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Thoughts on Columbia's 2014-15 essay questions

May 20, 2014

Columbia just released their essay questions for the 2014-15 MBA application cycle. While these topics are almost identical to last year, it’s never too early to start thinking about themes for this year’s applications, so here is our view on how to approach each set:

Columbia

What is your immediate post-MBA professional goal? (75 characters [note: characters, not words])

Essay 1: Given your individual background and goals, why are you pursuing a Columbia MBA at this time? (500 words)

Essay 2: Please watch this video. How will you take advantage of being "at the very center of business"? (250 words)

Essay 3: What will the people in your Cluster be pleasantly surprised to learn about you? (250 words)

Optional Essay: Is there any further information that you wish to provide the Admissions Committee? Please use this space to provide an explanation of any areas of concern in your academic record or your personal history. (Maximum 500 words)

The 75-character limit on immediate post-MBA goals is truly a gift to applicants. Many applicants invest a LOT of time attempting to convey nuanced goals, which can get needlessly complicated. This question requires a clear understanding of your goals. It will save you writing time down the line, and allow you to get away with 2-3 word references to your goals in later essays, rather than having to explain yourself repeatedly. We enjoy defining your goals clearly with you! Despite concerns that we’ve heard in the past, it is surprising just how differentiated 75-character goals can be. 

Essay 1 is an introduction to your “story.” Start broadly, and lay out the foundation of who you are. Start with some background on experiences that have defined you to date and their relationship to your goals. From there, provide a clear example or two about how Columbia will help you achieve those goals. Student clubs, alumni role models, geography, specific faculty members – everything is fair game. That being said, be careful not to simply lay out a “laundry list” of 4-5 (or more) items, though. Instead, pick a couple of specific details that appeal to you and then spend a few sentences sharing how that aspect of Columbia will specifically help reach your goal. Avoid references to geography or the broader community, as this can be covered in Essay 2.

Essay 2 can be thought of as an extension of “Why Columbia” that you began discussing in Essay 1. Successful candidates answer the question in a way that weaves in their personal background and story, rather than a generic endorsement of New York City or Columbia. Discuss the first time you visited NYC, organizations in the city that will impact your development, even pre-conceptions that you’ve learned from. Alternatively, you can discuss what “center of business” means to you and your goals. The topic is broader than it first appears, so take extra time to think about this one.  And remember, watch the video first!

While there is temptation to make Essay 3 casual, successful candidates remember that this essay has just as much impact on your application as other application materials. It is okay (and often helpful) to discuss a casual topic (travel, team-building activities, weddings gone awry, etc.), but write each story in such a way that it ENHANCES your application. This essay is an opportunity to discuss something personal…make sure the key message to the admissions staff is something positive. Asking friends for “first impressions on key themes” after writing this one usually weeds out stories that can hurt more than help.

As always, the optional essay should generally be used to provide context on your application. Any tough academic terms, difficult work situations, illnesses, or other challenges should be discussed here to help frame your achievements better with the admissions staff. Avoid using this space to emphasize how much you want to attend Columbia. You’ve had ample room to do that in other essays…doing it here will raise questions about gaps.