Gaining Admission to Columbia B-School

Shawn O'Connor is the chief executive of Stratus Admissions Counseling.

Shawn O’Connor is the chief executive of Stratus Admissions Counseling.

With admission deadlines quickly approaching, now is the time to channel all your energy into putting together the best possible business school application packages. Each year, my team at Stratus Admissions Counseling (which includes former application readers and admissions interviewers) and I work with numerous Columbia Business School hopefuls. With our insider insights and years of experience, we have determined exactly what it takes to get into CBS. Below I am happy to share with you some of the tips that have helped numerous Stratus Admissions Counseling clients with GMAT scores in the low 600s and with as few as two years of work experience gain admission to Columbia Business School.

Don’t: Slack off on the GMAT

You may have heard that the GMAT is not a critical admissions factor at all business schools. Harvard Business School, for example, did not even require the GMAT until 1997. Columbia, however, places significant weight on this standardized test, and your score can greatly affect your chances of admission. Take your GMAT preparation seriously, and aim to score 700+ overall and in the 80th percentile or above on the quantitative section.

Just five or ten hours of personalized tutoring with a GMAT expert can produce a 100+ point score increase in your GMAT. If Columbia is your dream school and your GMAT score is your main concern, you should consider obtaining professional assistance to boost your score. While it is not impossible to get into CBS with a GMAT in the 600s, a 700+ score can make all the difference at CBS.

Do: Highlight Columbia’s signature combination of theory and practice

Columbia Business School’s defining educational philosophy is the school’s distinctive commitment to teaching not only the leading principles and theories of business, but also to putting these theories into practice through experiential learning. Columbia novices fail to include this focus in their application packages whereas those best positioned to win admission to CBS emphasize it throughout the admission process.

Mention how you think this approach to education will benefit you and why it is the ideal method of instruction given your specific interests and goals. Give examples of other times you have enjoyed learning through a combination of theory and practice or even a time when you used this approach to teach others.

Don’t: Overstate your professional experience

All business schools care about your prior work experience and Columbia is no exception; however, Columbia also really wants to get to know you personally. Take this into consideration in your essays, particularly in Essay 2 of this year’s application, which asks about a life experience that has shaped you and specifically says “The goal of this essay is to get a sense of who you are, rather than what you have achieved professionally.” Shy away from talking too much about your professional life and focus more on your family life, contributions to your community, etc.

Do: Emphasize the benefits of Columbia’s location in New York City

Columbia prides itself on being New York City’s premier business school. There are numerous benefits of going to a school located in one of the largest business hubs in the world, and the admissions committee wants to be reminded of them. Of course, you should explain what specifically about Columbia’s curriculum and  faculty appeals to you, but don’t forget to also include what about Columbia’s location makes the school ideal given your short and long-term goals. Explain how you plan to take advantage of all the resources and opportunities available to you in New York.

Don’t: Answer the first option in Essay 3 about an outrageous business idea

The third essay question in this year’s application provides three question options for you to answer. The first option asks you to compose an elevator pitch for your own outrageous business idea. This is a tricky question because most likely, either your idea will not be outrageous enough, or it will be too outrageous to be credible.

Do not even consider this question if you do not plan on becoming an entrepreneur. If you are planning on starting a business, and you want to show off your ideas, you may still want to avoid this option. The other two options encourage you to showcase your creativity as well, but your answer is much more likely to resonate with the readers.

Remember that every business school is different, so these same tips will not be as helpful for other tops schools. Check out my past articles on admission to Harvard and Wharton for more advice. Good luck!

Shawn P. O’Connor is the Founder and CEO of Stratus Admissions Counseling, a New York-based MBA admissions counseling and test preparation firm serving a global clientele of applicants to the world’s premier business schools. Mr. O’Connor is a graduate of Harvard Business School, where he was a Baker Scholar.



Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.