Columbia University Guide

The Ivy Scholars guide to Columbia University’s culture, admissions, and other essential information for prospective students and their families.

Location: New York, New York

Mascot: Roaree the Lion

Type: Private Research Institution

Population: 32,500 (6,000 undergrads)

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About Columbia University

Columbia University was established in 1754 in New York City, and is the oldest college in the state; five Founding Fathers graduated from this institution. It administers the Pulitzer Prize every year. The school has a focus on graduate programs, but undergraduates are guaranteed on-campus housing for all four years of their education. Barnard College is Columbia’s women-only sister institution.

Columbia Statistics

Year Founded: 1754

4 Year Graduation Rate: 96%

Gender Distribution: 51% male, 49% female

Acceptance Rate: 7%

Residency: 78% out of state, 6% in state, 16% international

Location Type: Urban

Schedule System: Semesters

Student/Faculty Ratio: 6:1

Average Class Size: 20

Demographics: 54% Caucasian, 30% Asian, 20% Hispanic, 15% Black, 4% Other

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National Rankings

US News Rankings:

  • #3 National Universities
  • #6 Best Value Schools
  • #10 Writing in the Disciplines
  • #15 Best Undergraduate Engineering Program
  • #31 Undergraduate Research/Creative Projects
  • #42 Most Innovative School
  • #76 Best Undergraduate Teaching

Independent Rankings:

  • #1 Best Colleges for Philosophy in America per Niche
  • #1 Best Colleges for Student Athletes in New York per Niche
  • #2 Best Colleges for English in America per Niche
  • #2 Best College Library per The Princeton Review
  • #7 Most Politically Active Students per The Princeton Review
  • #8 Best College Newspaper per The Princeton Review
  • #13 Best Research Universities per Forbes
  • #13 Best College Radio Station per The Princeton Review
  • #15 Least Religious Students per The Princeton Review
  • #19 Best College Dorms per The Princeton Review
  • #20 Best Career Placement per The Princeton Review
  • #37 Top 50 Green Colleges per The Princeton Review

Columbia Admissions Information

Application Deadlines:

  • Early Decision: November 1st
  • Regular Decision: January 1st
  • Transfer Deadline: March 1st

Notification Dates:

  • Early Decision: Mid-December
  • Regular Decision: Late March

Acceptance Rates:

  • ED: 18%
  • RD: 4.3% 
  • Transfer: 6%

Average Applicant Pool: 42,600

Average Number of Applicants Accepted: 2,200

Average Number Enrolled: 1,400

Application Systems: Common App, Coalition App

Average GPA: 4.12 weighted

SAT Scores: 25th% – 1450, 75th% – 1560

ACT Scores: 25th% – 33, 75th% – 35

*Test mandatory. Writing sections are not required.

Demonstrated Interest:

Columbia does not consider demonstrated interest.

Recommendation Letter Policies:

One counselor recommendation and two teacher recommendations are required. Additional recommendation letters are discouraged, but an additional letter of recommendation will be accepted if the writer has worked with you in a research or college course capacity.

Columbia Essay Prompts:

  • Common App Personal Statement (650 words)
  • List a few words or phrases that describe your ideal college community (150 words).
  • List the titles of the films, concerts, shows, exhibits, lectures and other entertainments you enjoyed most in the past year. (150 words)
    • the titles of the required readings from courses during the school year or summer that you enjoyed most in the past year;
    • the titles of books read for pleasure that you enjoyed most in the past year;
    • the titles of print or electronic publications you read regularly;
    • and the titles of the films, concerts, shows, exhibits, lectures and other entertainments you enjoyed most in the past year.
  • Please tell us what you value most about Columbia and why. (300 words)
  • If you are applying to Columbia College, tell us what from your current and past experiences (either academic or personal) attracts you specifically to the field or fields of study that you noted in the Member Questions section. If you are currently undecided, please write about any field or fields in which you may have an interest at this time. (300 words)
  • If you are applying to The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science, please tell us what from your current and past experiences (either academic or personal) attracts you specifically to the field or fields of study that you noted in the Member Questions section. (300 words)

Columbia Essay Writing Tips

Special Notes:

  • If you have completed research with a faculty member or mentor in science, engineering or other academic disciplines, you are welcome to provide a one or two page abstract as a supplement to your application.
  • Architecture, Creative Writing, Dance, Drama and Theatre Arts, Film, Maker, Music and Visual Arts supplements can be submitted through Columbia’s SlideRoom portal. The Maker Portfolio is an opportunity for students to highlight past creations or ongoing projects.


