Tips for Completing Your 2014 Columbia Supplement to the Common Application

New York City

What makes Columbia special?

When I visited Columbia University, it was clear to me that the undergraduate college takes distinct pride in two things: the 100-year-old Core Curriculum and the University’s relationship with the city in which it resides.  The Columbia University supplement reflects those emphases.  As a prospective student, I encourage you to think about how these two components of the Columbia education fit with your educational goals.

The Columbia supplement consists of several lists and three short answer questions.  For the quick questions about your interests, which ask you to list books, concerts, media that you have enjoyed over the past year, provide straightforward responses.  As an academically engaged student, there should be plenty of media and arts that have captured your attention.  Share both the mundane and the more unusual.  If you have a strong interest in a subject area, chances are your reading interests at least peripherally relate.  The Core Curriculum at Columbia includes humanities courses that focus on music and art in addition to literature, and the question about performances or exhibits dovetails with this component of the curriculum. These courses also take advantage of the rich opportunities available to students in New York City.

The three 300 word responses are equally straightforward.  With each of these questions, remember to relate your answers to your own experiences and how they have impacted you. This year, Columbia is one of a number of colleges who have adapted the “expand upon an extracurricular activity” from previous versions of the Common Application.  The second question asks you to expand upon one of the books, artworks, or creative works you listed earlier in the supplement.

The final response asks applicants what they consider most appealing about Columbia.  In answering this, you have so many options, including Columbia’s place as one of the few remaining colleges with a swim test (College only, not engineering) but think carefully about what makes Columbia special, including the integration of a strong campus center (the vast majority of students live on campus for four years) with the accessibility of the city and its commitment to a core curriculum.  There are many facets to Columbia that make it distinctive, and therefore, your short answers about your interest in Columbia should be specific.  If you feel that you need more information about Columbia and its programs, check the website for more information about their fall evening programs in cities around the United States.

Columbia is a member of the Common Application, and does offer an early decision program for students who are confident that Columbia is their first choice.

Download 5 Fatal Flaws to Avoid to learn how to eliminate the most common flaws in your application essays.


Whitney Bruce By , who has worked in college admissions since 1996. She has served as a Senior Assistant Director of Admissions (Washington U), Application Reader (University of Michigan), Assistant Director of College Counseling (private prep school in St. Louis), and an independent college counselor. She is happy to advise you as you apply to college.

  • douglie digg

    Quick question, for the list of books, should we answer in complete sentences or is it okay to literally list different books?

    • Whitney

      In my past experience, it has been sufficient for students to simply create a list of books. Good luck!