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 in 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.
Columbia College and Columbia Engineering undergraduate students selected as Work Exemption Program recipients must
- Complete a webshop prior to formally accepting their award; and
- Submit a reflection project upon completion of the internship.
The Work Exemption Program
- Supports CC and SEAS undergraduate students who have secured unpaid internships, research or volunteer opportunities;
- 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 unpaid non-proﬁt, arts, government and community outreach internship experiences as well as research and volunteer opportunities locally, nationally, and internationally.
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.
Please note: 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.
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.
Here are a few suggestions to search for unpaid internship, 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 department and professors.
Student Status and Financial Aid Requirements
- Currently enrolled Columbia College or Columbia Engineering undergraduate student in good academic and disciplinary standing
- Columbia grant recipient with a summer work expectation (Student Contribution) or in-school work expectation (Student Employment or Federal Work Study). For Financial Aid eligibility, please contact the Oﬃce of Undergraduate Financial Aid & Educational Financing
- Summer 2017 Financial Aid requirement: must have a 2016-2017 Columbia Grant
- Fall 2017 Financial Aid requirement: must have a 2017-2018 Columbia Grant AND Fall Student Employment or Federal Work Study
- Spring 2018 Financial Aid requirement: must have a 2017-2018 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 2017-2018 Fall and Spring semesters are ineligible for the WEP program since their student contribution and in-school work expectations will already be replaced by a Resident Adviser 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 2017-2018 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 2017-2018 academic year.
- Applicants must have secured an unpaid internship, research opportunity or volunteer opportunity prior to the application deadline.
- Students must be working a minimum of 8 hours/week during the academic year and 15 hours/week during the summer.
The following opportunities are not eligible for WEP:
- 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
Regarding Stipends, Fellowships and Additional Funding
A note if you are receiving a stipend, fellowship, additional funding outside of WEP or plan to apply for supplemental funding:
If you are receiving any funding to cover your living expenses (food, housing, transportation), you can still apply to WEP and your application will be reviewed. Depending on the amount of your additional funding, your award (if selected for WEP) may be adjusted. Examples include a free metrocard from your employer, a lunch subsidy, or summer housing provided by your internship.
If you are receiving a stipend from your employer for work you are performing or you are receiving wages, you are not eligible for WEP. You must be pursuing an unpaid opportunity to be eligible for a WEP grant. An example would be your employer oﬀers you a stipend of $4,000 for the summer.
Application Process & Timeline
The Work Exemption Program accepts applications each fall, spring and summer.
For Fall 2017: Wednesday, September 13, 2017 at 11:59 pm.
Applicants notiﬁed of their status
Wednesday, September 26, 2017
To apply, complete the WEP application form (the fall 2017 application is now closed; the spring 2018 application will be available in December).
- Resume — For resume help, please feel free to utilize CCE’s walk-in hours or schedule an appointment with a counselor. You can also review CCE’s Career Planning Guide.
- Personal statement — see prompts below.
- Employer Veriﬁcation form — This online form must be completed by your direct supervisor. Please forward the link to your employer.
- One letter of recommendation — Please forward link to you recommender. 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.
Personal Statement Instructions
Your statement should be limited to three pages, double-spaced. Include the prompts outlined below in your essay to ensure you answer all questions thoroughly.
Follow these instructions if this is your ﬁrst time applying for Work Exemption or if you are a returning applicant applying with a new research, volunteer, or internship opportunity.
Description of the opportunity
- describe the organization, your role, and responsibilities;
- describe your duties, projects to be completed and deadlines; and
- explain why you want to intern at this organization.
- what do you intend to learn from this experience?
- what are your goals and how do they align with your academic interests and/or career plans?
- describe the supervision you will receive.
- what kind of instruction, assistance and training will you receive and from whom?
- explain how and when you will be evaluated.
- explain why you should be considered for this program;
- explain how your plans will be aﬀected if you do not receive WEP funding; and
- address your committement to completing a reﬂection project at the end of the semester.
Follow these instructions if you are reapplying for Work Exemption for an opportunity that is continuing into the next semester.
