Am I Good Enough for Columbia?

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

Columbia University's library with students walking in front of it.

Am I Good Enough for Columbia?

Every single year, high school students from all over the world apply to Columbia University. Without a doubt, there are a lot of good reasons why! Not only is Columbia one of the best schools in the world, it is also located smack dab in the middle of one of the best cities in the world: New York.

If you are interested in attending Columbia, you are probably asking yourself, “Am I good enough for Columbia?”

It can be a stressful answer to try to answer, as the possibility of applying to and getting rejected by a dream school can be, well, quite crushing.

However, for students who are looking to work really hard both in high school and during the college application process, there is no reason why getting into Columbia should be impossible.

Columbia University's old building with its wide and green front lawn.

At AdmissionSight, we make it our number one priority to help the high school students that we work with get into the schools of their dreams.

That’s why we are so proud of the fact that 75 percent of the students that we work with end up getting into either an Ivy League school like Columbia or another top 10 school elsewhere in the country.

Moreover, we firmly believe that one of the most important tools that any high school student can have in their university application journey, whether they are looking to get into an Ivy League school, a small liberal arts college, or a big public university, is knowledge!

That is why we thought we would break down all the information that can help anyone get an answer to the question, “Am I good enough for Columbia.”

Let’s get started!

Columbia admission requirements

When it comes to the admission requirements at Columbia, you will at least be happy to learn that there are not any! In fact, the vast majority of schools in the United States do not have admissions requirements because the schools know that high school students are primarily restricted to taking the schools that are offered by their high school.

While some students at college preparatory high school have the option to take tons of advanced courses each and every year of high school, others will have to work quite a lot harder to challenge themselves during their four years of high school.

For that reason, you will not specifically have to take any courses in high school to be able to apply to Columbia University.

With that being said, there are a number of types of courses that all high school students should take if they are looking to improve their chances of getting into high school.

Those courses include the following:

  • Four years of English
  • Four years of mathematics
  • Four years of social science
  • Four years of laboratory science
  • Four years of a foreign language

Having these courses on your high school transcript will show any admissions officer at Columbia University – or any other Ivy League school for that matter – that you are a student who is committed to education and has a baseline knowledge in all of the most important fields of study in high school.

But having these types of courses on your curriculum is not nearly enough to impress admissions officers at Columbia.

Along with taking the baseline courses on your transcript, you are going to want to make sure that you enroll in as many advanced courses as possible. That means enrolling in honors courses, AP courses and IB courses if your high school offers them.

In fact, some students who are wondering, “Am I good enough for Columbia,” will look to even increase the difficulty of the courses that they take in high school by enrolling in courses at their local community college or even at a four-year college or university in their hometown!

While Columbia does not have any official admission requirements, the school absolutely has application requirements that every student will have to fulfill and send in when they apply to the school at the onset of their senior year of high school. Those application requirements are as follow:

Columbia accepts either the Coalition Application or the Common Application. We will also accept the QuestBridge Application from QuestBridge Finalists. The applications include:

  • Autobiographical information
  • Lists and descriptions of a student’s achievements, activities, employment and summer activities
  • Personal essay
  • Columbia-Specific Application Questions
  • Secondary School Report
  • An official high school transcript from all high schools attended
  • One high school counselor’s recommendation and school profile
  • The completed Mid-Year Report

Standardized tests

  • See revised testing policy for the 2021-2022 application cycle.
  • SAT or ACT
  • Applicants may self-report their scores
  • English proficiency examination score (if necessary)
  • Teacher Recommendations
  • These recommendations must come from teachers who taught you in academic disciplines
  • For engineering applicants, one must come from a math or science teacher

Columbia admission basics

While admissions statistics are not everything, they can definitely help a high school student get a feel for what they are up against when it comes to their chances of getting into Columbia. It is important to remember that there is much more that goes into getting into a school like Columbia than grades and test scores.

However, those grades and test scores are the closest things to objective numbers that we really have when it comes to what it takes to get into any school. So that is where we are going to begin!

A group of students helping each other study.

The first place to start when it comes to getting into Columbia is the acceptance rate that students have enjoyed in recent years. Believe it or not, the most recent application cycle in 2021 – for students who will be a part of Columbia’s graduating class of 2025 – experienced the single most challenging year to be admitted to Columbia in the long history of the school.

In fact, this past year was one of the most difficult years for students to get into any top school in history. The reasons for that are many, and COVID-19 of course plays a role.

Still, there are a lot of signs that make it seem as though the level of difficulty will continue the downward trend that has been going down for a while.

As for the specific acceptance rate at Columbia, the percentage this past year was 5.8 percent! Just 5.8 percent of the 37,389 students that applied got in.

With that being said, the acceptance rate for students that applied via Early Admit more than doubled to 16.1 percent. If you are interested in looking at the acceptance rates in recent years, take a look at the graph below:

Bar graph about Columbia University.

Columbia average GPA and standardized test scores

The final thing that we will go over before we start discussing the kinds of students that get into Columbia, we are going to quickly list the average GPA and standardized test scores that high school students that get into Columbia earn.

