Are you ready to dig into your essays? Application essays are specifically and cleverly designed to get into your head. We like to turn the tables on the admissions committees and get inside their heads. Why are they asking these questions? What are they looking for? Read on as our experts break down application essay questions to help YOU plan the attack.
Aight, I’m pumped! Where to next?
Columbia MBA Essay Analysis - Short Answer
What is your immediate post-MBA professional goal? (75 characters maximum)
In the last three years, the character allowance for this question has dropped from 200 to 100 to a mere 75. CBS is not fooling around - they want you to get to the point. And fast. 75 characters isn’t dinner, a stroll around the park, a lovely nightcap against a backdrop of smooth jazz, into “who knows.” It’s more… the 1-hour motel model. Lay it on em.
Perhaps the most liberating way to approach this is to see this NOT as an opportunity to impress, but rather to inform. All they want is a RUDDER. To help frame the rest of your essays. That’s all. It’s the equivalent of “state your name and occupation” – a measure taken just so everyone has their bearings.
Ergo, don’t overthink it. The prize here is clarity, not intrigue. Don’t feel the pressure to wow. And don’t waste precious air-time writing stuff like “My immediate post-MBA professional goal is to…” because that would have been half your response. 1-hour motel, folks. Getterdone. Resume-like brevity, but… good-resume-like CLARITY.
One last thing—there’s a difference between “post/position” and “goal.” The best answer here nails both. Too often, we see candidates simply list the name of a position at a company, which is mostly meaningless. We need a touch of context to understand what the “aim” is, “why position X” within your 100-character response. So, roughly speaking, it may take on this structure: “position x in order to y.” Or, “achieve x at y (type) company.”
Columbia MBA Essay Analysis - Essay One
Given your individual background and goals, why are you pursuing a Columbia MBA at this time? (Maximum 500 words)
Columbia is framing an argument here for you. A very simple one actually. They want you to make a crystal clear connection between your thirst for an MBA and your (career) trajectory thus far. The key idea here is that these aren’t two unconnected concepts—that you want/need an MBA, and that you have a career or background in X. According to CBS (and by the way, all other top MBA programs), these two things must be joined at the hip. Think of this as a DARE. Imagine sitting across from a CBS admissions dean, while he reviews your resume and your stated reasons for pursuing an MBA at Columbia. Now, imagine that he places the resume on the table, folds his arms, looks down the bridge of his nose at you and says, “I don’t believe that your background has anything to do with your desire to get an MBA. Prove it.”
That’s what this is. A mathematical proof. Your job is to CONVINCE A SKEPTIC that your trajectory thus far has you on a collision course with an MBA. Show us what it is you’ve done, what it is you “do,” and give us a taste for what it is you WANT to do, and therefore… why a COLUMBIA MBA is a necessary means to that end. It must be the case that Columbia is a necessary ingredient here—convince us why. Convince us that your vision must include certain things only (or BEST) attainable at CBS, in order for you to CONTINUE along the trajectory that’s already in motion. Forget everything else you’ve done with another school’s prompt, right now you only have eyes for Columbia.
Here’s another way to think about it:
- Here’s what I’m really good at: XXX
- Here’s the proof: Experience X, I did Y; Experience A, I did B
- Here’s what I WANT to be doing: YYY
- (and why this turns me on)
- Here’s why I can’t just achieve all that today—I’m missing some stuff: ABC
- Here’s why CBS helps deliver the BEST version of ABC to my arsenal
At the very least, the foundation of your essay contains all of these pieces. Now, how you PRESENT that is up to you. There isn’t one knock-out shape an essay must take in order to be convincing. But, underneath it, these elements must be bullet-proof and worked out in your head.
The sculpting part is easy, the flair, the polish, all that stuff is a breeze—the hardest part is developing an immutable argument that NO one can poke a hole in.
Columbia MBA Essay Analysis - Essay two
Please view the video. How will you take advantage of being “at the very center of business”? (Maximum 250 words)
Actionable, practical, real-life, believable, tangible arguments, folks. Not… “stuff everyone knows about New York already but doesn’t demonstrate a connection to you personally.” Don’t tell us that New York is the financial capital of the world. Show us—instead—how that might affect your experience. Walk us through a hypothetical. Or a way in which NYC has affected you already and how, therefore, it may affect you again once you’re at CBS. Don’t just tell us what the opportunities are—don’t LIST stuff. We know the list. Columbia knows the list. No one cares about the attributes.
In 250 words, there isn’t much room to faff. Walk us through one or two very tangible examples of what may happen, and why this is valuable. Challenge yourself and imagine that each of the world’s most amazing cities had comparable business schools. And let’s say you were accepted to each of them. Why New York over the rest?
Here’s another way to skin it. Congratulations, you’ve been accepted to Stanford, Wharton, and Harvard. But you’re gonna turn all three down because they all lack one thing: New York City. Convince us that you’re the kind of guy who might actually turn down H/S/W for this reason—it has to be specific as hell in order to pass the smell test.
