• 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.
January 2016 Entry: October 7, 2015
Early Decision: October 7, 2015
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.
By Linda Abraham, president and founder of Accepted.com 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.