How to Get Into Columbia in 2024

Columbia is one of the most prestigious universities in the world with famous alumni including four former US Presidents, Academy Award winners, world-changing academic theorists, and billionaires. So what does it take to secure a place? 

In common with all Ivy League universities, entry is highly competitive and follows a specific timeline and process. Columbia also has some unique features. Crafting a successful application to one of the world’s best universities is never going to be easy, but knowing the process in advance and exactly what Columbia’s admissions officers are looking for will help your application to stand out and maximise your chances of getting a place. 

If this feels overwhelming, remember that every student now at Columbia likely felt the same at one point, but took a deep breath and took that first step in the process.

The best approach is a methodical one; start at the beginning. For most people, this involves a process of research, reflection, and getting the right advice. 

Research Most Competitive Courses at Columbia

Step one in your application is to prepare yourself by researching Columbia’s most competitive courses. Set some time aside to consider what you would like to study, how it is taught at Columbia, and what the specifics of that course’s application process are. 

Often regarded as one of the most prestigious courses, Social Sciences at Columbia remains one of the most competitive for entry. 

For aspiring engineering students, the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Sciences is one of the oldest (founded in 1863) and most impressive engineering schools in the United States. 

Other popular courses include:

  • Information and Computer Sciences
  • Psychology
  • Biomedical Sciences
  • Writing
  • Film
  • History

Choosing your course is one of the most pivotal decisions you will make, and will drive your application preparation, so devoting plenty of time to read, research, and talk to mentors is time very well spent in the long run.

Meet Columbia Entry Requirements

Once you have chosen a course, you will need to be sure you meet Columbia’s rigorous entry requirements. A strong academic record, particularly in core subjects such as mathematics and English is essential. 

That being said, Columbia has stated that it strives to see potential students as unique individuals and so avoids having rigid “cut off” scores for admission. This means that all parts of your application contribute to the university’s evaluation of your achievements and your potential. 

Academic achievements in your transcript and school reports are considered alongside things like your personal statement to try to get an insight into how you think and how you interact with the world around you. Letters of recommendation provide more colour to how you contribute at school and what you might bring to your class at Columbia.

Additionally, four years ago, Columbia decided to become “test-optional” for standardised tests and recommitted to this in March 2023. This is a point of difference with some of its fellow Ivy League schools such as Dartmouth, Brown and Yale, which are bringing back testing requirements starting for the Class of 2029. 

The effect of being test-optional however is that the pool of candidates has grown and the standard of entry has become no less competitive. This means that it will benefit you to prepare carefully and perhaps to even consider applying early.

Prepare Your Documents

All college and university applications mean a lot of documents to prepare. This can seem overwhelming, but if tackled methodically and with plenty of time, it can be managed successfully. In fact, it can even be a positive experience where you can take stock of your achievements so far and reflect on your aspirations for the future. 

Coalition Application or the Common Application

For Columbia, candidates apply through either the Coalition Application or the Common Application. These include your autobiographical information, records of your achievements and activities including employment and internships, and your personal essay. 

Columbia-Specific Application Questions

Columbia also asks you to respond to Columbia-specific questions2. These are a great opportunity to show the admissions committee who you are as a person and demonstrate why you and Columbia are a great match, both academically and more widely. All your wonderful qualities as a student such as curiosity, love of learning, and your sense of purpose have a chance to shine here. 

The questions themselves can be found on the Columbia website and it is worth spending some time drafting your outline answers and then modifying them as your ideas develop. Additionally, Columbia requires two teacher recommendations from teachers who taught you in academic disciplines. For Columbia Engineering, one of these must come from a maths or science teacher.

International Applicants

It is worth noting that the admissions process at Columbia is broadly the same for everyone wherever in the world they are coming from or have studied. Columbia accepts all secondary school curricula (e.g., International Baccalaureate, Cambridge A Levels, National School curricula, etc.), and applications are reviewed within the context of your curriculum. 

