How to Get Into Columbia University: Tips From Real Students and Experts
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Reviewer & Writer
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Every year, around 60,000 students apply to Columbia University. Less than 2,300 get in. Columbia's admissions are extremely competitive.
Columbia's admission process has seen some major changes recently. In 2023, Columbia became the first Ivy to announce permanent test-optional admissions. The Ivy also ended its alumni admissions interview program.
Want to know how to get into Columbia University? Our tips from admitted students and former Columbia admissions officers can help you stand out.
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5 Tips for Getting Into Columbia University
Top grades. Stand-out extracurriculars. Compelling essays. Every selective university wants a strong record. So, what makes Columbia unique?
Columbia undergrads and admissions experts weigh in on the five most important tips for getting into Columbia University.
1. Stand Out Academically
You'll need a strong academic record to get into Columbia. In fact, 95.7% of the Class of 2026 ranked in the top 10% of their high school graduating class.
“Students who are considering Columbia need to be realistic about the informal benchmarks that are expected of competitive applicants,” says Eric Sherman, a former Columbia admissions officer who advises students at IvyWise. “The academic piece cannot be understated. High grades. High rigor.”
2. Showcase Your Niche
Columbia considers students holistically. Outside of grades, the institution wants to admit students with “a true and holistic interest in their study,” says Jermaine Doris, a former senior admissions officer at Columbia.
How can you showcase that interest? Doris recommends applicants undertake an “expansive exploration of their field.” That means adopting a self-starter mentality and seeking out different opportunities.
“The features of an application that really aid a student to help earn admission to Columbia are: clear intentionality and obvious depth of knowledge in their field,” Doris says.
3. Polish Those Essays
You'll need a stand-out personal essay to get into Columbia. You'll also need to master the Columbia-specific application questions.
Tell a story that connects your academic record to your interests in your writing. A group of admitted students says to use the essays to “appear like a generally curious/scholarly person.” They also advise you to showcase your breadth, saying that “stressing that you have a broad set of interests is good.”
Columbia also asks for a list of sources that informed your intellectual development. “It's a really good opportunity to show a variety of interests,” explains one admitted student.
Make sure your choices show depth and breadth. “We knew that not every student is reading The Economist (and it's ok to like Taylor Swift!),” says former admissions officer Sherman, “but Columbia would expect to see at least some intellectual content here. I always found that this [list] was revealing.”
Or, as the admitted students put it, “show that you are not boring.”
4. Explain “Why Columbia”
Your application should explain why you want to attend Columbia. “The most common Columbia application mistakes I observed are students that are most excited about going to school in New York, or going to an Ivy League school, or just going to a great school,” says Doris.
One Columbia undergrad suggests applicants “connect your own passions and experience or background to something very specific about the school that isn't plastered on the front page of the admissions site.”
Sherman says to dig beyond attending college in New York City, “We would see a lot of responses that neglected [to include] unique ways that Columbia engages with NYC and the Morningside Heights neighborhood.”
“This is an element of ‘Why Columbia' that students overlook,” Sherman adds, “and admissions officers end up thinking, ‘well, this student could attend Fordham, NYU, or The New School and get the same experience based on their reflections of what it means to go to school in NYC.'”
5. Be Interested and Interesting
“In recent years,” Sherman says, “admitted students are both interested and interesting.” What does that mean for your application? You'll want to show off your academic skills while showcasing your motivation, initiative, and work ethic.
Remember that multiple admissions officers will read your application. And you're competing with 60,000 other applicants for attention.
“The best advice that I was given is that you should be someone worth fighting for,” explains an admitted student. “Like you need to consider from the person reading the applications: you have to do something that differentiates you from the stack, so you need to be someone that they would present to the committee and fight for.”
Columbia University Admission Requirements
The holistic admissions process at Columbia considers multiple factors. And multiple admissions officers read every single application. The committee-based approach gives you multiple chances to impress Columbia. But what factors are the most important in your application?
Columbia ranks the following factors as “very important” for admission:
Academic GPA, class rank, and rigor of high school transcripts
Letters of recommendation
Character and personal qualities
In addition to these factors, Columbia considers standardized test scores, talent and ability, volunteer work, and work experience. Being a first-generation college student can also boost your chances.
