November 1, 2023

MBA Essay Guidance 2023-24: Columbia Business School

Columbia Business School has released its MBA application deadlines and essay questions for the 2023-24 application cycle.  Here are the important dates and Admitify’s guidance on the essays.


R1: Sep 13, 2023  /  R2: Jan 5, 2024  /  R3: Apr 10, 2024


J-Term: Sep 13, 2023


“In addition to learning about your professional aspirations, the Admissions Committee hopes to gain an understanding of your interests, values and motivations through these essays. There are no right or wrong answers and we encourage you to answer each question thoughtfully.

 Applicants must complete one short answer question and three essays.”



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 recommendation, 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 is your long-term dream job? (500 words)


Admitify Guidance

Columbia is unusual in that it separates its goals essay from its Why Our School? essay. That means you potentially have 500 words to describe your goals, which is quite a lot of space. However, we don’t recommend that you use the entire essay to walk the reader through a blow-by-blow timeline of your post-MBA career. Do state your long-term ‘dream’ goals at the beginning of the essay, being as concrete/specific as possible: job titles, org names, Plan A and Plan B—Columbia loves to learn what applicants’ backup plans are). These are your rosiest-scenario career outcomes, your bliss, your career’s ‘end game’ and lasting legacy. When did this dream job first crystallize for you and why? How have you due-diligenced this goal – has your career thus far intersected with it any way? Have you had informational interviews or networked with people who are already living your dream job? If your dream job is off the beaten path, can you share any market-research type date to help the reader understand the scale of the opportunity or how the niche works? Now double back and explain how your three-to-five-year post-MBA goal will give you the skills and exposures to position you to achieve the long-term dream goal. The short-term goals you described in the Short Answer Question above is just the telegraphed summary of this three-to-five-year. Don’t verbatim repeat your Short Answer response here: provide 1-2 additive details to flesh out the Short Answer response and definitely share your short-term Plan B.) If the leap from your three-to-five-year goal to your dream job is too vast, feel free to share a medium-term goal and describe how it gives you the skills/assets to bridge the two ends of your post-MBA career. You may well find that even doing all of the above leaves you with unused word count. If so, consider using the leftover space to (a) share a pre-MBA accomplishment that helped you identify your post-MBA goal (Columbia doesn’t give you many opportunities to share career achievements, so here’s your chance—as long as it’s truly relevant to helping you uncover your goals) and/or (b) add an anecdote to the beginning of your essay that dramatizes or illustrates why your goals matter to you personally. Very few schools allow applicants to truly flesh out their post-MBA goals. Columbia does, so do it right.



Essay 2

The Phillips Pathway for Inclusive Leadership (PPIL) is a 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 and Prejudice, Managing Intercultural Dialogue, Addressing Systemic Inequity, and Understanding Identity and Perspective Taking.

Tell us about a time when you were challenged around one of these five skills. Describe the situation, the actions you took, and the outcome. (250 words)


Admitify Guidance

In many ways this is a classic accomplishment essay (situation/context—>your actions/EQ/problem-solving—>outcome (happy ending + lessons learned). What’s different 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 no overt diversity element. Applicants who are themselves diverse applicants and perhaps particularly those who are LGBTQ may lean toward the Understanding Identity and Perspective Taking 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 and Prejudice skill (e.g., how did you work to offset your own bias?) or the Managing Intercultural Dialogue skill (which need not involve diversity, identity, or bias at all — e.g., how did you simply demonstrate the EQ to build a bridge between different folks?). Don’t fret if you are not in a diverse applicant group traditionally defined. Columbia’s inclusion of the bias and difficult conversations 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.



Essay 3

We believe Columbia Business School is a special place. CBS proudly fosters a collaborative learning environment through curricular experiences like our clusters and learning teams, an extremely active co-curricular and student life environment, and career mentorship opportunities like our Executives-in-Residence program.

Why do you feel Columbia Business School is a good fit for you academically, culturally, and professionally? Please be specific. (250 words)


Admitify Guidance

This is essentially a classic Why Our School? essay, but much more directive in its guidance: (1) it requires you to reflect on ‘why CBS’ from three angles–academic resources, cultural resources, and professional resources–and (2) hints at the specific resource types that Columbia is proudest of (its collaborative learning environment, its very active student extracurricular culture, and its career mentorship resources). Columbia has used a version of this essay before, but this year has shortened the length by 50 words and replaced one of the resources CBS is proud of (Phillips Pathway for Inclusive Leadership – which this year is the focus of Essay 2) with a new proud resource: its active student extracurricular culture.

 You should not assume that Columbia expects you to name all three of these resource types in your essay. Instead, start by building your essay around the academic, cultural, and professional resources that most align with your learning needs. Divide your essay into three roughly equal sections addressing traditional academic or curricular opportunities at Columbia most relevant or attractive to you, Columbia’s culture (its values—diversity, collaboration, community participation, etc.), and Columbia’s resources for your career (which are intimately connected to Columbia’s links with New York City—see our last paragraph in this section below). 

Note that of the 3 resource types Columbia is proud of, “collaborative learning environment” can align with either Columbia’s academics or its culture, “active co-curricular and student life environment” clearly aligns with its culture, and “career mentorship opportunities” aligns with its professional resources. So if you want to capture/echo Columbia’s three resource hints in your essay, find specific examples of these three resource types that resonate most with you and discuss them in the essay’s three main sections on academics, culture, and professional resources.

When writing the final professional section of this essay, keep in mind that in the past Columbia has framed the Why Us? question in terms of NYC being 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. This year’s question, for example, references the Executives-in-Residence program. So maybe lean the essay toward the practical, hands-on side of Columbia resources — summer and in-term internships (which organizations will you pursue?), adjunct or practitioner faculty or visiting speakers that link with your goals, and any other career-related interfaces between Columbia and NYC as a career mecca.



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.


It’s not too late to start on your R2 Columbia MBA applications!  Contact us today and we’ll guide you through the application process.