CBS MBA Applicants, Heed This Sage Advice
Columbia Business School in New York City is a top-choice program for many SBC clients. That’s why we’re thrilled to have several former members of the CBS admissions committee on our MBA consulting team. Today, we’ll spill all the deets on Columbia’s curriculum, culture, and admissions practices that SBC consultant Hannah shared on our B-Schooled podcast. As someone responsible for reading applications, interviewing candidates, and helping to make admission decisions at CBS, Hannah offers great insights into what it takes to make CBS MBA applicants shine.
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What is unique or special about Columbia Business School?
Hannah: CBS really integrates the city with the classroom. Some classes are immersion seminars, which are industry-focused classes for first-year students. Here, your days are structured as a mix of classroom learning with office and corporate visits and hearing from industry leaders. CBS also has classes called Masterclass, where you work in a small group doing a hands-on consulting project for a real company for the semester. These types of opportunities allow students to start applying their learnings immediately in a practical hands-on way.
The second thing that’s special is the breadth and depth of expertise of the faculty and guest speakers. Because CBS is in New York, it’s really easy to attract amazing adjunct professors who are still working in their industry to teach electives in their area of expertise.
So that means your professor might leave a meeting with their company’s board and come straight to class to tell you about that discussion. It also means they have frequent guest lecturers in the classroom. You never know when you’ll turn around at the end of a case analysis to find the CEO from that case sitting in the back, ready to tell you what they did in that situation.
Finally, I would say another unique thing is that CBS offers an accelerated 16-month January entry option, or J-term. Each year about 200 students enter that term. They take the same classes, participate in the same clubs, and receive the same degree as those entering in August.
Explain the J-term for us. What type of CBS MBA applicants are best suited for that cohort?
The key difference is that they do the degree at an accelerated pace by taking classes over the summer. Columbia created the J-term for students who don’t plan to make a significant career change post-MBA. Basically, they don’t need that traditional summer internship. So some of the profiles you’ll see in that cohort include students who work for their family business, sponsored students who will return to their same company post-MBA, entrepreneurs, and students who plan to remain in the same industry after business school.
But it’s worth noting that J-term students can do internships during the school year. So you can still gain experience in real companies and make some changes—just not a 180 pivot to something brand-new, like investment banking.
Is there anything that potential applicants get wrong about Columbia Business School? Are there any misconceptions out there?
People have two common misconceptions about CBS. First is that it’s just a finance school. Of course, its location in New York City offers plenty of opportunities for students interested in finance. But the best part about New York is that every industry has a significant presence here.
Columbia Business School offers a wide variety of targeted tracks for students who want to focus on other industries. This includes healthcare and pharmaceutical management, retail and luxury goods, real estate, and social enterprise, just to name a few. A great way to get a feel for the diversity of interests among CBS students is to check out the annual employment report.
Another misconception is that being in New York City means it doesn’t have a sense of community like other campuses. Really, this could not be farther from the truth. CBS has such a strong community, and its students are some of the kindest, most supportive, and motivated individuals you’ll ever meet. You will make friends from every corner of the world at CBS and become a part of an incredibly strong alumni network for the rest of your career.
Especially during your first year, you’re literally on campus all the time. A typical day might be spending several hours in class with your cluster, then meeting up with your learning team to work on an assignment in the afternoon, and spending the evening at a club event or recruitment session.
For CBS MBA applicants, building that community starts with the admissions process. From the outset, the committee looks specifically for people who will do things like take on club leadership roles, plan class events, and really invest in the network.
Listen to B-Schooled Podcast #66: Interview with Mike, CBS Class of 2023
What kind of clubs, conferences, and other out-of-the-classroom experiences do CBS students have?
Most students join a mix of different types of clubs, including one or two professional clubs that will help them with the recruitment process, provide industry education, connections with alumni, and so on. Examples of these include the Management Consulting Association, the Real Estate Club, the Private Equity Club, etc. Most of these professional clubs also host annual student-run conferences that bring industry leaders and alumni back to campus.
There are also affinity clubs such as Columbia Women in Business, and Cluster Q that put on events such as the upcoming school-wide pink parties celebrating LGBTQ+ pride. Next, there are social clubs where students can connect around shared interests. This includes groups like the Snow Sports Club, which has some great weekend trips, and the Wine Society, which hosts weekly tastings on campus.
Lastly, another fun CBS tradition to highlight is Follies, a student-run club that puts on a variety show at the end of each semester. It’s really funny and kind of pokes fun at the CBS community. You can check out previous shows on YouTube.
What is the CBS Admissions Committee looking for in applicants?
Ideal CBS MBA applicants are motivated individuals who want to go back to school to immerse themselves in the community—not folks who are just looking to tick a box. Of course, they’re looking for candidates with strong academic foundations who can successfully handle the rigor of the classroom. In particular, they’re looking at those required quantitative courses like corporate finance, statistics, and accounting.
Listen to B-Schooled Podcast #149: Spotlight on CBS
The admissions committee wants people who will be successful in those classes, but they’re also looking for people who will make interesting contributions to the classroom discussion based on their previous life and career experiences. They’re also looking for applicants with a demonstrated history of taking on leadership roles.
