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Columbia Business School Personal Experience Essay

Columbia Business School has an updated application out for this year and has changed the essay questions significantly. What we have heard from the admissions committee at CBS is that authenticity is key, and they are looking for candidates who are a great fit for the program and have the academic background to handle the rigor.

Columbia is a fast-paced program in a fast-paced city. The “spirit and pace of program is faster than others due to NYC. Something about being in a city that never sleeps,” explained admissions director Michael Robinson in a recent CBS webinar.

Fit with Columbia therefore will be different than other MBA programs, and it’s up to you to prepare with thorough research into the school. Columbia is looking for students who have big plans for their lives, MBA or not. As Robinson said, there are “no dream schools just dreams. Live a life where you are doing big things regardless if you get into a business school.”

Before you get started with this set of essays it will be helpful to brainstorm your career objectives, strengths and weaknesses, and to think about your overall future dreams. To see how current students are thinking about Columbia and their goals, check out student profiles.

Columbia offers several flexible options for admission, from full-time MBA programs starting in the fall, to a January entry session and an excellent executive MBA program. Columbia also offers an early decision option for candidates who are committed to attend the school. The Columbia admissions cycle is rolling, so the earlier you submit your application the earlier you will receive feedback. We recommend you try to submit your application as soon as possible, while maintaining high quality.

Stumped by the Columbia essays? Contact Stacy Blackman Consulting to learn how we can help.

Goal: What is your immediate post-MBA professional goal? (50 characters)

This is a simple question, but may require you to condense your career goals into one clear career vision statement. Rather than a generic statement like: “Work in finance” the goal is to infuse some specificity. Something like: “Work in real estate finance within a private equity firm” tells the admissions committee far more about your interests and goals.

Note that the limited character count is intended to get you to the point quickly, elaboration is for the next essay.

Essay #1: Through your resume and recommendations, we have a clear sense of your professional path to date. What are your career goals over the next 3-5 years and what, in your imagination, would be your long-term dream job? (500 words)

Columbia asked a similar question last year, but it was open-ended in terms of timeframe of your career goals, and it focused more on how Columbia would help you achieve them. Given the changes in this essay question, this is a question about short- and long-term goals and dreams.

Those who seek a top-tier MBA at a school like Columbia have big dreams. You will be exposed to people and opportunities that will expand your horizons. Think about your true passions, and make sure your goals are aspirational.

As you talk about your future you may need to refer to your past career and personal experiences. As you consider what to say make sure you are citing only relevant examples from your career. Think about the experiences you can describe that were truly pivotal and can support your future goals. Your goals should have some logical progression from your past, but you can (and should!) show you plan to change and adapt.

For example, perhaps you want to be a general manager of a company or division, and right now you have been working primarily in marketing. You might spend your time at Columbia learning about finance and strategy, being part of consulting projects and interning at a start-up to round out your experience and start on your general management path.

Most importantly, Columbia wants to know who you are and how you are unique. Don’t try to be anyone else, instead reveal your own motivations, goals, and plans that Columbia will help you achieve. “Be Authentic. Want to admit people not packages. Don’t follow blogs and essay models,” Robinson suggested.

Essay #2: The full time MBA experience includes academics, recruiting and networking. What are your personal priorities and how do you anticipate allocating your time at Columbia Business School? (250 Words)

Specifics, specifics and specifics help you set yourself apart with this essay. Know yourself and know the school. As you address this question make sure your answer is tailored to your individual goals for learning and career along with your knowledge of Columbia’s academic and professional opportunities.

Columbia is centered in its New York City location. The city provides unparalleled networking opportunities and sets a fast pace for the program. Research the programs and the clubs that may help you identify network with professionals and alumni. Your fellow students will be an invaluable resource for you going forward in your career – both network and sometimes support group. How will you build relationships during your school years?

Academics at Columbia include an incredible portfolio of adjunct professors from industry. You should consider the industry you plan to enter, and either the important adjunct professors from that industry at Columbia or the access to major companies from that industry in New York City. Recruiting will be a similar story, as a significant number of major companies are headquartered in New York. How will you use that level of day-to-day access to target companies?

A mix of personal and professional interests may be covered in this topic, and you may want to emphasize either one of those angles depending on the answers you present to the other core questions. The admissions team will be asking themselves, “Will the person excel in our academics and will they be an important factor in our community?”.

Essay #3: Please select and answer one of the following essay questions (250 words):
a. Please tell us what you feel most passionate about in life.
b. If you were given a free day and could spend it anywhere, in any way you choose, what would you do?

