June 1, 2022

Columbia MBA Essay Analysis, Deferred Enrollment Essays 1 and 2

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CBS Deferred Enrollment MBA Essays 1 and 2

Applicants respond to the two essay questions listed below if they ARE applying to the Deferred Enrollment program:

Why are you interested in obtaining a Columbia MBA in the future? (300 words)

This essay is essentially a condensed version of the first two essays non-deferred MBA candidates must answer (essays 1 and 2, the ones about career goals and fit). You can see our extended take on those ideas in the relevant sections here, but with only 300 words, we’ll have to prioritize. There are three key points to cover:

  • Why are you interested in an MBA? Hint: the answer is your career goals. You’re not at CBS to party, make friends, learn skills (though you will do all those things)—you’re going to prepare for a specific career vision. Show the adcom that your goals are compelling, rooted in your experience, and plausible given your career to date. The adcom should leave this section excited by what you will do in the future—not just the title you will hold or the company you will work at, but also what you plan to do in that role to advance your target industry. They’re looking for revolutionaries, not functionaries.
  • Why “in the future”? The adcom is excited about the vision you’ve laid out, but they’re wondering… why can’t you go and achieve those career goals RIGHT NOW? What’s stopping you? Identify the skill, knowledge or experience gaps that you need to address before you can embark on the path you’ve laid out, and show how you will use the deferral period to address them. The job that you will have between graduation and starting the MBA program could be very impressive, but that doesn’t matter if it’s not also advancing you toward your goals. Prove that it is.
  • Why at Columbia? You’ve identified your goals, the gaps you need to fill before realizing them, and how the deferral period will help. Now, wrap up by showing how the Columbia program is the best fit for someone with your goals. As we discuss at greater length in our analysis of non-deferral essay 2, the key idea here is to identify professors or specific programs.

Three roughly equal length paragraphs addressing the points we’ve laid out above is one of many ways to address this essay. All successful responses, however, will address each part of the prompt: Why you need an MBA, at Columbia, after a deferral period.


Who is a leader you admire, and why? (300 words)

Another classic prompt! Here are two quick rules of thumb:

  • Pick someone the adcom won’t know, and you can get away with somewhat conventional reasons for “why.” Don’t be too conventional—you should still find COOL reasons to admire this person—but the adcom will be a little more forgiving if you introduced them to someone new. Alternatively….
  • Pick a conventional, well-known leader… but for an unconventional reason.

If you pick someone no one’s heard of, that’s already interesting. Good! Now make a convincing argument that they’ve done something that warranted your admiring that person. By the way, this could be everyone from “my younger brother who created a successful startup.” to a person in ancient history whose leadership skills resonate to this day. One caveat: Keep in mind that the adcom will be reading thousands of versions of this essay, and probably at least hundreds from people who share your exact politics, educational background, nationality, etc. If you have any doubts about whether your leader is actually “someone no one’s heard of,” we’ll want to write as if our leader falls into category 2….

If you pick someone EVERYONE’S heard of, you’d better find a reason that no one’s thought of yet. Because if you pick a WELL-KNOWN person for an OBVIOUS reason, you have zero chance of grabbing your reader’s attention. You may very well argue the living hell out of it, and it might be compelling and crisp and logical and “correct.” But it won’t MOVE the reader. And that’s the goal. To knock the adcom off balance.

So, what are surprising reasons for admiring someone?

Well, I like THIS gal but not because of X, Y or Z (the stuff everyone ELSE admires her for). Nah. My whole thing is THIS STRANGE, WEIRD, NEVER-PRAISED trait that is super cool, underrated, and super badass. Ex. “I admire Bill Gate’s sartorial choices, because (to me) it says something powerful about how he leads. Let me explain. . .”

Or, here’s a guy I admire: XXX. That guy, the guy who famously belly-flopped as a leader. First, I’ll say that yah, I’m with everyone else on ABC bad aspect of his performance. That’s the not the part that gets me. It’s THIS oft-overlooked piece… Ex. “I admire Neville Chamberlain’s innovations as postmaster general….”

Someone has a leadership skill you simply lack, but are in awe of. It takes courage to admit to this, and humility to say that you really wanna learn how to develop a leadership skill. But it also helps justify your application: You wanna be around people who have XYZ skill so you can drink it in.  Alternatively, this could go “I’m good at XYZ, but he’s a MASTER, and I am in awe of people who excel at XYZ, because of THIS particular reason. Now, lemme explain what makes THIS guy ultra-next-level…

Organization here really depends on who you pick and why. Things can get crazy. You may start with a tasty anecdote that embodies everything you admire, and then walk us through your reasoning. It could start with what the world thinks, and then your analysis of where they get it wrong, and what you see instead. It could be a walk-through of what you value, and then a reveal of which person best represents that. Lots of structures here. The key here is to subject your final essay to the “does this surprise me” test. Is there any insight there that isn’t wholly predictable (and therefore dull)? Again, “correct, honest, and compelling” can all still be dull. The GOLD STAR version of an essay here has SOME element that contributes some new, interesting perspective. (Which will reveal something new and interesting about YOU.)

Don’t be discouraged if your initial few stabs don’t pass this test. Often times, our first (raw) instincts will fail this test. And that’s okay. That’s where you need to go into BEAST MODE at the review/rewriting stage and get super critical. If it happens on that first draft, great. If it happens at draft two, no problem. Just make sure you take the time to GET THERE.

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