To write successful essays for Columbia Business School (CBS), you will need to convey that you have clear goals, especially well-thought-out reasons for wanting to attend the school, and strong values. Moreover, you should do your homework on CBS so that you can really prove that it is the best place for you. CBS doesn’t want to be a commuter school filled with people coming to Manhattan for a two-year vacation; it wants to know that you recognize and appreciate it for the world-class business school it is. So, demonstrating “fit” is critical. Let’s delve deeper into each essay question.
What is your immediate post-MBA professional goal? (50 characters)
This is a very short statement (remember—50 characters, not words!). Make your response as specific as possible, noting the position you want, the industry that interests you, and/or a company that is ideal for you. Keep in mind that whatever you say here should tie into your first long required essay.
Essay One: Through your resume and recommendations, 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, in your imagination, would be your long-term dream job? (500 words)
By starting with some simple context/backstory, you can give the admissions reader a sense of why your stated goals are credible and exciting. Simply launching into why you want to go into consulting or “ed-tech” or whatever your interest is could be confusing if you have not yet provided some sense of why you have that interest. So, your first task is to establish that your goals are feasible without rehashing the entirety of your professional path.
Next, delve into your long-term goal. By starting with your long-term goal, you are solidifying why you absolutely need a CBS MBA. As the prompt suggests, use your imagination! Think big, think creatively, think outside the box. Here, giving a job title is not essential (though you can), but you do need to convey what sort of impact you hope to make—to a community, to a company or organization, or somewhere else. In addition, give examples of how and why your long-term goal will be important.
Finally, describe your three- to five-year career goals, which should directly help you achieve your stated longer-term goals. Consider offering a specific job title and an example of a company or organization you aspire to work for. This will help the admissions committee connect with your goal. You have ample word count here to show that you really know what this job entails—that you are not just chasing prestige but have really thought about fit and about how, after you have completed the CBS MBA program, your desired role will prepare you for your long-term dream job. Be sure that your long-term goal can be achieved via your short-term goal: if you cannot build the bridge from one to the other, the admissions committee will question whether CBS can support you in such an improbable endeavor.
You can briefly finish with how the CBS MBA specifically will be critical in meeting these goals. Consider mentioning certain classes, centers, programs, or organizations that are unique to CBS that would be beneficial to you. If you choose the “fit” prompt for your second or third essay, be sure not to overlap or repeat any of the ideas you offer here; you want to mention new information in each essay.
Essay 2 and 3: Please respond to two (2) of the three (3) essay questions listed below:
Prompt 1: The Phillips Pathway for Inclusive Leadership (PPIL) is a new co-curricular program designed to ensure that every CBS student develops the skills to become an ethical and inclusive leader. Through PPIL, students attend programming focused on five essential diversity, equity, and inclusion skills: Creating an Inclusive Environment, Mitigating Bias, Communicating Across Identities, Addressing Systemic Inequality, and Managing Difficult Conversations. Tell us about a time you were challenged around one of these five skills. Describe the situation, the actions you took, and the outcome. (250 words)
To determine whether a response to this essay would be appropriate, you obviously need to learn more about the PPIL program, which you can do here: https://groups.gsb.columbia.edu/ppil/home/. If it is, this essay is a great way to give the admissions committee more depth and perspective on your unique background and experiences.
Because this is a short essay, every word counts. Our suggestion would be to first devote approximately 50–75 words to describing the challenging situation you experienced and why it stands out for you. With such tight constraints, you clearly need to get to the heart of the matter quickly. Of course, the situation you choose to discuss is important, but what is more important is revealing your values by sharing the steps you took to resolve the challenge. You might dedicate 100–125 words to relaying those actions and then use the remainder to discuss the outcome. Remember, your results don’t all have to be rosy—for example, if one takes on systemic racism, it almost goes without saying that the experience will not be an easy one. And the admissions committee wants to know that you can successfully navigate uncomfortable and/or demanding situations. Even amid such restrictive limits, strive to convey the reality of “managing a difficult conversation” or “addressing systemic inequality” (or whichever skill your particular experience relates to), and make sure your values are on display in a thoughtful manner.
Prompt 2: Why do you feel Columbia Business School is a good fit for you? (250 words)
Your answer to this essay should get across that the CBS MBA is the business program for you. Before you begin writing, do significant research into what CBS has to offer that fits with your specific goals, including classes, extracurriculars, professors, and networking opportunities. The reasons you give for why you want to attend CBS should be tied to unique aspects of the school and particular interests and needs that you have. For example, you could express your desire to get involved at the Lang Center for Entrepreneurship, to enroll in the Healthcare and Pharmaceutical Management Program, to find volunteer opportunities in the local community through the Small Business Development Center, or to spend significant time in New York City because of the unparalleled business resources that are within arm’s reach. Just as important, remember to tie the resources you highlight to what you need to gain to attain your goals, and address how you will collaborate with classmates and offer them your experiences and time while in the program.
Prompt 3: Tell us about your favorite book, movie, or song and why it resonates with you. (250 words)
By asking about a favorite piece of work, CBS is giving you the chance to showcase your personality in an open-ended response. You might consider working backward: first, decide what you’d like to share about yourself in this essay (that hasn’t been delved into elsewhere in your application), and then determine an appropriate medium that can support this perspective. Whether you pick a book, movie, or song doesn’t matter, and you certainly do not need to choose a top seller or something with a business-related topic. Simply select whatever will easily allow you to explore your values, interests, and unique experiences. Note that the prompt focuses primarily on why you selected the piece you did, so commit notably fewer words to its synopsis.
Is there any further information that you wish to provide the Admissions Committee? If so, use this space to provide an 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)
This question only needs to be addressed if there are gaps in your employment or some specific situation where providing background or context would be helpful. Some other examples would be if your recommender is not your direct supervisor, if your transcript resembles Swiss cheese with holes or bad grades scattered throughout, or if you don’t feel you have a typical quantitative caliber or experience. Avoid making this essay “flowery” or overly descriptive; just focus on the facts, offer your explanation(s), and describe any actions you took. In addition, do not feel compelled to hit the 500-word maximum. There is no need to make this any longer than necessary.
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).
This is an opportunity to explain how you have grown since you last applied. Ideally, you have improved on some aspect(s) of your profile—whether that is a higher test score, more work experience or leadership, a promotion, etc. Be sure to explain what it is about the school that motivates you to apply again. This can be a great way to show your specific and sincere reasons why you value a CBS MBA and why you would be a great fit with the program.
In Stratus Admissions’ Guide to Getting into Columbia Business School, you will find information on a variety of the MBA program’s offerings such as the Lang Entrepreneurship Center, J-Term, Immersion Seminars, and the CBS World Tour. This free guide also includes class profile statistics and our expert advice on answering the business school’s application essay questions. Download our brand-new guide to learn more about Columbia Business School!