July 21, 2021

Columbia Business School Essay Guidance (2021-2022)

We have news for you! Read below for our guidance on this year’s CBS essay questions:

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

  • “Work in business development for a media company.” 
  • “Join a strategy consulting firm.” 
  • “Launch a data-management start-up.” 

Admitify Guidance: Find a way to include as much specificity and differentiation as possible in the goal statement given the character limit. Don’t just settle for a lazy/short/generic goal statement like ‘management consulting at M/B/B’. 

 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 three to five years and what, in your imagination, would be your long-term dream job? (500 words) 

Admitify Guidance: Be as concrete/specific as possible about your post MBA goals (job titles, org names, short-term Plan A and Plan B, long-term goal). State these goals at the beginning of the essay and then use the rest of the essay to provide the ‘backstory’ — your personal account of where these goals come from. I try to use this essay (in addition to stating your goals) to show where in your experiences these goals come *but also* to share some highlights about your career path to date (in other words, share accomplishments or evidence of fast-track). If space permits, the essay can end with a brief statement of what skills you already have that your goals require and what skills you still lack that your goals require. This can ‘set up’ essay 2. An additional strategy is to also use this first essay to describe how Columbia’s resources fit your post-MBA goals so you don’t have to respond to Columbia’s now-optional ‘Why do you feel Columbia Business School is a good fit for you?’ Why would you want to avoid that prompt? Three reasons: (a) Columbia’s other two optional prompts (book, movie, song and PPIL) offer much richer opportunities for differentiating yourself by sharing stories about you, (b) Columbia’s admissions people know their program well; how likely are you to be able to tell them something about it that really rocks their world?, (c) You *will* be demonstrating amazing alignment between Columbia’s resources and your goals and your deep-diving due diligence on that alignment — but you’ll be doing it in 100-150 words at the end of essay 1, not in 250 words in essay 2. The challenge with this strategy is how to combine your savvy goals statement, your where-these-goals-come-from and goals-related career highlights, and the new Why CBS section into 500 words. But then you hired Admitify, didn’t you? We can help. 

Essay 2 and 3: Please respond to two (2) of the three (3) essay questions listed below:

  • The Phillips Pathway for Inclusive Leadership (PPIL) is a new co-curricular program designed to ensure that every CBS student develops the skills to become an ethical and inclusive leader. Through PPIL, students attend programming focused on five essential diversity, equity, and inclusion skills: Creating an Inclusive Environment, Mitigating Bias, Communicating Across Identities, Addressing Systemic Inequity, and Managing Difficult Conversations. Tell us about a time you were challenged around one of these five skills. Describe the situation, the actions you took, and the outcome. (250 words) 

Admitify Guidance: 

This is a classic accomplishment essay (situation/context—>your actions/EQ/problem-solving—>outcome (happy ending + lessons learned). What’s new is the D&IE twist. Columbia, as are other schools, is signaling its institutional interest in this urgent social/business issue. Happily, they’re giving you 5 possible sub themes to choose from (because they know not everyone has been or is expected to be on their firm’s D&I team). Applicants who have been D&I champions at or outside of work may gravitate toward an example relevant to Creating an Inclusive Environment or Addressing Systemic Inequity. The first is asking for a direct D&I scenario; the second could work for someone who has championed broader issues of inequity (e.g., socioeconomics), even if that latter scenario had not overt diversity element. Applicants who are themselves diverse applicants and perhaps particularly those who are LGBTQ may lean toward the Communicating Across Identities skill (e.g., how did you break the silence around the diversity issue you faced?). Those applicants who are not traditionally considered ‘diverse’ may gravitate toward the Mitigating Bias skill (e.g., how did you work to offset your own bias?) or the Managing Difficult Conversations (which need not involve diversity, identity, or bias at all — e.g., how did you simply demonstrate the EQ to overcome a conflict?). Don’t fret if you are not in a diverse applicant group traditionally defined. Columbia’s inclusion of the bias and difficult conversations Orion’s as well as its reference to ‘ethical leadership’ show that they are open to any examples that show you demonstrating EQ/emotional intelligence, good values, or integrity/ethics in a way that makes groups or organizations function more openly. 

  • Why do you feel Columbia Business School is a good fit for you? (250 words) 

Admitify Guidance: This is a straightforward Why Us? Essay but keep in mind in the past Columbia has framed this question in terms of NYC as the ‘very center of business’ and has steered applicants toward discussing its experiential and NYC-connected resources such as Immersion Seminars, master classes, practitioner faculty, etc. So maybe lean the essay toward the practical, hands-on side of Columbia resources rather than the academic (which it shares with most top schools). Also feel free to mention summer or in-term internships you might pursue in NYC. 

  • “Tell us about your favorite book, movie or song and why it resonates with you” (250 words) 

Admitify Guidance: I recommend avoiding clichéd or professionally focused books like Warren Buffet’s biography and cliched movies (‘Wolf of Wall Street’) or songs (e.g., Lady Gaga?). IMO choosing a book shows greater ‘depth’ than a movie or song but more important than projecting depth is that the ‘cultural product’ really matter a ton to you and really capture who you are or what your values/goals are. I recommend using only half the essay at the most to describe this the book, movie or song. Devote the rest of the space to showing why this cultural product matters to you and sharing a specific anecdote or two from your personal life (ideally personal because the other Columbia essays cover your professional life) that connects directly with the book, movie or song. Columbia’s Essay 3 changes almost every year, but it has consistently been the essay where you can get personal and share who you are. So I would lean toward personal and self-disclosing/revealing content here. 

Optional Essay:
If you wish to provide further information or additional context around your application to the Admissions Committee, please upload a brief explanation of any areas of concern in your academic record or personal history. This does not need to be a formal essay. You may submit bullet points. (Maximum 500 Words) 

Admitify Guidance: Columbia is not restricting you to only extenuating circumstance (grades, GMAT, etc.) discussions here, but they are limiting you somewhat to ‘areas of concern.’ But many things – such as your age, leadership or extracurriculars – could be framed as areas of concern. Feel free to discuss multiple areas of concern but separate them into separate paragraphs with headers/titles. 

Contact us today for more advice from an expert Admitify coach!