If you’re hoping to beat out 94 percent of the competition, the first step is understanding the application process.
And for that, you’ve come to the right place! In this guide, we’ll share:
- Important info about Columbia
- Can’t-miss application deadlines
- Application essay topics
- How to apply, step-by-step
- Tips for applying successfully
Keep in mind that this guide isn’t intended to intimidate or discourage you, but to arm you with all of the information a successful Columbia applicant needs.
Established in 1754, Columbia University is a private Ivy League research university located in New York City. It’s one of the most important centers of research in the world, and it boasts a long list of influential alumni.
In fact, five of the Founding Fathers graduated from Columbia, including the authors of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Other notable alumni include:
- Three United States presidents
- 10 Justices of the United States Supreme Court
- 95 Nobel laureates
- 123 Pulitzer Prize winners
- 20 living billionaires
- 39 Oscar winners
- 77 National Medal of Science Winners
- Many more
Columbia is organized into twenty schools, both undergraduate and graduate, and it has research outposts in cities around the world.
Enrollment, Tuition, and Financial Aid
Undergraduate enrollment at Columbia totals 6,231, and total enrollment is 32,429.
- Faculty numbers 1,693, making the student/faculty ratio 6:1.
- The most frequent class size at Columbia is 10-19 students.
Tuition is $54,504 annually, and 22 percent of undergraduates have borrowed some form of financial aid.
The average amount of each freshman scholarship/grant is $55,687.
Columbia prides itself on its location in the Upper Manhattan area of New York City, referring to the “doubled magic” of living and learning at a prestigious institution in the heart of NYC.
Pulitzer Prize winner and Columbia alumnus Herman Wouk wrote of his experience at the university, “The best things of the moment were outside the rectangle of Columbia; the best things of all human history and thought were inside the rectangle.”
The university’s website describes Columbia as “an urban research university that offers a wide array of partnerships, service-learning programs, cultural activities, and other services in our Upper Manhattan community.”
In their free time, students visit downtown clubs, Broadway shows, comedy clubs, museums, Soho shops, new restaurants, and more.
Columbia’s close partnerships with NYC also ensure students a multitude of opportunities and a strong alumni network.
Columbia includes three undergraduate schools, thirteen graduate and professional schools, and four affiliated colleges and seminaries.
Among these are the highly ranked Business School, Teachers College, Law School, and College of Physicians and Surgeons.
The most popular majors at Columbia include Biological and Biomedical Sciences, Computer and Information Sciences and Support Services, Engineering, Social Sciences, and Visual and Performing Arts.
Students appear to be satisfied with their courses: The freshman retention rate is 99 percent, and students report that at Columbia, you “always know you’re being taught by people at the forefront of their fields.”
Student Body and Extracurricular Activities
With 90 foreign countries represented, Columbia’s student body is a diverse bunch.
- 48 percent of students are female and 52 percent are male, and 93 percent of undergraduate students live on campus.
There are 500 registered student organizations, including 11 social sororities and 30 religious organizations.
- 24 percent of students join a fraternity, while 16 percent join a sorority.
Columbia sports teams, the blue and white Columbia Lions, compete in Division I of the NCAA. They’ve had 17 Ivy League Championship teams in just the past five years.
Housing at Columbia is comprised of traditional residence halls, apartment buildings, and brownstones.
- The university supplies housing for approximately 5,600 undergraduate students.
- Incoming students have guaranteed housing for up to four years, and first-year students are required to live on campus.
Columbia’s campus is divided into four neighborhoods: South Lawn, East Campus, West Campus, and the Block.
All first-year students live on South Lawn, “the heart of undergraduate life at Columbia.”
Housing options for first-year students include Carman, Furnald, John Jay, and the Living Learning Center in Wallach and Hartley.
Around the clock dining options can be found on campus, and the main dining halls include Ferris Booth, JJ’s Place, and the John Jay Dining Hall. Columbia practices sustainable dining, and all dining locations are Level 1 Green Restaurant Certified.
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Applying to Columbia
Now, let’s take a look at the most important information you’ll need to know to apply to Columbia University.
Average Admitted Student
Remember that Columbia accepts only about 6 percent of applicants.
