MBA Application Essay Tips, Columbia Business School Essay Analysis, 2021–2022
Columbia Business School (CBS) requires its applicants to submit three written essays but gives them some level of agency by allowing them to choose from multiple topics for two of them. A short-answer goal statement of just 50 words must also be provided. CBS’s first essay prompt is likewise about candidates’ career aspirations, but in the long term instead and in much more in depth (at 500 words). For their second and third essays, applicants select two prompts from a group of three, one concerning inclusiveness, one about why they want an MBA from CBS in particular, and one that deals with a cherished book, movie, or song. Together, by balancing career goals with more personal, values- and character-based topics, the school’s essays should provide candidates with sufficient opportunity to provide a well-rounded impression of themselves as aspiring MBAs. Read on for our detailed analysis of the program’s 2021–2022 questions.
Short Answer Question: What is your immediate post-MBA professional goal? (Maximum 50 Characters)
CBS applicants accustomed to Twitter’s 280-character allowance might find CBS’s 50-character limit here more than a little challenging—especially considering that it includes spaces! To get a sense of how brief your opportunity really is, note that the school’s prompt is itself exactly 50 characters. With such limited space, this can hardly be considered a true essay, but you will need to approach it with the same level of thought and focus you give all your other written responses for CBS. During a Q&A mbaMission conducted with several top admissions officers, Assistant Dean of Admissions Amanda Carlson commented,
“That 50 characters really helps people to just break it down very simply for themselves and simply for us . . . . Pursuing business education, it’s a huge investment in time, in money, in effort, in energy, and I think this 50-character exercise is as much for the candidate as it is for our team, and we want to know that people are serious, they’re focused, and they’re ready for this kind of adventure.”
So, this prompt is a no-nonsense request for information that is all about getting to the point and telling the admissions committee what it needs to know—that you have a clear and achievable goal. The school even provides a few sample responses, including “Work in business development for a media company” and “Join a strategy consulting firm,” illustrating that conveying the requested information in such a tight space is definitely doable and that you do not need to worry too much about grammatical issues (in other words, you do not need to start your statement with “I want to” or something similar). We like to offer the statement “Reveal true goals, not what you think CBS wants” as both our own example of keeping things concise and our advice on how to approach and fulfill this request.
Think about what you truly want to do with your career in the short term and state this aspiration directly. Keep in mind that the rest of your application needs to provide evidence that your stated goal aligns with your existing skills and profound interests, especially once they have been augmented by an MBA education. This will show that your professed goal is achievable and lend credibility to your statement. If you can do this in 50 characters (not words!), you will have done what you need to answer the school’s question quite well.
Essay #1: Through your resume and recommendations, we have a clear sense of your professional path to date. What are your career goals over the next three to five years and what, in your imagination, would be your long-term dream job? (500 words)
CBS starts this essay question by more or less telling you not to recap your career to date, so we strongly recommend that you do so (and briefly, at that) only if context is absolutely needed for your stated goals to be understood and/or believable—perhaps if you are making a fairly remarkable career change. Pay particular attention to the phrases “dream job” and “in your imagination” with respect to the long-term portion of the question. The school is prompting you to be creative and perhaps even to challenge or push yourself to think big. CBS wants individuals who do not just follow prescribed paths according to someone else’s blueprint but who are aspirational and more inclined to forge their own way. This is not to suggest that if you have a more traditional plan in mind that you are in trouble or at risk of losing the admissions committee’s attention, but you may need to take a little extra time to consider your ambitions from the perspective of “what if?” and delve more deeply into what you hope to achieve to find the more personal and inspiring elements of your goals. Showing creativity and individualism here can only be helpful.
Although this is not a request for a textbook personal statement essay, your response will certainly involve some elements of the topics covered in such a submission, such as short- and long-term goals. The mbaMission Personal Statement Guide offers advice on brainstorming and crafting such essays along with multiple illustrative examples and could therefore be helpful in preparing your CBS response to this prompt. You can download your free copy here.
Essay 2 and 3: Please respond to two (2) of the three (3) essay questions listed below:
Option #1: The Phillips Pathway for Inclusive Leadership (PPIL) is a new co-curricular program designed to ensure that every CBS student develops the skills to become an ethical and inclusive leader. Through PPIL, students attend programming focused on essential diversity, equity, and inclusion skills: Creating an Inclusive Environment, Mitigating Bias, Communicating Across Identities, Addressing Systemic Inequity, and Managing Difficult Conversations. Tell us about a time you were challenged around one of these five skills. Describe the situation, the actions you took, and the outcome. (250 words)
After the past year, we are not at all surprised to see many of the top programs adding questions related to diversity and inclusion to their applications. In business school—as in life in general—you will encounter people who think differently from you, operate according to different values, and react differently to the same stimuli. And success in an endeavor often involves evaluating and even incorporating the views of others in one’s efforts. With this essay prompt, CBS wants to learn about your firsthand experience with such differences. While you are in the school’s MBA program, you will be surrounded every day by individuals who are unlike you in a multitude of ways, and you will need to work in tandem with and alongside these individuals when analyzing case studies, completing group projects, and participating in other activities both inside and outside the classroom. And now, CBS has created a specific program to help students more easily and appropriately navigate topics and situations concerning “diversity, equity, and inclusion.” But first, the admissions committee wants some evidence that you are capable of learning such lessons and incorporating them into your subsequent behaviors and mind-set.
To start, be sure that you understand the three highlighted concepts fully: diversity, equity, and inclusion. Of the three, equity is the most easily misinterpreted, with people often assuming it is interchangeable with equality. While equality implies same, equity implies fair—requiring not that everyone be provided for or treated identically but rather that each person be provided for or treated appropriately for their particular situation. Similarly, true inclusion goes beyond simply providing a seat at the table, so to speak, for everyone on a team and demands that each person be invited or at least allowed to contribute in a meaningful way and that those contributions be valued on par with those of other team members.
The admissions committee wants to know that you are capable of recognizing not only the benefits of being inclusive and equitable but also the harm caused by the unfair treatment or exclusion of certain individuals—and that what you experienced affected you in a way that subsequently influenced your beliefs about how people should think and/or act. Note that the question is not necessarily asking about a time when you yourself were the central character (though such stories could be the strongest options for some applicants). Perhaps you instead witnessed someone not supporting, or even opposing, these ideals and what the consequences ultimately were. In this case, avoid blaming the person or group doing the marginalizing and instead focus on sharing your emotional reaction to the incident and the ideas it inspired and/or altered in you, especially if they pertain to leadership. Very likely, the situation’s outcome revealed what the person in power should have done to bring about a more positive result, thereby highlighting for you the importance of cultivating a particular ability or quality.
Without question, over the past year, we have seen people in a multitude of contexts and situations in which ensuring fairness and appropriate inclusion has been incredibly challenging. And like the past year, this essay prompt is asking a lot of you. You need to answer multiple questions and provide sufficient context in just 250 words—the prompt itself is almost one-third of that! You do not have room for subtlety or extended explanations, so choose your words carefully and be as straightforward and clear as possible. Once you have identified a difficult instance you experienced that involved one or more of the three highlighted themes, simply describe the incident in sufficient detail that the theme(s) involved is (are) clear.
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