Columbia Business School Application Essay Questions

Columbia Business School has an updated application out for this year and has changed the essay questions significantly. What we have heard from the admissions committee at CBS is that authenticity is key, and they are looking for candidates who are a great fit for the program and have the academic background to handle the rigor.

Columbia is a fast-paced program in a fast-paced city. The “spirit and pace of program is faster than others due to NYC. Something about being in a city that never sleeps,” explained admissions director Michael Robinson in a recent CBS webinar.

Fit with Columbia therefore will be different than other MBA programs, and it’s up to you to prepare with thorough research into the school. Columbia is looking for students who have big plans for their lives, MBA or not. As Robinson said, there are “no dream schools just dreams. Live a life where you are doing big things regardless if you get into a business school.”

Before you get started with this set of essays it will be helpful to brainstorm your career objectives, strengths and weaknesses, and to think about your overall future dreams. To see how current students are thinking about Columbia and their goals, check out student profiles.

Columbia offers several flexible options for admission, from full-time MBA programs starting in the fall, to a January entry session and an excellent executive MBA program. Columbia also offers an early decision option for candidates who are committed to attend the school. The Columbia admissions cycle is rolling, so the earlier you submit your application the earlier you will receive feedback. We recommend you try to submit your application as soon as possible, while maintaining high quality.

Stumped by the Columbia essays? Contact Stacy Blackman Consulting to learn how we can help.

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

This is a simple question, but may require you to condense your career goals into one clear career vision statement. Rather than a generic statement like: “Work in finance” the goal is to infuse some specificity. Something like: “Work in real estate finance within a private equity firm” tells the admissions committee far more about your interests and goals.

Note that the limited character count is intended to get you to the point quickly, elaboration is for the next essay.

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 asked a similar question last year, but it was open-ended in terms of timeframe of your career goals, and it focused more on how Columbia would help you achieve them. Given the changes in this essay question, this is a question about short- and long-term goals and dreams.

Those who seek a top-tier MBA at a school like Columbia have big dreams. You will be exposed to people and opportunities that will expand your horizons. Think about your true passions, and make sure your goals are aspirational.

As you talk about your future you may need to refer to your past career and personal experiences. As you consider what to say make sure you are citing only relevant examples from your career. Think about the experiences you can describe that were truly pivotal and can support your future goals. Your goals should have some logical progression from your past, but you can (and should!) show you plan to change and adapt.

For example, perhaps you want to be a general manager of a company or division, and right now you have been working primarily in marketing. You might spend your time at Columbia learning about finance and strategy, being part of consulting projects and interning at a start-up to round out your experience and start on your general management path.

Most importantly, Columbia wants to know who you are and how you are unique. Don’t try to be anyone else, instead reveal your own motivations, goals, and plans that Columbia will help you achieve. “Be Authentic. Want to admit people not packages. Don’t follow blogs and essay models,” Robinson suggested.

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)

Specifics, specifics and specifics help you set yourself apart with this essay. Know yourself and know the school. As you address this question make sure your answer is tailored to your individual goals for learning and career along with your knowledge of Columbia’s academic and professional opportunities.

Columbia is centered in its New York City location. The city provides unparalleled networking opportunities and sets a fast pace for the program. Research the programs and the clubs that may help you identify network with professionals and alumni. Your fellow students will be an invaluable resource for you going forward in your career – both network and sometimes support group. How will you build relationships during your school years?

Academics at Columbia include an incredible portfolio of adjunct professors from industry. You should consider the industry you plan to enter, and either the important adjunct professors from that industry at Columbia or the access to major companies from that industry in New York City. Recruiting will be a similar story, as a significant number of major companies are headquartered in New York. How will you use that level of day-to-day access to target companies?

A mix of personal and professional interests may be covered in this topic, and you may want to emphasize either one of those angles depending on the answers you present to the other core questions. The admissions team will be asking themselves, “Will the person excel in our academics and will they be an important factor in our community?”.

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?

Both of these essay questions focus on your personal passions and what matters most to you. Go beyond generic ideas that may be common across all people (e.g., love for friends and family) and get into the parts of your life that differ from those around you. Did you grow up in unique circumstances? Did you cultivate an unusual hobby or interest? Sometimes the people around you know best – ask your best friend and a sibling what is special about you.

Once you identify a topic for this essay you need to fit your answer into only 250 words. Option B is fairly contained and the structure can help you focus on just one story, relationship, or event. In Option A, make sure you can offer an illustrative example to support what you are most passionate about. Showing instead of stating your passions will be most effective for the reader.

