Applying to Columbia Business School

Perhaps more than any other school, Columbia is nearly synonymous with finance and banking. Students rave about the school’s finance faculty and the access that they have to top Wall Street executives. And with more than half of a typical Columbia graduating class going into banking, it’s no surprise that nearly every Wall Street firm is stacked with Columbia alumni.

Accordingly, most finance-minded applicants – especially those on the east coast – consider applying to Columbia. If you are one of them, you will need to especially focus on differentiating yourself from a large pool of similar-sounding applicants. Therefore, start thinking now about what makes you different from the rest of the investment bankers (and aspiring bankers) who apply to Columbia.

Columbia’s core curriculum is heavy in finance and related courses. First-years take required courses in financial accounting, corporate finance, and global economics, among others (students take one elective in the first year). The core curriculum also includes classes such as marketing and strategy, although these are studied in half-term courses. While these courses are also strong, be aware that much of your time will be spent on finance-related topics. Of course, you will also need to demonstrate an ability to handle a quantitative workload, ideally through your GMAT score and relevant work experience.

Beyond finance, Columbia also places a great deal of emphasis on entrepreneurship. The subject is studied both inside and outside of the classroom, with the Eugene M. Lang Center serving as the hub of much of this activity. Launched in 1996, the Lang Entrepreneurial Initiative Fund provides seed capital to worthy business plans crafted by Columbia students. The Fund acts less like a traditional business plan competition and more like a venture capital firm, taking an equity stake in any Columbia start-up with promise. The Lang Center also sponsors the Entrepreneurial Greenhouse Program, a semester-long course that students take in the spring term of their second year. More than just a seminar in entrepreneurship, the Greenhouse Program provides mentorship and even limited funding to helps students cover typical startup business costs. Students must submit a business plan to be considered for the program, and just 15 to 20 students are accepted into the program each year.

Another notable program is the Global Social Venture Competition, which grew out of a partnership between Columbia and Haas, keeps growing in stature. It has taken on multiple partner schools around the globe, and now welcomes submissions from MBA students at any school. Finally, one student-run initiative at Columbia is the A. Lorne Weil Outrageous Business Plan Competition. As the name suggests, the competition awards students for business plans outlining ideas that are big and ambitious enough to be deemed “outrageous.” Obviously, if you have an entrepreneurial itch, research these programs and be sure to highlight this interest in your application.

One new development at Columbia is the creation of the Program on Social Intelligence (PSI). This program helps students sharpen their ability to read others and to understand their own effect on other people – in other words, it helps them increase their “social intelligence.” While other schools have started similar programs, what’s most notable about PSI is the extent to which the school is working it into the whole student experience. PSI starts with exercises during Columbia’s orientation for first-year students, but goes beyond that with integration into the core curriculum, career services, study groups, end even student clubs. While it’s not a wholesale change to Columbia’s curriculum, PSI provides an important glimpse into how Columbia views leadership development. Take note of this as you think about what stories to highlight in your admissions essays.

Insider Information

Don’t plan on waltzing your way into Columbia if you’re an overly competitive shark. Although they acknowledge that their peers are competitive, most students and grads consider Columbia to be a competitive but helpful community. Students spend their entire first year in the same “cluster” of 60 students, taking their core classes together. Like other schools, Columbia encourages cooperation and trust within these clusters. As such, you will need to demonstrate the ability to get along with your peers. Also, like other schools in big cities, Columbia wants its students to spend more time on campus with each other. Demonstrating your enthusiasm for the program and a willingness to get involved in extracurricular activities will help show your fit with Columbia.

What Makes Columbia Different?

  1. The New York Advantage. This used to be Columbia’s tagline, and we feel it still holds true for this school. The wealth of resources available – and the wealthy resources – are all potentially advantageous to a student at Columbia Business School. Columbia had over 400 speakers on campus last year. While the “other” New York business school is perhaps better situated in terms of the geography of the Isle of Manhattan, the reputation and clout of Columbia Business School continues to pull New York’s movers and shakers up to Morningside Heights.
  2. “The vibrant community [is] one that fosters a lifetime of learning and invaluable relationships.”
    – Dean Hubbard
  3. Value Investing. A cornerstone of Columbia’s finance program is the Value Investing Program in the Heilbrunn Center for Graham and Dodd Investing. Perhaps the most famous value investor in the world is Warren Buffett, a graduate of this program. The basic approach of value investing is evaluating fundamentals against market price to determine intrinsic value for a long-term buy-and-hold strategy. A variety of Value Investing classes and resources are available to Columbia’s entire MBA and EMBA student bodies, however the Value Investing Program is only open to MBA students, with a competitive application process for admission. The advantages? It’s taught by more than 25 investors who serve as adjunct faculty. These are practitioners, not just academics. Students also benefit from an impressive roster of guest speakers, and invaluable mentorship and recruiting support. About 40 students are selected based on interest and “aptitude” for investing as expressed in an application essay, mandatory interview, and a two-page writeup of a proposed long or short investment. Many classes in the Value Investing Program require students to pitch ideas, usually multiple pitches per class. This type of hands-on training – and the exposure students get to marquee Wall Street firms – puts Columbia’s Value Investing Program in a category by itself.
  4. Master Classes. These project-based electives are superlative in terms of offering the ability of second-year students to roll up their sleeves and apply what they have learned. This is one element of Columbia’s focus on combining theory with practice.
  5. A Range of Excellence. While certainly Columbia is known for finance – after all, value investing was invented here – it also has well-regarded faculty from, and deep connections to, media, real estate, marketing, and other fields.
  6. An Accelerated Option. Columbia is the only full-time day MBA program in the U.S. that offers two intakes, August and January – and the J-Term allows students to progress through in the quickest possible time, at just 16 months end to end. No other American business school has the identical curriculum available in such an accelerated format.

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