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Columbia Business School Essay Analysis, 2012–2013

Applicants to Columbia Business School (CBS) this year must complete one short-answer question and two essays. Perhaps CBS is returning to the mind-set that “less is more” by getting rid of the third full essay from last year and adding a 200-character, career goal mini essay instead.

Short-Answer Question
What is your immediate post-MBA professional goal? (200 characters maximum)

Oh, how generous—CBS has given you a whole two sentences in which to thoughtfully articulate your post-MBA career goal! Be careful not to consider these two sentences a throwaway, however, believing that this question’s character limit prevents you from saying anything interesting. In just 200 characters, you can still very effectively grab the admissions committee’s attention. Think carefully about what you want to say, of course, and make sure you clearly and concisely convey your aspirations. Expressing your goal succinctly and directly shows the school that you have a clear idea of where you want to go and have given your career plan a good level of thought and attention.  Those candidates who put the appropriate amount of effort into this challenging portion of the application could ultimately have an advantage over other applicants, because we suspect that at least some will cynically downplay, gloss over or even ignore this question.

One thing to keep in mind is that whatever goal you present, it has to be both credible and ambitious—and that is not a paradox. The school wants to know that you are a driven and thoughtful individual, not an unrealistic dreamer. The admissions committee wants to know that CBS can help you get where you are determined to go in your career.

Essay 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)

Because the CBS admissions committee is asking you “why” you are pursuing an MBA, you can justifiably delve into your professional career and explain how you identified your need for this particular advanced degree. However, just because you are allotted 500 words for this essay, be very careful not to overwhelm the admissions committee with an unnecessary level of detail about your career history. We cannot emphasize this strongly enough—the admissions committee does not want a recap of your entire resume. Approximately 200 words on your past should be plenty.

You could perhaps offer an anecdote that reveals an academic or experiential void on your part, or you could maybe explain that now is the right time for you because you have just completed a lengthy assignment and are ready to transition to the next phase of your career. There are a number of good reasons for wanting to earn your MBA now—just make sure that in your essay, you tell a clear story of your progression and show the momentum and advancement that have led you to this point. Then, you will need to explain how and why an MBA will serve as a bridge to the next level of your career.

The phrasing of the second part of this question is somewhat odd—“how do you plan to achieve your … goals” is a little bit vague. Clearly, CBS is a big part of your plan, so you would be wise to discuss the applicable resources the school offers and to demonstrate a connection between these resources and your specific developmental needs within the context of your stated goals. However, in leaving this question vague, the school is also giving you the leeway to discuss continuous learning beyond your MBA. So, for example, you could reference the role that mentors might play in the achievement of your long-term goals. The key here is that you show that you have a clear plan of action.

Because personal statements are similar from one application to the next, we have produced the mbaMission Personal Statement Guide, which helps applicants write this style of essay for any school. We offer this guide to candidates free of charge. Please feel free to download your copy today.

B. Please view this video, entitled Community at Columbia. Diverse, tight-knit clusters and carefully selected learning teams are defining features of the first year at Columbia Business School. Along with more than 100 student organizations and countless events each semester, the cluster system helps to create a supportive and devoted lifelong community. Describe why you are interested in becoming a part of the Columbia community. (Maximum 250 words)

The first part of this essay question is a red herring. Do not let it distract you from the core question here, which is basically “Why are you interested in becoming part of the Columbia community?” CBS is working very hard to build its community, because many students who were already living in New York before enrolling in the business school (and even some who were not) treat the MBA program as a commuter experience. CBS therefore wants to know that you have done your homework and thus are truly aware and appreciative of what the school offers beyond the pure academic experience. In responding to this essay prompt, you will need to make your choice of Columbia personal and identify some of the “softer” (i.e., not strictly academic) aspects of the program that appeal to you. Just listing the various clubs you plan to join will not be enough to make your argument compelling—you will need to explain how you intend to engage with the CBS community and how/why that community will be crucial to your experience.

