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Columbia Graduate School of Business Application Essay Tips

Posted by Chioma Isiadinso

Columbia essaysSo Columbia GSB’s essays are out and they have made several changes to them this year.

Unlike last year, where applicants were required to answer two questions (What are your short-term and long-term post-MBA goals?

How will Columbia Business School (CBS) help you achieve these goals? (Recommended 750-word limit) and Please tell us about yourself and your personal interests.

The goal of this essay is to get a sense of who you are, rather than what you have achieved professionally. (Recommended 500-word limit).

This year, applicants have to write one additional short essay (250 words) and have the option to pick from three essay choices.

Another change is that Columbia is now giving you maximum word/character limits which you will need to stick to unlike before where you had recommended word limits.

Here are some tips on how to approach each of the Columbia GSB 2014 essay questions:

A short essay:  What is your post-MBA professional goal? (200 characters maximum)

This is a quick snap shot of your career objective. The admission board has very little time and a question like this gives them a clear sense of what your career goal is without having to wade through lengthy content.  

This essay allows the board to get a read on the career ambitions of the candidate (whether this is a serious contender or wishful thinker when it comes to the career goal).

Three essay questions:

(1) 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? (750 words maximum)

This essay has two parts: why now is the right time for you to go to business school in connection to your long term goal you stated in the earlier question and how Columbia is a good fit for you. 

Make sure you answer all the parts of this question. The mistake many applicants make with this essay is to ignore a part of the question or to not spend enough time addressing one part of the question.

This essay looks at why now makes sense for you to pursue the MBA in the context of your career objectives.

To successfully answer this question, you have to provide a clear statement of what your post MBA and long term career goals are.

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A fuzzy goal is one of the main reason a candidate is denied admission to Columbia GSB.

This is not a school where you want to claim grand sweeping career aspirations that are not anchored in reality—they want to know that you have thought through your career steps and have a realistic picture of the skills you have gained and the practical ones you still need to achieve your goals.

The more specific you are with your career plans the better. Make sure you make a case for why now makes sense for you to pursue the MBA (Why not two years ago? Why not a year from now?

What is going on currently in your career and in your life that makes now the ideal time to apply? ) And finally, make sure to do your homework about the school.

Try and drill down beyond the verbiage on their website. It helps to really understand the brand of the school (visit the program, engage alumni about their experiences); this goes beyond knowing the clubs and classes.

Make sure you are able to connect how the specific thing you choose about the program actually fits into making it a great place for you to thrive.

Keep in mind that the admission board would be reading many essays from applicants that all say the same things: X club, Y professor, Z student engagement.

Make it specific to your unique situation.

(2) Describe a life experience that has shaped you. The goal of this essay is to get a sense of who you are, rather than what you have achieved professionally. (500 words maximum)

Think carefully about all the different life experiences you have had before deciding on the one you wish to communicate to the admission board.

Be strategic. Consider what other content you have provided for the other two essays and then select something meaningful to you that you have not covered in the other essays.

Do pay attention to the wording of the question. They ask for “a life experience that has shaped you” not a series of experiences.

So pick one thing that was transforming or defining, dive into the details and make the story come alive for the reader.

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The person reading this story should be able to see you come alive in front of him after reading this story.

He should be able to understand your motivations, your character, and a good sense of what you care about in life.

This essay ideally should be from outside of work, though there can be situations where a professional experience could work.

(3) For the third essay, please choose one of the following three options:

Option A: The annual A. Lorne Weil Outrageous Business Plan Competition is a student initiative managed and run by the Columbia Entrepreneurs Organization (CEO).

The competition encourages Columbia MBA students to explore creative, entrepreneurial ideas that are sufficiently ambitious in scope and scale to be considered “outrageous.”

Students explore these ideas while learning firsthand what goes into the development and presentation of a solid business proposal. 

Develop your own outrageous business idea. In essay form, compose your elevator pitch. (250 words maximum)

Option B: Columbia deeply values its vibrant student community, the building of which begins at orientation when admitted students are assigned to clusters of 65 to 70 fellow students who take most of the first-year core classes together.

During the first weeks of school, each cluster selects a cluster chair. Further strengthening the student community are the more than 100 active student organizations at Columbia Business School, ranging from cultural to professional to community service–oriented.

Leadership positions within clusters and clubs offer hands-on management and networking opportunities for students as they interact with fellow students, administrators, faculty members, alumni, and practitioners.

You are running for either cluster chair or a club leadership position of your choosing. Compose your campaign speech. (250 words maximum)

Option C: Founded nearly three decades ago, the Executives in Residence Program at Columbia Business School integrates senior executives into the life of the School. 

Current executives in residence include more than a dozen experts in areas ranging from media and investment banking to private equity and management.

A hallmark of the program is one-on-one counseling sessions in which executives advise students about their prospective career choices.

Select one of the current executives in residence with whom you would like to meet during your time at Columbia.

Explain your selection and tell us how you would best utilize your half hour one-on-one session. (250 words maximum)

Choice is always a good thing for applicants. With three choices to choose from applicants have to be strategic about which one offers the best opportunity to showcase their brand (whether it’s your entrepreneurial mindset or your leadership ability).

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There isn’t a right or wrong option. What matters when addressing this question is to be succinct and have a clear strategy about the aspect of your experience and character you want the admission board to know about you.

250 words is just a paragraph so be aggressive when you edit to stay within the word count.

(4) Optional Essay

If you don’t have anything that adds to your story then don’t answer this question. Less can be more.

If there is something really important to you that you were unable to incorporate into your essays then by all means use this last essay to present it.

It can also be used to address fundamental gaps but be careful not to belabor the situation and leave the adcom with the last impression of you being a huge weakness to your story.

Reapplicants at Columbia have the option to complete only one essay: Submit one new essay: How have you enhanced your candidacy since your previous application?

Please detail your progress since you last applied and reiterate your short-term and long-term goals.

Explain how the tools of the Columbia MBA will help you to meet your goals and how you plan to participate in the Columbia community.

(Maximum of 750 words.) This essay should be inserted into the text box designated “Essay 1.”

Submitting only one essay as a reapplicant presents some challenges for applicants.

You have to make sure that you concentrate on what’s new, impressive and fits with the Columbia GSB culture to be able to stand apart in this essay.

New responsibilities at work, greater leadership impact are always acceptable to show how you have grown since previous application.

You need to take time to address what you will contribute to the program and this is as important as what your goals are.

August 2012 Entry

Early Decision: October 5, 2011

Merit Fellowship Consideration: January 4, 2012

Regular Decision: April 11, 2012

January 2012 Entry

October 5, 2011