Should You Do the Columbia University Science Honors Program


If you’re a high school student who lives near

Columbia University

and wants to participate in an extracurricular honors program, you can’t do much better than the Columbia University Science Honors Program (Columbia SHP).

This honors program experience can give students a big leg-up on college and scholarship applications

…but unfortunately, it’s really hard to get accepted to the Columbia SHP.

But don’t worry: we’re here to help. In this article, we’ll walk you through the Columbia SHP application process, including:

  • Introducing you to the Columbia University Science Honors Program
  • Explaining what the honors program is like
  • Describing the application process for the program
  • Providing information about the honors program’s entrance examination
  • Giving you three tips for succeeding on the entrance exam

Now, let’s get started!


What Is the Columbia University Science Honors Program?


Columbia University Science Honors Program

(SHP) is a Saturday morning academic program for high-achieving students. It’s held on the Columbia campus, and

high school students in tenth, eleventh, and twelfth grade who are accepted into the program can participate.

The Columbia SHP is specifically designed for high school students who have a strong interest in the sciences and mathematics, and classes are taught by real scientists and mathematicians from Columbia University.


Columbia SHP is only open to students who go to high school in New York, New Jersey, or Connecticut


who live within a 75-mile radius of the Columbia campus. If you attend a high school in one of these areas, you’re lucky enough to be eligible to apply to this program! If not, there are

other honors programs you can join

that are closer to home.

Also keep in mind that you’ll be responsible for your own transportation if you’re accepted into the program. Classes are located on the

Columbia Morningside Campus

in New York City, so SHP students will have to commute to campus. SHP students must cover the cost of their transportation to class each Saturday, but the fact that

the Columbia SHP is

tuition free

more than makes up for that!

Finally, if you’re interested in getting into the Columbia SHP, you’ll have to submit an application (more on that later). If you


accepted into the Columbia SHP, you’ll take your honors courses

every Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. during the regular academic school year

for a total of twelve weeks from September to May. Don’t worry, though: the Columbia SHP follows a standard academic calendar. That means you won’t have class around federal holidays or over winter break.

One quick note: due to the COVID-19 epidemic,

the SHP is following the same guidelines as Columbia University

. Fall SHP courses were held online, and while there hasn’t been an official announcement about Spring SHP courses, they will likely be held online as well. For the most up-to-date information, check the

SHP website’s announcement page


Columbia’s COVID-19 update page



One of the biggest benefits of the Columbia SHP is helping students prepare for college.

What Are the Benefits of Participating in Columbia SHP?

One of the biggest benefits that comes with participating in the Columbia Science Honors Program is the opportunity for high school students to get a taste of what college courses are like.

Columbia SHP courses introduce students to cutting-edge research in science and mathematics and cover recent advances in these fields

–two things that regular high school courses are often unable to do.

In other words,

Columbia SHP prepares its students to be successful in more difficult science and math courses at the college-level.

One big misconception about the Columbia SHP is that participating in the program will help you gain admission to Columbia later. While that’s not true, listing

Columbia SHP on your resume will definitely help your college applications stand out from the crowd.

The Columbia SHP is one of the most elite science and math-focused high school honors programs in the country. Seeing that you participated in this program will show admissions committees across the nation that you’re already prepared to meet the challenges of college coursework!

There’s also one specific perk for students who get accepted to the SHP at the beginning of their sophomore year in high school:

once you’re in, you’re in for good.

Current SHP members who remain in good standing can continue in the program until graduation without having to reapply for admission.

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What’s the Columbia Science Honors Program Like?

Now that you know what this Columbia high school honors program is, let’s take a look at what being a student in the Columbia SHP is really like!

Attending the Columbia Science Honors Program will probably feel a lot like attending a college course

, and that’s by design. SHP students commute to Columbia’s campus, take courses in university facilities, and are taught by Columbia professors, graduate students, and researchers. Like we mentioned earlier, the goal of the Columbia SHP is to start preparing you for college coursework.

Columbia SHP Course Offerings

Just like college, SHP students get to choose what they study as part of their honors program. Students can

select courses from among the ones offered by completing and submitting an online course selections form

prior to the first day of SHP classes in September.

