Early Thoughts on Columbia Business School’s 2016-2017 Application Essay Questions

Columbia UniversityApplication season at Columbia Business School is officially underway with the release of the school’s 2016-2017 essay questions. Let’s discuss from a high level some early thoughts on how best to approach these new essay prompts. There are three full essay questions and one shorter prompt for Columbia, which leaves this school with one of the lengthier application packages around.

With all these essays, it is crucial that applicants present their candidacy in a very clear yet non-redundant fashion. Let’s take a look at each of the essay questions Columbia is asking this year:

What is your immediate post-MBA professional goal? (50 characters)
Given the tight character limit to this prompt, keep your response here short and sweet. Most of the context you would normally provide in such a response will find a home in your response to Essay 1.

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? (100-750 words)

This is basically the same prompt for Essay 1 as last year, but with greater flexibility on the word count, which now spans from 100-750 words as opposed to last year’s 500-word limit. Do not feel it is absolutely necessary to hit the upward bounds of the new word count just because you have the option – efficiency and impactful messaging always reigns supreme in business school essays.

Columbia’s first essay question falls into the typical “career goals” essay category – the key difference here will be a focus on the future and your post-MBA career, so avoid placing too much of an emphasis on your past professional career. Remember, the Admissions Committee will already have your resume and thus, some sense of your past, so avoid rehashing your background (outside of providing any necessary context).

With this in mind, presenting both your short-term and long-term career goals in a well-aligned and clearly articulated way will be key to executing this essay successfully. Probably even more important, (given the ubiquity of your career goals), is the “fit” aspect of the essay. Breakthrough candidates will cite specific references to Columbia’s professional, academic, and extra-curricular programs that will support their development goals. With so much competition between business schools, it is critical to make a strong case that you will fit well with Columbia’s particular MBA program.

Essay 2:
Columbia Business School’s students participate in industry focused New York immersion seminars, in project based Master Classes, and in school year internships. Most importantly, they are taught by a combination of distinguished research faculty and accomplished practitioners. How will you take advantage of being “at the very center of business”? (100-500 words)

Columbia comes back this year with a slight tweak to Essay 2 with the ultimate prompt effectively being the same. Columbia is uniquely positioned at the heart of business in NYC, which has lured many applicants to this top program for years. Use this essay as an opportunity to avoid generalities about NYC that other applicants may make, and get specific about how Columbia’s unique location in NYC will serve as a clear advantage in your personal and professional career, and specifically during your time on campus. This essay can also be used to build upon your response to Essay 1. 

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? (100-250 words)

This question is a great chance to let your personality shine through. This is the shortest of the three full essays so every word counts – take advantage of this more open essay prompt and really try and give the Admissions Committee some “behind the scenes” insight into the type of person your classmates will meet in the Fall of 2017.  Use this essay as the platform to differentiate yourself, and remember to keep your tone light and authentic to give the school a better understand of who you are and how you will fit as a member of their incoming MBA class.

Just a few thoughts on the (not so) new batch of essays from Columbia Business School – hopefully this will help you get started with your own application. For more thoughts on Columbia and its application essays, check out our Essential Guide to Top Business Schools for free, here.

Applying to Columbia or other business schools? Call us at 1-800-925-7737 and speak with an MBA admissions expert today, or take our free MBA Admissions Profile Evaluation for personalized advice for your unique application situation! As always, be sure to find us on Facebook,YouTubeGoogle+ and Twitter.

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 articles by him here.