For a thorough exploration of CBS’s academic program/merits, defining characteristics, crucial statistics, social life, academic environment and more, please check out the mbaMission Insider’s Guide to Columbia Business School. We also suggest that you visit the campus (a must if you live anywhere near New York) and do your best to use your network to connect with students to gain an a priori understanding of the CBS experience.

Essay 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)

In this essay question, the CBS admissions committee uses the word “personal” twice and, for good measure, expressly states that you should not write about a professional experience. Do you think they are trying to tell you something?

The key to writing an effective essay response to this prompt is focusing on and revealing an “influence.” CBS is not asking about something you did well once or something you love doing. The school wants to hear about an experience that was so powerful, it changed you and your world view from that point forward. A strong essay will show a clear “before and after” situation, thereby illustrating the transformational effect of the experience you are relaying. You will want to demonstrate that the impact of the experience has stayed with you and, considering that you have 500 words for this essay, perhaps even show how you subsequently applied a lesson you learned from it—though “lesson application” is not mandatory in this case.

We strongly advise that you stay away from themes such as a death in the family or a trip abroad, unless you can truly own these experiences in a way that others simply cannot (this is rare but possible). As always, we recommend that you thoroughly brainstorm before you begin writing this essay. This is the one essay in which you have the opportunity to reveal the depth of your character, so you should make sure that you have seized the most powerful and effective anecdote(s) to showcase. In addition, throughout this essay, remember to tell a story and show how you engaged in this experience—do not just mention the incident and reflect on its impact. The reader needs to experience your transformative moment for him/herself, which means you will need to clearly convey your role in it.

Optional Essay
An optional fourth essay will allow you to discuss any issues that do not fall within the purview of the required essays.

However tempted you might be, this is not the place to paste in a strong essay from another school or to offer a few anecdotes that you were unable to use in any of your other essays. Instead, this is your opportunity, if needed, to address any lingering questions that an admissions officer may have about your candidacy, such as a poor grade or overall GPA, a low GMAT score, a gap in your work experience, etc. In our mbaMission Optional Statement 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.

Reapplicant Essay

Submit one new, two-part essay:
A. How have you enhanced your candidacy since your previous application? Please detail your progress since you last applied, and address how you plan to achieve your post-MBA and long-term professional goals. (Maximum of 500 words)

B. Please view this video, entitled Community at Columbia. Diverse, tight-knit clusters and carefully selected learning teams are defining features of the first year at Columbia Business School. Along with more than 100 student organizations and countless events each semester, the cluster system helps to create a supportive and devoted lifelong community. Describe why you are interested in becoming a part of the Columbia community. (Maximum 250 words)

Whether you have improved your academic record, received a promotion, begun a new and exciting project, increased your community involvement or taken on a personal challenge of sorts, the key to success with the first part of this essay is conveying a very deliberate path of achievement. CBS wants to know that you have been actively striving to improve and that you have seized opportunities during the previous year to do so, because a CBS MBA is vital to you. The responses to this essay question will vary greatly from one candidate to the next, because each person’s needs and experiences differ. We are more than happy to provide one-on-one assistance with this highly personal essay to ensure that your efforts over the past year are presented in the best light possible.

For advice on how to respond to the second part of the reapplicant essay prompt, see our analysis of Essay 1, Part B, for new applicants.



One Response

  1. […] Candidates often fixate on using their professional and community-based stories in their application essays. Many forget (or neglect) to even consider personal stories as possible differentiators. Because so many candidates have similarities in their professional experiences, personal dimensions should be highlighted where possible (considering that few examined lives can truly be said to be similar). Stories of commitment to oneself or others can have a strong emotional impact on the admissions committee and can help distinguish you from other applicants. Columbia Business School even specifically asks for applicants to describe a personal, rather than a professional, experience  in its Essay 2 this year. […]

    Business School Admissions Blog | MBA Admission Blog | Blog Archive » Monday Morning Essay Tip: Consider Using Personal Stories

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