An applicant begins drafting one of her Columbia Business School essays

The Columbia Business School Essays: Your Ultimate Guide

August 14, 2021
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Part 1. IntroductionPart 2. Purpose of the Columbia Business School EssaysPart 3. What are the Columbia Business School Essays? Part 4. Top Tips for Crafting the Columbia Business School EssaysPart 5. Columbia Business School Essay Examples Part 6. FAQsPart 7. Conclusion


While having the perfect MBA resume and getting a high score on the GMAT or GRE exam are important factors, they are not all that matters when it comes to your MBA application. Business schools also care about who you are as a person and what you have to offer outside of your academics. 

Top universities like Columbia Business School give applicants the opportunity to present themselves in more detail through a series of short essay questions. This article will help you to better understand the ins and outs of writing the Columbia Business School essay. If you follow our tips, your Columbia Business School essay will convince the admissions committee that you should be a member of the Columbia community. 

Purpose of the Columbia Business School Essays 

Essays are an important part of Columbia Business School’s admissions process. As US News writes, essays help the business school admissions committees “gauge the compatibility of a prospective student with the culture and values of the institution.” 

Though there are a series of essays that you must write, you must recognize that they ultimately work together to serve a single purpose: to paint a complete picture of who you are and what you want to accomplish. At the end of the day, the admissions committee wants to admit candidates who are well-versed in each aspect of their lives.

What are the Columbia Business School Essays? 

Though the questions are subject to change with every passing year, each Columbia Business School essay typically follows a similar format and theme. First-time applicants are required to submit responses to one short answer question and three essay questions. Let’s take a closer look at the themes and format for each of these questions:

Short Answer Question

Your response to the short answer question must be short, direct, and to the point, given the question’s short response allowance. Applicants must respond in 50-characters or less, which includes letters, punctuation, and spaces. 

All in all, your response should be approximately eight words long. This question typically asks about your short-term career goals. Given the stringent restrictions, don’t worry about being grammatically perfect; there’s no need to write in full sentences or waste characters by saying things like “I want to…” or “I plan to.” 

Statements like these communicate nothing of substance and are not expected based on the short answer response examples. What is most important is that you get your message across as efficiently as you can. 

While the short answer question isn’t long enough to be considered a traditional essay, it should still be approached with the same level of care, thought, and focus as your other Columbia Business School essay responses. 

Think long and hard about what you want to say before you start writing. Columbia Business School has purposely designed this question to see if you have a good understanding of your aspirations and ambitions. The goals you allude to in this question should connect to what you discuss for the first essay question.

Columbia Business School Essay 1

The first of the three Columbia Business School essays typically requires applicants to focus on their long-term career goals. Feel free to use your response to the short answer question for the foundation of your answer. Consider discussing your goals over the next three to five years and exploring exactly how you intend to progress from your short-term to long-term career goals. 

While we encourage you to be as ambitious as you can when discussing your aspirations, don’t get too lost in your dreams for the future. Make sure to base your aspirations on reality and be as grounded as you possibly can. 

Show the admissions committee that your goals are not only ambitious but are also attainable. It is also worth considering how achieving your goals will impact those around you. Showing this level of consideration will indicate that you have not only put thought into the betterment of yourself and your career but the betterment of your community as well. 

While this question may not explicitly require you to link your answer back to Columbia Business School, it is always a good idea. How will attending Columbia Business School help you to make your goals come to life? This is perhaps best added briefly at the end of your response, in no more than a sentence or two.

Columbia Business School Essay 2

The second Columbia Business School essay will normally ask how you will fit into the institution's culture and history. A lot can be covered within this response, and like the previous two questions, it is best to be as concise and specific as you can. 

Before answering this question, spend some time doing thorough research on Columbia Business School and all they have to offer. Look into their extracurricular activities, renowned faculty, and their accredited, ambitious alumni. Another aspect you will want to look into is the importance of the school’s location. 

Columbia Business School takes pride in being in New York and sees the city and its culture as an extension of their campus. Even just a quick visit to Columbia Business School’s website will give you a good grasp of who they are as an institution and the qualities that they are looking for in potential candidates. 

Once you have a good grasp of the opportunities offered at Columbia Business School, be sure to make a connection between what you have researched and the plans and aspirations that you outlined in your two prior responses. While there is quite a bit more leeway between what you can say in this essay and the short answer question, you still have to be efficient to make the best of the word limit.

Columbia Business School Essay 3

The third and final required essay for your application is where the admissions committee learns more about you and who you are as a person outside of academics or your professional achievements. Though the question may ask you about a particular thing, like your favorite book, favorite role model, or even a time when you experienced failure, the answer you give isn’t what is important for this question. 

Instead, what you should focus on is what your answer says about who you are and how it has helped you become the person you are today. Given the nature of this question, don’t try to provide an answer that you think the admissions committee would want to hear. 

Write about topics or instances you are passionate about or feel that you have a personal connection with. Doing so will help you to showcase aspects that are unique about yourself. Be original and be genuine. Stay true to yourself, your beliefs, and your values.

