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How to Get Into Columbia Medical School: The Complete Guide

August 18, 2022
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Columbia Medical School ProgramsColumbia Medical School RequirementsColumbia Medical School Secondary EssaysColumbia Medical School Acceptance RateColumbia Medical School Interview FormatColumbia Medical School TuitionColumbia Medical School TimelineFAQs: How to Get into Columbia Medical School


Reviewed by:

Akhil Katakam

Third-Year Medical Student, Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University

Reviewed: 5/13/22

Are you interested in joining Columbia Medical School, a prestigious Ivy League university? Read on to learn more about how to get into Columbia Medical school as we walk you through the entire application process.

Columbia Medical School, or more specifically the Columbia University Irving Medical Center (CUIMC), has a College of Physicians and Surgeons that is “one of the oldest and most celebrated academic medical institutions in the country.” 

This top-ranking school is dedicated to providing the highest quality of equitable care and is a great option to consider when applying to medical schools.

However, you might be wondering how hard it is to get into Columbia Medical school? With an acceptance rate of 1.9%, this prestigious medical school is highly competitive! 

This guide will give you a better idea of what the application process looks like, ensuring you stand out amongst thousands of applicants to increase your chances of getting admitted!

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Columbia Medical School Programs

CUIMC offers various medical programs at their Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons (VP&S) to prepare students for careers in the medical field and broaden their expertise.

MD Program

The MD program is a traditional four-year medical program that students can join to complete their Doctor of Medicine (MD).

Columbia-Bassett Track

The Columbia-Basset Track is a four-year MD program offered to only ten medical school students each year. This program allows students to care for patients in an innovative rural healthcare system in Central New York State.

MD Dual Degrees

When it comes to MD Dual Degrees, students can choose to complete various programs, including a seven-year combined MD-PhD program for those wishing to receive both an MD and PhD. CUIMC also offers a three-year PhD-MD program for students who have completed a PhD and want to obtain an MD.

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Columbia Medical School Requirements

Now that you’ve read about the various medical programs the school offers, you’re probably wondering how to actually get into Columbia University Medical School. Let’s begin with the basics! 

CUIMC requires all prospective MD students to have completed at least three full academic years at a regionally accredited college in either the United States or Canada at the time of application.

Before enrollment, students should have a completed baccalaureate degree. While CUIMC does not have a preference for students’ main area of study, they do require the following prerequisite courses to be completed:

It is important to note that CUIMC does not accept online courses for these prerequisites, except for those taken during the pandemic (2020 academic year and Spring/Summer 2021 semesters).

For the listed courses, CUIMC looks for applicants that have received A’s and B’s (more A’s than B’s) in scientific courses; a final grade lower than a C- in any of the required courses is regarded as unsatisfactory. Prospective students must retake these courses and achieve a C- or higher to be considered for admission.

Columbia Medical School GPA Requirements

While the median GPA for the admitted 2021 applicants was a daunting 3.92, CUIMC lists the GPA range for these applicants to have been 3.31-4.0. So, even if your GPA doesn’t match this median GPA, you still have a chance at admission! You’ll just have to ensure you do well on your MCAT and write stellar secondary essays.

Columbia Medical School MCAT Requirements

Again, there is quite a large range in the MCAT scores of the 2021 admitted applicants. While the median MCAT score was an intimidating 522, CUIMC says they accepted applicants with scores as low as 509 and as high as 528.

Regardless, beginning the MCAT process can be overwhelming and stressful! It is important to create a comprehensive study schedule and develop good study habits to ensure you are well-prepared for the test.

Letters of Recommendation

Another requirement in the application process is securing strong letters of recommendation. CUIMC requires three recommendation letters at minimum and seven at maximum.

At least one of these letters must come from a science faculty member, teacher, or research mentor. Ensure these letters should be written by people you have directly worked with or under, as letters written by people that do not personally know the applicants will not be given serious consideration.

Columbia Medical School Secondary Essays

As previously mentioned, applicants with lower GPAs or MCAT scores should still consider applying to CUIMC, as their secondary essays can be their saving grace. 

Where you may lack in test scores, you can make up for in your compelling and persuasive writing. So, even though students dread writing these essays, they are essential components of the application process and require careful articulation.

Columbia Medical School Essay Prompts

Here are CUIMC’s secondary essay questions, along with some helpful tips to ensure you write essays that maximize your chances of admission.

