I think there is a very good case to finally induct Columbia University into the HYPSM category.
Firstly, I don’t think there’s any problem with adding any more colleges to the label, because it’s never been some static thing. Some 20 years ago it was only HYP, and then it was HYPS, and then it was HYPSM. Whether the acronym means the top 3 or 5 or 6 or 7 most prestigious/highly ranked institution seems completely arbitrary, so I see no reason to exclude Columbia on that front.
Secondly, I’ve heard a good number of people say that Columbia isn’t in HYPSM, and shouldn’t be in HYPSM, because the acronym isn’t for the most highly ranked colleges, but the most prestigious and well-recognized colleges. I think that’s bogus. Columbia has just as much, or maybe even more name recognition than, say, Princeton, the smallest of the Ivies, and I can guarantee you most kids on the east coast don’t learn about Stanford until they start applying to colleges. And even if it isn’t as prestigious and recognized, if we understand that it deserves to be elevated to HYPSM status, we shouldn’t just descriptivistically wait around until it becomes more recognized. College reputations are not formed naturally, but come from an entire industry of college admissions consulting, college ranking, and college media, and the general discourse that people specifically interested in colleges and applying to colleges (like us good folks on College Confidential) create. Columbia becoming a household name begins with us first recognizing it as deserving of being one.
Rankings-wise, I think that Columbia is indisputably an academic peer of all five of these schools. It has ranked third in the US News rankings for the past couple years, and was even ranked above Yale, MIT, and Stanford last year. In the US News Global rankings, it placed 6th last year (and has been steadily improving over the past decade), the only other Ivy placing in the top 10 being Harvard (MIT and Stanford placed 2nd and 3rd, respectively). Its STEM programs are recognized by most rankings to be better than Harvard’s, Princeton’s, and especially Yale’s, and its humanities/social science programs are pretty much of the exact same quality. Its medical is ranked 4th (above Yale and Stanford), its law school is ranked fourth (MIT and Princeton don’t have law schools), and its business school is ranked 7th (above Yale).
As for prestige, I think Columbia definitely has the prestige. Its notable alumni over its 266-year history include 5 Founding Fathers, 3 US Presidents, at least 125 Pulitzer Prize winners, countless foreign heads of state, some of the most influential artists and writers in the 20th century (Ginsberg, Asimov, Sinclair, Salinger, etc.), the second highest number of billionaires after Harvard, and some of the most important physicists and economists to graduate from an American university. It has the second highest number of billionaire graduates, after Harvard. On top of that, Columbia administers a crap-ton of prestigious awards (including the Pulitzer and Booker prizes) and undoubtably holds a central position in American academia.
So why isn’t Columbia already included? For a number of reasons: its (comparative) willingness to accept Jewish applicants in the early 20th century, the 1968 protests, the rise in crime rates in 70s-80s NYC, its high percentage of international applicants, its comparative economic and racial diversity, etc. all have made the university and continue to make the university seem less-than compared to its more WASPY Ivy neighbors. But crime in NYC has been decreasing steadily since the 90s, and its location in the largest city in America has turned into a massive up-side. The 1968 protests are no longer a blemish on Columbia’s record, but have become ingrained in our national memory and become just another incident in the university’s long history. Its diversity should be celebrated, and should make it seem even more an attractive than, say, Yale, by a surprisingly (and troublingly) large margin the least diverse Ivy.
The university has been steadily improving (though it’s always been recognized as a T10 for most of its history), along with other colleges in large cities like UChicago and NYU, and now boasts a 3.66% acceptance rate, the third lowest in the nation and only surpassed by Harvard and Stanford’s. I’ve seen people explain this away by saying that more unqualified people apply to Columbia because of its location in NYC, which deflates its acceptance rate, but I can guarantee that more people make throwaway applications to Harvard purely for its name recognition. Anyways, the quality of the student bodies are pretty much indistinguishable across all 6 universities.
So what’s the point of all this? I recognize that all this quibbling over milligrams of prestige and who-should-be-allowed-into-the-club-and-who-shouldn’t business is, really, quite dumb. If it were up to me, the entire idea of “HYPSM” should be completely abolished, and the entire college industry should be vigorously detoxified. But that probably isn’t going to happen soon, and ignoring it is probably not going to do anything anyways, because there will always be people who care too much to quibble and argue over niceties or whatever. So while we’re forced to play this game, I can only ask, “Why not?”
I will only be using HYPSMC (or CHYMPS, if that’s what you prefer) from now on. Thanks for coming to my TED talk.