How to get into Columbia University, New York

Located in the heart of New York, Columbia University is a private, Ivy League research university with approximately 34,000 students, a high research output and a reputation for excellence, innovation and entrepreneurship – which has resulted in a competitive 4.66 acceptance rate. Founded in 1754, it is the oldest university in New York State and the fifth oldest in the US.

Columbia University is renowned for its scientific breakthroughs and has produced 100 Nobel Laureates, 125 Pulitzer Prize winners, and educated four American presidents and 29 heads of state. The university is divided into 20 schools, four of which are for undergraduates, while the other 16 are for postgraduate studies. Its campus in or around New York’s Morningside Heights offers over 8,000 units of accommodation, the medical school is affiliated with 20 hospitals in the US and four abroad – everything which Columbia University does and provides is on a grand scale.

It has been estimated that Columbia University produces 175 inventions in health sciences every year and holds over 600 patents. At present, the university is working with Amazon and IMB on accelerator laboratories. Columbia was the first university to chart the brain-computer interface, develop lasers, discover nuclear resonance, and plate tectonics and the role they play in continental drift – to name but a sample of its scientific work. As a result, places at Columbia University are highly sought-after by students who wish to take a STEM course.

Columbia University has an international outlook and partners with universities all across the globe. Its students can devote a term or a year to pursuing their studies in world-class institutions such as Sciences Po, EHESS, ENS, Kings College, London, the University of Warwick, and the LSE, with select students being offered the opportunity to go to Oxford or Cambridge.

How to get into Columbia University - The Core Curriculum

Columbia University sets out to produce well-rounded global citizens, who are as at home discussing music as science, the Iliad, and the history of the Rift Valley. Its core curriculum is a broad and demanding series of courses and is compulsory.

 Every first-year each student is obliged to take:

  • The Masterpieces of Western Literature – one year
  • University Writing – one term
  • Frontiers of Science – one term

In the second year students take:

  • Contemporary Civilisation -one year

 In addition, in order to graduate from Columbia University, you will have to fit in:

  • One term of Music Humanities
  • One term of Art Humanities
  • Two terms of Science
  •  Four terms of Foreign Language 
  • Two courses (one term each) on non-Western cultures 
  • Two terms of physical education

AND pass a swimming test!

How to get into Columbia University - the general requirements

Columbia University accepts both the Coalition and Common App.

You can apply for Early Decision and upload your application by 1 November, or Regular Decision, with a deadline of 1 January. Applications for financial aid can be complicated and Elab will walk you through the process  of preparing the relevant paperwork, which needs to be submitted by 15 November and 15 January respectively

Note that while Columbia University is need-blind for US students, it is need-aware when it comes to international students. However, it has a well-deserved reputation for generous financial aid, including scholarships. 

NB: Your application must be either to Columbia College or Columbia School of Engineering.

You will need to send in a selection of documents, contact Elab for further up to date details.

The majority of applicants will have a GPA of 4.14 or above. At present SATs and ACT are optional, but to give you an idea of the level of academic success expected by Columbia University, in the recent past  the majority of successful applicants scored 1560 and over in the SAT and 35 in the ACT – high scores, which demonstrate that they were in the top 10 percent in their class. 

How to get into Columbia University - Focus on the Columbia Supplement

The Columbia University Supplement is made up of three 200-word essays and three lists, or short answers.Lists can cover subjects such as your favourite books or pieces of music, landscapes which have inspired you, important global issues etc. Two of the lists are limited to 75 words long, and the final one of cannot exceed 125 words. 

Unlike certain other Ivy League Supplements, you will not be given any choice in responding to prompts. On the positive side, this means that you can prepare six, rather than potentially eight, essays/short answers. Perhaps the easiest feature of the Supplement are Columbia’s lists.

General List Tips:

  • Do not italicise names of books, plays, poems etc.
  • You cannot add any explanatory remarks to the list.
  • The order in which you list items is not important.
  • Do not number your list or introduce rankings.
  • Separate each item from the next with a comma or a semi-colon.
  • Lists should reveal your interests and refer back to your application.

Columbia University – The three essays 

The 200 word essays usually revolve around three themes :

  • Why Columbia University?
  • Community
  • Activities.

It is essential not to drop into comfortable cliches and talk about “high quality research” “world class education” “the magic of studying in New York.” You need to spend time researching the university’s programs, lecturers, community engagement, etc., and determine what distinguishes Columbia in your eyes, and what the university offers which you value and want to be part of. After all, Columbia is not the only university in New York, so why is it the one you have chosen? What makes it unique and right for you? Perhaps you want to study under a specific professor or join a particular research program? Or maybe Columbia’s international outlook matches your own? Work your way through the Columbia website, in order to learn as much as you can about the university.

