Cornell vs. Columbia: Which College to Choose?

Female student holding books and walking down stairs inside building
February 20, 2024
5 min read


Reviewed by:

Rohan Jotwani

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 2/20/24

Stuck between choosing Cornell vs Columbia University? Learn the differences between the two Ivy League schools in admissions, academics, costs, and more to aid in choosing the best fit for you. 

For some students, it’s Ivy League School or nothing. So, choosing between Cornell University and Columbia University can become stressful. Each university has unique qualities that shape its academics, campus culture, student experience, and more. 

So, this guide will illuminate the distinctions between the two schools, offering a detailed comparison of their admissions criteria, academic offerings, financial considerations, and extracurricular environments. 

With these differences, prospective students can gain valuable insights into what each institution offers and make an informed decision aligning with their aspirations and preferences. Keep reading to have clarity between Cornell University and Columbia University.

Cornell vs. Columbia: Overview

Cornell and Columbia differ in various aspects, shaping their academic excellence and campus life. In a rural setting, Cornell offers several programs across diverse fields. On the other hand, Columbia, located in New York City, thrives on urban vibrancy and emphasizes research. Here is an overview of the two schools:

Cornell Columbia
Location Ithaca, NY New York City, NY
US News Ranking 12 (tie) 12 (tie)
Undergraduate Enrollment 15,735 $65,524
No. of International Students 5,146 14,088
Students-to-Faculty Ratio 9:1 6:1
No. of Applicants (Freshmen) 68,000 57,129
Acceptance Rate 7% 4%
Mid 50% SAT/ACT Scores
of admitted students
SAT: 1470 to 1570
ACT: 33 to 35
SAT: 1470 to 1570
ACT: 34 to 35
Average Tuition (Undergraduates studies) $66,014 $65,524

The table above highlights essential comparative factors from Cornell University to Columbia University. Columbia's student-to-faculty ratio is lower, offering a more intimate learning environment.

Admissions are highly competitive at both universities, with Columbia typically having a lower acceptance rate

Cornell vs. Columbia: Admissions Requirements

Here's a breakdown of the admission requirements for Cornell vs Columbia:

Cornell Admission Requirements

Here’s an overview of Cornell’s requirements

Cornell University

GPA and Completed Courses

Cornell University wants students who have pursued a challenging high school curriculum and performed well academically. While there's no specific GPA requirement, successful applicants typically have GPAs above 4.0, showing strong academic performance.

Personal Insight Questions

Cornell, like many competitive institutions, includes personal insight questions or essay prompts to understand applicants beyond their transcripts and test scores. 

All Undergraduate Applicants

“In the aftermath of the U.S. Civil War, Ezra Cornell wrote, "I would found an institution where any person can find instruction in any study."

For over 150 years, Cornell University has remained deeply committed to Ezra’s vision. Explain how your life experiences will help inform your contributions to a learning community devoted to “...any person…any study.” 

We encourage you to think broadly about your life experiences, including how local (e.g., family, school, neighborhood) or global communities you’ve been part of have helped shape your perspective. (350 words)”

College of Arts & Sciences

“At the College of Arts and Sciences, curiosity will be your guide. Discuss how your passion for learning shapes your academic journey, what areas of study or majors excite you, and why. 

Your response should convey how your interests align with the College and how you would take advantage of the opportunities and curriculum in Arts and Sciences. (650 words)”

College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

Required: “Why are you drawn to studying your chosen major? Please discuss how your interests and related experiences have influenced your choice. How will an education from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) at Cornell University specifically support your learning, growth, and pursuit of your goals? (650 words)”

Optional: “At Cornell CALS, we aim to leave the world better than we found it, so we seek out those who are not simply driven to master their discipline but passionate about doing so to serve the public good. Please elaborate on an experience where you had a meaningful impact on people, a community, and/or an environment of importance to you. (200 words)”

Optional: “Cornell CALS is dedicated to the purpose-driven study of the agricultural, life, environmental, and social sciences and welcomes students with interests that span various disciplines. Given our agricultural history and commitment to educating the next generation of agriculturalists, please share if you have a background or interest in agriculture, regardless of your intended major. An “agricultural entity” for this question is cultivating soil, growing crops, and raising livestock (e.g., farm, ranch, greenhouse, vineyard, etc.) Students select from check boxes (all that apply)”

  • A primary source of income for my parent/guardian(s) comes from ownership of or employment by an agricultural entity.
  • My extended family owns or operates an agricultural entity.
  • I have experience working in an agricultural entity.
  • I have an interest in pursuing a career in an agricultural entity.

