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Columbia Business School Essay Questions and Strategic Guidance, 2022-2023

Columbia Business School (CBS) asks three required essay questions as part of its application process. Through your essay responses, the school hopes to better understand your career goals, your rationale for wanting to pursue your MBA at CBS specifically, and who are you personally. We at Gatehouse appreciate the range of essay topics as it enables applicants to communicate a broad picture of their candidacy.

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)

  • Columbia has been asking this question for several years now. This is great because it has allowed us to see a lot of success stories that have shown us what makes a good essay response. Even better, we also know where applicants are likely to stumble. Our first piece of advice is to answer the entire question. CBS is asking for two distinct things: your career goals over the next three to five years and your long-term dream job. Too often, applicants combine these two parts into one when crafting their essay. Instead, follow the prompt and answer each one distinctly!
  • With respect to your goals, focus on what you will be doing (role, industry, and/or function), as well as the kind of impact you want to have—the problems you want to solve, the products you want to create, the team you want to build. This is especially important when you are describing your “dream job.” Your dream job likely inspires you, and the admissions committee wants to know why. Also, make sure that your short-term goals flow logically into your dream job. They should ideally prepare you to achieve that dream job.
  • The essay prompt does not explicitly ask how your goals relate to where you are now, but that does not mean you cannot address the connection. Although the admissions committee is all but telling you not to include a resume rehash (which would make for a poor MBA application essay for most schools, anyway), you can certainly include some references to past accomplishments or experiences if they provide context that is relevant to understanding your goals or assessing your likelihood of reaching them.
  • This essay is a kind of goal statement essay. The core components of a goal statement essay are (1) a vision of the future, (2) how that vision relates to where you are today, and (3) what you need from business school to make that vision a reality. Note that (3) will be largely covered in CBS’s Essay 2.

Essay 2: 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)

  • A well-executed essay response to this prompt will present clear connections between you and the aspects of the business school that you find compelling. Make a case for why you need an MBA (i.e., the experiences, skills, knowledge, and/or connections you are lacking) and then prove to the admissions committee that you know how CBS specifically can fulfill those needs. Note the resources and offerings (whether well-known or somewhat obscure; they do not have to be arcane!) that resonate with you and will help you advance toward your career goals. You can also include the clubs and activities you hope to join and why they are so important to you.
  • We strongly caution you to avoid empty pandering! Simply describing CBS in glowing terms and praising its resources does nothing to enhance your candidacy. By telling the admissions officers what they already know about the school they represent rather than what they want to know about you, you run the risk of losing their attention—and worse, their support.

Essay 3: Tell us about your favorite book, movie, or song and why it resonates with you. (250 words)

  • We at Gatehouse find this question particularly fun; it gives the CBS admissions committee the opportunity to learn something special or important to you outside the realm of the usual “business school” topics.
  • Remember that your goal is to reveal something new about yourself, not to educate the CBS admissions committee about a piece of art. The “what” you choose—be it a well-known pop song or a classic piece of opera, a recent Oscar nominee or a “slasher” movie, a best-selling fiction novel or a how-to guide—does not matter; what matters is what it helps the admissions reader understand about you.
  • When writing your essay, focus on the second part of the school’s prompt: why the work resonates with you. Perhaps it triggers an especially positive emotion; perhaps it speaks of a trait that you hold dear. Whatever the reason is, be sure to convey it clearly so that CBS gains a better sense of who you are.

Also, note that Columbia Business School asks an important Short Answer Question that you should develop in tandem with your essays.

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.”