How to Get Into Columbia: Admissions Stats + Tips
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- How Hard Is It to Get Into Columbia?
- Average Academic Profile of Accepted Columbia Students
- What is Columbia College Looking For?
- How to Improve Your Chances of Getting into Columbia
- How to Apply to Columbia
Situated in the quiet neighborhood of Morningside Heights in otherwise bustling Manhattan, Columbia University offers students a world-class education on a collegiate campus just a subway ride away from the heart of one of the most exciting cities in the world.
Thanks to its ideal fusion of exceptional academics and impressive social scene, admission into this Ivy League institution is highly competitive. In this post, we will break down just what Columbia looks for in an applicant, and how you might be able to get a leg up in your chances of admission.
How Hard Is It to Get Into Columbia?
In 2020, the acceptance rate for Columbia College and the School of Engineering was 5.5%. Out of 40,083 applicants, 2,544 were accepted. The early decision acceptance rate was 15.9%, while the regular decision acceptance rate was 4.3%. Remember that early decision is binding: if you’re accepted, you are required to attend.
While Columbia’s admissions rates are very low, they don’t necessarily reflect your own chances of admission. Our free chancing calculator can help you better understand your chances of acceptance into Columbia. By taking into account multiple elements of your profile, including your grades, test scores, extracurriculars, and more, we estimate your odds of acceptance, as well as provide tips on how to strengthen your profile.
Keep reading to get a better idea of what applying to Columbia looks like!
Average Academic Profile of Accepted Columbia Students
While data regarding the average GPA of Columbia’s accepted students is not available, and there is no official minimum GPA, Columbia consistently emphasizes the importance of a strong academic record. With highly competitive standardized test scores and class ranks, the average incoming Columbia student will also have a competitive GPA.
The middle 50% of admitted students to Columbia scored between 1510 and 1560 on the SAT and between 34 and 35 on the ACT.
Admission officers at Columbia also take into account how you perform relative to the rest of your high school year. In 2021, over 95% of the accepted students were in the top 10% of their graduating class.
What is Columbia College Looking for?
Though it’s housed under the larger roof of Columbia University which is composed of many graduate and professional schools, Columbia College is a liberal arts college, and it holds the traditional liberal arts values of cultivating broad and applicable knowledge, critical thinking, and general intellectual ability and inquiry.
Like all other top liberal arts colleges, Columbia looks for well-rounded students with strong academic profiles, extracurriculars, and personal essays. However, like every other top college, Columbia has specific elements that it looks for in a student, or rather, there are certain elements in students that are going to make them a better fit for Columbia. Remember that this is assuming that the baseline requirements have already been met: Columbia’s evaluation process is a holistic one, meaning that every part of your application is taken into account when admissions officers make a decision, but the quantitative aspect of your application (test scores, GPA, etc) has to pass a certain threshold first.
When it comes to qualitative aspects, Columbia places a particular emphasis on intellectual curiosity, and looks for students who show not only specific depth of intellectual inquiry, but also diversity in their intellectual pursuits. You should demonstrate that you are actively pursuing intellectual growth, whether through your rigorous course load or through your essays. If you have strong STEM courses on your transcript, you should also have strong humanities courses, and vice versa. Your extracurricular activities should also demonstrate your engagement in activities beyond the classroom.
Overall, the factors that Columbia takes into account when considering a student for admission can be grouped into the following:
- Curriculum and grades: Columbia wants to see transcripts that depict a student is avidly pursuing intellectual growth across a range of disciplines through rigorous coursework and exceptional grades.
- Extracurricular activities: Columbia places a lot of weight on a student’s extracurriculars. Students should display passion and depth of involvement in activities outside of the classroom.
- Character: This entails the personality of a student which Columbia has gauged from the whole application, and the impact the student will have on the campus.
- Fit: Columbia takes into account how a student will fit into the distinctive “Columbia experience”, including the intensive Core Curriculum, a traditional liberal arts education at an Ivy League school, and an urban campus.
- Recommendations: Columbia looks for evidence of intellectual curiosity and promise, school and community participation, and overall potential to make an impact on campus.
- Context: Columbia’s “holistic” evaluation process means that it takes into account all the parts of the application while considering the context from which a student comes. This includes family resources, high school, community, interests, and access to resources.
How to Improve Your Chances of Getting into Columbia
1. Achieve a high GPA while taking the most challenging classes available.
While Columbia doesn’t have a “cut-off” GPA, accepted applicants across the board have strong academics. As the average accepted student this year is in the top 95% of their graduating class, a competitive candidate for Columbia will need to have A’s in nearly every class. Additionally, Columbia wants to see that students challenge themselves, so you should try and take advanced honors, AP, or IB classes.
If your GPA is lower, and you’re still a freshman or sophomore in your high school, check out our tips for increasing your GPA. If you’re a junior or senior, it will be harder to increase your GPA, so the easiest way to increase your Academic Index is to get a higher test score.
2. Aim for a 1570 on the SAT and 35 on the ACT.
The average admitted Columbia student scores between 1510 and 1560 on the SAT and between 34 and 35 on the ACT. However, this is only where the average test-takers fall on the test score spectrum. If you’re scoring between these numbers, you’re scoring similarly to a large number of admitted students. If you want to be a more competitive candidate, you should aim for the 75th percentile, which is a 1570 on the new 1600 scale SAT, and a 35 on the 36 ACT scale.
In light of continued disruptions to standardized testing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Columbia has made submitting SAT and ACT test scores optional for the 2021-2022 application cycle. Students may still self-report submit test scores if they have taken an exam, but students who don’t submit test scores won’t be at a disadvantage.