The course offerings will address specific topics pertaining to science and/or mathematics and, like in college,

the course topics can vary from year to year

. For example, the

Fall 2020 course offerings

included the following:

Astronomy and Astrophysics
Modern Cosmology
Relativity and Quantum Physics
Classical and Quantum Computing Devices
Organic Chemistry
Human Physiology
Understanding Earth’s Climate System and Climate Change
Non-Euclidean Geometry
Algebraic Combinatorics and Symmetric Functions
Knot Theory
Graph Theory by Example
Computer Programming in Python
Introduction to Algorithms
Explorations in Data Science

To learn more about the focus of each of the courses in the list above, you can check out the

course listings page

on the Columbia SHP website.

In general,

you can expect the Columbia High School Honors Program to cover major or important scientific or mathematical theories

(for example, the theories of relativity, Newton’s laws, and quantum physics). Oftentimes, students are asked to apply these theories in their own experiments or research. In some experiment-based courses, students even get to visit Columbia’s state-of-the-art research labs to test out their hypotheses!

How Hard Are Columbia SHP Courses?

But what can you expect from the Columbia High School Honors Program once you’re actually sitting in the classroom?

The format of the class can vary from course to course depending on the instructor’s style and the subject matter.

Some courses will be heavily lecture-based, while others might ask students to conduct experiments. Other classes could even require students to go out on walks and gather data from observations of the world around them.

So how hard are Columbia SHP courses?

Once again, it depends on the course!

If you’re really good at math, then you’re probably going to find a class like Non-Euclidean Geometry easier than someone who isn’t quite as strong in the subject. The same goes for teaching styles: if you like hands-on learning, then you’ll probably find a lab-based class like Experiments in Physics easier than someone who prefers lecture-based courses.

One thing that helps make Columbia SHP classes easier—or at least, less stressful—than your typical high school course is that

instructors don’t

assign homework




However, that doesn’t mean students won’t be asked to demonstrate what they’ve learned.

Some courses, like the 2020 Biochemistry course, ask students to present their own ideas on a current innovative research concept and its potential applications to their classmates. In all courses,

students can expect their instructors to connect the course topics and material to real-world problems


All in all, Columbia SHP students have the opportunity to take intellectually rigorous, cutting-edge courses from experts in math and the sciences alongside equally curious, talented peers.


How Do You Apply to the Columbia Science Honors Program?

If you’re excited about joining the Columbia SHP, then it’s time to start working on your application packet.

First things first: the application process for this Columbia high school honors program is notoriously competitive and highly selective. You’ll have to

complete an online application to the program and take a three-hour entrance examination

that covers topics pertaining to algebra, geometry, trigonometry, probability, and elementary knowledge of science subjects. (We’ll talk more about the exam in just a minute.)

There are several steps to the Columbia SHP application process.

Each of these steps have hard deadlines that are clearly specified on the program’s website. These deadlines can change from year to year, but here are the general time frames that you should keep in mind:

  • End of February:

    deadline for completed online application

  • Middle of March:

    deadline for mailing official transcripts to the SHP program

  • April

    : the Columbia SHP entrance exam is offered twice in April, usually during the first and last week of the month. There is an additional exam date that’s only available for students requiring special testing accommodations.

  • Mid-June

    : students are notified of their admission status

Unfortunately, the Columbia SHP program’s application goes live at different times every year. You won’t need to

obsessively check the Columbia SHP website

, though: the SHP program notifies high school counselors when the application becomes available. That means that t

alking to your high school guidance counselor and letting them know you want to apply to the Columbia SHP

is the first step in the application process.


The 4 Steps of the Columbia SHP Application Process

To apply to the Columbia SHP,

you’ll have to complete four main tasks

through a web-based application portal

, which include submitting your application packet, official transcripts, and a letter of recommendation.

Like we mentioned earlier, one thing to keep in mind is that the opening date for the Columbia SHP online application, application deadlines, and entrance exam dates can vary from year to year.

Make sure you’re keeping a close eye on the application deadlines!

You don’t want to miss out on the Columbia SHP program because you get your dates mixed up.

Having said all that, it’s time to discuss the specific application steps you’ll need to complete if you want to get accepted into the Columbia high school science honors program.