Optional Essay 

In addition to the three essays, Columbia Business School also provides applicants an opportunity to provide the admissions committee with any relevant information that could not be conveyed within the other parts of their application. Do not feel as though you have to write a response if you don’t have any areas of concern. 

This essay is primarily for those applicants who need to explain situations such as any anomalies in their academic record (including transcripts and GMAT/GRE scores), inability to acquire recommendation letters, significant gaps in academic or professional experience, etc. Though this is a chance for you to provide any necessary explanations, do not make excuses. 

Your answer should be short, to the point, and focused solely on the facts surrounding your circumstances. After providing context, be sure to then explain the things you have done to address your concerns, also reiterating that despite your situation, you will be more than able to handle the academic intensity of their MBA program if admitted.

Top Tips for Crafting the Columbia Business School Essays

1. Understand Your Own Personal Brand 

A key component of pursuing a career in business that is both intentional and fulfilling is having a good understanding of your own personal brand. While this term can appear to be pretentious and overcomplicated at first glance, it is quite simple. 

Understanding your personal brand means spending some time thinking about the things you value, the situations you have evolved from, and the places you are trying to go in the future. Though business schools will rarely ask you about this explicitly, they will definitely do so indirectly. 

Questions about your own personal brand are sprinkled throughout the Columbia Business School essay section. It is important to show as much of yourself as you can in your responses. Don’t give answers that you think they would want to hear or edit too much of yourself to fit a guide that you found on the internet. 

The admissions committee wants to learn about who you are. There are thousands of people who submit applications to Columbia Business School every year, the great majority of which are highly educated, have stellar professional experience and recommendation letters. 

The only thing that will really set you apart from the next applicant is who you are as a person, your goals, and your aspirations. These essays are the best way for you to present the full picture of who you are professionally, academically, and personally. This is why it is important to be genuine and authentic in your responses. 

A good way to make sure your Columbia Business School essay represents you is to ask a close friend, family member, or anyone else who knows you really well to take a look at your essay. Ask them if it sounds like you before submitting your application. If you need help incorporating your own personal brand into your Columbia Business School essay, check out How To Assess If Your Essay ‘Truly Reflects’ Who You Are.

2. Tell Your Story

The ability to tell the story of who you are in your Columbia Business School essay is often the difference between those who move forward in the application process and those who do not. An easy way to do this is to make sure that you include real-life examples to drive your answers to the questions. 

Using these examples will enrich your essay with vivid details, which will have a greater impact on the reader than just making broad claims or general summaries. Though it is good to tell stories in your responses, refrain from embellishing the truth or being unnecessarily dramatic. Focus instead on using these real-life details as proof of your resilience, initiative, leadership, and ability to work as a team.

 3. Be Concise and Be Specific

Less is more when it comes to your Columbia Business School essays. The short word limit underscores the importance of being specific and to the point in your responses. Though there’s a lot you might want to communicate in these essays, remember that they are just one part of your application. 

Don’t just regurgitate experiences or skills that can be found in your resume, letters of recommendation, or other parts of your application. Instead, focus on building on and highlighting a few key accomplishments, details, and aspirations. 

Be intentional with the examples that you share and the language that you use. While you are trying to tell the story of who you are, you want to make sure that it is done in a way that is clear and easy to follow. Being concise and specific will also ensure that you stay focused and answer the questions being asked.

Columbia Business School Essay Examples 

Now that we have discussed what to expect when writing your Columbia Business School essay let’s take a look at a few questions that you can be asked and ideal responses.

Sample Question and Answer for Essay 2

Why do you feel Columbia Business School is a good fit for you? (250 words)

Columbia’s community is everything that I aspire to be a part of – diverse, inspired, and accomplished. Through classroom discussions with peers from across the globe, I wish to learn about how the interaction between governmental agencies and the private sector shapes economies around the world. In turn, I look forward to sharing my perspectives on the topic through my years of public sector management consulting at [Firm].

I am eager to capitalize on the unparalleled networking opportunities CBS offers by being in the heart of NYC. I can’t wait to interact with global private equity managers and policymakers to understand what [Country] needs to do to stay competitive and relevant as capitalism evolves. CBS’ rigorous academic curriculum creates exactly the kind of intense educational experience I seek. Electives such as Negotiations will help me strategize win-win situations as I seek to develop and execute privatization and capital-allocation strategies for governmental agencies.

As I think about the skills, networks, and thought-leadership that I wish to develop in order to realize my short- and long-term career goals, I see no better next step than an MBA at CBS.

This sample proves to be an effective response to the question for a number of reasons. Along with showing the applicant’s sincere interest in the opportunities at Columbia Business School, specific mention of opportunities and electives offered by the university shows that they have done their research. 

They have done well to highlight the importance of the school’s location, as it shows that they are aligned with the culture and values of Columbia Business School, which views New York City as the center of business and an extension of their campus. 

This response is also effective because it demonstrates that the applicant doesn’t just have something to gain by attending Columbia Business School, but their experience as a public sector management consultant also gives them something to offer. The sample also shows that the applicant has drive, ambition, and a clear path to achieve their goals. 

