Ivy League schools require supplemental essay responses in addition to the basic Common Application or Coalition Application essay. These elite schools try to gain a deeper understanding of the applicant through these supplemental responses. Think of them as your opportunity to explain how this particular school is a good match for you and vice versa. Your goal is to convey what is important to you and how the school fits into your future goals. It is also to help you demonstrate that you have done your homework as an applicant: that you’ve learned how your target school operates– which clubs are running, what courses are offered, what sports team you want to try out for. You want to make it clear to those reading your essay that you fit into the school community like a hand in a glove!
As you prepare to respond to the supplemental questions, consider the overall character and focus of the school in relationship to your personal objectives. Begin with a visit to the school website, read about their educational mission, and think about how the school supports your interests. Columbia takes pride in the synergy created between its diverse residential student population and its location in the heart of bustling New York City. It also embraces a rich educational tradition in its interdepartmental Core Curriculum that encourages creative critical thinking by encompassing writing, science, philosophy, literature, art, music, and history. Make sure to keep all of this in mind as you think about why Columbia might be the best educational experience for you.
The Columbia supplemental questions below ask you to reflect on your academic, extracurricular and intellectual interests:
Columbia College 2020 – 2021 supplemental application essay prompts
Applicants are asked to respond to Columbia-specific questions to tell the Admissions Committee more about their academic, extracurricular and intellectual interests. The Columbia Adcom reviews the responses to these questions in order to get a full sense of each unique individual beyond the other parts of the application.
For the four list questions that follow, we ask that you list each individual response using commas or semicolons; the items do not have to be numbered or in any specific order. No explanatory text or formatting is needed. Please respond to each of the three short answer questions in 200 words or fewer.
Columbia supplemental prompt #1
List the titles of the required readings from academic courses that you enjoyed most during secondary/high school. (150 words maximum)
This can be an opportunity to showcase a particular area of interest to you and reflect the content level at which you engaged in a given subject. Consider classes in which you discovered something new and exciting, which allowed you to explore an area of interest in more depth, or where you covered a topic that helped you see the world in a different way. Do not include books you hated, even if they are considered famous or classic; if Of Mice and Men did not speak to you, do not include it. Also, if possible, draw on multiple subjects, such as English, history, and academic elective courses.
Alternatively, instead of showcasing a particular interest, you might use this as an opportunity to show the breadth of your reading knowledge. You might, in fact, showcase both breadth and depth. We recommend that you 1) review ALL the books you read in your high school courses, 2) remove any you did not like reading, and 3) consider the remainder. Remember the tight word limit, so be selective in your titles, and be ready to speak to each book you list, were they to come up in an interview. Rule of thumb: if you can’t speak about it, don’t list it.
Columbia supplemental prompt #2
List the titles of the books, essays, poetry, short stories or plays you read outside of academic courses that you enjoyed most during secondary/high school. (150 words maximum)
Just like the first prompt, it’s best to start with a long laundry list of texts and cut down based on which you remember, enjoyed, and can speak about. Here is a chance for you to show both breadth and depth in your reading: ideally, include texts from all the aforementioned genres (plays, books, etc); include classics and modern works; include varying levels of rigor or challenge.
Columbia supplemental prompt #3
List the titles of the print or digital publications, websites, journals, podcasts or other content with which you regularly engage. (150 words maximum)
The sources of information and media you engage with routinely provide insights into how you perceive the world. This list to some degree demonstrates what topics are important to you. It also indicates the modes of information exchange you find most comfortable and denotes the media sources that influence your perspective.
Columbia supplemental prompt #4
List the movies, albums, shows, museums, lectures, events at your school or other entertainments that you enjoyed most during secondary/high school (in person or online). (150 words maximum)
This list allows you to tell the admissions committee the sorts of activities you do for fun! What do you find amusing or intriguing, relaxing or intellectually challenging? Your responses suggest the kinds of activities that may appeal to you at Columbia and provide insight about how you engage the world around you. See our recommendations above for addressing the first two prompts– they apply here, as well!
Columbia supplemental prompt #5
Columbia students take an active role in improving their community, whether in their residence hall, classes or throughout New York City. Their actions, small or large, work to positively impact the lives of others. Share one contribution that you have made to your family, school, friend group or another community that surrounds you. (200 words or fewer)
For this prompt, you are being asked to focus on one contribution. This means 1) avoid generic contributions (eg, “I’m a good friend”) and 2) dig deep into the contribution you choose to write about. Perhaps you volunteered as a camp counselor; were a pro bono writing tutor; supported your friend through a terrible loss. In each of these cases, your job is twofold: to be precise about the contribution you made (including how you contributed, how much you contributed- if quantifiable, and the impact of your contribution on those around you), and to extrapolate broader ideas and reflections about this experience. How did it change you? What kinds of contributions do you want to make at Columbia/in NYC, and how might you plan to do that?
Columbia supplemental prompt #6
Why are you interested in attending Columbia University? (200 words or fewer) *
This is a very important question for two reasons.
First, this question is implicitly asking you to demonstrate that you have done your research and know that Columbia is the best school to help you meet your goals. Before answering this question, you’ll want to do some research and consider the following: Why is Columbia your ideal college community? Is the vibrant relationship between the university and the city significant to you? Which clubs, courses, and teams would you like to participate in, and why? What about Columbia appeals to you that you cannot get at any other school?
Second, this question is, on a deeper level, asking you to tell the admissions committee something about what you value on a personal level. Do you care about the performing arts and want a stellar theatre program? Is there a unique community service club you’d want to help lead? Is there a particular professor or course you are passionate about taking? Convey your enthusiasm! The adcom wants to know what kind of student you might be at Columbia.
Final thoughts on applying to Columbia
The admissions website clearly states Columbia’s commitment to a holistic approach to the admission process: “every single application is given a thorough review, and there is positively no minimum grade point average, class rank, or SAT/ACT score one must obtain in order to secure admission to Columbia.” That said, Columbia has a highly competitive applicant pool. The combined Columbia College and Columbia Engineering programs received 40,084 undergraduate applications for the fall of 2020. Only 2,544 or 6.3% were offered admission and over 95% of students admitted were in the top 18% of their high school class with average SAT scores between 1500 and 1560 (combined evidenced-based reading, writing, and math) and average ACT scores between 34 and 35. As you can see, your essays are the keys to making you more than a number.
Hard as it may be, it is essential to remain calm and focused. Be sure to allow yourself appropriate time to reflect on your educational goals and to convey your best self to the admissions committee through your essay responses. Keep in mind, while adhering to the designated word limits and deadlines, that your goal is to distinguish yourself from your peers by sharing your personal examples, anecdotes, and perspectives. Provide sincere insight into what makes you you, and show why you are such a good match for Columbia!
Additionally, we highly encourage college applicants to get the guidance of an experienced admissions specialist who will help you stand out from the highly competitive applicant pool so you can apply with confidence, and get accepted! Click here to get started!Marie Todd has been involved in college admissions for over twenty years. Marie has both counseled applicants to top colleges and evaluated 5000+ applications for the University of Michigan's College of Literature, Science and the Arts; College of Engineering; School of Kinesiology; School of Nursing; and Taubman College of Architecture. Want Marie to help you get accepted? Click here to get in touch with Marie Todd.
- 5 Fatal Flaws to Avoid in Your College Personal Statement, a free guide
- Focus on Fit, a podcast episode
- School-Specific Supplemental Application Essay Tips