The most important advice I have for applicants when it comes to preparing for the Columbia GSB 2017-2018 MBA essays is to invest in knowing the school before you begin writing your essay.
Many applicants are aware of the importance of taking the time to really understand a school before tackling their application essay, yet many make the fundamental mistake of ignoring this important step. The result is weak essays that do a poor job to show how you are a fit for the business school.
Visit Columbia Business School and make sure you can see yourself thriving there. Don’t worry if you are unable to visit. Take the time to attend information sessions hosted in your city if those are available. And take advantage of information that the school has available through recorded webinars.
Now for more specific feedback on this year’s MBA essays at Columbia GSB.
2017-2018 MBA Essays
Goal: What is your immediate post-MBA professional goal? (50 characters)
Fifty characters is not much space. Keep it short, and stick to the word count. Also focus on the word “immediate”! This is professional goal you have once you graduate from business school.
Keep it simple. An example is:
Become an associate at a strategy consulting firm.
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)
This essay is very specific. The focus is on your career goals. Columbia GSB admissions board cares a great deal about applicants having a keen sense of what they want to do. They want to know that you have thought things through and that you have a realistic picture of the steps you will need to take to get there. Hence, the focus on the short term and long-term dream job.
It is important to have realistic expectations about how you will get to your ultimate dream job and the short-term goal needs to make sense to the adcom. You can be ambitious in your goals but you need to walk a fine line between being aspirational with your dream career and how you will get there. If your goals are too unrealistic given your profile, you make it easy for the adcom to reject your application with little consideration.
An example of this can be seen in an applicant who does not have any background in investing who declares that they want to start a value investing fund in the long term and that they plan to work in banking and/or private equity right after business school. Someone who has worked in investing banking or has exposure to investment management will have a more believable career story than someone who is coming from an unrelated background who wants to compete in one of the most competitive career areas after business school.
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)
I like this question and think it’s a wonderful opportunity for applicants to share what they are genuinely interested in about the school. Keep the phrase “personal priorities” in mind when tackling this essay. While you may be drawn to a variety of resources and opportunities available at the school, it’ll be important for you to focus on two to three of the most important ones to you.
With only 250 words for this essay, you have little room to build a case that reveals your knowledge of the school’s resources and how they tie in with your interests. Again, less is more.
It is important not to write an essay that is generic. Saying you are drawn to the school’s robust network or supportive recruiting environment are all examples of broad statements. What will set your essay apart is if you are able to show how the network will be meaningful or specifics of what you have observed up close about the recruiting process and opportunities that excites you about the school. Details matter a great deal here for a winning essay!
Essay #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?
The third essay offers two options from which you can select one. This essay provides you with flexibility to select the one where you can showcase your brand and story in the best light. This is a huge benefit for applicants.
Both essays are great.
Option A is an essay for applicants who have a strong example that they can share. Applicants who choose this essay should be sure that they have evidence to back up whatever point they make. They should also consider how what they share in this essay enables them to build their brand message.
Let’s say, for example, that you are most passionate about building close ties/relationships. This should be part of your brand theme and there should be ample examples from your life to back this up. Drawing on some of those examples will be key in writing an interesting and compelling essay.
Option B is also a good option for some applicants. This essay has room for you to write about something you are passionate about but it also offers the opportunity to go beyond that, hence offering greater flexibility. It is an essay that can reveal what you value. There isn’t a right or wrong choice in what you would spend the free day doing. What matters is that you choose something you care about and believe in.
Avoid trying to paint a picture that is fake. For example, if you are not someone who cares a great deal about humanitarian impact, saying you would spend the day at a refugee camp in Syria will not accurately represent your brand. Admissions people can see through the lies.
Be real. Sometimes the best examples for an essay like this will be seen where applicants describe doing something very simple. The most important part of this essay is sharing why you have chosen the example of a perfect day and what that means to you.
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)
Optional essays can be great when you have actual issues you must address. Low GMAT or GPA can warrant a short essay where you highlight aspects of your profile that reinforces your intellectual rigor and ability to handle the coursework at business school. Gaps in employment can also be a good reason to write an optional essay. I would not write bullet points but would recommend keeping the essay short and to the point.
Short Answer Question: post-MBA goal in 100 characters
Emphasize clarity and concision
Minimize risk of Admissions Committee readers thinking your plans are unrealistic
Essay 1: why MBA, why now, why CBS?
Analyze your career progress
Clarify your vision
Emphasize Columbia's intellectual capital
Minimize risk of Admissions Committee readers thinking that you are applying too soon or too late, or that you are only interested in Columbia's location, ranking, network or name
Essay 2: how will NYC impact your CBS experience?
