Columbia University

How To Ace The Columbia Business School Interview

March 2, 2024
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About Columbia Business SchoolColumbia Business School Interview ProcessHow to Prepare for the Columbia Business School InterviewWhat Does The Columbia Business School Interviewer Look For?Tops Tips on How to Successfully Ace the Columbia Business School InterviewFAQs

Congratulations! You’ve made it to the next stage of the application process: the Columbia Business School interview. It’s a big accomplishment, and a lot of hard work went into getting here, but the hard work isn’t over yet. 

While you may think you can go into an interview and charm your way into the program, your interviewer will notice if there is little sustenance to your responses.

This makes it imperative that you prepare answers to common questions in advance. Ivy League business schools, such as Columbia Business School, are incredibly competitive, and a stellar performance in the interview will help secure your place in the incoming class. 

This article will tell you everything you need to know about how to ace the Columbia Business School interview.

About Columbia Business School

Columbia Business School opened its doors in 1916 at the main campus of Columbia University in Manhattan. Columbia’s mission has been to develop the next generation of industry leaders. 

Equally important to Columbia is cultivating business leaders who will eventually become scholars, giving back to the academic community by sharing their wealth of knowledge with the generation to follow.

A balance of theory and practice has shaped Columbia’s business programs, and students will gain an equal amount of theoretical and practical expertise. As one of the oldest business schools in America, Columbia has had a lot of time to develop its academic programs which has resulted in the school being a leader in business education.

Columbia is a well-known Ivy League school, and it’s incredibly competitive to gain admission at any of the prestigious Ivy League schools. Columbia is also an M7 business school, a group of leading business schools that are the best in the nation and are renowned worldwide. The M7 designation and the collaborative approach taken by the M7 schools to continually improve their students’ educational experience makes it even more competitive to get into any of these schools, including Columbia.

The Ivy League and M7 designations combine to make Columbia one of the most lucrative business schools in the country and an attractive option to prospective applicants.

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Columbia Business School Interview Process

The Columbia Business School interview, the second stage of the application process, can be conducted in person or via video chat. Expect questions about your career goals, leadership experiences, and how you'll contribute to the school community. Let’s take a closer look. 

Who Will be Interviewed

Given the large size of the applicant pool, the Columbia Business School interview process is extensive. Interviews are the second stage of Columbia’s application process. All applications are screened by at least two members of the admissions committee.

This is when the admissions committee reviews the documents you provided during the initial application, including your resume, transcripts, essays, and letters of recommendation. If the admissions officers like what they read in your application, you will be invited to an interview. 

When You Will be Notified

Columbia reviews January entry and Early Decision applications first, so if you want to hear back about your application quicker, you may wish to apply in one of these admission rounds. 

Regardless of the round you apply in, the Columbia admissions committee aims to notify you within six weeks of submitting your application. They will inform you if you are invited to an interview or if they have decided not to proceed with your application. 

Interview Format

Interviews are primarily conducted in person by Columbia Business School alumni. Columbia will try to set your interview with alumni in a location close to you. 

If there are no alumni near you, your interview will be conducted over the phone or through Skype by an admissions officer or a current student. Throughout your interview, your interviewer will be taking notes. They will then write a report and submit it to the admissions committee.

The Columbia Business School interview uses a blind interview format. Interviewers are only provided with your resume, so you cannot expect them to know any details you may have provided in other aspects of your application. With this interview format, you must elaborate on your experiences and skills because your interviewer is learning this information for the first time.

You can expect your interview to take 45-60 minutes. The interviewer may begin by asking you to tell them a little bit about yourself, including a brief synopsis of your past education and current employment. 

There will likely be follow-up questions, such as how your role fits into the industry where you work. This could lead to your interviewer asking you to explain why you want a business degree, why you’ve chosen to apply to Columbia, and what makes you a unique applicant.

Location of the Interview 

The location of the Columbia Business School interview is typically decided based on what's convenient for both you and the interviewer. Before the interview, the school will work with you to find a suitable time and place that works well for everyone involved, whether it's on-campus, at a nearby location, or through a video chat platform like Zoom or Skype.


