How To Get Into Columbia University: The Ultimate Guide

Photo of Low Memorial Library at Columbia University
August 8, 2022
Columbia University RequirementsColumbia University Acceptance RateColumbia University Supplemental Essays (Prompts & Tips) How to Prepare for the Columbia University InterviewTips on How to Get into Columbia UniversityHow to Apply to Columbia Should I Apply to Columbia University?Columbia University Class ProfileAbout Columbia UniversityFAQs: Getting Into Columbia

”Mary

Reviewed by:

Mary Banks

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 6/22/22

Columbia University is a top-ranked addition to any college list. Read on to learn what the requirements are to get into Columbia, 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 liberal arts college located in the Morningside Heights neighborhood in New York City. It is also one of the most selective Ivy League schools

Columbia is the birthplace of many incredible movements and technologies: the US’ 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? This article will describe what Columbia’s admissions requirements are, what its class profile looks like, and provide you with some top tips on how to get into Columbia. 

Get a Free Personalized Columbia Application Timeline.

Book a Free 30 min Call

Columbia University Requirements

Knowing how to get into Columbia starts with understanding application requirements. We’ll outline elements like standardized testing scores,  Columbia University recommendation letter requirements, and more. 

Columbia accepts either the Coalition Application, the Common Application, or QuestBridge Application

You will need to 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: 

Letters of Recommendation 

Columbia requires three letters of recommendation; one from your high school counselor and two from your teachers. 

If you are applying as an engineering major, Columbia requires that you ask your math or science teachers for a letter. If you are 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 of the classroom. If your teachers don’t know that you volunteer at a youth center after class, tell them! Your letter should show your accomplishments. 

Supplementary Materials 

You should only submit supplementary materials if needed, as it is 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. 

SAT Requirements 

Many universities use the SAT to determine if you’re ready for college. You will be assessed in three core areas: 

Most students take the SAT during the fall of their senior year or the spring of their junior year. Ideally, you should take it as soon as you can in case you need to retake the exam. 

Columbia doesn’t set any minimum score requirements. However, the middle 50% range of composite SAT scores achieved by admitted students is 1510 to 1560. If you want to be a competitive applicant, achieving scores near the higher end of this range is advisable. 

ACT Requirements 

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. The ACT is comprised of four multiple-choice tests and an optional writing test: 

The middle 50% range of ACT scores achieved by admitted students is 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. 

English Proficiency Testing 

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

This is also requested of applicants who received less than 700 on the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section of the SAT, or a 29 on the English or Reading sections of the ACT. 

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. 

GPA Requirements 

The average GPA of Columbia’s admitted students is 3.91. 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, you’ll need to get near straight As in most of your classes. If you are worried about achieving such high grades, it can be helpful to schedule sessions with a tutor. 

Alternatively, you can find a private admissions consultant who can provide you with end-to-end college application counseling.  

Columbia University Acceptance Rate

Columbia is an extremely selective school. In a recent admissions cycle, Columbia ​​received 60,551 applications and admitted just 2,358 students, meaning its acceptance rate is 3.9%. 

Yield Rate

A college’s yield rate is the percentage of admitted students who decide to enroll. In Columbia’s case, there are 1,569 first-year students, meaning its yield rate is 66.5%. 

Early Decision Date Acceptance Rate

Columbia received 6,435 Early Decision applications last year. Although Columbia’s Early Decision acceptance rate is higher than Regular Decision, the earlier round attracts the most competitive applicants. 

How Hard Is It to Get into Columbia University?

So, is it hard to get into Columbia University? As evidenced above, Columbia is a very selective school: the answer is it’s certainly challenging. It attracts some of the finest minds globally, and applicants tend to achieve high GPAs and scores on standardized tests. Ninety-five percent of Columbia’s accepted students are in the top 10% of their graduating high school class. 

Columbia University Supplemental Essays

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 are a good fit, and how getting into Columbia will help you achieve your goals. 

This year’s supplemental essay prompts are split between three list questions and three short answer questions. 

For the list questions, Columbia has some formatting advice: 

You should use full sentences and paragraphs for the short answer questions. 

Let’s take a look at how to answer each question before looking at several supplemental essay examples.

Prompt #1

“List the titles of the required readings from academic courses that you enjoyed most during secondary/high school. (75 words or fewer)”

Honesty and authenticity are the most critical aspects of this question. It is tempting to list several impressive and influential books here, but you need to consider which readings you genuinely enjoyed. 

Which books made you think the most? Did you find yourself re-reading any for fun? Did a particular text motivate you to take on new challenges? 

The key is not to be afraid of choosing diverse subjects. After all, Columbia wants to know what you enjoyed. 

Prompt #2

“List the titles of the books, essays, poetry, short stories or plays you read outside of academic courses that you enjoyed most during secondary/high school. (75 words or fewer)”

While the first prompt wants to know about your academic interests, this question focuses on what you do in your free time. Again, you shouldn’t choose something that sounds impressive if it does not interest you. 

