Columbia Business School Essay Tips


Lots of BSers have already made it into Columbia this season – hopefully you will be another! Average GMAT at Columbia is up significantly, to 724, on the back of another 3% increase in applications. Admit rate also dipped. Because of these factors and due to rolling admissions, applying well before the deadline (like, NOW!!!) is recommended! Details on all of these strategies are below on this page, in our Columbia essay guide, and throughout the ‘snarchive of Columbia posts here on the blahg.

Columbia’s rolling application process, the J-Term, plus Early Decision vs Regular Decision – it’s all discussed in our Columbia MBA essay guide.


Columbia 2017 Full-Time MBA essay questions

Class of 2020 / J-Term Class of 2019

The Columbia essay questions are in line with what we expected – and what we have discussed in great detail in our Columbia MBA essay guide!

As has been the case for a very long time, the 2017 Columbia MBA app has are three essays plus a short-answer question:

What is your immediate post-MBA professional goal? (50 characters)

First up, we have to point out that those are characters – not words – which means you have next to nothing in terms of space to work with. This is intended to be literally what you will be recruiting for when you are ready to graduate. Then you can expand upon that in Essays 1 and 2.

  1. Through your resume and recommendations, we have a clear sense of your professional path to date. What are your career goals over the next 3-5 years and what, in your imagination, would be your long-term dream job? (500 words) This is nearly identical to the main career goals question that Columbia has asked for several cycles now, with a key improvement of specificity on timeframes for the S/T goal, and a new twist where they’re looking for a “dream job” — which could prove tricky for some! You are going to run into trouble, for example, if you say your short-term goal is to become a consultant and your long-term goal is to open a restaurant. You can play that card if you like, but thar be dragons!!! Despite Columbia’s lofty adjectives of “imagination” and “dream” we still advise BSers to be reasonable in what they define as a L/T goal. Our Columbia guide explains.
  2. The full time MBA experience includes academics, recruiting, and networking. What are your personal priorities and how do you anticipate allocating your time at Columbia Business School? (250 words) Another simplified version of a Columbia classic! This one is, again, less ambiguous in its phrasing, which is awesome. Have we mentioned recently how important school research is?
  3. Please select and answer one of the following essay questions: (250 words)
    a. Please tell us what you feel most passionate about in life.

    b. If you were given a free day and could spend it anywhere, in any way you choose, what would you do?

    These two are simply alternatives to the previous seasons’ versions of Essay 3, where they want to get to know you as a person. The most important objective with this question? AUTHENTICITY. Please don’t come up with something you think “sounds good.” Think about what the REAL answer is (yeah, we know, not easy!!) and go with that.

The other good news? Columbia is now back to being super specific on essay length. Last year they tried an experiment with offering applicants a sliding word count, which we predicted they would ditch this time, and boy, are we glad they did! BSers do much better with clear direction and no ambiguity. The essay lengths this year are reasonable: Not so long you don’t know what to do with yourself, but long enough to answer the question sufficiently.

For the record: A 500-word essay should fit on one page; 250 words is two decent-sized paragraphs. Don’t go over. Or at least, not by much.

EssaySnark’s Columbia 2017 MBA application guide is up to date for the Class of 2020.

2017 Columbia Essay Critiques


Applying early to Columbia is always recommended; we have many posts on this blahg about what “early” means – see below for the key ones you’ll want to read.

Is Columbia competitive? You bet. For perspective: Columbia’s average GMAT score for their 2016 class bumped to 717 and now only a few years later it’s at 724 ; they have seen a YoY increase of at least 3% in app volumes for consecutive admissions cycle. Currently this adds up to about a 17% acceptance rate. Their yield has been creeping higher, too – in fact, highest since 2008 if our records are correct.


Columbia 2017 Dates and Deadlines

Columbia Full-Time MBA Application Deadlines – rolling admissions, so APPLY EARLY!

  • Accelerated J-Term (one round only): – this will put you into the Class of 2019, graduating with the cohort that started August 2017
  • Binding Early Decision: – this is for the standard two-year program that graduates in May 2020. Early Decision is the recommended application option if Columbia is your #1 choice; it’s binding though, so go Regular Decision if you would not be able to commit to them in advance.
  • Regular Decision Fellowship deadline: January 5, 2018yay Columbia for shifting this deadline out! It’s only one day later than it was, but it helps — lots of other schools have deadlines immediately after the New Year holiday, which sux. For Columbia, the Fellowship deadline is a quasi “Round 2”: If you’re serious about this school and not applying Early Decision, this is your drop-dead date for when your app should be in. However, this is not the IDEAL date to submit for Regular Decision! We have a detailed discussion of this in our Columbia strategy guide. Their final Regular Decision deadline will be in April 2018 but applying in February or later will just be too late for most people. We get nervous when someone applies past mid-January.