Columbia Business School interviews usually last between 45 and 60 minutes. However, the exact length can vary depending on factors such as scheduling constraints. For instance, there have been instances where interviews lasted for as short as 30 minutes due to time constraints on the interviewer's end.

What to Expect During the Interview

You should expect to describe your short-term and long-term career goals, so it’s essential to be prepared both with these goals and how you want to achieve them. There’s also a good chance you’ll be asked if you have a backup plan if your goals don’t work out, and you should be able to elaborate on that plan. This question would provide insight into how you handle failures and setbacks, which can be challenging to respond to if they catch you off-guard.

To give meaningful answers to these questions, you must have a backup plan and practice talking about what you would do if you were not successful in meeting your goals or getting into business school.

You may also be asked questions regarding how you respond to uncomfortable or problematic situations in the workplace. Your interviewer will likely want to know about a time you made a mistake that had significant consequences, a time you faced adversity or an ethical dilemma you’ve encountered.

When answering these questions, be sure to provide insight into how you responded in these situations, which factors influenced your actions, and what you learned from the overall process.

You can also expect to answer questions regarding any extracurricular or volunteer activities you highlighted on your resume, and you will most certainly be asked about how you will get involved in the Columbia community if you are accepted.

Columbia wants to admit students who will fully invest themselves in what Columbia and New York City have to offer, so you will need to be able to articulate how you will spend your time at Columbia outside of the classroom. This can include hobbies, interests, volunteer work, and extracurricular activities.  

In addition to wanting to know if and how you’ll contribute to the school, your interviewer will probably want to gauge how attuned you are to national and global news. Like all highly competitive business schools, Columbia wants to admit the best of the best, and that includes individuals who are aware of the world beyond their specific field.

Similar to questions about current events, it would be wise to also prepare to answer questions about the impact the financial crisis has had on your industry, a technology advancement or emerging trend affecting your industry, and anything else related to significant news headlines at the time of your interview.

Two of Columbia’s greatest values are teamwork and leadership, so you should prepare to spend a significant portion of the interview responding to questions about these skills. Your interviewer will likely inquire about the type of role you usually take on while working as part of a team.

They may also want to know if you’ve ever been in a leadership role and, if so, the details of your management style. You may also be asked some tough questions about a time you were part of a challenging team and how you handled working with a difficult individual(s), as well as about a time when you failed and how you coped with that.

The Columbia Business School interview is an excellent opportunity for your interviewer to get a sense of your communication style and interpersonal skills based on the content of your responses as well as how you articulate them. 

Even so, you should still prepare to describe your interpersonal and communication skills in case they want to ask you specific questions about those skills.

At the end of the interview, you’ll have the opportunity to provide any additional information that you didn’t have a chance to discuss at an earlier point in the interview but you feel is relevant to the admissions committee. You can also ask the interviewer any questions you may have about the program or Columbia.

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How to Prepare for the Columbia Business School Interview

Columbia’s interview process is long, and it may seem like you won’t have enough time to prepare for it adequately. However, the process will become more manageable by breaking the interview down into manageable sections and beginning to prepare as early as possible.

First, you’ll want to take the categories of questions detailed in the previous section and write out possible questions as a list under each category. You may wish to use some of these categories and corresponding sample questions below when preparing. 

Category One: Questions About Me

  • Tell me a little bit about yourself.
  • How does your current role fit into your industry?
  • Why do you want an MBA?
  • Why do you want to earn your MBA from Columbia?

Sample Answer: “Tell me a little bit about yourself.”

“I'd be happy to share a bit about my background. I grew up in a multicultural household where I was exposed to diverse perspectives from an early age. This upbringing instilled in me a curiosity about the world and a passion for learning. I pursued my undergraduate studies in economics, where I developed a strong analytical skill set and a keen interest in understanding how businesses operate within the broader economic landscape.

