Columbia University is a top-ranked addition to any college list. Read on to learn about Columbia requirements, how to apply, tips for getting in, and more!
What do Barack Obama, Art Garfunkel, Allen Ginsberg, and Lou Gehrig all have in common? They all attended Columbia University! Aside from its many notable alumni, Columbia is a prestigious NYC university and one of the most selective Ivy League schools.
Columbia is the birthplace of many incredible movements and technologies: the U.S.’ oldest literary magazine, the FM radio, the first college gay rights advocacy group, and the first Black student advocacy group on a multiracial campus.
So, how can you get into Columbia? We’ll discuss Columbia’s admissions requirements and provide tips on how to get accepted.
Knowing how to get into Columbia starts with understanding its application requirements. We’ll outline elements like standardized testing scores, Columbia University recommendation letter requirements, and more.
You must complete an activities and achievements section, provide autobiographical information, and complete a personal statement. The deadline for Regular Decision is early January, and you should hear from Columbia in early May. You must then complete the following requirements to get into Columbia University:
Columbia requires three letters of recommendation; one from your high school counselor and two from your teachers.
If you’re applying as an engineering major, Columbia requires a recommendation from your math or science teachers. If you’re applying for any other major, you can ask teachers from any subject for your recommendation letters for Columbia University.
Columbia stipulates that your letters should provide “evidence of intellectual curiosity and promise, classroom and school and community participation, and overall potential for the candidate to make an impact at Columbia, in the classroom and beyond.”
Recommendation letters are a crucial requirement to get into Columbia University: they can provide admissions committees with better evidence of your future success than test scores. An ideal recommender is a teacher who knows you well inside and outside the classroom.
You should only submit supplementary materials if needed, as it’s an optional part of the admissions process. Yet, Columbia notes that “there may be occasions where such credentials provide valuable information that the standard application does not.”
If you want to submit a creative portfolio or academic research, this is the place to do it.
Many universities use the SAT to determine if you’re ready for college. Columbia doesn’t set a minimum score requirement. However, the middle 50% range of composite SAT scores at Columbia is 1510 to 1560. If you want to be a competitive applicant, achieving scores near the higher end of this range is advisable.
Much like the SAT, the American College Test (ACT) is used to determine if your skills are ready for the rigor of college-level education. Admitted students at Columbia University had average ACT scores between 34 to 35. Again, while there is no minimum requirement, you should aim to score as high as possible.
Columbia doesn’t have a preference for either test and allows superscoring for both exams. So, the admissions committee will consider your highest testing results if you take either exam more than once.
If English is not your home language or the primary language of instruction used at your school, you need to fulfill Columbia’s English Language Proficiency requirement. To fulfill this English proficiency requirement, you must submit your scores from one of the following tests:
There is a minimum requirement for these tests; you must score at least 105 on the TOEFL, 7.5 on the IELTS, and 125 on the DET.
The average GPA of Columbia’s admitted students is 4.12. Columbia University’s average GPA is high; to put this in perspective, the average GPA of high school students is estimated to be around 3.2 to 3.4.
If you’re wondering what grades you need to get into Columbia University, you should strive for as close to a 4.0 as possible. To compete in Columbia’s applicant pool, it’s best to strive for high grades whenever possible. If you are worried about achieving such high grades, it can be helpful to schedule sessions with a tutor.
There are no set extracurricular activities at Columbia University you must participate in to apply or get accepted. However, the admissions committee does seek students they “believe will take the greatest advantage of the unique Columbia experience and will offer something meaningful in return to the community.”
Your extracurricular activities are another opportunity to differentiate your application and demonstrate your community spirit, passion, and leadership capabilities—all qualities Columbia is looking for.
Don’t forget to strive for quality over quantity. It’s better to participate in a few activities with significant time commitments that align with your passions and interests rather than many activities that don’t.
Columbia’s financial aid program helps admitted students fund their education, regardless of their circumstances. The school adopts a need-based, need-blind approach to aid: the aid you receive is based on your family’s ability to pay, and your financial need will never be factored in the admissions process.
Additionally, Columbia meets “100% of the demonstrated financial need for all domestic students and all international students admitted with funding.” The program does not use loans; students will not have to pay this money back.
If your family’s total annual income is less than $150,000 (and typical assets), you can attend Columbia tuition-free!
Columbia is an extremely selective school. For the class of 2027, Columbia received 57,129 applications and admitted just 2,246 students, meaning its acceptance rate is 3.9%.
