Essay Advice – Columbia Business School

Working on your Columbia Business School application? Here is what you need to know:

Application Run Down

Columbia is one of the only top schools where the timing of when you click “submit” can matter. Since Columbia has rolling admissions, it’s often to your benefit to submit your application early. This is an important one to stay on top of if it’s on your list.


J-Term Entry (January 2022):

  • Final – October 6, 2021

Regular Entry (August 2022) (70% of students):

  • Early Decision (Binding) – October 6, 2021
  • Scholarship Consideration – January 5, 2022
  • Final – April 8, 2022

There is one short answer question and three required essays:

  • 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, in your imagination, would be your long-term dream job? (500 words)
  • Essay 2 and 3: Please respond to two (2) of the three (3) essay questions listed below:
    1. The Phillips Pathway for Inclusive Leadership (PPIL) is a new co-curricular program designed to ensure that every CBS student develops the skills to become an ethical and inclusive leader. Through PPIL, students attend programming focused on five essential diversity, equity, and inclusion skills: Creating an Inclusive Environment, Mitigating Bias, Communicating Across Identities, Addressing Systemic Inequity, and Managing Difficult Conversations. Tell us about a time you were challenged around one of these five skills.  Describe the situation, the actions you took, and the outcome. (250 words)
    2. Why do you feel Columbia Business School is a good fit for you? (250 words)
    3. Tell us about your favorite book, movie, or song and why it resonates with you. (250 words)

How To Tackle The CBS Essays

While it may sound odd, 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 – and developing leaders who embrace this as a core value. Essays 2 and 3 seek to understand the unique perspective you bring to the table and look for you to demonstrate that you share the school’s focus on harnessing diversity. 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.

Be Strategic When Choosing Prompts and Material for Essays Two and Three

When it comes to selecting the two of three essay prompts to answer, be strategic. Think of your application as a holistic package and choose the questions that will highlight critical parts of your personal brand that you haven’t had the chance to communicate elsewhere.

Because there isn’t another discrete place to cover your ‘why Columbia’ messaging, I often encourage clients to answer the second prompt and then select one of the others. The catch is that this is arguably the hardest of the three questions to answer well. Doing so requires communicating that you understand the unique perspective you bring to the table (harkening back to my earlier point) – 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.

Leverage your final essay as a ‘gap filler’. Think about the differentiating things you bring to the table, particularly those you haven’t covered elsewhere, and find a way to weave them in. If you answer the third prompt, for instance, you could choose a book or movie that resonated with you because the main character shared your cultural background, philosophy on life, etc. Despite what the prompt says, it doesn’t have to be your favorite of all time – it’s better to focus on something that will help explain your own diverse viewpoint to the adcom.

If you need help with your MBA applications, including Columbia, click here to schedule an initial consultation.

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