How to get into columbia university; collegeadvisor.com image: a photo of Butler library on Columbia's campus

How to get into Columbia University — General Information

Columbia University is a private Ivy League research university located in New York City, New York — specifically, the Morningside Heights neighborhood of Manhattan. Famous alumni include President Barack Obama and Warren Buffett. The size of the student body is over 30,000, including over 8,800 undergraduates.

What we’ll cover in this How to Get Into Columbia University guide:

  • Columbia average GPA
  • Average Columbia SAT scores and ACT scores
  • Columbia application deadline
  • Columbia Early Decision details
  • Preparing for the Columbia interview
  • Columbia class of 2025 statistics, and more. 

When thinking about how to get into Columbia University, you should make sure each part of your application — your GPA, test scores, Columbia interview, and Columbia supplemental essays — is first-class. To boost your chances, you should start strategizing for the application process well before the Columbia application deadline. 

Figuring out how to get into Columbia University takes planning. We can help. CollegeAdvisor.com’s network of 300+ Admissions Experts (and former admissions officers) includes Columbia University graduates. Want to maximize your Columbia admissions odds?  Create your free account or schedule a free advising consultation by calling (844) 343-6272. 

How hard is it to get into Columbia?

If you’re wondering how to get into Columbia University, you’re not alone. Columbia is a highly selective school. The Columbia acceptance rate is one of the lowest acceptance rates in the country – in 2021, it was 3.9%, tied with Stanford. For the class of 2026, the Columbia Early Decision acceptance rate was 10.3%. 6,305 applicants applied for Columbia Early Decision. Over 60,000 students apply for admission to Columbia each year.

The average Columbia SAT scores range from 1510-1560, and the average ACT scores range from 34-35. The university is tied for second place with Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in U.S. News’ national rankings

If you want to know how to get into Columbia University, first know that the Ivy League schools are a “reach” for every student. Getting into Columbia will take more than just meeting the Columbia average GPA or average Columbia SAT scores. To maximize your admissions odds, start preparing early in your high school career. This means striving for a high GPA and standardized test scores, demonstrating involvement and leadership in extracurriculars, and starting your application, especially the Columbia supplemental essays, well before the Columbia application deadline. 

What GPA for Columbia University?

The Columbia average GPA for each incoming class is not published, but due to the Columbia acceptance rate and middle 50% Columbia SAT scores, you can safely assume that the Columbia average GPA is over 4.0. The University states that over 95% of accepted applicants were in the top 10% of their high school class. When thinking about how to get into Columbia University, remember to take your class rank into consideration. 

There is no GPA that will ensure automatic admission to the University, but know that Columbia consistently emphasizes the importance of a strong academic record. Columbia average GPA statistics aren’t available for comparison. Instead, focus on challenging yourself with your course selection and effort in those courses. 

Whenever you can, opt for honors and AP courses. However, you shouldn’t overload your schedule. Meet with your guidance counselor, advisor, and upperclassmen at your high school to set a schedule that will challenge you without burnout. 

Choose an application strategy

The Columbia application deadline you select – Columbia Early Decision or Regular Decision – is also relevant to your “how to get into Columbia University” strategy. Students applying by the November 1st Columbia Early Decision application deadline should make sure that their GPA and SAT or ACT scores meet the Columbia SAT scores and ACT scores middle 50%. Plan ahead throughout high school if you want to apply during the Columbia Early Decision round because that strategy makes your junior year grades an even more essential element of your application.

If you’re wondering how to be part of the 3.9% Columbia acceptance rate with lower than the assumed Columbia average GPA or Columbia SAT scores, check out this article. You’ll find useful tips to help you overcome a low GPA or SAT score. Don’t get discouraged — there are many factors beyond the Columbia average GPA or Columbia SAT scores considered in your admissions decision!

What does the Columbia University application look like?

A complete Columbia University application means more than checking all the boxes. A strong and polished application is key to your “how to get into Columbia University” plan. Every element of your application should be planned and completed well before the Columbia application deadline. 

The application deadline for Columbia Early Decision is November 1st, while the Columbia application deadline for Regular Decision is January 1st

Applicants must submit:

  • The Common Application or Coalition Application
  • The Columbia supplemental essays 
  • A secondary school report
  • Two teacher recommendations (engineering applicants: math or science teachers)
  • A midyear report (after your first semester grades)
  • A final school report (for admitted students only)

Organize and complete these items well before your Columbia application deadline. For more information on how to ace the Common App, click here

Columbia SAT scores are optional for the 2021-2022 application season, as are AP scores and other test results. 