Again, our Columbia MBA application guide tells you the best time to apply this season, based on changes at the school, for each of the different application options you have available — or keep reading below and check out the many posts here on the blahg on Regular Decision vs Early Decision vs J-Term.


Columbia’s confusing application options

Here’s an overview of the Columbia MBA application options (May 2015) – explains rolling admissions and talks about the advantages of Early Decision.

The rest of the posts in this section were written for past admissions cycles. The information is largely applicable to this season too but there have been slight changes in recent years such as with the RD open date, as noted above.

Early Decision

Yes it’s an advantage – and it’s also binding. Only do this if you’re committed to choosing Columbia if they choose you!

Regular Decision

Rolling Admissions


The Columbia J-Term

This is not an application option – this is a different MBA track. It’s an accelerated 16-month MBA that offers the same full-time experience, just no internship. You must demonstrate fit in order to have a shot at acceptance. There is one deadline only (no Early Decision option). J-Termers do not qualify for any fellowship awards. Essay questions are the same for J-Term and August Start. Your J-Term application is not binding.


Want to get started? Check out our 2017 Columbia MBA Application Guide for strategies and guidance on everything we’re talking about here!

Columbia MBA recommendations

Columbia used Columbia is using the second set of standardized recommender questions (Harvard and Booth use these same questions, too).
  • Two recommendations for new applicants; one for reapplicants
  • Two questions for your recommenders to answer :
    1. How do the candidate’s performance, potential, background, or personal qualities compare to those of other well-qualified individuals in similar roles? Please provide specific examples.
    2. Please describe the most important piece of constructive feedback you have given the applicant. Please detail the circumstances and the applicant’s response.

If you want to give your recommenders a resource for how to most effectively write about you for Columbia and other schools, check out our Recommenders’ Instruction Sets.

The 2017 Columbia MBA Application Guide for full-time applicants is your best tool for presenting a strong set of essays to this school!

Also helpful: Check out Columbia MBA essay critiques from past seasons.


Columbia Links, Important App Info, and More Snark

official school pages:

stuff you should know about Columbia, by EssaySnark:

Also interesting to know about the culture:


And just for fun:


Tired of clicking through posts? Want to just start writing essays? Get it all in one place! For a thorough and very detailed analysis of everything you need to grapple with for this school, pick up the 2017 SnarkStrategies Guide for Columbia – there is so much important information in there on strategy and when to apply and how does Early Decision work, that this will put you on the right path, even if you’re not planning to submit till later in the season. Setting your strategy with Columbia early can ease your burden of figuring out your approach to ALL schools! Our essay guides are written from scratch to walk you through the necessary details – they are not simply reformatted blahg posts.

Though you’ll want to keep reading those, too. 😀


For Reference: Columbia’s Past-Season MBA Essays & Analysis

We’ve covered Columbia a lot on the blahg… and most any of our previous posts are absolutely relevant today. Columbia has changed its questions from year to year, but they’re largely asking the same thing as they always have: career goals, plus Columbia differentiators. Anything we’ve said about Columbia’s essays in the past will steer you in the right direction with this year’s MBA application, too. Study these!

This is truly a gold mine for those trying to figure out how to pitch Columbia!

2016 Columbia Essay Reviews – Question Analysis and Essay Critiques

Click to view the 2015 questions

Last year’s questions and what we had to say about them (this stuff is old but still pertinent)
Really Columbia?!?? You increased the allowed length for the short-answer question on goals from 50 to 51 CHARACTERS?!!!? We don’t know whether to laugh or cry at that. (We sort of did both in this post.) We had a follow-up post about another change to the essays that we take issue with. Our faith in Columbia has been (once again) somewhat rattled by this.