Prompt #3

“We’re interested in learning about some of the ways that you explore your interests. List some resources and outlets that you enjoy, including but not limited to websites, publications, journals, podcasts, social media accounts, lectures, museums, movies, music, or other content with which you regularly engage. (125 words or fewer)”

This prompt provides a great opportunity to show how well-rounded you are, so take advantage of it. 

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 films or music. The medium of your interests and the content both 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  podcasts about taking amazing portraits. 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. 

Prompt #4

“A hallmark of the Columbia experience is being able to learn and live in a community with a wide range of perspectives. How do you or would you learn from and contribute to diverse, collaborative communities? (200 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. 

Indeed, 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 is important here to show and tell. You need to provide an example of a community you’re part of and explain what you have 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 big is a huge mistake as you won’t have 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 perfection. Additionally, you can say Columbia is an ideal place to pursue this interest as you want to join the Artists Reaching Out organization. 

Prompt #5

“Why are you interested in attending Columbia University? We encourage you to consider the aspect(s) that you find unique and compelling about Columbia. (200 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.”

You should be specific and use every resource at your disposal. You can use Columbia’s website, social media platforms, student blogs, campus tours, or virtual seminars. 

Take time to find programs, lecturers, experiences, societies, organizations, and clubs that excite you. Of course, you need to explain why something particularly appeals to you in the essay, 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 is all about showing what you value and how Columbia will help you pursue your interests. 

Prompt #6

“Please tell us what from your current and past experiences (either academic or personal) attracts you specifically to the areas of study that you noted in the application. (200 words or fewer)”

This is not the place to profess your love of Columbia’s architecture or New York City. Instead, you should emphasize what excites you about Columbia’s program. You will need to explain why and how it aligns with your interests. 

Show Columbia that you want to take advantage of its specific resources. You want to be detailed, so try to focus on one or two elements and show how this will help you achieve your future goals. 

For example, say you’re interested in studying international history at Columbia. You can specify that you are particularly interested in working with Professor Mark Mazower. He is 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, an institute that brings scholars together with artists, filmmakers, and composers globally. 

You can write that working with him would undoubtedly further your knowledge of International history. His access to the Columbia Institute for Ideas and Imagination also provides an incredible opportunity to discuss your ideas with creative professionals and consider interdisciplinary approaches to research. 

Supplemental Essay Examples 

Let’s take a look at several admitted students’ Columbia supplemental essay examples

Essay Example #1  

“List the titles of the required readings from academic courses that you enjoyed most during secondary/high school. (1-150 words)”

Why this is a good response: This response shows that the writer has a wide range of interests, ranging from modern European history to iconic novels. 

There is an interesting mix between well-known works like “The Prince” and slightly more specialist books like “Sexual Politics and Religious Reform in the Witch Craze.” This dichotomy provides an insight into the writer’s intellectual curiosity. 

Essay Example #2 

“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 various 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.

Essay Example #3 - 

“Why are you interested in attending Columbia University? (1-200 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 that 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 attend Columbia. 

The second paragraph then directly links their interests and how getting into Columbia will help them explore them. The writer explicitly states that they are interested in a topic, and “Columbia provides an environment for those diverse passions.”

By doing this, the writer makes a clear connection between themselves, their interests, and the school’s community.

How to Prepare for the Columbia University Interview

Columbia has a rich tradition of using alumni representatives or student interviewers to conduct college interviews. Currently, only virtual interviews are offered. 

If you are not invited to an interview, don’t worry: there is no relationship between Columbia interviews and acceptance rates. Because of the volume of applications, Columbia can’t speak to each candidate. You will not be at any disadvantage if you are not offered an interview. 

Interview Questions

Although Columbia doesn’t provide any specific interview advice, we’ll look at several common interview questions and how you can use them to prepare. 

You should prepare for your college admissions interviews as thoroughly as possible. This should include researching the school and participating in mock interviews with peers, teachers, or college mentors. 

Being authentic is important as your interviewers can tell if you are feeding them lines from prepared answers. While memorizing your strengths and ambitions is useful, don’t recite talking points from a script - stay loose and conversational. 

Some common college interview questions include: 

Aim to prepare several questions to ask your interviewer. Ensure they are specific to show you have done your research. For example, you can ask about mentoring, school employment opportunities, and faculty teaching.

Tips on How to Get into Columbia University

Here are our top tips for getting into Columbia University. These tips can help you boost your chances of acceptance. 

Take Challenging Courses in High School

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 is a brilliant way to show you are intellectually curious, determined, and ready for the academic rigor of college-level education.

However, there is a balance. Generally, colleges don’t want to see you take too many Advanced Placement classes (AP) and achieve C’s and D’s. Yet, they also don’t want to see you achieve a 4.0 GPA in 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 will 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 on offer. Start pushing yourself by building on your academic strengths and then taking courses that test you more. 

If you do want to challenge yourself further, you can take AP courses in a community college. Alternatively, if you want to boost your GPA, attending summer school can help you learn in a smaller,  more relaxed learning environment. 

Pursue Meaningful Extracurricular Activities 

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. 

At a top-tier institution like Columbia, demonstrating special talent can 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, be it in the community, at work, or at school, you should emphasize this. 

