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Exemption Exams

We're strong believers in the value of our core curriculum. However, we recognize that many of our students have considerable background in certain areas of our academic program, and we wish to grant them the flexibility to take additional electives in place of fixed core courses whose content they have already mastered. Such mastery is determined by passing an exemption exam, which is comparable to a final exam in a given subject.

We have created the following FAQs to help you navigate the exemption process. If you have questions that are not addressed here, please e-mail

Frequently Asked Questions


Can I be exempted on the basis of my previous academic work? Why do I have to take an exemption exam?

Exemptions are only granted upon passing the exam, not on credentials. Students have to pass an exemption exam to prove proficiency in a course based on the standards of the materials taught at Columbia Business School, since content can vary from school to school. Through this process, we ensure that Columbia MBAs have a consistent level of knowledge in our core curriculum when the program is completed.

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Can I exempt from elective pre-requisites?

Though not a core course, Capital Markets & Investments is a prerequisite for most upper-level finance courses. Students may attempt to waive this course by taking an exemption exam at any time the exemption exam is offered (typically at the beginning of a new term).

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When are the exemption exams offered?

Exemption exams for all fixed first- and second-semester exemption exams are offered prior to the start of the relevant term's classes.

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What if I'm not available when an exam is being offered? May I take it at another time?

There are several exam seatings offered during the exemption exam period. Students must take exemption exams when they are offered. To ensure against an unforeseen event preventing them from attending an exam, students should take the exam at the earliest available seating.  We do not reschedule exemption exams or allow make-ups.

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Where can I find information to help me prepare for the exams?

Entering students will have access to an Exemption Exams course link on their home page in Canvas once they've registered for the Pre-MBA Program and been notified by email that they can log on to the site. There they will find materials for core courses for which there are exemption exams. Materials may include a syllabus, sample class notes, sample assignment and sample exam. Students may use textbooks from prior courses, library books, etc. The amount of information posted to the page is at the faculty's discretion.  There will also be information regarding the format of the exam and what materials can be brought into the exam room. (See Pre-MBA information on the admitted students website.)

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Is it permissible to use materials or notes from current or past Columbia Business School students as preparation materials for exemption exams?

No, this would be considered a violation of the Honor Code. You should refer to the exemption exam information on Canvas, which provides the necessary background and has been approved for use by the faculty.

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May I contact the professor directly to ask for additional information?

All questions regarding exemption exams should be directed to the Office of Student Affairs or by email to

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When do I find out if I've passed an exemption exam?

The faculty will submit exam results for exemption exams to the Office of Student Affairs shortly after each exam seating. Students will be emailed as soon as their exam results are available, usually within 5-7 business days. Please note, while you do not receive pass/fail grades for courses taken at the business school, should you successfully exempt from a course, it will appear with a “P” on SSOL to denote that you passed. This will not be factored into your GPA, nor will you receive any credits. It is strictly a notation that you passed your exemption exam.

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Should I still attend my core course after I've taken the exemption exam?

While awaiting results of exemption exams, students will remain registered in their core courses. Students should continue to attend all core courses and also sit in on possible replacement courses.

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What grade is required to pass the exemption exam?  Does everyone pass?

The grade required to pass the exemption exam is at the discretion of the grading faculty.  All decisions are final.  Please be aware that while we encourage students to attempt to exempt, there is no guarantee of passing the exam. 

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What should I do if I learn I've passed an exemption exam?

Students who exempt out of core courses may log into BOSS, Columbia Business School’s online course selection system, at to select courses during the add/drop period. Instructions on how to use BOSS can be found by clicking the MBA Selection Guide tab to the left. If you would like additional guidance on courses to take or information on how to use the system, please visit the Office of Student Affairs in Uris 105 or Uris 113.  Student Affairs can also be reached at 212-854-5563 or

Does passing an exemption exam reduce the number of courses I need to take in order to graduate?

No, exemptions do not reduce the number of credits required for the MBA degree; they simply enable students to take additional electives.

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If I pass an exemption exam, do I receive additional bid points?

Students who exempt out of first-semester core courses are given the opportunity to enroll in electives in add/drop which is a point-free enrollment round; they do not receive additional bid points because they do not need to bid for these electives. Students who exempt out of second-semester core courses will be given 500 additional points with which to bid on electives during online course bidding. Additional bid points are not given for exempting out of Real Estate Finance or Capital Markets & Investments, which are electives.

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What electives can I take if I pass an exemption exam?

Many students take Capital Markets & Investments because it's a pre- or co-requisite for most upper-level finance courses. However, students may take any elective that has seats available, as long as they’ve fulfilled that course’s prerequisites. Course descriptions and prerequisites are found in the MBA Course schedule located on BOSS).  You must be logged into BOSS to see full course descriptions. Both the class schedule and a list of suggested electives for first-term students can be found in the MBA Selection Guide on BOSS.

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If I fail an exemption exam, does it appear on my transcript?

Failed exemption exams are not recorded on students' academic transcripts; there are no negative consequences to taking and failing an exemption exam.

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If I fail an exemption exam, may I retake it at a later date?

A student may only attempt each exemption exam once; exemption exams may not be retaken.

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What should I do if I'm not satisfied with the grade I received on my exemption exam?

Exemption grades are final — there are no grade appeals.

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Information on courses and all bidding-related information (including statistics) can be found on BOSS (Business Online Selection System). To see important dates for the Business School, navigate to the MBA Academic Calendar tab in BOSS.

More information regarding independent studies can be found on the Indepedent Study webpage , and you can pick up the required form, as well as additional information, in Uris 105. Students may register for up to 3 credits of independent study per term (the study can be either 1.5 or 3 credits). Independent studies are designed to be independent of the classroom experience and may not be used as a means of adding a seat to a full course.

More information can be found on the Cross-Registration webpage. MBA students may count up to six credits of graduate-level coursework at other schools within the University toward the MBA degree. Graduate-level courses are denoted by a number of 4000 or higher. Undergraduate courses may be taken as long as they are in addition to the 60 credits of graduate-level course work required for the MBA degree. Although the credits from an undergraduate course will not count toward the MBA degree, the grade earned in an undergraduate course will be included in calculating student GPA.

Membership on the dean's list is awarded at the end of the first term to students who achieve a 9.0 weighted GPA. In subsequent terms, membership is awarded to all students who achieve a 9.25 weighted term GPA.

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