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. (500 words)

The optional essay in prior years was more open-ended, while this year Columbia is asking only for areas of concern. We recommend keeping this essay brief and only focusing on specific areas such as a low demonstrated quantitative abilities, lack of a recommendation from a current supervisor, gaps in work experience, or particularly low grades.

It is best to explain the issue factually and succinctly, then explain how you have addressed the issue and why it should not concern the admissions committee in terms of your aptitude for the program and studies.

This entry was posted in Application Tips, Columbia Advice and tagged application essays, CBS essay tips, Columbia Business School, Essay Tips, Fall 2018 MBA Essay Tips.
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Lots of BSers have already made it into Columbia this season – hopefully you will be another! Average GMAT at Columbia is up significantly, to 724, on the back of another 3% increase in applications. Admit rate also dipped. Because of these factors and due to rolling admissions, applying well before the deadline (like, NOW!!!) is recommended! Details on all of these strategies are below on this page, in our Columbia essay guide, and throughout the ‘snarchive of Columbia posts here on the blahg.


Columbia’s rolling application process, the J-Term, plus Early Decision vs Regular Decision – it’s all discussed in our Columbia MBA essay guide.

 
 

Columbia 2017 Full-Time MBA essay questions

Class of 2020 / J-Term Class of 2019

The Columbia essay questions are in line with what we expected – and what we have discussed in great detail in our Columbia MBA essay guide!

As has been the case for a very long time, the 2017 Columbia MBA app has are three essays plus a short-answer question:

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

First up, we have to point out that those are characters – not words – which means you have next to nothing in terms of space to work with. This is intended to be literally what you will be recruiting for when you are ready to graduate. Then you can expand upon that in Essays 1 and 2.

  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) This is nearly identical to the main career goals question that Columbia has asked for several cycles now, with a key improvement of specificity on timeframes for the S/T goal, and a new twist where they’re looking for a “dream job” — which could prove tricky for some! You are going to run into trouble, for example, if you say your short-term goal is to become a consultant and your long-term goal is to open a restaurant. You can play that card if you like, but thar be dragons!!! Despite Columbia’s lofty adjectives of “imagination” and “dream” we still advise BSers to be reasonable in what they define as a L/T goal. Our Columbia guide explains.
  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) Another simplified version of a Columbia classic! This one is, again, less ambiguous in its phrasing, which is awesome. Have we mentioned recently how important school research is?
  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?

    These two are simply alternatives to the previous seasons’ versions of Essay 3, where they want to get to know you as a person. The most important objective with this question? AUTHENTICITY. Please don’t come up with something you think “sounds good.” Think about what the REAL answer is (yeah, we know, not easy!!) and go with that.

The other good news? Columbia is now back to being super specific on essay length. Last year they tried an experiment with offering applicants a sliding word count, which we predicted they would ditch this time, and boy, are we glad they did! BSers do much better with clear direction and no ambiguity. The essay lengths this year are reasonable: Not so long you don’t know what to do with yourself, but long enough to answer the question sufficiently.

For the record: A 500-word essay should fit on one page; 250 words is two decent-sized paragraphs. Don’t go over. Or at least, not by much.

EssaySnark’s Columbia 2017 MBA application guide is up to date for the Class of 2020.

2017 Columbia Essay Critiques

 

Applying early to Columbia is always recommended; we have many posts on this blahg about what “early” means – see below for the key ones you’ll want to read.
 

Is Columbia competitive? You bet. For perspective: Columbia’s average GMAT score for their 2016 class bumped to 717 and now only a few years later it’s at 724 ; they have seen a YoY increase of at least 3% in app volumes for consecutive admissions cycle. Currently this adds up to about a 17% acceptance rate. Their yield has been creeping higher, too – in fact, highest since 2008 if our records are correct.

 
 

Columbia 2017 Dates and Deadlines

Columbia Full-Time MBA Application Deadlines – rolling admissions, so APPLY EARLY!

