2017-2018 Columbia Business School MBA Essay Topic Analysis
With the recent announcement of the 2017-2018 Columbia Business School essay questions, this season’s Essay Topic Analysis series is officially underway.
Compared to last year, the adcom has trimmed the word limits and separated the prompts regarding one’s goals and interests in the Columbia MBA. Instead of giving applicants a range of length for their typical goals essay, the set word limits send a signal of the balance in content the adcom is seeking. Also new this year is a more specific focus on candidates’ passion and free time, signaling the adcom’s interest in getting to know candidates personally and not just professionally. Given the range of topics, these essays allow the applicant to cover a fair amount of material and present a well-rounded picture of one’s candidacy.
Let’s take a closer look at each prompt:
What is your immediate post-MBA professional goal? (50 characters)
Making its seventh appearance on the CBS application form, this question asks applicants to speak directly about the job they wish to have upon graduating from business school. The adcom offers several sample answers to illustrate the sort of direct response they’re seeking. Given a short and strict limit of 50 characters, you’ll want to clearly and concisely describe your short-term goal, making sure that it aligns with what you write in 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)
In a slight change from last year, this prompt declines the brief synopsis of work history that many applicants provide as part of their career goals essay. Instead, the adcom asks applicants to focus almost exclusively on their career goals. We say “almost” here because a bit of context will be important. For example, applicants might remark on how their professional experiences to date have informed their interest in their post-MBA path, and might also comment on transferrable skills they’ve gained on the job that will apply to their future posts. In short, make sure that your comments build on rather than repeat material that the adcom can find in your recommendations or résumé.
While candidates will want to use the bulk of this response to outline their short- and long-term post-MBA goals, a comment on how the school’s MBA program would enable one’s goals would be useful. Because people applying to Columbia are often also considering other leading schools like Wharton, Chicago Booth, and NYU Stern, it’s especially important for applicants to convince the Columbia adcom of their sincere interest in their program. The important thing is to avoid repeating material detailed in the second prompt.
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)
Last year, candidates were asked to incorporate their interest in CBS in the first essay (and were given ~250 words more to do so). By breaking this prompt out, the adcom has ultimately provided a clearer directive on how much space candidates should dedicate to the program. It may help to consider this response to be an extension of Essay 1, as an applicant’s comments here should continue to demonstrate a link between their professional objectives and the benefits of studying at CBS.
Given the references to academics, recruiting and networking, the adcom has given a clear directive on what they value and applicants should be sure to touch on the details of each opportunity. The most effective way to do so will be to pack your essay full of school-specific details about CBS courses, clubs and professional exposure that would facilitate success upon graduating and tie to your goals. When discussing networking, be sure to focus on the educational value of such relationships as opposed to simply having access to a brand. Taking the time to learn about the school’s curriculum, special programs, and extracurricular activities–whether through a campus visit, conversations with current students, or reading Clear Admit’s Columbia School Guide–will pay dividends here.
Of course, this response allows applicants to introduce volunteer or community involvement as well by highlighting student organizations and other offerings that align with their interests and values. Moreover, including one or two comments about the benefits of the program’s location remains a sound strategy, as the NYC factor does differentiate CBS from many of its competitors. This is particularly true for applicants with existing personal or professional ties to the city.
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?
These options invite applicants to reveal interesting elements of their backgrounds and passions. Though there are myriad potential topics to discuss here, applicants should consider the balance of subjects they have covered across their other essays and choose a topic that provides new insight into their overall candidacy. For example, if the majority of content in the previous essays is focused on your professional life and accomplishments, this would be an opportunity to showcase and highlight your extracurricular passions or interests. Although not directly requested, applicants would be wise to comment on why the particular passion/interest they share would be valuable to their cluster–whether academically, socially, athletically, or professionally–as well as the CBS community at large.
In regards to the individual prompts, an answer to what one is “most passionate about” has the potential to be profound and reveal a side of an applicant that the admissions committee cannot find anywhere else in the application. That may feel like a tall order with only 250 words, but there is a simple exercise that can help you pare down your options and focus on a core example. So, try the following:
- Write down the 10 to 15 most important events, accomplishments, interests, or experiences in your life. Include the good, the bad, the astounding, the ugly, etc.
- Look at the list you have generated and try to determine the themes that unify the important events, interests, and ideas in your life. How have you dedicated your time? What values have you fought for? Considering your actions will help you define the passion itself.
- Select one or two items from the list that best support a given passion and use them to define your approach and kick off the drafting process for the essay.
Relative to the soul-searching vibe of Option A, a “free day” may feel like much more fun to write about. While many may really want to curl up on the beach with a good book, or visit a favorite childhood baseball stadium, the response to this question still needs to be in the context of your MBA application. So, while this is a great opportunity to walk the adcom through your personal interests and priorities, you’ll want to be sure to incorporate attributes and skills that are relevant to business school. There is certainly room for more casual hobbies—perhaps you start each day training for an upcoming race, or try a new recipe for dinner—but the priority should be showcasing your leadership skills and engagement of your community. For example, you could incorporate your volunteer experience at the local Boys & Girls Club in the afternoon, or discuss how you are taking steps to launch a new community initiative. With the option of going “anywhere,” you may also touch on a recent international experience—perhaps you were based in foreign country for a work project and wish you had more time to explore the local culture, or would like to revisit some of your favorite places. The context of a new or unfamiliar location can certainly open the door to creative ideas and showcase your ability to adapt, to be open-minded and inquisitive.
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. (Maximum 500 words)
The admissions committee offers a rather direct prompt to address liabilities in one’s application, e.g. gaps in employment, a weak quantitative record, etc. In such cases, applicants should keep their responses brief and to-the-point, offering explanations without making excuses and humbly bringing mitigating factors to the reader’s attention. That said, it’s possible that there are other elements of one’s background that would be appropriate and not covered elsewhere in one’s application, for example an anticipated promotion or an element of one’s identity not covered in the program’s data forms. While applicants should make an effort to fully represent their candidacies within the required elements of the application, this leaves a bit of room for short exceptions.
Clear Admit Resources
Thanks for reading our analysis of this year’s Columbia MBA essay topics. As you work on your Columbia MBA essays and application, we encourage you to consider all of Clear Admit’s Columbia offerings:
- Columbia School of Business Profile on the Clear Admit website: up-to-date advice and admissions information
- Clear Admit Columbia School Snapshot: overview of key curricular details and application information
- Clear Admit Columbia School Guide: in-depth program and campus information and side-by-side school comparisons; everything you need to know for a successful application!
- Clear Admit LiveWire: admissions updates submitted in real time by applicants to CBS
- Clear Admit DecisionWire: school selections in real-time by admits to CBS