Tuesday Tips: Columbia Business School Fall 2018 MBA Application Essay Tips

Columbia essay tipsColumbia Business School has an updated application out for this year and has changed the essay questions significantly. What we have heard from the admissions committee at CBS is that authenticity is key, and they are looking for candidates who are a great fit for the program and have the academic background to handle the rigor.

Columbia is a fast-paced program in a fast-paced city. The “spirit and pace of program is faster than others due to NYC. Something about being in a city that never sleeps,” explained admissions director Michael Robinson in a recent CBS webinar.

Fit with Columbia therefore will be different than other MBA programs, and it’s up to you to prepare with thorough research into the school. Columbia is looking for students who have big plans for their lives, MBA or not. As Robinson said, there are “no dream schools just dreams. Live a life where you are doing big things regardless if you get into a business school.”

Before you get started with this set of essays it will be helpful to brainstorm your career objectives, strengths and weaknesses, and to think about your overall future dreams. To see how current students are thinking about Columbia and their goals, check out student profiles.

Columbia offers several flexible options for admission, from full-time MBA programs starting in the fall, to a January entry session and an excellent executive MBA program. Columbia also offers an early decision option for candidates who are committed to attend the school. The Columbia admissions cycle is rolling, so the earlier you submit your application the earlier you will receive feedback. We recommend you try to submit your application as soon as possible, while maintaining high quality.

Stumped by the Columbia essays? Contact Stacy Blackman Consulting to learn how we can help.

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

This is a simple question, but may require you to condense your career goals into one clear career vision statement. Rather than a generic statement like: “Work in finance” the goal is to infuse some specificity. Something like: “Work in real estate finance within a private equity firm” tells the admissions committee far more about your interests and goals.

Note that the limited character count is intended to get you to the point quickly, elaboration is for the next essay.

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)

Columbia asked a similar question last year, but it was open-ended in terms of timeframe of your career goals, and it focused more on how Columbia would help you achieve them. Given the changes in this essay question, this is a question about short- and long-term goals and dreams.

Those who seek a top-tier MBA at a school like Columbia have big dreams. You will be exposed to people and opportunities that will expand your horizons. Think about your true passions, and make sure your goals are aspirational.

As you talk about your future you may need to refer to your past career and personal experiences. As you consider what to say make sure you are citing only relevant examples from your career. Think about the experiences you can describe that were truly pivotal and can support your future goals. Your goals should have some logical progression from your past, but you can (and should!) show you plan to change and adapt.

For example, perhaps you want to be a general manager of a company or division, and right now you have been working primarily in marketing. You might spend your time at Columbia learning about finance and strategy, being part of consulting projects and interning at a start-up to round out your experience and start on your general management path.

Most importantly, Columbia wants to know who you are and how you are unique. Don’t try to be anyone else, instead reveal your own motivations, goals, and plans that Columbia will help you achieve. “Be Authentic. Want to admit people not packages. Don’t follow blogs and essay models,” Robinson suggested.

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)

Specifics, specifics and specifics help you set yourself apart with this essay. Know yourself and know the school. As you address this question make sure your answer is tailored to your individual goals for learning and career along with your knowledge of Columbia’s academic and professional opportunities.

Columbia is centered in its New York City location. The city provides unparalleled networking opportunities and sets a fast pace for the program. Research the programs and the clubs that may help you identify network with professionals and alumni. Your fellow students will be an invaluable resource for you going forward in your career – both network and sometimes support group. How will you build relationships during your school years?

Academics at Columbia include an incredible portfolio of adjunct professors from industry. You should consider the industry you plan to enter, and either the important adjunct professors from that industry at Columbia or the access to major companies from that industry in New York City. Recruiting will be a similar story, as a significant number of major companies are headquartered in New York. How will you use that level of day-to-day access to target companies?

A mix of personal and professional interests may be covered in this topic, and you may want to emphasize either one of those angles depending on the answers you present to the other core questions. The admissions team will be asking themselves, “Will the person excel in our academics and will they be an important factor in our community?”.

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?

Both of these essay questions focus on your personal passions and what matters most to you. Go beyond generic ideas that may be common across all people (e.g., love for friends and family) and get into the parts of your life that differ from those around you. Did you grow up in unique circumstances? Did you cultivate an unusual hobby or interest? Sometimes the people around you know best – ask your best friend and a sibling what is special about you.

Once you identify a topic for this essay you need to fit your answer into only 250 words. Option B is fairly contained and the structure can help you focus on just one story, relationship, or event. In Option A, make sure you can offer an illustrative example to support what you are most passionate about. Showing instead of stating your passions will be most effective for the reader.

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. (500 words)

The optional essay in prior years was more open-ended, while this year Columbia is asking only for areas of concern. We recommend keeping this essay brief and only focusing on specific areas such as a low demonstrated quantitative abilities, lack of a recommendation from a current supervisor, gaps in work experience, or particularly low grades.

It is best to explain the issue factually and succinctly, then explain how you have addressed the issue and why it should not concern the admissions committee in terms of your aptitude for the program and studies.

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