A Breakdown of Columbia Business School Essay Questions for 2015-2016

columbia-mba-admissions-guideApplication season at Columbia Business School is officially underway with the release of the school’s 2015-2016 essay questions. Let’s discuss from a high level some early thoughts on how best to approach these new essay prompts.

There are three essay questions for Columbia, which is a high number in these days of essay consolidation at most other business schools. With so many essays it is critical that applicants present their candidacy in a clearly aligned fashion.

Essay 1:
Through your resume and recommendations, we have a clear sense of your professional path to date. What are your career goals going forward, and how will the Columbia MBA help you achieve them? (Maximum 500 words)

Columbia’s first essay falls into the category of your typical “career goals” essay and is double the word count of the other essays so the school is expecting a fully fleshed out path forward. Avoid spending much time detailing your past as the prompt clearly has taken account of your past professional career. This is purely a future-oriented career essay.

With that said, clear articulation and alignment of your short-term and long-term career goals will be key to executing a successful essay here. Probably even more important, given the ubiquity of the career goals portion of the prompt, is the fit portion of the essay. Breakthrough candidates will cite specific references to Columbia’s professional, academic, and extra-curricular programs that will support the applicant’s development goals. With so much competition amongst similar institutions it is critical to make a bold case for a strong fit with the program.

Essay 2:
Columbia Business School’s location enables us to bridge theory and practice in multiple ways: through Master Classes, internships, the New York Immersion Seminars, and, most importantly, through a combination of distinguished research faculty and accomplished practitioners. How will you take advantage of being “at the very center of business”? (Maximum 250 words)

Again keeping in mind the totality of the three essays, it may make sense to reserve the NY specific advantages until essay two. Essay one presents a clear opportunity to do this but doubling down here would make more sense. With so few words to work with you want to get right to the point in this essay.

Columbia outlines a few of the potential advantages the school offers in the prompt, so you want to get specific on what the relationship between the school and the “Big Apple” can offer you. Breakthrough candidates will personalize this essay right from the start and structure the essay around specific aspects of the Columbia Business School experience relevant to the candidate’s personal and professional development.

Essay 3:
CBS Matters, a key element of the School’s culture, allows the people in your Cluster to learn more about you on a personal level. What will your Clustermates be pleasantly surprised to learn about you? (Maximum 250 words)

This is a great opportunity to let your personality shine through. The first two essays cover career goals and fit and interest in Columbia, but this essay is a bit more open. These types of essays tend to be the greatest opportunities for candidates to differentiate themselves, so don’t miss out on this chance!  As you choose which topic to discuss keep in mind what would engage your classmates and it goes without saying but whatever you share should actually be something not immediately obvious to the Admissions Committee. Breakthrough candidates will leverage their research into the Columbia culture to frame a response that is not only unique but also compelling to the admissions team.

These are just a few thoughts on the new batch of essays from Columbia Business School. Hopefully these thoughts will help you get started.

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Dozie A. is a Veritas Prep Head Consultant for the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. His specialties include consulting, marketing, and low GPA/GMAT applicants. You can read more of his articles here