A college’s yield rate is the percentage of admitted students who decide to enroll. While data about the 2027 class is still being collected, in recent years, Columbia had a yield rate of about 66.5%.
Columbia receives thousands of Early Decision applications each year. For instance, Columbia received 5,738 Early Decision applications during the class of 2027 application cycle.
Of those applicants, only 650 students were accepted, meaning Columbia’s Early Decision acceptance rate is 11.3% for the class of 2027. Although Columbia’s Early Decision acceptance rate is higher than Regular Decision, the earlier round attracts the most competitive applicants.
So, is it hard to get into Columbia University? As evidenced above, Columbia is a selective school. It attracts some of the finest minds globally, and applicants tend to achieve high GPAs and scores on standardized tests. Most accepted students (95%) are in the top 10% of their graduating high school class.
Take our interactive quiz below to find out how likely you are to get into Columbia.
Columbia uses its supplemental essays to learn more about you. Specifically, the admissions committee wants to gain insight into your community, intellectual curiosity, why you think you’re a good fit, and how getting into Columbia will help you achieve your goals.
This year’s supplemental essay prompts are split between one list and four short answer essays. For the list questions, Columbia has some formatting advice:
You should use full sentences and paragraphs for the short answer questions to write meaningful narratives. Let’s look at how to answer each question before looking at several supplemental essay examples.
“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)”
This question focuses on what you do in your free time. You shouldn’t choose something that sounds impressive if it does not interest you. Be honest!
This prompt provides a great opportunity to show how well-rounded you are. Chris, a Senior Admissions Officer of Undergraduate Admissions at Columbia, encourages you to “brainstorm a list of topics that come easily to you, what you’re most passionate about, [and] what you would walk across hot coals to defend.”
Try to be multi-dimensional here; don’t pick just books or plays. The medium of your interests and the content show who you are. Although this is more difficult to accomplish with lists compared to paragraphs, finding a theme is a great way to show off your passion for a particular topic.
For example, perhaps you love photography; you can list a series of publications about digital photography and related podcasts. Then, on the weekends, you visit your local museum, which has an exhibition on old cameras. Have fun with it, and let your true interests shine through.
“A hallmark of the Columbia experience is being able to learn and thrive in an equitable and inclusive community with a wide range of perspectives. Tell us about an aspect of your own 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)”
Many schools ask you to complete a “community” essay because they want to know how you see yourself fitting in on campus. Columbia’s question, in particular, stresses collaboration and diversity.
Along with over 300 college deans, Jessica Marinaccio, the Dean of Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid at Columbia, endorsed a report emphasizing these qualities’ importance. Your contributions or service should be “authentic” and “meaningful” to you, the report reads.
Columbia cares about how your experiences have shaped yourself and the community. It’s important here to show and tell. You need to provide a picture of your community, what you’ve learned from it, and how it shaped you.
A good way to do this is to focus on a specific topic. Choosing a topic that’s too broad can leave no room to reflect on your experiences. So, write about something that has altered how you think, what you value, or what strengths you have developed. Ultimately, you should tie your response’s message back to Columbia.
For example, say you spend your weekends at an art club. You can write that it has introduced you to a new community that strives for honest self-expression. Additionally, you can say Columbia is an ideal place to pursue your interests because you want to join Artists Reaching Out.
“In college/university, students are often challenged in ways that 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 as a result. (150 words or fewer)”
First, brainstorm a particular barrier or obstacle you’ve faced that you think would make a compelling topic. Once you’ve selected your topic, it’s important to also explain the outcome and what you’ve learned or gained from the experience.
Be mindful of the word limit as you write this prompt. Don’t spend too long describing the obstacle; most of your answer should focus on how you grew from the event.
“Why are you interested in attending Columbia University? We encourage you to consider the aspect(s) that you find unique and compelling about Columbia. (150 words or fewer)”
The key to answering any “why this college” supplemental essay question is simple: college research.
Rachel Taylor, the Senior Assistant Director at Columbia, encourages “you to do some research about Columbia and also some introspection about how you see yourself fitting in on our campus. Those two things will combine to create a strong Columbia writing supplement.”
Be specific and use every resource at your disposal. You can use Columbia’s website, social media platforms, student blogs, campus tours, and virtual seminars.
Take time to find programs, lecturers, organizations, and clubs that excite you. Of course, you need to explain why something particularly appeals to you, so be personal. What do your chosen topics say about you?