Think back to chemistry. Think back to acids and bases. Think litmus paper. Ringing a bell? We know, it was a long time ago for us, too. Well, roughly speaking here’s how it works—if you have a MYSTERY substance, say a liquid, and we’re trying to determine whether it’s basic or acidic, we dip a piece of litmus paper into the liquid to … see how it reacts. If it turns BLUE it means the solution is basic; if it turns RED it means the solution is acidic. Same paper, different colors based on the X-factor of the mystery solutions.
To CBS, you guys are the mysterious clear solution. They have no idea what happens when you “mix with” New York City. This is a model you can consider. Something HAPPENS when you (clear liquid solution) MIXES WITH New York City (the Litmus paper).
What can we learn about you based on this chemical equation New York City + You = XXXX?
The absolute worst thing you can do is tell us about New York. Similarly, we don’t wanna know about YOU either (in isolation). We wanna know about the COLLISION of you and NYC. Our safety goggles are on. Let the mixing commence.
Columbia MBA Essay Analysis - Essay Three
What will the people in your Cluster be pleasantly surprised to learn about you? (Maximum 250 words)
Take some risks here, people. For someone else to reel you IN, not the other way around. This is not an iron shot on a 300-yard par 4. Think about this one for a second—what’s the WORST kind of surprise party? “The one you kinda already knew about.” The best ones, on the other hand, are the ones you never saw coming—it’s kind of a silly/circular thing to point out, that the best type of surprise is the one where you’re most surprised. But trust us, people shank this kind of thing all the time, out of timidity.
A good (but by no means the only) way to approach this is to think about your close circle (family, tight friends, etc.) and think about things that may surprise THEM. That can be a GREAT well to dip from. For the ideation process, mind you—there is a whole other art form to turning this into something that will CHARM an adcom and make them smile and desire you as an addition to their program, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. First things first, the “thing.”
Another way to think of it—think about people with similar backgrounds as you. Similar education, similar career experiences, similar ethnicity, etc. etc. Now, figure out the coolest way in which you’re UNLIKE those guys. What do you have, what can you do, what have you experienced, what thing is… you… that NOT A SINGLE other guy in that group can lay claim to? (If your “thing” is somewhat common, guess what—we’re gonna roll our eyes.)
A third way to skin it is to shock us with something that runs contrary to what one might expect of your “type.” “Yes, I know, based on my resume and all my specs you may suspect that I… XXXXX. Well, in fact, you may pleasantly surprised to learn that I… YYYYYYYY.” That statement should be followed by the sounds of minds being blown.
Smart, successful “plusses” to a great business school all have one thing in common: they know how to socialize. And are likable. Can you really be great at business in pure isolation? Maybe, but it’s not the norm. Typically, you’re gonna need to interact with at least one person along the way. And probably many more. Charm and likability go a LONG way. Show us that you have a sense of humor. Some wit. The ability to poke fun at yourself. If it looks like you’re trying to show off here, you’re doing it wrong.
It’s not “people will be surprised to learn that I climbed Mount Everest.”
Instead it’s “people will be surprised to learn that I climbed Mount Everest given that I couldn’t do a single push-up in gym class throughout high school.”
See the difference?
Columbia MBA Essay Analysis - Optional
An optional fourth essay will allow you to discuss any issues that do not fall within the purview of the required essays.
This one may require some outside help in some shape or form (pro or otherwise) to assess balance in your overall application package. How’s the balance? What needs to be conveyed—absolutely MUST be conveyed—that hasn’t been given air-time yet? Are the red flags to overcome? Low GPA? Low GMAT? Gap in career? Unusually short stints at your jobs? Other degrees you’ve collected already? Anything at all that might make an adcom furrow his brow?
That’s gonna be the most likely candidate of what goes here.
Now, if there’s something unbelievably KILLER in your repertoire of “adcom must know X” that has not been conveyed elsewhere, you’ll wanna consider delivering it here. But, if it seems like it comes from a place of weakness, it may not be as successful as you’d hoped. Meaning, there needs to be a compelling reason you’re using this space, otherwise you may seem a touch desperate. This is a tonal note more than anything. As always in sections like this, be brief, assertive, and get out. “Zero residual presence.”
There may be versions of the rest of your essay set that may be perfect by the way. And yes, it is possible to upset that balance by including a good but not necessarily mind-blowing additional story. Be very careful here. Think about group dynamics—sometimes the crew around the dinner table is absolutely perfect, and the addition of ONE extra person can affect the whole thing. Sometimes improve it, sure. But sometimes, it can dilute the whole thing. Beware. Remember our take on “greatest hits.” This is where one of your heavy hitters somehow didn’t make its way in (it should have, by the way, if it sits on top of your greatest hits list).
As a general rule of thumb though, zip in, zip out. Keep this one tidy, if you’re gonna go for it.