Question 1: “Did you work for compensation during college, during the year, or the summer? If so, what did you do? How many hours a week did you work? (300 words)”

How to respond: This answer should be pretty straightforward. You should respond with a yes or no and explain why you did or didn’t work during college. Working during school shows you have effective time-management skills and can handle multiple tasks at once (a useful skill not only for busy medical students but doctors in general!)

If you did work during school, try showcasing that you were able to take on multiple tasks and roles, that you were a good leader and collaborator, and highlight specific performance-related accomplishments. 

If you didn’t work for compensation during school, explain why. Highlight your volunteer experience instead and prove the merit and value of giving back to the community.

Question 2: “If you have graduated from college, please briefly summarize what you have done in the interim. (300 words)”

How to respond: Again, this answer should be pretty straightforward. Discuss your major field of study, briefly explain why you chose it, and focus on the experience and insight you gained during your studies. The admissions committee should be able to gain a sense of your passions and interests through this answer.

Question 3: “Please describe your most meaningful leadership positions. (300 words)”

How to respond: Take this opportunity to only focus on a few key leadership positions that would translate well in the medical field. Do not try listing various leadership positions you had, as you will not be able to adequately describe their importance or relevance.

You only have 300 words, so choose each word wisely! Demonstrate your passions and experience, and show what kind of leader you are.

Question 4: “Columbia Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons values diversity in all its forms. How will your background and experiences contribute to this important focus of our institution and inform your future role as a physician? (300 words)”

How to respond: Diversity essay questions are becoming increasingly common on med school applications. The main way to showcase your diversity is to explain how you are not a traditional applicant and what leverage this diversity gives you. 

While many students use this essay to talk about their ethnicity or gender, this is not the only way to showcase your diversity! 

You may instead talk about some sort of great adversity you overcame, how you switched career paths, or even your unconventional undergraduate major (i.e., liberal arts, drama, music, etc.).

You want to focus on CUIMC’s specific values when writing this essay to showcase how you can contribute to the university and how your values align with theirs.

It may be helpful to look at past successful examples to help you brainstorm ideas for your diversity essay!

Question 5: “Is there anything else you would like us to know? (400 words)”

How to respond: As you consider how to get into Columbia Medical School, you’ll want to focus on writing a compelling answer to this question specifically. As this is more open-ended, you’ll want to use this question as an opportunity to show how you will stand out amongst the thousands of other applicants.

You may use this space to talk about some impressive accomplishments or volunteer experiences that will aid in your journey to becoming a great doctor. You may want to focus on why you want to go to Columbia Medical School specifically.

It is important to note that the secondary essays for the other programs CUIMC has to offer are different. 

The dual MD-PhD questions focus more on your specific focus of study, research interests, and PhD goals.

The Columbia-Bassett program asks an additional question on top of the ones listed above that asks why prospective students want to attend this program in specific and why they want to work in a rural environment.

General Tips to Write Compellingly:

1. Keep it simple: Use words you understand. Avoid unnecessary language, and keep your ideas as clear and concise as possible! Ensure each word adds value to your overall argument.

2. Avoid repetition: Try not to talk about the same experiences in your answers to the essay prompts. You want to show your breadth as a well-rounded, talented individual with a lot of valuable experience and several areas of expertise.

3. Edit, edit, edit: You want to show that you are meticulous and accurate. Any spelling or grammar errors will make your arguments weaker. Ensure you edit your work multiple times, and try getting someone else to look over your essays as well.

Now that you have a good grasp of the essay questions you’ll be asked, you can start brainstorming some ideas! It’s never too early to begin the writing process!

Columbia Medical School Acceptance Rate

The acceptance rate for CUIMC is pretty intimidating! With only 1.9% of applicants accepted in the 2021 admissions cycle, prospective students must work hard to secure one of the limited spots in this prestigious program. 

So, if you want to know how hard it is to get into Columbia Medical School, the short answer is it’s quite hard; hard but not impossible with the right scores, dedication, and exceptional secondary essays.

Columbia Medical School Interview Format

Once applicants have completed the extensive application process, selected candidates will be invited to interview. In 2021, only 852 students were invited to interview across the MD programs. 

Interviews for the 2022-2023 application cycle will be virtual and be conducted by a team of faculty members.

