Go to a better blog!

You can find a better version of my blog at http://www.adammarkus.com/blog/.

Be sure to read my Key Posts on the admissions process. Topics include essay analysis, resumes, recommendations, rankings, and more.

June 12, 2010

Columbia Business School Essays for January and September 2011 Admission

In this post I discuss the essay questions for admission to the Columbia School of Business  January and September (Early and Regular Decision) 2011 MBA program. In addition to this post, those interested in Early Decision should read one of my earlier posts. You may also want to read my report on the CBS Event on 8/30/2010 in Tokyo.

You might also want to read a post I wrote last year on Columbia Business School's most famous alumni.

In this post, I will discuss who J-Term is for, Early and Regular Decision, and the essay questions.  But first, what has changed this year?


Columbia Business School has again reduced their essay count. They are now down to a total of 1250 words plus the optional statement.   Goodbye essays about theory versus practice and team failure, hello personality!

This change is really quite monumental.  In the previous year, there was no personality question, now there is only a goals essay, a personality essay, and an optional essay.

Frankly, 2010 was a great Columbia Business School year for my clients.  Three clients were admitted for  January 2010 and two were admitted for Early Decision for September 2010.  You find testimonials from some of them here.  While the advice that I gave those 2010 admits would still hold true for Essay 1, I have had to rethink how to approach this school's essays, which is what makes writing essay question analysis interesting.

The Accelerated MBA, J-Term, can be great program for those who don't need an internship. I had three clients admitted for January 2010 and all of them had one thing in common: Real clarity about their goals and strong track records in their professions.  J-term is not for career changers, it is those looking to enhance their position within their present career trajectory and/or entrepreneurs. It is critical that you explain why the January Term program is right for you. According to the Columbia website:
The Accelerated MBA is ideal for you if
  • you are an entrepreneur;
  • you want to join your family business;
  • you plan to return to your current employer;
  • you are sponsored by your company;
  • you want to remain in the same industry;
  • you have built a strong professional network in the industry of your choice.
The program is designed for those students who do not want or need an internship. The principal advantage of the 16-month program is its accelerated format, which allows members of the smaller January class to network quickly and effectively and return to the workplace sooner.
Obviously you need to make the case in Essay 1 (The Goals/Why Columbia? Essay) that you meet the special criteria for this program and that an internship is not something critical for you. For those who don't need an internship, this is really a great program. If you think that an internship is not critical to your post-MBA goals, J-term is a great program. 

You can find my detailed discussion of Early versus Regular Decision here (I will update that post later, but the argument I make is unlikely to change). While I worked with two clients who were admitted for Fall 2009 in the Regular Decision Round, applying Early Decision is still ideal for anyone who considers Columbia to be their first choice and is ready by the application deadline. Columbia takes Early Decision very seriously, so I suggest you do as well. ED really is unique among top MBA programs and the decision to commit to it should not be taken lightly. In the post I previously referenced, I discuss this issue in great detail, so if you are thinking of ED, read it!

The Essay Questions and Instructions:
"You must complete two essays. An optional third essay will enable you to discuss any issues that do not fall within the purview of the required essays. Applicants who are reapplying within 12 months of a previous application for admission are required to write only a single reapplicant essay. Please note you may only apply once to a given term of entry. Knight-Bagehot Fellows: Please use the space allocated to the first essay for the Wiegers Fellowship Application essay.

Essay 1: What are your short-term and long-term professional goals? How will Columbia Business School help you achieve these goals? (Maximum of 750 words)

Essay 2: Please tell us about yourself and your personal interests. The goal of this essay is to get a sense of who you are rather than what you have achieved professionally. (Maximum of 500 words)"

Optional Essay
Is there any further information that you wish to provide to the Admissions Committee? (Please use this space to provide an explanation of any areas of concern in your academic record or your personal history.)

Reapplication Essay
 How have you enhanced your candidacy since your previous application? Please detail your progress since you last applied and reiterate your short-term and long-term goals. Explain how the tools of the Columbia Business School will help you to meet your goals and how you plan to participate in the Columbia community . (Recommended 750 word limit). 

Note that Essays 1 and 2  have a "maximum" length.  In prior years, the CBS questions always said "Recommended," so I would not exceed the word count for either essay.  Note that the length of the Reapplication essay is indicated as "Recommended," but even there I would not exceed the word count, simply because it is very clear that Columbia is trying to reduce the total number of words that they read per applicant.  


