What is Columbia University Known For?

Do you know how to improve your profile for college applications?

See how your profile ranks among thousands of other students using CollegeVine. Calculate your chances at your dream schools and learn what areas you need to improve right now — it only takes 3 minutes and it's 100% free.

Show me what areas I need to improve

What’s Covered:

 

What is Columbia University known for? It depends who you ask—some point to its rich history, others to its inclusion in the Ivy League, while others its prominent location in one of the world’s great cities. Whether it’s Columbia’s renowned academics, or for being one of the oldest institutions of higher education in the U.S., the fact is there is a lot to know about Columbia. 

 

Overview of Columbia Admissions

 

Location: New York, New York

Undergrad Enrollment: 8,200

Acceptance Rate: 6%

Middle 50% SAT: 1500-1560 

Middle 50% ACT: 34-35

 

Columbia consistently ranks in the top 5 schools in the nation. The university is similar to its Ivy League counterparts Brown and UPenn in that it heavily values academics, but with more of an explicit focus on intellectual diversity. This means that even if a student has strong STEM courses on their transcript, they should also have strong humanities courses (i.e. multiple APs) and vice versa.

 

The Fu Foundation School of Engineering has the most stringent academic standards among Columbia’s schools. Columbia College has more lenient academic standards, but it requires a stronger extracurricular profile. 

 

Columbia places great emphasis on the essays, so applicants should take care to write highly-personal and engaging responses. You should check out our guide to the Columbia essays to learn more.

 

Unique Aspects of Columbia 

 

Columbia has been a unique institution since its inception. The college was founded in 1754 as King’s College by a royal charter of King George II of England. After the U.S. gained independence, it renamed Columbia College in 1784. 

 

Academics

 

At the center of Columbia academics is the “Core Curriculum,” which exposes students to a broad spectrum of ideas and perspectives in the fields of literature, history philosophy, music, art, and science. Core classes are known for their small size (only about 22 students per class), allowing students to interact and build relationships with faculty while developing skills essential for successfully navigating the greater world, such as observation, analysis, argument, and respect for a variety of ideas. 

 

Columbia is divided into three undergraduate colleges: Columbia College; the School of General Studies; and The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science (also sometimes called SEAS or Columbia Engineering). 

 

The school of engineering is one of the oldest and most respected engineering programs in the U.S. The Core Curriculum plays a large role in the education of Columbia engineering students—about half of their classes are in the humanities and they must also complete “technical Core” courses in Calculus, Chemistry, Computer Science, Design Fundamentals Using the Advanced Computer Technologies, and Physics. 

 

Columbia has a partnership with Barnard College, a highly ranked all-female college located across the street. The two schools operate independently, but students can attend classes at both campuses and participate in each other’s clubs and events. This allows students to experience both what life is like at a large Ivy League institution and a small liberal arts college simultaneously.  

 

Columbia is home to a handful of notable faculty. Physicist Brian Green—founder of the World Science Festival and author of best-selling books like The Fabric of the Cosmos—has taught at Columbia since 1996. Former first daughter Chelsea Clinton is an adjunct professor at the university’s Mailman School of Public Health.

 

Extracurriculars

 

What is Columbia University known for outside the classroom? Its fencing program is one of the best and oldest in the nation, dating back to the 1800s. Columbia’s Norman Armitage competed in four Olympics—1932, 1936, 1948, and 1952—although he only won a single medal (a bronze in 1948). Columbia’s Caitlin “Katy” Bilodeau, was a four-time All-American fencer at Columbia, a two-time Olympian, and named NCAA female athlete of the decade. 

 

There is no shortage of activities available to Columbia students; the university is home to more than 500 clubs and organizations ranging from Aikido to Venom Step. The university even has its own radio station, WKCR, a student-led, noncommercial radio station that has been broadcasting for more than a quarter-century. 

 

The city of New York supplies a near-endless amount of opportunities for students to explore a wide range of interests. The Columbia Arts Initiative helps students discover and experience art both on campus and throughout the city; students can receive free and discounted tickets to events by artists in disciplines such as musical theater, classical music, dance, visual arts, and cinema. 

