Columbia University (Columbia Business School) Essay Analysis, 2011–2012

Update: Click here for the 2015-2016 Columbia Business School Essay Analysis 

Columbia Business School (CBS) whittled its essay questions from four to three to two over the past five years but is now back to posing three essay questions. Maybe the school’s admissions committee felt that with just two questions, they were not learning enough about applicants? This year, CBS is offering a variety of creative options in its final essay question, giving candidates greater flexibility—and thus greater control over what the admissions committee will learn about them.

1. Considering your post-MBA and long-term professional goals, why are you pursuing an MBA at this point in your career? Additionally, why is Columbia Business School a good fit for you? (Maximum of 750 words.)

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, via our online store. Please feel free to download your copy today.

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.

2. Describe a life experience that has shaped you. The goal of this essay is to get a sense of who you are, rather than what you have achieved professionally. (Maximum of 500 words.)

Pay close attention to the word “shaped.” CBS does not want to hear about an experience that was merely important in your life, but about one that changed you—one that had an integral role in making you the person you are today.

Because CBS wants you to recount a shaping experience, you will have to demonstrate the contrast between your attitudes or opinions before this experience and those after. A strong essay will use a narrative to build to the climactic moment in the story that triggered the change in you, and then illustrate a sharp contrast between the “before” and “after.”

CBS aspirants need not restrict themselves to discussing a life experience that had only positive outcomes. Understandably, events that did not end as well or as planned can also be very influential and life changing. If you took a risk of some kind, whether you succeeded or failed is not relevant—your action in taking the risk may be the shaping experience. In addition, consider that some strongly influential events can happen to you, and others you may merely be a witness to. For example, maybe observing the remarkable work ethic and drive of an immigrant family member shaped your attitude and sense of purpose, or perhaps the manner in which someone close to you dealt with a handicap or sudden illness changed you in some significant way. For this essay, you will need to relate a story that speaks to your way of perceiving and interacting with the world around you, so it will require a sincere investment of time and thought—this is not an essay you can just sit down and write extemporaneously. If, before you begin your first draft, you truly contemplate the moments of your life in which you feel you changed as a person, your final essay will be inherently powerful and captivating.

3. Essay three has three options (please choose one of the following):

Option A: The annual A. Lorne Weil Outrageous Business Plan Competition is a student initiative managed and run by the Columbia Entrepreneurs Organization (CEO). The competition encourages Columbia MBA students to explore creative entrepreneurial ideas that are sufficiently ambitious in scope and scale to be considered “outrageous.” Students explore these ideas while learning firsthand what goes into the development and presentation of a solid business proposal. Develop your own “outrageous” business idea. In essay form, compose your “elevator pitch.” (Maximum 250 words)

The admissions committee is asking for “outrageous” ideas, so MBA aspirants should not hesitate to really put themselves “out there.” Still, you do not need to be silly or wacky. Your idea should be grounded in something realistic and reveal you as someone who imagines what is possible. Many MBA candidates will avoid this question, worried that the admissions committee will be evaluating their essay as a kind of business plan and that if the committee does not like the potential in the pitch, they will “ding” them. We assure you that this is not a veiled business plan competition and that the admissions reader will instead be assessing your way of thinking and your ability to be persuasive. Indeed, because the school asks you to give your “elevator pitch,” you have an opportunity to reveal your personality, rather than your financial projections. For this essay, most candidates should write from a first-person perspective, showing their passion for their idea.

Option B: Columbia deeply values its vibrant student community, the building of which begins at orientation when admitted students are assigned to clusters of 65 to 70 fellow students who take most of the first-year core classes together. During the first weeks of school, each cluster selects a Cluster Chair. Further strengthening the student community are the nearly 100 active student organizations at Columbia Business School, ranging from cultural to professional to community service-oriented. Leadership positions within the cluster and/or clubs offer hands-on management and networking opportunities for students as they interact with fellow students, administrators, faculty members, alumni, and practitioners. You are running for either Cluster Chair or a club leadership position of your choosing. Compose your campaign speech. (Maximum 250 words)

Again, much like Option A, this essay choice gives you an opportunity to speak in your own voice and to reveal your interests and passions. In addition, the admissions committee is asking you to win them over—they want to understand that you have the personality to persuade others and thus succeed.

The nature of the club that you want to lead is not important—your personality, ideas, contribution and knowledge of the school are key. So, a successful essay (speech) will show both that you can relate to others and that you have intimate knowledge of the school and its offerings. After all, if you are proposing to lead the Green Business Club, for example, and thus state that you will bring a carbon trading simulation to the club, you will send the message that you have not done your homework, because the club already hosts this kind of simulation.

We feel that writing this speech without first thoroughly researching your proposed club’s offerings would not only be risky but would result in a less effective final essay. To identify what kind of appropriate and valuable contribution you could make, you would first need to be familiar with what is already available. So, before attempting to write this essay (speech), be certain that you have the proper knowledge to do so. (Conducting a priori research—by talking to current students through class visits and ambassadorial programs—is a wise idea.)

Option C: Founded nearly three decades ago, the Executives in Residence Program at Columbia Business School integrates senior executives into the life of the School. Current executives in residence include more than a dozen experts in areas ranging from media and investment banking to private equity and management. A hallmark of the program is one-on-one counseling sessions in which executives advise students about their prospective career choices. Select one of the current executives in residence with whom you would like to meet during your time at Columbia. Explain your selection and tell us how you would best utilize your half hour one-on-one session. (Maximum 250 words)

Essay question A has similarities to essay question B, and essay question B has similarities to essay question C. In this essay, much like the one for essay question B, you will need to reveal that you have done your homework and have thoroughly considered your options before selecting your target executive in residence, from whom you will seek counsel.

Your very first step, then, will be to consider your career goals and then identify which executive in residence may have the most to offer with regard to your particular plans and needs. Next, you must come to understand the insight this person could offer into your chosen career. Without a clear sense of what you want to do and where you want to be, you cannot truly benefit from the hypothetical time you would have to confer with this executive. In short, if you do not have a strong understanding of where you want to go with your life and career after business school, this essay is most likely not for you. (If you have competing goals, however—or are having difficulty pinpointing a particular direction within a specific industry, perhaps—you might use this “time” to discuss your options and concerns with a wise mentor who has experience in your area of interest.)

Again, the specific career path you plan to take is not what is important in this essay, but rather the approach you would take in this discussion (and to some degree, the appropriateness of your choice of executive). The school asks you to explain “how you would best utilize” your time with this expert. Although this does not require that you provide a minute-by-minute schedule of the consultation, we advise you to carefully consider the questions and topics you would want to discuss with the executive and then show how these relate to the experiences he or she has had (and you have had—or hope to have). In essence, you are trying to demonstrate that you know how to ask solid, pertinent questions and make the most of opportunities—that you are sufficiently introspective to draw from someone else’s choices and experiences to inform your own.

An optional fourth essay will enable 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, available through our online store, 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 essay: How have you enhanced your candidacy since your previous application? Please detail your progress since you last applied and reiterate your short-term and long-term goals. Explain how the tools of the Columbia MBA will help you to meet your goals and how you plan to participate in the Columbia community. (Maximum of 750 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 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 Columbia 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.

Upcoming Events

Upcoming Deadlines

  • Oxford Saïd (Round 2)
  • INSEAD (Round 2)
  • NYU Stern (Round 2)
  • Dartmouth Tuck (Round 2)
  • Michigan Ross (Round 2)
  • Virginia Darden (Round 3)

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2020–2021 MBA Essay Analysis

Click here for the 2019–2020 MBA Essay Analysis

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