When you hear the phrase “Ivy League Schools,” universities such as Harvard, Princeton, and Yale leap to mind. You might even think of Brown University or Dartmouth College. But the school that was founded as King’s College in 1754 is one of the oldest and most respected universities in the United States.
Columbia University in the City of New York is the oldest institution of higher learning in the state of New York. Its motto “In lumine Tuo videbimus lumen” (“In Thy light shall we see light”) comes from the Bible verse Psalms 36:9, reflecting the school’s early days as an extension of Trinity Church in Manhattan. From those days, Columbia University has developed as a leader across every academic field.
Over its 250 years, Columbia University has produced Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Barak Obama. Founding father Alexander Hamilton, as did Supreme Court Justices John Jay, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Charles Evan Hughes, and Neil Gorsuch. Nobel Laurates Julian S. Schwinger, Robert A. Millikan, Milton Friedman, and Stanley Kuznets all wore Columbia’s light blue and white. The University gave the world billionaire Warren Buffett, Walmart chairman S. Robson Walton, and legendary baseball player Lou Gehrig.
Columbia University has featured one of the most impressive faculty bodies ever assembled. 58 Nobel Laurates have taught at the school, as have 13 recipients of the National Medal of Sciences. Current teachers include international relations scholar Michael W. Doyle, literary scholar and MacArthur Genius Saidiya Hartman, and economist Jeffery Sachs.
The school even has a long-running tradition of writing and directing a musical every year, with past directors including musical titans Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein.
But for many people, all of that information can be summed up with one question: “Is Columbia University an Ivy League school?”
Read on for the answer, and to learn why that designation matters.
Is Columbia University an Ivy League School?
The short answer is, “Yes.” Columbia University is in the Ivy League.
But that might not mean what you think it means. Founded in 1958, the Ivy League is simply a Division I athletic conference in NCAA, not unlike the Big Ten or the ACC. While its football and basketball teams have not won major championships in several decades, and its hockey team recently disbanded, the Columbia University Lions have enjoyed success in fencing, men’s squash, and rowing.
Of course, people don’t respect the Ivy League because of its athletic achievements. The Ivy League consists of some of the oldest and most respected private research schools in the country. In addition to Columbia University, Brown University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton University, and Yale University are all members of the Ivy League. Except for Cornell, which was founded in 1865, all of the Ivy League schools were established before the American Revolution. Among the Ivies, only Harvard, Yale, and Princeton are older (as a public institution, the College of William and Mary, founded in 1693, is not in the Ivy League).
It’s not just age or athletic prowess that makes an Ivy League education so desirable. These schools are known for their commitment to academic excellence and their very exclusive admissions. Even among its Ivy sisters, Columbia ranks near the top, trailing only Princeton and Harvard.
As its impressive list of alumni shows, Columbia made its name by producing important contributors in the fields of political science and the humanities. Former Attorney General William Barr earned a BA and an MA at Columbia, and political advisor George Stephanopoulos graduated summa cum laude in 1982. Harlem Renaissance luminaries Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston attended Columbia, as did founding members of the Beat Movement Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac.
Columbia University: Ranking, Acceptance Rate, and More
Like all of the Ivy League Schools, Columbia is one of the hardest universities in the nation to enter. With an acceptance rate of 6%, Columbia is the most selective Ivy League school outside of Harvard. The University received 40,084 applications in 2020 – more than Brown, Dartmouth, Princeton, and Yale – and accepted only 2,544.
U.S. News & World Report ranks Columbia University #3 on its list of National Universities, below only Princeton and Harvard. In its rankings for Writing in the Disciplines, U.S. News put Columbia at #6. Columbia tied at #13 for Best Undergraduate University Engineering Programs and placed #6 on the list of Best Value Schools.
On the list of Best Value Colleges from The Princeton Review, Columbia ranked #15. The Review also put Columbia #3 in the list of Best College Libraries and #4 in the list of Best College Newspapers. According to Forbes.com, Columbia ranked #14 among Top Colleges and #9 in the Northeast.