  • Transfer students need to have completed at least a full year of undergraduate studies, those with more than four completed semesters are not encouraged to apply.
  • Transfer students must use the Coalition Application.
  • Standardized test scores are required.
  • Two college-level academic recommendations are required. These should come from instructors. An optional third letter from a Dean will be accepted.
  • The Coalition essay is not required, but students wishing to transfer should respond to the following prompt: 
    • Please explain why you are interested in transferring from your current institution. The personal essay does not need to be specific to Columbia, but it should inform the committee why you wish to leave your current institution.
  • Transfer students will also have to  answer the same supplemental questions as standard applicants.
  • Transfer Credit information.

Columbia Admission Strategy

Admissions Criteria:

There are six factors which are the core criteria by which candidates are evaluated. These are: academic preparation, family and community circumstances, character, extracurriculars, recommendations, and fit.

Academic preparation is determined based on GPA, course rigor, and standardized test scores. These are used to decide if a student is ready for the academic rigors of Columbia. 95% of students are in the top 10% of their graduating class.

Family and community circumstances include things like racial and ethnic background, socio-economic status, and geographic origin. These are considered due to Columbia’s desire to build a diverse student body.

Recruited athletes have an admissions advantage so long as they also meet admissions criteria academically. If their academic preparation is at a sufficient level, then their chances of admission are greater than those of the average student.

As Columbia is unable to offer interviews to every applicant, they are not a key component of admissions. The school does not consider demonstrated interest or ability to pay.

What is Columbia Looking For?

Columbia uses a holistic admissions process, and ensures that every student will have their application looked at by more than one admissions officer before a final decision is made. While high academic achievement is paramount, other factors can make up for a few points of weakness there. In effect, a few Bs or substandard test scores will not automatically sink an application, so long as the student excels elsewhere. 

In extracurriculars, Columbia is looking for passionate specialists. They have a large number of accomplished alumni, and are looking to add to that number by admitting masters in their fields, who will go on to excel at other things in their own right. Thus a student who has excelled in a single activity will be more appealing to them than one who is ok at many activities.

Key to the holistic admissions decision are the concepts of character and fit. Columbia is looking for students who are not just excellent, but who will best benefit from what Columbia specifically has to offer. Essays and letters of recommendation are used to judge each applicant’s character. Columbia is looking for students who want to change the world, who are passionate about their academic areas of interest, and who would most benefit from the resources available to them on campus.

Columbia has announced commitments to increase representation on campus among marginalized and underprivileged groups. This will take the form of increased outreach and recruitment initiatives, to bolster the number of applicants and increase their yield once they are admitted.

Columbia Strategy:

The single easiest way to increase chances of admission for Columbia is to apply ED. The admissions rate here is several times higher than that of regular decision, and close to half of each incoming class is admitted based on a smaller pool of applicants. Thus, if Columbia is your first choice, you should definitely apply ED.

While Columbia does use holistic admissions, and low academics will not necessarily sink your application, having strong academics is always preferable. Your grades should be high, and you should be taking the most challenging courses available to you. Similarly, your test scores should be above the 50th percentile to be competitive. 

Extracurriculars, as stated previously, should tell a story of passionate involvement with a few activities at a high level. The more unique your extracurricular achievements, the more your application will stand out.

The essays are a key component of the application, and are the one you have the most control over. These will demonstrate to admissions your character, and how you will fit in with their vision for the university. The essays should demonstrate the best version of you, and describe why Columbia is the best place for you to grow and succeed as a student. Columbia receives many thousands of applications from students who are qualified to attend, thus they look for students who would benefit the most from attending.