  • Accelerated J-Term (one round only): – this will put you into the Class of 2019, graduating with the cohort that started August 2017
  • Binding Early Decision: – this is for the standard two-year program that graduates in May 2020. Early Decision is the recommended application option if Columbia is your #1 choice; it’s binding though, so go Regular Decision if you would not be able to commit to them in advance.
  • Regular Decision Fellowship deadline: January 5, 2018yay Columbia for shifting this deadline out! It’s only one day later than it was, but it helps — lots of other schools have deadlines immediately after the New Year holiday, which sux. For Columbia, the Fellowship deadline is a quasi “Round 2”: If you’re serious about this school and not applying Early Decision, this is your drop-dead date for when your app should be in. However, this is not the IDEAL date to submit for Regular Decision! We have a detailed discussion of this in our Columbia strategy guide. Their final Regular Decision deadline will be in April 2018 but applying in February or later will just be too late for most people. We get nervous when someone applies past mid-January.

Again, our Columbia MBA application guide tells you the best time to apply this season, based on changes at the school, for each of the different application options you have available — or keep reading below and check out the many posts here on the blahg on Regular Decision vs Early Decision vs J-Term.


 

Columbia’s confusing application options

Here’s an overview of the Columbia MBA application options (May 2015) – explains rolling admissions and talks about the advantages of Early Decision.

The rest of the posts in this section were written for past admissions cycles. The information is largely applicable to this season too but there have been slight changes in recent years such as with the RD open date, as noted above.

Early Decision

Yes it’s an advantage – and it’s also binding. Only do this if you’re committed to choosing Columbia if they choose you!

Regular Decision

Rolling Admissions

 

The Columbia J-Term

This is not an application option – this is a different MBA track. It’s an accelerated 16-month MBA that offers the same full-time experience, just no internship. You must demonstrate fit in order to have a shot at acceptance. There is one deadline only (no Early Decision option). J-Termers do not qualify for any fellowship awards. Essay questions are the same for J-Term and August Start. Your J-Term application is not binding.

 
 

 
Want to get started? Check out our 2017 Columbia MBA Application Guide for strategies and guidance on everything we’re talking about here!

Columbia MBA recommendations

Columbia used Columbia is using the second set of standardized recommender questions (Harvard and Booth use these same questions, too).
  • Two recommendations for new applicants; one for reapplicants
  • Two questions for your recommenders to answer :
    1. How do the candidate’s performance, potential, background, or personal qualities compare to those of other well-qualified individuals in similar roles? Please provide specific examples.
    2. Please describe the most important piece of constructive feedback you have given the applicant. Please detail the circumstances and the applicant’s response.

If you want to give your recommenders a resource for how to most effectively write about you for Columbia and other schools, check out our Recommenders’ Instruction Sets.

The 2017 Columbia MBA Application Guide for full-time applicants is your best tool for presenting a strong set of essays to this school!

Also helpful: Check out Columbia MBA essay critiques from past seasons.

 

Columbia Links, Important App Info, and More Snark

official school pages:

stuff you should know about Columbia, by EssaySnark:

Also interesting to know about the culture:

 

And just for fun:

 

Tired of clicking through posts? Want to just start writing essays? Get it all in one place! For a thorough and very detailed analysis of everything you need to grapple with for this school, pick up the 2017 SnarkStrategies Guide for Columbia – there is so much important information in there on strategy and when to apply and how does Early Decision work, that this will put you on the right path, even if you’re not planning to submit till later in the season. Setting your strategy with Columbia early can ease your burden of figuring out your approach to ALL schools! Our essay guides are written from scratch to walk you through the necessary details – they are not simply reformatted blahg posts.

Though you’ll want to keep reading those, too. 😀

 

For Reference: Columbia’s Past-Season MBA Essays & Analysis

We’ve covered Columbia a lot on the blahg… and most any of our previous posts are absolutely relevant today. Columbia has changed its questions from year to year, but they’re largely asking the same thing as they always have: career goals, plus Columbia differentiators. Anything we’ve said about Columbia’s essays in the past will steer you in the right direction with this year’s MBA application, too. Study these!

This is truly a gold mine for those trying to figure out how to pitch Columbia!

2016 Columbia Essay Reviews – Question Analysis and Essay Critiques

Click to view the 2015 questions


Last year’s questions and what we had to say about them (this stuff is old but still pertinent)
Really Columbia?!?? You increased the allowed length for the short-answer question on goals from 50 to 51 CHARACTERS?!!!? We don’t know whether to laugh or cry at that. (We sort of did both in this post.) We had a follow-up post about another change to the essays that we take issue with. Our faith in Columbia has been (once again) somewhat rattled by this.