After graduation, I began my career in consulting, where I had the opportunity to work with a variety of clients across different industries. This experience honed my problem-solving abilities and taught me how to effectively collaborate with teams to drive results. However, I soon realized that I wanted to deepen my understanding of business strategy and leadership, which led me to pursue an MBA.

I am particularly drawn to Columbia Business School because of its reputation for academic excellence, its diverse and dynamic community, and its location in the heart of New York City. I believe that the school's rigorous curriculum and emphasis on experiential learning will provide me with the tools and knowledge I need to achieve my career goals.”

In my free time, I enjoy traveling, exploring new cuisines, and staying active through activities like hiking and yoga. I also have a passion for volunteering and have been involved in various initiatives aimed at empowering underserved communities.

Overall, I am excited about the opportunity to further my education at Columbia Business School and to contribute to the vibrant community of scholars and practitioners. I am confident that my unique background and experiences will enrich the learning environment and enable me to make meaningful contributions both inside and outside the classroom.

Category Two: Questions About My Work and Goals

  • What are your short-term and long-term goals? How will you achieve them?
  • How will an MBA help you achieve those goals?
  • What will you do if you are not able to achieve those goals? Do you have a backup plan?
  • What makes you unique from all the other applicants?
  • Tell me about a time when you made a mistake at work. How did you address the situation?
  • Tell me about a difficult situation you encountered at work. How did you approach the problem?

Sample Answer: “What are your short-term and long-term goals? How will you achieve them?” 

"In the short term, my goal is to leverage the comprehensive resources and rigorous academic environment at Columbia Business School to enhance my skills in strategic thinking, financial analysis, and leadership. I aim to secure a challenging internship opportunity in a leading organization where I can apply classroom knowledge to real-world business scenarios.

In the long term, I aspire to transition into a leadership role within the strategic planning or corporate development division of a global corporation. I envision myself driving impactful initiatives that foster growth and innovation while simultaneously creating value for both shareholders and stakeholders.

To achieve my short-term goals, I plan to actively engage in Columbia's vibrant community through participation in case competitions, industry treks, and networking events. Additionally, I will seek guidance from faculty mentors and alumni connections to gain insights into internship opportunities and refine my career trajectory.

For my long-term objectives, I recognize the importance of continuous learning and professional development. Therefore, I intend to pursue specialized coursework and experiential learning opportunities offered at Columbia to deepen my understanding of industry trends and hone my strategic decision-making skills. Furthermore, I aim to cultivate a strong professional network and seek mentorship from seasoned executives to navigate complex business challenges and seize emerging opportunities.

Overall, my approach to achieving my goals involves a combination of academic excellence, practical experience, and mentorship, all of which are integral components of the Columbia Business School experience."

Category Three: Questions About My Leadership and Teamwork Skills

  • Describe a time when you were in a leadership role.
  • How would you describe your leadership style?
  • What type of role do you most commonly take on while working on a team?
  • Have you ever been on a team with a challenging member? How did you approach the situation?
  • Tell me about a time when you worked on a team and failed.
  • How do you negotiate conflicts in the workplace?
  • How would you describe your interpersonal skills and communication style?

Sample Answer: “Describe a time when you were in a leadership role.”

"During my time as the project manager for a team tasked with launching a new product line at my previous company, I found myself in a significant leadership role. One particular instance stands out: we encountered a major setback when a key supplier unexpectedly backed out, jeopardizing our timeline and budget.

In response, I immediately called for an emergency team meeting to assess the situation. Rather than panicking, I adopted a calm and decisive approach, reassuring my team that we could overcome this obstacle together. I encouraged open discussion and brainstorming, empowering team members to voice their concerns and ideas.

Drawing upon my leadership skills, I facilitated a collaborative problem-solving process. 

We quickly developed a contingency plan, identifying alternative suppliers and reallocating resources to mitigate the impact on our project timeline. I delegated tasks effectively, leveraging each team member's strengths to execute our plan efficiently.

