It may not look like it based on how they’ve phrased the question, however Columbia essay 1 is a “Why MBA?” prompt.
Here’s the question:
Through your resume and recommendations, we have a clear sense of your professional path to date. What are your career goals over the next 3-5 years and what, in your imagination, would be your long-term dream job? (500 words)
That whole “imagination” term is unfortunate (we predict that this phrasing will not make it into Columbia’s essay questions next year) and the main problem that we’re seeing with BSers’ Columbia essays is they’re going way extreme into fantasyland in what they’re talking about. As fully explained in our Columbia Essay Guide for 2017, that is really not the way to go.
Instead, here’s an alternate means of thinking about this question:
How will you pursue your potential in life?
Can you speak in tangible terms about how you will do that, with a path set out from today through the next ten years at the most?
Starting where you’re at right now, at the first of August of 2017, with whatever state your career is in, tackle these questions:
a) How do you want your career to be different?
b) How will you strive to make it so?
Here’s an excellent article to help you understand the philosophy that we’re suggesting here, based on the work of Abraham Maslow , who you may remember from college psych class and the Hierarchy of Needs. It says in part:
“Maslow argued that ‘What human beings can be, they MUST be.’
“So, he wasn’t talking about a mere wish or desire. No, according to Maslow, you have a NEED to “self-actualize” — to express your latent abilities and live your full potential.
“Just like you lungs need oxygen, your mind needs self-actualization, or it will suffocate.
“Deprived of it, you might not gasp for air, but you will experience other painful symptoms like stress, anxiety, or even depression.
What Must YOU Be?
‘Musicians must make music, artists must paint, poets must write if they are to be ultimately at peace with themselves. What human beings can be, they must be. They must be true to their own nature.’
— Abraham Maslow
“If you want to feel truly fulfilled, you need to realize your potential.”
So let’s reorient the way we’re thinking about the Columbia essay question with this in mind:
What are you GOOD AT?
How can you apply those strengths and specific, unique, distinctive abilities to something meaningful?
Meaningful work is a key driver of personal happiness in life.
The Columbia question isn’t asking, “What kind of flamboyant and out-there goal can you come up with to try to impress us?”
They’re asking, “Where can you add the most value? What are your unique abilities to contribute in your unique way, and how do you KNOW that this is going to fulfill you?”
Yup, a different approach entirely — and one that can let you shed massive light on WHO YOU ARE and what’s running the show underneath it.
Tossing out some fancy long-term career goal is not the key objective for you in tackling this question.
Conveying HOW YOU WANT TO ADD TO THIS WORLD — and why you feel that Columbia is the place that will let you do your best work to prepare for it — that’s how you’ll stand out from the me-too crowd.
Everyone and their sister will be writing this essay this year about how they want to become an entrepreneur. If that’s really truly your dream, then you can do that, too — but based on how they’ve phrased this question, the adcom is setting people up for a trap.
Saying you want to do a startup just because it’s the popular thing for everyone to say is not going to serve you well.
Saying you want to do a startup for good reason with evidence for how this is really your dream could have potential.
Or, spending some time to put some actual honest reflection into this exercise, and researching different career paths that are open to you, and exploring the full spectrum of options and how an MBA can prepare you for them…. That can be a real formula for success on this one.
We do have to also remind you that it’s not necessary to have goals with impact to get in to a top school like Columbia. If you are able to identify goals that are meaningful you, that you’re inspired by, that you’ve started to work towards already, then that can resonate nicely with the adcom.
But it also runs the risk of coming across as simply too manufactured — especially if you’ve not done anything tangible that bears any resemblance to that in the past. The adcom does want to know how you plan to get where you say you want to go. It needs to be grounded in reality.
Here’s some quick tips from Dean Scott LaRue at Michigan Ross, talking about how to get un-stuck in your career. These exercises can be useful for defining your goals for Columbia (or for Ross as well!).