Columbia Business School Essay Tips Sat
Columbia Business School Essay Analysis, 2017-2018
How can you write essays that grab the attention of MBA admissions committees? With this thorough analysis, our friends atmbaMission help you conceptualize your essay ideas and understand how to execute, so that your experiences truly stand out.
For years, Columbia Business School (CBS) has been at the front of the pack of MBA programs that have been gradually shortening their application essays and requiring candidates to be direct and concise in their submissions. It was even the first school to incorporate a micro essay into its application. Last season, CBS gave applicants a bit more wiggle room with the essays, increasing the word count for each by a pretty significant margin (up to 100% in one case), but it has tightened the reins back down for this year’s applicants. Still, with a goal statement, three required essays, and an optional essay, you should have plenty of opportunities to convey a well-rounded impression of yourself for the admissions committee. Read on for our Columbia Business School essay analysis for the program’s 2017–2018 prompts…
Goal: What is your immediate post-MBA professional goal? (50 characters)
Including spaces, CBS’s career goal question is exactly 50 characters itself, showing candidates just how much (or how little, in this case) space they have to work with and just how succinct they are therefore expected to be with their response. At just 50 characters, this can hardly be considered a true essay, but you will need to approach this with the same level of thought and focus as any of your other written responses for the school. The prompt is clearly a no-nonsense request for information, with no room allowed for exposition, flowery words, background, or pandering. This is all about getting to the point and telling the admissions committee what it wants to know.
In the past, the school has provided a few sample responses, including “Work in business development for a media company” and “Join a strategy consulting firm,” illustrating that conveying the requested information in such a tight space is definitely doable and that you do not need to worry too much about grammatical issues (in other words, you do not need to start your statement with “I want to” or something similar). We like to offer the statement “Reveal true goals, not what you think Columbia Business School wants” as both our own example of keeping things concise and our advice on how to approach and fulfill this request. Think about what you truly want to do with your career in the short term and state this aspiration directly. Keep in mind that the rest of your application will need to provide evidence that your stated goal aligns with your existing skills and profound interests, especially once they have been augmented by an MBA education. This will show that your professed goal is achievable and lend credibility to your statement. If you can do this in 50 characters (not words!), you will have done what you need to answer the school’s question quite well.
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)
CBS starts this essay question by more or less telling you not to recap your career to date, so we strongly recommend that you do so (and briefly, at that) only if context is absolutely needed for your stated goals to be understood and/or believable—perhaps if you are making a fairly remarkable career change. Pay particular attention to the phrases “dream job” and “in your imagination” with respect to the long-term portion of the question. The school is prompting you to be creative and perhaps even to challenge or push yourself to think big. Columbia Business School wants individuals who do not just follow prescribed paths according to someone else’s blueprint but who are aspirational and more inclined to forge their own way. This is not to suggest that if you have a more traditional plan in mind that you are in trouble or at risk of losing the admissions committee’s attention, but you may need to take a little extra time to consider your ambitions from the perspective of “what if?” and delve more deeply into what you hope to achieve to find the more personal and inspiring elements of your goals. Showing creativity and individualism here can only be helpful.
Although this is not a request for a textbook personal statement essay, your response will certainly involve some elements of the topics covered in such a submission, such as short- and long-term goals. The mbaMission Personal Statement Guide offers advice on brainstorming and crafting such essays along with multiple illustrative examples and so may be helpful in preparing your CBS response to this prompt. You can download your free copy here.
Columbia Business School does not explicitly ask how its MBA program will factor into the achievement of your goals, but if you feel that particular resources the school offers could or will be uniquely influential and advantageous to you as you advance along your path, we believe you have sufficient room and leeway to mention these. However, generic claims or empty pandering have no place at all in this rather compact essay. Any CBS resources you reference must be specific to your needs, and the cause-and-effect relationship between these resources and your anticipated success must be very clear. For example, an applicant might discuss the appeal and instrumentality of CBS’s Value Investing Program and 5x5x5 Student Portfolio Fund in his or her aspirations to one day break into the asset management world or later launch a hedge fund. We do not recommend going so far as to dedicate an entire paragraph to discussing school resources, but you might consider thoughtfully embedding a relevant reference or two into your submission to acknowledge the program’s role in achieving your stated career intentions. Or should we say dreams?
