Adrian Russian 6 min read 12th Grade, College Application Tips

The Ultimate Guide to Applying to Columbia

Columbia University is distinguished from its peer institutions in the Ivy League primarily by its location in Manhattan, which opens up a whole host of opportunities to students, from an Orientation Week Yankees game to discounted tickets to Broadway shows. If you attend Columbia, the Empire State Building will even be lit up blue on the day of your graduation! 

 

When it comes to admissions, Columbia is incredibly selective. For the Class of 2023, the acceptance rate was roughly 5.3%. If you’re planning to apply to Columbia, here’s everything you need to know to improve your chances of acceptance.

 

Average Stats of Columbia University Students

 

The middle 50% of SAT scores for enrolled students in the Columbia Class of 2023 was 1480-1560. For the ACT, the middle 50% range was 33-35. Columbia does not report average GPAs, but over 95% of accepted students ranked in the top 10% of their graduating high school class.

 

Unfortunately, Columbia is incredibly selective, so even perfect test scores do not guarantee that you will be accepted. However, if you have scores in the above ranges or better, admissions officers will be able to see that you are academically comparable to Columbia students, which should at least get the rest of your application read.

 

On the other hand, if your scores are below those listed above, your application may automatically be disqualified, unless you are an underrepresented minority, a legacy student, or a recruited athlete. While this practice may seem harsh, Columbia receives over 40,000 applications a year, so admissions officers are likely to use the Academic Index as an initial filter.

 

Like many schools, Columbia has adopted a temporary test-optional policy for the Class of 2025 due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. If you are unsure whether you should still take or submit any test scores, you can read our guide on test-optional policies. Overall, while a strong test score can only help your application, your health and that of your family are most important.

 

Lastly, although Columbia does not report the average GPA of its accepted class, if you would still like to calculate your GPA but don’t know how, you can use our free GPA calculator.

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Columbia University Application Process

 

Application Overview

 

Columbia accepts both the Common Application and the Coalition Application. The fee to submit your application is $85, but many students may qualify for a fee waiver, which you can request online. If you are worried about the cost of applying, you can check if you would qualify for a waiver from Columbia.

 

There are two ways for you to apply to Columbia: Early Decision, with an application due date of November 1st, or Regular Decision, with a due date of January 1st. While Columbia does not report their ED acceptance rate, it is typically significantly higher than the RD rate. We do not mean to imply it is easy to get into Columbia ED, because it isn’t, but if you are already a strong applicant, applying early can help your chances.

 

Application Components

 

  • Autobiographical information
  • Lists and descriptions of a student’s achievements, activities, employment and summer activities
  • Personal statement
  • Columbia supplemental essays
  • Columbia supplemental essay prompts
  • High school transcript
  • High school counselor’s recommendation, and school report
  • Two teacher recommendations
  • Optional interview

 

Columbia Supplemental Essay Prompts

 

Columbia has six supplemental prompts, three of which simply require lists of the media you engage with, and three of which require short essays. The prompts are as follows:

 

  • List the titles of the required readings from academic courses that you enjoyed most during secondary/high school. (150 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. (150 words or fewer)
  • List the titles of the print or digital publications, websites, journals, podcasts or other content with which you regularly engage. List the movies, albums, shows, museums, lectures, events at your school or other entertainments that you enjoyed most during secondary/high school (in person or online). (150 words or fewer)
  • Columbia students take an active role in improving their community, whether in their residence hall, classes or throughout New York City. Their actions, small or large, work to positively impact the lives of others. Share one contribution that you have made to your family, school, friend group or another community that surrounds you. (200 words or fewer) 
  • Why are you interested in attending Columbia University? (200 words or fewer)
  • 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)

 

Engineering students and Dual BA applicants must also respond to an additional prompt.

 

If you would like help responding to these prompts, you can read our Guide to the Columbia Supplements. Once you have written your essay, you can also receive free feedback from other students with our Peer Essay Review tool!

 

Recommendation Letters

 

Columbia requires three recommendation letters: one from your high school college counselor, and two from teachers. If you are applying as an engineering major, one of the teacher recs must be from a math or science teacher. For all other majors, the letters can be from teachers in any subject.

 

In addition to writing you a rec letter, your counselor will also submit a school report, which will provide Columbia with background information about your high school, such as demographics, graduation requirements, course offerings, and so on.

 

Interviews

 

Not every applicant is offered an interview, as Columbia has a limited number of alumni interviewers, so if you are not contacted don’t worry—it doesn’t mean you won’t be accepted. If you are contacted, however, you should absolutely take advantage of this opportunity to elaborate on and add to your application. Due to COVID-19, all interviews will take place virtually during this applications cycle.

 

When Will You Hear Back?

 

If you apply Early Decision, you will hear back sometime in mid-December. Note that you may be accepted or denied Early, but you also may be deferred, which means that your application will be moved into the Regular Decision pool and reevaluated with the other RD applications. While it is difficult to get in after being deferred, it does happen.

 

If you apply Regular Decision, you will hear back in late March. If you are accepted, normally you have until May 1st to decide whether you will attend, but this past year that date was pushed back due to the uncertainty caused by the pandemic, and it may be pushed back again this cycle, depending on how the coronavirus situation develops.

 

Remember that if you apply RD, you may be waitlisted. Schools can accept students off the waitlist at any point over the summer, but you should not rely on getting off the waitlist. So, if you are waitlisted, you should still submit a deposit at another school.

 

Columbia University Financial Aid

 

Financial Aid Generosity

 

The official annual cost of attending Columbia is $80,339, but 50% of students receive grants from the University, with an average aid package of $52,073. During the admissions process, Columbia is not only need-blind, but also has a no-loan policy and promises to meet 100% of a student’s demonstrated financial need

 

We must note, however, that the need-blind policy only applies to US citizens and undocumented applicants currently residing in the US. The admissions process for international students is unfortunately not need-blind.

 

If you would like to know how much aid you would qualify for at Columbia, you can use their Myin Tuition Quick College Cost Estimator or Net Price Calculator.

 

If you would like to know more about financial aid at Columbia, you can read our article: What Does it Really Cost to Attend Columbia?

 

How to Apply for Financial Aid

 

To apply for financial aid, you’ll need to submit the following forms:

 

US citizens and undocumented applicants residing in the US

  • The FAFSA
  • CSS Profile
  • Tax documents for you and your parents
  • Outside Scholarship and External Payment Form

 

International students

  • CSS Profile
  • Tax documents for you and your parents
    • Note that all tax documents must be translated into English before you submit them
  • Outside Scholarship and External Payment Form

 

If you have questions about these forms or how to access them, further guidance can be found on Columbia’s financial aid website, which allows you to select your application plan and citizenship status.

 

The deadline to apply for financial aid is November 15th for Early Decision applicants, and February 15th for Regular Decision applicants. If you are accepted, you will receive your financial aid information at the same time as your acceptance.

 

What Are Your Chances of Acceptance?

 

If you are considering applying to Columbia and would like to know more about how likely you are to get in given your personal academic and extracurricular profile, you can check out our free chancing engine. The engine will tell you your chance of acceptance, and give you some ways you could improve your odds.

 

You can also learn more about Columbia, including student body demographics and the most popular majors, by checking out Columbia’s school profile page on CollegeVine. Best of luck with your application!

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Adrian Russian
Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
Adrian is a current senior at Dartmouth College, originally from Seattle, WA. At Dartmouth, she studies philosophy and neuroscience, and has been involved with research in the philosophy department, sexual assault prevention on campus, and mentorship programs for first year students. She spent her junior fall studying abroad at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.