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Get Admitted to your Dream University – Columbia


Established in 1754, Columbia is a private Ivy League research university in New York City. It is the oldest institution of higher education in New York and the fifth-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. The Motto of Columbia University is “In lumine Tuo videbimus lumen’’ which means “In Thy light shall we see light”.

Columbia University 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, staff, 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.

Columbia considers the following “very important” factors in admission decisions:

  • Course Rigor
  • Class rank
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Character/personal qualities
  • Talent/ability
  • Recommendation letters

Important Factors in Admission Decision

1. Achieve a high GPA while taking the most challenging classes available

It’s extremely important for Columbia applicants to not only possess outstanding grades but for those grades to come in challenging courses. International students accepted to a top 10 school like Columbia typically complete between 5 to 8 advanced courses in high school.

Advanced Placement or AP exams are conducted by the College Board (same global body that conducts SAT) every year in a wide variety of college-level subjects ranging from Calculus and Computer Science to Art History and English Composition. The main aim of AP exams is to test your ability and acumen to measure up to the rigors of undergraduate curriculum in US and other global universities. Typically, international students appear for AP exams at the beginning of their grade 12. Students interested in Engineering usually appear for Calculus, Physics, Computer Science or Chemistry. Students interested in Business Studies usually appear for Calculus, Microeconomics, Macroeconomics and Statistics. Students interested in Medicine usually appear for Biology, Psychology, Chemistry and Environmental Science.

Another reason why Columbia applicants need great grades is that selective schools use a tool called the ‘Academic Index’ to filter out their enormous number of applicants. At its most basic, the Academic Index is a distillation of a student’s academic performance (grades and test scores) into a single number. This is a single score that represents the strength of your GPA, test scores, and class rank (if your school ranks). Highly selective universities use this (or a similar) metric to filter out students that don’t meet their academic standards.

2. Aim for a 1570 SAT or a 35+ ACT

The middle 50% of Columbia class of 2025 earned SAT scores of 1480-1570 and ACT scores of 33-35+. Any score in the middle 50% is good, however, the higher the score, the better your odds of admission. Columbia super scores standardized test scores and evaluates the highest test scores in each section across test dates.

3. Explore your favorite subjects via Research Papers

One common factor that we have noted in the resumes of students admitted to the Ivy Leagues and other top colleges is the prevalence of research work while still in high school. In this article we explain how and why exposure to research helps students and the key steps in planning and writing high quality research papers.

There are three main reasons, as to why Research Papers help students stand out. A high-quality research paper shows that you have the energy and the initiative to go beyond what is taught in the class and apply it to real life problems. It shows that your interest in the subject extends beyond the questions provided at the end of the chapter. Secondly, you learn the discipline of not rushing intuitively to the likely answer, instead using a deliberate process in which you are guided by the data. Lastly, in working with a skilled professor or mentor you learn how to organize your thoughts better, ask the right questions and try to answer those questions in the best way possible subject to the constraints. A good work product provides an insight into your mind, thought process and way of working.

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4. Cultivate at least one or two Tier 1-2 extracurriculars (find your “niche”)

Extracurricular activities are an excellent way for Columbia applicants to set themselves apart. However, not all extracurriculars are created equal. Up to 25% of an admissions decision can be determined by a student’s activities outside of the classroom. The 4 tiers of extracurricular activities are useful for understanding the value colleges place on undertakings. While it’s true that there is no such thing as a bad extracurricular activity, some extracurricular activities are more impressive than others.

Admissions officers evaluate extracurriculars with one being the most exceptional and four being the most common. For example:

  • Tier 1 activities are rare and demonstrate exceptional achievement or leadership at a national or international level. Some examples are, 1) Jack Kent Cooke Young Artist Award, a national prize awarded to top 20 pre-collegiate musicians, 2) Regeneron Science Talent Award, one of the most prestigious opportunities for high school students to present original scientific research in the USA, 3) World Robot Olympiad, a global competition where youngsters (13 to 19 years age) from different countries participate, 4) International Mathematical Olympiad, a math competition for pre- university students, 5) International Science Olympiads in various areas of the formal sciences, natural sciences and social sciences.
  • Tier 2 extracurriculars show high levels of achievement and leadership but aren’t quite as rare as activities found in Tier 1 (they’re more of state-level achievements). These include making an all-state selection in athletics, serving as student body president, or being selected for a prestigious state-wide summer program like governor’s school.
  • Tier 3 extracurricular activities are great for showing an applicant’s interest outside of the classroom but don’t have the cachet of higher-tiered extracurriculars. These activities are smaller leadership roles and achievements that often appear on applications. These include being captain of a sports team or holding a lesser officer position in a club.
  • Tier 4 extracurriculars are the least impressive and most common activities seen by admissions officers. These activities include playing a sport or instrument, participating in a club but not holding a leadership position, and volunteering.

