Traditionally, Columbia Business School is one of the first business schools to release its application essays every year. In part, CBS makes its essays available so early because it is one of the few programs to offer an early decision round and to consider applications on a rolling basis. This year, some of the Columbia MBA application essay questions have changed so we have updated and expanded our CBS essay advice from the 2017/18 season.
In the article that follows, we analyze all of the Columbia essay questions and share tips on how to write essays that will improve your chances of being accepted to CBS. Remember, applying earlier enhances your odds of admission. On that note, let’s get started on those essays!
Short Answer Question: What is your immediate post-MBA professional goal? (50 characters maximum)
This question has been on Columbia’s MBA application for many years now, and from it, the CBS admissions committee is looking for a succinct and specific description of what you aspire to do upon graduation. Given the 50 character limit, we recommend that you forego complete sentences to apply all of the available word count to substance.
For more tips on the Columbia MBA short answer question, check out our Columbia Business School MBA Essay Tips from last year.
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 MBA essay question 1 remains unchanged from last year’s application. Use this essay to expand on the post-MBA professional goal you summarized in Columbia’s short-answer question. Specificity about your career plans is key. While you wouldn’t want to pin all your hopes on getting a job at one name-brand company, it is wise to mention a few example companies and position(s) within those companies to help your reader understand your recruiting goals. Don’t overlook the 3-5 year timeline in the prompt. That’s a signal that you should express what you hope to contribute in the first chapter of your career following business school — and how you hope to grow over time — while in your intended post-MBA role.
You’ll likely want to touch upon how your goals were influenced by your career so far, but don’t spend too much time reciting your resume. That’s why the admissions committee reminds you in their wording of the essay question that they already “have a clear sense of your professional path to date” from your other application materials.
While it’s acceptable to devote a larger portion of essay 1 to answering the first half of the question, be sure you adequately address the second half of the essay question as well. We have seen several applicants make the mistake of failing to answer the second part of a two-part question. In this case, your short-term goal is arguably more important, but the long-term goal is important, too; otherwise, Columbia wouldn’t be asking about it. We suggest choosing a long-term dream job that is actually that — a dream job. In other words, aim high, but be sure the dots connect between your post-MBA role and where you dream of being in your career several years in the future.
Essay 2: How will you take advantage of being “at the very center of business?” (250 words)
Columbia MBA essay question 2 has changed on this year’s application. The Columbia Admissions Office has returned to the “very center of business” question that appeared in the application for three consecutive years, beginning in 2014. This year’s question also includes a video that highlights the many advantages of Columbia’s New York location and stars Columbia Business School Dean Glenn Hubbard.
The biggest mistake some applicants make is not realizing that the phrase “the very center of business” refers to New York City. So, the goal in writing the essay is not just to impress the admissions committee with your knowledge of CBS, but also to demonstrate your understanding of how being in NYC will significantly enhance your own MBA experience. Another way to think of this question would be “Which aspects of Columbia’s program, made possible by its New York City location, will be of the greatest benefit to you?” Your answer to Columbia MBA essay 2 should definitely dovetail with the career goals you discuss in essay 1, but be sure your points and examples all relate to Columbia’s location at “the very center of business”.
We suggest that applicants begin their essay 2 writing efforts by watching the associated video multiple times. Throughout the video, Dean Hubbard provides several examples of opportunities made possible by Columbia’s “center of business” location. Taking your lead from the video, you might want to discuss how a class with a specific adjunct professor who is also a practitioner currently working in NYC will help you reach your career goals. Or you might point out that Columbia’s location will allow you to intern at one of the many legendary companies headquartered in NYC. Connecting with a mentor in the school’s unique Executives in Residence program is another advantage you might discuss.
As always, specificity and personalization are critical to writing a great essay. Mentioning “immersion seminars” generically is not as impressive as writing about a specific seminar you learned about while speaking with a current student. Attending Columbia Business School events for prospective students and speaking with current students and recent graduates may give you ideas for other NYC-specific features of the program that other applicants haven’t written about, thereby setting you apart from the competition.
Essay 3: Please provide an example of a team failure of which you have been a part. If given a second chance, what would you do differently? (250 words)
This year, Columbia Business School has asked a new question in its third essay. In recent years, essay 3 has presented applicants with an opportunity to step away from their professional life to discuss more personal dimensions of their candidacy. With this year’s question, however, it may be more difficult (and less important) for applicants to write about an experience outside of work. In fact, it is perfectly fine to use an example from your professional life to answer this question, as long as you don’t get bogged down in technical details and, instead, focus on what you learned as part of a team that failed. Whether you tell a personal or professional story, it’s very important to discuss a specific situation, as opposed to referencing multiple situations or types of situations in general.
Non-work-related examples can also be effective here — perhaps a time you were on an athletic team or involved with a volunteer organization. However, be sure the experience is relevant and recent. An essay about a group project in high school that flopped isn’t likely to be appreciated by the admissions committee. Such an old example might cause the admissions committee to wonder if you’ve had any meaningful team experiences since. Clearly, more recent experiences will better illustrate the person you are today.
When writing Columbia Essay 3, don’t be afraid to admit faults. Along the same lines, be careful not to place blame on others. Choosing a story that wasn’t actually a failure is a mistake. Business schools value accountability and humility in applicants. Speaking openly about your role in a past failure can help show that you’re self-aware, mature, and emotionally intelligent. This doesn’t mean the failure needs to be solely your fault, but you do need to acknowledge the role you played in the negative outcome.
Finally, we recommend that you devote the majority of your Columbia MBA essay 3 word count to the second half of the question. While you’ll need to describe the situation and reveal the failure in order to set the stage, the admission committee is much more interested in reading what this experience taught you and what you’d do differently if given a second chance.
Optional Essay: Is there any further information that you wish to provide the Admissions Committee? If so, use this space to provide an explanation of any areas of concern in your academic record or your personal history. This does not need to be a formal essay. You may submit bullet points. (Maximum 500 Words)
Our advice for the Columbia Business School optional essay is to use it for clarifying things like poor grades, employment gaps, an upcoming campus visit you’re planning, an upcoming GMAT test date you’ve scheduled, a choice of recommendation writer that might be confusing, and so forth. If there’s something you’re worried the Columbia admissions committee is going to notice, or not notice, you can use the optional essay to address it. We do not recommend that you use the optional essay to share an additional story from your past or to further profess your candidacy for CBS. While it can be appropriate to offer clarifying explanations in the optional essay, think of it as an “all business” — and very much optional — space.