Columbia Business School Essay Tips and Examples

Columbia Business School

Columbia Business School (CBS) requires all its applicants to submit a short-answer goal statement of just 50 characters. In addition, January applicants must respond to a second short-answer question about why they have selected the alternative program start date, while August entry applicants are asked to describe their plans for the summer between the first and second year of the program. Both of these responses are limited to 50 characters, as well. All candidates must also provide three somewhat concise essays. Like the goal statement, CBS’s first essay prompt is about candidates’ career aspirations but focuses on the long term, and the additional length (500 words versus 50 characters) demands much more depth. For their second essay, applicants must discuss their active role in an inclusive experience, and for the third, they are asked to describe their vision for their time in the CBS MBA program and the role they anticipate playing in creating this experience. Together, by balancing professional aspirations with more personal, values- and character-based topics, the school’s essays should provide candidates with sufficient opportunity to provide a well-rounded impression of themselves as aspiring CBS MBAs. Read on for our detailed analysis of the program’s 2024–2025 questions.

Columbia Business School Essay Analysis, 2024–2025

Short Answer Question: What is your immediate post-MBA professional goal? (50 characters maximum)

Examples of possible responses:

1. “Work in business development for a media company.”

2. “Join a strategy consulting firm.”

3. “Launch a data-management start-up.”

CBS applicants accustomed to X’s (formerly Twitter’s) standard 280-character allowance might find the school’s 50-character limit here more than a little challenging—especially considering that it includes spaces! To get a sense of how brief your opportunity really is, note that the question is itself exactly 50 characters. With such limited space, this can hardly be considered a true essay, but you will need to approach it with the same level of thought and focus you give all your other written responses for CBS. 

So, this prompt is a no-nonsense request for information that is all about getting to the point and telling the admissions committee what it needs to know—that you have a clear and achievable goal. The school’s sample responses illustrate not only that conveying the requested information in such a tight space is definitely doable but also that you do not need to worry too much about grammatical issues or crafting a complete sentence (in other words, you do not need to start your response with “I want to” or something similar). We like to offer the statement “Reveal true goals, not what you think CBS wants” as both our example of keeping things concise and our advice on how to approach and fulfill this request. 

So think about what you truly want to do with your career in the short term, and state this aspiration directly. Keep in mind that the rest of your application needs to provide evidence that your stated goal aligns with your existing skills and profound interests, especially once they have been augmented by an MBA education. This will show that your professed goal is achievable and lend credibility to your statement. If you can do this in 50 characters (not words!), you will have done what you need to do to answer the school’s question quite well.

January Short Answer Question: Why do you prefer the January-entry term? (50 characters maximum)

With this straightforward query, the CBS admissions committee wants to understand why you are pursuing the shorter form of its MBA program, which omits the traditional summer internship. Candidates have a myriad of reasons they might prefer this option, and CBS is interested in yours specifically. Perhaps you already have a job lined up or will be returning to your current firm (or maybe a family business), in which case, you would not need an internship to gain hands-on experience or build a relationship with a company in hopes of landing a post-MBA position there. Maybe you are certain you will start your own business, which would make completing an internship less crucial. Whatever your reason, simply state it directly for the admissions committee. The school is not looking for a predetermined “right” answer here; above all, they want to see that you have thoroughly considered your options and have landed on a reason—and can articulate it succinctly—that this route is the right one for you. But if not needing an internship is your reason for selecting the 16-month program, make sure you do not simply say, “I do not need a summer internship”; explain why that interim position is not needed. 

August Short Answer Question: How do you plan to spend the summer after the first year of the MBA? If in an internship, please include target industry(ies) and/or function(s). If you plan to work on your own venture, please indicate a focus of business. (50 characters maximum)

Beyond just being another question you need to respond to for the CBS admissions committee, this new query should not be terribly demanding. It goes hand in hand with the school’s first short-answer question but charges you with connecting the dots between where you are professionally when you enter the program and where you expect to be when you graduate. Be as detailed as you can in the allotted space to show the admissions committee that you have really thought through your intended career path and have a vision for the different stages of your progression during your time in the MBA program. Consult the school’s recent employment reports to see how the recruiting (or start-up/entrepreneurial) trends line up with what you hope to do, and if you recognize that you might need to put in some independent work to secure the situation you seek—rather than being able to lean fully on the support of the CBS Career Management Center—be sure to  acknowledge this in your answer so the admissions committee is reassured that you have truly done your research and are ready to manage the path ahead.