Columbia University earned an overall grade of A+ from Niche.com, which gave the school high marks for its Academics, Diversity, and Value. Columbia ranked #12 on Niche’s list of Best Colleges in America. Niche also placed Columbia #3 on its list of Best Colleges for English, below only Brown University and Harvard, and #3 on its list of Best Colleges for Global Studies, below Yale and Brown.
The Washington Monthly, which ranks not according to endowments or athletics, but according to a school’s “their contribution to the public good in three broad categories: social mobility, research, and promoting public service,” placed Columbia University at #14. That ranking puts Columbia considerably above fellow Ivies Dartmouth, Brown, and Cornell.
With such high rankings across multiple lists, it’s no surprise that so many students want to study at Columbia. But as its low acceptance rate shows, it’s very hard to get into the University. While that might be discouraging news for many, those who do get accepted enjoy a very small 6:1 student to faculty ratio.
How to Get Into Columbia
What’s the best way to make sure that you’re in that 6% of applicants accepted into Columbia University?
The simplest and most obvious answer is, “Get good grades.” Over 95% of students accepted in 2020 were in the top 10% of their graduating class. The average GPA of students accepted into Columbia is 4.12. That is, of course, a very high-grade average, but high school students who don’t quite reach that level aren’t necessarily out of luck. With a strong SAT and/or ACT score, students can compensate for a lower GPA.
That said, the incoming class of 2024 at Columbia had an average SAT score between 1500 and 1560, which is still pretty high. Columbia no longer requires an ACT score, but that might help your chances, especially if you score in the average range between 34-35, or higher.
But remembers, grades aren’t everything, not even at Columbia.
Like most institutions, Columbia values students who participate in extra-curricular activities. Extra-curriculars show the admission board that you care about your community and that you have made a positive impact on those around you.
Unsurprisingly, these activities should relate to the major you’re studying. If you’re looking at a science degree, make sure that you’ve taken time to serve the scientific community around you. Tutor younger students who are struggling. Help run labs for your chemistry teacher. Volunteer as a judge for science fairs. Put together science-based clubs at your school or community centers.
Finally, Columbia University does hold interviews with applicants. Interviews and application essays can be your opportunity to make your best case for yourself, especially if the numbers don’t reflect your quality as a student. In both of these scenarios, remember that you are essentially selling yourself to the University. You’ll want to tell your story to the application board, but more importantly, you’ll want to explain why only Columbia can help you reach your goals and how you can advance the goals of the University. What will you bring to the student body? How will you enrich the lives of fellow attendees? What will you add to the school’s academics or athletics?
No one of these techniques will get you into Columbia by themselves. But taken together, they can make you into a candidate that the admissions board cannot ignore.
Recap: Columbia Is an Ivy League School
Not only is Columbia University an Ivy League school, but it’s also among the best even in that limited field. Students at Columbia enjoy both the prestige of attending one of the most respected Universities in the nation and the rich vein of connections and history that can only come from one of America’s oldest institutions.
Some of the country’s most influential and important people have studied at Columbia, including leaders in the fields of literature, politics, and economics. With its small student-to-faculty ratio and its large research endowment, Columbia University is poised to continue this tradition, building the next generation of scholars, artists, and business professionals.
But Columbia’s success comes in part from the fact that it only starts with the best. Like all other Ivy League schools, Columbia has high standards for admissions, including excellent grades and high standardized test scores. Its extremely low 6% acceptance rate means that almost everyone who applies to Columbia will be rejected.
However, there are steps future applicants can take to improve their chances. Of course, Columbia expects good grades, including a very high GPA, in high-level classes, and good SAT scores. But the University doesn’t value only numbers. A well-rounded and intellectually curious applicant will always be more attractive than someone with good grades but no desire to better their community. By participating in extra-curricular activities, future students can show the admission board their engagement with the world around them. They can also secure strong letters of recommendation. Finally, these experiences can help applicants find subjects to discuss in their application essay and their interview. Each of these elements gives students a chance to show the board the depth of their character and curiosity.
No, that’s not going to be easy. And you wouldn’t want it to be easy. The entire point of going to an Ivy League school is the challenge and the exclusivity. But if you work hard enough, if you develop your skills and application, you too can walk some of the oldest and most venerated halls of learning in the country.