Columbia Switches Up MBA Essays

Columbia Business School – Ethan Baron photo

Columbia Business School decided to make the 2016-2017 admissions season a bit more interesting by changing up a number of its essay questions for MBA candidates. The school also moved up its deadline for early decision applications by a day to Oct. 4.

Unlike its peer schools, Columbia takes a rolling admissions approach to admits and dings rather than set rounds. As a result, applicants can submit regular decision applications as soon as the application becomes available on May 15, though regular decision applications are reviewed after early decision apps. The early decision cutoff date of Oct. 4 is also the final deadline date for applicants who apply for the school’s accelerated MBA program with a start date of January. The school announced that applicants who hope to get a merit-based fellowship must submit their applications no later than Jan. 5. The final regular decision deadline is April 11, 2018.

CBS is only the second leading school to announce its new application details and follows the lead of Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business which came out with its deadline dates on April 20.


Some 5,534 candidates applied for Columbia’s MBA program in 2016-10217. The school admitted 783 applicants, for an acceptance rate of 14.1%, ultimately enrolling 558 students. Those numbers reflect a much lower admit rate, from 18.0% a year earlier, despite a 5.0% decline in applications from 5,829. CBS students may enroll in either August, when 70% of the class is typically enrolled, or January. The two paths, each comprised of four terms, merge in the fall of the second year to complete electives as a single class.

The bigger news from Columbia today (May 4), however, regards the school’s essay requirements. While there is no change to the 50-character post-MBA goal question, Columbia’s admissions staff did change up several other questions. Here are the new prompts:

Goal: What is your immediate post-MBA professional goal? (50 characters)

New 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)

Old Essay #1:  Through your resume and recommendations, we have a clear sense of your professional path to date. What are your career goals going forward, and how will the Columbia MBA help you achieve them? (100-750 words)

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)

Old Essay #2: Columbia Business School’s students participate in industry focused New York immersion seminars; in project based Master Classes; and in school year internships. Most importantly, they are taught by a combination of distinguished research faculty and accomplished practitioners. How will you take advantage of being “at the very center of business”? (100-500 Words)

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?

Old Essay #3: CBS Matters, a key element of the School’s culture, allows the people in your Cluster to learn more about you on a personal level. What will your Clustermates be pleasantly surprised to learn about you? (100-250 Words)

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)

Old Optional Essay: An optional fourth essay will allow you to discuss any issues that do not fall within the purview of the required essays.


Dan Bauer, founder and chairman of The MBA Exchange, a leading MBA admissions consulting firm, says the first essay on applicants’ professional plans “now delineates between near-term and long-term goals rather than leaving the time frame to the candidate’s discretion. This is more of a challenge as the maximum word count is now reduced by 250 words. The school also has dropped the prompt asking how a CBS education would contribute to achieving those goals. However, this change makes sense given the expanded scope of the next question.”

The second essay prompt, adds Bauer, offers a broader canvas for applicants “to choose and explain which specific Columbia offerings are most appealing and relevant for them. Also, a significant departure here from a traditional CBS question that emphasized the school’s NYC historic location. This change is probably motivated by the school’s current migration from Broadway to the new Manhattanville campus.

“The new questions give applicants far greater latitude in conveying their personal profile,” believes Bauer. “Expressing one’s greatest passion or imagining a ‘perfect day’ relieves the pressure of having to come up with a single attribute that would ‘surprise’ that doesn’t tarnish the candidacy.”

And when it comes the optional essay, Bauer views this as “a lost opportunity for applicants to round out their story by showcasing aspects that truly distinguish themselves. The new focus on ‘information’ and ‘areas of concern’ requires a more factual, confessional approach that is a constraint.”


Early Decision/January

October 4, 2017

Merit Based Fellowship Deadline

January 5, 2018

Final Regular Decision

April 11, 2018

*Candidates have three weeks from the date when they submit their application to send updated test scores/materials.

January Admitted Student Second Deposit Deadline

November 10, 2017

Updated Deposit Language (will post after June 1):

All admitted students are required to submit two nonrefundable tuition deposits to secure their place in the class after admission.

Admitted students for the January-entry and August-entry Early Decision must submit deposits within two weeks of admission. If you are admitted for August-entry Regular Decision on or before Jan. 31, 2018 you must submit your deposit by Feb. 20, 2018. If you are admitted from Feb. 1, 2018 through April 6, 2018 you must submit your deposit by April 20, 2017. Applicants admitted after April 6, 2018 will have two weeks to submit their initial deposit.

Students for the January-entry are required to submit a second deposit by November 10, 2017. All early August-entry Early Decision and Regular Decision admitted students are required to submit a second deposit by May 25, 2018 in order to secure their spaces in the class.


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