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)
Start your brainstorming for this essay by first considering your priorities within the three areas CBS specifically notes—academics, recruiting, and networking—but do not feel compelled to limit yourself to them if you have other ideas or plans. The school wants well-rounded students who will not “silo” themselves into just one area and who anticipate using multiple aspects of the MBA program to their and others’ advantage. If you care only about the academic aspect of business school and do not envision yourself participating in any club activities or availing yourself of events or resources outside the classroom, you might not be the kind of candidate top-tier schools such as CBS are seeking. Earning your MBA involves more than completing business classes, and the admissions committee strives to construct a diverse class of engaged and experienced people who can learn both together and from one another. This requires that everyone participate and contribute, and not just in class.
With your response to this essay prompt, show Columbia Business School where and how you expect to be active in its community and program, whether that is via a certain club, event, course, or other avenue. Explain what drives you toward these areas and activities and what you imagine your involvement will look like. If you can frame your vision in a way that reveals a benefit for those around you as well, this is even better. For example, will you commit a large portion of your time to your job search because landing a highly coveted role at an elite Wall Street firm is your main impetus for getting your MBA? And if so, will you offer to run mock interviews with your fellow students who share this dream? Perhaps you are interested in joining the CBS Follies group to fulfill your artistic and dramatic side and balance your quant-heavy course work, and your many years in the theater will help you coach classmates who are new to the stage so that they can fully benefit from and enjoy the experience as well.
Keep in mind that the specific activities and areas you choose are not what is important here. CBS is not choosing people based on whether they expect to populate certain clubs or organize student conferences, so the admissions committee will neither ding nor reward you for choosing one option over another. What is important is that you show you have a true understanding of what CBS offers and a plan of attack for your experience within the program. After reading your essay, an admissions officer should feel that you really “get” CBS and can clearly envision yourself there. The school knows that an applicant who has dedicated the time and effort necessary to develop advanced knowledge of the program is one who will have a successful experience. In giving you a place in the class, the admissions committee is essentially betting that you will thrive more at CBS than thousands of other candidates would, so show that you are a low-risk, high-reward potential admit.
EMBA Essay #2: Columbia Business School’s Executive MBA will challenge you by offering a rigorous academic experience, global exposure through the international seminar, and the opportunity to immediately apply what you learn to your career. How will you approach balancing the demands of the program with your professional and personal life while you are in school? (250 words)
This question basically exists because CBS wants to be sure you truly intend to finish the program. We cannot claim to have specific numbers on this phenomenon, but we know that EMBA students sometimes get overwhelmed by the demands of balancing work, studies, and personal/family life. As a result, a number of them ultimately drop out of the program each year, including some who are asked to leave the program by their employers, who also did not understand the time demands involved. With this prompt, CBS is essentially asking, “Are you sure you know what you are getting into?”
To help assuage the admissions committee’s fears on this point, you might take a somewhat procedural approach in your response, explaining that you anticipate dedicating certain hours on certain days, with your manager’s approval, to study and complete your course work for the program. You might address how you have engaged supportive stakeholders—such as partners, children, and friends—in discussions about your commitment to help clarify and calibrate expectations. Having read your response, the admissions reader should feel comfortable that you have a clear plan in mind, that this is not a whimsical choice but a well-informed decision that oozes commitment. Columbia Business School wants to know that you will see the program through to the end, and to communicate this effectively, you must demonstrate that you have the process and support mechanisms in place to not only finish it but thrive within it.
