Understanding the Process

Applying to college is a time for reflection, dedication and hopefulness; we are looking forward to supporting you with this important process. By shedding light on how we approach our work of admitting a class, we hope to help you feel confident about expressing who you are in your college application.

How to Apply

The college application process is a time for reflection, research, aspiration and organization. When you’re ready to begin your Columbia journey, we’re ready to help, every step of the way.

First-Year Applicants

Apply to join our community as a full-time first-year student to Columbia College or Columbia Engineering.

Transfer Applicants

We welcome over 125 transfer students to Columbia College and Columbia Engineering each year.

Dear Aspiring Columbian: Take a deep breath. Now, let it out. The college application process is a personally meaningful milestone, and there are many resources to support you. This is a time to discover who you are, imagine who you want to become and decide whether Columbia College or Columbia Engineering might be the right college for you.

Students often ask us, “What are you looking for?” Just as you are looking for the college that is the best match for you, we are looking for students who are the best matches for us. Your application is our instrument of evaluation, and beyond the opportunity to list your academic credentials, we believe your application allows you to express yourself: your passions, interests, background and, most important, what you might add to the Columbia community.

Using a holistic review, your admissions officer will consider your responses carefully, looking for the intellect, curiosity and dynamism that are the hallmarks of the Columbia student body, and seeking the resilience and diversity of voice and background ensured by our generous need-based financial aid program.

We challenge you to show us what type of Columbia student you might be. It is an exciting adventure and a preview of what awaits you at Columbia. Now, take another breath. Relax. Begin. Enjoy.

Jessica Marinaccio
Dean of Undergraduate Admissions & Financial Aid

How is your application reviewed?

We believe that students will be most successful at a college that closely aligns with their interests, skills, goals and values. In our individualized, nuanced application review, we seek to identify those who we believe will take greatest advantage of the unique Columbia experience and will offer something meaningful in return to the community.


The admissions process at Columbia is a holistic one, which means that all parts of the application help inform our evaluation. Columbia is test-optional and does not have a "cut-off" GPA or test score for admission, and academics are considered alongside the full application. We read your personal statement to try to understand your perspective and how you engage with the world around you. We read your transcript, school report and teacher recommendations to understand your academic preparation, your contributions in the classroom and school and what you might offer to your Columbia classmates. We read your responses to our Columbia-specific application questions to gain insight into your intellectual interests and the ways your expressions of curiosity and sense of community might translate to Columbia’s campus.


Our review process is also contextual, taking into account the multiple, intersecting ways that you have been shaped by your family circumstances; work, commute or home responsibilities; secondary school and community resources; and systemic and situational barriers and advantages. 

With this context in mind, we look to see what opportunities you have taken advantage of, among those available to you. We consider your performance in the courses you are taking, the range of personal obligations and extracurricular commitments you are balancing alongside them, and how you are seeking challenges within the landscape of your specific environment.


Furthermore, our review process is need-blind for US Citizens, permanent residents, undocumented students and eligible non-citizens. This means that we consider your application without regard to your financial need.

Please note that Columbia is need-aware for international students and admits a large number of international students who apply for and receive a substantial amount of financial aid. Columbia is committed to covering the full demonstrated need of all applicants admitted as first-year students for all four years of study, regardless of citizenship.


There is no formula for reviewing applications at Columbia. Instead, we approach each file as if we are assembling an important and unique puzzle, and every piece is evaluated carefully. Understanding the ways the pieces fit together enables us to gain a better sense of who you are and what matters to you. 

Furthermore, Columbia Undergraduate Admissions uses a committee-based approach for decision making; no candidate is admitted to Columbia College or Engineering without discussion and examination of the application by multiple admissions officers. Our team is dedicated to considering each applicant as an individual person.

In summary

In the end, our goals are to conduct a thorough, intentional and equitable review, to discern the students who are the best fit for Columbia, and to build an undergraduate community composed of a wide array of voices, interests, experiences and perspectives. Please note that Columbia does not have any quotas predetermining the number of applicants admitted from any school, region or demographic category.

A Columbia admissions officer talks about how we review applications and the philosophies that guide our work.