It is an incredibly diverse student body so the admissions team are highly experienced in evaluating many different academic backgrounds and qualifications. So if you are concerned about preparing your documents as an international student, there is no need as Columbia is committed to reviewing each individual application carefully to best evaluate who will thrive at Columbia. 

Personal Statement

Your personal statement is a priceless opportunity to express your personality, intellectual motivation, and also show that you have engaged with your subject in the context of higher education. It is a real chance to stand out among many other impressive applications, and also demonstrate why Columbia is a great fit for you and would benefit from having you as part of the community.

For these reasons, it can be extremely helpful to work with someone experienced in creating successful personal statements so that you can get feedback on your language, storytelling, arguments, and anecdotes. You should expect to do multiple drafts of your personal statement and know it inside out. 

Extracurricular activities are also important here and a chance to show you are a well-rounded person who is engaged and always striving for improvement. Columbia values leadership, passion, and initiative. All of these qualities can be demonstrated with the right mix of powerful narratives and examples from your life.

Letter of Recommendation

Your letters of recommendation carry significant weight in your application as they are from someone who knows you well: your achievements, character, and potential. This is another opportunity for Columbia to get to know you as an individual and get a picture of the great qualities you could bring to the Columbia community. Taking the time to choose your potential people who will write these letters for you carefully, and approach them in enough time, is really important and will help your application tremendously.

Sit the Entrance Exams

While Columbia University is test-optional1, strong SAT and ACT scores as well as A-Levels and IBs, are still considered during the application process and can absolutely help your application to stand out. Generally, successful applicants do score highly in these tests.


Interviews are not a part of the application process at Columbia3, as announced in May 2023. There may be an opportunity to speak with student volunteers during the admissions process, but these are conversations rather than evaluative interviews.

Apply for Scholarships and Financial Aid

Columbia University is located in the heart of New York City. Despite this, it is committed to making education accessible to all students, regardless of their financial circumstances. The university offers a comprehensive array of need-blind scholarships and financial aid programs, ensuring that financial barriers do not hinder talented students from pursuing their academic goals at Columbia.

Prospective students are encouraged to thoroughly explore the various financial support options available. Columbia’s need-blind admission policy means that your financial need will not impact your admission decision, and the financial aid package is tailored to meet the full demonstrated financial need of every admitted student. This approach underscores Columbia’s dedication to inclusivity and educational equity.

Applicants must familiarise themselves with the different scholarships and financial aid opportunities early in the application process. Detailed information, including eligibility criteria, application guidelines, and deadlines, is readily available on the Scholarships page of the Columbia University website4. By integrating this research into your overall timeline for application, you can ensure that you are well-prepared to submit a complete and timely application.

Remember, planning is key to a successful application process. Taking the time to understand Columbia’s financial aid offerings can significantly ease the financial burden of higher education and allow you to fully engage with the exceptional academic and extracurricular opportunities Columbia has to offer.

Top Tips for Getting into Columbia

  1. Prepare! There is a huge volume of material to prepare, at a time when you are also likely to be busy with exams and studying, so the only way to make it manageable is to break it down and start early. If you’re not rushing you might even enjoy it!
  2. Prioritise strong academics, but also demonstrate curiosity. A successful application doesn’t just show achievement, it also fizzes with potential. Show that you are engaging enthusiastically with a wide range of people and ideas in your academic journey, investigating big ideas and tricky problems, and willing to challenge yourself. 
  3. Show that you have researched Columbia specifically and that you know what makes it distinctive. You can do this by demonstrating knowledge of and enthusiasm for the Core Curriculum and being excited about a traditional campus in an urban setting, for example. Feel free to include anything that makes Columbia special and exciting to you!
  4. Have an individual voice and use it. Know what makes you unique in your background, values, and experiences and how this can make Columbia a more vibrant community. Think about how you can express this sense of self in your personal statement and other materials.
  5. Consider applying early. If you can do so without rushing, there can be a statistical advantage to applying early as you are part of a smaller pool of applicants.  Also, it is one way to demonstrate how keen you are on Columbia in particular.
  6. Read more than you ever have before! You will see that many of the supplemental questions at Columbia specifically ask about what you read and listen to. Many students have not read far beyond their course syllabi and if you have pushed yourself here it demonstrates initiative, curiosity, and social engagement. All extremely positive qualities in a potential Columbia undergraduate.
  7. Visit the campus if you can, either in person or virtually. Columbia values students who want to be part of the culture and community, so getting a feel for that can only help tailor your application.
  8. Make use of supplementary materials. Though not required, these can bolster your application and further demonstrate your interests and motivation. They may take the form of academic research or a creative portfolio of work.


