Ask Me Anything: Tips from Columbia University Admissions Officer

In this post, we asked a former Columbia University admissions officer for some helpful college advice for high school students. Read below for insider knowledge from a college expert with over a decade of experience working in admissions!

What does Columbia University look for?

Columbia looks for exemplary students who are academically prepared for a rigorous education. Here are some general things to note:

  • The majority of admits are in the top 10% of their class and have taken APs and honors courses throughout high school.
  • Around 50% have SAT scores between 1510 and 1580 or ACT scores between 32 to 35.
  • They have  strong recommendations from teachers who can speak to their character and work ethic.  
  • The personal statements show that the  applicant has a purpose and motivation to get into a specific career/industry. Admissions officers want to hear their story of what motivates them and who they really are as a person. We want to see extracurriculars and examples of real life experiences.  

Ultimately, we are looking for applicants who will give Columbia a good name and become top level in their career/industry: someone who is always striving to be better than they were yesterday.

When you worked in Columbia’s Undergraduate Admissions, how often did you have to reject extremely competent and accomplished applicants? 

Only a small percentage (5 or 6%) of the qualified students are accepted to Columbia University. Many will get rejected even if they’re highly qualified.  There simply aren’t enough spots to accept all highly qualified applicants.  For that reason, the admissions team will not accept applicants that do not show exceptional abilities in each and every piece of the application. 

What kind of students do you think is a right match with Columbia?

Ideal Columbia students show that they are challenging themselves in and out of school and will continue to do so in the future. These are students who demonstrate independence, intellect, diversity, knowledge and spirit to understand and give back to the world. They therefore prove that they are ready for a rigorous academic program, can thrive in a city environment, and take advantage of Columbia’s resources.

How much does Columbia value academic performance and extracurricular activities respectively in college applications?

Applications are reviewed holistically.  All documents are reviewed including academic pieces, extracurriculars, recommendations, and personal statements; each weighing heavily on the admission decision.

Extracurriculars have great importance to demonstrate your passion outside of the classroom. However, quantity is not necessarily better.  It is good to show interest in an area throughout high school whether it be in the arts, athletics, creative writing, research, competitions, etc. Some students are encouraged to submit supplementary materials for artistic talents if applicable (writing, photography, film, architecture, dance, etc).

The committee looks at extracurriculars to see if the applicant is able to fit into a community, to be social, show leadership, demonstrate time management skills, and, most importantly, show hands-on ‘life experience’. The majority of the committees believe that this is just as important as the academic scores.  

Do you have further questions you’d like to ask a former Ivy League admissions officer? Leave a comment below!

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