Columbia Business School tweaked last year's questions for this year. The changes in wording are minor, and I discuss below.
The most significant change is that CBS is bucking the bschool trend of the last five years and allowing you a little more room to tell your story and respond to their prompts. They are also providing word ranges instead of word limits so the more succinct among you don't feel compelled to fill space and get close to stated word limits.
What is your immediate post-MBA professional goal? (51 characters maximum)
CBS gives you one more character this year. 😉
Note, it is a character (not word)limit. Your response must be less than a tweet. Actually it must be just about one third of a tweet. What do you want to do professionally and in which industry immediately after earning your MBA? Here are CBS' examples of possible responses:
“Work in business development for a media company.” “Join a strategy consulting firm.” “Launch a data-management start-up.”
Warning: This question is not asking about intended area of study while in business school or a non-professional goal or even a long-term goal. And the subject in your response is assumed to be you. No need to waste characters by including "I."
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? (100-750 words)
Last year this question had a 500-word maximum. As noted above, this year you have a guideline that lets you be more succinct or go longer. I never recommend "hogging air time" for the sake of hogging it. However for most of you, you should be able to use in a meaningful and informative way those additional 250 words that you are now allowed.
Now let's look at the actual question, which is unchanged from last year.
They already know what's in your resume. Don't repeat "your career path to date" here. That's a waste of essay real estate and means you're not telling them anything new or answering their question.
Do tell them what you want to do after your MBA as well as a few years into the future. Then discuss the aspects of the Columbia MBA experience that will prepare you to reach these goals. Keep in mind that the MBA is a bridge between your past and desired future. Show Columbia why its program is the right bridge for you and now is the right time for you to traverse this bridge.
To answer this question well, you will need to really know the Columbia program thoroughly along with how a CBS MBA will move your closer to your goals. The essay that shines will do a great job of showing both fit and self-awareness.
Columbia Business School’s students participate in industry focused New York immersion seminars; in project based Master Classes; and in school year internships. Most importantly, our students are taught by a combination of distinguished research faculty and accomplished practitioners. How will you take advantage of being “at the very center of business”? (100-500 words)
Please watch this video before attempting to answer the question and then keep it in mind as you write.
This question became more focused and succinct this year. It now focuses exclusively on the implications for you of Columbia's New York City location. And again, Columbia is giving you a word range and more room. Last year it was 250 words maximum. This year it's 100-500 words.
Really think about the points it’s making: What does being at the center means: Access to an infinite variety of opportunities. Proximity to thought leadership and executive leadership. Convergence of theory and practice. NYC as an — if not the — international business center.
After watching the video, think about how you intend to take advantage of the infinite opportunities and energy that reside at Columbia University and in New York City. How will you benefit from the entrepreneurial eco-system in New York and Columbia University? The ties to bio science and pharma? Madison Avenue? The cutting-edge research and thought leadership? Not to mention the practitioners who lead Wall Street and teach at Columbia. Or will you explore the cultural riches of NYC and take advantage of the incredible business opportunities present in the arts and media?
Be careful not to speak of those opportunities in the generalities that I have. If you are interested in luxury goods marketing, as stated in your short answer, then write here about how you will take advantage of Madison and 5th Avenues as well as Columbia’s offerings. If you are interested in finance or consulting, Manhattan and all the businesses in it are at your feet. How will you benefit from this incredible location as well as the practitioners teaching at CBS?
Final point: you don’t have to address all the points raised in the video, but you do have to write persuasively about at least one.
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 your Clustermates be pleasantly surprised to learn about you? (100-250 words)
Please watch this video to have an idea of what "CBS Matters" is about.
This is the same question as last year and the maximum word count did not change. Last year there was a 250-word maximum. This year CBS requests 100-250 words.
Make sure you understand Columbia’s Cluster System. And if you have any lingering doubts whether this question is about professional achievement, watch the video again. It's not.
You can use this essay to bring out something fun that you like to do. Would you try to get your cluster to train for a marathon? Set up a karaoke night? Plan a ski trip? Explore New York’s museums? Or you can reveal something non-professional that is important to you. How have you contributed to social groups or causes in the past? Relate your plans to a past successful initiative, and you will enhance your answer to this question.
Or you could take a more serious approach to this question and discuss a challenge overcome. Show that you are a survivor, not a victim and far stronger as a result of this experience. If you take this approach, be careful to avoid TMI (too much information). You will have barely met these people.
An optional fourth essay will allow you to discuss any issues that do not fall within the purview of the required essays.
Clearly you can use this optional essay question to address a weakness in your profile or qualifications, but in my mind, this question is also open-ended enough to allow you to discuss a diversity element in your personal background or simply some unique area of interest. Also, tucking a weakness explanation somewhere else would allow you to end the application with a strength and not a flaw.
Don’t use this essay as a grand finale or wrap up. And definitely don’t use it to rehash your reasons for wanting to attend Columbia; those reasons should be perfectly clear from the required essays. If you decide to respond to this essay, use it to educate the reader about another talent, interest, or commitment of yours. As always try to show leadership and impact. In short, give them more reasons to admit you.
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