Columbia became the first Ivy to permanently adopt a test-optional admissions policy in 2023. Should you submit SAT or ACT scores? If you have top scores, it likely won't hurt to include them. In the Class of 2026, 45% of students submitted SAT scores, while 24% provided ACT scores. And their scores were high, with a median score of 1540 on the SAT and 35 on the ACT.
If your standardized test scores fall below that number, you can always submit an application without providing your scores.
Columbia University Acceptance Rate
It's no secret that Columbia is one of the most selective schools in the country. During the 2021-2022 admission cycle, over 60,000 students applied to the school — but only 2,255 received an acceptance letter.
That puts the Columbia University acceptance rate at 3.73%.
For the 2022-2023 cycle, that number went up slightly to 3.9%. Columbia has had an admission rate of under 4% for several years. In Fall 2020, the number of applications jumped 51%. That year, Columbia admitted just 3.66% of applicants.
But even a decade ago, Columbia had one of the lowest acceptance rates in the Ivy League. Back in the 2014-2015 cycle, Columbia admitted 6.1% of applicants, making it more selective than every Ivy except Harvard.
Applying to Columbia University: Early Decision vs. Regular Decision
Columbia offers early decision admissions — but it's binding. That means if you're accepted, you have to attend. And Columbia also discourages applicants from submitting early action applications to other schools.
Should you apply early decision? If Columbia is your top choice school, submitting your application early can pay off. While the Class of 2026 acceptance rate was 3.73%, the early decision acceptance rate was 12.47%.
Columbia generally accepts more applicants from its early decision cycle. For the Class of 2025, early decision applicants had an 11.93% acceptance rate, compared with less than 4% for the overall acceptance rate.
But before applying early, make sure you understand Columbia's early decision policies. You'll need to submit your application by November 1st and sign an early decision agreement.
Outcomes of a Columbia early decision application:
- Accepted: If you're admitted, you must accept. And you'll also need to withdraw any other applications.
- Deferred: Columbia can send your application into the regular decision pool. That means you'll need to wait until April 1 to hear the decision.
- Rejected: If you're rejected, you'll have to apply to other colleges. You can't submit a regular decision application.
Whether you choose to apply early decision or regular decision, learn what makes Columbia unique and how to showcase your strengths in your application.
Frequently Asked Questions About Columbia University
What GPA do you need to get into Columbia University?
You'll need good grades to get into Columbia. While Columbia University admissions has no “cut-off” GPA, most admitted students have a strong academic record. For the Class of 2026, 95.7% of first-year students ranked in the top 10% of their graduating class. And 99.6% ranked in the top quarter.
Is Columbia easier to get into than Harvard?
Both Columbia and Harvard are extremely selective. For the Class of 2027, the Columbia University acceptance rate reached 3.9%, while Harvard's acceptance rate was 3.41%. That doesn't mean it's easier to get into Columbia, though. Both Ivies admit fewer than 4 in 100 applicants.
Is Columbia an Ivy League school?
Yes, Columbia is an Ivy League school. The Ivy League began as an athletic conference, but today, it includes eight highly selective private universities.
The Ivies are Columbia, Brown, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton, UPenn, and Yale. Columbia is one of two Ivies in New York State and the only one in New York City.
Where is Columbia University located?
Columbia University is located in New York City. The main campus is in the Morningside Heights neighborhood in the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Columbia's walkable campus sits in a residential area bordered by Riverside Park and Morningside Park. Nearby Central Park and multiple subway and bus lines connect Columbia to the rest of the city.
What major is Columbia known for?
Columbia is best known for its STEM and social sciences majors. The five most popular majors at Columbia in 2022 included computer science, engineering, economics, political science, and psychology, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Meet Our Contributors
Jermaine is an Empowerly Elite counselor and former senior admissions officer at Columbia University. He graduated from Connecticut College with a BS and a certificate from the Holleran Center. He spent his early career working in the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies admissions office and has spent the vast part of his professional career in scholarship and collegiate admissions. Doris deeply appreciates the transformative power of a great school in someone's life and specializes in supporting students interested in the humanities, STEM, social science research, merit scholarships, and artist performance.
Eric is a former admissions officer at Columbia University and assistant director of admission at The New School. Eric previously worked as an associate director of college counseling at Brentwood School in West Los Angeles for over eight years and is currently the director of college counseling at a Jewish day school in Palo Alto, California.
Page last reviewed: December 11, 2023