This year, Columbia Business School (CBS) has posed three excellent essay questions to learn more about applicants. Please find the CBS Questions here, along with our analysis below.
Applying to CBS and other MBA programs this year? We encourage you to submit your essays, resume and/or letters of recommendation for our free initial critique.
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1. 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.)
We’ve written a variety of posts on MBA goals essays which we encourage you to read on our blog. With this question in particular, we like to provide our clients with a few important caveats:
-Why now? This is the MOST frequently overlooked dimension of this question. Whether you’re on a consulting or investment banking track—the key here is to show how an MBA program will elevate your career to the next level. You don’t need to be at a career impasse; you just need to demonstrate how an MBA will bolster your progress.
-Why Columbia? This is the second-most overlooked dimension of the prompt. It’s insufficient to write about the majestic rolling hills of CBS (there aren’t any), or even about a few professors’ work that inspires you. You must really drill down to the core of the program: what about the curriculum and career resources—how are they relevant to your needs? What about student organizations—how might you be poised to impact them? Remember that this is a great spot to not only say why CBS is your top choice, but also why you’re a great fit for CBS.
-Passion and Authenticity. As always, we push our clients to remember passion and authenticity in their MBA goals essays. While the prompt stipulates topics you must cover, be certain that your goals essay also has personal depth. What are goals without passionate, inspired vision?
2. 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.)
For applicants that are uncomfortable with self-actualization, this question will be your nemesis. In the prompt, Columbia is asking for students to dig deep and think beyond their resume bullet points. If your goals essay came off detached, there’s absolutely no latitude for that here.
Creating a compelling narrative arc is critical for this essay (that’s right 8th grade English class: exposition, climax, denouement). Through your chosen life experience—which may be of the personal, professional, academic or extracurricular variety—you must show self-reflection and growth. Do MBA admissions committees expect business leaders to possess values like integrity and authenticity? Absolutely! See our last post on the subject.
3. Essay three has three options (please choose one of the following):
Option A: The annual A. Lorne Weil Outrageous Business Plan Competition is a student initiative managed and run by the Columbia Entrepreneurs Organization (CEO). The competition encourages Columbia MBA students to explore creative entrepreneurial ideas that are sufficiently ambitious in scope and scale to be considered “outrageous.” Students explore these ideas while learning firsthand what goes into the development and presentation of a solid business proposal. Develop your own “outrageous” business idea. In essay form, compose your “elevator pitch.” (Maximum 250 words)
This isn’t a business plan competition; it is your ‘elevator pitch.’ That being said, the way you communicate your concept is ultimately more valuable than the concept itself.
So, think big–think “outrageous.” Of course, your concept must be viable on some level. Those that illustrate a clear lack of market forces or business acumen (“I’d like to bring back the VCR!”) will not be viewed favorably. The zaniest of ideas can be viable (a certain teleportation device case question comes to mind), but too zany will suggest you’re not taking the exercise seriously. Exercise good judgment.
Option B: Columbia deeply values its vibrant student community, the building of which begins at orientation when admitted students are assigned to clusters of 65 to 70 fellow students who take most of the first-year core classes together. During the first weeks of school, each cluster selects a Cluster Chair. Further strengthening the student community are the nearly 100 active student organizations at Columbia Business School, ranging from cultural to professional to community service-oriented. Leadership positions within the cluster and/or clubs offer hands-on management and networking opportunities for students as they interact with fellow students, administrators, faculty members, alumni, and practitioners. You are running for either Cluster Chair or a club leadership position of your choosing. Compose your campaign speech. (Maximum 250 words)
This is your opportunity to not again show that you are aware of the offerings at CBS, and the type of work CBS student organizations do. You must do your due diligence here. We recommend that clients compose this essay after a campus visit and speaking to students in the clubs that interest them. Use these initial conversations to harvest content and ideas for your essays! AdCom members know their student organizations well, and your investigative research will pay off.
Additionally, if you’ve ever delivered a campaign speech to your peers, you know what resonates the most. You can’t be too bold, too earnest, or too quirky—each approach bears a certain degree of risk and depends on the skill of the orator. In the essay context, we encourage applicants to experiment with a mix of these styles, resulting in essays that feel relatable, informed and also personality-charged.
Option C: Founded nearly three decades ago, the Executives in Residence Program at Columbia Business School integrates senior executives into the life of the School. Current executives in residence include more than a dozen experts in areas ranging from media and investment banking to private equity and management. A hallmark of the program is one-on-one counseling sessions in which executives advise students about their prospective career choices. Select one of the current executives in residence with whom you would like to meet during your time at Columbia. Explain your selection and tell us how you would best utilize your half hour one-on-one session. (Maximum 250 words)
Again, Columbia demonstrates the importance of knowing all there is to know about CBS before you apply. They want students that are firmly committed to studying at CBS—people who will make the most of all opportunities there.
This essay should be a perfect complement to your goals essay. What are your professional objectives, and how might they align with or be informed by one of the executives in residence? 30 minutes is also not a long period of time; this essay therefore demands that you illustrate your ability to cooperate in a focused, pragmatic counseling session. Much like the ‘elevator pitch,’ you must think crisp like all seasoned business leaders….what questions are most important to your career, and what questions are best answered in an invaluable, one-on-one context?
An optional fourth essay will enable you to discuss any issues that do not fall within the purview of the required essays.
Use this space to address any questions surrounding your candidacy (such as your academic history, a low GMAT, professional gaps, etc.) or other salient personal or cultural elements that bear mention. If your essay might be inserted as an answer to another prompt, LEAVE IT BLANK. This is truly an ‘optional’ essay which should only be used when absolutely necessary to your candidacy.
Submit one new essay: How have you enhanced your candidacy since your previous application? Please detail your progress since you last applied and reiterate your short-term and long-term goals. Explain how the tools of the Columbia MBA will help you to meet your goals and how you plan to participate in the Columbia community. (Maximum of 750 words.)
In this essay, growth and perspective are “clutch.” Chances are, your last application was lacking in some capacity—and newly clarified goals, professional and volunteer progress, and well-researched ‘fit’ with CBS can help you build a stronger case.