What does Columbia look for in your application?

The job of an admissions officer is to identify students who will thrive at our school; as we review each part of your application, we are also reflecting on the attributes that are frequently exhibited by our current students. What distinguishes a Columbian? The selection here is not comprehensive, but we hope it is a helpful resource as you consider how to authentically communicate about yourself throughout your application.

This should not be used as a strict checklist or rubric, and each student will reveal their unique combination of features in different ways across the various parts of their application. We appreciate that individuals have many tangible and intangible qualities and cannot be reduced to a handful of attributes or data points. We look forward to discovering what makes you you.

Academic preparation

Columbia requires rigorous exploration across a range of subjects. Your performance in your secondary school coursework is one indication of readiness, demonstrating the knowledge you have gained and the skills you have developed. It also helps us understand your interests. We hope your application will show strong academic performance across subjects, effective written communication skills, and that you have taken a rigorous course load within the scope of your school’s curriculum, one that is appropriate for your goals and interests. 

Columbia accepts all secondary school curricula (e.g., AP, International Baccalaureate, Cambridge A Levels, National School curricula, etc.), with no preference for one over any others. For students applying to Columbia Engineering, we expect to see coursework in physics and calculus.


Columbia’s intellectual and social community will ask you to critically and enthusiastically engage with a wide variety of people and ideas. Students who exhibit deep curiosity will thrive in and be transformed by these encounters. Indications of curiosity might include a desire to investigate big ideas and to examine and solve thorny problems; a questioning, unbounded spirit of inquiry and innovation; openness to cross-disciplinary scholarship, diverse perspectives and new ideas; and a willingness to interrogate personal beliefs and belief systems.

Engagement with others

Columbia is a vibrant residential community where learning happens everywhere students gather—Furnald Lounge, Carleton Commons, Low Steps and more. Your commitments to your household, school, and broader interests and communities can demonstrate how you might engage as a peer and participant in this rich campus life. 

We’ll look for qualities such as dedication and integrity, kindness and inclusivity, leadership and collaboration, and your developing sense of personal and civic responsibility. We also want to see what activities and pastimes you choose to spend your time doing; excellence or significant achievement in some or any of your pursuits is one way to show depth in your exploration.

Individual voice

Columbia’s community is knit together by what we share with each other—our opinions, our ideas, our questions and our stories. We are interested in getting to know who you are as an individual shaped by your background, personal values and experiences. What might your voice contribute? Your application should aim to authentically convey your personality, perspectives and motivations so that we can better understand you as a person and what makes you tick, how you understand your ongoing personal development and express your sense of self.

Knowledge of Columbia

Columbia students are likely to flourish when they have a willingness to step outside of their comfort zone, an appetite for communal learning and deliberate critical discourse, and a delight for the adventures that New York City provides. Thus, we look to see that you have an understanding of whether Columbia’s distinctive characteristics would be fulfilling for you. Examples include knowledge of and enthusiasm for the Core Curriculum, our traditional campus in an urban setting and any other aspect(s) that you find unique and compelling about Columbia.

Alma Mater in front of Low Library

Admissions info by the numbers

Information about the current first-year class, including academic statistics and demographics, is available on the Class Profile.

How are admissions decisions made?

Among the countless strengths and aptitudes that students may exhibit, those whose applications convey a clear sense of the elements noted above are likely to be considered a good fit for Columbia. However, demonstrating that you are a good fit does not guarantee admission. Columbia is a highly-selective institution, which simply means that we receive far more applications each year than we can offer admission to. Furthermore, our admissions process must consider not just your application, but also your application in relation to others.

As we build our community, we strive to bring together 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.

Because each institution is different in terms of selectivity, priorities and review process—and these may shift from one year to the next—we encourage you to focus your energy on the aspects that are within your own control: the amount of effort you put into your commitments, the ways you think about fit as you build your college list, and the extent to which you incorporate self-reflection and genuineness into your application process. We encourage you to consider applying to Columbia College or Columbia Engineering if you believe you are a strong fit for Columbia and are excited about the possibility of joining our community.