Essay 1: Through your resume and recommendation, we have a clear sense of your professional path to date. What are your career goals over the next three to five years and what is your long-term dream job? (500 words)

CBS starts this essay question by more or less telling you not to recap your career thus far, so we strongly recommend that you do so (and briefly, at that) only if context is absolutely needed for your stated goals to be understood and/or believable—perhaps if you are making a fairly remarkable career change. Pay particular attention to the phrase “dream job” with respect to the long-term portion of the question. The school is prompting you to be creative and perhaps even to challenge or push yourself to think big. CBS wants individuals who do not just follow prescribed paths according to someone else’s blueprint but who are aspirational and more inclined to forge their own way. This is not to suggest that if you have a more traditional plan in mind that you are in trouble or at risk of losing the admissions committee’s attention, but you might need to take a little extra time to consider your ambitions from the perspective of “what if?” and to delve more deeply into what you hope to achieve to find the more personal and inspiring elements of your goals. Showing creativity and individualism here can only be helpful.

Although this is not a request for a textbook personal statement essay, your response will certainly involve some elements of the topics covered in such a submission, such as short- and long-term goals. The mbaMission Personal Statement Guide offers advice on brainstorming and crafting such essays, along with multiple illustrative examples, and could therefore be helpful in preparing your response to this CBS prompt. You can download your free copy here.

Essay 2: The Phillips Pathway for Inclusive Leadership (PPIL) is a co-curricular program designed to provide students with the skills and strategies needed to develop as inclusive leaders. Through various resources and programming, students explore and reflect on the following five inclusive leadership skills: Mitigating Bias and Prejudice; Managing Intercultural Dialogue; Addressing Systemic Inequity; Understanding Identity and Perspective Taking; and Creating an Inclusive Environment.

Describe a time or situation when you had the need to utilize one of these five skills, and tell us the actions you took and the outcome. (250 words) 

In the CBS MBA program, you will be surrounded every day by individuals who are unlike you in a multitude of ways, and you will need to work in tandem with and alongside these individuals when analyzing case studies, completing group projects, and participating in other activities both inside and outside the classroom. CBS has created the PPIL program to help students more easily and appropriately navigate topics and situations related to diversity and inclusivity, but first, the admissions committee wants some evidence that you are capable of learning such lessons and acting on them when appropriate. It also wants to gauge your current level of understanding of the concepts and your ability to apply them by having you relate an illustrative story from your past. To start, you must understand that true inclusion goes beyond simply providing a seat at the table, so to speak, for everyone on a team and demands that each person be invited or at least allowed to contribute in a meaningful way and that those contributions be valued on par with those of other team members.

We strongly recommend getting to know the PPIL program in some depth before you begin writing this essay. On the CBS site, this essay prompt includes a hyperlink to the program’s site (we have replicated the link here in our post), so be sure to take some time to click through and read about the program’s initiatives and founders; you can even watch a recorded PPIL event. To be able to write effectively on one of the five skills the admissions committee has highlighted in the essay question and asked you to focus on, you will need to start by understanding how CBS defines and talks about the skill.

Again, CBS wants you to provide evidence of how you act on your values and ideals, so you cannot simply discuss why you believe that being an inclusive leader is important—you need to clearly describe a relevant situation and your associated mind-set, motivations, and actions. Fully illustrating and exemplifying the “how” element is crucial for this essay to be its most effective, so be as thorough as possible (within the rather restrictive 250-word limit) in explaining your thought process and the steps you took to make a difference. 

Because the school places no restrictions on the environment in which your experience occurred, be sure to consider all the areas of your life (personal, community, professional) to uncover your strongest example. Similarly, the admissions committee does not stipulate that you must have been acting in a leadership capacity in the story you share, but if you have a strong example in which you were directing a team, group, or initiative, it would likely make for an even more compelling essay.

Essay 3: We believe Columbia Business School is a special place with a collaborative learning environment in which students feel a sense of belonging, agency, and partnership – academically, culturally, and professionally.

