Columbia Business School 2016 MBA Essay Tips & Deadlines

Click here for Columbia Business School's zone page.Columbia tweaked last year’s questions for this year. Relatively minor changes. Specifically:

• Its short-answer question about your immediate post-MBA goal has gone from 75 to 50 characters. Yes, that was  characters, not words. Two years ago it was a generous 100 characters. And those applicants thought they had it tough. 
• There are wording changes to all the questions. The central focus is the same as in previous years; but nuances have changes. 

Other than cutting 25 characters from the goals question, CBS has not cut essays or essay length. Still, you will need to make every word, indeed every character, count to really allow your essays to effectively and compellingly present your qualifications.

My tips are in blue below.

Applicants must complete one short answer question and three essays.

Short Answer Question:

What is your immediate post-MBA professional goal? (50 characters maximum)

Note the character limit. Your response must be less than a tweet. Actually it must be just about one third of a tweet. What do you want to do professionally and in which industry immediately after earning your MBA?  Here are CBS’ examples of possible responses:

“Work in business development for a media company.”
“Join a strategy consulting firm.”
“Launch a data-management start-up.”

Warning: This question is not asking about intended area of study while in business school or a non-professional goal or even a long-term goal. And the subject is assumed to be you. No need to waste characters by including “I.”


Essay 1. Through your resume and recommendations, we have a clear sense of your professional path to date. What are your career goals going forward, and how will the Columbia MBA help you achieve them? (Maximum 500 words)

They already know what’s in your resume. Don’t repeat “your career path to date” here. That’s a waste of essay real estate and means you’re not telling them anything new or answering their question.

Do tell them what you want to do after your MBA and what aspects of the Columbia MBA experience will prepare you to do it. Keep in mind that the MBA is a bridge between your past and desired future. Show Columbia why its program is the right bridge for you and now is the right time for you to be traverse this bridge. 

To answer this question well,  you will need to really know the Columbia program thoroughly along with why you want a CBS MBA at this point in your career. The essay that shines will do a great job of showing both fit and self-awareness.

Essay 2. Columbia Business School’s location enables us to bridge theory and practice in multiple ways: through Master Classes, internships, the New York Immersion Seminars, and, most importantly, through a combination of distinguished research faculty and accomplished practitioners. How will you take advantage of being “at the very center of business”? (Maximum 250 words)

Please watch this video before attempting to answer the question and then keep it in mind as you write.

Really think about the points it’s making in terms what being at the center means: Access to an infinite variety of opportunities. Proximity to thought leadership and executive leadership. Convergence of theory and practice. NYC as an — if not the — international business center. Also note the emphasis in the question on bridging theory (the classroom) and practice (the opportunities that New York City provides).

After watching the video, think about how you intend to take advantage of the infinite opportunities and energy that reside at Columbia University and in New York City. How will you take advantage of the entrepreneurial eco-system in New York and Columbia University? The ties to bio science and pharma? Madison Avenue? The cutting-edge research and thought leadership? Not to mention the practitioners who lead Wall Street and teach at Columbia. Or will you explore the cultural riches of NYC and take advantage of the incredible business opportunities present in the arts and media?

Be careful not to speak of those opportunities in the generalities that I have. If you are interested in luxury goods marketing, as stated in your short answer, then write here about how you will take advantage of Madison and 5th Avenues as well as Columbia’s offerings. If you are interested in finance or consulting, Manhattan and all the businesses in it are at your feet. How will you benefit from this incredible location as well as the practitioners teaching at CBS? 

Final point: you don’t have to address all the points raised in the video, but you do have to write persuasively about at least one. 

Essay 3. CBS Matters, a key element of the School’s culture, allows the people in your Cluster to learn more about you on a personal level. What will your Clustermates be pleasantly surprised to learn about you? (Maximum 250 words)

Please watch this video to have an idea of what “CBS Matters” is about.

Make sure you understand Columbia’s Cluster System.  And if you have any lingering doubts whether this question is about professional achievement, watch the video again. It’s not.

You can use this essay to bring out something fun that you like to do. Would you try to get your cluster to train for a marathon? Set up a karaoke night? Plan a ski trip? Explore New York’s museums? Or you can reveal something non-professional that is important to you.  How have you contributed to social groups or causes in the past? Relate you plans to a past successful initiative, and you will enhance your answer to this question.

Or you could take a more serious approach to this question and discuss a challenge overcome. Show that you are a survivor, not a victim and far stronger as a result of this experience. If you take this approach, be careful to avoid TMI (too much information). You will have barely met these people.

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

Clearly you can use this optional essay question to address a weakness in your profile or qualifications, but in my mind, this question is also open-ended enough to allow you to discuss a diversity element in your personal background or simply some unique area of interest. Also, tucking a weakness explanation somewhere else would allow you to end the application with a strength and not a flaw.

Don’t use this essay as a grand finale or wrap up. And definitely don’t use it to rehash your reasons for wanting to attend Columbia; those reasons should be perfectly clear from the required essays. If you decide to respond to this essay, use it to educate the reader about another talent, interest, or commitment of yours. As always try to show leadership and impact. In short, give them more reasons to admit you.

If you would like professional guidance with your Columbia Business School MBA application, please consider Accepted’s MBA essay editing and MBA admissions consulting or our  MBA Application Packages, which include advising, editing, interview coaching, and a resume edit for the CBS MBA application.

Columbia Business School 2015 Application Deadlines:

January 2015 Entry: October 7, 2015

Early Decision: October 7, 2014

Merit Fellowship Consideration: January 6, 2016

Regular Decision: April 13, 2016

*All deadlines are 11:59 p.m. New York Time on the date listed.