Please feel free to share additional details below.” (100 words)

College of Architecture, Art, and Planning

What three words best describe you? (30 characters per word)”

“How do your interests directly connect with your intended major at the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning (AAP)? Why architecture (B.Arch), art (BFA), or urban and regional studies (URS)? B.Arch applicants, please explain how a creative project or passion motivates you to pursue a 5-year professional degree program. BFA applicants may want to consider how they could integrate a range of interests and available resources at Cornell into a coherent art practice. URS students should emphasize their enthusiasm and depth of interest in studying urban and regional issues. (650 words)”

SC Johnson College of Business

What kind of business student are you? Using your personal, academic, or volunteer/work experiences, describe the topics or issues you care about and why they are important. Your response should convey how your interests align with the school you are applying to within the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business (the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management or the Cornell Peter and Stephanie Nolan School of Hotel Administration). (650 words)”

Brooks School of Public Policy

Why are you drawn to studying public policy? Drawing on your experiences, tell us why you are interested in your chosen major and how attending the Brooks School will help you achieve your life goals. (650 words)”

College of Engineering

All Engineering applicants are required to write two supplemental essays. Each has a limit of 250 words. Essay 1 is required of all applicants. For Essay 2, you must choose between Question A and Question B.

Essay Prompt #1: “How do your interests directly connect with Cornell Engineering? 

If you have an intended major, what draws you to that department at Cornell Engineering? If you are unsure what specific engineering field you want to study, describe how your general interest in engineering directly connects with Cornell Engineering. Concentrating on one or two things you are most excited about may be helpful. (250 words)”

Essay Prompt #2: Choose either Question A or Question B:

A. “Describe an engineering problem that impacts your local community. This could be your school, neighborhood, town, region, or a group you identify with. Describe one to three things you might do as an engineer to solve the problem.”

B. “Diversity in all forms is intrinsic to excellence in engineering. The best solutions to complex problems are often achieved by drawing from the diverse ingenuity of people from different backgrounds, experiences, and identities. How do you see yourself contributing to the Cornell Engineering community's diversity and/or inclusion? What is the unique voice you would bring to the Cornell Engineering community?”

College of Human Ecology:

How have your related experiences influenced your decision to apply to the College of Human Ecology (CHE)? How will your choice of major impact your goals and plans for the future? Your response should show us that your interests and aspirations align with CHE and your choice of major. (650 words)”

College of Industrial and Labor Relations:

“Using your personal, academic, or volunteer/work experiences, describe the topics or issues you care about and why they are important. Your response should show us that your interests align with the ILR School. (650 words)”

These questions allow applicants to express their unique experiences, aspirations, and perspectives.

Letters of Recommendations

Cornell usually requires two to three letters of recommendation from teachers or mentors who can attest to an applicant's academic abilities, personal character, and potential contributions to the university community.

Additional Application Items

Cornell may require supplementary materials or portfolios, especially for specific programs or majors, alongside the Common Application or Coalition Application. Certain departments might have additional requirements like interviews, auditions, or submission of research papers or creative works.

Columbia Admission Requirements

Here are the requirements for Columbia admission.

GPA and Completed Courses

Columbia values a strong academic background, with no specific GPA cut-off, but typically admits students with GPAs in the 4.1 to 4.3 range. They seek students with a challenging curriculum.

Essay and Short Answers

Columbia's supplemental essays focus on understanding the applicant's intellectual curiosity, individuality, and engagement with the world around them. The four questions include:

  • “List a selection of texts, resources, and outlets that have contributed to your intellectual development outside of academic courses, including but not limited to books, journals, websites, podcasts, essays, plays, presentations, videos, museums, and other content that you enjoy.  (100 words or fewer)” 
  • “A hallmark of the Columbia experience is learning and thriving in an equitable and inclusive community with many perspectives. Tell us about an aspect of your perspective, viewpoint, or lived experience that is important to you, and describe how it has shaped the way you would learn from and contribute to Columbia's diverse and collaborative community. (150 words or fewer)”
  • “In college/university, students are often challenged in ways they could not predict or anticipate. It is important to us, therefore, to understand an applicant's ability to navigate through adversity. Please describe a barrier or obstacle you have faced and discuss the personal qualities, skills, or insights you have developed. (150 words or fewer)”
  • “Why are you interested in attending Columbia University? We encourage you to consider the aspect(s) you find unique and compelling about Columbia. (150 words or fewer)”
  • “What attracts you to your preferred areas of study at Columbia College or Columbia Engineering? (150 words or fewer)”

These questions should be answered in the letters. Also, the word range should not be ignored. Any essay of more than 150 words will be penalized.

Letters of Recommendations

Columbia requires two to three recommendation letters from teachers or mentors. These letters are expected to describe you in a way that will convince the committee.

Additional Application Items

Alongside academic transcripts and standardized test scores (SAT/ACT), Columbia might request additional materials like portfolios, interviews, or submissions specific to certain programs.

Both universities review applications, looking beyond grades and test scores to assess an applicant's character, extracurricular activities, leadership potential, and unique qualities. While academic performance is essential, these universities value well-rounded individuals who contribute meaningfully to their communities.

Cornell or Columbia? Factors to Consider

Here are some factors to consider when choosing between Cornell vs Columbia.

Cornell University


Cornell: Known for its strong research across various disciplines and the breadth of academic programs. The university's diverse colleges offer several majors, providing students with a comprehensive educational experience.

