How to Write the Columbia University Supplement 2019-2020

An acceptance to Columbia College, the undergraduate liberal arts college of Columbia University, is one of the most sought-after acceptances in the world. The small student-body is critical to maintaining a smaller-school feel smack dab in a big school in the heart of New York City, but it also means that there aren’t very many spaces open each year. Known for intense academics and a competitive environment that keeps students on their toes, Columbia is able to attract globally-renowned scholars as professors and visiting lecturers, granting students access to world leaders on almost any subject. Knowing this, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that a lot of people want to get it, but only around 5% of students who apply to Columbia are accepted.

The Columbia supplement is reasonably easy for a tough school. Compared to Stanford, it may well be a walk in the park. This can be misleading, though. While there are only a few real questions, they are letting you know who they are looking for even when they ask you for a list. Don’t have a diverse media diet? Columbia is not the school for you. If you’re a Columbia-type kid, they can tell. If you’re not, it’s hard to fake it. 

The 2019-2020 supplement for Columbia is the same as last year’s, but we like to take a fresh look at the questions even if we’ve seen them before.  

List a few words or phrases that describe your ideal college community. (150 words or less)

This is your first introduction to Columbia’s apparent obsession with lists. Most of this supplement, in fact, will be comprised of lists. When they ask for a list, they want a list, but what you include is critical to making a case for yourself as an applicant.

Do not transparently describe Columbia. Saying “two greens in front of a library with flags to indicate if you can go onto them,” is not cute. If you don’t know what we’re talking about and want to go to Columbia, press pause on your supplement to do some more research about the school and campus.

Instead, you should focus on what you want in a school outside of the landscaping or the predominate weather patterns. What kind of culture do you want to be part of? What kind of people do you want to be surrounded by? What type of relationship do you want to have with your professors? Do you want to spend your time in small classes that demand participation, or are you more of a lecture hall kind of person?

Most importantly, be accurate. If you say that you want to attend a college where, within a month of being there, you recognize nearly everyone, Columbia isn’t a good fit. Make sure that what you are including are things that Columbia can provide.  

List the titles of the required readings from courses during the school year or summer that you enjoyed most in the past year. (150 words or less)

You’ll find that the theme of this supplement is simple: be honest, don’t inflate. You don’t need to use all 150 words. If you were assigned enough books in the last 12 months to take up 150 words just by listing their titles and authors, we don’t know how you did anything else in school besides reading — and they know that too.  

Also, remember that they are not asking you why they were your favorites. They aren’t asking for a because, just a list.

List the titles of the books you read for pleasure that you enjoyed most in the past year. (150 words or less)

This one goes just like the above, but now it’s outside of school! If you haven’t read any books in the past 12 months outside of school assigned reading, Columbia isn’t a good fit for you. If you have, list them here. Again, don’t make things up.

List the titles of the print, electronic publications and websites you read regularly. (150 words or less)

Another list! Yay! With this one, remember that you’re a teenager. Buzzfeed quizzes are ok. If you like to do Buzzfeed quizzes that match you to your potato doppelganger then guess what, you’re a teenager. Nobody is surprised. People will be surprised if you try to say that you regularly devour the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Barrons, and The Economist. By surprised, we mean that they won’t believe you. So, don’t do that. Be yourself.

List the titles of the films, concerts, shows, exhibits, lectures and other entertainments you enjoyed most in the past year. (150 words or less)

We know this is getting repetitive. Same rules as above with the whole ‘be yourself’ thing. We’re serious. We mean it. Also, cover as many of the categories they give as you can. And yes, TED Talks count.  

Please tell us what you value most about Columbia and why. (300 words or less)

Whew! We’ve escaped the list maze, and now you have twice as many words to actually make a point. These sorts of questions are doing two things. First, they want to know more about you. Second, they want to learn what you know about them. Have you done your homework, or are you just phoning this in? (Note: please do not just phone it in.)

There are a few things you need to include in this answer. They should not be presented in a list, but they should all be woven together into one awesome answer.

  • A major

  • A potential concentration (that’s what Columbia calls minors)

  • Two professors you’d like to work with and why (and please don’t just pick the most famous ones)

  • Two classes you’d love to take

  • An extracurricular you’d like to take part in

  • A reflection on the CORE

If you don’t know what the CORE is, it is literally the core of the Columbia College educational experience. The CORE is a core curriculum on steroids. It makes the majority of other colleges requirements look lazy. It is frequently compared to a second major, and not just by our team members that have had to go through it. To not mention the CORE in this supplement would be sort of like leaving out that you won the Nobel Peace Prize. Research the CORE (yay Google!) and devote a few sentences to talking about something about or within the CORE that particularly excites you.  

Research Supplement (Optional)

We don’t go into too much detail about research supplements because they don’t apply to most applicants, but if you have worked in a lab on research or have competed in high-level (state or national) science fairs, this is an excellent place to hype up the work that you’ve done. If you don’t fit into either of those categories, please skip this one.


Columbia is one of the best schools in the world, and sometimes applying gets stressful. If you’d like some one-on-one help, let us know --that’s why we’re here.