Want to get accepted to Columbia?  Click here to reserve your spot for the webinar!
Linda Abraham By , president and founder of and co-author of the new, definitive book on MBA admissions, MBA Admission for Smarties: The No-Nonsense Guide to Acceptance at Top Business Schools.

Related Resources:

Podcast Interview With the Columbia Business School Admissions Team
Columbia Business School Zone
• Experiences & Advice from Columbia MBA Student Kendall Miller

Your Online Presence And Medical School Admissions

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Make sure that little birdie doesn’t hurt your chances.

Can your online presence affect the way an adcom will see you?

According to many admissions professionals, the answer is yes. The AAMC factsheet on social media cites Scott M. Rodgers, M.D., associate dean for medical student affairs at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, who says that “Every student should assume that admissions committees DO look up applicants online and sometimes come across information about people that can either hurt or help a candidate.”

How to make sure that your online presence doesn’t hurt your chances?

• Do web searches to see what is out there under your name. Some might be positive, some might be troubling, and some might not even be about you (but relate to someone with the same or a similar name)

• Be careful of your privacy settings on social networks. Approve tags from friends (so that a regrettable photo doesn’t end up public on someone else’s wall)

• Keep your own activity clean.

AAMC provides some other straightforward, good advice: always log out of public/shared computers, and keep your passwords private.

Webinar: Create a Winning AMCAS Application!

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Related Resources:

• 5 Fatal Flaws to Avoid in Your Med School Essays
• 5 Ways to Create, Clean Up, & Optimize Your Online Presence before Submitting Your Apps
Navigate the Med School Maze

Who’s Afraid Of The Big Bad MCAT?

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Scoir: The App For College Applicants

Check out our College Admissions 101 pages!

Can the college admissions process be transformed into a conversation?

What if the college admissions process could be transformed from its current form into a longer conversation between students and colleges, aimed at helping students find the best fit and colleges identify students with the potential to succeed in their programs? What if the process could identify students’ strengths at a level deeper than their GPAs and SATs? This is the goal of Scoir, a new software platform. I recently spoke with the project’s developer, Gerry McCrory, about Scoir.

McCrory envisions Scoir as a way to capitalize on social media tools to transform college admissions from a relatively brief, quantitatively based process (dependent on test scores and GPAs) into a qualitative engagement stretching throughout high school. Students will be able to use the platform to research and interact with colleges, while also developing a cloud-based portfolio of their own best work. Later in high school, when students narrow the list of their target schools, they can give those colleges access to the materials in their portfolio—allowing admissions officers a more nuanced perspective on student achievement than an SAT score.

Scoir has just launched the first phase of what McCrory intends will be a “full-blown holistic admissions network.” This first iteration, according to McCrory, provides students a college search experience that’s “social, visually immersive, and highlights unique aspects of a campus culture that can be used to discover colleges based on students’ personal interests.”  By June, students will be able to begin building their “digital portfolios” to showcase interests, abilities and achievements that they can then choose to share with college admissions offices.  He expects the full platform to be completed in time for the upcoming college admissions cycle.

He believes that this type of engagement—a social media platform that encourages students to go beyond the rankings and learn about what might really make a school a great fit for them, along with opportunities for colleges to see students’ achievement and potential across a range of disciplines—has the potential to improve the process for both sides. Currently, he told me, 17% of students transfer colleges after their freshman year, and 33% transfer before they graduate. Each of these transfers delays graduation by an average of 8 months, adding costs to tuition and to students’ debt burden. He believes that if the process could be made more transparent to begin with—if students had a clearer sense of where they were deciding to go, and colleges a clearer picture of the students they were admitting—everyone would benefit.

Scoir enables students to identify schools they may be interested in based on any number of variables—location, academic interests, hobbies, etc—and allows them to use information drawn from social media and the voices of students on campus, not just colleges’ marketing materials. The software platform would help students to learn about colleges they might otherwise overlook, and seek a great fit. Another goal is to promote transparency about the real cost of college.

The platform also employs principles of sharing and crowdsourcing to help students polish their work and demonstrate skills and creativity that aren’t currently showcased by standard college applications. For example, students will have the opportunity to engage in anonymous peer review of their creative work. And students will have the opportunity to participate in challenges/competitions (creative, academic, and technical) set for them by college representatives and industry experts, once again giving them the chance to demonstrate types of achievement and intelligence that are not recognized by metrics such as the SAT.

McCrory points out that the students most poorly served by the current admissions system are, on the one hand, those who come from poor families and under-resourced schools (where they may not get any college counseling) or who are the first in their family to apply to college; and on the other hand, those whose creative intelligence is not reflected by GPAs and test scores. By creating a qualitative engagement between applicants and admissions offices, he hopes Scoir will help both students and colleges make great matches.

The Scoir app is available through the itunes app store, and the web platform is available at

Find out what you can do NOW to make applying to college go as smoothly as possible!

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Related Resources:

College Application Tips for Parents
Will Facebook Destroy Your Admissions Chances?
• 5 Fatal Flaws to Avoid in Your College Application Essays

Applying To Business School Next Year?

Then you’ll want to check out the recording of our recent webinar, Get Accepted in 2016: 7 Steps to a Strong MBA Application.

In the webinar, Linda Abraham paves the way to acceptance to b-school by exploring the things you can do NOW to increase your chances of acceptance later on. When those applications are released, you’ll be ready to tackle them head-on and complete them efficiently and successfully.

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You’re just 7 steps away from creating your super-strong application (and getting accepted!). Get started now!

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