Do Your Research 

Doing college research is an essential step 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. Review the course catalog and clubs to understand Columbia’s academic and social culture. 

Tailoring your application shows how you will be 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.

Apply Early Decision 

As Columbia notes, applying for Early Decision (ED) is something you should only do if you are “driven by a true passion for Columbia and a certainty that, should you be admitted, you would attend.”

At Columbia, you are four times as likely to get in through their Early Decision program as 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.

How to Apply to Columbia 

Here is an overview of the Columbia University application process.

Application Process and Deadlines

The deadline for Regular Decision applications is early January, and you should hear from Columbia in early May. Understanding what the Columbia University requirements are to get in is key. 

Early Decision Date

Early November is the deadline for Early Decision applications, and you should hear back from the admissions committee in early January. 

Columbia University Class Profile

Let’s take a look at the demographics of Columbia’s 1,569 first-year students. 

Demographics

Columbia’s class profile is diverse; the self-reported gender identity of 48% of its students are female, 50% are Male, and 2% identify as non-binary or others.

Here is the breakdown of students in terms of domestic ethnic diversity: 

(Please note that the total above exceeds 100% as some students indicate more than one ethnicity.)

Of the first-year students, 17% are first-generation college students, and 43% are financial aid recipients with annual parental contributions of less than $5,000. 

Columbia has the fourth-largest international student population of any US college. Foreign citizens comprise 13% of the first-year class, and 82 countries are represented. 

Student to Faculty Ratio

Columbia’s student-to-faculty ratio is 6:1, though some classes can have a ratio as low as 2:1. Around 80% of classes at Columbia have less than 20 students. 

Columbia’s professors are world-renowned. Its faculty have received 84 Nobel prizes, and there are currently seven Nobel laureates teaching at Columbia. 

Should I Apply to Columbia University?

First, you must decide if you want your learning to be guided or not. Columbia requires all of its students to take its rigorous core curriculum. You must complete these core courses before you can tailor your major to your own interests.

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 need to decide which type of education is right for you. 

If you are worried about financing your college journey, Columbia is extremely generous regarding grants and scholarships

Every year, Columbia awards over $150 million in scholarships and grants. Half of Columbia’s students receive grants from the college, and the average grant awarded is $52,073. 

Columbia states that you should expect to borrow $0 to attend its programs. 

Columbia University Class Profile

Let’s take a look at the demographics of Columbia’s 1,569 first-year students. 

Demographics

Columbia’s class profile is diverse; the self-reported gender identity of 48% of its students are female, 50% are Male, and 2% identify as non-binary or others.

Here is the breakdown of students in terms of domestic ethnic diversity: 

(Please note that the total above exceeds 100% as some students indicate more than one ethnicity.)

Of the first-year students, 17% are first-generation college students, and 43% are financial aid recipients with annual parental contributions of less than $5,000. 

Columbia has the fourth-largest international student population of any US college. Foreign citizens comprise 13% of the first-year class, and 82 countries are represented. 

Student to Faculty Ratio

Columbia’s student-to-faculty ratio is 6:1, though some classes can have a ratio as low as 2:1. Around 80% of classes at Columbia have less than 20 students. 

Columbia’s professors are world-renowned. Its faculty have received 84 Nobel prizes, and there are currently seven Nobel laureates teaching at Columbia. 

FAQs: Getting Into Columbia 

Do you still have questions about how to get into Columbia University? If you do, check out these FAQs for more information. 

What GPA Do You Need to Get Into Columbia University? 

While there are no GPA cutoffs, students should strive for a GPA around 3.9 to 4.0 for the best shot of acceptance. 

What Kind of Students Does Columbia Look For? 

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. 

Should I Apply to Columbia Through Regular Decision or Early Decision? 

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. 

How Important Is the Columbia Interview? 

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! 

Is Columbia the Hardest Ivy to Get Into? 

Now that you know how hard it is to get into Columbia, it’s no surprise that the school has the lowest acceptance rate in the Ivy League at 3.9%. 

Does Columbia Set Minimum GPA or Test Score Requirements?  

No. Columbia does not set any minimum standardized test scores or GPA requirements. However, it does set minimum scores for its English Language Proficiency testing requirements. 

Is Columbia the Key to Your Career Future?

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 receive standardized test scores better than the average scores achieved by admitted students. Additionally, pursuing meaningful extracurricular activities, doing college research, and taking challenging courses can 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 will show the admissions department that you are a great fit for their programs. Good luck with your application! 

Get A Free Consultation

Speak to a former college admissions officer about how we can help you get into your dream school
Schedule a Call

You May Also Like

Before you go, here are a few facts about us!

The Quad Factor: Working with us can increase your chances of admission by 7x!

The Best of the Best: Our team comprises of only 99th percentile tutors and admissions counselors from top-ranking universities, meaning you work with only the most experienced, talented experts.

The Free Consultation: Our experts would love to get to know you, your background, goals, and needs. From there, they match you with a best-fit consultant who will create a detailed project plan and application strategy focused on your success.
Exclusive Webinar: Securing Strong Letters Of Recommendation - our experts are ready to deliver expert advice and share strategies to attain compelling recommendations!
Register NowClose