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Columbia 2016 MBA Essay Tips

Posted by Chioma Isiadinso

Columbia Business School has released its 2015-2016 admissions cycle essay questions. The essay questions are very goal-oriented.

So it is important to think through your answers to ensure that you have clearly identified your career goals and how an MBA from the school will help you achieve these goals.

Let’s take a look at this year’s essays, which have been tweaked compared to last year’s requirements.

Last year, the school asked candidates in the first essay why they were pursuing an MBA at this particular point in their lives; this year the focus in more honed to applicant career goals.

There are three required essays and one short answer question.
Columbia 2016 MBA Essay Tips

Short Answer Question

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

Examples of possible responses

“Work in business development for a media company.”

“Join a strategy consulting firm.”

“Launch a data-management start-up.”

The key to this question is to be very specific in a short amount of space.

Say exactly what you want to do, and try and include industry and function where possible.

Reveal Your Personal Brand

Essay 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 is the first opportunity you have to differentiate yourself from other applicants by revealing your personal brand.

Columbia recently overhauled its admissions site, and now includes advice to “Paint us a picture that’s as unique as you are – just keep it on topic and professional.”

Your goal for all of the essay questions should be to create a lasting impression on the admissions board.

If you haven’t read our advice about developing a compelling reason why you want an MBA, take a look for advice on how to think strategically about this essay topic.

The career goals that you outline should be specific, and you should outline a clear, actionable trajectory for how the MBA from Columbia will help you achieve these goals.

It is not enough for you to give a generic response about career growth or intellectual development as the driving force behind your desire to get an MBA.

If your career ambition is simply a small, incremental step, it is unlikely that the MBA admissions board will give you a spot to advance to a middle management role when there are candidates who are looking to use the MBA to have transformative impact and change.

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Instead, you must clearly articulate what goals you have, the impact these goals will achieve and how you will use your MBA degree to achieve these goals.

Admissions boards are looking for applicants who have a strong sense of who they are, what matters to them and where they are heading in the future.

After highlighting your goals, tell them how the resources and prospects that Columbia provides will lead you to your next step.

Do your research so that you can point out specific classes, professors, clubs, or other offerings that work well with your goals.

Draw a very clear picture of why you want to be on Columbia’s campus, what you will do there, and how you will use the degree later in life.

Just as in last year’s admissions cycle, the school uses its second essay topic to query how the school’s brand messaging resonates with you.
New York 2006 Rank: 10 Tuition and Fees: $94,104 Applicants Accepted: 15% Pre-MBA/Post-MBA Pay in $ Thousands: 75.0/110.0 In Brief: Finance focus and access to Wall Street are pluses—or used to be before the investment banking industry collapsed. Columbia Profile Columbia on Business Exchange

Build Bridges Between Opportunities and Your Goals

Essay 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)

Here is your opportunity to continue the “story” you laid out in the first essay, with specific information about how the school’s location will allow you to achieve your goals.

Columbia’s reference to “the center of business” refers to the many industries that intersect in New York, Columbia students’ direct access to high-levelprofessionals, and New York’s role in the global economy.  Check out this video for more background.

The question also references the convergence between theory and practice by calling out specific programs such as master classes – hands-on, project-based electives designed to challenge second-year MBA students to master core concepts by applying them to contemporary business problems.

Projects require students to make managerial decisions or recommendations on real-world problems companies need solved.

As you build your framework for this essay question, use these themes. It is very important to be specific. Every applicant out there will writeplenty about the diverse opportunitiesNew York offers.

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You need to buildbridges between those opportunitiesand your own goals.

How will the ability to meet and work with practitioners further your career goals?

What specific advantages could you gain from solving real business problems that would help you make a greater impact in your future professionallife?

Which industries will you seek out in New York and why?

Are there any companies you are particularlyinterested in?

What do you most want to learn in New York?

Make sure that the advantages you list are actionable.

You want the MBA admissions boardto see you as someone who will hit the ground running, eagerly, with a clear plan in mind and the initiative to take action.

With its third essay question, Columbia again is asking candidates what their potential future classmates would be pleasantly surprised to learn about them.

However, the school has added a reference to a video on a program called CBS Matters, which the school bills as an “opportunity for students and other members of the CBS community to present to their peers and classmates what matters most to them and why.”

Reveal Your Personal Brand

Essay 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)

This is your opportunity to introduce a bit more personality into your application and showcase character traits and accomplishments that you have not yet had the chance to highlight.

The video notes that CBS Matters is focused on what students are most passionate about, how their individual life experiences have shaped them into who they are.

Here you should highlight your personal brand, which is driven by your passion and grounded in your values. Take time to reflect on what you do that brings meaning to you and how that reflects your values skills and interests.

If you are struggling, think about this question: “If you had 25 words to describe yourself, what would you say?” Answer these questions to parse out your personal brand statement

  1. Who are you (passions, values, etc.)?
  2. What have you done (skills, track record, etc.)?
  3. Where you plan to end up (vision and goals for your life)?
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Here are some examples of personal brand statement from MBA applicants who have gained admissions at top programs.

  • Gutsy Asian female with a passion for empowering women who plans to transform family businesses by infusing fair-trade practices
  • African American bootstrapperwith significant leadership track record who plans to create or run a VC fund to help revitalize inner-city communities

Focus on the unique elements you and your passion would bring to your Cluster and the school.

Be wary of bland, passionless answers like, “I am a strong teammate.”

That is great, of course, but if that is the theme of your essay, you need to back it up with specific examples that show how you have been an extraordinary teammate.

I would suggest focusing on a unique element of your background instead. Maybe you grew up in an unusual environment, or have an unexpected hobby.

Maybe you have spent time in jobs outside of the business norm. Whatever it is, provide vivid detail and explain how the background and character traits that you are highlighting will benefit your Cluster.

Your Turn

Two of the three essays are very goal-oriented, so it is very important that you can clearly articulate your post-MBA goals, as well as an actionable plan for your time on campus.

You want MBA admissions board members to read your application and later think,

“Oh, that’s the guy who wants to start a private equity firm in his hometown in Brazil,”


“That’s the girl who wants to use her engineering background in a start-up venture.”

You don’t want them to think,

“Hmm, what did they want to do again?”

So make it clear.

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