Columbia Applicants Asked To Watch Video

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player

Columbia Business School is now asking applicants to its full-time MBA program to view a three-minute promotional video on school community and then write up to 250 words on the film. The new requirement was posted on Columbia’s website yesterday (May 31) along with the school’s other essay questions.

Columbia, ranked fifth by PoetsandQuants last year, typically receives more MBA applications than any other business school, with the exception of Harvard Business School. For the fall of 2011, for example, Harvard received 9,134 applications compared to Columbia’s 6,669. Stanford was next with 6,618, followed by Wharton with 6,442.

Harvard kicked off the new 2012-2013 application season on May 22 with major changes to the way it assesses applicants. Wharton, which is also considering some significant changes, expects to post its essay questions in early July and the full application in early August. Other than the new video question at Columbia, there are few other surprises. “The changes to Columbia’s app are typical of the incremental changes we see from year to year in a schools’ applications,” says Linda Abraham, founder of, a leading MBA admissions consulting firm. “The schools are constantly tweaking them. The goal is either to get better information from students or to prevent the readers from being too ho-hum bored about the answers that they are reading.”


Columbia’s new video-based question appears more like a marketing effort to offset a frequent criticism of the school than an assessment of an applicant’s abilities or ideas. In the past, some former students have said that the school’s location in a bustling city environment makes it especially difficult for MBA students to feel a sense of community at the school, especially when they disappear into apartments all over New York.

The accompanying video and the text that sets up the essay question for applicants, however, portrays Columbia Business School as a place where there is “a supportive and devoted lifelong community,” as the school’s website claims. Jokes admissions consultant Sandy Kreisberg of “It’s like those releases they make you sign before Sky Diving.  I know living in New York is hard, and I assume the risk.”

The new question:

“Please view this video, entitled Community at Columbia. Diverse, tight-knit clusters and carefully selected learning teams are defining features of the first year at Columbia Business School. Along with more than 100 student organizations and countless events each semester, the cluster system helps to create a supportive and devoted lifelong community. Describe why you are interested in becoming a part of the Columbia community (Maximum 250 words).”


The video opens with a Class of 2011 MBA discussing the merits of Columbia’s ‘cluster system’ in which incoming candidates are broken into groups of 60 to 65 students who go through the core curriculum together, helps to create true community at the school. Such “clusters” or sections are a common part of most full-time MBA programs. But as the Columbia alum Osifo Akhuemonkhan points out, “The sense of community in Columbia is huge. What makes that so interesting and amazing is that it’s in New York City where there are so many distractions. There are so many things that can take you away from school life. The cluster system and orientation does a lot for building that sense of community and that sense of having your own small family.”

The video also features other Columbia students and alums who speak favorably of the school’s “orientation” for newbies and the diversity of the school’s “learning teams”–another common B-school trait. Boasts one student in the video: “We hung out with each other on the weekends.”

The new video prompt replaces a question last year that allowed applicants to pick one of three writing options to answer, from an elevator pitch for “an outrageous business idea” to a campaign speech for a student leadership role to which executive in residence you would pick for a one-on-one session and why.

  • Elie Lim

    Great Article. Thanks for the info. Does anyone know where I can find a blank common application first year form to fill out?

  • Manish Ranjan

    In Essay 2, the question says “Describe a….” I think one situation isn’t enough define what I am today. It is a series of events which impacts a person. My question is whether we have to put just one anecdote or all the key events which has impacted me as a person?

  • Gil Levi

    Columbia’s new questions are somewhat similar to last year essay topics, exept the new video question. Below is Aringo’s analysis and tips for Columbia’s essay questions:

    Short Answer Question
    What is your immediate post-MBA professional goal? (200 characters maximum)

    This is the 2nd year Columbia has asked this question.  Your answer gives the adcom, which will be looking for consistency, context to jump into the rest of your essays, so be sure it hangs together, i.e., is well connected to the long term goals set out in Essay 1. Make your answer concise (well there’s no choice about that, given the character limit), and achievable (in a Columbia specific way if possible – does the firm where you envision yourself right after graduation recruit heavily at Columbia?).

    Essay 1:
    A. Why are you pursuing an MBA at this point in your career, and how do plan to achieve your immediate and long term post-MBA professional goals? (Maximum 500 words)

    Aringo’s interviews with Columbia adcom members have stressed the importance of candidates who demonstrate the potential for entrepreneurship, management skills, internationalism, and of course leadership, leadership and leadership.  Keep that in mind while deciding which accomplishments to bring out in both your Career Essay and ’personal experience’ essay.
     Part A is a standard Career Goal Essay.  Be sure your long and short term goals are both specific (your plan is grounded in reality and well thought out) and somewhat grandiose (they want to continue creating an impressive alumni base and to be sure a top program will be of real benefit to you). You’ve heard it before, but the keys here are to convince them that your past experiences connect to your goals (or that your reason for changing careers is personally compelling), showcase a professional achievement in the context of describing the skills you already possess toward your goal, and let them know which skills you lack, that Columbia will provide, of course, to enable you to achieve your goal. In the course of referring to your professional accomplishments, explain convincingly why this point in your career is the natural/perfect point to pursue an MBA.

