How to Get Into Columbia: Admissions Data & Strategies
As far as accomplishments go, getting into to Columbia University in 2020 versus getting accepted into the NYC Ivy a generation ago are wholly incomparable. It would be like equating climbing Mt. Everest to meandering up a modest hill, and it only takes one quick glance at the historical admissions numbers to see that this analogy is far from hyperbole.
Here are the facts: The acceptance rate for the Class of 2023 was a menacingly low 5.3%. The parents of today’s applicants would have faced admissions odds roughly 13 times more favorable. That’s right, the acceptance rate at Columbia University for the Class of 1992 was 65% according to U.S. News & World Report. Even in 1997, when the acceptance rate had fallen to 17%, the average SAT score of an admitted applicant was 1346; today the average SAT score is in excess of 1500. All of this is to say—when it comes to Columbia admissions, the competition has never been more merciless, and the odds of success never more discouraging.
To give yourself the best shot possible, it is necessary to:
1) Gain an honest understanding of what you are up against.
2) Study more data on which to accurately assess your chances of admission.
3) Obtain advice for how to get your application to Columbia stand out, even against other superb applicants.
To accomplish these goals we will touch on the following topics:
- Columbia’s Class of 2024 early decision acceptance rate
- Columbia’s Class of 2023 acceptance rate
- SAT, GPA, and class rank of accepted Columbia applicants
- Admissions trends from the Class of 2023
- How to stand out on your Columbia application
- Columbia’s system for rating applicants
- A look at the demographics of current Columbia undergraduates
- The percent of accepted students that attend Columbia (yield rate)
- Tips for applying to Columbia
- How to assess whether applying to Columbia is even worth the $85 application fee (for you)
Let’s begin with an examination of the most recent admissions data.
Columbia: Early Action Acceptance Rate – Class of 2024
Unfortunately, Columbia tends to be on the secretive side when it comes to disclosing information, particularly doing so in a timely fashion. We can at least tell you that the early decision acceptance rate for the Class of 2023 was 18%. Clearly, the ED route gives you a far better route than applying to Columbia in regular cycle.
Columbia Acceptance Rate – Class of 2023
Of the 42,569 applications submitted for a place in the 2019-20 freshman class, just 2,247 were accepted. This acceptance rate of 5.3% was the lowest in the school’s history, down slightly from the Class of 2022 admit rate of 5.5%. The last time that Columbia’s acceptance rate was in the double-digits was for the Class of 2012 (10.7%).
Columbia Admissions – SAT, GPA, and Class Rank
Among those offered a place in the Class of 2023, the mid-50% SAT range was 1480-1560 and the mid-50% ACT range was 33-35. Over 95% of admitted students placed in the top 10% of their graduating high school class.
Admissions Trends & Notes – (Class of 2023)
- 18% of Class of 2023 admits were Pell Grant recipients.
- 18% were the first in the family to attend college.
- There were citizens of 74 foreign countries in the freshman class of 2019-20.
- Applications increased from 40,203 to 42,569.
- The 25th and 75th percentile SAT scores were higher for the Class of 2023 than for the Class of 2022.
- 90% of entering freshman in 2018-19 were from the top 10% of their high school class; this figure rose to 95% for 2019-20 freshman.
- The percentage of Asian students increased from 28% to 30%.
How to stand out on my Columbia application
One glance at the incredible list of Lion alumni and you’ll get a sense of what the university is looking for: the next generation of politicians (Barack Obama), award-winning writers (Langston Hughes, JD Salinger), entrepreneurs (Robert Kraft, Warren Buffett), and actors/actresses (Maggie and Jake Gyllenhaal, Kate McKinnon). Your special talent might not ever make you as famous as the aforementioned individuals, but it’s important that you stand out somehow in any number of ways. Perhaps you are the best oboe player in your state, the top pole vaulter in your region, a top-finisher in a nationwide physics competition…you get the idea. It helps to be able to shine brightest among thousands of other individuals who also sport 4.4 GPAs and 1550 SAT scores—these are just a few of a million possible examples.
There is a definite advantage enjoyed by athletes recruited to one of Columbia’s NCAA Division I sports teams. Approximately 775 current Columbia students are also varsity athletes. Of course, these athletes also have to be quite accomplished inside the classroom. In 2019, an incredible 42% of Columbia athletes made the Dean’s List.