  • The average GPA for high school students that get into Columbia is 4.13
  • The average ACT score for high school students that get into Columbia is 34
  • The average SAT score for high school students that get into Columbia is 1505

It is important to mention that at the moment, Columbia has adopted a standardized test optional policy due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Here is what Columbia has to say about that decision:

“In response to continued disruptions to standardized testing availability due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Columbia is extending our test-optional policy for one year, effective for transfer and first-year applicants to Columbia College or Columbia Engineering for the fall of 2022,” the site read.

An answer choice being shaded on the answer sheet using a pencil.

“ACT and SAT test results will not be a required component for the first-year 2021-2022 application cycle, and students who are unable or choose not to submit test scores will not be at a disadvantage.

We will continue to evaluate all submitted information within the holistic and contextual review process that considers individual circumstances shaping each applicant’s journey.

The rigor of a student’s curriculum, their academic achievement, and their demonstrated intellectual curiosity will remain central to our review.

“For students who choose to submit testing, Columbia’s testing policies remain the same. We will accept SAT and ACT scores through November test dates for Early Decision applicants and scores through January 2022 for Regular Decision applicants. We will continue to accept self-reported scores and only require official testing for enrolling students.

If you were able to take an exam more than once, you will be evaluated on the highest score you received in any individual section of that test. Please note that we are aware that many students, if able to test, will only be able to take a test once.

As noted above, that context will be taken into consideration should scores be provided. Applicants will not have an advantage in the admissions process by submitting ACT or SAT results. Standardized testing is only one component in a highly contextualized, multi-layered holistic review.”

What we know about Columbia’s “ideal” student

If you are wondering, “Am I good enough for Columbia?” You are probably also wondering what kinds of students are considered the “ideal” students in the eyes of the admissions officers at the school.

A male college student standing near bookshelves while carrying his learning materials.

Well, luckily enough for you, the school specifically breaks down what they consider most highly when they are looking at a student’s application. Let’s get into it.

They look at curriculum and grades

This probably should not come as so much of a surprise, but Columbia University looks at the curriculum and grades of a high school student first and foremost. Columbia hopes to see that a student is powerfully commuted to pursuing intellectual growth with a challenging course load.

More than just that, Columbia loves to see that students are aware of where their passions and interests lie. So, if you are a student that is interested in a STEM subject, it would be best that you enroll in as many challenging STEM courses as possible.

The same can be said about students who are interested in the humanities or the arts. Columbia does not value a student’s interest over another, but it does want to see what whatever a student’s interest is, they pursue it powerfully.

They look at the context of a student’s past

Columbia will also heavily consider a student’s family circumstances, community, high school, interests, and access to resources.

Columbia will certainly consider factors like a student’s background, their socio-economic background, and whether or not they are part of the first generation of their family that will attend college or university.

They look for students who pursue their passions outside of the classroom

Columbia is not only looking for students who pursue their passions and interests within the classroom, but they also look for students who are constantly exploring their passions outside of the classroom as well.

The catch-all term for this is known as extracurricular activities.  Truly, admissions officers are not looking for specific types of extracurriculars when it comes to the students that apply to their school.

Your interests can be in athletics, theater, academic competitions, community service, or anything in between.

What the school’s admissions officers absolutely do want to see is that you dived deeply into the clubs, groups, or teams that you were a part of. Columbia wants to see that you were interested in taking on roles of impact and leadership within your extracurriculars and that you engaged heavily.

They look for students of high character

One really important thing that schools look for these days are students that are going to have an incredibly positive and impactful role on the campus once they get there.

Fit is very important at Columbia, here is what the school has to say about how it value’s a student’s fit at the school.

“The student’s fit for the distinctive Columbia experience, which includes the Core Curriculum; a both traditionally collegiate and unmistakably urban campus life; and an Ivy League school where curious thinkers come to grow.”

There are a lot of ways to prove that you are a good fit for the university’s culture on campus, and one great way to do so is to craft incredible letters of recommendation.

Columbia has all applicants fill out a number of personal essays, they offer students a fantastic opportunity to prove that they would be a great fit.

Here are the essay questions Columbia had applicants answer during the 2021 application cycle:

List Questions:

  • List the titles of the required readings from academic courses that you enjoyed most during secondary/high school. (75 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. (75 words or fewer)
  • 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)

Short Answer Questions:

  • A hallmark of the Columbia experience is being able to learn and live in a community with a wide range of perspectives. How do you or would you learn from and contribute to diverse, collaborative communities?
    (200 words or fewer)
  • 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)
  • 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)

As you can see, you will have quite a lot of opportunities to prove that you are a great fit at Columbia. Make sure to take these opportunities seriously, as the essay portion of the application is very serious.

Think long and hard about your topics, and make sure to give yourself enough time to review, edit and improve all your essays.

They look for students with fantastic letters of recommendation

For every student who applies to Columbia, they have to send in three total letters of recommendation. One letter has to come for a student’s high school counselor and the other will have to come from two separate members of the school faculty.

It is important to give the teachers enough of a heads up so that they can craft as special a letter for you as possible to prove to Columbia that you will be a fantastic addition to their school.

Will you get into Columbia University?

At AdmissionSight, we make it our goal to help all of our students get into their dream schools. If Columbia is your dream school, there is no doubt that there is a hard road ahead of you.

However, if you are interested in learning what we can do to help, contact us today to set up a free consultation.


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