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Stanford GSB | Mr. Mountaineer
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Columbia Applicants Asked To Watch Video

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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 Accepted.com, 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 HBSGuru.com: “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.

About The Author

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.