Essay #3: Please select and answer one of the following essay questions: (250 words)
CBS has replaced its “What will your Clustermates be pleasantly surprised to learn about you?” query from last season with this new set of prompt choices, both of which are still invitations to share aspects of your personality but are notably broader in scope. Whichever one you ultimately select, focus on giving the school insight into what makes you tick as an individual, beyond your professional skill-set and goals.
a: Please tell us what you feel most passionate about in life.
Although we acknowledge that you might actually be “most passionate” about your career, this is not your best choice for a topic here, especially given that two of the other essays have already allowed you to discuss your professional life. Clearly, if you are applying to and ready to complete a leading MBA program—challenges not for the faint of heart—you are a driven individual with more enthusiasm and ambition career-wise than the average person. The Columbia Business School admissions committee already knows this. What it wants to learn now is what gets your heart pumping and mind racing outside of work. As Steve Jobs once said, “People with passion can change the world,” and although he was speaking about careers at the time, the statement is true for all aspects of one’s life. Passion is inspiring and energizing and can lead to big ideas and actions. Sharing with the school where your passion lies gives the admissions committee an idea of where you might someday make an impression on the world, how you might leave your mark—especially once you are equipped with all you will gain and learn during your MBA experience.
That said, do not worry if your passions seem commonplace. For example, perhaps you feel passionate about basketball. Because this is an experience that anyone could share and enjoy, it might seem pedestrian. The key, however, is not what inspires you but how you engage with it. If you can show that basketball is not just a hobby you simply enjoy from time to time but is instead something you connect with on a deep level and in various ways—perhaps having played for many years, you now coach youth teams in your community and have amassed a truly impressive trading card or jersey collection—then this initially unremarkable-seeming choice most definitely becomes an acceptable discussion topic. Think about your possible choices in terms of intensity, enthusiasm, devotion, longevity, loyalty, excitement, and heart, and be honest with yourself. The elements of your life that inspire and align with these concepts could be appropriate fodder for this essay, while anything that does not should be immediately discarded as an option.
Once you have identified the passion you wish to discuss, avoid simply telling the admissions committee about it and instead demonstrate how this passion manifests in your life. For example, rather than stating, “I have been watching and playing basketball since I was a child,” you need to create a more vivid impression of your dedication and involvement, such as “From playing with my brothers after school to varsity ball in college to now coaching a youth league in my community, I can hardly remember a time when basketball wasn’t an integral part of my life.”
b: If you were given a free day and could spend it anywhere, in any way you choose, what would you do?
Like option A, this prompt asks for a window into your personal self, but with a bit of a relaxed twist. It conveys slightly less of an idea of singularly focused drive and intensity and more one of a variety of activities and experiences that would generate inner happiness and satisfaction. Whether you want to spend your free day jumping out of a plane, swinging a hammer building homes for Habitat for Humanity, or reading quietly beside a lake somewhere, the activity you share is not the admissions committee’s focus so much as what your choice says about who you are and how you like to live your life. In this essay, you want your interests to reveal that you are an appealing and likeable character—one who spends his or her time thoughtfully and productively, rather than being easily bored, indecisive, or in need of an outside source to provide distraction. Help CBS understand your internal motivations and values and how they may come into play both in the program and beyond your two years as an MBA student. And as with option A, you will want to take a “show, rather than tell” approach in your writing. Avoid simply stating your anticipated agenda outright, and instead strive to really bring the admissions reader along with you on this imaginary day off via your descriptions.
