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After making somewhat significant changes to their essay questions last season, Columbia is sticking with the same three required essays this year. With one essay about bridging the gap between theory and practice and another about a failure in a team setting, this set of topics suggests a focus on a candidate’s ability to learn from experience and put challenges and setbacks in perspective.
Let’s take a look at each of this season’s topics:
Essay 1: What are your short-term and long-term post-MBA goals? How will Columbia Business School help you achieve these goals? (Recommended 750 word limit)
The general advice we’ve offered in the past on how to tackle this sort of question applies here. Because Columbia is very sensitive to the fact that it is often treated as a backup for Wharton and other leading programs, it’s especially important to convince the adcom of your interest in the program by packing your essay full of school-specific details about classes and clubs. Taking the time to learn about the school’s curriculum, special programs and extracurricular activities – whether through a visit to campus, conversations with members of the community or reading the Clear Admit School Guide to Columbia – will pay dividends here.
Essay 2: Master Classes are the epitome of bridging the gap between theory and practice at Columbia Business School. Please provide an example from your own life in which practical experience taught you more than theory alone. (Recommended 500 word limit)
In this essay, Columbia asks applicants to share a story about a time reality proved contrary to or taught them something beyond their expectations. “Theory” here refers to one’s thoughts and preparation going into an experience, while the “practice” translates to how an event or project actually played out. This essay calls for a focused discussion of a single situation; professional experiences are certainly relevant, though volunteer or other extracurricular stories could be equally fitting. Given the school’s focus on experiential learning, it will be important that applicants demonstrate an appreciation for the sorts of lessons learned and insights gained from hands-on involvement, so it is important to select an example in which one is an active participant rather than an observer. Finally, while it seems quite possible to fulfill the question’s requirements without watching the associated video, it’s probably prudent to make reference to Columbia’s Master Classes and one or two of the selling points mentioned in the clip, perhaps in the essay’s concluding comments.
Essay 3: Please provide an example of a team failure of which you’ve been a part. If given a second chance, what would you do differently? (Recommended 500 word limit)
Like any failure or mistake themed essay, the key here will be to summarize the failure and its context as briefly as possible, spending the bulk of the essay on reflection and describing the lessons learned from the experience. It’s generally good practice to close with a summary of a second, more recent experience in which the applicant has applied these lessons. In this case, however, Columbia asks candidates to think about the initial experience, and explain how you would act in retrospect, calling for the writer to double back and revisit the same situation in light of what was learned after the fact. To avoid an excessively abstract discussion, be specific in your details and explanations of exactly what you would change in your behavior and/or actions, and explore the full range of potential adjustments and improvements in your handling of the situation.
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