IvyGate’s Guide to Admissions: Part III
Your dream school is Columbia, but your intuition (or that flaccid rejection letter) tells you that you’re not Columbia material. What is one to do, aside from attending NYU? In this five-point guide, we explain how to gain that coveted admissions letter from this neoclassical jewel on the hill. But be forewarned: Columbia is known to induce extreme feelings of academic inadequacy, general sleep-deprivation, and a social life (and for some a sex life) that revolves around the Butler library.
1. Do well at another school (read: get straight A’s and suck up to profs who will write your recommendation letters) and re-apply as a transfer. This is the obvious choice, and the choice that has the least stigma. Transfers, especially those to CC, make other CC students feel good about themselves. Every time they see a transfer they think to themselves, “See some people do want to be here.” And if you’ve transferred from Yale, say, or Harvard, it helps prove to them that hey, so what if I got rejected to them in high school, I live in New York City and it’s omfgawesome. But it doesn’t really qualify as a backdoor since it’s also the hardest way of getting in. For this year’s freshmen, Columbia College’s acceptance rate was 8.68% and SEAS’s acceptance rate was 17.6%, for an overall admit rate of 10.04%. The acceptance rate for transfers is even lower. Out of 1,401 applicants to the College and SEAS, only 112 students were admitted, or 7.99%. It’s a shot in the dark, but maybe, if you really hate the school you landed at and you act like annoying grade-obsessed gunner in all your classes you might as well give it a try.
2. Apply as a freshman or transfer to Columbia-affiliated Barnard College. The women’s college has been a source of endless debate and angst ever since Columbia College went coeducational in the early eighties, after years of failed discussions to integrate with the University at large. No one, not even the president of Barnard, seems to really understand the school’s tangled relationship with Columbia. On one hand the Barnard website touts the fact that “Barnard has its own campus, faculty, administration, trustees, operating budget, and endowment.” On the other hand, Barnard students receive Columbia email addresses, have full access to Columbia classes and student organizations, and earn degrees signed by both Barnard and Columbia presidents. Most gripes around Barnard center around the fact that its students get in easier but are de facto Columbia students. (The acceptance rates for this year’s freshmen and transfers were 28.5% and 29.1%, respectively). Angsty prestige-driven Columbians should be more concerned about recruited athletes, don’t you think?
More backdoors after the jump.
3. Take a year or more off college and apply to the non-trad School of General Studies. If you haven’t taken a year off college at some point since you’ve graduated high school, it’s going to be tricky to explain why you’re applying to the non-trad division of Columbia. If you’re say an Iraq War veteran, Jewish (see below), a trapeze artist, or a single mother living in the Bronx, it’s going to be easier. As long as you have decent grades, reqs, and a great “life story,” GS should be a shoo-in. Ideally, you’ll want to have a huge outside scholarship or a boatload of cash: the only financial aid most students qualify for are loans.
4. Be (or become!) Jewish and apply to List College at the Jewish Theological Seminary. If you’re Jewish and either have (or can fake) an interest in Judaism, JTS is probably the best way to backdoor into Columbia. Prospective JTS undergrads must either apply as a double-degree student with Barnard, or as a joint degree student with Columbia GS; you cannot be admitted into List College without also being admitted to either Barnard or GS. Not only do you dodge the stigma of being a non-trad student – 85% of JTS students finish both of their degrees in four years and typically jump into the program straight out of high school – but you also have a good reason for being at Barnard or GS in the first place. (According to the College Board, 61% of applicants get in; a FAQ on the JTS website states, “Students who are accepted typically have As and Bs on their high school transcripts and have taken a rigorous course load for four years. Students tend to score in the mid-600s on each of the three sections of the SAT. The average ACT score is between 29 and 31.” With grades and test scores like that it’d be difficult to get into Cornell.
5. Matriculate at a liberal arts college or university without an engineering program and apply to the 3/2 Combined Plan Program at SEAS. If you attend one of ninety-odd affiliated liberal arts colleges and universities, take the right pre-requisites, earn a 3.0 or better overall and in your pre-engineering courses, and receive three favorable recs, you are guaranteed admission into the School of Engineering and Applied Science at Columbia. And given this backdoor’s lack of selectivity, it seems that even students applying from schools without a formal affiliation can get in without much trouble. Out of the myriad ways to finagle your way into Columbia, this is probably one of the best deals you can get; not only are you effectively like any other traditional transfer student – eligible for on-campus housing, need-based financial aid, etc. – but you also get to earn two degrees, and have hopefully experienced three years of the good life at a non-Ivy/non-neurotic school in the bucolic hinterlands of America.