Optional Essay: Is there any further information that you wish to provide the Admissions Committee? If so, please use this space to provide an explanation of any areas of concern in your academic record or your personal history. You may submit bullet points. (Maximum 500 words)
This optional essay question starts out sounding like an open invitation to discuss almost anything you feel like sharing with the admissions committee, but the second line (which was not part of the prompt last season) dials things in and puts the spotlight on addressing problem areas specifically. The additional directive about bullet points seems to be a not-too-veiled implication that the school wants you to focus on imparting key information rather than offering a detailed and long-winded explanation of the issue in question. Without a doubt, this is not an opportunity to share another cool story or otherwise try to impress or pander to the admissions committee. If you do not truly need to explain an issue or potentially confusing element of your candidacy (a poor grade or overall GPA, a low GMAT score, a gap in your work experience, etc.), we do not recommend that you submit an optional essay; if you do have issues to clarify, keep things concise. In our mbaMission Optional Essays Guide, we offer detailed advice on when and how to take advantage of the optional essay, with multiple examples, to help you mitigate any problem areas in your profile. 📝
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The 2017-2018 Columbia MBA application is live, and it’s time to start writing your Columbia Business School essays!
Why now, you ask? Well, CBS has a rolling admissions process, and applications are reviewed in the order in which they are received, so gaining admission becomes more competitive over time as spots in the class gradually fill up. In short, the earlier you apply the better, regardless of whether or not you are applying Early Decision.
Read on to learn how to write a strong CBS essay, how to avoid common mistakes, and how to set yourself apart from the thousands of other top MBA applicants who set their sights on Columbia. Without any further ado, here are my best Columbia MBA essay tips!
Short Answer Question: What is your immediate post-MBA professional goal? (50 characters maximum)
For Columbia’s short answer question, note that the maximum length for your response is 50 characters, not 50 words. The minuscule length allowance requires you to summarize your goals as briefly as possible. In addition to being concise, you will want to be specific. “Become an entrepreneur” is too broad, whereas, “Create a luxury hospitality group” gives the admissions officers a good sense of your career interests and the path you plan to follow. Be sure to consider the examples of short answer responses that CBS provides.
Your response to the short answer question should align with the first part of your answer to the Columbia career goals essay (essay 1), which I discuss below.
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)
I like to think of the first sentence of this essay prompt as a plea. The CBS AdCom is begging you not to repeat what they already know about your professional background from the other parts of your application; there is no need to cover the same information about your background here.
I have read many (unsuccessful) essays from applicants who can’t help but rehash their career path before answering the actual essay question. Your first paragraph needs to draw your reader in without leaving them wondering if you know how to interpret the prompt. I strongly encourage you to provide a direct answer to the “What are your career goals…?” question within your first (or second) paragraph. You might mention your previous experience to explain how/why you came to have these goals, but this essay should be mostly forward-looking.
Your career goals should be as authentic as they are realistic. Because Columbia wants to admit students who will be successful in obtaining jobs after earning their MBAs, the admissions committee will review your career goals to see if your goal is a plausible leap from what you’re doing now (with Columbia Business School as the launchpad). While writing about your goals, provide specific examples of companies you hope to join and the position you hope to hold post-MBA. If you are aiming for a significant career switch, consider including some interim milestones along the path to your long-term goal to show the admissions committee that you are self-aware and that you have a viable plan for making your stretch goal achievable.
With the mention of “imagination” and “dream job,” Columbia is giving you permission to deviate from “safe” paths. Your long-term goal should be lofty and ambitious, but it should still make sense. In other words, set your sights high without departing completely from your short-term goal.
Also, don’t feel pressured to say you want to save the world. Columbia certainly appreciates a socially conscious mindset; however, you will not be dinged for wanting to be successful in a more traditional business field or industry.
Despite the word “Columbia” being absent from the school’s career goals essay prompt this year, you should still briefly mention how the Columbia MBA would help you achieve your goals in your essay. Work Columbia details in thoughtfully and avoid a laundry list of classes and clubs. The laundry list approach (squeezing in as many class and club names as possible without elaborating on them) reads as hurried and automatic, whereas choosing one or two CBS features reads as carefully considered and genuine. You might mention, for example, that the CBS “Healthcare Investment and Entrepreneurship” course will be critical to helping you achieve your post-MBA goal of joining a healthcare startup.