Three essays plus that oh-so-generous 51-character short-answer question:

  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?
    This is the same question as they used last year, but now they tell you that you can use from 100 to 750 words to answer it. To do a good job with this, you really need to write a minimum of 500 words. Anyone who does only 100 words is likely cheating themselves out of a clear presentation of their pitch to the adcom. We are doubtful that you can do a good job with anywhere less than 400. That doesn’t mean you need to use the full 750 words – and it definitely doesn’t mean you can go over 750. Tell them why you want an MBA – and why from Columbia. It needs to be clear and direct.
  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, our students 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”?

    [Not to be confused with this place that’s apparently “the center of everything” – ES]

    This is nearly the same as they asked last year except they ditched the reference to “theory and practice” (see our 2016 Columbia guide for a discussion of whether that’s relevant to you or not). The essence of this question is, how will you use the resources that they have available? Please note: You don’t have to tell the adcom about what those resources are; they know them. They just highlighted a bunch in the question itself. Instead, this is an opportunity to further expand your pitch. Essay 1 is, “These goals are the reason why I need an MBA.” Essay 2 is, “This is how I’m going to make the most of my time at Columbia to achieve those goals. The other big change? Again they’re stating an acceptable word count range: 100 to 500 words. In most cases you should aim for 500 words of strong content (writing 500 words of fluff should be avoided).

  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)
    Identical to last year except that they emphasized the word “pleasantly” – which is what we’ve been emphasizing to BSers in our Essay Reviews for Columbia all along! We have reviewed essays for this question in past years and which we discuss in detail in the essay guide – be authentic!! Again, using that full allotment of 250 words is likely wise.

And the STILL SHORT! short-answer question:

What is your immediate post-MBA professional goal? (51 characters)

This question started out ages ago as a 200-character response. Columbia has been whittling away at it until last year it was down to 50 characters. Which we said was ridiculous. Which we still think in the +1 form is ridiculous. Gee thanks Columbia.

So as you can see, they tweaked the essays a bit, though as we’ve long said, directionally Columbia is still Columbia. We know exactly what they respond best to; we have quite the track record of helping BSers with successful apps to this great school. All of it is fully explained in the 2016 Columbia MBA Application Guide – which has been expanded almost 10 more pages from last year’s edition.

Note: Despite all our kvetching about the lengths of the essays, we do have to point out that Columbia made it to our list of Five Favorite Schools back in 2014.
 

In August we talked about the dangers with choose-your-own-length variable word count thing that Columbia has implemented – 100 to 750 words for Essay 1? What’s not to like? Hmmm. We also cover best practices and guidelines for what makes a good length for each of these questions in that Columbia essay guide.
 

In 2013 and 2014, Columbia began processing Regular Decision applications in mid-November. In years before that, this typically didn’t happen until sometime in December. Now, they state on their Application Process page that Regular Decision apps won’t be reviewed earlier than December 1st. Our application guide tells you the best time to apply for each of the different application options.

 
[end discussion of 2016 questions]


2015 Columbia Essay Reviews – Question Analysis and Essay Critiques

Click to view the 2015 questions


2015 questions (these are even older)

For 2015, Columbia changed things up a bit, though as we’ve been saying, directionally Columbia is still Columbia. We know exactly what they respond best to; we have quite the track record of helping BSers with successful apps to this great school. Information on their updates are below and are also fully explained in the Columbia MBA Application Guide – which has been expanded another 10 pages from last year’s edition.


These essays are nearly identical to what they had in 2014 – our predictions were spot-on! The main difference is there is now ONLY 50 CHARACTERS (down from 75!!!) to say what you want to do after bschool.

Three essays:

  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? (Maximum 500 words) (This appears to be an interesting borrowing of language from other schools like HBS and Booth – but it’s still a quintessentially Columbia question. They want to know why you want an MBA – and why from their school. Focus on clear and direct post-MBA goals and you’ll be setting yourself up for success.)
  2. Columbia Business School’s location enables us to bridge theory and practice in multiple ways: through Master Classes, internships, the New York Immersion Seminars, and, most importantly, through a combination of distinguished research faculty and accomplished practitioners. How will you take advantage of being “at the very center of business”? (Maximum 250 words) (What a relief that they modified the wording of essay 2 this year! We’re betting that people are able to do a better job than last year’s crop of applicants did. The key to this question is to go beyond a recitation of lists. You don’t have to tell the adcom about what resources Columbia has. They already listed those things out! Instead, focus on YOU and why a specific thing matters, and how you’ll put it to use. It’s also interesting that they’ve resuscitated their “theory and practice” theme from many years back. Give that some thought too, Brave Supplicant!)
  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? (Maximum 250 words) (Essentially the same as 2014 – which was the same as 2013 – which we reviewed in past years and which we discuss in detail in the essay guide – be authentic in this one!!)