We generally recommend submitting your score if it’s the 25th percentile or above for accepted students at that school. Students can get recommendations on whether or not they should apply test-optional using our free Chancing Engine.
To improve your SAT/ACT score, check out these tips CollegeVine has compiled:
- How to Get a Perfect 1600 Score on the SAT
- How to Get a Perfect 36 Score on the ACT
- More SAT Info and Tips
- More ACT Info and Tips
3. Cultivate at least one or two Tier 1-2 extracurriculars (find your “spike”).
When your academics are as equally strong as many other candidates for a college, extracurriculars are where you have a chance to stand out and help admissions officers form a better idea of who you are and what you might bring to their campus.
In general, any activity that you do regularly outside the classroom counts as an extracurricular, as long as you can demonstrate that the activity has contributed to your growth as an individual. However, not all extracurriculars are created equal. Extracurricular activities can generally be divided into four “tiers.” To increase your chances at Columbia, you should have one to two “Tier 1” or “Tier 2” extracurriculars.
- Tier 1 activities demonstrate exceptional talent, achievement, leadership, or merit. Activities and roles on the national level or which garner field-wide recognition count as Tier 1 activities. This may include winning a national award, qualifying for international competition and therefore gaining prestigious recognition, or starting a nonprofit that gains national traction. Having a Tier 1 activity marks you as a distinguished youth in the field of your activity, so having Tier 1 activities is rare.
- Tier 2 activities are more common than Tier 1, but still show high levels of achievement and potential. Holding school-wide leadership positions like student government president, winning regional competitions or awards, and local recognition as a student athlete or musician are all considered Tier 2.
- Tier 3 activities demonstrate sustained participation rather than exceptional achievement, and are frequently seen in applications, both across the board as well as in any given individual student’s application, as some students may have more than one Tier 3 activity. These activities can include holding minor positions in school clubs or being on a Varsity team.
- Tier 4 activities are the most common and have the lowest entry bar; they demonstrate interest without particular dedication. However, they are still important to include, especially if you have higher tier activities, because they can help show the diversity of your interests. Tier 4 activities can include regular volunteering, general membership in clubs or organizations, or taking any kind of music or art lesson over several years.
Having extracurricular activities on your application shows colleges that you have personal passions and that you can take your skills beyond the classroom. While colleges are happy to see any kind of interest you’ve taken, you’re going to be a much more competitive candidate if you have a few Tier 1 or 2 activities that show dedication and excellence rather than many scattered Tier 4 activities.
4. Write engaging essays.
With its rigorous Core Curriculum which includes the mandatory University Writing class, it isn’t surprising that Columbia College highly values a student’s ability to form arguments and express themselves in writing. The school thoroughly considers how a student’s written work reflects their intellectual curiosity and character. The essay is the primary place to show your authentic voice and your strengths.
Take a look at our guide on How to Write Columbia’s Supplemental Essays for 2021–2022 for detailed explanations of how to approach each prompt.
5. Prepare for your interview if you are offered one.
If you apply to Columbia, there is a chance that you will be offered an interview. (Due to COVID-19, all interviews for Columbia’s 2021–2022 cycle will be conducted virtually.) Every year, Columbia offers interviews to a portion of applicants. This is because the school isn’t able to interview every single one of its sixty thousand applicants. It may be discouraging to not receive one, but Columbia stresses that applicants who don’t get an interview aren’t at a disadvantage, and neither are applicants who decline to be interviewed. Don’t overthink and stress if you don’t get an interview because, most of the time, it comes down to location and accessibility factors: whether or not there are enough alumni or volunteers available in your area to give interviews.
If you are offered an interview you should accept it. Keep in mind that most of the college’s profile of you has already been filled; the interview is to give the college a sense of the personality behind the numbers and essays, to further demonstrate your interest in the school, and to explain anything on your application that you think needs clarifying.
6. Apply Early Decision
We’ve covered that Columbia’s early decision acceptance rate is 15.9%, while the regular decision acceptance rate is 4.3%, and there is no early action. As early decision is binding, you increase your chances of acceptance to Columbia when you apply as an early decision applicant even after accounting for profile strength. If you have your heart set on Columbia, applying ED can be a great way to show your commitment. However, there are some drawbacks to keep in mind about applying early decision, including less time to refine your application, fewer financial aid packages options, and the obvious inability to try your hand at other colleges if you do get in.
How to Apply to Columbia
Now that you have a good idea of what applying to Columbia entails, here are some dates to keep in mind for the 2021–2022 cycle.
Early Decision & QuestBridge National College Match
Early Decision financial aid applications
Early Decision response deadline
Regular Decision financial aid applications
Columbia University accepts both the Coalition Application and the Common Application, as well as the QuestBridge Application for QuestBridge finalists.
- Official high school transcript
- Autobiographical information
- List and description of extracurriculars, employment, and summer activities
- Personal essay
- Recommendation and school profile from one high school counselor
- SAT or ACT (optional for 2021–2022)
- Teacher recommendations, one of which must come from a math or science teacher for students applying to SEAS
- Application fee or waiver
Learn more about Columbia
Take a look at our other resources on Columbia University:
- What is Columbia University Known For?
- Columbia University Diversity: An In-Depth Look
- A Day in the Life of a Columbia University Student
Curious about your chances of acceptance to Columbia? Our free chancing engine takes into account your GPA, test scores, extracurriculars, and other data to predict your odds of acceptance at over 500 colleges across the U.S. We’ll also let you know how you stack up against other applicants and how you can improve your profile. Calculate your chances for free!