What Is Columbia University Known For?

Columbia University is known for its academic excellence. Learn more about the school's top programs, research, notable alumni, and tuition to see if Columbia is right for you.
portrait of Alison Plaut
Alison Plaut
Read Full Bio

Contributing Writer

Alison Plaut has been writing for educational nonprofit organizations and financial publications for more than 15 years. She is passionate about helping people empower themselves while making a positive impact on society. She is qualified to help ind...
Updated on December 19, 2023
Edited by
portrait of Mackenzie Caporale
Mackenzie Caporale
Read Full Bio

Editor & Writer

Mackenzie is an editor for diversity, equity & inclusion at BestColleges. Mack researches disability justice & accessibility in higher education in their communication master’s program at the University of Washington. With a strong belief that advoca...
Learn more about our editorial process

www.bestcolleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Turn Your Dreams Into Reality

Take our quiz and we'll do the homework for you! Compare your school matches and apply to your top choice today.

Columbia University in New York City holds a well-earned reputation as one of the most prestigious institutions in the world and one of the premier Ivy League universities. Columbia University boasts exceptional faculty, including many world-class scholars, researchers, and industry experts. The university fosters intellectual vibrancy, research prowess, and a rich culture and student life.

Columbia offers a diverse student population and a 7-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio, along with New York City's living laboratory, making for an exceptional college experience. Below, you'll find some of Columbia's top program offerings, notable alums, and total costs to help you decide whether Columbia is a good fit for you.

Cost and Financial Aid

Columbia University offers excellent financial aid. Students from families that earn an annual income of less than $150,000 can attend Columbia without having to pay tuition. Nearly 50% of Columbia students receive grants from Columbia, and the average amount awarded is $63,971. Columbia awards more than $204 million annually in scholarships and grants.

That's good news, as the school's tuition, fees, and housing costs are higher than average. Columbia University's average annual tuition and fees are $68,400. The average cost of room and board is $16,800. In total, with books and personal expenses, Columbia estimates an annual cost of attendance is $89,590. That's about $358,360 over four years.

Financial Aid Breakdown
Type of Financial Aid Students Receiving Aid Average Aid Awarded
Federal Grant Aid 20% $6,649
State Grant Aid 7% $4,131
Institution Grant Aid 53% $55,773
Pell Grant 20% $5,126

Top Programs at Columbia University

Columbia University is known for its academic values and world-class researchers. Many of Columbia University's graduate programs consistently rank in the top 10 nationally for research productivity. In addition, the Columbia Clinical Innovation Lab drives inventive solutions in healthcare. Columbia Technology Ventures manages university and industry tech collaborations.

Political Science

Columbia University conferred political science degrees to 142 graduates in the 2022 class. Columbia offers both a major and a concentration in political science. Coursework includes racial and ethical politics, modern political thought, Russian propaganda and global politics, game theory, Latino political experience, and political theory.

Columbia's Department of Political Science was the first in the country. Faculty includes leaders and prizewinners in every subfield of the discipline, who cover topics from economics and political science to statistics, law, and international affairs. Graduates are private and public global leaders and professors at world-class colleges and universities.


Columbia's economics and financial economics departments combined conferred 178 degrees in 2022. The Department of Economics offers 40 undergrad classes, including joint math, philosophy, political science, and statistics.

Coursework is customized based on each student's desired career and covers topics including financial economics, the economics of money and banking, the economics of uncertainty and information, advanced macroeconomics, market design, and corporate finance.

The Department of Economics features many distinguished faculty, including professors honored for their contributions to the university and for research-changing society. Alums continue to receive recognition for their research contributions. Economics students can earn several department awards.

Computer Science

Columbia's computer science program boasts the third-most graduates of all its programs, with 95 degrees conferred in 2022. The curriculum includes open source development, innovation, design lab, machine learning, analysis of algorithms, mobile app development iOS, applied machine learning, computer animation, and causal inference for data.

Faculty of have won major awards and honors, including several awards from the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), the National Academy of Engineering, the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and IEEE Awards.

Students can access lab computers, university tech support, and undergraduate and graduate student awards.

Featured Online Programs

Prominent Achievements and Research Initiatives

Three professors from Columbia University in medicine, neuroscience, and Earth and environmental engineering received awards from the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2019 for groundbreaking work and lifetime achievement:


Columbia professor Dr. Cory Abate-Shen's innovative studies on genetically engineered mouse models for genitourinary malignancies have led to the discovery of new biomarkers for early detection, as well as advances in cancer prevention and treatment.