Both of these essay questions focus on your personal passions and what matters most to you. Go beyond generic ideas that may be common across all people (e.g., love for friends and family) and get into the parts of your life that differ from those around you. Did you grow up in unique circumstances? Did you cultivate an unusual hobby or interest? Sometimes the people around you know best – ask your best friend and a sibling what is special about you.

Once you identify a topic for this essay you need to fit your answer into only 250 words. Option B is fairly contained and the structure can help you focus on just one story, relationship, or event. In Option A, make sure you can offer an illustrative example to support what you are most passionate about. Showing instead of stating your passions will be most effective for the reader.

Optional Essay: Is there any further information that you wish to provide the Admissions Committee? If so, please use this space to provide an explanation of any areas of concern in your academic record or your personal history. You may submit bullet points. (500 words)

The optional essay in prior years was more open-ended, while this year Columbia is asking only for areas of concern. We recommend keeping this essay brief and only focusing on specific areas such as a low demonstrated quantitative abilities, lack of a recommendation from a current supervisor, gaps in work experience, or particularly low grades.

It is best to explain the issue factually and succinctly, then explain how you have addressed the issue and why it should not concern the admissions committee in terms of your aptitude for the program and studies.

This entry was posted in Application Tips, Columbia Advice and tagged application essays, CBS essay tips, Columbia Business School, Essay Tips, Fall 2018 MBA Essay Tips.
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The 2017-2018 Columbia MBA application is live, and it’s time to start writing your Columbia Business School essays!

Why now, you ask? Well, CBS has a rolling admissions process, and applications are reviewed in the order in which they are received, so gaining admission becomes more competitive over time as spots in the class gradually fill up. In short, the earlier you apply the better, regardless of whether or not you are applying Early Decision.

Read on to learn how to write a strong CBS essay, how to avoid common mistakes, and how to set yourself apart from the thousands of other top MBA applicants who set their sights on Columbia. Without any further ado, here are my best Columbia MBA essay tips!

Short Answer Question: What is your immediate post-MBA professional goal? (50 characters maximum)

For Columbia’s short answer question, note that the maximum length for your response is 50 characters, not 50 words. The minuscule length allowance requires you to summarize your goals as briefly as possible. In addition to being concise, you will want to be specific. “Become an entrepreneur” is too broad, whereas, “Create a luxury hospitality group” gives the admissions officers a good sense of your career interests and the path you plan to follow. Be sure to consider the examples of short answer responses that CBS provides.

Your response to the short answer question should align with the first part of your answer to the Columbia career goals essay (essay 1), which I discuss below.

Essay 1: Through your resume and recommendations, we have a clear sense of your professional path to date. What are your career goals over the next 3-5 years and what, in your imagination, would be your long-term dream job? (500 words)

I like to think of the first sentence of this essay prompt as a plea. The CBS AdCom is begging you not to repeat what they already know about your professional background from the other parts of your application; there is no need to cover the same information about your background here.

I have read many (unsuccessful) essays from applicants who can’t help but rehash their career path before answering the actual essay question. Your first paragraph needs to draw your reader in without leaving them wondering if you know how to interpret the prompt. I strongly encourage you to provide a direct answer to the “What are your career goals…?” question within your first (or second) paragraph. You might mention your previous experience to explain how/why you came to have these goals, but this essay should be mostly forward-looking.

Your career goals should be as authentic as they are realistic. Because Columbia wants to admit students who will be successful in obtaining jobs after earning their MBAs, the admissions committee will review your career goals to see if your goal is a plausible leap from what you’re doing now (with Columbia Business School as the launchpad). While writing about your goals, provide specific examples of companies you hope to join and the position you hope to hold post-MBA. If you are aiming for a significant career switch, consider including some interim milestones along the path to your long-term goal to show the admissions committee that you are self-aware and that you have a viable plan for making your stretch goal achievable.

With the mention of “imagination” and “dream job,” Columbia is giving you permission to deviate from “safe” paths. Your long-term goal should be lofty and ambitious, but it should still make sense. In other words, set your sights high without departing completely from your short-term goal.

Also, don’t feel pressured to say you want to save the world. Columbia certainly appreciates a socially conscious mindset; however, you will not be dinged for wanting to be successful in a more traditional business field or industry.

Despite the word “Columbia” being absent from the school’s career goals essay prompt this year, you should still briefly mention how the Columbia MBA would help you achieve your goals in your essay. Work Columbia details in thoughtfully and avoid a laundry list of classes and clubs. The laundry list approach (squeezing in as many class and club names as possible without elaborating on them) reads as hurried and automatic, whereas choosing one or two CBS features reads as carefully considered and genuine. You might mention, for example, that the CBS “Healthcare Investment and Entrepreneurship” course will be critical to helping you achieve your post-MBA goal of joining a healthcare startup.

