Columbia Business School Admissions Essays for 2011-2012

Columbia MBA Admissions GuidePreviously we announced that Columbia Business School had released its admissions deadlines for the 2011-2012 application season. The school has also released its admissions essays, and we’ll dig into those today.

Note that the first step to applying to Columbia is to create an “Inside MBA” account on the school’s website. Columbia requires you to create a separate account on the school’s actual application site, too. This can be a little confusing, although Columbia seems to be working toward consolidating the two under the “Inside MBA” system.

Without further ado, here are Columbia’s MBA admissions essays for the coming year, followed by our comments in italics:

Columbia Business School Application Essays

Short Answer Question
What is your post-MBA professional goal? (200 characters maximum)

Wow. While this isn’t quite as extreme as tweeting your way into a full-ride scholarship, it’s clear that Columbia is trying to tap into the “less is more” ethos that is popular these days. Think of this as the positioning statement that sums up your career goals in one sentence. Do you want to be known as the applicant who wants to run a sports team, or perhaps the applicant who wants to launch a renewable energy startup? Columbia provides some examples on its site, but while this is helpful, we also wonder if next year we’ll hear admissions officers lamenting that applicants didn’t get creative enough and hewed too closely to the examples given. No need to take too many risks or get too gimmicky here, but remember that this is the one thing (about your career goals) that you want the admissions committee to remember about you.

Essay Questions

  • Considering your post-MBA and long term professional goals, why are you pursuing an MBA at this point in your career? Additionally, why is Columbia Business School a good fit for you? (750 words)

    This question essentially carries over from last year, although it’s been rephrased to include the “at this point in your career” part. Also, while last year’s question asked, “How will Columbia Business School help you achieve these goals?” this one places more emphasis on your fit with the school. Despite the changes, we’d still categorize it as the typical “Why an MBA? Why this school?” question that many top MBA programs ask. As we said last year, many applicants fail to adequately to explain why Columbia is the best place for them to earn their MBA, given the school’s culture, academic strengths, ties to certain industries, etc. Yes, Columbia has a big name and proximity to Wall Street. Those strengths are obvious. What else does Columbia offer that you can’t find anywhere else? This is what the school is looking for when it asks about “fit.”
  • Describe a life experience that has shaped you. The goal of this essay is to get a sense of who you are, rather than what you have achieved professionally. (500 words)
    This question is new this year, although the second sentence (about wanting to “get a sense of who you are”) carries over directly from last year’s Essay #2. We like the more direct nature of this year’s question, which asks for a specific life experience, rather than simply asking about your personal interests, which last year’s essay did. As we always say, when a school changes an essay prompt from year year to the next, that usually means that the admissions committee wasn’t getting what it wanted. Our bet is that last year’s responses were bland and weren’t revealing enough, so Columbia narrowed it down this year to try to drill down and get to know you even better. Don’t be afraid to reveal something that seems a little more personal than what you thought you would share going into this process… They clearly want to see how you have grown and evolved in your relatively young life.
  • For the third essay, please choose one of the following three options:
    Option A
    The annual A. Lorne Weil Outrageous Business Plan Competition is a student initiative managed and run by the Columbia Entrepreneurs Organization (CEO). The competition encourages Columbia MBA students to explore creative, entrepreneurial ideas that are sufficiently ambitious in scope and scale to be considered “outrageous.” Students explore these ideas while learning firsthand what goes into the development and presentation of a solid business proposal.

    Develop your own outrageous business idea. In essay form, compose your elevator pitch. (250 words)

    All of these optional essays are new this year. For this one, Columbia wants to see several things. First, the school wants to see that you’ve done your homework and understand how much emphasis the school places on entrepreneurship. (Don’t care to become an entrepreneur? That’s okay… Remember that this question is optional.) Columbia also wants to see — if you claim to want to be an entrepreneur — some real passion come through in this essay. Your idea shouldn’t be a random one, but rather something that’s rooted in one of your interests, whether it’s as big-minded as solving world hunger or as prosaic as fantasy football. Finally, Columbia wants to see if you can dream big. You don’t need to submit an entry that would win the competition here, but you do need to show that you’re the type of big dreamer the school looks for.

    Option B
    Columbia deeply values its vibrant student community, the building of which begins at orientation when admitted students are assigned to clusters of 65 to 70 fellow students who take most of the first-year core classes together. During the first weeks of school, each cluster selects a cluster chair. Further strengthening the student community are the more than 100 active student organizations at Columbia Business School, ranging from cultural to professional to community service–oriented. Leadership positions within clusters and clubs offer hands-on management and networking opportunities for students as they interact with fellow students, administrators, faculty members, alumni, and practitioners.

    You are running for either cluster chair or a club leadership position of your choosing. Compose your campaign speech. (250 words)

    If we were to boil this essay down to one word, it’s “fit.” The admissions committee wants to know if it can envision you as someone who will plug into the student culture, get involved, and make things happen. Do you plan on just sitting in on class and being a wallflower, retreating to your New York City apartment after class is over? Then this essay isn’t for you, and Columbia wants to send a message that the school may not be for you, either. This is a great chance to demonstrate your knowledge of the school and to show off your enthusiasm for everything Columbia has to offer. If you’re having a hard time choosing which of these optional essays to choose, we’d recommend this one. “Fit” and “getting involved” are two themes that always help your case. Finally, don’t be afraid to have a little fun with this one, too. In real life, these speeches are often at least a bit light-hearted (imagine inside jokes about bad cafeteria food, and so on), so this essay can be, too!

    Option C
    Founded nearly three decades ago, the Executives in Residence Program at Columbia Business School integrates senior executives into the life of the School. Current executives in residence include more than a dozen experts in areas ranging from media and investment banking to private equity and management. A hallmark of the program is one-on-one counseling sessions in which executives advise students about their prospective career choices.

    Select one of the current executives in residence with whom you would like to meet during your time at Columbia. Explain your selection and tell us how you would best utilize your half hour one-on-one session. (250 words maximum)

    Columbia’s Executives in Residence Program is one of the school’s true strengths and points of difference vs. other top MBA programs, and we like it a lot. However, unless you see someone on the list of executives who really appeals to you, we recommend that you not try to make this essay work. We just envision too many applicants trying to force a story here when they simply don’t have one that comes naturally. If you do see someone on the list who sparks your interest, though, this is a good chance to help the Columbia admissions team better understand how you’re thinking about your future career goals. For example, does one of the executives in residence have five children? (This info is not hard to find. Researching these executives beyond Columbia’s web site is fair game!) If family is important to you, then describing a meaningful half-four conversation with the executive about work/life balance could make for a terrific essay here.

Every year we help dozens of clients with their Columbia Business School applications. To start putting together your own Columbia application strategy, download our Columbia Business School Annual Report, one of 15 guides to the world’s top business schools. And, as always, be sure to find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!

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