Description of the Opportunity
- summarize your internship/research/volunteer opportunity and your current role and responsibilities
- explain if your duties or projects will change and if you will assume any new responsibility next semester
- address why you are interested in continuing your work at this particular organization or with this particular faculty advisor
- what were your original learning objectives and how have they been met?
- how have these learning objectives changed or developed?
- what new goals have you set for yourself for your continued work with this organization?
- how has this experience impacted your overall academic interests and/or career goals?
- Describe the supervision, instruction and training you have received and from whom you have received it
- note when and how you have been evaluated and if this supervisory experience will change or remain the same in the upcoming semester.
- explain why you should be considered for continued support from the Work Exemption Program and describe how your plans will be aﬀected if you do not continue to receive a work exemption to participate in this experience
- address your commitment to completing a reﬂection project at the end of the semester.
Late or incomplete applications and applicants who do not meet required criteria will not be considered.
By submitting an application, you authorize the Center for Career Education to conduct academic, disciplinary and ﬁnancial aid checks to conﬁrm program eligibility and inform funding decisions. Certain University policy violations may disqualify you from consideration for WEP.
Important Information for Students Planning Overseas Opportunities
In accordance with the new Undergraduate International Travel Policy all students traveling overseas through a Columbia led, Columbia facilitated and/or recognized program must submit a school sponsorship application 4-weeks prior to departure.**
Once you have received conﬁrmation of your school sponsorship, log in to the Undergraduate Travel Web App to complete:
- Online Pre-Departure Orientation
- Sign the Assumption of Risk, Waiver, and Release form
Additionally, all students must:
- Register your travel (including side trips) through International SOS
- Conﬁrm that, while abroad, you will be covered by a health insurance policy that also provides coverage outside the United States for routine, urgent and emergency care.
*Graduate students participating in a Columbia led, Columbia facilitated and/or recognized program such as CUGO and STEP are also required to complete a school sponsorship application. This policy does not replace any additional requirements from a student’s home school. Graduate students, including Columbia Engineering graduate students, are encouraged to check in with their home school prior to ﬁnalizing any travel arrangements.
** Students applying to CCE funding programs with overseas opportunities who plan to travel in May should apply for school sponsorship by April 12th (the funding program application deadline). Submitting a school sponsorship application does not guarantee you will receive funding. Similarly receiving CCE funding does not guarantee approval of your school sponsorship application. Please note that school sponsorship applications related to CCE funding programs will not be approved unless the student receives a CCE funding award. Students who submit a school sponsorship application and do not receive a CCE funding award must withdraw their school sponsorship application unless they are also part of the CEO, STEP, or CU GO programs. In those cases, sponsorship applications should not be withdrawn.
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 look for applicants to present a compelling case for a substantive unpaid 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 accept an employment offer or have time 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.
I’ve already interviewed, but 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 unpaid 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 15 hour/week during the summer. Your supervisor from each opportunity will need to submit Employment Verification Forms and you will need to submit the online application twice providing contact information for each unique opportunity. You may write one personal statement that addresses not only each opportunity, but also how you plan on balancing your time commitment to each organization.
Who should write my letter of recommendation? I don’t have any Columbia professors that I know that well.
Your Work Exemption Program application letter of recommendation should come from an individual who can speak to your personal characteristics and academic or professional interests. This could include your leadership potential, commitment to a project, character, and/or maturity. It is not required that your recommender be a Columbia faculty member or professor. Other individuals you could request a recommendation from include a current or former supervisor at a part-time job or internship, a coach, a club advisor, or your Advising Dean.
I’ve participated in WEP before, do I still need a recommendation letter?
Students who are reapplying to continue with the same opportunity in a consecutive semester (fall continuing into spring; spring continuing into summer; or summer continuing into fall) do not need to submit a new letter of recommendation. Feedback obtained from your supervisor during your mid-semester verification will be utilized in place of a 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 through the CCE website. 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 unpaid opportunity?
During the summer, students are encouraged to apply to CCE funding programs. During the academic year, students should consult with the Financial Aid office to determine financing options.