Columbia Secondary School Admissions: How To Get Into CSS


how to get into CSS

Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science, and Engineering (commonly known as “CSS”) opened in 2007 and is a top sixth through twelfth grade school run as a partnership between the Department of Education and Columbia University.

CSS focuses on math, science, and engineering, with around 700-800 students in the full school.

Read on for more information on the school, admissions, and whether Columbia Secondary School Admissions is the right school to choose.

Columbia Secondary School | School Overview

CSS is one of the most selective middle schools in NYC. The school is unique in both its strong academic programs for motivated students and its curriculum, which includes at least one full course taken at Columbia University.

The goals of CSS include teaching students through discussion, debate, guided inquiry, and tailored lectures, while providing opportunities for students to apply their skills in real-life internship settings at Columbia University or other NYC facilities.

Every student takes seven years of engineering courses, as well as several philosophy classes and writing classes to improve communication and public speaking.

During each student’s course at Columbia University, they are expected to maintain at least a 3.0 GPA. Also rare for New York City schools is the 6th grade starting point, which allows students to spend three additional years acclimating to the school and its requirements.

Outside of traditional classes, the students have plenty of extracurricular available.

While CSS is not a sports powerhouse, there are a few NYC league teams. Popular activities include engineering-focused extracurriculars (architecture, robotics, etc) or lifestyle activities such as gardening, theater, biking, and more.

Visit the CSS website for more information about the school.

Columbia Secondary School | Admissions Information

CSS is a selective NYC school which gives priority based on location and by entrance exam results.

The first step is to be located in an eligible district: students in NYC school districts 3, 4, 5, and 6 may apply for 6th grade (and 7th or 8th grade admissions, space permitting), including students who live in these districts but attend independent or religious school.

Preference is to students who live above 96th street in Manhattan.

After applying through the middle school application, selected applicants will be invited to take the entrance exam. This selection is based on attendance, punctuality, state test scores, and averages for core classes in elementary school.

Generally, successful candidates for 6th grade will have at least a 3 on their English and Math state tests, if not a 4. These current 5th graders will sit for their entrance exam at Columbia University in January 2017 (currently scheduled for January 14th or 15th).

Around 100 seats are open for each new 6th grade class, with 7th and 8th grade positioned based on availability. Any applicants for 7th or 8th grade will sit for their exam in June 2017. The process for high school is similar, though there is no district preference. Students must fill out an application and essay, as well as report their 6th and 7th grade standardized test results and attendance.

After reviewing this information, the school will invite selected students for an interview at CSS. Around 30 seats will be open for new high school students, again pending availability based on existing student populations.

For more on these dates and for links to key application forms, visit the CSS website.

Columbia Secondary School | CSS Admsissions Test

The middle school admissions test will cover material related to mid- 5th grade Common Core curriculum, and which is tested by NY state exams.

This multiple-choice test will include an ELA section and a math section.

The math section will require students to have mastered topics taught up to the middle of fifth grade as defined by the Common Core curriculum, which includes fractions and geometry. Students will also be expected to grapple with some challenging word problems.

The ELA section will include reading comprehension passages with questions and answers. In addition, students will be required to show their writing chops, for example by writing a letter or a short essay.

The suggested time needed for the CSS admissions exam is about one and a half to two hours. However, CSS provides students with ample time to finish if this window is not enough. The actual testing time available to complete the test is from 9am to 1pm.

For high school admissions, the required essay is also based on a sample ELA prompt, so students should feel comfortable with the material.

Columbia Secondary School | How To Prepare

A key component of strong applications for CSS is top state test scores and strong performance in the classroom. For students who plan to attend CSS, it may be wise to begin spending extra time on any weak subjects to improve classroom averages.

Aiming for a 4 on ELA and Math exams will also be essential, though some students with 3s and robust classroom grades may be invited to take the entrance exam. While some extra work will be necessary before test day, there should be no surprises for well-prepared students.


CSS is one of the most popular and competitive public middle schools on the Upper West Side in NY. There are many reasons for this, including those described above in the school overview.

One of the key reasons is the great test scores that CSS students achieve, which are shown in graphic form below. It's not hard to understand why so many families want their children to be educated in a school that not only provides a challenging curriculum but also fosters great outcomes!

ELA Outcomes. Grades 6-8. 2015 And 2016

Columbia secondary school.   STATE EXAM   ELA RESULTS.  GRADE 6-8.   2015 AND 2016

Columbia secondary school. STATE EXAM ELA RESULTS.  GRADE 6-8. 2015 AND 2016

Math Outcomes. Grades 6-8. 2015 And 2016



CSS Admissions Test : Will Test Prep Help?

At Origins Tutoring, we believe that preparation for the Columbia Secondary School assessment does not have to be daunting and exasperating; instead, it can represent an important opportunity along a student’s path to learning mastery. Indeed, the perspectives and abilities acquired during preparation can last a lifetime.

Our two-track approach to mastering content and improving test-taking skills means that students will not only thoroughly understand the fundamental concepts and skills tested by the CSS admissions test, but  they will also excel in using essential techniques to improve attitude, endurance and focus.

Our students hone their independent thinking skills while developing a resilient mindset so they can perform on test day in a powerful, resourceful, creative and calm manner. Each student in our program receives the undivided attention and expertise of a dynamic and experienced coach who provides the framework to support each student on his unique path to becoming a master learner. 

Please call 917.287.7927 now for a complimentary consultation to discuss how we can help your child achieve his or her personal best on the CSS entrance exam.

This article has given you an overview of Columbia Secondary Middle and High School admissions process. For more information on how to get into Columbia Secondary School, please visit the official CSS website.