Columbia University Welcomes Ambitious International Students to New York City

Caifu Magazine | by Catherine Skrzypinski

For many aspiring business leaders and political movers and shakers, a well-rounded education at Columbia University is a stepping stone to a successful career in the city that never sleeps. Past students have chosen Columbia to better themselves so that they could change and influence the world.

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Columbia has the fourth largest international student population in the United States, with nearly 4,500 students from China making the university their home for four years, recent data from the Institute of International Education showed.

Established in 1754, Columbia is the oldest institution of higher learning in New York, and is one of the most prestigious universities in the United States – if not the world. According to the QS World University Rankings 2018, Columbia is ranked 18th globally, a five-star rating.

Located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, Columbia offers students the perfect combination of scholarly seclusion and quick access to the concrete jungle of New York City. Columbia boasts the Ivy League collegiate experience at its Morningside Heights campus, as students enter buildings inspired by neoclassical architecture to study, or opt to socialize on its sprawling lawns surrounding the Low Memorial Library steps. The Columbia campus is an “urban beach,” American architect Robert A.M. Stern once noted.

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Columbia University’s Admission Requirements

Like all of the Ivy League institutions in the United States, Columbia has highly selective admissions. Undergraduate students seeking to graduate from Columbia in 2021 found out in 2017 that this was the single most challenging year to be admitted to the university – ever. For the class of 2021, 37,389 students worldwide applied to Columbia, with 2,185 students accepted – yielding an overall acceptance rate of 5.8 percent, according to 2017 statistics issued by Columbia’s undergraduate admissions department. Therefore, for every 100 applications, around only six students were admitted.

“The admissions process at Columbia, as at many of our peer institutions, is a ‘holistic’ one, taking into careful consideration a variety of aspects of a student,” Robert Hornsby, assistant vice president for media relations at Columbia University in New York told CAIFU Thursday, September 7, 2017.

Columbia University requires students to be at the top of their class. Although the university does not require a minimum grade point average (GPA) for incoming freshmen into Columbia College and the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science, 2017 data from Columbia University’s School of General Studies expects transfer students from another college or university to have performed well with an A average, or a 3.7-3.8 GPA.

International students applying to Columbia are advised to use World Education Services’ International GPA Calculator to calculate their grades on a 4.0 scale used at U.S. colleges and universities.

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Columbia’s admissions application process is largely the same for all students regardless of their citizenship or country of residence, Hornsby continued. International students hoping to attend Columbia must be comfortable reading and speaking English.

Standardized tests are required for admission, and students may choose to take either the SAT or the ACT. As of 2017, the average SAT score composite at Columbia is 2240 on the previous 2400 SAT scale, while on the new 1600 SAT; this corresponds to an average SAT score of 1530. Columbia University admissions officers say there is no absolute SAT requirement, but they would like to see a student score at least a 1470 to be considered. Meanwhile, if a student chooses to take the ACT, Columbia will accept a range of 32-35 points out of a possible 36 points.

If an international student was not educated in English for the duration of their secondary school tenure or cannot prove they are fluent in English, then they will need to take one of the following English language proficiency exams:

• TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language). A minimum score of 600 (paper-based test) or 100 (Internet-based test) is necessary for admission to Columbia.

• IELTS (International English Language Testing System). A minimum score of 7.0 is necessary for admission to Columbia.

Non-native English speakers should note English language proficiency testing is in addition to the SAT or ACT; not a substitute for it.

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“We do not rely on standardized testing and grades alone and instead look at all parts of a student's application to help inform our judgment,” Hornsby explained. Students also need to write personal essays, ask teachers and mentors for letters of recommendation and take part in extracurricular activities and perform community service, as all these play a role in the admissions equation.

“We read the personal statements to try to understand who the student is and what his or her motivations are for going to college,” Hornsby added. “We carefully read the teacher recommendations to understand who the student is in the classroom, and what he or she offers to classmates.”
Science and engineering students may provide a one- or two-page abstract about their academic research in high school, including a short paragraph of 250 words that describes the duration of their research involvement and details regarding their specific role in and contributions to the research project. Meanwhile, students in the creative and performing arts may submit audio, video or digital images of their work and performances to supplement their application.

Another important aspect of the application package is the admissions interview. Columbia recommends that applicants attending high school in China schedule admissions interviews with online interview platforms InitialView or Vericant. Admissions officers recommend interviews should be scheduled, completed and submitted to Columbia by November 15 for Early Decision applications, or January 15 for Regular Decision applications. Since the ratio of applicants to alumni interviewers in China is not equal, the interview with InitialView or Vericant will take the place of an alumni interview for some candidates.

“Every part of the application matters,” Hornsby added. “In the end, our goal is to find the students who are the best fit for Columbia.”

Columbia University in China

Launched in March 2009, Columbia Global Centres Beijing serves as a regional base for the Columbia University academic community to interact locally with students, faculty and alumni. It is one of the university’s first centres to feature Columbia faculty and experts in China to lecture on diverse topics ranging from economics, environmental engineering, film studies, global health international affairs, urbanization and urban design.

Major projects at the Columbia Global Centres Beijing include the Urban China Initiative, which assesses rapid urbanization; the Weatherhead Forum, a collaborative effort with the Weatherhead East Asian Institute to forge closer ties between the university and the Beijing urban community; and the Global Scholars Program, an undergraduate summer course led by Columbia University faculty in Beijing.

Unlike traditional study abroad programs, the Global Scholars Program allows students to conduct fieldwork in one area of the world and then test their findings in additional host countries that offer new sets of variables. Its aim is to help undergraduates map the globe by exploring transnational issues and applying social science research skills in a range of challenging and diverse international contexts.

The mission of Columbia Global Centres Beijing is to leverage the university’s research capabilities to initiate China and East Asia’s focused projects on a variety of issues, as well as to offer assessment, advice and solutions to contribute to China and East Asia’s growth.

Columbia University by the Numbers

Tuition: $55,056 USD per year, full time

Room and Board: $13,244 USD per year, full time

Number of Undergraduate Students Enrolled: 6,102. Approximately 4,500 students are enrolled in Columbia College and 1,500 in The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science.

Acceptance Rate: 5.8 percent (2017)

Percentage of International Students: 16 percent (2017)

Number of Countries Represented: 76 (2017)

Most Popular Majors: Biology, Economics, Engineering, English Language and Literature, History, Neuroscience, Nursing, Operations Research, Political Science, Psychology
Notable Alumni: U.S. President Barack Obama, business magnates Warren Buffet, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway and Peter Woo, chairman of Wheelock and Co. Ltd.
International Student Resources:



Columbia University

535 West 116th Street

New York, NY 10027 USA

Columbia Global Centres | Beijing

No. 26, 1 F, Core Plaza,

No.1 Shanyuan Street, Zhongguancun, Haidian, Beijing, China 100080