Columbia Business School Essay Topic Analysis 2016-2017
With the recent announcement of the 2016-2017 Columbia Business School essay questions, this season’s Essay Topic Analysis series is officially underway.
While the length of each of CBS essay prompts has been modified, the spirit of each question remains very similar to their questions over the previous few years. Covering both professional plans and personal history–as well as the various reasons for one’s interest in earning Columbia MBA–these essays allow the applicant to cover a fair amount of material. Overall, CBS has allowed applicants more space to expand on their career goals and specific interests in the program. Across the set of essays, it’s important to maintain balance and avoid repetition.
Let’s take a closer look at each prompt:
Goal: What is your immediate post-MBA professional goal? (51 characters)
Making its sixth 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 51 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.
Essay 1:Through your résumé and recommendations, we have a clear sense of your professional path to date. What are your career goals going forward, and how will the Columbia MBA help you achieve them? (100-750 words)
Making its second consecutive appearance in the CBS application, 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 and interest in the CBS MBA. 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.
Candidates will want to use the bulk of this response to outline their short- and long-term post-MBA goals, as well as the reasons they’re applying to CBS. As always, the adcom will be looking for applicants to showcase their knowledge of the school’s MBA program. Because people applying to Columbia are often also considering other first-tier 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 most effective way to do so will be to pack your essay full of school-specific details about CBS courses and clubs that would facilitate success upon graduating. 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.
A note on length: While CBS set a limit of 500 words last year, applicants have a wider range of 100 to 750 words now. Given the amount of ground to be covered in regards to goals and interest in CBS, anything under 250 words will seem paltry and insufficient. Whereas solid, informed content in the range of 500-750 words will convey the right message of interest. Applicants should be wary of exceeding the 750-word limit; while +/-10% is generally a good rule of thumb in terms of word limits, such a broad range conveys harder markers for length.
Essay 2: Columbia Business School’s students participate in industry focused New York immersion seminars; in project based Master Classes; and in school year internships. Most importantly, they are taught by a combination of distinguished research faculty and accomplished practitioners. How will you take advantage of being “at the very center of business”? (100-500 Words)
Appearing for a third year, this prompt frames CBS as the center of business — and of this essay. That is, the primary focus of this response should be how Columbia’s course offerings, faculty, visiting speakers, and industry access will serve as a springboard for one’s career. It may even make sense 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. 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. Of course, 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.
Essay 3:CBS Matters, a key element of the School’s culture, allows the people in your Cluster to learn more about you on a personal level. What will your Clustermates be pleasantly surprised to learn about you? (100-250 Words)
This question asks applicants to reveal an interesting element of their backgrounds. The prompt also features a brief video of students discussing CBS Matters, a program through which students share something–anything–about themselves with their cluster. The video also includes the subtitle “What Matters to You Most?” Naturally, applicants might think about what they would actually discuss in this context and build their essay around that.
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 achievement/trait/interest they share would be a pleasant surprise, i.e. something that will be valuable to their cluster–whether academically, socially, athletically, or professionally–as well as the CBS community at large.
Reapplicant Essay (Reapplicants are NOT required to submit additional essays. Only the reapplicant essay is required): How have you enhanced your candidacy since your previous application? Please detail your progress since you last applied and reiterate how you plan to achieve your immediate and long term post-MBA professional goals. (500 words)
This prompt is focused on proactive improvement in one’s candidacy since the time one last applied. This response should therefore be fairly action-oriented, with a focus on describing the steps that one has taken to become a stronger applicant to CBS since being denied, as well as the results of these efforts in terms of new knowledge and strengthened skills. Applicants are also asked to restate their goals and the steps they’ll take to accomplish them after an MBA; this part of the discussion will likely also include a restatement of the reasons for the applicant’s interest in CBS–and poses an opportunity to demonstrate an enhanced familiarity with and commitment to Columbia’s MBA program.
