How to Get Into Columbia University: All You Need to Know

Friday, July 8, 2022

columbia interviewAs the only member of the Ivy League that’s located in the heart of a major city, it’s easy to understand why many students are ranking Columbia University at the top of their list of best-fit colleges. The school has plenty of well-regarded programs and is known for its signature Core Curriculum, which has been part of the Columbia student experience for more than a century.

Since Columbia University has a stellar reputation and receives thousands of applicants each year, students must go the extra mile in order to gain a seat in an upcoming class. Keep reading to learn more about what sets Columbia University apart and the best practices that applicants can take advantage of to increase their chances of admission.

How to get into Columbia University: Table of Contents

  1. When to Apply to Columbia University
  2. How Hard Is It To Get Into Columbia: Early Prep 
  3. How To Actually Get Into Columbia: The Application
  4. Class Profile 
  5. What Makes Columbia University Unique?

When to apply to Columbia University

When it comes to applying to Columbia University, one of the first steps students must take is reviewing the application timeline and making sure they’re prepared to meet every admissions milestone. Like most top-tier colleges in the United States, Columbia University uses a holistic admissions process that requires students to complete various steps and submit different materials on specific timelines. Here is an overview of the Columbia University admissions process and the dates that prospective applicants need to keep in mind:

Columbia Application Deadlines

Columbia’s application deadlines vary slightly from year to year, but generally occur around the same time in the academic calendar. For students applying during the 2022-2023 admissions cycle, the major application deadlines are as follows:

November 1

  • Deadline for Early Decision applications

November 15

  • Deadline for Early Decision financial aid applications


  • Admissions and financial aid decisions released online to Early Decision candidates

January 1

  • Deadline for Regular Decision applications

Early January

  • Early Decision response deadline

February 15

  • Deadline for Regular Decision financial aid applications

Early April

  • Admissions and financial aid decisions released online to Regular Decision candidates

May 2

  • Regular Decision response deadline

May 15

  • Enrollment deferral request deadline

When students are reviewing admissions timelines for Columbia University, it’s important to keep in mind that the college offers two different admissions options, Early Decision and Regular Decision. Students who choose to commit to Columbia University through the binding Early Decision process will need to compile their application by the beginning of November and learn of their results in mid December. In contrast, applicants who opt for the Regular Decision round will need to submit their materials by early January and will hear back from Columbia University by early April. These students will also need to decide whether they wish to commit to the college by the beginning of May.

Early, Rolling, and Regular Decision

As students enter high school, they may start hearing about different application processes, such as early action vs rolling admission. While much of the application process will look similar regardless of your timeline, it’s important to understand the distinct differences between early, rolling, and regular decision admissions. 

There are two different forms of early admissions: Early Action and Early Decision. The key differentiator between the two is that Early Decision is binding, meaning a student must enroll in the college they applied Early Decision to if they are accepted, while Early Action is not binding. There is also Restrictive Early Action, which Columbia University does not offer, which stipulates that students cannot apply to any other private college through an early admissions program. Generally speaking, most Early Decision and Early Action deadlines occur around the beginning of November, with decisions released approximately one month after. 

In contrast, rolling admissions do not follow a strict deadline. At most schools that offer this option, applications are accepted from September up until May, although it is best to submit your application as early as possible since RA schools will continue to accept students until they reach their enrollment capacity. Columbia University does not offer rolling admissions. 

Finally, there are regular round admissions. Students who apply via the regular round generally need to submit their applications by early January, and they learn of their results in early April. Columbia University offers a regular round admissions option.

Waitlisted Applications

Given how competitive it is to get into Columbia University, it’s not surprising that the school generally waitlists a portion of its applicants. The waitlist is composed of exceptionally strong and distinguished applicants; the college just doesn’t have enough room to admit every single qualified student who applies. Students who are waitlisted will learn of this outcome when decisions are released, and they will have the option to choose whether they wish to remain on the waitlist or not. It’s important to note that Columbia’s admissions waitlists are not ranked; instead, applicants will be admitted off of the waitlist to fill institutional needs and ensure the upcoming Columbia class is balanced. 