For more information on submitting supplementary materials, such as an academic research abstract, letter of recommendation from a research mentor, or creative portfolio, to Columbia, click here.

Check out our guide for tips on writing your Columbia supplemental essays. 

Additionally, another optional (but recommended) part of your application process is your Columbia interview. We’ll expand on the Columbia interview process later in this guide for how to get into Columbia University. 

What extracurriculars does Columbia like?

When crafting your “how to get into Columbia University” strategy, instead of asking what Columbia likes, ask yourself what you like. What interests you? Motivates you? Columbia values students with a depth and diversity of intellectual curiosity. Demonstrate this by pursuing what you’re passionate about! 

Extracurriculars are a crucial part of your candidate profile — your 1-2 sentence description of who you are and what you do. Your candidate profile is what makes you unique. So, there are no right or wrong activities to do, as long as you work hard and show your passion. 

In your candidate profile and every aspect of your application, be original and unique. Don’t try to build the extracurricular list of the “typical” Columbia applicant. In her letter to an aspiring Columbian, the Dean of Undergraduate Admissions reminds you that there is no cookie-cutter Columbia University student. Through your application, show what you will add to the Columbia community.

If you are genuinely interested in a field of study, hobby, sport, or another pursuit, let your passion shine through in your application. In your interview, candidate profile, and Columbia supplemental essays, write and talk about your variety of interests and ways you spend your time. Authenticity will make your application stand out amongst the crowd more than any extracurricular activity or intended major.

What is the acceptance rate for Columbia University?

When students are wondering how to get into Columbia University, they often focus too much on the Columbia acceptance rate. The Columbia acceptance rate, which is 3.9% overall and 10.3% for Columbia Early Decision applicants is important. However, it shouldn’t discourage you from applying, or significantly change your application strategy

Standardized test scores have a significant impact on the Columbia acceptance rate. You can read more on acceptance rates in our article. Long story short, the universities with test-optional policies during the 2021-2022 application cycle had lower acceptance rates. However, if you can take standardized tests, you should do so. Your scores can be one more data point that gives the admissions team a reason to admit you.

To maximize your chances of being part of the 3.9% and cracking the code of how to get into Columbia University, focus on developing each aspect of your application. Start studying for standardized tests early in high school and stay focused on your classes for a high GPA, especially if you are applying to Columbia Early Decision. Challenge yourself to make an impact on your community and seek out intellectual pursuits. Polish each of your Columbia supplemental essays, and prepare for your Columbia interview. 

Does Columbia University require interviews?

When researching how to get into Columbia University, most students ask about the Columbia interview process. Prospective students are interviewed by student interviewers and volunteers from Columbia’s Alumni Representative Committee

Since there are tens of thousands of applicants and a limited number of interviewers, not everyone will receive a Columbia interview invitation. Due to the pandemic, there is not currently an option to interview in person, so all interviews are conducted virtually. 

If you do receive a Columbia interview invitation, take full advantage of the opportunity to set yourself apart from other applicants. 

Ask questions

The Columbia interview is also an opportunity to learn more about how to get into Columbia University. The application process is a two-way street, so you also want to learn whether Columbia is a good fit for you. If you do not have the opportunity to interview, email [email protected] to have your questions answered by a current Columbia student!

Your interviewer will not have read your application or essays, nor will they have seen your grades and extracurriculars. Your interviewer will be looking for the qualities and traits that would make you a successful Columbian. So, talk about what is important to you, why you want to go to Columbia and your vision for your future. Also, don’t forget to ask about their experience and be sure to get any questions you have about the University answered. 

While your Columbia interview won’t make or break your application, it’s one more opportunity to show Columbia Admissions who you are.

For more details on the Columbia interview process, visit their website.

How do I write the Columbia University application essays?

For the 2021-2022 application season, the Columbia supplemental essays included two lists of 75 words each, one list of 125 words, and three essays of 200 words each. Though you can use these as a guide when determining your “How to get into Columbia University” strategy, keep in mind that they can change from year to year.

For your Columbia supplemental essays, you will list media and resources you read and watch, discuss how you contribute to your community, elaborate on why you want to attend Columbia, and describe what draws you to your intended major.

