1. What are your short-term and long-term post-MBA goals? How will Columbia Business School help you achieve these goals? (Recommended 750 word limit)
Essay one is essentially a personal statement and the operative word is “personal”. In this essay, you need to tell your story in a clear and compelling, but most importantly, intimate way. Therefore, you cannot afford to be generic or vague; you need to discuss your past, present and future with insight and focus.
Interestingly, in Columbia’s case, there is no explicit request for information about your career history. Still, you need to offer brief context in order to make your future goals relevant. By offering context into your past experience, you can turn what might have seemed naïve into an entirely reasonable statement.
Your short term goals need to flow from this context and show very clear direction and purpose. It is not enough to write, “When I graduate I want to go into marketing” or “With my MBA, I will enter the field of consulting”. What kind of marketing – consumer products, business to business? What knowledge do you have of this business and why will you excel in it?
Remember, this is not a statement of dreams, but a statement of purpose. So, it is important that as you develop your short term goals you consider the specific role you will play, the reasons why you will excel in that role and hopefully show insight into why there may be an identifiable need for your skills in this position. You can take any direction that you so choose from your short term goals as long as there is a causal connection with your long term goals. Your long term goals can be less specific than short term goals; they essentially represent an ideal aspiration if short term goals are reached.
Columbia explicitly asks: “How will Columbia Business School help you achieve these goals?” A common mistake among applicants is simply to compliment the school. The spirit of the latter half of your personal statement should not be “CBS is great”, but “I will utilize specific CBS resources to achieve ambitious goals.” And, the idea is not to generate a list of “specific CBS resources”, but to develop a well thought out themes or arguments – almost like stating your case to the jury – where you prove that by taking advantage of specific programs within a few disciplines that directly relate to your career, you will achieve your goals.
It is important to not only show your academic and career fit, but also your personality fit. If you have visited Columbia and/or spoken with alumni, students, professors or admissions staff, it can be helpful to show your connection, so that your knowledge of the school does not seem superficial and your interest is sincere. Also, while schools do not explicitly ask you what you can offer, word count permitting, it is generally a good idea to discuss ways in which you can contribute in class and beyond, if this has not been accomplished implicitly throughout the essay.
(Note: Columbia’s application does not list the latter question as an option. However, Columbia released this question earlier in the summer and, since then, has confirmed that they will accept the latter essay, if candidates choose to answer this question.)
2. Leading in the global economy requires enabling high performance from a diverse set of employees, colleagues and partners. Tell us about a manager you’ve observed who enabled or inspired others to do their best work and analyze how this manager did it (Recommended 500 world limit)
This is a unique question in that it is one of the very few that are not directly about you, but is about another individual. Still, your observations are your own and reflect your perception of how a manager can be effective and motivate others. Clearly, this essay does not exist in a vacuum and your observations will make a strong statement about your preferred management style or what you perceive to be effective/creative.
Your answer need not be exclusive to your manager, but can be expanded to include any manager that you have observed closely and of who you possess intimate knowledge. For example, you could write about the manner in which a local restaurateur at a restaurant that you frequent creatively motivates his staff and maintains loyalty or you could write about the manager who sits across from you and runs a very tight and aggressive ship. The manager and his position is not as relevant as your insight.
2. What has been the greatest challenge to your value system that you’ve faced and how did you handle it? (Recommended 500 word limit)
Sometimes it is easier to explain what you should do in an essay by first explaining what you should not do. Inevitably, a candidate always asks if a story like the following would work: “My boss told me to trade on inside information and I said ‘no.’” In such an instance, there is no challenge to your value system; no one should be trading on inside information; no one should be breaking the law.
In essay two, you need to start by offering an example in which there were two reasonable options which stand in stark opposition to each other — both with positive and negative aspects — and explore how you made your choice. In such circumstances, the outcome is less important than your reasoning. The committee is seeking to understand your thought process and trying to recognize the reasonable, logical and ethical applicant within.
3. In discussing Columbia Business School, Dean R. Glenn Hubbard remarked, “We have established the mind-set that entrepreneurship is about everything you do.” Please discuss a time in your own life when you have identified and captured an opportunity. (Recommended 500 word limit)
The key to understanding this question is to recognize that entrepreneurship is not narrowly defined to mean “creating a business” but is more broadly defined as “capturing an opportunity”. Your example certainly could come from within the confines of the typical definition, but it could also come from innovating within your existing company, expanding the role of a community organization or from your personal sphere (if you seized a remarkable growth experience), etc. The bottom line is that there are many “right” answers for this question and you need not be intimidated if you have not started a company from scratch.
In this essay, your choice of language will be key to emphasizing that you did something creative in order to identify the opportunity. (Even if the idea was near or at the surface, you still possessed vision that others did not). After telling the story of how you identified the opportunity, you should explain the process of capturing the opportunity, focusing on the tangible impact that you had on this process and on how you helped bring the idea to life. Finally, you should briefly reflect on your accomplishment and key learnings. While CBS does not explicitly as for such analysis, it is most often helpful, as it shows a humility and appreciation for the experience, not just the results.
4. Please select and answer one of the following essay questions. (Recommended 250 word limit)
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?
Many candidates will use the first two essays to showcase their professional and community experiences. Essay three is often an opportunity to showcase personal aspects of your profile. In both options A and B, the topic is not as important as your ability to truly express an inordinate love of the hobby/ethereal experience/activity/event. The reader is interested in learning something unique about you via your experiences and his/her attention will not be captured by experiences that are typical or lack intensity or emotion. Only by showing how your relationship to this experience is unique will you truly stand-out.