Show and prove your fit with Columbia's community
Identify unique NYC resources that leverage the Columbia MBA alumni network
Identify Master Classes and Executives in Residence that best prepare you to achieve your post-MBA goals
Minimize risk of Admissions Committee readers thinking you do not understand how Columbia utilizes NYC as a classroom and business incubator
Essay 3: surprise your Cluster peers
QbQ: Do I want you at my party?
Good party guests differentiate themselves without alienating others
You are unlikely to surprise Amanda and her team by telling them something they have never heard before
Instead, surprise your readers by sharing something about you that they would not otherwise guess
Or, simply tell an entertaining story that shows your unique experience
Minimize risk of Admissions Committee readers thinking you do not understand Columbia Clusters and community
Optional Essay: explain areas of concern (academic or personal)
Minimize risk of Admissions Committee readers thinking you lack judgment
Reapplication Essay: how you have enhanced your candidacy
Minimize risk of Admissions Committee readers thinking you lack self awareness and drive
Minimize risk of Admissions Committee readers thinking you lack judgment in choosing recommenders who cannot answer the questions asked, or, worst of all, that you wrote your own recommendations
Instructions: Please submit two recommendations from individuals who can speak directly about your managerial ability and professional promise. The Admissions Committee prefers that one recommendation be from your direct supervisor. If you are unable to secure a recommendation from your direct supervisor, please submit a statement of explanation in the Employment section of your application. The other recommendation should be from a former supervisor, if possible, or another professional associate who is senior to you.
If you are a college senior or have worked full-time for less than six months, at least one, but preferably both, of your recommendations should be from an individual who can comment on your managerial abilities, such as a summer employer or another individual who you feel can objectively assess your professional promise. The second recommendation may be from a college professor.
Please note those who are reapplying to Columbia Business School are required to submit one additional recommendation. This recommendation must be from a recommender that you did not use in your previous application.
Applications are not considered complete until all required information is submitted; this includes recommendations.
(found at https://apply.gsb.columbia.edu/apply/ref; accessed 2013/06)
All applications require two recommendations. If you have been working full-time for at least six months, one recommendation should be from your current supervisor. The second recommendation should be from either a former direct supervisor or from another professional associate, senior to you, who can add personal insight into your candidacy.
If you are a college senior or have worked full-time for less than six months, at least one, but preferably both, of your recommendations should be from a person who can comment on your managerial abilities. You may ask a summer employer or another person who you feel can objectively assess your professional promise. The second recommendation may be from a college professor.
We ask recommenders to consider the following guidelines when writing their recommendations:
- Your relationship to the applicant.
- The applicant’s performance.
- Strengths and weaknesses of the applicant.
- The applicant’s interpersonal skills.
- The applicant’s written and spoken communication skills.
- How does the applicant accept constructive criticism or handle conflicts?
- How effective are the applicant’s interpersonal skills in the workplace?
- The most important thing you would like the Admissions Committee to know.
Please be aware, the Admissions Committee does require all application materials be submitted online, including recommendations.
(found at https://www4.gsb.columbia.edu/mba/admissions/applynow/apprequirements#recommendations; accessed 2013/06)
"Applicants must complete one short answer question and three essays."
Essay 2: how NYC will impact your CBS experience?
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? (Maximum 250 words)
(found at https://www4.gsb.columbia.edu/mba/admissions/applynow/apprequirements#essays; accessed 2013/06)
Please view the videos below:
Video 1 of 2: New York City - limitless possibilities
Columbia Business School isn’t just located in New York — it’s enmeshed in it. From practitioners who double as professors to events with industry-leading CEOs and field trips to blue-chip companies and start-ups alike, Columbia leverages its relationship with the city to give students unparalleled access to one of the world’s business capitals.
Video 2 of 2: Campus and New York City - fast paced and adaptable
Columbia Business School isn’t just located in New York — it’s enmeshed in it. From practitioners who double as professors to events with industry-leading CEOs and field trips to blue-chip companies and start-ups alike, Columbia leverages its relationship with the city to give students unparalleled access to one of the hubs for global business.
An Oasis in the City
Nestled between Riverside and Morningside Parks, and a short walk from Central Park, Columbia’s campus in Morningside Heights is a sanctuary within the hustle and bustle of Manhattan. Featuring Italian Renaissance–style architecture alongside cutting-edge modern buildings, sprawling plazas, lush lawns, and notable public art, the campus evokes a palpable sense of community.