Step #1: Fill Out the Online Application

The first step of the application process is filling out an application online

through a portal that is linked on the

Columbia SHP website’s “Application Procedure” page


The web-based application asks students to provide personal and demographic information, as well as details about your high school grades, coursework, course load, and extracurricular activities.

The final—and most important—part of the online application is the essay portion

. The essay asks all applicants to explain their interest and background in science and mathematics. The essay is an applicant’s chance to show what makes them unique or particularly well-suited to the Columbia SHP. Many past SHP applicants claim that the essay is the second-most important component of the application (right after the entrance exam!).

Step #2: Submit an Official High School Transcript

Though the first part of the application is online,

you’ll have to have your school submit your official transcript

before your application is complete. The process for this varies from school to school, but you’ll likely request an official transcript from your guidance counselor or school registrar, and they’ll make sure it gets mailed to Columbia SHP.

Step #3: Request a Letter of Recommendation

You’ll also need a teacher or counselor to submit

a letter of recommendation

on your behalf. It’ll be your job to approach someone from your high school to request that they write a letter of recommendation for you. Think carefully about who you ask:

you definitely want to get a recommender who knows you as a student and can really speak to your potential in science and math!

Once you find a willing recommender, you’ll want to make sure you share a link to the application portal where they can go to submit their recommendation letter by the listed deadline.

If you’re not sure whether your recommender has submitted their recommendation letter or if the SHP has received a copy of your transcript from your high school,

you can check the status of all of your application components through the online application portal.

Step #4: Take the Columbia SHP Entrance Exam

The final piece of the Columbia Science Honors Program application is the entrance exam


The SHP offers two exam dates that typically fall in the month of April, around a month to month and a half after the online application is due. Applicants are able to request their preferred exam date while completing the online application form (but won’t be guaranteed to get the exam date they request).

When the application period closes, students are notified of their assigned exam date


The entrance exam is held on Columbia University’s campus and lasts for three hours, usually starting late morning and ending early afternoon. When you complete the exam, representatives from the Columbia SHP will evaluate and score your exam.

Your exam score will be added to your application file, but you won’t receive your exam scores.

Only after the entrance exams have been scored will the SHP make admissions decisions.

The entrance exam is definitely the most talked about portion of the Columbia SHP application process, so


et’s look more closely at the SHP entrance exam next!


You have to take the Columbia SHP entrance exam if you want to be admitted into the Columbia SHP program.

What’s the Columbia Science Honors Program Admissions Test?

The Columbia SHP calls its admissions test an “entrance exam”…

but just taking the exam doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be able to enter the program. Scoring well on the entrance exam is an important part of the application process, although the SHP never allows you to see your results.

Generally speaking, the Columbia SHP entrance exam is a standardized test that’s designed to test your body of knowledge in STEM subjects. More specifically,

the SHP entrance exam is made up of 140 multiple choice questions, divided into three exam sections: “easy” math, survey of science topics, and “challenge” math.

Section #1: “Easy” Math

The first section of the entrance exam consists of 50 “easy” multiple choice mathematics questions.

But what does “easy” mean in this case…and easy for who, exactly?

Past entrance exam takers have claimed that the level of difficulty of the “easy math” section is on par with the

Mathematics Regents Exams


Algebra I


Algebra II

, and


. Others have compared the level of difficulty of the first section of this exam to the difficulty of the (

now discontinued


SAT Math Level I subject test

. Students who are able to pass the Math Regents Exams or score well on SAT I math should be well prepared for the first section of this exam.

Section #2: Survey of Science

The second section of the entrance exam consists of 75 multiple choice questions pertaining to science.

This section is considered a “survey” section, which means it can incorporate a wide range of scientific topics. These topics will cover the environmental and earth sciences, and biology, physics, and chemistry.

Section #3: “Challenge” Math

Finally, the third section of the entrance exam is the one that many exam takers get a little nervous about.

This 15 question, multiple choice section is referred to as the “challenge” mathematics section

. Students who have completed the

MAA American Mathematics Competitions (AMC) 10 or 12 examinations

suggest that that test is a good comparison to the difficulty level of the “challenge” section on the Columbia SHP entrance exam.

What’s a Good Columbia SHP Exam Score?