If students apply via Early Decision, there is not a waitlist outcome, but there is something known as deferral, which means students will need to wait until regular round decisions are released to learn if they will be admitted or not. Many students want to know what to do if they have been deferred. Much like waitlists, the first step is to determine whether or not Columbia University is still your first choice college. If so, it’s important to find out what materials the school needs from you (such as an updated transcript) and send them out as soon as possible.

How hard is it to get into Columbia: Early Prep

Columbia University is one of the most prestigious institutions in the country. Every year, thousands of applicants apply and only a small percentage of these students gain a seat in an upcoming class. While Columbia’s application process is notoriously competitive, students can increase their chances of admission by preparing well in advance and doing their research to become experts on the school. 

Build Your Profile

Since Columbia University gets an influx of applications each year, students must understand what the college is looking for so they know how they can stand out from the crowd. In Columbia University’s admissions process, academics are the factor that carries the most weight in college admissions decisions. Columbia’s admissions officers will affirm intellectually curious students who demonstrate an ongoing commitment to challenging themselves and expanding their horizons.

The school’s website states that Columbia requires rigorous exploration across a range of subjects and recommends that applications demonstrate strong academic performance across subjects, effective written communication skills, and evidence of a rigorous course load within the scope of an applicant’s school’s curriculum. The same source notes that Columbia’s intellectual and social community will ask applicants to critically and enthusiastically engage with a wide variety of people and ideas. Thus, students who wish to stand out should exhibit deep curiosity such as a desire to investigate big ideas and to examine and solve thorny problems; a questioning unbound spirit of inquiry and innovation; openness to cross-disciplinary scholarship, diverse perspectives and new ideas; and a willingness to interrogate personal beliefs and belief systems. 

Throughout their application process, students should highlight what they are passionate about, what they’ve done to pursue these passions throughout high school, and how attending Columbia University will help them take these pursuits to the next level. Students can discuss both academic interests as well as extracurricular activities that are meaningful to them. Rather than trying to pad their application with as many activities as possible, it’s best for applicants to focus on a handful of interests that they genuinely care about and those that they have dedicated a significant amount of time towards. 

Visit the Campus and a Class

If you’re eager to attend Columbia University, visiting the campus is one of the best things you can do to get a feel for the school. If possible, see if you can sit in on a class to get a taste of the lecture experience and make sure to spend several hours walking around so that you get a feel for the urban campus.

Connect with a Student

In addition to touring the campus, it can be helpful to get a student’s perspective on their experience at Columbia University. If you have any friends or acquaintances who are currently enrolled, don’t hesitate to reach out to get your burning questions answered.

Learn About Any Student Experiences

When you’re touring Columbia, your tour guide will likely be a current student. If you have the opportunity to ask your guide a few questions, use this as another chance to learn more about the student experience, straight from the source. 

How do you actually get into Columbia: The Application

The bad news: there’s no magic trick or tried-and-true strategy that you can use to guarantee your admission to Columbia University. The good news: there are several steps that students can take to increase their odds of admission and set themselves apart for all of the right reasons. 

GPA Requirements

Columbia University doesn’t have a required GPA that students must meet to apply. However, the university emphasizes that academic excellence is the factor that carries the most weight during their admissions process. 95% of admitted students graduated in the top 10% of their high school class, so it is safe to say the majority of Columbia students had strong high school GPAs. 

SAT and ACT Scores

Much like GPAs, there’s no minimum SAT or ACT score that students must reach to apply to Columbia. However, for SAT scores, the middle 50 percent of admitted students scored between 1510 and 1560 on the Math and Evidence-Based Reading and Writing portions of the SAT. For the ACT, the middle 50 percent of admitted students scored between 34 and 35. When it comes to acing the SAT or ACT, the best thing students can do is begin preparing many months before their testing date and take several practice exams. 

Personal Statement

The personal statement is an opportunity to demonstrate not only your writing skills but also who you are and the qualities that set you apart. Students will have the chance to choose from a handful of different essay prompts, and will write an essay that is between 250 and 650 words long. Instead of worrying about what you “should” sound like, it’s best to focus on letting your authentic voice and unique personality shine through. 