For example, suppose you want to become involved in Columbia’s Hoot Magazine. In that case, you can explain that this opportunity would help you fuse your love of writing and editing with your interest in fashion. Essentially, this essay shows what you value and how Columbia will help you pursue your interests.
“What attracts you to your preferred areas of study at Columbia College or Columbia Engineering? (150 words or fewer)”
This isn’t the place to profess your love of Columbia’s architecture or NYC. Instead, emphasize what excites you about Columbia’s programs. Explain why and how it aligns with your interests.
Show Columbia you want to take advantage of its resources. You want to be detailed, so try to focus on one or two elements and show how they’ll help you achieve your future goals.
For example, say you’re interested in studying international history at Columbia. You can specify you’re particularly interested in working with Professor Mark Mazower. He’s an expert in international and 20th-century European history and has published several award-winning books.
Mazower is also the founding director of the Columbia Institute for Ideas and Imagination, which brings scholars together with artists, filmmakers, and composers globally.
Let’s take a look at several admitted students’ Columbia supplemental essay examples:
“List the titles of the print or digital publications, websites, journals, podcasts or other content with which you regularly engage. (1-150 words)”
Why this is a good response: This list shows the writer’s interests. On the one hand, they enjoy browsing programming Reddit threads and “Hacker News.” On the other hand, they enjoy looking at fashion-focused publications like Vox and Salon. This varied list indicates the applicant is well-rounded and intellectually curious.
“Why are you interested in attending Columbia University? (100-200 words)”
“Computer science is at the core of my academic passions and my life ambitions. What I value in life is being around brilliant technologists. At Columbia, I have worked with and befriended the most driven and gifted programmers I’ve ever met. In January, I formed a team with three Columbia freshmen for MIT’s annual strategy-game-playing artificial intelligence competition. Ben, Ryan, Koh and I spent the month reviewing matches, debating approaches and tweaking our models. More than once we coded through the night. Their caliber was clear in the subtle insights that their multi-disciplinary backgrounds gave them and they gave me something to aspire to.
I have many interests that lie outside of my intended major but that I want to continue to pursue, and Columbia provides an environment for those diverse passions. Recently, while at a Columbia math club meeting with Ben, I ran into a political science major, Mathieu. He was elated to point out the insights that a love of math granted him in his courses and his conviction encouraged me to explore the peculiar intersection of the two fields.”
Why this is a good essay: This essay shows the writer is an ambitious, dedicated, and curious individual. The first paragraph establishes the writer’s interests and how their collaboration with three Columbia freshmen inspired them to apply.
The second paragraph directly links their interests and how getting into Columbia will help them explore them. The writer explicitly states they’re interested in a topic: “Columbia provides an environment for those diverse passions.” The writer clearly connects themselves, their interests, and the school’s community.
Columbia has a rich tradition of using alumni representatives or student interviewers to conduct college interviews. Currently, only virtual interviews are offered.
If you aren’t invited to an interview, don’t worry: there’s no relationship between Columbia interviews and acceptance rates. Because of the volume of applications, Columbia can’t speak to each candidate. You won’t be disadvantaged if you aren’t offered an interview.
Here’s an overview of the Columbia University application process.
The deadline for Regular Decision applications is early January, and you should hear from Columbia in early April. Keep these dates in mind as you navigate the admissions timeline!
Early November is the deadline for Early Decision applications, and you should hear back from the admissions committee in early January.
Here are our tips for getting into Columbia University. Given Columbia’s acceptance rate is low, these tips can help you boost your chances of success.
Columbia states, “We hope to see that a student is avidly pursuing intellectual growth with a rigorous course load. Whether a student is applying to Columbia College or Columbia Engineering, we advise preparation across disciplines.”
Pushing yourself academically is a brilliant way to show you’re intellectually curious, determined, and ready for college.
However, there’s a balance. Generally, colleges don’t want to see you take too many Advanced Placement classes (AP) and achieve Cs and Ds. Yet, they also don’t want to see you achieve a 4.0 GPA in only basic classes.
David Graves, the Senior Associate Director of Admissions at The University of Georgia, says, “it is much better to have a challenging curriculum and competitive grades than great grades and a weak curriculum.”
The sweet spot is somewhere in the middle; you should try to challenge yourself as much as possible and achieve great grades. Taking more challenging classes means you’ll likely spend more time studying, so balancing your course load with your social life is important.