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)
Columbia MBA Essay 2 gives you the opportunity to demonstrate your knowledge of and enthusiasm for Columbia. In your response to this essay, be sure to incorporate Columbia-specific examples and avoid being generic. A candidate who writes that they are interested in Columbia’s international offerings and in joining the school’s women’s organization is not as appealing as one who says they want to help organize a Chazen study tour and take on a leadership role in CWiB.
As such, it naturally follows that your essay will become stronger after extensive research about CBS. Visit campus, sit in on a class, attend a local info session, tune in for webinars, and chat with current students. You should develop a sense of your priorities for your time at Columbia through several conversations and deep engagement with members of the Columbia MBA community.
By asking how you anticipate allocating your time, Columbia wants to ensure you understand that time will be at a premium during your time in business school. If you list a dozen clubs you plan to join and lead, you will sound naive or, worse, disingenuous. You won’t succeed with this essay simply by cramming in sound bites and lists from the Columbia website. Be thoughtful in your choices, show that you’ve done your homework, and try to strike a realistic balance between academic, professional, and social opportunities.
Essay 3: 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?
Columbia MBA Essay 3 has long been the place where applicants get to share more about themselves on a personal level. Resist the temptation to write more about your job here; instead, use this space to provide new information and shed light on another dimension of your life, personality, and interests. Columbia wants to admit people who are not only academically capable and professionally accomplished, but also interesting and fun — people who have the passion and flair to enliven the business school community.
In terms of choosing whether to write essay “a” or essay “b,” neither essay is an objectively better choice — it all depends on your content. Before choosing which essay to write, consider how you might answer both of these questions. If you have a great deal of detail about what you feel most passionate about and examples to provide to show your passion, essay “a” can be a good choice. If you struggle to narrow down a passion but can come up with an interesting way you’d spend a free day, essay “b” is the better choice.
a. Please tell us what you feel most passionate about in life.
Whatever your passion — be it eating pizza or ending world hunger — strengthen your essay by using specific examples and showing why this passion is meaningful to you. The Columbia AdCom does not appreciate bragging or arrogance. For example, if you want to write about your volunteer work, be sure to let the AdCom know why you are involved with a particular organization and how it has impacted you, instead of only highlighting how you have made a difference.
Keep in mind that running, cooking, and travel tend to be very popular topics in business school essays; you might consider making another choice. If you are going to write about one of those topics, be sure you do so in a way that’s interesting and demonstrates why that passion is personally meaningful.
b. If you were given a free day and could spend it anywhere, in any way you choose, what would you do?
You can take this question in any number of directions. Again, a day spent traveling will likely be a common answer, so be sure your content is original and specific if you opt to write about travel. This essay has room for (appropriate) humor and levity, and if you have humble plans for catching up on sleep or walking your dog, make sure your personality leaps off the page. If you would spend your free day hanging out with your family, that’s fine too — as long as you back that up with a compelling, interesting narrative. Remember, the Columbia MBA program wants to admit applicants their classmates will enjoy having around — so use this essay to show off the best side of yourself.
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)
You would be wise to use the optional essay if you have additional information to provide around an employment gap, a poor grade in college, an upcoming GMAT test date, or another weak spot in your candidacy. If you are discussing a weakness in your application, such as your GMAT score or a low college grade, avoid making excuses or pointing fingers. The AdCom would much rather see someone with low grades take responsibility for partying too much than blame an unfair professor. You may suggest that the nature of your work is better evidence of your quantitative ability than your GMAT score, for example, but be sure to maintain a tone of maturity and accountability. Do not criticize the test or say that you are simply too busy with work to devote time to studying.
Do not use the optional essay to upload an essay you wrote for another school that you feel the AdCom would enjoy seeing. Word count should be kept low in the optional essay, and, as stated in the application, even bullet points are fine; there is no need for a cohesive essay.