Columbia Business School debuted a new required essay question along with posting its 2020-2021 application deadlines, which goes further than before to push candidates to get personal:
“Tell us about your favorite book, movie or song and why it resonates with you.” (250 words)
If that’s the kind of prompt that makes you break into a cold sweat, you’re not alone. But as a CBS grad and Fortuna Admissions expert coach, I admittedly love this question. Why? It’s a playful invitation to let your personality shine and convey the you that’s not on paper. It’s also an opportunity to distinguish yourself from other candidates and deliver something memorable and unique. Here’s my advice on how to make the most of the opportunity within this new essay challenge.
For context, Columbia has three required essays and a short answer question, which invite you to be direct and succinct about your professional goals – immediate, short and long term – and fit for Columbia. By contrast, its new prompt is in a similar vein to Stanford GSB’s iconic essay ‘what matters most & why,’ in that it aims to understand who you are below the surface, beyond the ambitious achiever with a sparkling record of successes. While essay 1 shows the professional path you want to take in life, essay 3 can add the additional depth of the type of person, community member, and business leader you want to be, if you use your 250 words wisely.
It’s also similar to last year’s “who is a leader you admire, and why,” in the sense that Columbia cares less about the book, movie, or song you choose, but rather the values, characteristics, and insights that your choice conveys about what makes you tick. Just as any work of art – literature, film, music – has the ability to transform or reflect unspoken truths, the Admissions Committee wants to understand what moves you.
So, whether your artistic choice is an undisputed classic, political satire, or a Steampunk thriller, do not get stuck trying to pick the perfect, most impressive one. What is much more important here is WHY you have selected this story, what you learned from it, how it inspires you, and how it may have impacted your professional or personal decisions.
To paraphrase my Fortuna colleague, Sharon Joyce, (whose excellent article, Writing a Powerful MBA Essay offers great tips for getting started), your business school essays are the opportunity to bring those dazzling credentials to life and capture the admissions reviewer’s attention with your story and authenticity.
“Dare to have a little fun here – humans respond to enthusiasm and your voice conveys your personality,” writes Sharon. “The worst thing you can do is play it safe and write something you think admissions wants to hear (yawn). This is a medium to be courageous.”
For advice on how to tackle all three CBS required essays and the short answer question, view my related blog, How To Tackle The Columbia Business School MBA Essays.
Karen Hamou is an Expert Coach at MBA admissions coaching firm Fortuna Admissions as well as a Columbia Business School alum and former Deloitte Consulting recruiting lead. For a candid assessment of your chances of admission success at a top MBA program, sign up for a free consultation.