completing the employer verification form.
- On-campus extra-curricular activities (exceptions include CU EMS and the Double Discovery Center)
- Any academic or experiential endeavor that requires a student to pay to participate in the program
- Opportunities that support partisan political activity or that involve proselytizing, preaching or missionary work on behalf of a religious organization
- An opportunity where you will be supervised by a classmate, peer, family member or friend
- This program does not provide funding for students planning or working on their own startups
Regarding Stipends, Fellowships and Additional Funding
Note if you are receiving a stipend, fellowship, additional funding outside of WEP or plan to apply for supplemental funding:
Summer: If you are receiving a stipend from your employer for work you are performing or you are receiving wages, you will be eligible for WEP if your stipend/wages are less than the minimum wage.
Academic year: If you are receiving a stipend from your employer for work you are performing or you are receiving wages, you will not be eligible for WEP consideration.
Application Process & Timeline
The Work Exemption Program accepts applications each fall, spring, and summer.
For Fall 2021: Monday, September 13, 2021, at 12:00 noon (EDT).
The current plan is to share notifications the week of October 4, 2021.
CLICK HERE TO REVIEW THE APPLICATION INSTRUCTIONS, INCLUDING PERSONAL STATEMENT PROMPTS, AND TO START YOUR APPLICATION.
Please note, there are approximately two weeks between application open and close. For that reason, we recommend preparing your resume and personal statement as soon as you are able. Be ready when applications go live in the week of August 30.
How selective is the Work Exemption Program and who selects the WEP grant recipients?
Selection for the program is competitive and unfortunately, it is not possible to award all applicants with a Work Exemption Program grant. The Work Exemption Program committee includes administrators from both Columbia College and Columbia Engineering, as well as staff from student services, student affairs, and academic affairs offices on-campus. Decisions are made by the complete committee who looks for applicants to present a compelling case for a substantive internship, research, or community service opportunity which demonstrates the synergy between their academic coursework, personal interests, and professional goals.
What can I do to make my application for WEP more competitive?
To be competitive for WEP, applicants must first meet all program eligibility requirements. During the selection process, the WEP committee will carefully review the applicant’s personal statement. To be competitive for the program students should take the time to provide the committee with a detailed, thoughtful statement about the opportunity they would like to pursue. The statement should include information about what they hope to gain personally, professionally, and/or academically from the experience. Students who are reapplying to continue an opportunity with the Work Exemption Program should make sure that their personal statement also addresses what they have learned so far from participating in this opportunity and how continued work with this organization will advance their personal, professional, and/or academic goals.
To be competitive for the program students should also pay attention to all program requirements and application deadlines and make sure that all parts of the application and supporting documents are submitted by the deadline. Incomplete and late applications will not be considered.
I did not have an opportunity secured at the time of the application deadline. Why is the deadline so early? Am I still eligible to apply?
Deadlines for the Work Exemption Program are set after carefully considering a date that will allow the greatest number of students an opportunity to take advantage of the program. The WEP committee aims to notify students of a decision on their application with enough time for them to consider their employment plans if they are not selected for the program.
The WEP committee begins reviewing applicants immediately following the application deadline. Students who are selected for the program are chosen within the context of the applicant pool for that semester and additional, individual reviews for students who miss the application deadline are not offered. We do not offer extensions to the deadline.
I’ve already interviewed, but I am still waiting to hear if I have an offer. Can I still apply for the Work Exemption Program? Can I get an extension?
If you will be waiting to receive a final offer of employment at the time of the application deadline please contact the WEP committee directly at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss where you are in the interview process. Because the WEP committee meets to review applicants immediately following the deadline, extensions to the deadline are not offered.
I have multiple opportunities that I plan on pursuing; can I apply to be considered for each of them?
If you will be pursuing more than one internship, research, or volunteer opportunity during the semester or summer you may apply to have the Work Exemption Program grant support these multiple opportunities. Your total time working at the opportunities combined must be at least 8 hours/week during the academic year and 20 hours/week during the summer. At the start of the application, you will be asked to select how many opportunities you have. Based on your selection, you will then have the ability to enter application information for up to three opportunities. Please review our website for application instructions and ensure that you respond to the personal statement prompts for both opportunities. It will also be important to discuss how you will manage your time pursuing multiple professional endeavors. Your supervisors will each need to submit Employer Verification forms detailing your work commitment at each organization. You only need to submit one letter of recommendation and budget form (during the summer).
Who should write my letter of recommendation? I don’t have any Columbia professors that I know that well.
Your letter of recommendation should come from the person who knows you best, can speak well of your academic, extracurricular, and professional accomplishments, and who can comment on your character such as a professor, advising dean, or supervisor. We advise against asking a teacher/coach from high school to write your recommendation. We will not accept letters of recommendation written by family members, friends, resident hall advisors, student leaders, members of student organizations, or classmates. Your letter of recommendation must be on official letterhead, dated, and signed.
If you are reapplying to receive the WEP grant for an opportunity for a consecutive semester (such as summer continuing into fall; fall continuing into spring; spring continuing into summer) you must submit a new recommendation for the same opportunity.
I’ve participated in WEP before, do I still need a recommendation letter?
Yes, students who are reapplying to continue with the same opportunity must submit a new letter of recommendation.
How do I know that my application has been submitted successfully for the Work Exemption Program?
You will receive an on-screen confirmation when your application is successfully submitted. Please make sure that pop-up blockers are deactivated to ensure that you will receive the confirmation.
How is my Work Exemption Program award provided to me? Will I receive a check? Will it be credited to my student account?
The Work Exemption Program award is a grant, not a stipend. Students who receive the award will have their semester or summer earnings expectation in their financial aid package replaced with a Columbia grant. Once the award is made you will receive an updated financial aid award letter that will show that the earnings expectation has been replaced with a grant.
The Work Exemption Program is covering my earnings expectation, but what am I supposed to do about covering my living expenses while I’m pursuing this opportunity?
During the summer, students are encouraged to apply to summer funding programs. During the academic year, students should consult with the Financial Aid office to determine financing options.
What are the requirements of the reflection project?
The reflection project is completed and submitted at the end of the semester. The project allows you to showcase and express your experience in a way that best suits your interest. The primary focus of this exercise should be on the professional experience you are having. Your project can be any of the following: video, blog or journal, essay, social media posts, Big Interview practice interview.