How would you co-create your optimal MBA experience at CBS? Please be specific. (250 words)

In different words (clearly), the admissions committee is essentially asking you two core questions here: How are you a good fit with the CBS program? And what would you contribute to it and the CBS community? To position yourself to provide a strong and convincing answer to the school’s question(s), you will need to conduct some significant research on all aspects of CBS, its community, and the MBA experience it offers, from its resources and faculty to its extracurriculars and location. In your essay, you must present a clear plan of action, showing direct connections between CBS’s offerings and your interests, personality, and needs. Note that the prompt does not present an “and/or” choice in its request, so you should strive to address all three angles of the experience it mentions—”academically, culturally, and professionally”—in your essay, if at all possible. This will demonstrate to the admissions committee that you are truly a good fit for, and enthusiastic about, the entire CBS MBA experience, rather than being narrowly focused on just a few key resources or aspects.

One important key to this essay is the element of “co-creating.” You need to paint yourself as an active participant and contributor, not just benefitting from what CBS has to offer but also making your personal mark on the experience in some way. In researching the CBS program, have you noticed something “missing” that you could add? Alternatively, is there just a key area of interest where you could engage and contribute? Ideally, whatever you discuss in your essay should be advantageous for others in the community, as well. Although you are focusing on your personal experience, of course, CBS is looking for applicants who will be additive and can elevate the program more broadly.

Although the word “optimal” implies a bit of “blue sky thinking,” you need to make sure that whatever you propose is indeed possible at the school. If not, the admissions committee will conclude that you have not done sufficient research on the school to understand it appropriately, and—perhaps worse—your proposed offering(s) would have no chance of ever coming to fruition, which essentially means that your contribution might end up being nothing. Obviously, this is not the message you want to send.

Note that generic claims and empty pandering have no place at all in this rather compact essay. Any elements of CBS that you reference must be specific to your interests, character, and needs, and the connections between them must be made very clear. Be authentic about what draws you to CBS in particular, and clearly explain how you will engage with and grow through your experience there while adding to the school in some way. 

The “why our school?” topic is a common element of a typical personal statement, so we (again) encourage you to download a free copy of the mbaMission Personal Statement Guide, which helps applicants write this style of essay for any school. It explains ways of approaching this subject effectively and offers several sample essays as guides. 

And for a thorough exploration of CBS’s academic program, unique offerings, social life, and other key characteristics, the mbaMission Insider’s Guide to Columbia Business School is also available for free.

Optional Essay: If you wish to provide further information or additional context around your application to the Admissions Committee, please upload a brief explanation of any areas of concern in your academic record or personal history. This does not need to be a formal essay. You may submit bullet points. (Maximum 500 Words)

CBS’s optional essay question starts out sounding like an open invitation to discuss almost anything you feel like sharing with the admissions committee but then puts the spotlight on addressing problem areas specifically (“areas of concern”). The additional directive about bullet points seems to be a not-too-veiled indicator that the school wants you to just impart any key information rather than offering a detailed and long-winded explanation of the issue in question. Without a doubt, this is not an opportunity to share another cool story or otherwise try to impress or pander to the admissions committee. If you do not truly need to explain an issue or potentially confusing element of your candidacy (e.g., a poor grade or overall GPA, a low GMAT score, a gap in your work experience), we do not recommend that you submit an optional essay; if you do have issues to clarify, keep things concise. In our mbaMission Optional Essays 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.

CBS reapplicants are required to provide only one essay, in response to the following prompt.

Reapplicant Essay: How have you enhanced your candidacy since your previous application? Please detail your progress since you last applied and reiterate how you plan to achieve your immediate and long term post-MBA professional goals. (Maximum 500 words).

CBS wants to know—and see evidence—that you have been actively striving to improve yourself and your profile since you last applied, because earning your MBA from CBS is so important to you. Whether you have enhanced your academic record, achieved a higher GMAT/GRE score, received a promotion, begun a new and exciting project, increased your community involvement, or taken on some sort of personal challenge, the key to success with this essay is conveying a very deliberate path of achievement. 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 are presented in the best light possible.

The Next Step—Mastering Your CBS Interview: Many MBA candidates find admissions interviews stressful and intimidating, but mastering this important element of the application process is definitely possible—the key is informed preparation. And, on your way to this high level of preparation, we offer our free Interview Primers to spur you along! Download your free copy of the Columbia Business School Interview Guide today.

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