    B. Please view this video, entitled Community at Columbia. Diverse, tight-knit clusters and carefully selected learning teams are defining features of the first year at Columbia Business School. Along with more than 100 student organizations and countless events each semester, the cluster system helps to create a supportive and devoted lifelong community. Describe why you are interested in becoming a part of the Columbia community. (Maximum 250 words)

    Though this essay topic is new this year, Columbia has asked it in a different form in past years. “Homework” will be the key to a successful answer, persuading the adcom not only that you know all about the Columbia community, but that it is a perfect fit for your interests and experiences. That said, the best way to do that is to show them that the interests and enthusiasms you’ve displayed in your life dovetail with the organizations and activities specific to the campus community.  Network with current and past students, research personal role models who are Columbia alums, mention specific professors whose work has influenced you personally or professionally, visit the campus if you can;  go deeper than just referring to the clubs and events in the links embedded in the question.  The goal here is to convince them that it’s Columbia, not just any top tier business school, you want.

    Essay 2:
    Describe a personal experience and how it has influenced who you are today. This essay should have a personal rather than a professional focus. (Maximum 500 words)

    This essay topic is similar to last year’s. Start by thinking about what you want to tell Columbia about who you are today.  Are you a risk-taker, entrepreneur, have you lived abroad or in more than one country?  Do define the person you are today in terms of attributes that will make you an asset to the Columbia community.  In thinking of the personal experience that shaped you and led you to this point, describe how you thought, felt, and acted in response (make the essay about ‘process’) and make sure it expresses your uniqueness. Consider using an illustrative, moving, and/or entertaining anecdote (the adcom has a lot to read – engage the reader and make yourself stand out) as a thumbnail sketch of your personal strengths.

    Optional Essay
    Is there any further information that you wish to provide the Admissions Committee? Please use this space to provide an explanation of any areas of concern in your academic record or your personal history. (Maximum 500 words)

    It’s been said before but we’ll say it again. If you have something to explain that will reflect creditably on you, okay; if you have excuses to make, don’t!!  If your grades weren’t tops because you were working full-time to support yourself and your family, or starting a fledgling business venture, or caring for an ill family member, say so.  If your grades weren’t tops because you had not yet developed a work ethic, or a professor took a dislike to you, instead of sounding self-serving, it’s much better to instead let the adcom know through your accomplishments (not in this optional space) that those grades were not an accurate representation of your abilities.

  • Guest

    Columbia’s community is characterized by international orientation. They take pride of being the most international of American
    b-schools, very open to
    diversityand different languages. According to this they also like people who took part in activities and have actively
    contributed to the well-being of their communities.

  • Guest

    That video is ridiculous. For example, the student talking about how the Columbia environment is not like the hustle and bustle of Times Square — and then immediately following the video cuts to Times Square. Why is he standing there? What does that have to do with the school? It’s incredibly distracting and not relevant to the MBA experience.

  • hbsguru

    Some observations:
    the Col. 500 word  question about why you seeking MBA now and how you plan to pursue LT goals is the one that counts most by far, Col. really wants to know that you will be employed after graduation, and you need to convey that in the answer via stating  what goals are (have to make sense and hopefully grow out of past jobs, altho that could take many forms. The video quesiton is a way to make sure you do some diligence about the school, and in the course of doing that, scour its website. As noted often in my Handicapping Column here at PQ, it is also a real good idea to take the Columbia Tour and get your name checked that you have done so.  The advantage of going to Columbia is that it is a license to schmooze and hussle, esp. for part-time work your 2nd year, when lots of kids don’t have classes on Friday, and work instead. All the jive about clusters exists in some alternative reality –altho so does the admissions process, so act accordingly.  I respect the Col app, which strikes me a roomy enough to say what you want to say, with still some room for creativity.  It is more balanced, less frustrating, more well thought out, and also more useful to an adcom than some other new and bold apps that come to mind. 

  • I have in the past been a critic of Columbia’s admissions process and culture (that it has more of a commuter culture than other schools, and that the adcom hasn’t always been the most receptive or friendly).

    So I am actually really glad to see them address this directly in the admissions process. It helps the school identify people who will make a concerted effort to make the school a more close knit place, to *add* to the school’s culture.

    In many ways, I think that Columbia by virtue of its location requires that students make even more of an effort to reach out and get involved to forge a stronger community. At other top 8 schools, the overwhelming majority of incoming students are new not only to the school, but to the location itself (they are moving from somewhere else). As such, people are a bit more willing to bond from the get go when you aren’t living close to your established social circles from your pre-MBA life.

    It’s a step in the right direction for Columbia to be addressing this. Kudos to them.

  • Guest