Sample Question and Answer for Essay 3:

Tell us about your favorite book, movie, or song and why it resonates with you. (250 words)

I have always been an avid reader of autobiographies, especially of statesmen and women who played pivotal roles in transforming their countries. However, a book that has left a lasting impression on me is The Singapore Story, a memoir of Lee Kuan Yew, the first Prime Minister of Singapore and a leader that I greatly admire.

The resolve, conviction, and tenacity that Yew embodied are truly inspirational. Painful recollections of him crying publicly after Malaysia chose to separate itself from Singapore are a powerful reminder of his struggles. Nonetheless, he never gave up. Singapore had no natural resources, and its people didn’t speak English. He talks about how, through persuasive communication, he encouraged Singaporeans to believe in themselves, marketed the country’s human resources, and took Singapore from being a colonial backwater to a global economic powerhouse in just three decades. I wish to embody similar grit and communication abilities in the coming decades as I work towards uplifting [Country’s] citizens and transforming its economy. 

It is clear from his book that Lee Kuan Yew was extremely straightforward and had incredibly disciplined clarity of thought and expression. His unvarnished views give fresh and unique perspectives, which are a valuable insight into how a small country like Singapore became so relevant in the global arena. One day, I hope to develop a similarly coherent vision, inspire my peers, and create a better planet for generations to come.

This sample for an essay three type question is successful because of the applicant’s choice of book. Though it is a bit obscure, choosing the memoir of Singapore’s first Prime Minister helps them to stand apart from other applicants. It shows that they are well versed and have global awareness. They do a good job of explaining the significance of their book of choice and how it inspires who they want to be and what they want to accomplish.


1. When should I start writing my essay? 

Columbia Business School operates on rolling admissions, and applications submitted for both early and regular decisions are reviewed in the order in which they are received. This means that the earlier you start your essay, and the earlier you submit your application, the better. 

Start researching and planning your essays as soon as Columbia Business School makes the questions available. The earlier you start, the more time you will have to write and edit your paper without the unnecessary stress of trying to meet the deadline.

2. How much should I be writing for my essays? 

The word limit for each of the three essays is subject to change with each passing year. Though it has been getting shorter in recent years, you can expect the word limit for each of the essays to remain in the range of 250 to 500 words.

3. Can I write over the word limit?

It is important to keep the word count into consideration when writing your essays, and we don’t recommend that you exceed the limit. Doing so can communicate that you don’t know how to follow instructions or that you are unable to properly organize your thoughts and ideas. 

If you are not sure about how much over the word limit is too much, a good rule of thumb is that 10%, either above or below the prescribed number of words, is typically acceptable. So, for example, if your word limit is 250 words, try not to write no more than 275 words and no less than 225 words.

4. What characteristics is the admissions committee looking for in my essay?

Columbia Business School is looking for applicants who are well balanced in their academic, professional, and personal lives. They look for people who demonstrate that they have grit, ambition, and integrity. 

Applicants should strive to show that they care about their community, are able to work in both team and leadership roles, and possess emotional and analytical intelligence.

5. What can I do to make my paper better?

Before writing, do as much research as you can. You want to be able to show that you understand how you are going to take advantage of the resources and opportunities available at Columbia Business School. Find out what is important to the university and then show how what you have to offer matches those things. 

Once you have done your research, take the time to plan out your essay. Doing so will help to keep you on track and take full advantage of the word limit. After writing your essay, make sure that it is free of grammatical errors and typos. 

Though it may sound trivial, editing and proofreading your essay is another way that you can improve the strength of your writing. Reading your essay out loud is a great way to evaluate the quality of your writing. 

The places that sound awkward are the areas that you should revise. Having someone you trust to look over your essay is also a good idea before you submit it. A second pair of eyes will provide you with a fresh perspective and can help you determine whether or not your points are coming across the way you want them to in your essay.

6. How can I make sure my essay stands out?

When writing your essay, don’t be afraid to be yourself. Showing passion, personality, or vulnerability is one of the ways that you can stand apart from other applicants. Be very selective with the real-life examples you are choosing to include in your essay.

Make sure that these examples allow you to demonstrate that you have some of the qualities that Columbia Business School is looking for in an applicant.


While it can be a challenging aspect of your MBA application, your Columbia Business School essay is a great way to tell the admissions committee who you are and what you have to offer. It is the aspect of your application that allows you to demonstrate the ways that you are aligned with the values and culture of the institution. 

When writing your Columbia Business School essay, remember to do your research, plan out your response and revise what you have written. If you use this as an opportunity to show your personality and vulnerability, you’ll be that much closer to submitting a strong application to Columbia Business School.

About Inspira Futures

At Inspira Futures, our sole focus is to get you accepted at your dream business school. Our team of experts consists of former admission committee members and alums from Harvard Business School, Stanford GSB, and other M7 schools. Our goal is to help you write great essays, ace interviews, and win scholarships. Without any stress or hassle. Our clients have gone on to secure admits at the world's top business schools while also being winners of some of the most prestigious scholarships like Stanford Knight Hennessy, HBS Baker Scholars, and many others.
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