Columbia Essay Analysis 2016-2017

Last updated on August 29th, 2016

Reading Time: 6 minutes

This year, Columbia has retained the essay questions of last year, with trivial tweaks. The most trivial of the lot is the increase in character limit of the short answer from 50 to 51 what purpose, we wonder! 🙂

Based on our experience of working with clients last year, we realized that while the first and third essay prompts are fairly straightforward, many students wonder how to answer the second essay prompt.

If this has been bothering you too, read on to clear the clouds in your head and pen a winning Columbia application!

One more note before we start. Unlike most other B-schools that give you a word-limit, Columbia offers a word range – a minimum and a maximum number. This could leave you wondering how much is right. Our suggestion is to not worry overly about the length. Keep your focus on making your story compelling!


CBS Short Answer Question:


What is your immediate post-MBA professional goal? (51 characters maximum)

51 characters isn’t much leg-room to work with, so you’ll have to keep it really, really brief.

For example,

Product management in the technology industry
Category manager in an e-commerce company
Business development in financial services

There’s really not much room for creativity with a character limit of 51 characters, so just keep it precise and unambiguous.

CBS Essay 1:


Through your resume 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?

This essay is practically unchanged from last year, except that the word limit has changed. It was 500 last year; this year, the question prompt offers you a range – 100 to 750 words.

However, we cannot imagine how a 100 word essay could do justice to this answer. And of course, you should not even attempt to do so, because that would be a colossal waste of essay ‘real-estate’. We believe that you would be better off writing at least 500 words, and if you can manage it without making it look like fluff, even 750 words.

So, is this just another Goals essay?

Not quite..

There’s a significant difference in this essay as compared to most other B-schools’ Goals essays, in that it asks you not to talk about what you have done so far. This is made explicit in the first sentence – “Through your resume and recommendations, we have a clear sense of your professional path to date.”

Therefore, you can kick off the essay with a description of your career goals, possibly with just a passing reference to the past (purely optional).

Here’s a basic framework for this essay –

Career Goals (250 – 300 words)

You may not be accustomed to talking about your career goals in this much depth, because of the constraints that most other schools place on the length of the goals essay.

But this is good news! Because you can elaborate this in much detail, you can differentiate yourself amongst other candidates with similar aspirations.

So what can you really do besides stating your short-term and long-term goals?

1. You can write in a vivid and compelling manner about WHY these are your goals – that is, what are the intrinsic and extrinsic motivations and experiences that led you to pick this goal.

2. You can write about what learning and experiences you hope to derive from your future roles. As you mention your goals, especially your short-term goals, make sure that you specify the industry, the function and possibly the geography you would like to work in. You can go so far as to mention specific companies you would like to work for.

3. You can (in fact, you should) write about how your short-term goal will help you meet your long-term goal.

Why MBA (100 words)

Now, talk about the next steps you need to take in order to reach your goals. If you think an MBA program is necessary, you are probably seeking opportunities to grow and learn. Someone from a technical background might want to understand the business side of things to get a fuller context. Someone from an operational perspective might want to grow into a role that involves more people management.

For every job there is some growth, or some career “next steps” that are possible. If you are in a role that has no such career progression then either you are not thinking hard or you don’t need an MBA.

Now talk about the two or three absolute “must haves” for you to get into that role. It could be the brand credentials of a top MBA for consulting. It could be the general management aspect of looking at things for someone in a finance career stream. It could be the wider perspective your teammates offer, that might make you a well-rounded Product Manager.

Why Columbia (250 – 350 words)

As you paint a picture of why CBS is right for you, you will find that you have a generously sized canvas. So pore over the website, speak to alumni, read up on forums – do what it takes for you to understand the CBS MBA program thoroughly!

Then, and only then, shortlist the programs/initiatives/curriculum/anything else that you want to elaborate on. As you do this, keep in mind that you will need to use some of your research material to answer the next question. So, keep the Why Columbia section in this answer succinct.

Though it is not explicitly asked for, you also have to subtly answer the question ‘Why you for Columbia’. In at least two to three sentences, write about how your unique background and experiences will help you contribute to various platforms at Columbia.

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CBS 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, our students 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”?

At first glance, you may wonder how this question is different from the ‘Why Columbia’ section of the first essay. There are two differences. Firstly, this question encourages you to talk about not just CBS, but CBS as the ‘center of business’. That is, you can touch upon the larger eco-system around CBS. Secondly, as you answer this question, your focus should be on the specifics of how you will utilize the various resources that are offered to you.

Do not simply re-state the opportunities that are available..In fact, the essay prompt itself has got that out of the way! Talk about how you will leverage these opportunities to learn and do what you need to.

You will need to rely heavily on research to answer this question. Remember that the Columbia essays have traditionally placed a huge degree of importance on fitment. It’s not that other B-schools do not have this focus..but Columbia, by giving you more room to answer this question, clearly wants you to think this one through. The word count range is 100 to 500, but we suggest that you write as close to 500 words as possible.

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CBS 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)

So far, you’ve been all business. This essay is an opportunity for you to let your hair down and talk about you, the person, rather than you, the professional.

If you haven’t yet done so, read up about CBS Matters.

Imagine that you were to make a presentation of this essay to your cluster-mates. What would your intention be? Most likely, not just to introduce yourself, but also to engage your cluster- mates and set the foundation for a bond to develop. What would your tone be? Replicate this tone in your essay as far as possible – be informal, without resorting to flippancy.

We suggest that you max out the word-limit on this essay. With 250 words of real-estate, you would be best off picking only a few key themes/hobbies/fun-facts to talk about. Do not attempt to fit in too much information – you might end up with an essay that is nothing more than a bunch of points thrown together.

This is one of those essays where the vantage point of a friend or an acquaintance could come in very useful. If you are not able to think up interesting things to write about, seek inputs from those who know you well.

There you go! We hope that our take on the Columbia essays helps you frame a winning application to Columbia this season.

If you have any feedback for us, please let us know by leaving a comment in the comment section below.

If you’d like to discuss your Columbia essays with us, or have our experts review them, we’d be happy to help! Just click on the below button if you’d like some help with your essays.

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