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How To Get Into Columbia: Crafting A Successful Application

10 JUN 2022

New York City is one of the most exciting places on the planet! This bustling city of more than eight million people is home to some of the world's most profitable businesses, successful entertainers, and Columbia University, one of the elite Ivy League schools. Thousands of students worldwide compete for admission to this top university each year. If you love New York and dream of getting into Columbia, this blog explains everything you need to know about the application process and tips to help you stand out from the competition. 


University of Columbia Overview

Columbia University is a private Ivy League research university in Upper Manhattan, New York City. The university includes three undergraduate schools: Columbia College, The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science, and the School of General Studies. In addition to undergraduate education, the school has many graduate and professional schools, including the highly ranked Business School, Teachers College, Law School, and College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Established in 1754, Columbia was originally called King's College by the royal charter of George II of Great Britain. It was renamed Columbia College in 1784 following the American Revolutionary War.

Columbia Ranking in 2022

US News & World Report ranked Columbia University #2 in their Best Colleges 2022 edition, and Columbia ranked #22 in the 2023 QS World University Rankings.

Notable Columbia Rankings

  • #2 in National Universities (tie)
  • #7 in Best Value Schools
  • #8 in Data Analytics/Science
  • #9 in Theory
  • #10 in Writing in the Disciplines (tie)
  • #12 in Cybersecurity
  • #21 in Best Undergraduate Engineering Programs (tie) - at schools whose highest degree is a doctorate
  • #33 in Best Undergraduate Teaching (tie)
  • #54 in First-Year Experiences (tie)
  • #57 in Most Innovative Schools (tie)

A Day in the Life: Columbia Student

How Hard Is It To Get Into Columbia?

The Ivy League is notorious for its low acceptance rates. Columbia University accepted less than 4% of applicants into the Class of 2026! These extremely low acceptance numbers seem to be the new normal. The last two years remain at a steady low and significantly lower than the 2019-2020 admissions cycle when only 40,083 students applied, and 6.15% received acceptance letters.

Columbia Acceptance Rates For The Last Five Years

Columbia’s Class of 2025 and 2026 acceptance rates were significantly lower than in previous years. Columbia remains test-optional through the 2023-2024 application cycle (possibly longer), likely contributing to record-high application numbers and record-low acceptance rates.

Columbia Admissions Statistics
Total ApplicantsAccepted StudentsAcceptance Rate
Class of 202563,3182,5774%
Class of 202440,0832,5446%
Class of 202342,5692,2455%
Class of 202240,2032,2606%
Class of 202137,3892,2636%
5 Year Average44,7122,3775.4%

What Kind Of Student Is Columbia Looking For?

Columbia's admissions committee isn't looking for "cookie cutter" students. They're looking for intelligent, independent thinkers with solid academics, special abilities, and thoughtful interests. They want to see you're not afraid of challenges and thrive in a rigorous academic environment.

Columbia is located in the heart of New York City. Admissions teams want to know you'll not only thrive in a city environment but you'll take advantage of everything the city has to offer. 

Additionally, Columbia students are diverse. Whether it's their ethnic, social, racial, or cultural background or diverse achievements, each Columbia student brings a wealth of unique perspectives to the campus community.

Use your Columbia application to show the committee your maturity, how you stay motivated and curious about the world, and how you'll make the most of your time at Columbia. 

How Crimson Student Dasha Got Into Columbia

College acceptance calculatorColumbia’s Application Requirements

Columbia's admissions team takes a holistic approach when reviewing applications. They care about each student's interests and how applicants might contribute to the campus community. They choose candidates based on numerous criteria but aim to select students who they believe will make the most of their time at Columbia and use what they've learned to change the world around them.

Your application is our instrument of evaluation, and beyond the opportunity to list your academic credentials, we believe your application allows you to express yourself: your passions, interests, background, and, most important, what you might add to the Columbia community.

- Jessica Marinaccio, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions & Financial Aid

What application system does Columbia use?

