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How To Get Into Columbia: Crafting A Successful Application

19/12/202325 minute read
How To Get Into Columbia: Crafting A Successful Application

Columbia University* is one of the most prestigious universities in the world, known for its rigorous academic programs, top-notch faculty, and vibrant student community. With a highly selective admissions process and competitive acceptance rates, only the top applicants are accepted.*

So what does it take to get into Columbia? How hard is it, and how do you maximize your chances? In this blog, we’ll break it all down and provide expert tips to submit a successful application.


If you're a high school student or a parent of a high schooler just starting to think about college, figuring out how to get into Columbia University can feel overwhelming.

To gain admission, you must have a strong academic record with exceptional grades in core subjects such as mathematics and English literature; craft compelling essay responses; showcase your unique personality traits through your extracurricular activities, community involvement, and any creative projects you’ve pursued; prepare for the SAT or ACT in advance; and finally review your application thoroughly before submitting to ensure accuracy.

This guide is here to help prepare you with all of the information and resources you need to pursue your academic dreams.

How hard is it to get into Columbia?

The Ivy League is known for its low acceptance rates. Columbia University accepted less than 3.9% of regular decision applicants into the Class of 2027.

These low acceptance numbers seem to be the new normal. The acceptance rate has decreased over the last two years and remain significantly lower than the 2019-2020 admissions cycle when only 40,083 students applied, and 6.15% received acceptance letters.

Columbia University Class of 2027 Acceptance Rate
Number of ApplicationsNumber of Accepted StudentsAcceptance Rate
Early Decisions5,73865011.33%
Regular Decisions57,1292,2463.93%
Overall62,8672,8964.6%

What do you need to get into Columbia?

1. Exceptional Coursework

We recommend that you challenge yourself academically in order to stand out when applying to Columbia University.

Look for opportunities to take rigorous coursework, such as honors and Advanced Placement classes, which demonstrate your commitment and ability. Additionally, taking classes related to your intended major can show how serious you are about continued study in the area.

As you’re taking these courses, it’s important to remember to focus on your GPA. If you’re struggling to get through the difficult courses, hurting your GPA will decrease your chances of getting into Columbia.

Recommended Courses for Columbia
CourseRecommended Units
English 4
Mathematics4
Social Studies3
Foreign Language4
Laboratory Science3

2. Standardized test scores

While Columbia University is test optional, SAT and ACT scores are still considered during the application process. If you’ve been contemplating sending in your test scores with your Columbia University application, high SAT/ACT scores can help your application stand out.

For the Class of 2027, students showcased high SAT and ACT test scores.

SAT Scores of Columbia Students
25th Percentiole75th Percentile
EBRW710760
Math740800
Total14501560
ACT Scores of Columbia Students
25th Percentile75th Percentile
Math3235
English3435
Composite3335

3. Essays

Through your essay, you should express your unique personality, intellectual interests, motivations, as well as demonstrate an understanding of the context in which you will be entering. Your essay should provide insight into why you are interested in a particular program and can help distinguish your application from those of other qualified applicants.

Make sure it reflects who you are and showcases your ideas, passion and motivation. Use vivid language, strong arguments, anecdotes and details to bring the story to life for readers. The essay is also a great opportunity for demonstrating critical thinking and writing skills so make sure it’s polished before submitting it with your application.

If you’re working on writing an essay for the Common App, don’t rush through your waiting. Think carefully about how you want to express yourself in your essay. Use vivid language and anecdotes to show who you are and why you’re applying to the school.

Check out our Ultimate Guide to Acing Columbia’s Supplemental Essays for specific approaches to answering the Columbia supplemental essay questions.

4. Extracurricular activities

Extracurricular Activities are a crucial part of high school life, not only because they provide opportunities for personal growth but also because they can significantly impact college admissions.

Columbia values well-rounded applicants. As such, participating in extracurricular activities can set you apart from other applicants and demonstrate your commitment to personal development.

While there is no one-size-fits-all answer, the university emphasizes the importance of leadership skills, so participating in activities where one can exhibit leadership qualities is a plus. Additionally, Columbia admires students who pursue their passions outside of the classroom, whether it be through volunteering, playing a sport, or engaging in the arts.

5. Letters of recommendation

Letters of recommendation hold immense significance when applying to Columbia University. These letters provide an opportunity for someone who knows the student well, whether it be a teacher, mentor, or community leader, to provide a detailed account of the student's strengths, character, and potential.

Admissions committees at Columbia University place great value on these letters as they offer a unique perspective on each applicant and provide insight into their abilities outside of the classroom.

Letters of recommendation are a crucial component of the application process, and it is highly recommended that students take the time to carefully choose and approach potential recommenders in order to secure a compelling letter.

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What is Columbia Looking For?

Strong Academic Record

One of the most important qualities Columbia looks for in its prospective students is a strong academic record.

This means not just good grades, but a challenging and varied course load that demonstrates your potential to succeed in a rigorous academic environment. Columbia considers your GPA, standardized test scores, and classes taken among other factors when evaluating your academic ability.

Passion and engagement

Columbia values students who are passionate about their interests and engaged in their communities. Whether it’s through extracurricular activities, volunteering, internships, or research opportunities, demonstrating that you have a curious and engaged mind is essential.