5. Write engaging essays

Essays are the best way to distinguish yourself from other applicants. Columbia requires one Common App essay, one optional essay and five question prompts as part of its application process. However, it’s wise to consider all two essays and required questions a necessity if you’re aiming to stand out from a crowded field of impressive applicants.

Research the university and the faculty of the department you are planning to join. Explain in your essay how your values tie with the expectations of the university and how you expect to utilize the knowledge to make the world a better place.

Also research the extra-curricular activities and the clubs at Columbia and how you will spend your time outside the classroom. Some of the popular clubs at Columbia are:

  • Columbia University Cycling: This club was created to help students learn more about riding a bike and help students who want to compete in bike races.
  • Hellas: This club works to promote the Hellenic culture and traditions on the campus of Columbia. Hellenes and Phi-Hellenes can all network to reach out to other students who want to be a part of this club.
  • Earth Co Green Campus and Community Initiative: This club is designed as a way for students to get involved in the community to work to make the university more sustainable for the environment. Students will work to promote consciousness and awareness for the environment. This club also supports and promotes sustainable agriculture.
  • New Poetry@ Columbia: This club was created to help gather students who are interested in not only writing but knowing and learning about the art of poetry.
  • The Bach Society: This society was created by a musical alumnus who wanted to share his love for music. Students come together to become a part of a much greater society where musicians can also share their love for Bach music. This society puts on various concerts throughout the year as well.
  • Columbia CU AIChE: This club works to bring together engineering majors and students who are just interested in the field of engineering. Students will be able to network with one another and faculty, study during study breaks, go on various field trips locally and regionally, and participate in career fairs.
  • Community Impact: This organization is a non-profit organization that is led by Columbia students. Students will work to serve those who are disadvantaged in the areas of Morning-side Heights, Harlem, and Washington Heights.

6. Recommendation Letters

Letters of recommendation (LoR) help paint a complete picture of who you are in front of the admission officers. Like any good painter, you want to be in control of your whole application. It is important to ensure that you are approaching teachers, mentors etc. that know you well. The LoR provides an insight into your personality, behaviours and work ethic and are crucial to your application. Columbia requires you to send recommendations from:

  • Teachers – Required 2
  • High School Counsellor – Required
  • Other Evaluations – Optional 1 (Example: Art teacher, Clergy, Coach, College Access Counselor, Employer, Family Member, Peer etc.)

You should approach your high school teachers several months in advance. Requesting a letter of recommendation from a teacher is a big ask—they’re busy and don’t get paid to write recommendations. Make it easy for your recommenders by giving them plenty of time, providing them with as much relevant information as possible.

7. Apply Early Action/Early Decision

If you are admitted under the Early Decision program, you are obligated to accept Columbia’s offer of admission. You may submit no further college applications and must withdraw any other applications that have already been submitted.

Columbia’s Early Decision program is a binding agreement and a candidate will be expected to enroll, regardless of any pending applications (early or otherwise).

The primary criterion for admission to Columbia is academic excellence. Columbia values students who are committed, dedicated, passionate, have potential to succeed and those students with a genuine interest in expanding their intellectual horizon. Following the guidelines above will help you present your best self to Columbia University and maximize your admission chances.


About the Author: 

Shubhi Joshi is an Editor at Scholarly. She has a B.A. in English and a M.A. from St Xavier’s College, Mumbai in Ancient Indian History, Culture and Archaeology. She has an interest in history and current affairs. An avid blogger, Shubhi loves to write about higher education and self-improvement.

Scholarly helps ambitious international students locate the right universities and courses to pursue their education. We provide college credit courses and research papers to students that want to learn more and differentiate themselves. We help students develop and present their best version to their dream university. Our recommendations are based on the student’s field of interest, academic performance, financial resources and career plans. We provide test preparation classes from the best teachers to help improve scores and thus the prospects for admission. We also assist students with their visa and loan applications to reduce the anxiety associated with international education.

For additional questions about international education, choice of majors, university selection or admission strategies please visit the Questions section of our website.

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