Columbia Business School requires all first-time applicants to answer three essay questions. The three questions together will prompt MBA candidates to cover a wide range of information about their professional goals, plans on campus, personal stories, and leadership styles. Avoid repeating yourself while ensuring that the three essays work together to paint an accurate and consistent picture of your candidacy. Read below for Personal MBA Coach’s tips for tackling each essay question.
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)
Columbia specifically asks that candidates not repeat their resumes in this career goals question. While some mention of your professional past is still expected, it should be brief and used as context to further elaborate on why your goals are attainable. This question explicitly asks for both a short-term goal and a long-term dream job, so be sure to include both. These goals should show a logical progression from your current experiences. If they do not, then a brief explanation is a good idea so that the admissions committee can understand how you will realistically attain your goals.
Discussing your long-term dream job is an opportunity to show the admissions committee your true ambitions and what really matters to you professionally. It is important that candidates have lofty goals here but ones that make sense for them and fit with both their short-term goals and overall story. This is a unique chance to show not only how you envision your career unfolding but also to give the reader a little more insight into who you are by adding at least a brief mention of why this career interests you.
Finally, while not explicitly asked for, a bit on how you will prepare for these goals while at Columbia will offer a nice segue into Columbia Business School Essay #2.
Essay #2: Why do you feel Columbia Business School is a good fit for you? (250 words)
This essay takes a direct approach to Columbia’s “fit” question. During some previous cycles, CBS has asked candidates about their desire to be in New York City. While Columbia’s current essay #2 addresses fit more broadly, mentioning how you plan to leverage the city would still be advised here.
With only 250 words and a lot to cover, it is important to be focused and specific. Show that you have done your research on what options are available on campus and which specifically interest you. Naturally, a tie should be made between these opportunities and your career goals.
This is the time to discuss the classes you hope to take, clubs you will join, and other programs of interest to you, such as speaker series or immersion seminars. Candidates should also consider culture, which is becoming increasingly important to many top business schools.
Essay #3: Tell us about your favorite book, movie, or song and why it resonates with you. (250 words)
As in previous years, the third Columbia Business School essay is used to get to know applicants on a personal level. Use this essay to tell admissions committee members something unique about your profile. Think here about your hobbies, passions, upbringing, or values. Then, select a book, movie, or song with parallels to your own experience(s). Perhaps you have a passion for music. Select a movie or book about a musician with similar talents. Similarly, if you have overcome a particular hardship, a song that discusses a struggle that mirrors your own could be an ideal choice. The “what” matters much less than the “why” here. Do not pick something you think will impress the reader (for example, “Becoming” might be an overused choice this year). Instead, pick something that you truly connect with personally.
Finally, Columbia has an optional essay. Do not feel compelled to answer this unless you have something specific to explain in your background (for example, a career gap, an unusual recommender, extreme personal circumstances, etc.) This is not the time to spend 500 words professing your love for Columbia.
Scott Edinburgh is a Wharton MBA and MIT Sloan BS graduate and founded Personal MBA Coach 13 years ago with the goal of providing customized one-on-one support. Scott also serves on the Board of Directors for AIGAC, the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants, and is invited to speak at MBA Admissions events globally. Our clients have been accepted to all top schools globally with a 96% success rate. They received $5.5M in total scholarships last year.