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AskBwog: How Many Times Can a Person Graduate From Columbia?

How many times can this happen?One day, in a fit of rage, John McCain sarcastically asked how many times a person can graduate from Columbia. Mr. McCain may have had a point. Bwog stopped and asked: Wait, how many times can someone graduate? Matriculation Guru Derek Huang tries to answer this question by documenting one hypothetical student’s quest to earn as many degrees from Columbia as possible.

As we start following our student cursed with the insatiable passion for learning, a basic choice presents itself. Which undergraduate school should someone attend first: Columbia College or the School of Engineering and Applied Science? Why not both! Due to 4-1 or 3-2 programs, someone could easily graduate from both schools in five years, garnering both a Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Arts. Depending on whether or not our student is naturally blessed with the ticket to entering Barnard, there is the option of a costly sex change operation to squeeze out four more years as an undergraduate. Then, our poor student would have to temporarily give up that which he/she has so dutifully pursued for the past nine years—academics—in order to qualify as one who has “chosen non-traditional paths in their education,” and thus allowed to enroll in the School of General Studies for another four years, and another Bachelor’s Degree.

After these thirteen years and four Bachelor’s Degrees, a staggering number of options would open up to our learning-addicted test case. The Columbia Business School, School of Nursing, Mailman School of Public Health, Graduate School of Journalism, School of International and Public Affairs, Graduate School of Architecture, Teachers College, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, School of Social Work, and SEAS all offer at least one Master’s and one Ph.D. If we assume that, on average, it takes 2-3 years to earn a Master’s Degree and 4-5 years to earn a Ph.D., graduating with both degrees from each graduate school would take around 70 years, catapulting our philomath well past his or her prime.

Another 6oo years or so (but actually) documented after the jump.

And there are still degrees to be earned. The previous figure assumes that our subject only graduates with one Masters and one Ph.D. from the School of Arts and Sciences and SEAS; however, all told, these two schools have a staggering combined total of 109 departments. Furthermore, our undaunted learner could pursue a variety of more intensely-specialized degrees from the professional schools:

  • MD, College of Physicians and Surgeons
  • DDS, College of Dental Medicine
  • Master of International Affairs, Master of Public Affairs, and Ph.D., School of International and Public Affairs
  • MBA and Ph.D., Columbia Business School
  • Master of Architecture, MS, and Ph.D., Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation
  • Four different Master of Fine Arts degrees, School of Arts

Each of these Masters degrees tacks on another 2-3 years, and the Ph.D.’s another four or five. So, if our student wanted to graduate from all four undergraduate schools, plus each graduate school with as many degrees as possible and with a Masters and Ph.D. from each department (redundant, but hey, it’s all about the journey), it would end with a total of 142 degrees and take a nice, round 887 years.

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  • err says:

    @err the law school..?

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous untapped bonanza of masters degrees: school of continuing education (well named for this thread)

  • interesting says:

    @interesting but does anyone know who earned the most degrees from Columbia?

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous Not to shoot holes in your case or force you to redo your calculation but I do have a couple points.

    1 – You’re missing the M. Phil. degree. A completely useless piece of paper given out in some programs in GSAS. It’s usually given out so close to your doctoral thesis defense that no one in the world has an M. Phil. without also having a Ph. D.

    2 – In many programs, the masters is earned concurrently with the Ph. D. (and M. Phil.!). For example, the Ph. D. program may be five years total with the student attaining their M.A. after year 2, an M. Phil. after year 4, and a Ph.D. after year 5. The chemistry program, I can attest, has an extremely high degree to school year ratio with three degrees coming in five years.

    1. Alum says:

      @Alum The M.Phil. is optional, but any Ph.D. candidate is eligible for it after completing his/her course requirements. It is not given close to the dissertation defense unless that happens to be when the candidate asks for it (or unless the student puts off one or two classes until late in the program). In fact, many grads get it before they have done much work at all on their dissertation. And there are a great many alumni who have only an M.Phil. but who did not complete their Ph.D.s.

    2. except, of course says:

      @except, of course Sunil Gulati:

  • Vikram Pandit says:

    @Vikram Pandit …has 4. BS (SEAS), MS (SEAS/GSAS), MPhil (CBS/GSAS), PhD (CBS/GSAS)

  • Vikram Pandit says:

    @Vikram Pandit Correction, he has 5?!


    1. Alum says:

      @Alum Paul Brandt-Rauf, Dean of the School of Public Health at the University of Illinois at Chicago (and a professor emeritus at Columbia) also has five C.U. degrees: B.S., M.S., Eng.Sc.D., M.D. and Dr.P.H.

  • MD-PhD says:

    @MD-PhD Who says you just have to get one degree from med school? (8-9 years for both)

  • Alum says:

    @Alum Bwog forgot the Eng.Sc.D. (Doctor of Engineering Science), Dr.P.H. (Doctor of Public Health), Dr.N.P. (Doctor of Nursing Practice), J.S.D. (Doctor of Jurisprudential Science [it’s like a Ph.D. in law for people who have already finished law school]), Med.Sc.D. (the same idea, except in medicine), D.M.A. (Doctor of Arts in Music) and Ed.D. (Doctor of Education, available through TC).

  • Alum says:

    @Alum “the School of Arts and Sciences and SEAS . . . have a staggering combined total of 109 departments.”

    No, they have a combined total of 37 departments — 28 in Arts & Sciences and nine in SEAS. 109 may be the number of different doctoral programs these departments offer.

  • ... says:

    @... stop doing useless calculations and go to practice

  • i assume says:

    @i assume there’s some dude who has a phd from history at columbia and then probably a j.d. and an llm to boot.

    so the real answer is probably six or maybe seven

  • Anon says:

    @Anon There’s a list of ALL the degree programs Columbia can do:

    Unfortunately, you can’t get a stable URL of just the Columbia listings.

  • wait . . . says:

    @wait . . . SEAS kids can actually graduate?

  • Wow says:

    @Wow Some smart rich kid could make a career out of studying at Columbia… Oh wait, they call those people postdocs. That’s right.

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