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The Ultimate Guide to Applying to Columbia

What’s Covered:

 

From its door-opening Ivy League education to its location in one of the world’s great cities—New York, New York—Columbia University possesses a number of qualities particularly appealing to college-bound students. Columbia is one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious universities (it was founded before the American Revolution) and has a long tradition of attracting the best and brightest applicants hoping to join the ranks of the university’s celebrated alumni.

 

Average Stats of Accepted Columbia University Students

 

Like other Ivy League schools, Columbia attracts high-performing students who consistently rank at, or near, the top of their class and who perform extremely well on standardized exams. Competitive applicants to Columbia will need to have a strong GPA and test scores.

 

  • Average GPA and rank: 95.7% of first-time freshmen graduated in the top tenth of their class 
  • Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1490-1560/34-35

 

Great academics alone aren’t enough to earn admission to Columbia, but they help to ensure an applicant is considered. Highly selective schools that receive an abundance of applications use a tool known as the Academic Index to screen out unqualified applicants. Academic Index is a summation of an applicant’s entire academic performance into a single numerical score and failure to meet Columbia’s benchmark can rule an applicant out before their application is even read. 

 

Columbia University is practicing test-optional admissions for the 2022-2023 and 2023-2024 application cycles, meaning that applicants aren’t required to submit standardized test scores as part of their application. However, it’s generally considered a wise strategy to submit test scores if they fall within the middle 50% range, especially if they are on the high end of the spectrum. 

 

Columbia University Application Process

 

Here’s what to expect when applying to Columbia University. 

 

Application Overview

 

Columbia accepts both the Common Application and the Coalition Application. It will also accept the QuestBridge Application from QuestBridge Finalists. There is an $85 application fee at Columbia. For applicants for whom the fee poses a significant financial burden, fee waivers are available.

 

There are two pathways to admission into Columbia: early decision and regular decision. Early decision is binding and applicants who apply for it commit to attending the university if accepted. Early decision candidates have an advantage in admissions—Columbia’s early decision acceptance rate is 11.9% while its overall acceptance rate is a scant 3.8%. 

 

Application Path 

Application Deadline

Early Decision 

November 1

Regular Decision 

January 1

 

Application Components

 

  • Secondary school report
  • Two teacher recommendations (engineering applicants are required to have one of the recommendations provided by a science or math teacher)
  • Standardized tests (optional)
  • Columbia-specific essays 
  • Interview (not required)

 

Supplemental Essays: Columbia applicants are required to respond to four-short answer prompts as part of their application:  

 

  • Prompt 1: A hallmark of the Columbia experience is being able to learn and thrive in an equitable and inclusive community with a wide range of perspectives. Tell us about an aspect of your own perspective, viewpoint or lived experience that is important to you, and describe how it has shaped the way you would learn from and contribute to Columbia’s diverse and collaborative community. (200 words or fewer)
  • Prompt 2: Why are you interested in attending Columbia University? We encourage you to consider the aspect(s) that you find unique and compelling about Columbia. (200 words or fewer)
  • Prompt 3: 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)
  • Prompt 4: In Columbia’s admissions process, we value who you are as a unique individual, distinct from your goals and achievements. In the last words of this writing supplement, we would like you to reflect on a source of happiness. Help us get to know you further by describing the first thing that comes to mind when you consider what simply brings you joy. (35 words or fewer)

 

Columbia applicants are also asked to submit two short lists as part of their application:

 

  • List 1: 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)
  • List 2: 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) 

 

Essays are a valuable tool for students intent on standing out in a crowded field of applicants, and strategically responding to Columbia’s questions can make the difference in finding yourself in New York the following fall or not. CollegeVine’s article, How to Write the Columbia University Essays 2022-2023, provides valuable insight into how to craft attention-grabbing responses. CollegeVine Essay Review can provide free feedback from other students or paid feedback from experts to those who’ve already begun crafting their responses.  

 

Interviews: Interviews are conducted by student interviewers and volunteer members of Columbia’s Alumni Representative Committee. Applicants outnumber interviewers, consequently, they’re not a required part of a Columbia application. The university places minor emphasis on interviews in admission decisions and those not offered an interview are not at an admissions disadvantage.

 

When Will You Hear Back?

 

Early decision applicants will receive their admission notifications by mid-December, while regular decision applicants will receive their admission decisions by April 1. 

 

Application Path 

Application Notification 

Early Decision  

Mid-December 

Regular Decision 

April 1

 

Columbia University Financial Aid

 

Financial Aid Generosity

 

Columbia University has taken steps to alleviate the financial burden of its students. Roughly half of its undergraduates receive financial aid, and students from families with annual incomes less than $66,000 a year (and typical assets) are not expected to contribute to the cost of attendance. Low-income students also receive a $2,000 start-up grant to help ease their transition to college. 

 

The sticker price of Columbia University is $85,967. 

 

Expense 

Cost 

Tuition and fees 

$65,524

New student fees 

$615

Room and board 

$16,156

Books and personal

$3,672

Total cost of attendance

$85,967

 

Columbia practices need-blind admissions. That is, the ability of an applicant to pay for Columbia is not considered in admissions decisions. The university will also meet 100% of the demonstrated need of first-year students. Columbia is a no-loan university—meaning grants and student employment are used to meet the financial need of applicants in place of loans. 

 

The economics of a college education is more complex than simply cost; another consideration is how well a college returns on a student’s investment in it. In this respect, Columbia shines—the website Payscale ranks Columbia 32nd in the nation on its list of best-value colleges.  

 

New York City is the most expensive city in the country to live in and this trickles into the finances of Columbia students in a variety of ways. Check out our article, What Does it Really Cost to Attend Columbia University in the City of New York?, to learn more about what you can expect to actually pay at this prestigious institution.

 

How to Apply for Financial Aid

 

Columbia applicants applying for financial aid will need a FAFSA, family tax documentation, and a completed outside scholarship and external payment form. The deadline to submit financial aid information for early decision applicants is November 15, while regular decision applicants have until February 15 to submit their financial aid applications.

 

What Are Your Chances of Acceptance?

 

Thanks to its Ivy League status, long history, and prestigious reputation, admissions at Columbia are extremely competitive. CollegeVine’s free Chancing Engine can help applicants better understand their odds at this super-selective school along with hundreds of other colleges and universities across the nation. The possibility of admission at Columbia varies from student to student and our chancing engine considers numerous unique factors—like academics, extracurriculars, and demographics—to estimate an applicant’s individual odds of college admission while also providing valuable insight into their profile!

 

Learn more about Columbia University, including its diversity, the majors offered, and how long your application should take.


Short Bio
A graduate of Northeastern University with a degree in English, Tim Peck currently lives in Concord, New Hampshire, where he balances a freelance writing career with the needs of his two Australian Shepherds to play outside.