The neighborhood has the ambience of a college town but the convenience of a major city, with shops, restaurants, a farmer’s market, and — most importantly — a subway station that can transport you to the cultural and economic capital of the world.
THE QUESTION BEHIND THE QUESTION
Bottom line: Will you attend CBS if we admit you?
What business opportunities have you identified that you can best capture by studying at Columbia Business School?
What community and social opportunities have you identified that you can best capture by studying at Columbia Business School?
Do you understand the Columbia Business School community?
Please start by learning as much as you can about life at Columbia:
There are more than 100 active student organizations at Columbia Business School, ranging from cultural to professional to athletic tocommunity service–oriented. Together, they host more than 100 events every week, with many held during the School’s dedicated “Club Time” from 12:30 to 2 p.m. every Tuesday and Thursday. These organizations provide a valuable and stimulating complement to the academic curriculum and social environment. Leadership positions within the clubs also offer hands-on management and networking opportunities for students, and faculty members and alumni frequently get involved as advisers, event moderators, or panelists, while corporations often generously sponsor events.
See the list below for a sampling of some of the more popular student organizations at Columbia Business School.
Affinity | Community Service | Career and Professional
Social and Athletic | Student Government and Leadership
- Asian Business Association
- Black Business Students Association
- Cluster Q
- Columbia Women in Business
- Greater China Society
- Latin American Business Association
- South Asian Business Association
Community Service Organizations
- Community Action Rewards Everyone
- Financial Education Society
- Harlem Tutorial Program
Career and Professional Clubs
- Columbia Investment Management Association
- Green Business Club
- Healthcare Industry Association
- Investment Banking Club
- Management Consulting Association
- Marketing Association of Columbia
- Private Equity and Venture Capital Club
- Real Estate Association
- Retail and Luxury Goods Club
- Social Enterprise Club
Social and Athletic Groups
- Gourmet Club
- Military in Business Association
- Outdoor Adventure Club
- Rugby Football Club
- Wine Society
- Women’s Touch Rugby
- World Tour Club
Student Government and Leadership
- Bernstein Leadership and Ethics Board
- Graduate Business Association
- Honor Board
- International Student Advisory Board
(found at http://www4.gsb.columbia.edu/mba/life/organizations; accessed 2013/06)
Speakers and Conferences
The convenience of Columbia Business School’s New York location and its close ties to the business, nonprofit, and government communities means that students are constantly afforded the opportunity to hear from the very leaders who are actively shaping the business landscape.
Many professors invite practitioners to guest-teach a class session, while other leaders address larger groups of students at on-campus events organized by student clubs, research centers, and regular speaker series such as the Silfen Leadership Series, the Nand and Jeet Khemka Distinguished Speaker Forum, the Sir Gordon Wu Distinguished Speaker Forum, the Montrone Seminar Series on Ethics, and more.
Conferences led by student clubs also attract well-known guest speakers, participants, and alumni from across industries and around the world, providing students with greater insights into the current business environment. These conferences are entirely student run and give club members the opportunity to build industry connections while applying the management skills they learn in the classroom.
Some of the larger student conferences include:
- Black Business Student Association Conference
- Columbia Investment Management Association Conference
- Columbia Women in Business Conference
- Healthcare Conference
- India Business Conference
- Marketing Association of Columbia Conference
- Media Management Association Conference
- Private Equity and Venture Capital Conference
- Retail and Luxury Goods Conference
- Social Enterprise Conference
(found at http://www4.gsb.columbia.edu/mba/life/speakers; accessed 2013/06)
Diversity at Columbia
Student collaboration that brings together a variety of perspectives and experiences leads to truly effective learning and leadership development. With this in mind, Columbia Business School is committed to promoting diversity in all its forms by recruiting students from an array of professional backgrounds, socioeconomic upbringings, racial and ethnic identities, and geographic locations. Nowhere is this commitment more apparent than in MBA clusters and learning teams, which are designed to bring together students from a range of backgrounds to help them learn together, both about the material and one another.
The School is constantly finding ways to further promote diversity, particularly through its more than 100 student organizations. These student-led groups provide opportunities throughout the semester for all students to celebrate the many different cultures present at Columbia Business School, and many are also involved in the career recruiting process and student-run conferences. The goal behind clubs affiliated with particular affinity groups is not only to provide a network of support for those students, but also to promote collaboration among clubs across the School.
In addition to the fellowships and scholarships designed to foster diversity in the full-time MBA program, the School is also closely affiliated with several national organizations that work to improve the diversity of leaders in the business world.