Columbia accepts the following applications:

Application Sections

You must include the following in Columbia’s application:

  • Coalition Application, Common Application, or QuestBridge application
  • $85 nonrefundable application fee or fee waiver request
  • ACT or SAT scores (optional)
  • Columbia-specific application questions
  • Secondary school report (official transcript, high school counselor's recommendation and school profile, completed Mid-Year Report)
  • Teacher recommendations
  • Supplementary materials (optional)

Us Application Ebook Banner

Columbia GPA Requirements

GPA Requirements

Columbia doesn't officially have a minimum GPA or a specific test score range that you must meet to gain admission. But that doesn't mean grades aren't important. When the admissions team reviews transcripts, they look at grades, how you challenged yourself in your choice of classes, and if you utilized your high school's resources.

However, to maximize your chances of getting into Columbia, you should aim to achieve a GPA of at least 4.0.

Columbia SAT/ACT Requirements

SAT ACT Requirements

Columbia remains test-optional through the 2023-2024 application cycle. This decision to continue a test-optional policy was mainly due to the ongoing challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, including limited access to testing centers. Prior to test-optional years, applicants submitted either their SAT or ACT scores as part of their application.

You can self-report your test scores, but if you do not report scores, you will not be at a disadvantage.

Average SAT Score for Columbia

Columbia doesn't have a required SAT range. Students who get into Columbia typically score between 1440–1570 on their SAT.

Average ACT Score for Columbia

Columbia doesn't specify an ACT range, but most applicants score between 34 and 35 on their ACT.

Further Reading

College acceptance calculator

Personal Essay and Columbia-Specific Application Questions

Application Essay requirements

To apply to Columbia, you must complete a personal essay through the Common Application or Coalition Application.

How to write the perfect personal statement

To get a more holistic view of applicants, Columbia requires students to respond to Columbia-specific questions. Students can talk more about their academic and extracurricular interests in this section. The school designed these questions to help the admissions team dive deeper into an applicant's intellectual curiosity and how they view themselves. Students can also express why they feel they are a perfect candidate for Columbia and how they hope to contribute to the Columbia community and campus.

List questions

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

Short answer questions (200 words or fewer)

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

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

The Essay That Got Me Into Columbia

Columbia Application Extracurriculars

Extracurricular activities for university application

Columbia doesn't care as much about how many extracurriculars you add to your application. The admissions team cares more about the quality of your participation in your extracurricular activities.

Like most elite universities, Columbia prefers you choose a few extracurriculars that fall into your interest areas and stick with them throughout your high school career. If you can work your way to leadership positions within those extracurriculars, it shows your dedication to specific activities as well as your determination and drive. Show what you've accomplished through the extracurricular activities and how you'll use what you learned during your time at Columbia.

Don't forget about extracurriculars outside of school. Volunteering and part-time work also show your dedication to an activity, especially if the work is related to your future career goals. Outside activities also show admissions teams what you value and how you contributed to your family and community.

Here are just a few examples of extracurricular activities that demonstrate commitment and passion. While not an exhaustive list, this is an excellent place to start.

  • Lead a sports team
  • Volunteer with a local organization/give back to the community
  • Organize a fundraiser
  • Start a new company
  • Write and publish a book
  • Spend a summer helping underprivileged children or volunteer at a summer camp

Choose extracurricular activities you care about and ones that help make your community a better place.

How to Build an Extracurricular Profile for US Uni's

Applying to Columbia As An International Student

Columbia has one of the most internationally diverse student populations in the US. The application process for US students and international students is nearly the same.

Many people on Columbia's admissions team have specialized experience evaluating international students, and they also understand the various school systems and transcripts. They evaluate international students by region and accept all secondary school curricula, including IB, A Levels, National School curricula, etc.

English Language Proficiency Exam Requirements

You must be comfortable with rapid and idiomatic spoken English if you're an international student. You can demonstrate your proficiency in English in several ways. Check out the Columbia international applicants page for more information.

Columbia Application Deadlines

Columbia offers two application programs: Early Action and Regular Decision.