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Columbia Academics


Core Requirements:

  • Core Curriculum
  • Requirements
  • Classes
  • Required courses: Science requirement (3 courses of 3 points each), Global Core requirement (2 courses),  Foreign Language requirement, Physical Education requirement (successful completion of 2 activities and a swimming test).

Courses of Study: 

AP Credit Policies:

  • If you take AP, IB, or honors classes while you are in high school, you can earn what is called Advanced Standing at Columbia. While all recent high school graduates enter the university as 0-credit freshmen, at the beginning of their sophomore year, select students might have the option to “accelerate” their Columbia education.
  • Columbia awards credit for scores of 4 or 5 on most AP exams.
  • Comprehensive AP Credit Information

Special Programs

Honors Programs:

  • Academic Honors:
    • College (Latin) Honors: The Bachelor of Arts degree will be awarded with honors in three categories (cum laude, magna cum laude, summa cum laude) to the top 25 percent of the graduating class. Honors are determined by an undergraduate student’s cumulative GPA.
    • Departmental Honors: To apply for departmental honors, students should consult with their director of undergraduate studies no later than the beginning of the first term of their senior year.
    • Phi Beta Kappa: The honor of Phi Beta Kappa induction is awarded to students who have demonstrated both intellectual ambition and academic achievement. No more than 10% of the graduating class may be inducted into Phi Beta Kappa, 2% in the fall and 8% in the spring.

Research Availability:

  • With 200+ research institutes and centers, Columbia’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities provide many options for undergraduates to get involved in research.

Study Abroad: 

Business Options: 

  • Special Concentration: Business Management – “The collaboration between the faculty of Arts and Sciences and Columbia Business School offers students access to the ideas and expertise of the faculty of a top-ranked professional school recognized for its excellence in graduate business education through a series of elective courses. This curricular and co-curricular programming capitalizes on the Business School’s ability to connect academic theory with real-world practice.”

Pre-Med Options:

Pre-Law Options:

Computer Science Options: 

Additional Specialty Programs: 

  • Dual/Joint Degree Programs
    • The Combined Plan (3-2) Program: This program provides students with the opportunity to earn both a B.A. at Columbia College and a B.S. at The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science in five years.
    • The International Affairs Five-Year Program: This program allows students to earn both B.A. and M.I.A. degrees in five years.
    • The Cross-Registration Program: Students can be invited to cross-register for weekly instrumental (classical and jazz), composition, and vocal instruction with the Juilliard faculty, after completing the formal application and successfully auditioning at Juilliard.

    • The Joint BA/MM Program: Columbia College students already in the cross-registration program can apply to participate in the joint program that offers students the opportunity to earn a B.A. from Columbia and an M.M. from Juilliard in five years.

    • The Graduate Program in Public Policy and Administration: This program provides students with the opportunity to earn both B.A. and M.P.A. degrees in five years.

    • Columbia-Howard Exchange Program

Programs for High Schoolers:

  • Academic Year Immersion gives exceptional high school students in grades 9-12 an opportunity to explore Columbia’s campus and academics over 10 weekends.
  • College Edge exceptional high school students in grade 11 and 12, and recent graduates, can take academic courses at Columbia for college credit.
  • Online Summer Immersion Programs are 1-week or 3-week programs for students in grades 9-12 to introduce them to college academics and the application process.
  • College Edge -Summer Sessions allows rising Juniors, Seniors, adn college Freshmen to take academic courses for college credit during Columbia’s summer session.
  • Columbia Scholastic Press Association is for high school journalists and their faculty advisors to learn from students and faculty at Columbia.

Student Life at Columbia

School Motto: In thy light we shall see

Mission and Values:

    • Mission: Columbia University is one of the world’s most important centers of research and at the same time a distinctive and distinguished learning environment for undergraduates and graduate students in many scholarly and professional fields. The University recognizes the importance of its location in New York City and seeks to link its research and teaching to the vast resources of a great metropolis. It seeks to attract a diverse and international faculty and student body, to support research and teaching on global issues, and to create academic relationships with many countries and regions. It expects all areas of the University to advance knowledge and learning at the highest level and to convey the products of its efforts to the world.
  • Values: Academic Excellence and Success, Transformational Learning and Growth, Vital Community and Access, Collegiality and Professionalism, Positive Campus Environment, Participatory Decision Making, Civic Awareness, Environmental Sustainability, Institutional Wellness.
  • Student Testimonials (Niche, Unigo, Cappex)

Residential Housing System:

Columbia’s Housing offers students a unique opportunity to build a close sense of community within the vast urban setting that is New York City. There are 19 undergraduate residence halls and 18 brownstones which house traditional residential students as well as special living communities, located on and around the Morningside campus.

