Columbia Business School (CBS) requires its applicants to submit a short-answer goal statement of just 50 words and three somewhat concise written essays. Like the goal statement, CBS’s first essay prompt is about candidates’ career aspirations, but in the long term and in much more depth (at 500 words). For their second essay, applicants must discuss their active role in a diversity, equity, and inclusion experience, and for the third, they are asked to explain why they want an MBA from CBS in particular. Together, by balancing career goals 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 2023–2024 questions.
Columbia Business School Essay Analysis, 2023–2024
Short Answer Question: What is your immediate post-MBA professional goal? (50 characters maximum)
Examples of possible responses:
– “Work in business development for a media company.”
– “Join a strategy consulting firm.”“Launch a data-management start-up.”
CBS applicants accustomed to Twitter’s standard 280-character allowance might find CBS’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 school’s 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. During a Q&A mbaMission conducted with several top admissions officers, Assistant Dean of Admissions Amanda Carlson commented,
That 50 characters really helps people to just break it down very simply for themselves and simply for us . . . . Pursuing business education, it’s a huge investment in time, in money, in effort, in energy, and I think this 50-character exercise is as much for the candidate as it is for our team, and we want to know that people are serious, they’re focused, and they’re ready for this kind of adventure.
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 own 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 answer the school’s question quite well.
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 CBS response to this 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, the goal is for students to explore and reflect during their educational journey 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 or more of these five skills, and tell us the actions you took and the outcome. (Maximum 250 words)
Many of the top MBA programs are including essay questions related to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in their applications, and CBS is no exception, though it does focus on five specific (and per CBS, “essential”) skills that fall under the DEI umbrella. In business school—as in life in general—you will encounter people who think differently from you, come from notably different backgrounds, and operate according to different values. And achieving success in an endeavor can involve weighing, navigating, and often incorporating the views of others in one’s efforts. With this essay prompt, CBS wants to learn about your firsthand experience with such differences.
While you are in the school’s 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 DEI topics and situations, 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, be sure that you understand the three core concepts fully: diversity, equity, and inclusion. Of the three, equity is the most easily misinterpreted, with people often assuming it is interchangeable with equality. While equality implies same, equity implies fair—requiring not that everyone be provided for or treated identically but rather that each person be provided for or treated appropriately for their particular situation. Similarly, 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.
Without question, recent years have certainly offered a multitude of contexts and situations in which people could “show up” for others who are different from them and work to ensure fairness and appropriate inclusion, such as participating in an organized protest or march, or stepping in when someone was being harassed or marginalized in some way. 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 ethical and inclusive leader” is important—you need to clearly describe a relevant situation and your 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(s) 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. CBS proudly fosters a collaborative learning environment through curricular experiences like our clusters and learning teams, an extremely active co-curricular and student life environment, and career mentorship opportunities like our Executives-in-Residence program.
Why do you feel Columbia Business School is a good fit for you academically, culturally, and professionally, please be specific? (250 words)
To effectively answer the school’s question for this essay, you will need to conduct some significant research on all aspects of CBS and the MBA experience it offers, from its resources and community to its extracurriculars and location. The admissions committee calls out three major elements of the CBS program within the prompt and links to more information about them, so we recommend starting (or ideally, continuing) your research there, even if you do not immediately think any of the three applies to you personally. 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—”academically, culturally, and professionally”—so you must be sure to address all three angles in your essay and do so thoroughly and relatively equally. 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.
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 create a narrative explaining how you will grow through the opportunities available there and benefit from the overall experience.
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. Click here to access your complimentary copy.
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 your 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 (a poor grade or overall GPA, a low GMAT score, a gap in your work experience, etc.), we do not recommend that you submit an option 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.
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.