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Columbia Business School Essay Topic Analysis 2011-2012

Based on this year’s essay questions, it looks like Columbia remains interested in learning about applicants’ career goals and personal experiences, although the first two essay topics have slight variations from last year’s.  New to the application, the third question offers students the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge of Columbia’s program, as well as their personalities, through outlining a business plan, election speech, or career counseling conversation.  Let’s take a closer look at each of the questions now:

Essay 1: Considering your post-MBA and long term professional goals, why you are pursuing an MBA at this point in your career? Additionally, why is Columbia Business School a good fit for you? (Maximum 750 words)
This prompt falls in line with the standard Career Goals Essay, and thus the general advice we’ve offered in the past on how to tackle this sort of question applies here.  Slightly different from last year’s career question, this essay question focuses more on the timing of students’ applications, as well as their fit with the school.  Because people applying to Columbia are often also considering other first-tier schools like Wharton, Booth, and NYU Stern, it’s especially important for you to convince the Columbia adcom of your interest in their 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: 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. (Maximum 500 words)
Because Columbia explicitly states that they do not want to hear about professional achievements in this essay, applicants should instead chronicle a life experience outside of that realm, drawing topics instead from one’s academic, extracurricular, or personal history.  Regardless of the event or experience you choose, it’s important that it allow you to clearly define “who you are” for the adcom.  For example, perhaps a growing up in difficult socio-economic circumstances influenced your strong work ethic, or maybe living or working abroad has made you an open-minded and adaptable person.  Although this essay need not necessarily focus on an accomplishment, it will be to your advantage to clearly explain how this experience has shaped you in a positive way, so that you may demonstrate your maturity, strength, and the valuable contribution you would make to the CBS community.

Essay 3: Select and answer ONE of the below questions

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.” (Maximum 250 words)
This essay is new to the Columbia application and provides a chance for applicants to showcase their business acumen, entrepreneurial spirit, and creativity.  For applicants who are interested in pursuing entrepreneurship in their careers, want to begin a venture while at Columbia, or had planned to compete in this competition as a student, this is the perfect opportunity for them to demonstrate their interests, strengths, and plans for the adcom.  In responding to this essay, applicants should make sure they thoroughly research the competition to learn about what type of business plans is appropriate.  Further, it would be prudent to review former real-life entries and winners to ensure that they do not submit an essay that echoes an idea used in the past.  Above all, though, it will be imperative to craft a compelling and persuasive pitch that outlines the need or demand their proposed businesses will meet, and to give some justification that their “outrageous” idea is also attainable.

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 nearly 100 active student organizations at Columbia Business School, ranging from cultural to professional to community service-oriented. Leadership positions within the cluster and/or 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. (Maximum 250 words)
Another new addition to the Columbia application, this essay offers applicants the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge of Columbia’s student organizations or cluster system, giving them an opportunity to highlight their fit with the student community.  Applicants would do well to touch on past experiences that make them suited to take on this significant leadership role, and present a passion for contributing to the school.  Outline your interest in the position, the impact you could make as a leader, and the skills you already have that will help you to be effective in this role.

Due to the 250 word limit, focusing on two or three action items should allow applicants to provide a focused and effective answer to this question.  Of course, in describing your vision – by clearly explaining your plans as well as their intended impact – it’s important that you do not inadvertently suggest that the program or club needs “fixing” and thus potentially offend members of the CBS adcom and damage your chances of admission.  To select viable areas of discussion, we encourage applicants to conduct some research on the history and current role of the Cluster Chair or club leader, and to focus their comments on strengthening existing initiatives or adding complementary programming in line with the current mission.

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. (Maximum 250 words)
The final new entry in this year’s essay set, this prompt offers applicants the opportunity to further expand on the future plans they’ve outlined in essay one.  Rather than just rehashing this information, however, applicants should use this essay to complement the main statement of their goals, showcasing other skills and interests, as well as demonstrating an awareness of the range of information that would benefit them as they advance toward their professional objectives.

With this in mind, applicants might consider selecting an Executive in Residence who may not be the most obvious choice given their stated plans, demonstrating their appreciation of transferrable insight and the similarities among different industries and functions.  Of course, candidates may also want to select the executive whose work is most in line with their future plans to go into more depth about their professional objectives and benefit from that person’s specific expertise and prior experiences. Either way, applicants will have the opportunity to demonstrate their ability to ask unique questions crucial to building one’s professional network and acumen.  Keep in mind that the 250 word count is essentially as brief as the 30 minute conversation you would have with this executive; therefore, it will be to your advantage to demonstrate your ability to make the most of your time with regard to this essay and the hypothetical conversation.


To watch a video explanation of these essay topics see below:

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Posted in: Essay Topic Analysis

One Comment

  1. You have not mentioned about the first question – What is your post-MBA professional goal? (200 char)

    What to mention in 200 words?

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