Columbia looks for students who have made a positive impact within their community and have used their talents and skills to make a difference.

Diversity and inclusion

Columbia is committed to fostering a diverse and inclusive community and looks for students who share that same commitment.

This means that Columbia values students from a variety of backgrounds and experiences, including underrepresented groups, first-generation students, and students from lower-income families.

Showcasing how your unique background and experiences have shaped you as a person can be a valuable addition to your application.

Leadership and initiative

Columbia values students who take the initiative and are leaders in their community. This means that they are involved in planning events, leading clubs, and taking on leadership roles that provide them with opportunities to develop their skills and make an impact within their community.

Demonstrating that you have taken on leadership roles and have shown initiative in pursuing your interests can set you apart in the admissions process

Intellectual curiosity

Columbia looks for students who have a genuine love of learning and intellectual curiosity. They value students who are excited to explore new topics and ideas, and who are eager to engage with their peers and professors.

Demonstrating your intellectual curiosity can be as simple as discussing books you’ve read, attending lectures, and participating in discussions with your teachers and classmates.

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How to increase your chances of getting into Columbia?

1. Apply Early

Columbia offers an Early Decision application option.

For high school students who are interested in attending Columbia College, it is crucial to understand the importance of applying early. By submitting your application through Early Decision, you can significantly increase your chances of getting accepted to this prestigious university.

Not only does applying early reduce competition, but it also allows the admissions committee to review your application more thoroughly, giving you a better chance of standing out among a smaller pool of applicants. For the Class of 2027, Columbia University accepted nearly 5% more students into their Early Decision program compared to Regular Decisions.

Plus, if you apply through Early Decision, you show Columbia that it is your top choice school, which could give you an extra edge in the admissions process. So, if you're interested in Columbia, start researching their early application options and get ahead of the game.

2. Read More

Many of Columbia’s supplemental essays ask about the media you consume, and most students lack the breadth and depth to fill out an impressive list. Reading helps expand your knowledge of the world and show admissions teams you care about social, political, and other important issues.

At Columbia, the curriculum is rigorous and demands strong reading and analysis abilities. The more you expose yourself to different genres, styles, and topics, the better prepared you'll be to tackle the coursework and excel academically. Additionally, reading provides an opportunity to explore new ideas, perspectives, and cultures, which can broaden your worldview and make you a more well-rounded person.

3. Display Who You Are

One way to stand out from the crowd is by showcasing your unique identity. Columbia values diversity and individuality, and expressing these qualities can make a powerful statement during the application process.

By displaying who you are through your essays, extracurricular activities, and personal accomplishments, you have the chance to make a lasting impression and demonstrate how you can contribute to the Columbia community. So don't be afraid to be yourself – it could be the key to unlocking the door to your dream university.

4. Learn About the Campus Culture

Visit the campus and get to know the community. Columbia values students who are eager to learn and contribute to the campus culture.

Also, Columbia has a unique community that is unlike any other, and it is important to learn about it in detail before applying. By getting a sense of the campus culture, you will understand what sets Columbia apart from other universities and what makes it one of the most sought-after institutions in the world.

Knowing about the institution's traditions, values, and beliefs will help you make informed decisions about your academic and social life on campus. So if you're eager to become a part of this elite university, start by learning about its vibrant and dynamic campus culture today!

Book a free consultation with Crimson Education

Life after Columbia University

With a history of success, Columbia has produced some of the most famous figures in politics, entertainment, and business. From United States President Barack Obama to businessman Warren Buffett, many Columbia graduates have made their mark on the world.

But what does life after Columbia look like for the everyday student? With opportunities for internships, research, and networking, Columbia provides its graduates with a solid foundation for success in a variety of fields.

Whether you're interested in pursuing a career in finance, journalism, or the arts, Columbia can help you get there. So for high school students looking to take the next step in their academic career, Columbia University could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Final Thoughts

Don't choose Columbia just because it's an Ivy League school. Admissions teams know which students genuinely want to be part of the school and those who are only there for the name.

Columbia appreciates both tangible and intangible qualities in students. When they review applications, they aim to get to know everything about you, not just your grades or test scores.

Columbia is tough to get into, but if it's your dream school, the low admissions rate doesn't have to scare you, and you don't have to go through the admissions process alone.

Our expert strategists excel in helping students gain entry to some of the world's most competitive universities. Crimson students are 4x more likely to be admitted to top universities like Columbia. Learn more through our Admissions Support program.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Columbia

Is it hard to get into Columbia?

It is tough to get into Columbia. More students are applying each year, and with an admissions rate of just 4%, it takes exceptional credentials in all areas to gain admission.

Is Columbia expensive?

Columbia University's 2021-2022 academic year tuition was $60,514. Room and board was approximately $$15,450. The total cost for the academic year was about $82,584 + travel. Columbia is more expensive than the national tuition average of $41,281.

What is the retention rate for first-year students at Columbia?

Columbia has one of the country's best freshman retention rates, with 98% of first-year students returning for their second year. The national first-year average retention rate is 69%.

What is the average salary for a Columbia graduate?

The US Department of Education College Scorecard reports that the median salary for a Columbia graduate ten years after entering the school is $89,871.

Start Your Journey To Columbia Today!

Crimson students are up to 4x more likely to gain admission into Columbia! Book a free consultation to learn more about how we can help you get there!