Housing Statistics:

  • 99% of freshmen live on campus
  • 94% of undergraduates live in on-campus housing for the entirety of their stay

Campus & Surrounding Area:  



  • First Year March: During orientation week, first years exit Lerner Hall through its back doors, turn right and enter campus again through the main gates to officially become Columbia students.
  • The Varsity Show: An annual musical written by and for students.
  • Orgo Night: On the day before the Organic Chemistry exam at precisely the stroke of midnight, the Columbia marching band occupies Butler Library to distract diligent students from studying in an attempt to raise the curve on the organic chemistry exam.
  • Primal Scream: On the Sunday of finals week each semester, students open their windows at midnight and scream as loudly as possible.
  • 40s on 40: With forty days remaining until graduation, seniors drink 40oz malt liquor on the steps of Low Library to celebrate their impending graduation.
  • Joyce Kilmer Memorial Annual Bad Poetry Contest: Contestants read their wittiest and worst original poetry, hoping for cheers and the title of Poet Laureate.
  • Tree-Lighting and Yule Log Ceremonies: The campus Tree-Lighting Ceremony celebrates the illumination of the medium-sized trees lining College Walk just before finals week in early December.

Student-Run Organizations: 


Greek Life: 


Financial Information

Yearly Cost of Attendance:

  • Total: $79,814
  • Tuition: $59,430
  • Fees: $2,420
  • Room & Board: $14,490
  • Books: $1,300
  • Personal Expenses: $2,180

Financial Aid & Scholarships:

Financial aid at Columbia is need-based; there are no academic, athletic, or talent-based institutional scholarships. Columbia provides several types of resources and aid to help their students:

Estimate Your Net Cost 

Additional Financial Aid & Student Loan Information

Fun Facts

  • Columbia University was founded in 1754 as King’s College by royal charter of King George II of England. It is the oldest institution of higher learning in the state of New York and the fifth oldest in the United States.
  • During the American Revolution, the Battle of Harlem Heights was fought on September 16th, 1776 on the land where Columbia University sits today.
  • Columbia is built atop a former mental asylum.
  • Legend has it that the first freshman to find the owl tucked within the folds of the Daniel Chester French sculpture of Alma Mater that sits on the steps of Low Memorial Library will graduate as valedictorian.
  • The MGM Studios’ Lion was inspired by Columbia’s Lion mascot.
  • The most filmed college classroom is Columbia University’s Havemeyer Hall, which has been featured in over a dozen films, including the first three Spider-Man movies.
  • Columbia was the first school in the US to grant the M.D. degree.
  • Columbia University is the second largest landowner in New York City, after the Catholic Church.
  • Columbia was the first place in North America where the uranium atom was split.
  • In 1870, Columbia’s football team played the second football game ever in the history of football against Rutgers.
  • The Columbia Queer Alliance, founded in 1967, is the oldest gay student organization in the world.
Wendy Y.
Below is my son's review. He was accepted to his dream Ivy League school!

From an admitted student's perspective, I am incredibly grateful to have met Sasha - he has been instrumental in helping me achieve my educational dreams (Ivy League), all while being an absolute joy (he's a walking encyclopedia, only funnier!) to work with.

Many people are dissuaded from seeking a college counselor because they think they can get into their desired college(s) either way. Honestly, going that route is a bit short-sighted and can jeopardize your odds of acceptances after years of hard work. The sad truth is, the American education system (even if you attend a fancy private school and ESPECIALLY if you go to a public school) doesn't really tell students how to write a compelling and authentic application. Going into the admissions process alone, without speaking with an advisor, is like going to court without a lawyer - you put yourself at a significant disadvantage because you don't have all the facts in front of you, or the help you need to negotiate the system.

