The “New York Advantage” – We’ve got Columbia Business School Covered

ColumbiaColumbia Business School’s essays have been modified a bit from last year, but the information they are trying to elicit remains the same: Why is CBS a good fit for you?  What are your career plans? How can you differentiate yourself from other candidates?  The short answer question asks you to articulate your career goals, which seems straightforward, but proves to be quite challenging considering you have fewer characters than are used in this sentence to do so!  Essay 1 takes it back to basics – yMBA / yCBS / yNow.  Essay 2 asks you to explain how NYC will impact your CBS experience.  Finally, essay 3 asks you to provide some context on what makes you unique.  Columbia GSB is rolling admissions so grab your Metro Card and let’s head uptown on the 1 train together.


Short Answer Question:  What is your immediate post-MBA professional goal? (100 characters maximum)

This is a short-term goal essay with a twist: 100 characters.   That’s right, CHARACTERS, not words.  Mayor Bloomberg is trying to cut down on oversized sodas, and, apparently, Columbia is now cutting down on the number of words you can type!  This character restriction can be a challenge for even the strongest of writers, as many applicants struggle to write a something meaningful in 100 words yet alone 100 characters!


Admit Advantage: One of the important skills in business (and business school) is to provide a convincing argument in a condensed format.  This short answer question will certainly give you the opportunity to exhibit that skill.  Think about what you want to do and be as specific as possible.  It needs to be believable because MBA admissions representatives want to make sure that you are actually employable after b-school (Private Equity for a marketing associate is a long-shot).  Don’t feel obligated to use all 100 characters – if you are done, emulate the NY Knicks and make an early exit.


Admit Advantage: Don’t let the examples they provide hinder your response.  I see lots of MBA applicants trying to modify the examples rather than creating a unique response incorporating your brand and short-term interests.


Essay 1: Given your individual background, why are you pursuing a Columbia MBA at this time? (Maximum 500 words)


This is the yMBA, yNow, and LT goal essay.  You need to do an effective job of incorporating your background into why now is the right time for an MBA and why Columbia is the right fit for you.  I also think that you can expand on your ST goal answer and provide context about how Columbia will help you achieve your LT goals.


Admit Advantage: It is important for the admission committee to know that you are serious about your MBA and ready to go now.    If they just think you are fishing and there is no clear sense of purpose, you are asking for a thanks but no thanks letter (and quickly since it’s rolling admission).  You should provide enough relevant background to explain the career progression and need for an MBA, but you should primarily focus on the future.


Admit Advantage: If you are a career changer, you will need to build the compelling story of how you will successfully make the career change.  A strong essay will tie into how the MBA is going to help you achieve these (hopefully) lofty goals.


Essay 2: Columbia Business School is located in the heart of the world’s business capital – Manhattan. How do you anticipate that New York City will impact your experience at Columbia? (Maximum 250 words)

Please view the videos below:

New York City – limitless possibilities

New York City – fast paced and adaptable


Columbia recognizes that New York is an integral part of the appeal for applicants, and they are embracing their inner “I love NY”.  Turn your computer speakers up, grab a note pad, and watch the video!  For those of you looking for extra credit, download Empire State of Mind to your iPod (no royalties necessary, Jay-Z) and get pumped up for application season!


Admit Advantage: The video is well done, but that is not the only resource you should use.  We strongly suggest that you visit CBS and get to know what NYC is all about.  Don’t lean solely on the surface answer of “financial capital of the world” or “great access to capital” – these are true, but you must delve deeper.  Lots of people want to go to NY for business school, but it is your responsibility to make it clear how New York is going to impact your MBA experience.


Admit Advantage: If you can’t visit –fine, but work the website and listen to the videos, read the blogs, and do as much research as you can to get a feel for the campus. Don’t give up on this just because you won’t get a chance to visit prior to submitting your application.


Admit Advantage: Think about what you do today outside of work and how a NY experience would enhance that.  If you are very involved with volunteering at certain non-profits, there are endless opportunities to make an impact in the NY community.  NY is arguably the cultural and entertainment epicenter of the US; how will this backdrop affect your MBA experience? There is also a very robust venture community in NY if you’re looking to start a business.  Think about your interests and goals and do your research on how NY can help.


Essay 3:

What will the people in your Cluster be pleasantly surprised to learn about you? (Maximum 250 words)

Lots of ways to go here, and this is really the first opportunity for you to express your personality, so think long and hard about this one.  It’s mildly interesting if you have excessive dandruff or webbed feet (shout out to my sister, Jessica, who could double for Aquaman), but not very compelling for business school admission.  Think of something that can also demonstrate one of your leadership traits (i.e. you once directed a movie short – shows creativity; speak 4 languages and been to 22 countries – global perspective, etc.).


Admit Advantage: You’re better off digging deep into a topic rather than spreading yourself too thin.  If you provide a list of interesting facts, you may not be able to elaborate effectively in a 250 word essay, so be careful.


Admit Advantage: Be weary of discrete, dead-end events.  If you met U.S. President Obama, that’s certainly interesting and somewhat surprising, but unless it sparked you to become a White House Fellow or change your career choice, it’s a dead-end.


Optional Essay

An optional fourth essay will allow you to discuss any issues that do not fall within the purview of the required essays.

This essay usually formulates in one of two ways: 1) a weakness essay or 2) an area of strength/perseverance that you couldn’t fit in one of the other essays.  If you have a gaping hole (i.e. GPA, GMAT, long layoff, etc.), here is your opportunity to address it.  If you have a special talent or circumstance that you couldn’t address early (it better be good), go for it!  Keep in mind that this specifically asks for content that could not be addressed in the rest of the application.


Admit Advantage: Use your best judgment.  If you are a 710 GMAT at a 720 mean school and have good credentials otherwise, you probably don’t have to write about a low GMAT score.  Don’t feel compelled to write an essay here if you don’t need to.


Admit Advantage: Watch the tone of this essay.  Don’t apologize and rant about how life is hard (frankly, MBA admissions committee members have heard it all and rarely break out the old violin for applicant sob stories).  Address the issue, discuss how you have proactively addressed it, and feel free to stop writing.


Admit Advantage: A natural question pertains to the length of the essay.   Shorter than 250 words is a good guide.  If you have to use more than 250 words, you may be exacerbating the issue rather than squelching it and consequently doing more harm than good.

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