Three essays plus that oh-so-generous 51-character short-answer question:

  1. Through your resume and recommendations, we have a clear sense of your professional path to date. What are your career goals going forward, and how will the Columbia MBA help you achieve them?
    This is the same question as they used last year, but now they tell you that you can use from 100 to 750 words to answer it. To do a good job with this, you really need to write a minimum of 500 words. Anyone who does only 100 words is likely cheating themselves out of a clear presentation of their pitch to the adcom. We are doubtful that you can do a good job with anywhere less than 400. That doesn’t mean you need to use the full 750 words – and it definitely doesn’t mean you can go over 750. Tell them why you want an MBA – and why from Columbia. It needs to be clear and direct.
  2. Columbia Business School’s students participate in industry focused New York immersion seminars; in project based Master Classes; and in school year internships. Most importantly, our students are taught by a combination of distinguished research faculty and accomplished practitioners. How will you take advantage of being “at the very center of business”?

    [Not to be confused with this place that’s apparently “the center of everything” – ES]

    This is nearly the same as they asked last year except they ditched the reference to “theory and practice” (see our 2016 Columbia guide for a discussion of whether that’s relevant to you or not). The essence of this question is, how will you use the resources that they have available? Please note: You don’t have to tell the adcom about what those resources are; they know them. They just highlighted a bunch in the question itself. Instead, this is an opportunity to further expand your pitch. Essay 1 is, “These goals are the reason why I need an MBA.” Essay 2 is, “This is how I’m going to make the most of my time at Columbia to achieve those goals. The other big change? Again they’re stating an acceptable word count range: 100 to 500 words. In most cases you should aim for 500 words of strong content (writing 500 words of fluff should be avoided).

  3. CBS Matters , a key element of the School’s culture, allows the people in your Cluster to learn more about you on a personal level. What will your Clustermates be pleasantly surprised to learn about you? (100-250 words)
    Identical to last year except that they emphasized the word “pleasantly” – which is what we’ve been emphasizing to BSers in our Essay Reviews for Columbia all along! We have reviewed essays for this question in past years and which we discuss in detail in the essay guide – be authentic!! Again, using that full allotment of 250 words is likely wise.

And the STILL SHORT! short-answer question:

What is your immediate post-MBA professional goal? (51 characters)

This question started out ages ago as a 200-character response. Columbia has been whittling away at it until last year it was down to 50 characters. Which we said was ridiculous. Which we still think in the +1 form is ridiculous. Gee thanks Columbia.

So as you can see, they tweaked the essays a bit, though as we’ve long said, directionally Columbia is still Columbia. We know exactly what they respond best to; we have quite the track record of helping BSers with successful apps to this great school. All of it is fully explained in the 2016 Columbia MBA Application Guide – which has been expanded almost 10 more pages from last year’s edition.

Note: Despite all our kvetching about the lengths of the essays, we do have to point out that Columbia made it to our list of Five Favorite Schools back in 2014.

In August we talked about the dangers with choose-your-own-length variable word count thing that Columbia has implemented – 100 to 750 words for Essay 1? What’s not to like? Hmmm. We also cover best practices and guidelines for what makes a good length for each of these questions in that Columbia essay guide.

In 2013 and 2014, Columbia began processing Regular Decision applications in mid-November. In years before that, this typically didn’t happen until sometime in December. Now, they state on their Application Process page that Regular Decision apps won’t be reviewed earlier than December 1st. Our application guide tells you the best time to apply for each of the different application options.

[end discussion of 2016 questions]

2015 Columbia Essay Reviews – Question Analysis and Essay Critiques

Click to view the 2015 questions

2015 questions (these are even older)

For 2015, Columbia changed things up a bit, though as we’ve been saying, directionally Columbia is still Columbia. We know exactly what they respond best to; we have quite the track record of helping BSers with successful apps to this great school. Information on their updates are below and are also fully explained in the Columbia MBA Application Guide – which has been expanded another 10 pages from last year’s edition.

These essays are nearly identical to what they had in 2014 – our predictions were spot-on! The main difference is there is now ONLY 50 CHARACTERS (down from 75!!!) to say what you want to do after bschool.