Though Columbia does not officially track demonstrated interest (DI)— the gauge used by universities to determine how interested you are in attending their school — it is important to show your knowledge of the University in your Columbia supplemental essays. When reading your essays, the reader should grasp whether Columbia would be a fit for you. Are you excited to attend college on a traditional campus in an urban setting? Looking forward to the interdisciplinary Core Curriculum

For more advice on the Columbia supplemental essays, check out our Columbia essay guide

How does Columbia review applications?

There’s no magic formula for being part of the 3.9% Columbia acceptance rate.

When thinking about how to get into Columbia University, most students focus too much on numbers—the Columbia average GPA, Columbia SAT scores, and Columbia acceptance rate. While these factors matter, it takes a lot more than numbers to join the prestigious ranks of Columbia. 

Columbia uses a holistic review process, just like many top schools. Their process is outlined on their Understanding the Process site. The admissions committee considers how you have grown and succeeded within the context of your environment. It’s more nuanced than meets the eye, but here are the key characteristics application readers look for:

  • Academic preparation
  • Curiosity
  • Engagement with others
  • Individual voice
  • Knowledge of Columbia

Considering each file

Columbia approaches each file like an “important and unique puzzle.” Admissions officers read each application and consider you as an individual. They don’t measure you against a Columbia average GPA or Columbia SAT scores. The University aims to create a class of students with “a spectrum of interests, ideologies, and identities to ensure that our students have the opportunity to learn as much from the classmates that surround them as they do from our world-class faculty.”

Many parts of the Columbia University application process are out of your control, so focus on the parts you can: dedication to your extracurriculars, the effort you put into studying for SATs, and writing and revising your Columbia supplemental essays. 

To gain insight into some of the student voices in the Columbia community when determining how to get into Columbia University, click here

Will Columbia review my social media accounts?

While thinking about how to get into Columbia University, you may worry about how your social media presence might affect your admissions odds. Columbia receives tens of thousands of applications each year, so readers usually don’t have the time to review each student’s social media accounts. 

However, you shouldn’t post offensive or irresponsible content on social media. Even beyond the college application process, you should be using social media responsibly

Our final recommendation is to play it safe. Columbia likely won’t read your Twitter or check your Instagram, but there’s always an outside chance.

Is Columbia the school for me?

When researching how to get into Columbia University, most students think about the Columbia average GPA, Columbia SAT scores, and Columbia acceptance rate. However, whether you’re interested in applying to Columbia College or the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science, you should investigate what it would be like to study at Columbia. You can read more about Columbia’s programs here. Also, check out what Columbia campus life is like. 

The school is hallmarked by rigorous academic, extracurricular, and social environments. When deciding whether you will apply, ask yourself:

  • Do Columbia’s offerings align with my interests? 
  • Who do I see myself becoming on Columbia’s campus? 
  • How can Columbia, specifically, help me reach my goals? 

This self-reflection will also help you submit stronger Columbia supplemental essays and make for a stronger Columbia interview. Unless you are sure that you would attend if admitted, apply during the Regular Decision round instead of the Columbia Early Decision round. Applying to Columbia Early Decision will be a binding application, like all Early Decision applications, so it’s a great option if Columbia is your first choice.  

Additional tips to get into Columbia

1. Build your profile

A strong candidate profile can help you overcome the Columbia acceptance rate. Essentially, this is the narrative you tell through your extracurriculars, service, and projects. How does what you do show who you are? 

2. Cultivate your relationships

Recommendation letters are another key element to prepare before the Columbia application deadline. You have more control over your letters than you think. Start by building relationships with your teachers from the first day of class. When you ask them to write your letters, provide a list of your extracurriculars. Also, include why you want to attend Columbia and why you want to study your intended major.

3. Don’t wait

A significant part of “How to get into Columbia University” is to start early to meet the Columbia application deadline. Create a plan early in high school, and start working on the application months before the Columbia application deadline. Remember to spend time refining your Columbia supplemental essays.

The Columbia average GPA/class ranking stats and Columbia SAT scores can only give you an idea of how the average admitted student performed–it can’t ensure you a spot in the incoming class. However, don’t worry about what Columbia wants to see or what others’ applications include. Submit the strongest application you can, and consider Columbia Early Decision if Columbia is your top choice. Good luck!


This guide was written by Caroline Marapese, Notre Dame ’22. If you want to know how to get into Columbia, we’ve got you covered. CollegeAdvisor.com’s network of 300+ Admissions Experts (and former admissions officers) includes Columbia graduates. Create your free account or schedule a free advising consultation by calling (844) 343-6272.