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June 1, 2022

Columbia MBA Essay Analysis, Essays 2 and 3

Columbia CBS

CBS MBA Essays 2 and 3

Applicants respond to the two essay questions listed below if they are NOT applying to the Deferred Enrollment program:

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, co-curricular initiatives like the Phillips Pathway for Inclusive Leadership, which aims to equip students with the skills and strategies necessary to lead in an inclusive and ethical manner, 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? (300 words)

Ooof, this is a long, clunky prompt. When you boil it down, however, the last line is the only operative instruction. This is a basic MBA fit essay. All the stuff above that is basically just the adcom shouting “Please do some research on our program before answering this!” 

Let’s start off our writing process with a fun hypothetical: pretend you get into ALL M7 schools. Extrapolate your future lifetime success/happiness as a graduate of each school. Let’s say each one gets a total score out of 100. They all score high, great, but Columbia’s number is somehow slightly BEYOND the rest. Why? What is it about Columbia that makes the “Columbia alumnus” version of you better than the other six hypothetical versions? What makes “Columbia you” more successful  (however you define that)? Explain what it is you’re aiming for, and then why CBS somehow leads to that best version.

With this in mind, let’s drill down a bit further. What are some dimensions along which CBS may perform better than another?

  • Location, location, location. There’s a reason this prompt asked specifically about NYC last year… it’s definitely one of CBS’s distinguishing features. But just being in the city is not enough. Maybe New York beats Boston, but would you pick NYU over HBS because NY > Boston? No, you probably wouldn’t. What really matters is the career opportunities within the city that Columbia (and only Columbia) can make available to you. In what ways are those opportunities inherently different from other top schools? What resources and programs does Columbia offer to open those doors? Is there something that happens at CBS that is game-changingly different than any other program?
  • Campus vibe. This has to be personal to you: “I do better in X environment. So, yah, I’d rather perform at Carnegie Hall in front of 10,000 than in a room with 25 people.” Explain WHY you prefer a certain type of campus experience, then show how CBS has that type of experience with specific examples.
  • Industry specializations. Does Columbia offer unique expertise in your field? The school certainly has a reputation for strength in finance, media, real estate, and other stereotypical NYC industries, but reputation doesn’t really matter here. What you’re looking for is PEOPLE—professors or alumni who worked or are working in your target firms. Keep it at the person-to-person level… “professor XYZ would be a good mentor because she did X, Y and Z, and I want to do ABC similar thing…” 

The key is to develop your argument with respect to some IDEAL you have that’s already set—probably your goals. That way your reasoning maps to something. It’s meaningless to say “I feel like this fits me,” without any more context. The “fit” has to matter somehow, it has to improve your ability to succeed. Otherwise, why should you or the adcom care?

To organization. This is a two-three paragraph essay. The very first thing you need to establish in order for this to pack a punch is. . . what YOU need in order to flourish. If you explain the fit first, it has nowhere to go. First, explain what you need from ANY program. From “the best theoretical program ever.” Explain what you need, and why that stuff will make you stronger and better, and more able to succeed at your goals, and in life. Do that quickly, and in a straightforward manner. 75-100 words max.

Now, walk us through (essentially) a series of “aha, Columbia has an incredible (or the best) version of THIS thing I just talked about.” And again! Here’s an example of ANOTHER thing CBS has. And again! Do this two or three (or more, if you can) times. Spend most of your time here explaining the match, and revealing your understanding of what that CBS element is and how it connects to you. 150-200 words.

Hopefully, you have room for a final thought, a sentence’s worth, that serves to imply that you’ve done your homework, and that there are other programs that can hit some or all of the needs you just walked us through. BUT, that CBS either hits MORE and is, therefore, the best fit. Or the hits are simply BETTER and it’s, therefore, a better fit. That comparative sense will serve you well.

 

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

Is the adcom slyly seeking media recommendations here? Are they looking for you to make a convincing case for XYZ book/movie/song? If you succeed in convincing them to pick up XYZ piece of media, will you get an admit? No, no and no!

This essay is not about the piece of media you choose. There may be some benefit to choosing something somewhat mature (i.e., not Barney and Friends) or unique (i.e., not Harry Potter), but a successful essay can be written about pretty much anything.  The media does not matter, it’s the second part of the question (“why it resonates”) that will determine whether or not this essay succeeds. One way to approach this is to think about a moment in your life that led to your application. Was there an experience or event that made you think “I really need an MBA”? Or maybe something like “I really want to do XYZ, and I need an MBA in order to do that”? Did that experience involve a piece of media, or lead you to consume a piece of media? 

For example, maybe you became inspired to start a sustainable fishing social enterprise after reading a book about dolphins. Or maybe, after a death in the family due to medical malpractice, you began searching for a way you could improve health tech, and were lost and confused until you read XYZ book by ABC author who inspired your current goals.

Another way of writing this would be to use this opportunity to showcase your non-business interests and personality. What personality quirks will make you a fun, valuable member of the MBA class? Why would the adcom want to have you sitting next to them in that first-year leadership seminar? A piece of media can be an opportunity to showcase something interesting about the way you think about the world or yourself.

In both cases, the essay works best when the piece of media is used as a lens or framing for something you have done. We don’t want to end at “in book ABC, the author argues XYZ, and I agree with that.” “I did XYZ because I read this book,” or “watching this movie made me better understand XYZ thing that I had done,” will be more successful formulae.

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