This post is marked as OLD (ancient, really). The Columbia MBA essay questions being discussed here are not current. However, the advice that this post contains is still relevant. We have the current Columbia Business School MBA essay questions here.
EssaySnark has been remiss. Oh, what noble intentions! Blogging is not for the weak-willed nor faint of heart. Once Round 1 started full-force last fall, EssaySnark disappeared.* Here we are, now late May, the last of the last application deadlines for the 2012 class now fading away, and finally does EssaySnark show a meek and timid face, with apologies! Contrite! We shall see how we do again as another application round opens upon us.
As you may know, Harvard and Columbia have already released their essay questions for the 2013 class — CBS has even released their entire application! And lo, only two essay questions! Down from the already minimal three questions. Just two!
“Two essay questions!” you say. “Excellent news! Wonderful!”
“But is it?” EssaySnark asks.
Two essay questions. Essay 1 remains the same as it ever was, the standard Columbia career goals question (a question, EssaySnark notes, that has been used verbatim by other schools, namely USC Marshall, in the past; Columbia should be flattered?). This is a 750-word question focusing entirely on the future: short-term, long-term goals, why Columbia. Very straightforward. This is an easy question if ever there were such a thing.
The new question is only 500 words.
“500 words!” you say, “Even better! I can whip out 500 words no problem! Wait, let me type this up — here! It’s done already!”
Right. I’m sure you can. EssaySnark has seen evidence of such.
“Wait, let me type this up — here! It’s done already!”
Intrepid Applicant, be careful. No blessing, this. These 500 words may prove your bane.
The new Columbia essay question is woefully open-ended:
Please tell us about yourself and your personal interests. The goal of this essay is to get a sense of who you are, rather than what you have achieved professionally.
There is so much room to hang yourself here! Please be careful. This must be authentic. This must be relevant. This must not be boasting. Or boring. This must avoid the oh-so-prevalent problem of TMI. Yes, they are asking about you personally, but no, please do not use this limited space to tell them about your best friend’s suicide when you were 12 and how that’s put you into 10 years of psychotherapy and you’re still on medication. I’m sure that this was truly a horrible time in your life, but does it belong in a bschool essay? Does it? Please make the contents of this essay relevant to your career aspirations and your interest in professional growth.
The very best “personal” essays are ones that link together your goals and provide proof that you have actively been pursuing these interests for some time. For example: A trend of the past year or so has been towards socially responsible business. Socially responsible investing is a particular theme at Wharton, for instance. Many applicants saw this trend and decided to align their career goals with the school’s stated interest — which is fine, and this can be an effective strategy. HOWEVER: Many of these applicants waxed on about such noble interests and intentions, yet offered no proof — NO PROOF!! — of having ever lifted a finger to support social causes in their up-till-now lives. How does this sound to the adcom? It doesn’t; it rings hollow. Falls flat. Thud. So, it’s great to map your goals to the school — in fact, this is essentially — but please don’t pull it out of your b3hind and expect it to sound credible, without backing up your lofty goals with some concrete evidence.
Columbia’ s essay 2 is a great way to do this!
Another use of this essay would be to demonstrate entrepreneurial skills/experience for someone saying she’s going to launch a company after bschool, or perhaps interested in venture capital. The adcom (Columbia’s adcom in particular) will be looking for past experience, evidence, at least an inclination, in the entrepreneurial world, an entrepreneurial mindset, etc etc. Essay 2 is a grand place to lay this out for them.
If you have experienced some personal tragedy (surviving cancer, loss of parents at an early age, a tornado coming through your town and wiping out your home), these types of events could also potentially be covered in essay 2 — just please, tie this into your professional life in some way. The adcom doesn’t want to cry for crying’s sake when reading your essay. They want to see how you took the adversity and overcame it, how you used it as a springboard for future success, how it shaped who you are today — they want to see the impact that the experience had on you and how it made you stronger, gave you skills, did something that’s applicable to where you’re saying you want to go. So connect the dots for them in this essay 2. Do not just relate the experience and let it sit there, as if going through bad times alone will qualify you for bschool. We don’t want to break out the violins on you. We want to see context and how you brought it full circle.
Similarly, no laundry lists of all your miraculous achievements. The adcom doesn’t care that you played violin in high school. They might be interested if you play violin today, and in what way that’s shaped who you are. Don’t make them gag over all your profound accomplishments, either. It should not be a laundry list of how you’ve been lauded since the cradle. Make it relevant. Tie your amazing skills, gifts, awards, recognition into something that means something to the reader of your application. “Because of my experience doing this, it gave me insight into that” — there’s lots of ways to do this. This should not be about impressing us with how you’re an overachiever; it should be about tying those achievements together into a story that makes sense. Show us impact on others, or even yourself. How have all these efforts helped you be the success you are today? (and by implication, we’ll understand that these will prove useful in the future, too)
The real problem with Columbia’s new, drastically-reduced-to-two lonely little pair of essay questions for the 2013 application is that, well, there’s only two questions. 1250 words total. That’s it. That’s not much space to present a full picture of who you are. (It’s better than Darden, at least, who’s had about 1000 words total to do so. Eek!) Even with just the two essays and limited space, EssaySnark still recommends applicants avoid writing the optional essay unless there’s something specific to cover, e.g., a significant weakness that can actually be explained, or shed light upon, so that it can be balanced out to at least neutral if not a positive. Optional essays have been/will be covered again separately. For now, EssaySnark’s advice is to skip the optional essay unless you have a compelling reason to write it.
But two essays? 1250 words? Now, that can be a challenge.
Columbia’s new essay 2 is sort of similar to Stanford’s traditional “What matters most to you and why?” which is a bear of a question. Columbia is looking for what makes you tick. There are no right answers to this question. EssaySnark is always open to reviewing your drafts, Brave Supplicant, so send along your best thinking for Columbia essay 2 (or any other school’s essay), and maybe you’ll see it posted here with a full critique in the near future.
As to Harvard, well, it’s Harvard. Their questions haven’t changed much at all. They did some tweaking, but by and large, these are nearly the same as last year’s. We’ll talk more about Harvard soon.
EssaySnark promises to make appearances somewhat more regularly than every nine months… at least until Round 1 heats up and there is no more daylight for EssaySnark, behind the piles of essays.
Intrepid Applicant: Good luck!
*EssaySnark is thrilled to report, however, that 88% of EssaySnark’s R1 2009 clients gained admission to at least one of their top-choice (Top 20) schools! Congratulations to all who made it in!