Breaking Down Columbia's Essays for 2012-2013

It looks like the Columba Business School released their essays this week.  The bottom line is that the program's full-time MBA essays remain virtually the same.

So what does this mean for you, the applicant?

As I noted with last year's (2011-2012) release of new essay questions - "whenever a school releases new essays questions, it serves as a sort of referendum on the strategy of the prior year."  With essays that remain fairly intact, I can confidently say we have the school (and its essays) dialed in.  Over the past two years, Columbia's essay release fits exactly in line with the techniques we shared with our clients (much of which can be found in our 2011- 2012 How to Apply to Columbia guide).

Let's move through the new essays, comparing and contrasting with the previous year, as we explain why: 

Short Answer Question

2011 - 2012: What is your post-MBA professional goal? (Maximum 200 characters.)

2012 - 2013: What is your immediate post-MBA professional goal? (200 characters maximum)

Our analysis remains the same as last year.  We added the underline to "characters" for emphasis, because we can only imagine how many people will write 200-word responses to this question.  The only small change is that Columbia specifically called out "immediate" goals.  We imagine that more than a few applicants failed to heed the specific examples that Columbia provides; taking liberty and stating goals that are so broad, no career center representative can comprehend passing onto a potential recruiter. 

What Columbia wants you to do here is twofold: 1) give them a specific thesis for your candidacy, and 2) focus on your short-term goals.  These are two aspects of applying to Columbia that we have hammered for the past year.  Some schools favor a broad vision for your career ... Columbia wants to know what you plan to do when you graduate.  If you were a client of ours last year or even just had a consultation call, you will know that we have been espousing the viewpoint that Columbia cares most about professional potential - we've been saying it until we are blue in the face, really.  The fact that they have pulled this little exercise out of the series of essays and forced you to put it in lights underlines, highlights, and italicizes how important it is to have a short-term goal that "checks out." 

Again, the good folks on the Columbia admissions committee even give you a template.  So no one should screw this up.  This essay is all about following orders - being realistic, tactical and pithy.  

“After my MBA I want to build my expertise in the energy sector and learn more about strategy and decision making by joining a consulting firm specializing in renewable energy and power companies.”

“After my MBA I hope to work in business development for a media company that is expanding its market share in Asia.”

“My short term goal is to work with an investment firm that utilizes public private partnerships to invest in community development projects.”


Essay One - A and B

2011 - 2012: 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).

2012 - 2013:  A. Why are you pursuing an MBA at this point in your career, and how do you plan to achieve your immediate and long term post-MBA professional goals? (Maximum 500 words)

B. Please view this video, entitled Community at Columbia. Diverse, tight-knit clusters and carefully selected learning teams are defining features of the first year at Columbia Business School. Along with more than 100 student organizations and countless events each semester, the cluster system helps to create a supportive and devoted lifelong communityDescribe why you are interested in becoming a part of the Columbia community. (Maximum 250 words)

For Essay #1, this is basically the same as last year.  The only notable exception is that Columbia broke the essay out into sections A and B.  Other than that, it's the same essay. 

Now keep in mind, just because you bumped out your thesis to the short answer field doesn't mean you are off the hook in defining your goals again here.  Indeed, you probably won't have properly defined your path in that short answer, so you really have to immediately pretend the Short Answer question above doesn't exist.  

Your Essay 1A will need to feature What, Why, How, When, and Where - the purists' career goals essay.  And, as with last year, we will be putting an emphasis on Columbia's unique desire to see an alternate career path presented, as well as really stress testing the 'how' or Proof Paragraph, to make sure that transferable skills are on display - that you leave no doubt at all that you can land that post-MBA job.  As in years past, Essay #1 will be the make-or-break Columbia essay.  If you can't define realistic goals based on your background, and have those goals apply to what Columbia can help you achieve - don't even bother applying to Columbia.  They are that fixated on your ability to get a J O B.  

Essay 1B now breaks out the specific "why Columbia" aspect of the essay.  We would guess applicants paid too much or too little attention to this section.  Either way, Columbia seeks to get rid of the variability by clearly defining 250 words here.  Also, pay freaking attention - the fact that Columbia breaks off this essay prompt and specifically calls out why you are interested is because they want to know that if they accept you, you will matriculate.  They hate being a girlfriend (or boyfriend) when really they should be the wife (or husband.)  Convince them not just that you love them, but that you are in love with them.  Respect Columbia and tell them how you're going to do it (through your involvement and commitment to classmates). Otherwise, please view this video

Essay 2

2011 - 2012: 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.)

2012 - 2013: Describe a personal experience and how it has influenced who you are today. This essay should have a personal rather than a professional focus. (Maximum 500 words)

This essay remained unchanged.  Again, we feel validated in our approach that we have put forth for the last 2 years, which was to stress one experience or interest and build a theme around it, rather than just rattle off your resume. Columbia has further zeroed us all in by asking for a "life experience," but the big takeaway here is that they want a story, not a list.  Furthermore, it should be fairly obvious, but this should from your personal life and not from work.  If you're referencing Stanford's essay 1 (from 2011 - 2012) "What Matters Most?", you will see how Columbia continues to probe their applicants for personal significant themes and motivations.  Really, it's the asshole test we refer to during the intro of our upcoming How to Apply to Stanford GSB guide. This question is really meant to weed out the self-serving and selfish classmates, and keeps the real team players.

In Conclusion

In all, it is great to see that Columbia is continuing to keep it real - real clear and concise. In fact, everything about the Columbia application brings clarity to the experience.  Instead of reinventing the wheel for 2012-2013 (compare this with HBS's revised application essays), they are dialing it in. Columbia knows what they want - applicants who can get jobs, and are committed to strengthening the school's community (NYC offers students a lot of distractions.)  If you can think like a recruiter, you're a step ahead of most applicants and in line with Columbia's admissions committee.  This means that the application is straight forward, but it also means that there is less room for error as mistakes are likely to be punished even more severely than year's past, when Columbia already loomed large as a program that had expectations for "good" essays and was fairly tough on those candidates who failed in that regard.  

If you are just starting out on your admissions journey, email us at to request a free consultation.  

Additionally, you can download our free guides for applying to HBSINSEAD and Columbia.