That means 94 percent of students who apply receive a rejection letter.
- To weigh your chances of joining the 6 percent, it’s a good idea to take a look at admissions statistics.
- Columbia’s average admitted student has an SAT score of 1530 out of 1600.
- The 25th percentile score is 1470, while the 75th percentile score is 1590.
Here’s what that means for you:
- You should aim for at least a 1470 if you want to be admitted to Columbia.
Almost anywhere else, this is a fantastic SAT score, but it still puts you slightly below average at Columbia. To be on the safe side, it’s best to score closer to a 1590.
Columbia is also extremely competitive when it comes to GPAs, with an average GPA of 4.16 for admitted students.
This means you’ll need to take challenging classes, earn nearly all A’s, and be at or near the top of your class.
What if My Numbers Are Lower?
If you’re already a junior or senior, you don’t have much time to overhaul your GPA.
Instead, it’s more realistic to focus on boosting your SAT score as high as possible, securing enthusiastic letters of recommendation, and writing stellar college application essays.
- Of course, you’re still welcome to apply if your SAT scores and GPA are lower than the statistics here.
- After all, Columbia does evaluate applications holistically, so factors other than the numbers are considered.
The university website lists factors like “extracurricular interests, intellectual achievements, and personal background” as important.
But you should understand that if your numbers are much lower than those of the average admitted student, your chances of acceptance aren’t great.
Reach for the stars, but protect yourself by also applying to schools that are a better fit for your numbers.
You have two options if you’re applying to Columbia: Early Decision or Regular Decision.
Early Decision is binding, and Columbia’s website states that the choice to apply early should be based on “a true passion for Columbia and a certainty that should you be admitted, you would attend.”
- The deadline for Early Decision is November 1, and decisions are released online by mid-December.
The Regular Decision deadline is January 1, and decisions are released online in late March.
The deposit deadline for admitted student is May 1, and a final high school transcript must be received by late June.
This means that getting an acceptance letter isn’t the finish line: You still need to maintain your grades, or there’s a possibility that your acceptance will be rescinded.
Should I Apply Early?
Although Columbia considers all applications equally, some evidence suggests applying early may be to your advantage.
- Columbia doesn’t report acceptance rates for students who apply early, but statistics at all other Ivy League Colleges indicate that students who apply early are accepted at higher rates than students who apply Early Decision.
At some Ivy League schools, acceptance rates double for applicants who apply early.
An early application indicates that you’re passionate and dedicated to the school, and you’ll also be compared to a smaller pool of applicants.
Of course, you should only apply early if all of your test scores are ready by the November deadline—and if you’re absolutely certain that Columbia is your first choice.
Applying to Columbia: The How-To Guide
You may wish to decide which application to use based on the other schools you’re interested in.
The Common App is accepted by more colleges and universities, so it may save you time during this stressful process.
Below is a brief overview of the Common Application and the Coalition Application.
The Common App is accepted by over 700 colleges and universities.
- To complete it, you’ll need to create a student account at commonapp.org and add Columbia University to your “My Colleges” list.
You’ll be prompted to provide general information about your grades, course activities, test scores, exam dates, and parents/legal guardians.
During the process of applying to colleges and scholarships, it’s a good idea to keep all of this information together in one place.
The Common App also has a required personal essay. In brief, the seven topic options include:
- Meaningful background, identity, interest, or talent
- Lessons learned from a challenge, setback, or failure
- A time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea
- A problem you have solved or would like to solve (ethical dilemma, intellectual challenge, or research query)
- An accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth
- A captivating topic, idea, or concept that you find fascinating
- A topic of your choice
When you fill out the Common App, you’ll also be asked the Columbia-specific Questions.
This supplement, which we’ll discuss more in a minute, is essential.
The Coalition Application is a newer option that’s accepted by 113 member schools.
- It provides college tools and collaboration spaces for students to connect with teachers, parents, and/or counselors.
If you decide to go with the Coalition Application, you’ll need to create an account on mycoalition.org, add Columbia University to your “Colleges” list, and invite your guidance counselor and any teachers who will be writing letters of recommendation.
