How Hard Is It to Get into Columbia?

November 23, 2021
By AdmissionSight

How Hard Is It to Get into Columbia?

For many young students, the dream of leaving their hometown to attend a fantastic college or university is an incredibly exciting one. And there are few more exciting places to move to than New York City.

That’s why every single application cycle, tens of thousands of intelligent and passionate high school students apply to Columbia University, which of course sits in the heart of Manhattan, New York. But how hard is it to get into Columbia?

Here at AdmissionSight, we make it our goal to help high school students all over the world prepare for, and learn more about the college application process.

The reason for that is because we simply believe that the best-prepared student is the student that is best prepared for success! That also means that part of our job has to do with teaching students how to get into Columbia.

The library of Columbia University with students in front in every direction.

So, if you are thinking about getting into Columbia University, walk the hallowed halls of the school and call the greatest city in the world your home, then you have come to the right place.

Let’s break down the answer to the question, how hard is it to get into Columbia, what the school expects out of its applicants every year and what any high school student can do to improve their chances of beating the odds and getting into the school.

Columbia’s admission requirements

These days, it is quite rare for schools of any kind to have a clear admission requirement. That is, courses that the school needs to see in a student’s high school transcript in order to consider their application.

However, there is a simple list of courses that high school students who are thinking about getting in Columbia will want to make sure they take during their four high school years to make it clear that they take their education seriously. That list includes the following:

  • Four years of English (including continued practice in writing)
  • Four years of mathematics (including calculus for students interested in engineering)
  • Four years of one foreign language
  • At least two years of laboratory science (including physics and chemistry for students interested in engineering)
  • At least two years of history
  • In addition, most candidates have had some study in the visual or performing arts.

Beyond that, students are encouraged to take as many advanced courses, such as honors, AP and IB courses as possible throughout their high school years.

The reason why is because these courses are so important is because students who take a lot of them in high school and earn great grades not only achieve a high GPA, but also are able to prove to admissions officers at top schools that they have what it takes to endure a rigorous and demanding curriculum. Without a doubt, the curriculum at Columbia is amongst the most advanced in the United States.

Following this outline should be considered an important factor when thinking about ways to get into Columbia University.

Now that you know about the admissions requirements at Columbia, or lack thereof, let’s also go over the application requirements that every student will be expected to send in when they apply for the school.


Columbia accepts either the Coalition Application or the Common Application. They 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

The questions that students who apply to Columbia are specific to both their experiences within high school. They also deal with what students hope to gain out of their university experience and why they think attending Columbia is the right choice for them. Here are the questions that were offered to students for the 2020-21 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)

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

  • 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

Finally, students will have to send in either their application fee or a fee waiver.

How Columbia compares to other Ivies

If you are interested in applying to a school like Columbia, there is a rather high chance that you are also interested in applying to other similar prestigious and competitive schools.

For starters, let’s look at some important statistics regarding the Columbia University graduating class of 2024.

Last year, a total of 40,084 students applied to Columbia. Just over 10 percent – or 4,318 students – applied through the school’s early decision program. When the dust settled, just 2,544 were accepted to the school. The class itself was made up of a total of just 1,492 students.

From that alone, we know that the acceptance rate of Columbia for last year’s application cycle was just above 6.0 percent! That is incredibly low and ranks Columbia amongst the hardest schools to get into in the entire United States.

If you are looking for how Columbia’s acceptance rate compares to the acceptance rate of the seven other Ivy League schools, take a look at the graphic below. This will help you better understand how hard it is to get into Columbia compared to the other Ivies.

List of Universities and their acceptance rates.

From this graphic, you can see that Columbia was right there with the other hardest Ivy League schools to get into for students who applied in 2020.

Moreover, the acceptance rate for the graduating class of 2025 (so students who applied in 2021) saw a major decrease across the board.

From all this information, you are probably starting to get a good idea of why Columbia – and the rest of the Ivy League – is considered to be amongst the most prestigious schools in the country.

Not only is it because these schools are some of the most historic, most well-funded, and most challenging, but they are also the most restrictive when it comes to the number of students that they accept year after year.

If, at this point you are starting to feel a bit of doubt about your chances of getting into Columbia, have no fear!

While you should always remain realistic about your chances of getting into any school, the mere fact that you are reading this breakdown and getting the necessary information already means that you are ahead of the curve.

The unfortunate truth is that there are far too many high school students out there that seem to think that the application process is something of a mystery. Or ever worse, they think that getting into a great school like Columbia, Harvard or Yale takes a bit of luck.

Here at AdmissionSight, we know that luck has nothing to do with it. The admissions officers at every prestigious school are highly trained and effective at identifying the students that will flourish at their school.

That is why we do everything that we can to prepare our students to not only look like students who will flourish at top schools, but also be students who will flourish at top schools.

