You Oughta Know
Early Decision (ED). If you’re certain that Columbia is your top choice, Early Decision is the best option for you. But you’d better be 100% sure, because part of the application requires that you agree to the following statement: I am committed to attending Columbia Business School and will withdraw all applications and decline all offers from other schools upon admission to Columbia Business School. If you’re accepted, you’ll have two weeks to submit a non-refundable $6,000 deposit. Though the occasional opportunist does in fact renege on this offer, and the police won’t haul you away if you break that promise, the admissions office’s attitude is summed up by: “We’ll let some other institution handle someone who so casually breaks their word and pledge.” Candidates might consider an Early Decision application to Columbia as part of a strategy of Round 1 applications to other schools. However, it doesn’t make sense (nor is it ethical) to submit to multiple “early-action” rounds.
The Early Decision option is available only for August Term applicants. There are also no “rules” about how many ED candidates the school will accept. It might vary from a third to almost a half of the August class (so from perhaps to 180 to 270 candidates). Columbia does not break down the statistics of incoming applications based on ED versus Regular Decision versus J-Term.
Rolling admissions (Regular Decision). After the Early Decision deadline, Columbia operates on a rolling admissions basis. This process is quite different from most of the other top schools and means three things for applicants:
- Applications are evaluated in the order received, so there is a significant advantage to applying early, as there is simply more space available in the class.
- There is no schedule for issuing interview invitations or final decisions; application decisions are released when they are rendered, which can be at any point in the process.
- Columbia uses the waitlist a little differently than other schools, often as a “holding stage” while they evaluate additional candidates.
How it’s different. Because Columbia does not have “rounds” the way its peers do, it’s tempting to call the Early Decision cycle “Round 1” and the Regular Decision cycle “Round 2,” but this is a misunderstanding of both the process and the implications of applying in one versus the other. Perhaps the most confusing part of the Columbia Regular Decision admissions process is the fact that it appears that there’s only one deadline, and it’s in April. This is misleading for two reasons:
- Because of the rolling admissions process described above, applications are evaluated in the order received, which means there are fewer and fewer slots available as time goes by. An application received in March or April simply doesn’t have the same odds of success as one that is submitted in October or November.
- Merit fellowships are only available to those who submit by an early January deadline, so for many candidates, this January date is the “real” deadline they care about, and that’s when the bulk of applications is received. Regardless of what the “official” deadline is, international candidates should get their application in as early as possible to make sure they have enough time to secure required visas.
When should I apply? Columbia does admit the bulk of its August-start students through the Regular Decision process, and it’s when most people apply. Do not be lulled by that April deadline into thinking that you can delay your application to Columbia. For most of you, it makes sense to submit your Columbia application first, not last. We recommend applying by the end of October or earlier for the best results.
Even though Columbia doesn’t have traditional rounds, our standard advice still holds: We recommend that you apply earlier rather than later, especially if you’re a traditional applicant from management consulting or finance. With rolling admissions, the flow of applications is harder to predict, and if you wait too long, the school might have hit its limit on CPAs or engineers. If you’d like to be considered for merit-based financial aid, you’ll need to meet an early January deadline. Applying as late as March or April means competing for one of the very few seats still open at that point.
Even though it’s almost always a good idea to apply as early as possible, this does not mean that you should apply with a rushed application or a mediocre GMAT score. There’s no sense in applying early if you’re just going to be denied. A GMAT score that’s above the school’s average will do more for your candidacy than applying in the first week after the Early Decision deadline.
J-Term admissions. The J-Term has some unique elements to note around the admissions process. Specifically:
- There is just one deadline for the J-Term: in early October (which coincides with many schools’ Round 1 deadlines).
- There is no Early Decision option for the J-Term.
- The waitlist for the J-Term does not roll over to the August class. If you are placed on the waitlist for the J-Term, the latest date you can expect to get a final answer is usually mid-December (perhaps earlier if you’re not a local candidate).
- If you are declined a spot in the J-Term, you can apply in the August Regular Decision cycle during the same admissions season. However, you’ll need to significantly improve your profile and fix the weaknesses that caused the original decision or you’ll probably see the same results. Veritas Prep recommends waiting until the following application season before you re-apply, and at that point you could apply to either the J-Term or the August start. In both cases you would be considered a re-applicant.
- The J-Term receives far fewer applications than the August class, which means it’s easier for an exceptional candidate to stand out, but there are also fewer spots available (usually around 200).
Prioritizing. The Columbia Admissions Office processes applications in the following order. Applications within a category are processed in the order received:
- J-Term applications are prioritized because the Admissions Office needs to construct that class fast, since they’ll be headed to campus just a few months later in order to begin their studies in January. All decisions for J-Term applicants are generally finalized by December.
- Early Decision applications are processed somewhat in parallel with the J-Term pool.
- Regular Decision applications are not processed until J-Term and ED applications have all been cleared. The soonest a Regular Decision application will be opened is typically around November or December.