Clear Admit Resources
Thanks for reading our analysis of this year’s Columbia Business School essay topics. As you work on your Columbia MBA essays and application, we encourage you to consider all of Clear Admit’s Columbia offerings:
Posted in: Essay Tips & Advice, Essay Topic Analysis, Essay Topics, Essays
Essays are an incredibly important part of the application process, says Stacy Blackman, an MBA admissions consultant. Seemingly straightforward questions require a great deal of introspection. Make sure you budget time to draft and redraft, try new approaches and carefully edit so that each line packs the maximum punch
1 As soon as you know that you are going to apply to business school, you can start to prepare in a low-stress way. Keep a notebook and jot down anything interesting that comes to mind. An inspiring lecture, a disappointing performance review, an enlightening conversation with a friend, a travel experience, running a marathon, a stimulating book—all of these can be terrific material for your essays. Don't agonise over whether it will make a great topic, just jot it down. You will find that you quickly have a plethora of material to choose from.
2 As you begin to approach essay-writing time, consider putting together a “brag sheet”. Write down all of the things about you that would not necessarily appear on a résumé: languages you speak, all extracurricular involvements, family traditions and more. This can also be mined for essay content.
3 Once you have the essay questions in hand, there may still be a few stumpers. Even with lots of content, when you are faced with answering a question such as “What matters most to you?” it is difficult to decide. Here is an exercise that stops you from over-thinking: set your alarm clock for 3am. When you wake up, ask yourself the question. The first thing that comes to mind might surprise you. Do this for a couple of nights and you may come up with a few options or find that you are building a consensus around a certain topic.
4 Before you actually write the essays, take the final step of mapping out the general topics you will cover in each essay. As you map a topic to a question, check it off on a master list of stories you want to cover. This way, you can make sure that a given school is receiving all of your key stories, and that you are spreading out different stories across an application and not being repetitive.
5 Everyone works in different ways: some work best first thing in the morning, others are night owls. Some need to outline concepts on paper, others go straight to computer. So develop a plan that supports your individual style. Many find that the first application can take around 40 hours of work—brainstorming, drafting, editing, refining. As you approach this process, make sure you have the time. Tackle one application at a go. Do not take work leave or attempt it in a single week. Essays require time to gel. Therefore make sure that you have plenty of time to do it right. You may require six weeks, or you may even want 12.
6 Many applicants are inhibited by perfectionism. They can sit at the computer for hours, unable to generate that “perfect” essay, rewriting so furiously that they don't get past the first few sentences. It is often easier to edit than to write. So just type. A page full of so-so text is less intimidating than that blank page.
7 It is essential that you research your target schools and understand how to appeal to each of them. Each will have a slightly different ethos and look for something different in their students. But…
8 …you can also save yourself a bit of work. There are certain qualities that all business schools want to see in a successful applicant:
- team skills
- communication skills
Just saying “I am a strong leader” is not enough. Every claim you make must have supporting stories that help the reader believe you. You do not need to check off every quality on the list. Select a few that apply to you and reinforce those in an honest and compelling way.
9 Nobody is perfect. The schools know this and you need to show them that you are realistic and self-aware. Revealing your humanity—in the form of quirks, weaknesses and flaws—can often help the admissions committee to like you. A story about how you learned from a failure, improved upon a weakness or struggled with challenges can be compelling. The other side of this is the ability to demonstrate that you can really benefit from the MBA degree. If you know everything already, an admissions committee may wonder why you want to return to school.
10 Get some help. Even the most meticulous writers benefit from a second or third set of eyes. Ask someone to review your essays, look for typos and tell you if you are hitting all of the points in the right way. Is your attempt at humour coming off correctly? Do you seem too humble, too cocky, too serious, not serious enough? After you have been buried with your essays for weeks, a fresh perspective can often help you see the application as an admissions-committee member does: for the first time. Enlist someone who knows about the application process and make sure they are not just reassuring you that all is well, but are actually giving you some quality feedback.
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