 

Traditions

 

Columbia University is home to a variety of unique traditions, perhaps the best-known of which is Orgo Night. Orgo Night occurs annually the night before the Organic Chemistry final (traditionally held the first day of finals). At midnight, the Columbia University Marching Band takes over the main reading room of the Butler Library to play music, perform skits, and tell jokes. Legend has it that the goal is to distract students from studying and to lower the exam curve. 

 

Another performance-based tradition at Columbia is The Varsity Show. Dating back to 1894, The Varsity Show features some of the most talented artists and creatives from Columbia and Barnard. The show is full of satire on life at Columbia, including its politics, student groups, administrators, and all other aspects of campus life. 

 

That Rockefeller Center tree lighting ceremony gets more headlines, but Columbia’s tree lighting is an awesome event for students. One of the university’s newer traditions—it began in 1998—the tree lighting is held in early December and provides a brief break from the furor of the end of the semester. During tree lighting, the university illuminates the trees lining College Walk. Students can munch on free donuts and sip on hot chocolate while watching performances by campus acapella groups.

 

Dorms

 

Columbia is a residential college and the vast majority of students choose to live on campus all four years. Columbia is divided into four residential communities: 

 

  • Southfield
  • E-Block
  • West Campus
  • Fraternities and Sororities

 

Greek life plays a smaller role at Columbia than it does at other institutions, with only about a quarter of students participating. However, the number of students joining fraternities and sororities is on the rise—in 2006, only a little over 6% of undergraduates participated in Greek life, about a quarter of undergraduates participate in Greek life today. 

Discover your chances at hundreds of schools

Our free chancing engine takes into account your history, background, test scores, and extracurricular activities to show you your real chances of admission—and how to improve them.

Financial Aid

 

Another important thing to know about Columbia University is its generous financial aid program. The school is need-blind and will meet 100% of demonstrated need. Columbia is also a no-loan school—aid is provided by grants and student work which do not require repayment. Parents are not expected to contribute toward tuition if the family earns less than $60,000 a year.  

 

Columbia University is not need-blind for international students, but will meet 100% of the demonstrated need of accepted international students. 

 

Other 

 

Columbia University is the home of the Pulitzer Prize, an award for achievements in newspaper, magazine and online journalism, literature, and musical composition. Pulitzers Prizes are awarded by the university on the recommendation made by the Pulitzer Prize Board, which is composed of judges appointed by the university. More than 90 Columbia alumni have been awarded a Pulitzer Prize. 

 

Location

 

New York City—as the saying goes, if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. NYC is one of the world’s great metropolises and offers something for students of almost every interest. World-class dining, art, culture, athletics, and entertainment are found throughout the city. 

 

When it comes to careers, New York City is a hub for the finance, entertainment, media, and publishing industries. Numerous opportunities are also found in real estate, trade, healthcare, and information technology. 

 

As so many who have lived in the Big Apple will attest, there is just something special about residing in the city. “But there is one thing about it—once you have lived in New York and it has become your home, no place else is good enough.” –John Steinbeck 

 

What Are Your Chances of Acceptance at Columbia?

 

What’s Columbia known for? Selective admissions. Ivy League colleges use the Academic Index—a distillation of a student’s academic record into a single number—to expedite the admissions process and filter out candidates who aren’t academically prepared. If your academic profile isn’t strong enough, there is a chance that admissions officers won’t read the rest of your application—even at a school like Columbia, which prioritizes extracurricular activities. 

 

CollegeVine’s free chancing calculator uses factors like standardized test scores, GPA, and extracurricular activities to show your odds of acceptance at Columbia and hundreds of other colleges, as well as illuminating how you compare to other candidates. It also provides tips for how to improve your profile and boost your chances of acceptance.

 

Want more college admissions tips?

We'll send you information to help you throughout the college admissions process.

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.

Don't miss out on the best high school & college admissions resources!

Join thousands of students and parents getting exclusive high school, test prep, and college admissions information.