Your community-focussed   essay should focus on these two words and cite examples not only of what you have learned, but also how you have contributed to the community of which you are a part. In addition, you should try and relate your experiences and activities to the Columbia setting and draw conclusions from the past to inform the future. 

The essay on activities needs to create a mental timeline which covers your initial interest in your Major, describes how this grew and expanded and sets out what you plan to do with your knowledge in the future. If there is an area or a niche subject which inspires you, this is the best place to explain why it is driving your decision to study a particular subject. Be clear and enthusiastic. Cite specific activities and situations and link them to the course and show how the Columbia program is central to your goals. If you are a little unsure how to tackle this essay, Elab’s experienced consultants and mentors can help you organise your thoughts and materials to create a persuasive argument for claiming a place at Columbia University.

How to get into Columbia University - the most popular courses:

  • Social sciences
  • Engineering, taught at the world-famous Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science
  • Visual and Performing Arts
  • Foreign languages
  • Economics
  • Pharmacology
  • History
  • Computer and information sciences
  • Biological and biomedical sciences
  • Political science and government
  • Mathematics and statistics

Columbia has small classes, with 86 per cent having under 20 students.

How to get into - Columbia University – Living in New York City

Campus safety

New York is a huge and bustling metropolis, and the university is aware of the need to provide its students with a safe environment. It offers campus safety and security services, including 24-hour foot patrols and vehicle patrols, late-night escort and transport services, 24-hour emergency phones, dormitories which can only be accessed with a key or security card and well-lit pavements. In 2020, it was ranked the fifth safest campus in the USA.

New York is on your doorstep and there are subway and bus stops on campus which will take you anywhere you want to go in a matter of minutes, so you feel part of the urban community, rather than marooned in an artificial bubble of students on, for example, a rural campus. The pace of life is fast, and the workload is heavy, so you need to balance your lifestyle by pursuing leisure activities. Going to university in New York places you at the hub of virtually infinite possibilities:

Broadway, Chinatown, Manhattan, Central Park, Greenwich Village, the Hudson, whatever you feel like doing, whether it’s sipping cocktails in a bar, going to the latest exhibition, shopping at Saks or browsing Brooklyn’s AquaDuck Flea Market , it’s all there, and available to enjoy in the city that never sleeps.

Nevertheless, even if New York is the lure, do not forget that Columbia expects you to work hard – you will have to write two or three assignments a week for the core curriculum . In addition,since Columbia is famous for not inflating its grades, you will have to be a strong independent learner, with good time management skills, to achieve impressive marks.

Is it worth it? – Of course!

How to get into Columbia University - a summary

The majority of the people who apply to Columbia University will have excellent test scores, an academic record of accomplishment second to none, extracurricular activities aplenty and a GPA well over 4.0.

So how do you stand out from the crowd and receive the offer of a place?

The Columbia University Supplement is crucial in the admissions process, and it is never too early to start considering how you will draft your essays.

Write, rewrite, polish, and spell check every single line.

Make sure your words sing, that your arguments and narratives are clear, original, and striking, and check that you have conveyed who you are. Offer Columbia University what they are looking for: unique intellectual perspectives, flair, and the passion and drive to pursue your interests, wherever they may take you in your field.

Remember that the supplement gives you the best opportunity to present yourself, your achievements, and plans.

How to get into Columbia University - what should I do next?

Elab runs an extremely successful Ivy League programme which will guide you through the application process

In addition, our experienced team of US experts works in collaboration with current Ivy League students, who offer mentorship and inside knowledge of the realities of studying in America’s most prestigious universities.

Elab can give you essential information and help with applying for scholarships, tuition fees, getting a visa, medical insurance, bank accounts, and mobile phone contracts, accommodation costs, and deciding which dining plan is most suitable for your needs, etc.

We will work with you to confirm which Ivy League university is right for you and help you choose the course you wish to take. We will also ensure that your Common App is well-prepared and that you have submitted all the documents required in good time and are ready to draft those all-important essays.

Call Elab or send us an email. It is never too early to start the application process to Columbia University – an extraordinary New York institution, and the doorway to a brilliant career.

  • Introduction
  • Diagnostics
  • Personal Profile Map
  • Research
  • University Report
  • Final application choices
  • Application process plan
  • Mentor Program
  • Exam and Interview prep
  • Document completion
  • Application portal setup
  • Submission
  • Acceptance
  • Pre-departure procedures
  • Finances
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