Can I get into Columbia?

Q: Can I get into Columbia?

A: Statistically, no. Without looking at you, without seeing your grades or knowing your name or knowing anything else about you, you can not get it.

“But why?!?” you ask. Because of math.

37,389 people applied to Columbia for the class of 2021

2,183 people got in.

That’s 5.8%

In other words, less than 6 of every 100 people who applied got in. These 2,183 people come from 50 states and 76 countries. Think living in Texas will help you? It’s actually one of the most highly-represented states at Columbia. Is Brazil a bonus? Or France? Or Canada? Nope, they’re all highly-represented as well. 17% of the class of 2021 will be the first person in their family to go to college, and their test scores are killer.

All of this information is publically available. It’s not a dark secret. And yet, we frequently receive emails asking us if the genuinely impossible is, in fact, somehow possible.

Exhibit A:


I want to make it clear that we are not showing this email in an attempt to shame the writer of it. Instead, we are sharing it because each time we say that we get tons of these emails, a few people tend to think that for some reason their slightly differently worded email will convey just how badly they want to get in and somehow, only for them, we’ll pull out our fairy wands and make it happen.

While we are holding out hope that fairies are real, but we don’t have any of their magical powers.

We have so much empathy for students who want to go to Columbia, but for whom getting in isn’t in the cards. In a recent (and pretty heartbreaking) NYTimes article about college admissions, students shared what their biggest challenges were. In the piece, Nicole Arellano, a 17-year-old headed for the University of Chicago, shared, “I think it’s terrible for colleges to advertise their lowest admit rate. Don’t advertise crushing more dreams.”

We agree that flashing around stats is frustrating, but we think making the impossible appear achievable is worse. Which is to say that if you’re saying “it’s ok, I may be in the bottom of the grades/scores range, but I’m in the range,” you’re kidding yourself. If you are in the lowest 25% of their range, you won’t get in. No essay is going to change that.

Why not try? You never know, right?

Because that’s not nice to yourself. You need to set fair expectations if you want to come out of the college process actually excited to go to college. We don’t limit where our kids can apply, but we do give strong recommendations, as well as cautions when we feel those are necessary. There is no reason to feel crippling rejection if you don’t have to.

You need to have the chips to play the game. You must be “this” tall to ride the ride. There are a million metaphors, but the hard truth is that if you don’t have the grades and you don’t have the scores, you don’t have a viable shot at getting into Columbia. If you have the scores, you’re still shooting to be one of a chosen few picked from a talented multitude.

If you love Columbia but have had to accept that it’s not an option, consider checking out some of these stellar schools that are very similar.