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Columbia MBA Essay Questions & Analysis

columbia mba essay questions

The following analysis examines the admissions essays for Columbia Business School. The Columbia MBA essay questions below are for the 2021-2022 admissions season. You can also review essay topic analyses for other leading MBA programs as well as general Essay Tips to further aid you in developing your admissions essays.

Columbia MBA Essay Questions & Analysis 2021-2022

Compared to last year, the adcom has kept their longstanding goals essays and introduced an option about DEI. Given the range of topics, these essays allow the applicant to cover a fair amount of material and present a well-rounded picture of one’s candidacy.

Let’s take a closer look at the Columbia MBA essay questions:

Short Answer Question

What is your immediate post-MBA professional goal? (50 characters)
For the 11th year in a row on the CBS application form, this question asks applicants to speak directly about the job they wish to have upon graduating from business school. The adcom offers several sample answers to illustrate the sort of direct response they’re seeking. Given a short and strict limit of 50 characters, you’ll want to clearly and concisely describe your short-term goal, making sure that it aligns with what you write in Essay 1.

Columbia MBA Essay Question 1

Through your résumé 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)

Appearing for a fifth year in a row on the CBS application, this first essay prompts applicants to focus almost exclusively on their career goals. We say “almost” here because a bit of context will be important. For example, applicants might remark on how their professional experiences to date have informed their interest in their post-MBA path, and might also comment on transferable skills they’ve gained on the job that will apply to their future posts. In short, make sure that your comments build on rather than repeat material that the adcom can find in your recommendations or résumé. Also, the reference to a “dream job” stands out here. In light of this language, your long-term plans should be aspirational, as top programs want to admit folks who will make an impact in the world. That said, they should be realistic, based on your short-term aspirations, an MBA and career to-date.

Columbia MBA Essay Questions 2 and 3

Please respond to two (2) of the three (3) essay questions listed below:

  1. The Phillips Pathway for Inclusive Leadership (PPIL) is a new co-curricular program designed to ensure that every CBS student develops the skills to become an ethical and inclusive leader. Through PPIL, students attend programming focused on give essential diversity, equity, and inclusion skills: Creating an Inclusive Environment, Mitigating Bias, Communicating Across Identities, Addressing Systemic Inequality, and Managing Difficult Conversations. Tell us about a time you were challenged around one of these five skills. Describe the situation, the actions you took, and the outcome. (250 words)
  2. Why do you feel Columbia Business School is a good fit for you? (250 words)
  3. Tell us about your favorite book, movie, or song and why it resonates with you? (250 words)

Option 1: The Phillips Pathway for Inclusive Leadership (PPIL) is a new co-curricular program designed to ensure that every CBS student develops the skills to become an ethical and inclusive leader. Through PPIL, students attend programming focused on give essential diversity, equity, and inclusion skills: Creating an Inclusive Environment, Mitigating Bias, Communicating Across Identities, Addressing Systemic Inequality, and Managing Difficult Conversations. Tell us about a time you were challenged around one of these five skills. Describe the situation, the actions you took, and the outcome. (250 words)
New to the CBS application, this essay option asks applicants to reflect on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in their lives. As CBS will be introducing PPIL in spring 2021, all first-year MBA students will be required to attend at least one PPIL-approved session and submit a post-event reflection form. Before getting started with the essay, it could help to read through the PPIL website to get a greater sense of the school’s vision for the programming and more.

No matter the DEI skill selected, applicants should ensure they were active participants in achieving a positive outcome. When tackling this option, note that CBS offers a structure at the end of the prompt, akin to the STAR method:

  • Situation – Set the stage or identify the situation and related challenge.
  • Action – Describe the actions you took related to DEI, including how you communicated your solution.
  • Outcome – Summarize the (hopefully positive) result.

Indeed, this structure should help you convey your story concisely and directly.

The door is wide open for examples, but the key is to ensure you touch on each element of the prompt to show how you are an ethical and inclusive leader. It will be important to connect to how a situation has influenced you—ideally shown through some related actions—as the adcom will want to get to know you and how you think and evolve. Action would also strengthen a response here—think beyond comments or campaigns shared on Facebook, and reflect on advocating actively. This can be a lot of ground to cover in 250 words, but if you have room, concluding with a brief example of how you applied what you learned would show that you learned from the challenge.

Option 2: Why do you feel Columbia Business School is a good fit for you? (250 words)
Because people applying to Columbia are often also considering other leading schools like Wharton, Chicago Booth, and NYU Stern, it’s especially important for applicants to convince the Columbia adcom of their sincere interest in their program. To get as much mileage as possible out of this essay, you should aim to develop a very detailed response that explains how lessons from key classes and participation in certain student organizations will position you to accomplish your professional and/or personal objectives. The adcom will also be interested in hearing about how you see yourself contributing to the community and enhancing the experience of other students, so naming some events that you would like to help organize or a club you would hope to lead will also bolster your case. Also keep in mind that CBS sees New York City as an extension of their campus, so you’ll want to comment on why that is significant for you.

Covering all of this ground within a 250-word essay is no easy task, so zeroing in on the aspects of the CBS MBA program that are most closely aligned with your goals will be important to developing an effective response; an in-depth review of the program website, conversations with current students and alumni, or admissions events, are all viable sources of the information you’ll need here.

Option 3: Tell us about your favorite book, movie or song and why it resonates with you. (250 words)
This prompt reflects a desire to get to know applicants on a more personal level. While applicants have a myriad of options in choosing a book, movie or song to discuss, the most important part of a candidate’s response will be to showcase their self-awareness by articulating why they connect with the content in just 250 words. It’s also worth noting that selecting an item that isn’t currently ubiquitous can help one stand out from other applicants and showcase a tendency to follow your own path. At the same time, selecting something that’s too obscure may create a missed opportunity to connect with the admissions reader over a shared favorite. We therefore recommend selecting a book, movie or song who several of your friends or family have at least heard of. (That said, if you believe that something by an unknown local artist is truly your best and most authentic answer to this question, we wouldn’t rule it out — and maybe you’ll win them a new fan in your admissions reader.)  Given that CBS prides itself on its New York City location, you may immediately think of Frank Sinatra’s classic song, “New York, New York.” However, try to push past the obvious to ensure that you stand out in the admissions process.

No matter which you select, applicants should not presume that the admissions reader will be familiar with your choice. Effective responses to this question will highlight specific details about the selection and explain in detail why they resonate with one’s own character or personality. Remember that the selection is a vehicle for sharing information about yourself — and hinting at your fit with CBS — in this essay.

As a final note, applicants should review the entirety of the book, movie or song they choose to ensure that the message they want to convey is supported. It would also be wise to consider the entirety of a writer’s or creator’s oeuvre and public image, and to steer clear of the controversial or over-exposed.

Optional Essay

Is there any further information that you wish to provide the Admissions Committee?  If so, use this space to provide an explanation of any areas of concern in your academic record or your personal history. This does not need to be a formal essay. You may submit bullet points. (Maximum 500 Words)
The admissions committee offers a rather direct prompt to address liabilities in one’s application, e.g. gaps in employment, a weak quantitative record, etc. In such cases, applicants should keep their responses brief and to-the-point, offering explanations without making excuses and humbly bringing mitigating factors to the reader’s attention. That said, it’s possible that there are other elements of one’s background that would be appropriate and not covered elsewhere in one’s application, for example an anticipated promotion or an element of one’s identity not covered in the program’s data forms. While applicants should make an effort to fully represent their candidacies within the required elements of the application, this leaves a bit of room for short exceptions.

Clear Admit Resources
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