For advice about how to stand out on the extracurricular front, check out our previous blog entitled How Many Extracurricular Activities Do I Need for College?
How Columbia Rates Applicants
Columbia engages in a holistic admissions process that will result in the university selecting “those that we believe will take greatest advantage of the unique Columbia experience and will offer something meaningful in return to the community.” Toward that aim, there are six factors that Columbia considers above all others:
- 1) Curriculum & grades
- 2) Context (family and community circumstances)
- 3) Extracurricular activities
- 4) Character
- 5) “Fit”
- 6) Recommendations.
Columbia uses a committee-based approach and no applicant is admitted without “discussion and examination” from more than one admissions officer. Lastly, the university “seeks diversity of personalities, achievements and talents, and of economic, social, ethnic, cultural, religious, racial and geographic backgrounds.” On that note, let’s check out the demographics of the Class of 2023.
Who Actually Gets Into Columbia?
Geographically, the Class of 2023 was comprised of students from:
- New England: 9%
- Mid-Atlantic States: 36%
- Southern States: 22%
- Western States: 21%
- Midwestern States: 12%
The top states represented at Columbia were: New York, California, New Jersey, Florida, Texas, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. The class was comprised of students from all 50 states. Like other Ivy League schools, an advantage can be had if you hail from a less populated state with fewer qualified applicants. Elite colleges value “geographic diversity” which means if you live in a remote area like Montana or Idaho, your admissions prospects will get a boost.
Looking at ethnic identity, the breakdown was as follows (percentages do not add up to 100% as applicants can list multiple races):
- White: 54%
- Asian American: 30%
- Hispanic: 20%
- African American: 15%
- American Indian: 3%
- International: 16%
Looking at the category of possible first major, Class of 2023 Columbia grads intended to study:
- Math and Natural Sciences: 30%
- Arts & Humanities: 24%
- Engineering: 23%
- Social Sciences: 21%
- Home Schooled: 0.5%
- Undecided: 2%
The figure that jumps out here is the extremely low number of undecided students. This tells us that Columbia is primarily looking for students with a strong academic focus. Of course, it also speaks to the professionally-focused applicant pool.
Columbia’s “yield rate”
Columbia’s yield rate—the percentage of accepted students who elect to enroll, divided by the total number of students who are admitted—is 63%. This places them above schools like Duke (55%), Notre Dame (57%), and Northwestern (56%), but behind schools like Yale (70%), Stanford (82%), and Penn (67%).
Tips for Applying to Columbia
If you plan on joining the 40,000+ Columbia hopefuls for the next admissions cycle, you should know the following:
Columbia does not guarantee an alumni interview, but they are offered all over the world from October to March each year. When you apply, your info will automatically be sent to an alumni interviewer in your area and they will contact you. Some interviewers are willing to conduct the session over the phone or Skype. For advice on what types of questions you should be prepared to answer/ask visit our blog—College Interview Tips.
Columbia does not consider “demonstrated interest” so you will not be judged on whether or not you made a campus visit, contacted an admissions officer, etc.
Make sure to dedicate sufficient time and effort to the supplemental essays and short answers required by Columbia.; they are quite extensive. In the 2019-20 cycle, they were as follows:
1) In 150 words or fewer, please list a few words or phrases that describe your ideal college community.
2) Please list the following (150 words or fewer for each question):
- 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.
3) Please answer the following short answer questions (300 words or fewer for each question):
- Please tell us what you value most about Columbia and why.
- 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.
Should I Apply to Columbia?
If you fit the mold of the typical student accepted at Columbia then it is worth your effort and $85 to submit an application. At the same time, one has to keep in mind that the university rejects 19 of every 20 applicants that apply, and the bulk of these individuals have exceptional credentials similar to your own. Thus, it goes without saying that all teens applying to this or any other Ivy need to also have a proper mix or “target” and “safety” schools on their college list. More on creating a balanced college list can be found here.
Dave has over a decade of professional experience that includes work as a teacher, high school administrator, college professor, and independent educational consultant. He is a co-author of the books The Enlightened College Applicant (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016) and Colleges Worth Your Money (Rowman & Littlefield, 2020).