Like the Common App, the Coalition Application requires a personal essay. The five topic options are:
- An experience that demonstrates or helped shape your character
- A time when you made a meaningful contribution to others by focusing on the greater good
- A time when a long-cherished or accepted belief was challenged
- The hardest and best parts of being a teenager now
- A topic of your choice
As an additional supplement, you’ll be expected to answer the Columbia-specific Questions.
The Columbia-specific questions open with a 150-word short answer question.
- Four list questions follow, and the supplement concludes with three 300-word short answer questions.
According to the university’s website, the admissions team “reviews the responses to these questions very carefully in order to get a full sense of each unique individual beyond his or her transcripts and test scores.”
The opening question is:
“In 150 words or fewer, please list a few words or phrases that describe your ideal college community.”
Next, you’ll respond to the following four list questions:
the titles of the required readings from courses during the school year or summer that you enjoyed most in the past year;
the titles of books read for pleasure that you enjoyed most in the past year;
the titles of print or electronic publications you read regularly;
and the titles of the films, concerts, shows, exhibits, lectures and other entertainments you enjoyed most in the past year.
You must respond to each of these list questions in 150 words or fewer. Columbia states that the lists don’t need to be numbered.
- Instead, they ask that you separate each list item with commas or semicolons.
- No narrative or explanatory text is needed, and author names may be included, but are not required.
Finally, you’ll respond to these three 300-word short answer questions:
Please tell us what you value most about Columbia and why.
If you are applying to Columbia College, tell us what from your current and past experiences (either academic or personal) attracts you specifically to the field or fields of study that you noted in the Member Questions section. If you are currently undecided, please write about any field or fields in which you may have an interest at this time.
If you are applying to The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science, please tell us what from your current and past experiences (either academic or personal) attracts you specifically to the field or fields of study that you noted in the Member Questions section.
Take advantage of this opportunity to reveal more about yourself. There are thousands of talented, high achieving students applying to Columbia.
Here, admissions officers are looking to discover who will take the greatest advantage of the Columbia experience and will offer something meaningful to the community in return.
Additional Application Materials
You will also need to pay an $85 application fee. If this represents a financial hardship, you may submit a fee waiver request.
In addition to the materials outlined above, your application must also include:
- An official high school transcript from all high schools attended
- One high school counselor’s recommendation and school profile
- A completed Mid-Year Report
- SAT or ACT scores
- Two teacher recommendations from teachers who taught you in academic disciplines (one math or science teacher for engineering applicants)
- Optional interview with an alumnus/a
You may take either the ACT or the SAT, and scores may be self-reported on your application.
- If you take an exam more than once, Columbia will consider the highest score obtained in each individual section. The writing section is not required.
Keep in mind that Columbia will verify scores for all enrolling students, and any discrepancy between your official and self-reported scores may jeopardize your seat at Columbia.
Non-native speakers must also take an English proficiency test such as the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or the International English Language Testing System (IELTS).
This is in addition to the SAT or ACT.
Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), SAT Subject Tests, and other standardized assessments are not required by Columbia.
You may include them in the testing section of your application if desired.
Columbia stresses the importance of maintaining a valid email address throughout the admissions process, as most information is communicated electronically.
Ensure that your email account preferences permit you to receive emails from Columbia without filtering or junk mail routing.
Check your application status regularly to ensure all materials have been sent. You should receive a response from Columbia by mid-December (Early Decision) or late March (Regular Decision).
Conclusion: Applying to Columbia
When applying to Columbia, you’ll need to complete either the Common Application or the Coalition Application, in addition to the supplemental Columbia-specific Questions.
Applications must be submitted by November 1 for Early Decision and January 1 for Regular Decision.
- Columbia also requires the SAT or ACT, a school report with a counselor recommendation, transcripts (including mid-year and final updates), and two teacher recommendations.
- You have the best chance of being admitted to Columbia if your SAT is at least a 1530 and your GPA is at least a 4.0.
- Columbia admits around 6 percent of applicants, making it extremely selective. If your numbers are lower than those listed here, be sure to apply to a few safer options as well.
At the same time, don’t be discouraged: Columbia does consider applications holistically, and the university recognizes that you’re more than just your statistics.