While most applicants are curious about their exam score,

the Columbia SHP doesn’t share exam scores with applicants

. In other words, Columbia never releases your exam results…so you’ll never know your final test score!

Basically, no one but the Columbia SHP program administrators knows what a good SHP exam score is.

So how will you know if you’ve been admitted?

Applicants to this Columbia high school science honors program are notified of admissions decisions through an admissions acceptance letter that’s sent out in mid-June.

To access admissions decisions, applicants have to login to the online portal where they submitted their application to check for updates.


3 Tips for Succeeding on the Columbia SHP Entrance Exam

The Columbia SHP website states that applicants don’t need any special kind of preparation for the entrance exam.

Because of this,

Columbia University Science Honors Program sample tests and practice questions aren’t made available online.

Students who want to prepare for the entrance exam might consider talking with their high school’s guidance counselor or their math or science teachers about helpful ways to study!

The Columbia science honors program test is definitely the most challenging part of the program’s application process, so


come up with three tips to help you do your best on the exam.

Tip #1: Take Advanced Science and Math Courses

Whether it’s in advanced or honors courses or extracurricular activities, the best thing students who hope to get accepted to Columbia SHP can do to prep for the entrance exam is to

excel in math and science courses in school.

The more experience you have with science and math-related topics and subjects, the more likely you are to develop the skills and subjects that the SHP exam assesses.

Students who take

honors or AP courses

are more likely to encounter the kind of material that appears on the entrance exam.

If you have the chance to take challenging math and science courses before applying to the program, you should definitely take advantage of the opportunity!

Tip #2: Seek Out Study Guides From Similar Exams

If you want to do some serious studying for the Columbia University Science Honors Program entrance examination,

practice using materials from other exams that cover the same subject matter and have a similar level of difficulty


Many students who have taken the entrance exam claim that there are similarities between the SHP entrance exam and the

Math Regents


Science Regents

exams, the

SAT Math Level 1 Subject Test

, and the

MAA American Mathematics Competitions 10 and 12 exams


All of these exams make practice questions and/or past exams available online–using these materials to study would be a great place to start.

So where can you find these study resources? Well, the

archives for the Math Regents exams

are conveniently collected on a single website, including the Algebra I, Algebra II, and Geometry Regents exam archives. Similarly, the

past Science Regents exams

are archived together online. If you look at the webpages for each individual Regents exam, you’ll find you can download PDFs of past exams and study on your own time.

To prepare for the “challenge” section of the Columbia High School Honors Program, consulting practice questions for the MAA AMC 10 and 12 exams is also a great idea

. There are several resources online that provide practice questions for the AMC 10/12, including

the MAA’s webpage for the 2020 AMC 10/12


Khan Academy

. Adding these to your study pile will help you better prepare for the SHP admissions test, too.

Tip 3: Find Current Columbia High School Honors Program Students Online

If you want to get a first-hand account of what the Columbia SHP entrance exam is really like, take some time to seek out students who have actually taken the exam before!

One place to look for students who have taken the entrance exam is online college message boards, like


You can ask current and former Columbia SHP students what content they encountered on the exam, which questions were the most difficult, and what materials


used to prepare for the exam.

Another place to look for students who have taken the Columbia SHP entrance exam is your own high school and high school alumni network

. If you attend a high school in New York, New Jersey, or Connecticut, chances are there are students at your school who are currently participating in the Columbia SHP. You can also talk to your school’s guidance counselor about getting in touch with current and former Columbia SHP students to ask them about how they prepared for the entrance exam. They might even know about exam prep materials that you haven’t thought of yet!


Next Steps

Students who apply to the Columbia SHP program will have to submit an essay as part of their application packet.

But application essays can be tricky!

Learn more about what makes for a good application essay here


then check out this article

for even more expert tips on knocking your Columbia SHP essay out of the park.

Like we mentioned earlier, the best way to prepare for the Columbia SHP program is to do well in your math and science courses in school. That means you’ll need to hit the books!

But not all studying is created equal


We can teach you how to study smarter



so you can get the most out of your classes.

If you’re serious about math and science, then

it’s a great idea to take advanced classes in those subjects while you’re in high school


AP classes


IB classes

can challenge you while helping you prepare for college! Check out the

list of available AP classes


and IB classes

), and see which ones might be a good fit for you.

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