Three essays:

  1. Through your resume and recommendations, we have a clear sense of your professional path to date. What are your career goals going forward, and how will the Columbia MBA help you achieve them? (Maximum 500 words) (This appears to be an interesting borrowing of language from other schools like HBS and Booth – but it’s still a quintessentially Columbia question. They want to know why you want an MBA – and why from their school. Focus on clear and direct post-MBA goals and you’ll be setting yourself up for success.)
  2. Columbia Business School’s location enables us to bridge theory and practice in multiple ways: through Master Classes, internships, the New York Immersion Seminars, and, most importantly, through a combination of distinguished research faculty and accomplished practitioners. How will you take advantage of being “at the very center of business”? (Maximum 250 words) (What a relief that they modified the wording of essay 2 this year! We’re betting that people are able to do a better job than last year’s crop of applicants did. The key to this question is to go beyond a recitation of lists. You don’t have to tell the adcom about what resources Columbia has. They already listed those things out! Instead, focus on YOU and why a specific thing matters, and how you’ll put it to use. It’s also interesting that they’ve resuscitated their “theory and practice” theme from many years back. Give that some thought too, Brave Supplicant!)
  3. CBS Matters , a key element of the School’s culture, allows the people in your Cluster to learn more about you on a personal level. What will your Clustermates be pleasantly surprised to learn about you? (Maximum 250 words) (Essentially the same as 2014 – which was the same as 2013 – which we reviewed in past years and which we discuss in detail in the essay guide – be authentic in this one!!)

And the SHORT! (!!!!) short-answer question:

What is your immediate post-MBA professional goal?

Only 50 characters (!!!!) permitted now. We blahgged about the The 2013 100-character version (“post-MBA professional goal”) – but unfortunately as we posted right when the 2015 app was released, EssaySnark’s opinion is that this question is near-useless at 50 characters.

[end discussion of 2015 questions]

2015 Essay Reviews


2014 Columbia Essay Reviews – Question Analysis and Essay Critiques

Click to view the 2014 questions

2014 questions (these are EVEN OLDER)
Three essays:
  1. Given your individual background and goals, why are you pursuing a Columbia MBA at this time? (Maximum 500 words) (They added the “and goals” part to the question this year to remind you that you’re applying for admission to an MBA program – and Columbia wants to hear about what you plan to do with the MBA. Don’t omit that part in your answer! It’s exactly the advice we gave in last year’s strategy guide too. Glad to see the change in the question.)
  2. View video “The Center” then answer this question: How will you take advantage of being “at the very center of business”? (Maximum 250 words) (This is essentially the same as the prior year without the geographically-challenged component that we called out then 😉 ).
  3. What will the people in your Cluster be pleasantly surprised to learn about you? (Maximum 250 words) (Identical to last year.)

And the short-answer question:

What is your immediate post-MBA professional goal?

Only 75 characters permitted now. [For the 2015 app it’s 50 characters! eek! -ES]The 2013 100-character version (“post-MBA professional goal”) is discussed here.

[end discussion of 2014 questions]

2014 Essay Reviews


As you can see, the essence of what makes for a strong Columbia application remains the same today.

2013 Columbia Essay Reviews – Question Analysis and Essay Critiques

Click to view the 2013 questions

2013 essay questions – these are REALLY OLD

Three essays:

  1. Given your individual background, why are you pursuing a Columbia MBA at this time? (Maximum 500 words)
  2. Columbia Business School is located in the heart of the world’s business capital – Manhattan. How do you anticipate that New York City will impact your experience at Columbia? [includes two videos about the Columbia NYC experience: video 1: New York City – limitless possibilities – titled “New Neighborhood, New Outlook, New York” on the video page; and video 2: New York City – fast paced and adaptable – titled “Columbia MBA Program: New York, New York” on the video page] (Maximum 250 words)
  3. What will the people in your Cluster be pleasantly surprised to learn about you? (Maximum 250 words)

Don’t forget the short-answer question! Only 100 characters permitted. Discussed here.

What is your immediate post-MBA professional goal?

[end overview of 2013 questions]

2013 Essay Reviews


2012 Columbia Essay Reviews – Question Analysis and Essay Critiques

Click to view the 2012 questions

2012 questions – these are EXCEPTIONALLY OLD

Two essays:

  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? (Maximum 500 words)
    B) [View the video on their site, then] Describe why you are interested in becoming a part of the Columbia community. (Maximum 250 words)
  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. (Maximum 500 words)

The short-answer question was a lot longer then – 200 characters allowed

What is your immediate post-MBA professional goal?

[end overview of 2012 questions]

2012 Essay Reviews

If you want to dig even deeper into the archives, there’s these – yes, still relevant, we promise!

2011 Columbia Essay Reviews

Even this ancient post from way back in 2010 still has some life left in it!

