How to Get Into Columbia Medical School: The Complete Guide

October 5, 2023


Reviewed by:

Akhil Katakam

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

Reviewed: 10/05/23

Are you interested in joining Columbia Medical School, a prestigious Ivy League university? Read on to learn more about Columbia med school requirements 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. With an acceptance rate of 2%, 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.

Columbia Medical School Requirements

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:

  • English – one year of English or another writing-intensive course
  • Biology – one year of Biology with labs
  • Physics – one year of Physics with one semester of labs
  • Chemistry – two years of Chemistry, one of which must be Organic Chemistry; both with labs
  • Biochemistry – one semester of Biochemistry, labs are recommended but not required

It is important to note that CUIMC does not accept online courses for these prerequisites, except for those taken during the pandemic.

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.

Columbia Medical School GPA Requirements

The median GPA for the admitted applicants was an exceptional 3.9, with a range between 3.42-4.0. So, even if your grades don’t measure up to the 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 admitted applicants. While the median MCAT score is 522, CUIMC says they accepted applicants with scores as low as 508 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 from professors at minimum and seven at maximum. At least one of these letters must come from a science faculty member, teacher, or research mentor. 

Columbia Medical School Secondary Essays

Applicants with lower GPAs or MCAT scores should still consider applying to CUIMC, as your secondary essays can improve your chances of acceptance. 

Where you may lack in test scores, you can make up for in your compelling and persuasive writing. 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

“Have you previously applied to Medical School? (200 characters)”

How to respond: This is a fairly simple question. Your answer will provide insight into your previous experience with medical school applications and your desires to attend med school. 

Question 2

“If you took time off from your undergraduate studies, please briefly summarize your reasons for doing so. (250 words)”

How to respond: CUIMC wants to see that you’re a motivated and dedicated individual. It’s always good to thoroughly explain a gap in your schooling so that you can prove your commitment to academic pursuits. 

Question 3

“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 4

“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 5

“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 6

“Columbia Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons values diversity in all its forms. How will your 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 can write about any adversity you’ve overcome in your life.

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

Question 7

“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 you haven’t been able to mention thus far.

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.

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! Only 2% of applicants accepted in the most recent admissions cycle. So, prospective students must work extra 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 challenging 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 a recent cycle, onlywere invited to interview across the MD programs. 

Interviews will be virtual and be conducted by a team of faculty members. 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, Columbia medical school tuition is often listed as one of the most expensive medical schools in the US, costing a staggering $78,052 in tuition and fees in a single school year. This means graduating students will have spent over $310,000 for their four-year MD program. 

Expense 1st Year 2nd Year 3rd Year 4th Year
Tuition $70,884 $70,884 $70,884 $70,884
Fee: Student Health Service $1,624 $1,624 $1,624 $1,624
Fee: Medical Insurance Premium $4,541 $4,541 $4,541 $4,541
Fee: Supplemental Insurance Premium $10 $10 $10 $10
Fee: Disability Insurance $78 $78 $78 $78

Expense 1st Year 2nd Year 3rd Year 4th Year
Document Fee $105 $0 $0 $0
CUIMC Network Fee $436 $436 $436 $436
P&S IT Fee $144 $144 $144 $144
Program Fee $85 $85 $85 $85
Student Activity Fee $145 $0 $0 $0
Tuition & Fees, Total $78,052 $77,802 $77,802 $77,802

Source: Columbia Vagelos

While doctors tend to make a high enough salary to be able to pay off the debt they acquire in medical school, 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 replace student loans with scholarships for all students who qualify for financial aid.” Out of the students that get into Columbia Medical School, many 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

  • Cost of Attendance Budget: total costs for one year, including tuition, fees, approved study materials, room/board, and other expenses.
  • Resources: funds available from the student, spouse, and a calculated parent contribution.
  • Need: the difference between the total budget and total available resources. Once a student’s calculated need is determined, scholarship funds will be offered to meet this 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 Application 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.

Mid-August - January: Interview invitations are sent.

September: Last month in which the MCAT may be taken and submitted for the 2023 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.

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

Late March: Admitted students’ day.

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.

Late May: Students matriculating at VP&S must provide their personal background check no later than June 1st. 

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.

Tips for Getting Accepted at Columbia Medical School 

As an Ivy League school, Columbia is highly competitive and sees thousands of top-tier applications every year. Here are a few tips to help your application stand out from others.

Start Preparing Early

Many students with Ivy League ambitions begin preparing for school at a young age to ensure they’ll have years of extracurriculars, work experience, valuable letters of recommendation, and even connections. If possible, you should start preparing to apply to Columbia at least two years in advance. 

Two years will give you enough time to add to your CV, take the necessary prerequisite courses, improve your GPA and test scores,  go to networking events, and talk to your professors.

Give Every Piece of Your Application Time and Care

Consider the overall presentation of the documents you’re submitting, revise every piece of writing, and don’t slack on any part that you deem “less important.” To get into Columbia, you should have excellent work experience, diverse extracurricular activities, heartfelt recommendation letters, memorable essays, and impeccable grades. 

Your competition will be stiff, so you’ll have to beef up your application to compete with the top applicants in the country. Don’t let anything fall by the wayside.

Hire an Admissions Coach

If you want extra assurance, it may be a good idea to work with a seasoned admissions coach throughout your application cycle. Admissions advisors help you at every step of the way, from helping you build your resume to interview prep. 

At Inspira Advantage, our team of former admissions committee members and Ivy League graduates is guaranteed to help you take your application to the next level. We specialize in helping applicants tailor their applications to match the values and criteria of each school they apply to. 

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 admitted applicants was between 3.42 to 4.0, with the Columbia medical school average GPA being 3.9.

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

The MCAT range of admitted applicants of the class of 2026 was 508-528, 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 $78,052 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 fourth as one of the best medical schools for research.

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

Given the low Columbia University medical school acceptance rate of approximately 2%, CUIMC is extremely competitive and difficult to get into! Out of the 7,203 applicants in a recent cycle, only 140 matriculated.

6. What is the Columbia University Medical School Ranking?

Columbia University consistently maintains top rankings in notable publications. It is currently ranked #4 in the US News & World Report’s list of Best Medical Schools: Research and has top rankings in other specialties as well such as Psychiatry (#1), Surgery (#8), and more.

7. How Many Letters of Recommendation Do I Need for Columbia Medical School?

Columbia University medical school requires 2 letters of recommendation. Both must be written by professors who have instructed you in at least one academic course. Depending on the program, you may also have to submit one additional letter from a specialist in that area. 

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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