Columbia requires one short answer and three essays.
Short Answer: What is your immediate post-MBA professional goal? (50 characters maximum)
Get to the point! We think there’s surely a bit of “Hey, let’s get with what the Twitter kids are doing” in this question, but the more important takeaway for you is that the Columbia admissions committee truly just wants a super-brief headline about your post-MBA career goals to better understand what to make of you.
Be straightforward. Think of the Short Answer Question as the positioning statement for your short-term career goals. 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, and you’ll see that there’s nothing particularly creative or special about them. Avoid the temptation to 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. And stay tuned for next year to see if the limit has shrunk down to a single word: “Banking.” “Consulting.” “Marketing.” “Entrepreneur.”
Be honest. Some applicants mistakenly think that they need to have off-the-wall goals to be admitted. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Columbia wants to see that your goals are realistic and achievable. If you say that you want to start an NGO in the developing world immediately upon graduation, but absolutely nothing in your application would lead the admissions officer to believe that you’re setting yourself up to succeed in this goal, you could easily be denied by this one misstep alone.
Essay #1: Through your resume and recommendations, we have a clear sense of your professional path to date. What are your career goals over the next 3-5 years and what, in your imagination, would be your long-term dream job? (500 words)
The “Three R’s” of short-term goals. When the school asks about your goals for the next three to five years, these are your goals immediately upon graduation (which you’ll likely continue with for at least three years). Veritas Prep has boiled down the vital elements of your short-term goals into three R’s:
Researched. Many people imagine that an MBA is a magic wand that will enable you to do whatever you dream of post-MBA. These applicants often dislike their current job and seek to do anything else, and they see an MBA as a chance to explore those options. While you’ll certainly be exposed to a wide variety of positions and recruiters while in business school, there are just a few weeks between the start of school and when recruiters will begin connecting with students regarding summer internships. Admissions officers expect that you will have researched your career goals prior to applying, just as this question suggests.
In addition to conducting online research about potential post-MBA career paths, using this Guide and other resources, we strongly encourage applicants to conduct “human research.” Use LinkedIn and other networks to find people who currently have your target position and ask them about it. Find out what it would take to transition into such a field. Ideally, speak with hiring managers in the field as well, and learn whether a Columbia MBA would be the ideal way to achieve this transition. Then in your essay, you can use lines such as, “In speaking with top performers and hiring managers in this industry, they have recommended…, so I have done… to prepare for the upcoming transition.” You can very clearly and concretely demonstrate that your goals are well researched.
Realistic. As mentioned in our advice for the short-answer question, you don’t need to have wild and crazy goals to be admitted. In fact, if admissions officers believe your goals to be far-fetched, they may deny you because the ranking of the school incorporates the percentage of graduates with jobs at graduation and three months later. Thus, your short-term goals can be ambitious, but you should showcase your research to show that they are realistic. Show how you’ll leverage your prior experience (even if in a different industry and/or function) to succeed in your future goals.
Real. The goals that you mention in this essay should be your genuine, honest, real goals. (If you don’t have any real goals yet, go back to the first R and start with some research!) One major reason why candidates are denied is because they cannot articulate a clear and concrete post-MBA vision for themselves. This will be vital to your application success. While many candidates may have more than one possible path in mind, in an essay of this length, you will typically lay out just one of those options. As long as you can show the admissions office one well-researched, realistic, genuine path, you do not need to get into other possibilities. However, if your Plan A is extremely ambitious—a dramatic career switch into an extremely selective industry, for example—and you realize after speaking with industry professionals that your chances may be slim, then presenting the admissions committee with a more realistic Plan B to assuage their concerns would certainly be appropriate.
