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Last updated February 9, 2024

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How to Use the Columbia Common Data Set

Key Takeaway

Columbia is competitive, even among its Ivy League peers. They received over 60,000 applications last cycle, so you're up against the best of the best. But applying Early Decision or finding the right major fit may just give your application the boost you need to get in.

The Columbia Common Data Set gives us an insider’s look at the Columbia admissions process.

We work through the Columbia Common Data Set in this post, drawing out all the most important information that will help you write your Columbia application.

Let’s get to it.

How Columbia Evaluates Applicants — based on CDS data

Columbia admissions officers take several factors into account when evaluating your application, but they don’t all carry equal weight.

As you can see, the most important factors relate to your academic achievement, essays, extracurriculars, and personal character. These are all considerations you’d expect an admissions officer to be looking for.

Interestingly, talent and ability is the only factor that Columbia ranks as “important” in the application review process. It may seem like you have to have cured a disease or invented a new energy source to get into an Ivy League school these days. But this talent and ability ranking assures you that you don’t necessarily have to have changed the world—yet. Your admissions officers simply want to see that kind of potential in you.

Very important Important Considered Not considered
Rigor Talent/ability Test scores State residency
Class rank   Interview Religious affiliation
GPA   First generation Level of applicant interest
Essay   Alumni/ae relation  
Recommendations   Geographical residence  
Extracurriculars   Racial/ethnic status  
Character/personal qualities   Volunteer work  
    Work experience  

Does Columbia track demonstrated interest?

No, Columbia does not track demonstrated interest. Columbia admissions officers don’t consider your demonstrated interest at all when they review your application, so you don’t need to stress about showing that you’re interested.

Instead, you can spend that time finding genuine connections between your background and Columbia so you can show good school and academic fit in your supplemental essays.

Does Columbia care about standardized test scores?

Yes, Columbia cares about test scores. But not as much as they care about GPA, class rank, and essays. So your test scores will factor into your application review, but they won’t be the most important part.

In fact, only 44% of enrolled first-year students submitted SAT scores, and an even smaller 29% submitted ACT scores.

We have an entire post about choosing when and how to submit your test scores based on your application strategy if you need a little more guidance.

Does Columbia care about essays?

Yes. Essays are one of the most important parts of your Columbia application. Not only do they factor in as a “very important” admissions criteria, but they also give you a voice in the admissions process. They’re your opportunity to create a personal narrative that communicates your strengths to an admissions officer.

What GPA do I need to get into Columbia?

The Columbia Common Data Set doesn’t report any specific GPA information. But we can see class rank data for enrolled first-year students, and it is almost as enlightening.

Of those who reported class rank, 100% were in the top half of their high school graduating classes. 98.4% of them were in the top quarter, and 95.7% were in the top tenth.

Columbia Acceptance Rate

At 60,551 applications, Columbia received the second-highest number of applications among the Ivy League schools, with Cornell ranking first.

Of those over 60,000 applicants, only 2,355 were admitted. Yep, you read that right. That’s a 3.89% acceptance rate—somehow even lower than Stanford's 3.94%.

Columbia Early Action/Decision Acceptance Rate

With an admit rate that low, is all hope lost? Of course not (but it is dampened).

If you want to give yourself the best chance possible, you might consider applying Early Decision. According to the Columbia Common Data Set, 6,435 students applied ED. Columbia admitted 768 of them.

Those statistics make the Early Decision admit rate an enviable 11.9%, almost 8 percentage points higher.

What’s the right application option for you?

If applying Early Decision increases your chances of admission by almost 8 percentage points, then why not apply ED? Well, you only get one Early Decision application (or two, if you’re unsuccessful with your first), so you have to use it where it’ll have the biggest impact.

If you’re already a standout candidate and Columbia is your top choice, then an ED application may just be the extra boost your application needs to make it to the admit pile.

But if your application is already a long shot (if, for example, you aren’t in the top half of your class and have no notable extracurriculars), then it’s likely more strategic to use your Early Decision application elsewhere.

Most popular majors at Columbia

You might be thinking about applying to Columbia just because it’s Columbia. But is it actually the right choice for you based on your major interests?

Let’s take a look.

We can see the most popular subject areas at Columbia by looking to the Common Data Set, which reports on the percentage of degrees conferred in different academic disciplines.

As the chart below shows, the most popular majors at Columbia are those in the social sciences, which account for 21.28% of degrees awarded. The next highest are computer science and engineering, which made up about 16% and 14% respectively.

Columbia is also relatively popular in the humanities, with history, English, visual and performing arts, and area, ethnic, and gender studies all ranking in the top ten.

Major Percent of Degrees Conferred
Social sciences 21.28
Computer and information sciences 16.12
Engineering 14.08
Mathematics and statistics 6.34
Biological/life sciences 6.23
Psychology 6.02
History 5.27
English 5.1
Visual and performing arts 4.25
Area, ethnic, and gender studies 4.03

If your preferred major is in this top ten list, then it’s safe to assume that the program would likely suit your needs well. But applying with any of these popular majors in mind also means more competition in the applicant pool. If your desired major isn’t on this list, then you may have an easier time making your case for admission, especially if you demonstrate a particularly strong fit for your major of choice. Plus—it’s Columbia, so every program will give you an exceptional academic experience.

What should you do with all this information?

Columbia’s sub-4% acceptance rate makes applying there daunting. And rightly so. With over 96% of applicants denied, your chances of getting in are slim.

That’s why it’s important to be realistic about how your own statistics stack up to what Columbia admissions officers are looking for in applicants. Having a strong baseline in your GPA, course rigor, and extracurricular achievement can earn you a closer read. That’s where your essays come in—their purpose is to communicate the character and talent that Columbia seeks out in its students.

Sprinkle in a few strategic moves, like applying Early Decision or finding the right major fit, and you might just beat the odds.

To get started on your Columbia application, see our How to Get into Columbia guide.



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