Interviews are always nerve-racking, especially when an entire team of professionals is involved! Ensure you thoroughly prepare for the interview, dress professionally, and do your best to remain calm and collected.

Columbia Medical School Tuition

Medical school is expensive, and CUIMC is no exception. In fact, it is the third most expensive private medical school in the US, costing a staggering $71,107 in tuition and fees in the 2020-2021 school year, meaning graduating students will have spent over $280,000 for their four-year MD program. 

While doctors tend to make a high enough salary to be able to pay off the debt they acquire in medical school, with the median earnings for a doctor being $208,000 a year, attending CUIMC is nonetheless a major investment.

Vagelos Scholarship Program

Luckily, CUIMC offers an extraordinary scholarship program that has made it the “first medical school in the nation to meet 100 percent of demonstrated financial need” for its students. Out of the students that get into Columbia Medical School, about 20% receive full-tuition scholarships so they can graduate debt-free!

This need-based scholarship is calculated using the following formula:

Cost of Attendance Budget – Resources = Need

Based on this formula, you should be able to get a better idea of your eligibility for this scholarship! 

Other External Scholarships

For students that do not qualify for the Vagelos Scholarship program, there are various other external medical scholarships you can apply for to help you cover the full or partial cost of tuition.

Columbia Medical School Timeline

Now that you know what the admissions process is like, the following 2023 timeline will help you stay organized and on top of important dates to remember if you decide to apply to CUIMC:

May: Primary application becomes available via the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS)

July - October: Secondary Application invitations are sent to all applicants who selected Columbia VP&S, and all submitted applications are processed. 

August - January: Interview invitations are sent.

September: Last month in which the MCAT may be taken and submitted for the 2022 application cycle. 

October 15th: Columbia's deadline for the AMCAS primary application. 

October 22nd: Columbia's deadline for the Secondary Application.

October 29th: Columbia's deadline for supporting documents, i.e., Secondary Application fee, MCAT score, and letters of recommendation.

March: Admission offers are sent, and the waitlist opens.

April: Revisit Day occurs for admitted students.

April 15th: Drop date for admitted students to withdraw from all but three schools. 

April 30th: Admitted students planning to enroll at Columbia VP&S must select the "Plan To Enroll" option on the Choose Your Medical School tool. 

May 1st: The "Commit to Enroll" option becomes available on the Choose Your Medical School tool. 

May - August: Admissions Committee reviews waitlist applicants.

June 15th: Students matriculating at VP&S must select the "Commit to Enroll" option on the Choose Your Medical School tool. 

Early August: Orientation and classes begin for the matriculating class, and the waitlist closes.

As you can see, the admissions process is lengthy and requires you to begin applying well before your expected start date.

It is recommended that students begin preparing for medical school a year in advance of their anticipated matriculation date to ensure they are able to get into Columbia Medical School on time.

FAQs: How to Get into Columbia Medical School

Still have questions about getting into Columbia Medical School? Read on to find the answers you need!

1. What GPA do you Need to Get into Columbia Medical School?

The GPA range of the 2021 admitted applicants was 3.31-4.0, with the median GPA being 3.92.

2. What MCAT Score do you Need to Get Into Columbia Medical School?

The MCAT range of the 2021 admitted applicants was 509-528, with the median MCAT score being 522.

3. Is Columbia Medical School Tuition-Free?

No, unless you receive the needs-based Vagelos Scholarship that covers the full cost of tuition. Otherwise, you can expect to pay around $71,107 for tuition and other fees per school year.

4. Is Columbia Medical School Prestigious?

Yes! It is consistently ranked as one of the best universities in the US and the world. In fact, it ranked third as one of the best medical schools for research.

5. How Hard is it to Get Into Columbia Medical School?

Given the low acceptance rate of 1.9%, CUIMC is extremely competitive and difficult to get into! Out of the 7, 293 applicants in 2021, only 138 were granted admission.

Final Thoughts

Now that you’ve had a chance to look over the admissions process and learn more about how to get into Columbia University Medical School, you can hopefully decide if CUIMC is the right option for you and choose the medical program you’d like to join!

As a top-ranking medical school with a focus on both humanism and professionalism, joining CUIMC is a great choice to help you actualize your dreams of becoming an exceptional doctor! 

Good luck!

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