Ask Test Masters: Getting into Columbia3 min read

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Reader Kayla asks,

“Hi, so I have been reading your articles and I was starting to panic. My freshmen year didn’t go that well and I have just started getting more involved with extracurricular activities this year, as a sophomore. I am on my school’s rowing team and I am in the orchestra. I was in my school’s musical last year and I plan to do that all four years of high school. I take orchestra during lunch so that I can have room for two other electives (French and theater). I am taking two honors classes (H) English and (H) Biology and I am planning on taking at least 2 AP classes next year. I also do community service inside and outside of school. Will this be enough? Columbia is my dream school and I really want to get in… What do I need to do to increase my chances of getting in?”

Dear Kayla,

As you probably know, Columbia has one of the lowest admission rates in the country (6.89% for the Class of 2017). Almost every student who applies to Columbia College is going to have fantastic credentials: straight A’s (with a challenging course load), amazing standardized test scores (middle 50% of admitted students score between a 2150 and 2320 on the SAT), and a very high class rank (over 90% of students admitted as members of the Class of 2017 were in the top 10% of their graduating high school class).

This means, first and foremost, if you are lacking in any of the areas mentioned above, you can most increase your chances of being accepted into Columbia by prioritizing them.  If you struggled your freshman year, then your priority should be to improve your cumulative GPA and to rise higher in your class rank.

To be clear, the credentials mentioned above are not prerequisites to being accepted into Columbia. Like many top tier universities, Columbia has adopted a holistic admissions process, which essentially means that every candidate is evaluated within the context of who that candidate is as a person (family history, education background, financial situation, etc.) and what kind of impact that candidate may have on campus.  That said, these “fantastic credentials” are strong indicators of a student’s likelihood to succeed at a school like Columbia.

Extracurricular activities also play a big role in the college admission process. The most important thing to remember is universities like Columbia value quality over quantity. Calvin puts it extremely well in this article, saying “With extracurriculars, less is actually more.” This means that when you participate in extracurriculars your goal should be to produce something tangible or quantifiable (which is more difficult to accomplish if your attention is split between a dozen different activities).  Basically…

  • You’re on the rowing team? That’s fantastic; take them to State!
  • Vous êtes dans le Club de Français? Très bien! Maintenant, écoutez-moi. Gagnez une trophée!
  • You’re in your high school musical? Great, but are you the lead in your high school musical?
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Kayla, by taking an active interest in your education you have already taken the first step to getting into your dream school. It also seems like you have a pretty good idea of what you need to accomplish in order to be a viable candidate for a school like Columbia. The best advice we can give you is two-fold:

1) As mentioned above, prioritize your grades and class rank; without them no amount of extracurricular recognition will improve your chances of admission.

2) Commit to the extracurricular activities you’ve already joined. Stick to it and eventually you will be recognized and rewarded for your hard work.

Hope this helps! Let us know if you have any more questions by commenting, or you can always just Ask Test Masters again!

 

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