Excerpt: How to Apply to Columbia Business School

We recently updated our How to Apply to Columbia guide and wanted to call attention to a specific section here on the blog, because it should prove helpful to people as they apply this year.  We will soon be updating our free guides for HBS, Wharton, and INSEAD as well, so be on the lookout.  And, as a reminder, we offer school-specific Strategy Memos for all schools for our clients.  Without further ado: 

"[Essays are] the most patently important step in the entire process and it is easy to understand why candidates fixate immediately on essay writing when it comes time to apply to Columbia (or anywhere else).  However, if that eagerness and singular focus results in skipping over the previous seven steps in this guide, the best essays in the world won’t make a shred of difference.  You must reach this step in the process armed with the insight, perspective, and tools to succeed, or you are just wasting your time and money.  That said, for the candidate who has properly prepared, the essay stage can be conquered just like everything that comes before it.

Our firm provides clients with an elaborate Strategy Memo for each and every top school and Columbia is no exception.  That document creates a blueprint for how to attack the CBS essay set.  Below are some brief examinations of the questions that can guide even those candidates who cannot become clients.

Essay 1: Through your resume and recommendations, we have a clear sense of your professional path to date.  What are your career goals going forward, and how will the Columbia MBA help you achieve them?  (500 words maximum)

Columbia long featured one of the purest Career Goals essays around, which is no surprise given that area of emphasis (as covered in this guide). In recent years, they took apart their traditional 750-word question and split it into two parts.  This year they threw the first real wrinkle, by basically asking candidates to not talk about transferable skills (here we talk about why Transferable Skills are important; I suspect CBS will miss this information, so be sure to have it ready for your interview).  So here is what you must keep in your Columbia 1:

  • What – you need to state What your goals are.  Clearly.  Short-term and long-term. 
  • Why – you need to explain why you possess your long-term goal.  A long-term goal needs to speak to who you are and what you value.  What makes you tick.  Therefore, make sure to explain why you hold this goal.  What motivates you?  Who or what inspired you?  It’s absolutely stunning how many applicants miss this when they are not clients (almost always observed through Ding Analysis), but if you think about it, it’s so obvious: you want to advertise who you are as a person and this is the best place to do it. 
  • When – usually just a line or two, but since the MBA is a “floating” degree pursuit (meaning not tethered to the end of something, like college follows high school), it pays to explain why now is the right time.
  • Where – Why Columbia is the right school.   

Essay 2: Columbia Business School’s location enables us to bridge theory and practice in multiple ways: through Master Classes, internships, the New York Immersion Seminars, and, most importantly, through a combination of distinguished research faculty and accomplished practitioners.  How will you take advantage of being “at the very center of business.”  (Maximum 250 words)

 This is where you need to show what you bring to the table.  We talked a lot in this guide about Columbia’s desire for a robust and active community … well, here is your chance to talk about it.  And you get to build on the hustle and bustle of CBS’ location in a positive way (i.e., prove you don’t just want to go to school in New York), while also showing how that location is going to allow someone like you (a leader, a team player, an innovator, etc.) to really make a massive impact.  This essay should more or less be translated to: “Columbia is full of resources, located in the heart of the world’s true business capital, and so what we need are people who have the heart, engine, and desire to max this experience out.  Is that what you plan to do?  Also, prove it.”

This is a tough and tricky essay, but one that can elevate your chances.  

Essay #3 – CBS Matters, a key element of the School’s culture, allows the people in your Cluster to learn more about you on a personal level.  What will people in your Cluster be pleasantly surprised to learn about you?

 This is kind of a fun question that allows each individual applicant to assess what they need more of in the application.  Do you need to articulate some key skills or traits that CBS (or any b-school) is looking for?  Or do you have the type of strong resume that screams “captain of industry” and, therefore, you should be bringing more personality to the table?  This is a “read and react” essay and there is no set path – it’s specific to each individual applicant and you would be wise to get counsel on how to broadcast yourself within the context of your application.   

 The one thing that has been made pretty clear by the way the question is posed this year is that “goofy” answers are not appropriate.  If you watch the video for CBS Matters you will find basically a “share your tear-jerker stories with your peers” program in place, so it’s pretty clear that you need to seek out some depth in your answer here."  

If you enjoy the free guides and out blog posts, be sure to check out our full services, which offer the highest level of school-specific insight in the industry.  Email us at mba@amerasiaconsulting.com.