What might that look like? Maybe you were captain of your soccer team, have served on the board of an employee resource group at your company, are doing a philanthropy role, or are a representative of your school’s alumni committee. It really doesn’t matter what it is, just that it was something that was important to you.
How should applicants approach the CBS essay prompts?
For the short-answer 50-character question about your post-MBA professional goal, give the AdCom the two-second version of your goals in layman’s terms. No industry jargon, just really basic stuff. That way, when they’re discussing you in committee, they have that kind of shorthand to refer to.
See SBC’s Columbia Business School MBA Essay Tips for 2023-2024
The career goals essay is your opportunity to introduce yourself to the admissions committee and tell your story. Remember that when evaluating applications, the AdCom has to consider whether your post-MBA career goals are realistic. Those two years go by so quickly, and before you know it, it’s time to land a job.
So you want this essay to paint a crystal clear picture of the story of your career. Make it super easy for the committee to understand how your educational background and previous professional experiences, when combined with a CBS MBA, will set you up to successfully recruit for that short-term goal.
This essay is also your space to explain why you have these goals. So, for example, did a family member’s illness inspire your interest in healthcare? Did limited financial education in your life spark an interest in FinTech? That type of context rounds out who you are.
Finally, for the 250-word essay on why Columbia is a good fit for you, here is the place to show the committee all of the hard work you’ve done researching the school. Help them understand why you want to come to CBS when there are so many great programs out there.
This is a really important essay! So, make sure to take the time to talk to current students, go to events, look at the website, and ensure that you have some concrete details of clubs and other resources that are only available at Columbia and are linked to your career goals.
If you’re not talking about CBS specifics and how they tie back to what you want to get out of the MBA experience, you’re doing it wrong.
How does CBS handle interviews, and what are they looking for during those discussions?
Trained alumni admissions ambassadors conduct CBS interviews, and you’re matched randomly by location. For example, if you live in Washington, DC, you’ll interview with an alum in the DC area, but not necessarily from your industry. It’s then up to you both to decide if you want to have the interview in person, typically at their office or a coffee shop, or do it remotely via Zoom.
Once you arrange your interview, you’ll share your resume with the alum, which they then use as the basis for your conversation. The alum will structure the interview based on a general framework and recommended question list provided by the admissions committee. But there are no firm question requirements. At the end of the interview, the alum submits a feedback form to the admissions committee, which they use together with your application materials to render your final admissions decision.
In these interviews, CBS looks for a few things. First, it’s an opportunity for the alum to reflect on the experience and share if they feel you would be a good fit. Will you contribute unique insights to the classroom discussion? Would you be a good teammate for group projects? Will you take on a leadership role in a student club?
It’s also an opportunity to gauge your interest in the school. Do you demonstrate a passion for CBS? How much school research have you done? Are there specific classes, professors, and clubs that you hope to be a part of? And finally, remember these are two-way conversations where applicants evaluate Columbia, too. So make sure you come prepared with a handful of thoughtful questions to ask at the end, either about CBS or their career or how they use their MBA now.
If you bomb your interview, are you doomed?
The interview is a very important factor in the ultimate admissions decision, so you want to prepare and put your best foot forward. AdCom members highly value the input of the alumni trusted to conduct interviews. In fact, they rely on them to be their eyes and ears to ensure CBS MBA applicants are good people whom the school will be proud to call alums one day.
Practice your answers to common questions about your background, career goals, and why you want to pursue an MBA at Columbia. Rehearse with a trusted friend or family member so that you can ensure your responses are detailed and thoughtful.
An interview invitation means the committee already looks favorably on your candidacy. They feel you could be a good fit for the school and want to confirm that hunch.
So, if you’re feeling nervous, repeat that to yourself for a little confidence boost. Ultimately, the committee is made up of reasonable human beings, and they do understand that things happen. If you know you had an off day—say you woke up sick or received some upsetting news just before the interview—reach out to the admissions committee as soon as the interview is over. You want them to have that background context before they do the final evaluation. Otherwise, it will be too late once they render their admissions decision.
What advice would you give to future CBS MBA applicants?
Invest the time to really get to know Columbia Business School because it will make your application that much stronger. On the school website, you’ll see a variety of on-campus and remote events, as well as in-person events held in cities across the US and around the world. You’ll also see an option to connect with a current student or schedule a class visit. Take advantage of every opportunity to connect with the students and the program’s offerings.
Finally, remember that, unlike its peer business schools, CBS operates a rolling admissions process. That means they are reviewing applications and rendering admissions decisions as they go along. They don’t wait to review your application until one of the deadlines.
You can hit submit as soon as your application is ready, and it will go into the queue for review. Now we don’t want you to rush and submit your application prematurely. CBS MBA applicants should make sure that they have a quality application package that really highlights their strong candidacy. But remember that the sooner you apply, the more spots there are left to fill in the class. Good luck!
For more information on applying, please visit the Columbia Business School admissions website. If CBS is on your MBA shortlist, we’d love to partner with you on your application journey! Stacy Blackman Consulting offers multiple services to meet your needs, from our All-In Partnership to test prep to hourly help with targeted tasks. Contact us today for a free 15-minute advising session to talk strategy with a Principal SBC consultant. Here’s a snapshot of the caliber of expertise on our SBC team.