- Management Leadership for Tomorrow
- National Black MBA Association
- National Society for Hispanic MBAs
- Riordan Fellows Program
- Sponsors for Educational Opportunity
- Ten School Diversity Alliance
On-Campus Diversity Events
Throughout the year, the Admissions Office hosts recruiting events for underrepresented minorities. These events, which include Spotlight On: Diversity and Diversity Connect at Columbia, immerse prospective students in the Columbia Business School community, imparting a holistic understanding of the dynamic academic and social environments that exist on campus.
(found at http://www4.gsb.columbia.edu/mba/life/diversity; accessed 2013/06)
Women at Columbia
Columbia Business School strives to lead top MBA programs in reflecting a more equitable gender balance among its population by actively recruiting talented and accomplished female students and faculty members, sponsoring events that address issues relevant to women in business, and providing on-campus support for recent mothers.
Columbia Women in Business (CWIB) is one of the most popular and successful student organizations on campus. CWIB hosts a series of events each semester specifically geared toward further strengthening the role of women in the business world, building connections with female alumni, and facilitating career recruiting in a range of industries. The annual Columbia Women in Business Conference, run entirely by students, attracts high-profile women speakers and industry insiders to discuss the various paths to success taken by women business leaders.
Columbia Business School is proud to partner with organizations both on and off campus that are devoted to supporting women in business.
- Forté Foundation
- 85 Broads
- 10,000 Women Initiative
- Office of Work/Life
The Admissions Office hosts two annual recruiting events designed for female applicants, Spotlight On: Women and Women Connect at Columbia, where prospective students have the chance to visit campus to meet current women students, alumni, and faculty members, discuss issues unique to women in business, and learn more about the experience for women at Columbia Business School.
(found at http://www4.gsb.columbia.edu/mba/life/women; accessed 2013/06)
LGBT at Columbia
Located in the heart of New York City, Columbia Business School prides itself on being an open and welcoming community for many lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students, faculty members, and administrators. The School’s population of LGBT students cuts across geography, experience, ethnicity, and gender to create one of the largest and most diverse LGBT groups among the world’s top business schools. In addition, Columbia Business School has the largest representation of straight allies among all business schools, and the School’s relationship with New York City affords LGBT students powerful networking opportunities and an extensive LGBT community.
Cluster Q, Columbia Business School’s LGBT student organization, has grown in membership for four consecutive years. The club provides a strong network for LGBT students within the School, as well as with alumni, recruiters, and students from across Columbia University. Cluster Q organizes a variety of social and career-oriented events throughout the year, helping to foster the LGBT community on campus and develop relationships with recruiters.
Cluster Q maintains relationships with many top firms – from finance to consulting to brand management – who actively recruit members of the Columbia Business School LGBT community .
Columbia Business School encourages students to network with their peers from other business schools. Each year, Cluster Q sends a large cohort of students to Reaching Out MBA, an LGBT-specific MBA career and networking conference.
The Admissions Office also actively participates in CHecK uS Out, a multi-school admissions event for LGBT prospective students organized by Columbia, Harvard, Kellogg, and Stanford that takes place in New York City and San Francisco each fall.
Each year the Admissions Office hosts LGBT Connect, an on-campus admissions event geared towards prospective LGBT students. This event gives prospective students the opportunity to visit campus and meet admissions officers, current LGBT students, and LGBT alumni.
(found at http://www4.gsb.columbia.edu/mba/life/lgbt; accessed 2013/06)
Veterans at Columbia
The Military in Business Association (MIBA), Columbia Business School’s veteran student organization, has continually grown in membership as the veteran presence within the School community has increased. MIBA provides an incredibly strong network for veteran students within Columbia Business School, as well as with alumni, recruiters, and students from across the University.
Members come from all branches of the armed forces within the United States and internationally. By leveraging the experiences of current and former members, MIBA seeks — through camaraderie, support, and networking — to enhance the career success of all those with a connection to the Columbia Business School military community.
MIBA organizes a variety of social and career-oriented events throughout the year, strengthening the veteran community on campus and cultivating relationships with recruiters. MIBA also organizes events with current and former high-ranking military leaders such as former US Army Chief of Staff General George Casey and former Secretary of the Navy John F. Lehman Jr.
In addition, MIBA has also sponsored student-wide happy hours, raised over $6,500 for Survivor Joe (an organization that supports currently deployed service members), and co-sponsored a successful social event with Cluster Q (Columbia Business School’s LGBT student organization) that raised over $3,000 in donations for The Trevor Project and Team RWB.
MIBA also maintains close relationships with many recruiters from top firms — from finance to consulting to brand management — who actively recruit MIBA members of the Columbia Business School veteran community.