Columbia Business School 2014 Essay Analysis: Part I

By Kyle Watkins (last updated: July 6, 2014)

Columbia University’s Butler Library at nighttime

Columbia Business School made some subtle but important changes to its essays this year, so let’s take a look at each of the questions that applicants will have to answer.

We’ll analyze each essay question in a two-part series, beginning with part I below, in which we take a look at Columbia’s short answer question and first essay prompt for applicants in the 2014-15 season:

Short Answer Question

Goal: What is your immediate post-MBA professional goal? Examples of possible responses:
      1. “Work in business development for a media company.”
      2. “Join a consulting firm specializing in renewable energy.”
      3. “Work for an investment firm that focuses on real estate.”

Three important words describe the very specific type of goal that Columbia is asking applicants to describe here:

  • Immediate: the goal should be something you can achieve directly following graduation; it should not be a long-term goal or a broader career vision.
  • Post-MBA: the goal should focus on what you want to achieve after school; don’t describe what you want to study or activities you want to participant in while at Columbia.
  • Professional: the goal should be career related; don’t describe personal, humanitarian, or aspirational goals.

In addition to minding these three words, it’s also important to be specific. Columbia Business School breaks this question out in a freestanding 75-character answer to get a direct, simple, and specific response, something that candidates often (and regretfully) fail to do in longer essays. The more specific you can be – without being disingenuous – the better.

For many candidates (certainly for me when I was applying to business school) this specificity may require some serious thought. Your answer will define your approach to Essay #1, so you want to make sure you can support the goal you choose with evidence from your past experiences and with reasons why a Columbia MBA will help you achieve it.

A Special Note for January Entry Applicants: Columbia Business Schools says “the primary requirement for the January term is that you do not feel you need an internship. This tends to attract students who wish to remain in the same industry (including sponsored students), entrepreneurs, and students in family businesses.” Please consider this requirement when responding to this Short Answer Question. If your immediate post-MBA goal does not fit into one of the buckets the admissions committee describes, consider whether January Entry is really the right path for you.

Essay #1

Given your individual background and goals, why are you pursuing a Columbia MBA at this time? (500 words)

Although essay one provides the longest word limit among Columbia’s essays this year, it also really requires that you answer six distinct questions as one:

  • What are your goals? You need to expand beyond your “immediate post-MBA professional goals” here. This is the time to consider your career vision, personal goals, aspirational goals, long-term goals, and humanitarian goals. If your goals are particularly ambitious or you are a career switcher, you need to dedicate a little more space to this part of the question so you can get very specific. Columbia will hold these types of candidates to a much higher standard when it comes to judging the amount of thought you’ve invested in your goals and the depth of knowledge you can demonstrate around them.
  • Why are those goals important to you? This is where you will begin to talk about your background, specifically, you’ll want to address the experiences you’ve had that shaped and influences the goals you described.
  • How has your background prepared you to achieve those goals? This should be a continued expansion on your background and experience. Demonstrate that you have the potential to achieve the goals you described, and that the goals align with the primary motivating factors than have driven your major personal and professional life choices.
  • Why an MBA? But of course, your background hasn’t given you all that you need to achieve your goals, and that’s why you are applying for an MBA. You’ll need to be specific here in talking about what you want to get out of the MBA experience and how it will fill in the gaps in your skill set and leadership experience, therefore enabling you to achieve your goals.
  • Why Columbia? And of course, there are many MBA programs, so you need to address why the Columbia MBA program specifically is suited to providing you the experience you need to achieve your goals. Columbia in particular seems sensitive to how candidates answer this question, so be thoughtful and specific. Demonstrate that you have really done your research about the program, that you’ve visited, talked to teachers and students, and made a considered decision. Pick qualities that are unique to Columbia and also uniquely align with your experience and goals (and in particular the gaps separating the two). However, you also have ample space in essay two to answer “Why Columbia?” – so don’t allocate more space than you need to here. Focus on reasons that align best with the goals you laid out in the beginning of this essay.
  • Why now? In some respects, the answer to this question should be implicit in the others: you a pursuing a Columbia MBA now because it will accelerate your ability to fill the gaps in your experience and achieve your goals. However, you need to go a bit beyond that, particularly if you are a significantly younger- or older-than-average applicant. Again, Columbia wants to see that you’ve invested real time and energy in your decision to apply this year. You need to demonstrate that in the quality of your response to subtle questions like these.

For January Entry Applicants: Remember that the primary requirement for January Entry is that you do not feel you need an internship, likely because you aren’t switching careers. Columbia is really unique among top U.S. schools in offering the January Entry option, so make sure you highlight that choice – and why in particular it makes sense given your short- and long-term goals – in answering this question.

Continue reading part II of this post, which analyzes essay two, essay three, and the optional essay for Columbia Business School. Also, feel free to reach out to us for a free consultation if you have any questions about your own application.

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