Columbia: Renowned for its core curriculum that focuses on critical thinking and holistic education. The university provides a rigorous liberal arts education with specialized schools offering various programs, emphasizing a well-rounded approach.

Class Profile

Cornell: Typically, it has a larger undergraduate population than Columbia, offering a diverse student body across its colleges and emphasizing collaborative learning environments.

Columbia: Known for its smaller class sizes and a more intimate academic setting, fostering close interactions between students and faculty members.


Cornell: The cost of attending Cornell varies depending on the college within the university. It has numerous financial aid packages to support students.

Columbia: Similar to Cornell, Columbia's costs also vary across its different schools. The university provides robust financial aid programs to assist students in funding their education.

Financial Aid

Cornell: Offers need-blind admissions for domestic applicants and meets 100% of demonstrated need for admitted students.

Columbia: Also practices need-blind admissions for U.S. citizens and permanent residents, meeting fully demonstrated financial needs.

Sports and Extracurriculars

Cornell: Provides a vibrant campus life with numerous clubs, organizations, and competitive athletics, fostering a strong sense of community engagement.

Columbia: Offers several extracurricular activities, cultural organizations, and competitive sports, encouraging students to explore various interests and engage in the campus community.

Cornell and Columbia boast impressive academic reputations, diverse student populations, and robust extracurricular offerings. The choice ultimately depends on individual preferences, career goals, and the overall fit with the university's culture and resources.

Choosing Between Cornell and Columbia: How to Decide

Choosing between Cornell and Columbia involves assessing several critical factors. Firstly, consider the academics offered by each institution. 

Columbia University

Cornell's range of colleges offers several programs, while Columbia's core curriculum emphasizes a well-rounded educational experience. Select based on your specific academic interests and your desired study depth.

The campus culture and environment at both universities also play a pivotal role. Cornell's campus in a rural setting offers a traditional collegiate atmosphere, whereas Columbia, located in the heart of New York City, provides an urban experience. Each setting offers distinct advantages, so consider which aligns better with your lifestyle and preferences.

The location and surroundings are also important. Columbia's urban location provides access to New York City internships, cultural activities, and professional networking opportunities, while Cornell's rural setting offers a close-knit community and outdoor recreational options.

Financial factors also come into play. Assess the costs of attending each university and the available financial aid packages. Determine the long-term financial implications of studying at either institution and explore scholarship opportunities.

Consider the career and alumni networks associated with each university. Research alumni engagement and career services to gauge how well they align with your future professional aspirations.

Finally, focus on personal fit and feel. If possible, visit both campuses to experience the atmosphere, interact with students, and get a sense of campus life. Reflect on individual preferences such as weather, campus culture, class sizes, and faculty interactions, prioritizing what matters most to your academic and personal growth.

FAQs: Cornell Vs. Columbia

Here are answers to frequent questions on Cornell vs. Columbia. 

1. Is It Harder to Get Into Cornell or in Columbia?

Based on the acceptance rate, it is harder to get into Cornell at 7% than Columbia at 4%. However, admission varies depending on the program.

2. Which University Has a Stronger Emphasis on Research and Academia, Cornell or Columbia?

Although both universities emphasize research and academia, Cornell has a stronger emphasis. Also, Cornell is renowned for its agricultural and life sciences research.

3. What Is the Scholarship and Financial Aid Situation Like at Cornell and Columbia?

Financial aid varies, with both institutions offering scholarships, grants, and aid packages tailored to individual needs. However, Columbia offers more scholarships and financial aid.

4. What Are the Major Differences in Campus Life Between Cornell and Columbia?

Cornell boasts a more rural setting with a focus on diverse natural places and a close-knit community across various colleges. Columbia, on the other hand, offers an urban experience with unparalleled access to cultural activities, internships, and professional opportunities. 

5. How Do Cornell and Columbia Differ in Terms of Academic Programs and Specialties?

Cornell encompasses several colleges and specialized programs like agriculture, engineering, and hotel management. Meanwhile, with its Ivy League status, Columbia places a significant emphasis on the arts, humanities, social sciences, and its renowned journalism school, among other disciplines.

6. Are There Significant Differences in the Size and Diversity of Student Bodies Between Cornell and Columbia?

Cornell has a larger undergraduate student body spread across several colleges. It has a diverse and inclusive environment due to its programs and campus settings. On the other hand, Columbia, with its smaller student body, offers a more intimate atmosphere and diverse community within an urban landscape.

Final Thoughts

Choosing between Cornell or Columbia requires careful consideration of academic preferences, campus life, and personal goals. Cornell's diverse programs, rural setting, and close-knit community offer a unique experience, while Columbia's urban location, smaller campus, and focus on the liberal arts bring a different charm. 

Assessing individual needs regarding academic pursuits, campus culture, and environment will guide the decision. Both institutions boast exceptional academics and distinct atmospheres, so applicants should align their choices with their aspirations for a fulfilling college experience. 

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