Through clear communication and unwavering support, I inspired confidence and motivation within the team. Despite the setback, we rallied together, worked tirelessly, and ultimately successfully launched the product line on schedule, exceeding our stakeholders' expectations.

This experience taught me the importance of remaining resilient in the face of adversity, fostering teamwork, and leading by example. It reinforced my belief that effective leadership is not just about making decisions, but also about empowering others and driving collective action towards a common goal."

Category Four: Questions About My Interests

  • Tell me a little bit about [x] extracurricular or volunteer activity on your resume.
  • What are you passionate about?
  • How do you spend your free time?
  • How will you contribute to life at Columbia?

Sample Answer: “What are you passionate about?” 

“In my view, my passion centers around utilizing technology to drive business growth and social impact. I've always been fascinated by how innovation can solve real-world problems. 

For instance, in my previous role at Iron Mountain, I spearheaded a project that leveraged data analytics to streamline our supply chain, cutting costs and reducing our environmental footprint. It was incredibly rewarding to see technology make such a tangible difference.

Outside of work, I've volunteered with local organizations to teach digital skills to underserved communities. It's reinforced my belief that technology can be a powerful force for social good. I'm eager to continue exploring these passions at Columbia Business School and contribute to its culture of innovation and impact.”

Category Five: Questions About News Events

  • What impact has the current financial crisis had on your industry?
  • What technological advancement or trend is affecting your industry, and what are the implications of it?
  • What do you think about [x] current event in country A?

Sample Answer: “What technological advancement or trend is affecting your industry, and what are the implications of it?”

“In the context of the retail industry, AI is revolutionizing operations, customer interactions, and decision-making processes. One specific example is AI-driven chatbots deployed by e-commerce platforms to provide personalized customer support and assistance. 

These chatbots utilize natural language processing (NLP) algorithms to understand and respond to customer inquiries, helping to improve response times and enhance overall customer satisfaction.”

Category Six: Questions to Ask My Interviewer

  • What is it like to be a student at Columbia Business School?
  • What extracurricular activities did you participate in while at Columbia? What can you tell me about those experiences?
  • What type of challenges should I expect to encounter in my first semester or first year?

Columbia’s values are another critical element to keep in mind while preparing. Columbia values strong social skills, and they seek to admit students who demonstrate competence in leadership, teamwork, management, and negotiation. As outlined earlier, an entire portion of the interview is dedicated to questions about your teamwork and leadership skills.

You should allocate a good chunk of your preparation time to getting ready to respond to questions about everything from a time you demonstrated leadership to a time you worked on a team and failed. 

You’ll also likely be asked about how you manage yourself or others and how you’ve negotiated solutions to conflicts. The situations you choose to describe should be substantial enough to provide your interviewer with valuable insight into your ability to use these skills.

Although you need to demonstrate that you possess these skills, you should also show the potential to further develop them. Columbia fosters learning and growth, so you don’t want to come across as set in your ways during your interview.

You can pick a scenario to talk about where you learned how to improve your skills due to the experience. It doesn’t always have to be a positive experience that you use to describe these experiences; if a skill developed due to a failure, you could still talk about that situation. 

What Does The Columbia Business School Interviewer Look For?

During the Columbia Business School interview, the interviewer looks for candidates who align well with the program's values and culture. They assess how your skills, experiences, and goals match with what Columbia offers. It's important to demonstrate enthusiasm for the school and a commitment to contributing positively to both the campus and the broader community.

Top Tips on How to Successfully Ace the Columbia Business School Interview

There is a significant amount of work involved to prepare for your Columbia Business School interview. It can be challenging to determine how much time to devote to each aspect of preparing for the interview. Here are some of the top tips to help you ace your interview and get into Columbia, along with assisting you as you get ready for the big day.

