Thoughts on Columbia Essays 2013-2014 (Class of 2016)

I like the increased confidence and focus that I’ve been seeing in Columbia’s application; over the past two years they’ve moved away from the generic “Why Columbia” in their goals essay, and instead asked applicants to connect their goals and themselves to specific aspects of the program. Last year that was the Cluster System. This year it’s New York City itself. Columbia Business School is located in the heart of the world’s business capital – Manhattan.

How do you anticipate that New York City will impact your experience at Columbia? (Maximum 250 words)

I’ve been working with all of my clients to create answers that have more depth than just, “New York is the center of business/finance/culture/entertainment/etc.” Everybody knows these things, so what else can you say? You must provide detailed linkages to your career development or else your reasons will be generic, uninspiring, and impersonal. And don’t be afraid to include personal reasons as well, whether it’s your love of art and theater or wanting to run the New York City Marathon. Whatever you want, you can find it in this most amazing of places.

Given your individual background, why are you pursuing a Columbia MBA at this time? (Maximum 500 words)

And here is the goals essay itself. Very straightforward and with an emphasis on the timing, not why Columbia. I’m telling my clients that if they spend anything more than a sentence or two on Why Columbia, then they’re making a mistake. Instead, I tell them they need to focus on the “push” and “pull” factors that make this the right time to apply. By “push”, I mean usually negative factors, such as limited career growth opportunities or the realization that your current career path is not the one you want to be traveling. By “pull”, I mean the glistening opportunities that you see just about the time you graduate. Obviously, the latter is more attractive to business schools, as everyone wants to know what’s next. This is your chance to show that you’ve done your homework on your goals, that you know the opportunities you are pursuing and why. Because of the short-term nature of Columbia’s question, your goals should likewise focus on the short term. An adcom member confirmed that with one of my clients at an information session.

What will the people in your Cluster be pleasantly surprised to learn about you? (Maximum 250 words)

Make it personal. Make it surprising. Make it delightful. Make it fun. Make it unusual. Make it exciting. Make it interesting. No one cares if you build the most excellent linked Excel spreadsheets.