That said, you need a good lawyer just like you need a good college counselor. And that's where Sasha distinguishes himself from the crowd of people claiming they'll get you into Harvard. I came to Sasha worried about and frankly dumbfounded by the college admissions process. I was unsure what to write about and how to go about drafting the essay that perfectly captured my passion, interests, and self. And I was highly skeptical that anyone could really help me. But, damn, did Sasha prove me wrong. From the beginning, Sasha amazed me with his understanding of the process, and ability to lend clarity and direction to me when I desperate needed it. After interviewing me about my background, experiences, activities, outlook, and vision, he helped me see qualities about myself I had not previously considered 'unique' or 'stand-out.' This process of understanding myself was so incredibly important in laying the groundwork for the essays I eventually wrote, and I'm certain I would've drafted boring, inauthentic essays without it.

Looking back, Sasha's talent is that he can see where your strengths lie, even when you don't see them. The truth is, although we don't always realize it, everyone has a unique story to tell. Sasha helped me see mine, and with his big-picture insight I was able to write the application that truly encapsulated my life and vision. He inspired me to dig deeper and write better, challenging me to revise and revise until my essays were the most passionate and authentic work I had ever written. As clichéd as that sounds, that's really what universities are looking for. In retrospect, it makes sense - in the real world passionate (not simply intelligent) individuals are the ones who make a difference in the world, and those are the individuals colleges would like to have associated with their brand.

In the end, I was accepted to the college of my dreams, a feat I could not have achieved without the direction Sasha lent to me. Essays (and the personal narrative you develop through your application) matter so much, and can literally make or break your application. I have seen so many of my 'qualified' friends receive rejections because they wrote contrived essays that didn't truly represent who they were; conversely, I have also seen so many friends with shorter resumes accepted because they were able to articulate their story in a genuinely passionate and authentic way - I fall into the latter category.

As a former admissions officer at Johns Hopkins, Sasha knows what types of essays jibe well with universities, an invaluable asset to have in the admissions process. He is responsive, flexible, creative, positive, and witty. For anyone who is serious about going into the college admissions process informed and prepared, I highly recommend Sasha.
Arda E.
I used Ivy Scholars to mainly help me with college applications. Within weeks of using this service, Sasha was able to simplify the already complex process. When it came to writing the Common App essay, Sasha didn’t just help with grammar and syntax, he brought my essays to life. Sasha also worked tirelessly to help solidify my extracurricular activities, including research and internship opportunities. Without his help, I would have never had an impressive resume.

Sasha is not only an extremely knowledgeable tutor, but also a genuine brother figure. His guidance, throughout my last two years of high school, was everything I needed to get me an acceptance letter from my dream schools (UC Berkeley, Tufts, Emory).

When it came to testing, Ivy Scholars worked like a charm. Sasha offered a very comprehensive plan when it came to completely acing my standardized tests. Without his test taking strategies I would have never gotten straight 5s on my AP tests and a 35 on the ACT.

Working with Sasha, I didn’t just become a good student, I became a genuine scholar.
Samson S.
We worked with Ivy Scholars during my son's senior year. I was concerned that we may be too late to take advantage of college advising but the Ivy Scholars team quickly and confidently directed us through the steps to ensure no deadlines were missed. Sasha's knowledge about schools, what they looked for in candidates, and how to maneuver the application process was invaluable. Mateo and Ryan worked with my son to help him create an essay that would get noticed and I am so appreciative he had their guidance.

Prior to securing Ivy Scholars, we tried using a less-expensive online service which was a terrible experience. As a parent, Ivy Scholars brought peace of mind to an area that was frankly overwhelming. This service was invaluable in the knowledge that we gained throughout the process. He has also met with my freshman daughter to provide guidance for her high school courses, career paths, extracurricular activities, and more.

Prior to signing with Ivy Scholars, I tried a less expensive online service and was very disappointed.

As a result of our work with Ivy Scholars, I am pleased to say that my son will be attending Stern Business School at New York University this fall! I highly recommend Ivy Scholars. Highly recommend!