Long-term vision and ambition. Top-tier business schools aren’t looking for the next generation of mid-level managers. They seek to admit candidates who have the vision and ambition to really make an impact—on their companies, industries, societies, or even the world. While they certainly don’t expect every member of the class to become the next Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Theresa, or Martin Luther King, Jr., don’t be afraid to show ambition. The best long-term goals often stem from identifying current problems, issues, or pain-points in a company, industry, or society, and seeking to apply one’s skills to make an impact. These goals do not need to be overtly philanthropic: Some of the wealthiest individuals today identified pain points and solved them in a capitalist economy. However, showing the positive impact these goals can have can be valuable. Even if your long-term goals lie within the world’s favorite boogeyman, Wall Street finance, look for problems in the world that have been or could be solved with innovative financial solutions and tie your goals to using your skills to advancing such causes, rather than merely lining your own pockets.
Essay #2: How will you take advantage of being “at the very center of business”? Click photo. (250 words)
Location, location, location. When you click on the photo on Columbia’s website (www8.gsb.columbia.edu/programs/mba/admissions/application-requirements#5) you’ll be taken to a short YouTube video that talks about some of the opportunities that will be available to you as a Columbia Business School student – including New York immersion seminars, Master Classes, and school year internships. Instead of focusing solely on the social benefits of going to business school in New York City, we recommend that you show how you’ll take advantage of the unique offerings available at Columbia, specifically. We believe the admissions committee is using this essay question as a signaling device to show applicants that they believe their location is a key factor in choosing the school over others, but don’t make the mistake of lumping them in with their neighbor downtown. Get to know more about Columbia’s close connections to the city, and talk about those in particular.
Connections to industry leaders. One of the key advantages that Columbia has is that thousands of successful executives across nearly every industry are just a cab (or town car) ride away. A huge focus of the MBA program is to bring these industry experts to campus in both speaker series and classroom discussions. It’s not uncommon for the subject of a business case to quietly listen to the classroom discussion from the back row, only to be brought to the front of the class for a surprise reveal. You’ll see this happen at Harvard and Stanford as well, but thanks to proximity, Columbia brings many professionals to class, creating a unique MBA experience.
Get beyond professional. If you want to go into finance, then your answer here will obviously touch upon this fact. Don’t limit yourself just to the obvious Wall Street tie-in, however. What other benefits do you expect you will gain from living and learning in one of the biggest cities in the world? Also, we’ve noted before that Columbia doesn’t want to be viewed as a commuter school in the middle of a huge city; keep this in mind as you spell out how you will fit in at Columbia. Emphasize ways you’d immerse yourself into on-campus life. Especially if you already live in New York (and often, this answer is even more difficult for applicants already living in NYC since they’re too far immersed to see the advantages objectively), be sure to emphasize that you’re excited about immersing yourself in the Columbia culture.
Please provide an example of a team failure of which you have been a part. If given a second chance, what would you do differently? (250 words)
Use SAR method. In this case rather than Situation–Action–Result, think Situation-Accountability-Result. Describe what happened, take accountability, and then describe what happened as a result. The result is not just what happened in that situation, but also the impact it had on you. How did you change? (See the next paragraph.) Back to accountability, it’s interesting that Columbia asks specifically about a team failure. You’ll want to talk about your role on the team and perhaps team dynamics, if relevant.
Show what you learned. In answering this question, an applicant needs to demonstrate genuine reflection, self-awareness and personal development. The admissions committee is most interested in how you grew from this experience. Although the second part of this question asks a theoretical question — What would you do differently? — ideally you can describe a time when you applied what you learned to another real-life situation, thus preventing the same problem from happening again.
Optional Essay: Is there any further information that you wish to provide the Admissions Committee? If so, use this space to provide an explanation of any areas of concern in your academic record or your personal history. This does not need to be a formal essay. You may submit bullet points. (Maximum 500 words)
Yes, it’s optional. Our typical advice stands here: Use the optional essay only if you need to explain a potential blemish in your background that isn’t fixable (a low undergraduate GPA, time on academic probation, gaps in school or employment history, no recommendation from your current direct supervisor, etc.). There’s no need to harp on a minor weakness and sound like you’re making excuses when you don’t need to. If you do have a red flag in your background, address it here. Otherwise, you can be confident in leaving it blank.