The Tryout Process


Every fall semester, Columbia Debate Society holds an open tryout process to select new members of the team. Tryout times will be posted on our website as well as on our Facebook page in the beginning of September. All students, regardless of experience, are encouraged to connect with us at the Fall Activities Fair and our annual Demo Debate. Current team members will be available to answer any questions you might have about the team or collegiate debate.

The tryout is designed to last approximately ten minutes in length and does not require any previous debate experience or preparation. All tryouts are evaluated by the current Executive Board. There will be a short survey, followed by a written argument and several spoken questions, all meant to test logical reasoning and argumentative skills.

Tryout questions test the applicant’s ability to consider both sides of a debate, think quickly, and argue persuasively. All tryouts will ask students to consider issues across different disciplines, such as domestic politics, philosophy, and social justice. Applicants who are not selected are encouraged to tryout again the following year. In some years, tryouts will also be held at the beginning of the spring semester.


Frequently Asked Questions

Who can try out for the team?

We encourage applicants from all Columbia schools, regardless of debate experience. Our new members come from all sorts of debate backgrounds, ranging from no experience at all to former high school champion debaters. Many of our most successful debaters have come onto the team with no prior experience.

When do you hold tryouts?

We typically hold tryouts in the fall semester, at the end of the first week of classes. Tryout times will be posted on our website as well as on our Facebook page in the beginning of September.

Do I need prior debate experience?

Absolutely not! Some of our most accomplished debaters have been students who had no public speaking experience whatsoever. We encourage students of all experience levels to try out for the team. The most important thing is having an open mind and an intellectual curiosity.

I missed the tryouts in the fall and would still like to be considered for the team. Now what?

We will hold tryouts again in the next fall semester and encourage you to tryout at that point. Every year we accept upperclassmen as new members of the team. Our tryouts are almost always held the first weekend after classes begin and a schedule will be posted on our Facebook page. Tryouts during the spring semester are held occasionally, depending on demand and team openings.

How do I prepare for the tryout?

No preparation is necessary! Just come well-rested and ready to speak your mind. There is no way to study for the tryout process, although some students do find that being comfortable with current events can help.

What kind of debate does cds do?

We compete in parliamentary debate formats, specifically American and British Parliamentary. We compete in competitions at schools along the East Coast, across the country, and internationally. Our team also hosts public debates open to the Columbia community during the year.  Parliamentary debate values off-the-cuff thinking and extemporaneous speaking, rather than prior research and sourcing. These formats feature a diverse spectrum of topics, including questions on domestic politics, social justice, economics, international relations, and philosophy. American Parliamentary debate also allows students to create their own debate cases about any topic that interests them, from popular culture to technology ethics to historical events. Read more about our debate formats here.

What is the time commitment?

We only have three requirements for team members to be in good standing. All CDS members must staff the three tournaments we host each year, one in the fall semester and two in the spring, or provide valid conflicts. We host two non-mandatory practices a week, one specifically for new members and another geared towards our Varsity members but open to the whole team. These practices are approximately 2 hours long, including practice rounds. Tournaments are generally on Fridays and Saturdays. We also hold weekly study groups and team dinners after practices that are open to all members.

How much does it cost to be a member of the team?

There are no fees or material costs associated with joining the team! CDS covers all registration fees, travel costs, and hotel rates when applicable for the vast majority of tournaments. In rare cases, students who are financially able may be asked to cover half the cost of airfare for particularly expensive journeys. Students who are in need of financial aid for similar opportunities will be completely covered and financial need will never factor into our selection process for competitive tournaments.

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