Essay 2: The full-time MBA experience includes academics, recruiting, and networking. What are your personal priorities and how do you anticipate allocating your time at Columbia Business School? (250 words)

Columbia MBA Essay 2 gives you the opportunity to demonstrate your knowledge of and enthusiasm for Columbia. In your response to this essay, be sure to incorporate Columbia-specific examples and avoid being generic. A candidate who writes that they are interested in Columbia’s international offerings and in joining the school’s women’s organization is not as appealing as one who says they want to help organize a Chazen study tour and take on a leadership role in CWiB.

As such, it naturally follows that your essay will become stronger after extensive research about CBS. Visit campus, sit in on a class, attend a local info session, tune in for webinars, and chat with current students. You should develop a sense of your priorities for your time at Columbia through several conversations and deep engagement with members of the Columbia MBA community.

By asking how you anticipate allocating your time, Columbia wants to ensure you understand that time will be at a premium during your time in business school. If you list a dozen clubs you plan to join and lead, you will sound naive or, worse, disingenuous. You won’t succeed with this essay simply by cramming in sound bites and lists from the Columbia website. Be thoughtful in your choices, show that you’ve done your homework, and try to strike a realistic balance between academic, professional, and social opportunities.

Essay 3: Please select and answer one of the following essay questions: (250 words)
a. Please tell us what you feel most passionate about in life.
b. If you were given a free day and could spend it anywhere, in any way you choose, what would you do?

Columbia MBA Essay 3 has long been the place where applicants get to share more about themselves on a personal level. Resist the temptation to write more about your job here; instead, use this space to provide new information and shed light on another dimension of your life, personality, and interests. Columbia wants to admit people who are not only academically capable and professionally accomplished, but also interesting and fun — people who have the passion and flair to enliven the business school community.

In terms of choosing whether to write essay “a” or essay “b,” neither essay is an objectively better choice — it all depends on your content. Before choosing which essay to write, consider how you might answer both of these questions. If you have a great deal of detail about what you feel most passionate about and examples to provide to show your passion, essay “a” can be a good choice. If you struggle to narrow down a passion but can come up with an interesting way you’d spend a free day, essay “b” is the better choice.

a. Please tell us what you feel most passionate about in life.

Whatever your passion — be it eating pizza or ending world hunger — strengthen your essay by using specific examples and showing why this passion is meaningful to you. The Columbia AdCom does not appreciate bragging or arrogance. For example, if you want to write about your volunteer work, be sure to let the AdCom know why you are involved with a particular organization and how it has impacted you, instead of only highlighting how you have made a difference.

Keep in mind that running, cooking, and travel tend to be very popular topics in business school essays; you might consider making another choice. If you are going to write about one of those topics, be sure you do so in a way that’s interesting and demonstrates why that passion is personally meaningful.

b. If you were given a free day and could spend it anywhere, in any way you choose, what would you do?

You can take this question in any number of directions. Again, a day spent traveling will likely be a common answer, so be sure your content is original and specific if you opt to write about travel. This essay has room for (appropriate) humor and levity, and if you have humble plans for catching up on sleep or walking your dog, make sure your personality leaps off the page. If you would spend your free day hanging out with your family, that’s fine too — as long as you back that up with a compelling, interesting narrative. Remember, the Columbia MBA program wants to admit applicants their classmates will enjoy having around — so use this essay to show off the best side of yourself.

Optional Essay: Is there any further information that you wish to provide the Admissions Committee? If so, use this space to provide an explanation of any areas of concern in your academic record or your personal history. This does not need to be a formal essay. You may submit bullet points. (Maximum 500 Words)

You would be wise to use the optional essay if you have additional information to provide around an employment gap, a poor grade in college, an upcoming GMAT test date, or another weak spot in your candidacy. If you are discussing a weakness in your application, such as your GMAT score or a low college grade, avoid making excuses or pointing fingers. The AdCom would much rather see someone with low grades take responsibility for partying too much than blame an unfair professor. You may suggest that the nature of your work is better evidence of your quantitative ability than your GMAT score, for example, but be sure to maintain a tone of maturity and accountability. Do not criticize the test or say that you are simply too busy with work to devote time to studying.

Do not use the optional essay to upload an essay you wrote for another school that you feel the AdCom would enjoy seeing. Word count should be kept low in the optional essay, and, as stated in the application, even bullet points are fine; there is no need for a cohesive essay.

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