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Columbia Business School Essay Topic Analysis 2012-2013

While slightly different than last year’s set, this year’s essay questions continue to illustrate Columbia’s interest in learning about applicants’ career goals and personal experiences.  The adcom has shortened their application this admissions season, requiring only two essay questions and a 200-character career goals statement.  Let’s take a closer look at each of the questions now:

Columbia University, main campus

Essay 1:
A. Why are you pursuing an MBA at this point in your career, and how do you plan to achieve your immediate and long term post-MBA professional goals? (500 words maximum)
B. Please
view this video, entitled Community at Columbia. Diverse, tight-knit clusters and carefully selected learning teams are defining features of the first year at Columbia Business School. Along with more than 100 student organizations and countless events each semester, the cluster system helps to create a supportive and devoted lifelong community. Describe why you are interested in becoming a part of the Columbia community. (250 words maximum)

Unlike last year’s Essay 1, which gave applicants the freedom to distribute words across their career goals description and their “why Columbia” argument as they saw fit, this year the adcom has divided the essay into two sections of predetermined sizes.  That said, the actual topics that applicants are asked to discuss remain very similar to those of the previous admissions season.

Part A of 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.  In addition to clearly explaining their short-term and long-term goals, applicants should provide insight into why they feel that now is the right time to pursue their MBA.  This will likely involve outlining your work history to show both how you are at a natural breaking point in your career and how attending business school is the best way for you to advance towards your professional goals.

Although the video in Part B is new to Columbia’s application, the school’s emphasis on applicants demonstrating their knowledge of the Columbia community is not.  While last year’s application had a third essay devoted entirely to this topic, this year’s applicants must convey their enthusiasm for Columbia’s community within Essay 1.  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 personal experience and how it has influenced who you are today. This essay should have a personal rather than a professional focus. (500 words maximum)

As with Essay 1, the wording of Essay 2 has evolved from last year’s application, but its meaning essentially remains the same.  Because Columbia explicitly states that this essay should not be professionally oriented, applicants should instead chronicle a life experience outside of that realm, drawing topics from their 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 today” for the adcom; in other words, your topic should enable you to highlight personal characteristics and passions that the adcom might not otherwise glean from your application materials.  For example, perhaps a growing up in difficult socioeconomic 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.

Short Answer: What is your immediate post-MBA professional goal? (200 characters maximum)

Making an appearance on the CBS application form for the second year in a row, this question asks applicants to speak directly about the job they wish to have upon graduating from business school.  The adcom has provided several sample answers to give applicants an idea of the kind of response that is expected.  With only 200 characters—about 30 words—you’ll want to clearly and concisely describe your short-term goal, making sure that it aligns with what you’ve written in Part A of Essay 1.

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