Columbia Early Action & Regular Action Application Deadline
Restrictive Early ActionRegular Decision
Apply by November 1stApply by January 1st

3 Proven Tips On How To Increase Your Chances Of Getting Into Columbia

1. Apply Early

Applying early has many advantages. Statistically speaking, if you apply early, you have a higher chance of acceptance. But, you should only apply early to Columbia if it’s your first-choice school. You must commit to attending Columbia if you’re admitted.

2. Read - A Lot!

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. To help you get started, check out 30 Must Read Books For High School Students This Summer./en/blog/campus-life-more/reading-list-for-high-school-students/)

3. Display your Exceptional Abilities in Every Part of your Application

Columbia only accepts about 4-5% of applicants, which means many qualified students will get rejection letters. If you want a chance at getting into this elite school, you must showcase exceptional skills and abilities in every application section. 

How Crimson Can Help Your Columbia Application Stand Out

Crimson's elite team of strategists graduated from some of the top universities in the world, including Columbia! Many have experience as professors, administration, and even admissions officers at the world's leading colleges and universities.

Our top strategists want you to succeed, and they come alongside you on your admissions journey. Our strategists can help you choose advanced placement courses, narrow your extracurriculars, guide your application process, and help you decide how many colleges you should apply to.

Mason is one of Crimson's top strategists, and here are four of his top tips for making your Columbia application stand out.

  1. Build your profile to a high level of accomplishment in whatever area you excel at, especially showing yourself as a leader in your field.
  2. Focus on giving back to the community through high-impact activities.
  3. Strive for 10's across the board: A 10 is the highest possible level of accomplishment. Do your best to level up as much as possible in your high school career.
  4. Take the time to research Columbia before answering the supplemental questions. SHOW rather than tell why you're a good fit for Columbia and how you'll contribute to the campus community.

Crimson offers a wide range of educational support services that will help you tailor your education and application to align with Columbia's mission and requirements. From online tutoring and extracurricular mentoring to essay review and even postgraduate admissions, Crimson can help you get into Columbia. Our admissions support team walks with you through the application process.

Book a free consultation

Increase Your Chances Of Getting Into Columbia With Crimson Pathfinder

Applying to Columbia and other top universities takes time, planning, effort, and patience. It's easy to overlook a step or miss a deadline.

Crimson recently released Pathfinder - a comprehensive in-app tool that helps you stay on track but helps you quantify the value of activities you do in preparation to apply to US universities.

Contained within the Crimson app, Pathfinder is a master list of everything you can do during school to increase your chances of admission to top US universities. Pathfinder includes over 280 goals, each with an assigned point value based on how much admissions officers will value that achievement.

Pathfinder ensures you stay on track between now and when you apply to a university. It accurately predicts your admission results (based on your achievements). Combined with guidance from your personalized strategist, you'll become a master of your US university applications!

Introduction to Crimson Pathfinder

Is Columbia Right For You? 

Although Columbia is an Ivy League school with excellent academic and professional resources, it's not for everyone. Students at Columbia are both creative and competitive. You must be assertive, determined, and have thick skin. Columbia enrolls passionate learners both in and out of the classroom. Even your social life will likely be about studying and preparing for exams. 

Additionally, New York City isn't for everyone. If you prefer a slower pace of life and feel overwhelmed in a busy environment, you might want to consider one of the other Ivy League schools.

But, if you're independent, social, and goal-oriented, and you will take advantage of everything New York City offers, Columbia might be the perfect school for you. 

Remember, only a tiny percentage of applicants get into Columbia. Don't be discouraged if you don't get accepted. Some of the world's most brilliant and talented students do not get into this Ivy League school. Consider another school in the Ivy Leagueor one of the top schools in the University of California system

Make sure you have a solid list of safety, target, and reach schools that fit your academic and career objectives.

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. Crimson Education is the world's leading university admissions support company, specializing 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.

Book a free consultation with Crimson Education

What Makes Crimson Different

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!