After asking you to describe your post-MBA career goals in no more than 200 bite-sized characters, Columbia Business School serves up a combo-meal of some classic MBA essay questions.
You are granted 750 words to elaborate on your career goals, explain your rationale for pursuing an MBA at this point in your career, and persuade the admissions committee that Columbia is a good fit for you.
Considering your post-MBA and long term professional goals, why are you pursuing an MBA at this point in your career? Additionally, why is Columbia Business School a good fit for you?
We have previously written about the qualities of an effective career goals essay, so let’s cover some new ground and focus on the second and third questions that make up Columbia Business School Essay 1.
Why are you pursuing an MBA at this point in your career?
It is striking how much applicants struggle with this fairly simple question. You would think that justifying their decision for pursuing an MBA would be easy-breezy, but it’s not. Perhaps, that is because the first answers that spring to mind don’t make for very compelling essay responses: I am bored with my job. I hate my boss. Everyone else is getting one. I want to make more money… and the list of blooper responses goes on.
Once they have exhausted the list of reasons that they don’t care to share with the AdComm, these applicants start piling on the clichés: My learning curve has plateaued in my job. I am ready for a new challenge. I need new skills to succeed in my future career. To be fair, many of the clichés ring true – in fact, that is how they become clichés. If one of these common answers applies to you, then our recommendation is to avoid clichés by personalizing your explanation. For example, instead of writing that your learning curve has plateaued, tell the admissions committee what sort of expertise you have acquired and point to specific skills that you want to acquire that your current position simply doesn’t offer. Along the same lines, don’t just write that you are ready for a new challenge; describe some of the specific challenges that you are eager to tackle as a future MBA.
Of course, the most common answer about why an applicant is pursuing an MBA is the one we listed third – the prospective MBA needs additional knowledge, skills, and relationships to succeed in his or her future career. Many applicants make the mistake of writing exactly that: I am applying for an MBA because I need additional knowledge, skills, and relationships. That answer scores a zero on the useful information scale and a zero on the interesting-applicant scale.
To go beyond the superficial and score some points, you need to share which specific capabilities an MBA provides that will be critical to your future career. The point is that specificity in your response is the secret to turning a cliché answer into one that gives the admissions committee fresh insights into your motivations for pursuing an MBA. Here’s an excerpt from one candidate’s Columbia Business School Essay that scores points:
The landscape for consumer packaged goods will continue to change rapidly in the 21st century. In order for me to succeed as a brand manager and eventually the CEO of a CPG firm, I need an MBA that will provide foundational skills in strategic planning, brand marketing, and new product development. These new skillsets will enable me to transition from the engineering focused role I have at P&G, which is primarily focused on supply chain management, to a brand management position.
Why is Columbia Business School a good fit for you?
There are more qualified candidates applying to Columbia Business School than there are seats in the class. Columbia and all top tier business schools want to know that their MBA program is at the top of your list. Still, as the old saying goes, “flattery will get you nowhere.” Boilerplate responses, such as Columbia is a good fit for me because of the amazing courses, prestigious professors, and countless student clubs, are easily dismissed and will not convince Columbia that you are a good fit.
Again, specificity is key. Your points about Columbia’s fit with your needs must be personal and specific. Telling admissions officers that you are excited about taking Finance 101 is not sufficient because just about every business school will have some version of Finance 101. Therefore, you have earned zero points on the “fit scale” with that answer. What are your specific academic interests? Does Columbia have a professor who is a thought leader in the field that you want to work in? Do they have a field-based project in your industry?
Moreover, don’t just stop at listing some interesting classes and professors. What else about Columbia fits well with what you are looking for in a graduate business school? Teaching style, academic philosophy, culture? Those are dimensions that many applicants fail to consider when discussing why Columbia is a great fit for them. Show off your knowledge of the program on a number of dimensions and explain why the things you learned about Columbia in your school research have motivated you to apply to their program. If you demonstrate in your essay that Columbia excites you on a number of levels, the admission committee might be persuaded their school isn’t just a good fit – it is a great fit! Scoring high marks on the fit scale might just earn you a coveted seat at Columbia Business School.
For more tips on acing the career goals essay, you can also refer to our blog post: How to Earn an “A” on Your Career Goals Essay.