Of course, we are happy to help high school students at any stop along the journey in the application process, but admissions consulting is typically most effective when the student and the consultant are able to work together throughout the student’s high school years.

That is when a consultant can truly help mold the student to perform at his or her best both in school and when they finally get started on applying to schools.

How to improve your chances of getting in Columbia

At this point, you may be wondering what it is that schools like Columbia really look for in students? After all, they clearly have a specific kind of student in mind, right? Well, that answer is a bit complicated.

Of course, the most prestigious schools in the country are looking for excelling students and passionate people, but the schools also know that students that fit that bill come in countless different forms.

So with that being said, let’s break down how students of all kinds can improve their chances of getting into Columbia when it is finally time for them to apply.

Earn fantastic grades and standardized test scores

There’s little doubt that the answer to the question, “How difficult is it to get into Columbia,” depends on who is asking the question. While it may be close to impossible for some, it can be quite realistic for others!

This may seem like an obvious place to start, but this list simply would not be complete without discussing the importance of getting great grades and great test scores if you want to attend a top college or university.

Truly, the vast majority of students that get into schools like Columbia are at the top of their classes in high school when it comes to performance.

A shaded answer sheet with pencil resting on top.

In the case of Columbia, the average grade point average for students who get into the school is at a whopping weight 4.13. A weighted GPA simply means that advanced courses, such as honors, AP and IB courses come with a higher total scale than unweighted courses.

So, instead of an A score being marked as a 4.0, an A score in an AP or IB course would be marked as a 5.0.

A 4.13 weighted GPA not only means that students who get into Columbia take a fair amount of advanced courses, but also do well in them. You will need to do the same if you want to feel good about your chances of getting in.

As for standardized test scores, the average ACT score of students that get into Columbia is a 34 out of the perfect 36. As for the SAT, the average score is 1505 out of the perfect 1600.

Now, it is important for us to mention here that the ACT and SAT have been made optional for students applying to Columbia over the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, students should absolutely take one of the exams if they are able to do so and expect for the tests to once again be made a requirement in the near future.

Prove your passion with your extracurriculars

Another important thing that students must do during their time in high school is take advantage of their free time. The best way to do this is to invest time and energy in activities out of the classroom that they are passionate about.

There are no specific extracurriculars that are seen as musts for students, though academically related teams, groups or clubs are certainly smiled upon.

In a soccer field, two students are competing to touch the soccer ball by their feet.

What matters most when it comes to extracurriculars is that the student involved proves that they are able to take things seriously and seek leadership roles within those groups. We always advise students to focus more intently on less extracurriculars rather than focus less on more extracurriculars.

While it used to be seen as a positive for students to be as well-rounded as possible by taking part in as many extracurricular activities and programs as possible, schools like Columbia now tend to focus more intently on students who seem passionate, driven and focused on specific areas of interest.

Craft inspiring personal essays

If strong grades and test scores and impressive activities out of the classroom are seen as somewhat prerequisites for students who want to attend a top university like Columbia, then the personal essay section of the exam may be seen as the wildcard.

This is really the only chance that a student who is applying to schools has to be creative and set themselves apart in a truly subjective way.

A woman is sitting on the grass while writing on her notebook.

Students need to make sure that they have the time and energy needed to really come up with unique and special responses to every single essay question that they are asked to answer in an application.

The goal here should be to let the reader – aka the admissions officer assigned to your application – in so that they can get to know about the fantastic person and student that you are beyond simple grades and test scores.

It is important to keep in mind here that some people incorrectly assume that essays make a student out to be from an incredibly unique background, or someone who has been through incredible trials in their life, will get the best chance to be accepted to a school. If that does describe who you are and your background, by all means write about it!

However, admissions officers often look more specifically for a unique point of view.  An essay that looks at something mundane and everyday may end up having a more positive impact than an essay that has to do with a rare incident or event in a student’s life.

It can be a hard thing to achieve, but students must do what they can to set themselves apart from the pack with their writing, insight and ability to tell a story about themselves.

Here at AdmissionSight, we are fully aware about the incredible importance of these personal essays. We have worked with hundreds of students to help them represent themselves in the best way possible when they send their applications into schools like Columbia.

We’ll teach you how to get into Columbia

Here at AdmissionSight, we know that getting into top schools is far from a mystery. In fact, the process can be seen as much more of an equation when it is broken down in the correct way. Our number one every single application cycle is to help the students that we work with get into the schools of their dreams. And we’re experts at it!

That’s why 75 percent of the students that we’ve worked with have ended up getting into Ivy League schools or other top-10 schools in the United States.

If you are looking to beat the odds and get into a school like Columbia, Harvard or Yale, contact us at AdmissionSight to see what we can do for your college admissions dreams.



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