What is the Columbia acceptance rate?

This March 2024, Columbia announced its admissions statistics for the Class of 2028. These are broadly in line with recent years and show that Columbia only admits 3.85% of the students who apply for a place there5. This is highly selective, meaning that a strong application is essential to give yourself a fighting chance of getting a place.

Is Columbia a good university?

Absolutely! Columbia is widely acknowledged as one of the leading universities in the United States and in the world. Renowned for its teaching, research, and the success of its graduates, Columbia has enjoyed its prestige for many years and the highly competitive admissions process only demonstrates its reputation is still extremely strong. There is a wide range of courses on offer that are all excellent and a vibrant community in one of the world’s most dynamic cities.

Is Columbia a Russell Group / Ivy League university?

Yes, Columbia University is one of the eight Ivy League schools in the U.S. and the only Ivy in NYC. 

How hard is it to get into Columbia?

The honest answer is it is very hard to get into Columbia. However, it is definitely not impossible if approached strategically and in a methodical way. If you demonstrate your strengths and suitability at each opportunity in the application process, you can give yourself a significant edge.

Does Columbia give contextual offers?

Yes, Columbia’s review process is contextual, which means it takes into account the multiple, intersecting ways that your family circumstances; secondary school and community resources; and systemic and situational factors have shaped your path and created barriers and advantages for you. The university considers this context to get a sense of how you have taken advantage of opportunities, given what was available to you. Also, if this context has impacted your academic performance in any way, this can be taken into account when considering your application.

Getting Into Columbia: The Verdict

Clearly, Columbia is very rigorous in choosing which students to admit to the university. If you want to make a competitive application, you will need to commit considerable time and energy to pulling the materials together and showcasing your potential. Jessica Marinaccio, Columbia’s Dean of Undergraduate Admissions, made it clear that the university considers their incoming class to be outstanding individuals across multiple dimensions: “These students are interdisciplinary change-makers, caring community members, and individuals who lead with genuine kindness”, she said.

This could be seen as daunting, but there are multiple opportunities to demonstrate your strengths and aptitude within the application process, and Columbia is committed to reviewing each one fairly and carefully. In other words, if you genuinely think you could thrive at Columbia and make a positive contribution to the community, you are warmly invited to show this in your application. While all academically impressive and motivated, there is no single “type” of student who attends Columbia; they come from all parts of the world, from different backgrounds, to study a huge diversity of subjects in pursuit of a spectacular multitude of dreams. If you would like to join them you should commit yourself to the challenge: start early, take every stage seriously, get the right help, and give yourself the best chance of making that a reality.


1. Columbia (2023) Columbia is Test-Optional. Available at: 05 April 2024). 

2. Columbia (2024) Columbia-Specific Questions. Available at: (Accessed: 05 April 2024). 

3. Columbia News (2023) Statement on Admissions Interviews. Available at (Accessed: 05 April 2024). 

4. Columbia (2024) Scholarships, Grants, and School-Based Aid. Available at:

5. Hamilton, G. (2024) Columbia admits 2,319 students to class of 2028, acceptance rate drops slightly to 3.85 percent, Columbia Daily Spectator. Available at: (Accessed: 05 April 2024).