Columbia College strongly recommends you take the following high school classes:
Colleges do consider your school’s level of rigor. So, if your school doesn’t offer many AP classes, you should try to take the most difficult ones offered. Start pushing yourself by building on your academic strengths and then taking courses that test you more.
Alternatively, if you want to boost your GPA, attending summer school can help you learn in a smaller, more relaxed learning environment.
Columbia uses your list of extracurricular activities to gauge the quality of your involvement outside of the classroom. The word “quality” is particularly important here; colleges want to see passion and achievement, not just a laundry list of activities.
Making good use of your summers is key to building a strong extracurricular list. At a top-tier institution like Columbia, demonstrating special talent can also increase your chances of admission.
If your activities have a tangible connection to the major you want to pursue, this can help show your passion for the field. Additionally, if your activities help those around you, whether in the community, at work, or school, you should emphasize this.
Doing college research is essential in crafting a stellar college application and getting into Columbia.
With every application they review, Columbia’s admissions committee tries to determine a “student’s fit for the distinctive Columbia experience.” Ideally, your application should show how your interests and experiences fit into Columbia’s culture and community.
Tailoring your application shows you're an ideal fit for their program and may increase your chances of admission. Additionally, telling Columbia how it fits in your ambitious journey can help you stand out. This research will be particularly helpful for essays and interviews.
As Columbia notes, applying for Early Decision (ED) is something you should only do if you’re “driven by a true passion for Columbia and a certainty that, should you be admitted, you would attend.”
At Columbia, you’re three times as likely to be accepted through the Early Decision than students who apply later. Applying through ED shows the admissions committee you mean business. However, ED is binding; if Columbia admits you, you must withdraw all other college applications.
The most competitive applicants generally apply for ED, so you will have to submit the strongest application possible to gain admission.
Although visiting college campuses is a great way to demonstrate your interest in the school, Columbia University states that it doesn’t track demonstrated interest.
Data shows the level of an applicant’s interest in admissions decisions at Columbia University. Visiting Columbia can, however, potentially boost your chances in indirect ways. You may connect with students and faculty members, learn more about the school, and gain a better understanding of why you’re a great fit during your visit.
First, you must decide if you want your learning to be guided or not. Columbia requires all of its students to take its core curriculum. You must complete these courses before you can tailor your schedule.
However, colleges like Brown University have no core courses. Indeed, Brown says its students are the “architects of their own education,” as you can sample many courses before diving into specialist topics. You must decide which type of education is right for you.
If you’re worried about financing your college journey, Columbia is extremely generous regarding grants and scholarships. Every year, Columbia awards over $200 million in scholarships and grants. Half of Columbia’s students receive grants from the college. The average grant awarded is $62,850.
Do you still have questions about getting into Columbia? If you do, check out these FAQs for more information.
To get into Columbia, your GPA should be 4.12 or higher; additionally, you should aim for a 75th percentile SAT or ACT score of 1560 or 35. However, a slightly lower GPA can be offset by higher test scores and other differentiating factors.
Overall, the school seeks students who would be a great fit: Columbia’s application process is designed to allow students to express themselves and their passions to gauge who the best candidates are.
If Columbia is your first choice and you can produce a stellar application on time, ED may be better for you. If you need more time or want to apply to another college’s ED program, you should go through Regular Decision. Understanding both of Columbia University’s application processes is key.
There is little to no relationship between the Columbia interview and acceptance rates: students aren’t at any disadvantage if they’re not selected for an interview. However, the interview can help you learn more about the school from a current student or alumni!
Now that you know how hard it is to get into Columbia, it’s no surprise that the school has one of the lowest acceptance rates in the Ivy League at 3.9%.
Columbia’s minimum GPA is estimated to be approximately 3.7, but there is no formal GPA or test score requirement.
There is an $85 nonrefundable fee to apply to Columbia. Some applicants may apply for fee waivers as long as they meet the eligibility criteria.
Tuition and fees cost $65,524 annually, but the total cost of attendance is estimated to be $85,967.
Columbia is a prestigious school with many notable alumni, a beautiful campus, and a low acceptance rate. However, you now know how to get into Columbia with the tips outlined above.
A great way to stand out is to strive for academic excellence, pursue meaningful extracurricular activities, do college research, and take challenging courses to strengthen your application.
Discuss the experiences that have shaped you into the person you are today. Touching upon the themes of leadership, collaboration, and diversity and linking them back to Columbia shows you’re a great fit. Good luck with your application!