Columbia Business School – What’s New (a Lot!) and How to Wow the Adcom with Your Essays

Columbia Business School means New York is home.


Several key things have changed this year when it comes to the Columbia Business School application.

First, they’ve done away with rolling admissions for their fall cohort as well as the option to apply early decision. There will now be rounds that mirror most peer schools. Having seen clients stress about when to hit submit in a rolling admissions world and agonize over whether to apply early, we see this change as a positive.

Second, they’ve tweaked two of their essay questions. With essay two, they’ve increased their focus on diversity and inclusion, seeking an example of how applicants have fostered these in the past. In essay three (which was essay two last year), ‘fit’ with Columbia Business School remains the hot topic but the prompt is slightly narrower, as is the word count with 50 fewer words to make your case. The first essay prompt (and accompanying short answer question) remains unchanged and critically important to demonstrate robust thought about your future career plans and how an MBA fits into them.

If you’re applying to Columbia Business School, read on for some tactical details about the process as well as guidance on how to approach the essay prompts. 

Columbia Business School Deadlines (for Fall 2024 entry)

Round 1: September 13, 2023

Round 2: January 5, 2024

Round 3: April 3, 2024

Columbia Business School Essay Questions

Short Answer Question: What is your immediate post-MBA professional goal? (50 characters maximum)

Essay 1: Through your resume and recommendation, we have a clear sense of your professional path to date. What are your career goals over the next three to five years and what is your long-term dream job? (500 words)

Essay 2: The Phillips Pathway for Inclusive Leadership (PPIL) is a co-curricular program designed to provide students with the skills and strategies needed to develop as inclusive leaders.  Through various resources and programming, the goal is for students to explore and reflect during their educational journey on the following five inclusive leadership skills:  Mitigating Bias and Prejudice; Managing Intercultural Dialogue; Addressing Systemic Inequity; Understanding Identity and Perspective Taking; and Creating an Inclusive Environment.

Describe a time or situation when you had the need to utilize one of more of these five skills, and tell us the actions you took and the outcome. (250 words)

Essay 3: We believe Columbia Business School is a special place. CBS proudly fosters a collaborative learning environment through curricular experiences like our clusters and learning teams, an extremely active co-curricular and student life environment, and career mentorship opportunities like our Executives-in-Residence program.

Why do you feel Columbia Business School is a good fit for you academically, culturally, and professionally? Please be specific. (250 words)

Optional Essay: If you wish to provide further information or additional context around your application to the Admissions Committee, please upload a brief explanation of any areas of concern in your academic record or personal history. This does not need to be a formal essay. You may submit bullet points. (Maximum 500 Words)

Note for Reapplicants Applying in Successive Years: Reapplicants are not required to submit additional essays. Only the following reapplicant essay is required: How have you enhanced your candidacy since your previous application? Please detail your progress since you last applied and reiterate how you plan to achieve your immediate and long-term post-MBA professional goals. (Maximum 500 words).

Columbia Business School Essay Advice

You can tell a lot about a school from the essay questions they ask applicants to answer. Columbia’s essay questions demonstrate that it seeks students who have defined, well researched career goals, hence the robust word count allotted to essay one and pointed short answer question. CBS also places heavy emphasis on diversity – not just in background but also in thought – as well as collaboration and developing leaders who embrace these core values. Essays 2 and 3 look for you to demonstrate how your values and goals align with CBS’ offerings and what unique perspective you bring to the table. Keep these nuances in mind as you craft your answers.

The ‘Why’ is as Important as the ‘What’ in Essay One

While the first essay prompt indicates that Columbia isn’t looking for a restatement of your resume, some insight into the past makes for a more powerful and authentic response. In addition to a clear and specific explanation of your goals, the most important thing to communicate is the ‘why’ behind them. And the ‘why’ is often rooted in your past experiences.

The key is to be targeted about which of your past experiences you include. Start by thinking about the defining elements of the career you will pursue post-MBA. For instance, perhaps your dream is to launch a new beauty brand. The defining elements of this path could be described as (1) entrepreneurship and (2) consumer focused. Share things from your past that explain why you have a passion for entrepreneurship and also why beauty / consumer goods will be your focus as opposed to another product or service. Perhaps you launched a side business in college and loved the thrill of building something from scratch. And maybe your personal experience has demonstrated a gap in the current beauty marketplace that you feel compelled to rectify. Tell these stories to help the reader feel your passion and the authenticity underlying your goals.

Once you’ve provided sufficient context, the remainder of the essay should be forward-looking, painting a clear picture of what you hope to accomplish and how you seek to grow professionally both in the near-term and long-term. This may require some research into your desired career path but does not need to be tied to one specific role or job. Instead, remain anchored in how you will continue to define success. Your long-term dream job should be a natural progression on that success path but don’t get too hung up on what’s “realistic”. This is where you can – and should – dream big about your future.  

Don’t Be Intimidated by Essay Two – ‘Small’ Stories Can Make for Powerful Essays

Essay two is a question that CBS used to ask but replaced with another prompt in the last several years. As a first step, ground yourself in the PPIL curriculum. Then, with that context as well as the five inclusive leadership skills in mind, brainstorm a number of stories from your past that may fit. Don’t just stop at the first story that comes to mind – we find that this can cause people to overlook even stronger examples.

Clients are often intimidated by this type of question, concerned that the impact they’ve had in past situations is not ‘big’ enough. On the contrary, sometimes examples that were small in scale but had a significant impact on just one person or a few people – particularly if that impact was squarely driven by the applicant – can make for some of the most powerful essays.

In addition to identifying the best example in your arsenal, the key to a successful essay is to briefly cover off on the situation (250 words is short!) – this may even mean leaving out some of the story and keying in on only details that are relevant to the diversity angle. After setting the stage, spend the greatest portion of the word count on your actions. Describe them in a way and level of detail that makes the reader feel like they were there and, of course, demonstrate how you were an inclusive leader. Don’t forget to end with the result – how your actions benefited others on your team, in your organization, society more broadly, etc. 

Remember that ‘Fit’ is a Two-Way Street in Essay Three

Answering this question well requires communicating that you understand the unique perspective you bring to the table – both the skills you have and also those you lack – and have done your research to understand how they benefit AND benefit from CBS’ program. Further, they want to understand this fit across three dimensions – academic, cultural, and professional. That’s a lot of ground to cover, so make sure each point you choose to make is powerful and cut to the chase with each.

To stand out in a sea of “why CBS” essays, it’s more critical than ever to draw specific and personal connections between what you want and need to get out of your MBA and what CBS offers. For example, go beyond restating a class description and show how the knowledge you will gain will complement your current set of experiences. If you have experience or relationships within a specific industry, this could be a great place to show how those would benefit your classmates as well.

In many cases, ‘cultural fit’ is the hardest to write about since you haven’t lived the student experience. This is where a campus visit, or at a minimum, 1:1 conversations with current students / recent alums come in handy. From hearing their experiences, you’ll notice what is most appealing or exciting to you. Don’t overcomplicate this one – genuine insights are always the best. Help the reader picture you as a member of the CBS community.

Interested in personalized, 1:1 coaching for your Columbia Business School application (and others)? Reach out to request an initial consultation.  

No Comments

Post a Comment