2010 Columbia Essay Reviews

Obviously we’ve been helping people with Columbia for a long time! There are lots of former Brave Supplicants wandering around the Upper West Side every single year.

Again, The 2017 Columbia MBA Application Guide is the definitive book covering everything that this school values in its applicants.


Want to get that Columbia application DONE?

Use our Complete Essay Package to develop the strongest pitch possible – each step in the process was originally designed especially for Columbia’s essays!


Wow – you made it all the way to the bottom of the page?!?? Here’s some posts about Columbia Admissions that don’t actually have to do with your application strategy but hey, you’re clearly bored, so why not:


[return to index of essay questions by business school]

Columbia Business School Essay Analysis, 2017-2018

by mbaMission

How can you write essays that grab the attention of MBA admissions committees? With this thorough analysis, our friends atmbaMission help you conceptualize your essay ideas and understand how to execute, so that your experiences truly stand out.

For years, Columbia Business School (CBS) has been at the front of the pack of MBA programs that have been gradually shortening their application essays and requiring candidates to be direct and concise in their submissions. It was even the first school to incorporate a micro essay into its application. Last season, CBS gave applicants a bit more wiggle room with the essays, increasing the word count for each by a pretty significant margin (up to 100% in one case), but it has tightened the reins back down for this year’s applicants. Still, with a goal statement, three required essays, and an optional essay, you should have plenty of opportunities to convey a well-rounded impression of yourself for the admissions committee. Read on for our Columbia Business School essay analysis for the program’s 2017–2018 prompts…

Goal: What is your immediate post-MBA professional goal? (50 characters)

Including spaces, CBS’s career goal question is exactly 50 characters itself, showing candidates just how much (or how little, in this case) space they have to work with and just how succinct they are therefore expected to be with their response. At just 50 characters, this can hardly be considered a true essay, but you will need to approach this with the same level of thought and focus as any of your other written responses for the school. The prompt is clearly a no-nonsense request for information, with no room allowed for exposition, flowery words, background, or pandering. This is all about getting to the point and telling the admissions committee what it wants to know.

In the past, the school has provided a few sample responses, including “Work in business development for a media company” and “Join a strategy consulting firm,” illustrating that conveying the requested information in such a tight space is definitely doable and that you do not need to worry too much about grammatical issues (in other words, you do not need to start your statement with “I want to” or something similar). We like to offer the statement “Reveal true goals, not what you think Columbia Business School wants” as both our own example of keeping things concise and our advice on how to approach and fulfill this request. Think about what you truly want to do with your career in the short term and state this aspiration directly. Keep in mind that the rest of your application will need to provide evidence that your stated goal aligns with your existing skills and profound interests, especially once they have been augmented by an MBA education. This will show that your professed goal is achievable and lend credibility to your statement. If you can do this in 50 characters (not words!), you will have done what you need to answer the school’s question quite well.

Essay #1: Through your resume and recommendations, we have a clear sense of your professional path to date. What are your career goals over the next 3 – 5 years and what, in your imagination, would be your long-term dream job? (500 words)

CBS starts this essay question by more or less telling you not to recap your career to date, so we strongly recommend that you do so (and briefly, at that) only if context is absolutely needed for your stated goals to be understood and/or believable—perhaps if you are making a fairly remarkable career change. Pay particular attention to the phrases “dream job” and “in your imagination” with respect to the long-term portion of the question. The school is prompting you to be creative and perhaps even to challenge or push yourself to think big. Columbia Business School wants individuals who do not just follow prescribed paths according to someone else’s blueprint but who are aspirational and more inclined to forge their own way. This is not to suggest that if you have a more traditional plan in mind that you are in trouble or at risk of losing the admissions committee’s attention, but you may need to take a little extra time to consider your ambitions from the perspective of “what if?” and delve more deeply into what you hope to achieve to find the more personal and inspiring elements of your goals. Showing creativity and individualism here can only be helpful.

Although this is not a request for a textbook personal statement essay, your response will certainly involve some elements of the topics covered in such a submission, such as short- and long-term goals. The mbaMission Personal Statement Guide offers advice on brainstorming and crafting such essays along with multiple illustrative examples and so may be helpful in preparing your CBS response to this prompt. You can download your free copy here.