In addition to the Common App essay prompts, Columbia asks applicants to answer several supplemental essay questions to learn more about a student’s interests and the role they would play on campus. The school asks three list questions and three short response questions. For the 2021-2022 admissions cycle, the prompts were:

  • 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 response questions:

Please answer the following questions in 200 words or fewer. 

  • 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?
  • Why are you interested in attending Columbia University? We encourage you to consider the aspect(s) that you find unique and compelling about Columbia.
  • 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. 

Letters of Recommendation

Columbia University requests two letters of recommendation and notes that for engineering applicants, one letter must come from a math or science teacher. Teacher recommendations should highlight a love of learning and the impact an applicant has on the classroom. Students should also submit a statement from a high school counselor, which can speak to their character and how they interact with the community at large. Since most teachers and counselors will get an influx of requests for letters of recommendation, aim to ask instructors by the start of senior year so they have plenty of time to compile their responses. 

Admission Interviews

Previously, Admissions interviews were conducted by select Student Interviewers and by volunteer members of Columbia’s Alumni Representative Committee. However, starting with the 2023-24 admissions cycle, Columbia University announced that it will no longer conduct alumni admissions interviews. In the past, because Columbia had a finite number of volunteers and a vast number of applicants, not all students had the option to interview. Consequently, interviews were not required. 

Contribution to the Columbia Community

Like many colleges, Columbia University admissions officers are eager to admit applicants who will make a lasting impact on the Columbia community. Throughout every component of your application process, including supplemental essays, make sure to highlight your goals and the role you would hope to play once admitted to Columbia University. Don’t shy away from specific details; it’s best to call out clubs you’d wish to join, classes you’re excited to take, and research opportunities that you would be enthusiastic to take part in. 

Class Profile 

Acceptance rate  3.9%
Class size 1,569
Undergraduate majors Social Sciences; Engineering; Computer Information Sciences and Support Services; Biological and Biomedical Studies 

As you’re learning about how to get into Columbia University, don’t forget to review their class profile. Class profiles give applicants a window into what the admissions outcomes at a specific college look like. Every school includes slightly different information in their class profile, but almost all highlight their most recent acceptance rate, their class size, and some of the majors that the college is best known for. This information can help students get a picture of the college and assess their chances of admission. 

What makes Columbia University unique?

While it is not the only prestigious university in New York City, there are plenty of differentiators that make Columbia University unique. Columbia has a one-of-a-kind Core Curriculum, which exposes students to a broad spectrum of ideas and perspectives in the fields of literature, history, philosophy, art, and science. Core classes are known for their small size, 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. 

In addition to academic classes, students have no shortage of options when it comes to extracurricular activities. Columbia University has more than 500 student organizations, from Aikido to Venom Step. Columbia also has an array of athletic offerings, including 31 varsity sports teams and 40+ intramural sports options. 

The university has an abundance of must-see destinations, including the Miller Theatre, the Lenfest Center for the Arts, St. Paul’s Chapel, and Butler Library.

Columbia has a host of famous alumni, including Julia Stiles, Alexander Hamilton, J.D. Salinger, Amelia Earhart, Madeleine Albright, and Neil deGrasse Tyson. 

Admission Consulting

Most students and families can benefit from college admissions counseling, especially if they’re interested in gaining admission to a top-tier college like Columbia University. Working with an admissions counselor gives students the chance to receive personalized guidance throughout every step of the application process, including compiling a balanced college list and brainstorming for their personal statement. 

While working with a college admissions counselor is an invaluable experience, it’s important to assess whether you’re ready to give the admissions process your all. To make the most of college counseling, students must be engaged in the process and excited about their academic future. It’s also important to select a college admissions counselor who is accredited, qualified, and has ample admissions experience. Do plenty of research so you can pick an admissions counselor who brings out the best in the students they work with.

It’s needless to say that getting into Columbia University can be tough since it’s one of the top schools worldwide, but IvyWise’s admission experts are here to make it happen. Take the first step towards getting into your dream school and set an initial consultation.


Related Topics

Choosing a College, College Prep
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