While its peer schools are cutting the number of required essays to the bone, Columbia still requires three essays, with one optional essay and one required short answer. However, the admissions team has reduced maximum word count across the board, which means you’ll need to make every word really count. (All this work offers a further argument for starting your application early!) They’ve made a few changes to the essays this year, and we really like them. The questions are clear, straightforward, and get at the heart of what the CBS admissions office is looking for: 1) What do you want to do with your MBA? 2) What will you do while you’re here? and 3) What’s something interesting about you? Therefore, our advice is equally straightforward.
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. Last year, Columbia asked about your goals going forward and how a Columbia MBA would enable you to achieve them. This year, it has shifted exclusively toward the goals themselves. 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: The full-time MBA experience includes academics, recruiting, and networking. What are your personal priorities and how do you anticipate allocating your time at Columbia Business School? (250 words)
A love of learning. Many candidates see an MBA as a two-year vacation from their very demanding professional lives. While there’s no doubt than an MBA can be a ton of fun, these students often miss out on the life-changing, paradigm-shifting impact an MBA experience can provide. While you’re limited to 250 words in this essay (roughly two brief paragraphs), we recommend that you dive in deeply and show the admissions office the skills you hope to gain, the courses you’ll take to build those skills, the clubs, events, and activities in which you’ll actively participate, and the unique professional recruiting opportunities you’ll utilize. Use this essay question to spark and showcase your love for learning and self-improvement!
Get beyond the obvious. What does Columbia offer that you can’t find anywhere else? And why—given your individual background—is Columbia the best place for you to grow as a business leader? This is what the school is looking for when it asks about “fit.” Comb through this Essential Guide and the school’s website, and, most importantly, seek input from current students and recent alumni to learn about how the Columbia experience differs from its peers. Then, directly tie these advantages to your priorities.
Don’t just rattle off a list of classes. The biggest mistake we see people make with this essay is that they go to the school’s website, find some classes that sound interesting, and create a long list here. Your Columbia MBA experience will be much more than just coursework. If there’s a particular course, professor, or academic program that Columbia offers that you can’t find elsewhere, mention it by all means! However, be sure to get beyond the classroom and explore Columbia’s vast offerings in guest speakers, international opportunities, and beyond.
Please select and answer one of the following essay questions: (250 words)
a. Please tell us what you feel most passionate about in life.
b. If you were given a free day and could spend it anywhere, in any way you choose, what would you do?
Options. This is the first time in quite a while that Columbia has provided options to choose from in an essay prompt. In this case, each option is essentially asking the same thing: Tell us something introspective about yourself so that we can see you as a likable, interesting, and desirable candidate who will bring something unique to this diverse MBA class. As such, simply choose the prompt that will enable you to share something different and perhaps unexpected about yourself to the admissions committee.
Avoid professional ambitions. You already had an essay to lay out your professional passions and ambitions, so there’s no need to explain here about how you’re most passionate about using microfinance to improve the lives of others. The admissions committee is looking for well-rounded, multi-dimensional candidates, so take this opportunity to show them another side of you!
Don’t try to impress. We fear that many candidates may avoid option B because it doesn’t provide an opportunity to impress the admissions committee with their incredible “passions” (read: accomplishments). This isn’t a contest of who has the most impressive arduous experience, nor is it a challenge to present the biggest sob story of your life. Have an unusual hobby or funny story that people enjoy hearing? This may be the place to use it. The purpose of this essay is for the admissions committee to really get to know you on a personal level, not necessarily to convince the admissions committee how great you are. They simply want to get to know you a little bit through this essay, so pick the prompt that will enable your genuine personality to shine through.
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.