Columbia Business School does not explicitly ask how its MBA program will factor into the achievement of your goals, but if you feel that particular resources the school offers could or will be uniquely influential and advantageous to you as you advance along your path, we believe you have sufficient room and leeway to mention these. However, generic claims or empty pandering have no place at all in this rather compact essay. Any CBS resources you reference must be specific to your needs, and the cause-and-effect relationship between these resources and your anticipated success must be very clear. For example, an applicant might discuss the appeal and instrumentality of CBS’s Value Investing Program and 5x5x5 Student Portfolio Fund in his or her aspirations to one day break into the asset management world or later launch a hedge fund. We do not recommend going so far as to dedicate an entire paragraph to discussing school resources, but you might consider thoughtfully embedding a relevant reference or two into your submission to acknowledge the program’s role in achieving your stated career intentions. Or should we say dreams?

Essay #2: The full-time MBA experience includes academics, recruiting and networking. What are your personal priorities and how do you anticipate allocating your time at Columbia Business School? (250 words)

Start your brainstorming for this essay by first considering your priorities within the three areas CBS specifically notes—academics, recruiting, and networking—but do not feel compelled to limit yourself to them if you have other ideas or plans. The school wants well-rounded students who will not “silo” themselves into just one area and who anticipate using multiple aspects of the MBA program to their and others’ advantage. If you care only about the academic aspect of business school and do not envision yourself participating in any club activities or availing yourself of events or resources outside the classroom, you might not be the kind of candidate top-tier schools such as CBS are seeking. Earning your MBA involves more than completing business classes, and the admissions committee strives to construct a diverse class of engaged and experienced people who can learn both together and from one another. This requires that everyone participate and contribute, and not just in class.

With your response to this essay prompt, show Columbia Business School where and how you expect to be active in its community and program, whether that is via a certain club, event, course, or other avenue. Explain what drives you toward these areas and activities and what you imagine your involvement will look like. If you can frame your vision in a way that reveals a benefit for those around you as well, this is even better. For example, will you commit a large portion of your time to your job search because landing a highly coveted role at an elite Wall Street firm is your main impetus for getting your MBA? And if so, will you offer to run mock interviews with your fellow students who share this dream? Perhaps you are interested in joining the CBS Follies group to fulfill your artistic and dramatic side and balance your quant-heavy course work, and your many years in the theater will help you coach classmates who are new to the stage so that they can fully benefit from and enjoy the experience as well.

Keep in mind that the specific activities and areas you choose are not what is important here. CBS is not choosing people based on whether they expect to populate certain clubs or organize student conferences, so the admissions committee will neither ding nor reward you for choosing one option over another. What is important is that you show you have a true understanding of what CBS offers and a plan of attack for your experience within the program. After reading your essay, an admissions officer should feel that you really “get” CBS and can clearly envision yourself there. The school knows that an applicant who has dedicated the time and effort necessary to develop advanced knowledge of the program is one who will have a successful experience. In giving you a place in the class, the admissions committee is essentially betting that you will thrive more at CBS than thousands of other candidates would, so show that you are a low-risk, high-reward potential admit.

EMBA Essay #2: Columbia Business School’s Executive MBA will challenge you by offering a rigorous academic experience, global exposure through the international seminar, and the opportunity to immediately apply what you learn to your career. How will you approach balancing the demands of the program with your professional and personal life while you are in school? (250 words)

This question basically exists because CBS wants to be sure you truly intend to finish the program. We cannot claim to have specific numbers on this phenomenon, but we know that EMBA students sometimes get overwhelmed by the demands of balancing work, studies, and personal/family life. As a result, a number of them ultimately drop out of the program each year, including some who are asked to leave the program by their employers, who also did not understand the time demands involved. With this prompt, CBS is essentially asking, “Are you sure you know what you are getting into?”

To help assuage the admissions committee’s fears on this point, you might take a somewhat procedural approach in your response, explaining that you anticipate dedicating certain hours on certain days, with your manager’s approval, to study and complete your course work for the program. You might address how you have engaged supportive stakeholders—such as partners, children, and friends—in discussions about your commitment to help clarify and calibrate expectations. Having read your response, the admissions reader should feel comfortable that you have a clear plan in mind, that this is not a whimsical choice but a well-informed decision that oozes commitment. Columbia Business School wants to know that you will see the program through to the end, and to communicate this effectively, you must demonstrate that you have the process and support mechanisms in place to not only finish it but thrive within it.