  • Do your research ahead of time. This will give you excellent background knowledge of how the admissions committee screens its applicants and what they are looking for during interviews. It will also help you prepare practice questions and develop responses.
  • Review the interview format and make sure you know what is expected of you. You want to make sure you’re planning according to Columbia’s practices; otherwise, you may feel unprepared during your actual interview.
  • Be friendly and genuine throughout your interview, both through how your responses are worded and in your mannerisms. Don’t be afraid to be expressive and animated (within reason) while responding to questions.
  • Use practice questions to help you prepare. These can be designed on your own by researching the school and the program you’ve applied to and connecting with program alumni. Many interview questions outlined earlier in this article will assist you in preparing for the interview.
  • Get feedback on your responses to the practice questions. This will ensure your answers are sound and provide sufficient and compelling insight as to why you should be admitted to Columbia. It is best to do this by working with a knowledgeable expert on school-specific mock interviews. An expert will be able to give you constructive feedback to improve your answers as well as help you refine your set of practice questions.


Let's take a look at some commonly asked questions about Columbia Business School interviews!

1. When can I expect my Columbia Business School interview to take place?

Your interview date will vary depending on when you applied. January starts and Early Decision applications are reviewed first, and therefore, these interviews are scheduled first.

Regardless of when you apply, you can expect to receive a notice of rejection or an interview invitation within six weeks of submitting your application. Following your interview, you will be notified within two weeks as to whether you’ve been accepted, placed on the waitlist, or rejected.

2. Are interviews only in-person, or can they be conducted over the phone or virtually?

Columbia prefers to schedule interviews in person with school alumni who live close to you. However, this is not always possible, so if no alumni live near you, you can expect to have your interview with an admissions officer or current student either through video conferencing or over the phone.

3. What format is the interview?

Columbia Business School uses a blind interview format, meaning the only information your interviewer will know about you ahead of time is the contents of your resume. The interviewer will not be shown your letters of recommendation, transcripts, essays, or any other component of your application. 

Because of this, you will need to provide details you’ve already included in other parts of the application for the interviewer to get a comprehensive overview of who you are and your fit for Columbia. 

4. What if I’m asked a question I didn’t prepare for during my interview?

Even though you can spend many hours preparing, there is still a chance you will be asked a question you didn’t think of, or that was not mentioned in this article. If that happens, do not panic. Take a deep breath, take a moment to collect your thoughts, and then answer slowly. 

5. Do I have to ask questions during my interview?

It is not a hard-and-fast rule that you have to ask questions during your interview, but we highly recommend you bring a few questions of your own into the interview. Asking well-thought-out and meaningful questions demonstrates your interest in Columbia and are serious about attending the school.

Asking questions can also further open up a dialogue between you and your interviewer, and they can provide you with valuable insight into what it’s like to attend Columbia. This will help you decide whether or not it is your top choice, which will determine if you should send Columbia a letter of intent while you await a final decision or if you are waitlisted.

6. Should I memorize all of my answers?

No, you do not need to memorize all of your answers. Practicing a few times will help you feel more confident answering those same questions during your interview, but you don’t want to sound like you are reading your answers directly off a page.

Being too rehearsed can lead to you sounding robotic, and you don’t want that to happen. You can practice a few times so you know the details you wish to provide for each question and don’t feel caught off-guard by every question.

7. How Long Is The Interview in The Columbia Business School?

The Columbia Business School MBA interview typically lasts for 45-60 minutes. The interview length can change based on scheduling. Sometimes, it's as short as 30 minutes if the interviewer has limited time.


If you’re feeling anxious about preparing for your Columbia Business School interview, you’re not alone. Interviews are a stressful part of the admissions process, and it’s a significant step that you’ve been invited for an interview. Now that you know how to ace the Columbia Business School interview and have a head start on your research, you’re ready to begin making notes.

Your notes should include questions to expect and resources that can help you prepare for your interview, such as this article. Once you’ve completed your notes, practice reading your responses out loud. This will help you remember what you wrote down. 

You should also get someone else to ask you the questions in a random order to get an experience more closely resembling the actual interview, which is best to do with an expert who can provide you with immediate feedback following your mock interview.

The advice in this article will help you effectively use your time while preparing for your Columbia Business School interview. Now that you know how to ace the Columbia Business School interview, it will ensure you have great answers ready to go.

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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