And the SHORT! (!!!!) short-answer question:

What is your immediate post-MBA professional goal?

Only 50 characters (!!!!) permitted now. We blahgged about the The 2013 100-character version (“post-MBA professional goal”) – but unfortunately as we posted right when the 2015 app was released, EssaySnark’s opinion is that this question is near-useless at 50 characters.

[end discussion of 2015 questions]


2015 Essay Reviews

 

2014 Columbia Essay Reviews – Question Analysis and Essay Critiques

Click to view the 2014 questions


2014 questions (these are EVEN OLDER)
Three essays:
  1. Given your individual background and goals, why are you pursuing a Columbia MBA at this time? (Maximum 500 words) (They added the “and goals” part to the question this year to remind you that you’re applying for admission to an MBA program – and Columbia wants to hear about what you plan to do with the MBA. Don’t omit that part in your answer! It’s exactly the advice we gave in last year’s strategy guide too. Glad to see the change in the question.)
  2. View video “The Center” then answer this question: How will you take advantage of being “at the very center of business”? (Maximum 250 words) (This is essentially the same as the prior year without the geographically-challenged component that we called out then 😉 ).
  3. What will the people in your Cluster be pleasantly surprised to learn about you? (Maximum 250 words) (Identical to last year.)

And the short-answer question:

What is your immediate post-MBA professional goal?

Only 75 characters permitted now. [For the 2015 app it’s 50 characters! eek! -ES]The 2013 100-character version (“post-MBA professional goal”) is discussed here.

[end discussion of 2014 questions]


2014 Essay Reviews

 

As you can see, the essence of what makes for a strong Columbia application remains the same today.

2013 Columbia Essay Reviews – Question Analysis and Essay Critiques

Click to view the 2013 questions


2013 essay questions – these are REALLY OLD

Three essays:

  1. Given your individual background, why are you pursuing a Columbia MBA at this time? (Maximum 500 words)
  2. Columbia Business School is located in the heart of the world’s business capital – Manhattan. How do you anticipate that New York City will impact your experience at Columbia? [includes two videos about the Columbia NYC experience: video 1: New York City – limitless possibilities – titled “New Neighborhood, New Outlook, New York” on the video page; and video 2: New York City – fast paced and adaptable – titled “Columbia MBA Program: New York, New York” on the video page] (Maximum 250 words)
  3. What will the people in your Cluster be pleasantly surprised to learn about you? (Maximum 250 words)

Don’t forget the short-answer question! Only 100 characters permitted. Discussed here.

What is your immediate post-MBA professional goal?
 
 

[end overview of 2013 questions]



2013 Essay Reviews

 

2012 Columbia Essay Reviews – Question Analysis and Essay Critiques

Click to view the 2012 questions


2012 questions – these are EXCEPTIONALLY OLD

Two essays:

  1. A) Why are you pursuing an MBA at this point in your career, and how do you plan to achieve your immediate and long term post-MBA professional goals? (Maximum 500 words)
    B) [View the video on their site, then] Describe why you are interested in becoming a part of the Columbia community. (Maximum 250 words)
  2. Describe a personal experience and how it has influenced who you are today. This essay should have a personal rather than a professional focus. (Maximum 500 words)

The short-answer question was a lot longer then – 200 characters allowed

What is your immediate post-MBA professional goal?

[end overview of 2012 questions]

2012 Essay Reviews


If you want to dig even deeper into the archives, there’s these – yes, still relevant, we promise!

2011 Columbia Essay Reviews

Even this ancient post from way back in 2010 still has some life left in it!

2010 Columbia Essay Reviews

Obviously we’ve been helping people with Columbia for a long time! There are lots of former Brave Supplicants wandering around the Upper West Side every single year.


Again, The 2017 Columbia MBA Application Guide is the definitive book covering everything that this school values in its applicants.


 

Want to get that Columbia application DONE?

Use our Complete Essay Package to develop the strongest pitch possible – each step in the process was originally designed especially for Columbia’s essays!

 

Wow – you made it all the way to the bottom of the page?!?? Here’s some posts about Columbia Admissions that don’t actually have to do with your application strategy but hey, you’re clearly bored, so why not:

 

[return to index of essay questions by business school]

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