In addition to receiving numerous awards for this research, Columbia is at the forefront of early cancer detection advancements. Future students can benefit from world-class research and education from professors on the cutting edge of medicine.


In 2018, the faculty of the Department of Neuroscience joined other investigators in cross-disciplinary research on the science of mind at the Jerome L. Greene Science Center. This initiative was led by Professor Richard Axel, a Nobel laureate and co-director of the Zuckerman Institute. Future students at Columbia have the opportunity to join these prestigious research institutions and cross-disciplinary research.

Earth and Environmental Engineering

Upmanu Lall, the director of the Columbia Water Center, a unit of the Earth Institute, was honored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science for his work with the Global Water Sustainability Initiative. Research focuses on global water scarcity and risk, as well as on devloping solutions to an impending global water crisis.

This research will impact not only future researchers at Columbia University but billions of people worldwide.

Notable Alumni

Thirteen U.S. presidents have graduated from Columbia University, as well as five National Baseball Hall of Fame inductees. Here is a highlight of some famous alumni:

Barack Obama

Barack Obama, arguably Columbia University's most notable alumnus, graduated in 1983 with a political science degree specializing in international relations. As the first Black U.S. president, his two-term tenure included healthcare reform, passing the American Stimulus Plan, and ending the Iraq war.

Isaac Asimov

Isaac Asimov graduated from Columbia University with a Ph.D. in chemistry in 1948. He was a professor of biochemistry at Boston University and a prolific writer and author of paradigm-shifting science fiction books. Asimov wrote or edited over 500 books and received numerous awards and recognition throughout his career.

Alicia Keys

Alicia Keys, a Columbia University scholarship recipient, is a multi-talented artist. With 14 Grammy Awards, she excels as a singer, songwriter, and producer. Additionally, she is an actress, author, and entrepreneur. Keys is also recognized for her philanthropic work, particularly in the global fight against HIV and AIDS.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a Columbia Law School graduate, was a trailblazing Supreme Court justice. Tied for first in her class, she became Columbia Law's first tenured female faculty member. A strategic litigator, feminist, scholar, and advocate for gender equality, her policies paved the path for women worldwide.

Fun Facts About Columbia University

  • Check
    In 1939, Columbia played Princeton in a baseball game at Baker Field for the first-ever televised sporting event.
  • Check
    309 Havemeyer Hall is famous for being the most filmed college classroom, as featured in "Ghostbusters," "Malcolm X," the original "Spider-Man" films, and more.
  • Check
    The FM radio was invented in Philosophy Hall by Edwin Armstrong, class of 1913.
  • Check
    In 1870, Columbia played Rutgers in the second-ever football game.
  • Check
    Columbia's football team also holds the dubious honor of the longest losing streak for the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision: 44 losses in a row between 1983 and 1988.
  • Check
    The Columbia Queer Alliance, founded in 1967, is the oldest LGBTQ student organization in the world.

Frequently Asked Questions about Columbia University

Where in New York is Columbia University?

Columbia University is in Morningside Heights, a neighborhood in the borough of Manhattan. Columbia is located on the border of the Upper West Side and Harlem.

Since 2003, Columbia has begun working with leaders in West Harlem to develop a long-term campus plan that includes a predictable development blueprint that would provide Columbia with much-needed space for new kinds of academic research. This planned expansion will also offer middle-income jobs and community development.

Is Columbia University Ivy League?

Yes, Columbia University is an Ivy League institution and one of the world's most prestigious schools.

While the Ivy League was only officially formed with the athletic conference in 1954, the term "Ivy League" was used as early as 1933 to refer to Columbia University, along with Princeton University, Brown University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania, and Yale University.

How hard is it to get into Columbia University?

Columbia University has an acceptance rate that is one of the lowest acceptance rates in the country. The school's acceptance rate for the class of 2027 was just 3.9%. Columbia University enrollees scored 1500-1560 on the SAT and 34-35 on the ACT, according to the College Board.

How many students are at Columbia University?

There were a total of 36,649 students at Columbia University as of 2022. This includes 9,739 undergraduate students between Columbia College, Engineering, and General Studies.

Columbia University also enrolled 22,063 Morningside graduate and professional studies students across disciplines from architecture and arts to law and journalism. There are an additional 4,825 students enrolled in Columbia Medical Center graduate schools.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Compare Your School Options

View the most relevant schools for your interests and compare them by tuition, programs, acceptance rate, and other factors important to finding your college home.