Essay #3: Please select and answer one of the following essay questions: (250 words)

CBS has replaced its “What will your Clustermates be pleasantly surprised to learn about you?” query from last season with this new set of prompt choices, both of which are still invitations to share aspects of your personality but are notably broader in scope. Whichever one you ultimately select, focus on giving the school insight into what makes you tick as an individual, beyond your professional skill-set and goals.

a: Please tell us what you feel most passionate about in life.

Although we acknowledge that you might actually be “most passionate” about your career, this is not your best choice for a topic here, especially given that two of the other essays have already allowed you to discuss your professional life. Clearly, if you are applying to and ready to complete a leading MBA program—challenges not for the faint of heart—you are a driven individual with more enthusiasm and ambition career-wise than the average person. The Columbia Business School admissions committee already knows this. What it wants to learn now is what gets your heart pumping and mind racing outside of work. As Steve Jobs once said, “People with passion can change the world,” and although he was speaking about careers at the time, the statement is true for all aspects of one’s life. Passion is inspiring and energizing and can lead to big ideas and actions. Sharing with the school where your passion lies gives the admissions committee an idea of where you might someday make an impression on the world, how you might leave your mark—especially once you are equipped with all you will gain and learn during your MBA experience.

That said, do not worry if your passions seem commonplace. For example, perhaps you feel passionate about basketball. Because this is an experience that anyone could share and enjoy, it might seem pedestrian. The key, however, is not what inspires you but how you engage with it. If you can show that basketball is not just a hobby you simply enjoy from time to time but is instead something you connect with on a deep level and in various ways—perhaps having played for many years, you now coach youth teams in your community and have amassed a truly impressive trading card or jersey collection—then this initially unremarkable-seeming choice most definitely becomes an acceptable discussion topic. Think about your possible choices in terms of intensity, enthusiasm, devotion, longevity, loyalty, excitement, and heart, and be honest with yourself. The elements of your life that inspire and align with these concepts could be appropriate fodder for this essay, while anything that does not should be immediately discarded as an option.

Once you have identified the passion you wish to discuss, avoid simply telling the admissions committee about it and instead demonstrate how this passion manifests in your life. For example, rather than stating, “I have been watching and playing basketball since I was a child,” you need to create a more vivid impression of your dedication and involvement, such as “From playing with my brothers after school to varsity ball in college to now coaching a youth league in my community, I can hardly remember a time when basketball wasn’t an integral part of my life.”      

b: If you were given a free day and could spend it anywhere, in any way you choose, what would you do?

Like option A, this prompt asks for a window into your personal self, but with a bit of a relaxed twist. It conveys slightly less of an idea of singularly focused drive and intensity and more one of a variety of activities and experiences that would generate inner happiness and satisfaction. Whether you want to spend your free day jumping out of a plane, swinging a hammer building homes for Habitat for Humanity, or reading quietly beside a lake somewhere, the activity you share is not the admissions committee’s focus so much as what your choice says about who you are and how you like to live your life. In this essay, you want your interests to reveal that you are an appealing and likeable character—one who spends his or her time thoughtfully and productively, rather than being easily bored, indecisive, or in need of an outside source to provide distraction. Help CBS understand your internal motivations and values and how they may come into play both in the program and beyond your two years as an MBA student. And as with option A, you will want to take a “show, rather than tell” approach in your writing. Avoid simply stating your anticipated agenda outright, and instead strive to really bring the admissions reader along with you on this imaginary day off via your descriptions.

Optional Essay: Is there any further information that you wish to provide the Admissions Committee? If so, please use this space to provide an explanation of any areas of concern in your academic record or your personal history. You may submit bullet points. (Maximum 500 words)

This optional essay question starts out sounding like an open invitation to discuss almost anything you feel like sharing with the admissions committee, but the second line (which was not part of the prompt last season) dials things in and puts the spotlight on addressing problem areas specifically. The additional directive about bullet points seems to be a not-too-veiled implication that the school wants you to focus on imparting key information rather than offering a detailed and long-winded explanation of the issue in question. Without a doubt, this is not an opportunity to share another cool story or otherwise try to impress or pander to the admissions committee. If you do not truly need to explain an issue or potentially confusing element of your candidacy (a poor grade or overall GPA, a low GMAT score, a gap in your work experience, etc.), we do not recommend that you submit an optional essay; if you do have issues to clarify, keep things concise. In our mbaMission Optional Essays Guide, we offer detailed advice on when and how to take advantage of the optional essay, with multiple examples, to help you mitigate any problem areas in your profile. 📝

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