I think it is best to conceptualize this as an extended elevator pitch because 750 words is too long to be deliver in 1-2 minutes, but could be delivered in 5 minutes.  Your job is to convince admissions that your goals fit what Columbia offers.

Essay 1: What are your short-term and long-term professional goals? How will Columbia Business School help you achieve these goals? (Maximum of 750 words)
Over the years, Columbia has been very consistent in the way they ask this question. At first glance, it does seem pretty straightforward and common, but if you have looked at other schools' essays, you will likely notice that something is missing from it. Compare it to Kellogg and you will see that there is no reference to the past. While one must certainly address one's past when answering this question, there should be no extended analysis of your career progress to date. 

PAST PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE: Let your resume, application form, and references provide Columbia with a detailed understanding or your career. If they wanted to know about in the essays, they would ask. They don't, so respect their decision.  That said, given the fact that there are no essays to discuss your achievements at great length (Columbia previous had two essays in each application for that purpose), you should certainly address how your prior experience will contribute to your future goals, but focus this essay on showing how Columbia will help you achieve your goals.  Given that Essay 2 specifically requests that you don't focus on "what you have achieved professionally," you should certainly explain you will leverage your past experience to accomplish your goals.  CAUTION: DO NOT OVER-FOCUS ON ACCOMPLISHMENTS HERE, I AM SUGGESTING YOU DISCUSS SUCH EXPERIENCES ONLY IN THE CONTEXT OF AN ARGUMENT ABOUT YOUR GOALS AND WHY COLUMBIA IS RIGHT FOR THEM.

WHY COLUMBIA? The resources available at CBS and Columbia University are vast, so figure out specifically what you want from the school. The program is flexible, so identify your needs from Columbia as specifically as possible. Also keep in mind that CBS recently changed its core curriculum. After all, you want to show them you love and need them For learning about what is hot at Columbia, I suggest taking a look at their blog: Public Offering. Also look at Hermes which provides news on the Columbia community. You will likely want to write about taking a Master Class. Japanese applicants should most certainly visit http://columbiamba.jimdo.com/index.php.

Making a clear case why your goals are best achieved at CBS should be at the core of the essay. To make sure that they can see that, be very specific about what you need to learn at CBS to achieve your goals. I suggest reviewing some of the full course descriptions that you can find on their website.

If you are having problems clearly articulating your goals,
I suggest using my GAP, SWOT, AND ROI TABLE FOR FORMULATING GRADUATE DEGREE GOALS f (see below). I think Gap, SWOT, and ROI analysis are great ways for understanding what your goals are, why you want a degree, and how you will use it. (Click here for a GMAC report on MBA ROI. )

(To best view the following table, click on it.)

How to use this table:

Step 1.
Begin by analyzing your "Present Situation." What job(s) have you held? What was/is your functional role(s)? What was/are your responsibilities?

Next, analyze your present strengths and weaknesses for succeeding in your present career. REMEMBER:WHEN YOU ARE THINKING ABOUT YOUR STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESS DON'T ONLY THINK ABOUT WORK, THINK ABOUT OTHER ASPECTS OF YOUR LIFE. In particular, some of your greatest strengths may have been demonstrated outside of work, so make sure you are accounting for them.
Strengths: What are you good at? Where do you add value? What are you praised for? What are you proud of?
Weakness: What are you bad at? What are you criticized for? What do you try to avoid due to your own limitations? What do you fear?

, analyze the environment you work in right now. What opportunities exist for your growth and success? What threats could limit your career growth?

Step 2.
Now, do the same thing in Step 1 for your "Post-Degree" future after you have earned your graduate degree. IF YOU CANNOT COMPLETE STEP 2, YOU HAVE NOT SUFFICIENTLY PLANNED FOR YOUR FUTURE and therefore you need to do more research and need to think more about it.

Step 3.
If you could complete step 2, than you should see the "Gap" between your present and your future. What skills, knowledge, and other resources do you need to close the gap between your present and future responsibilities, strengths, and opportunities?

Step 4. After completing Step 3, you now need to determine how an MBA will add value to you. It is possible that an increased salary as a result of job change will be sufficient "ROI" for the degree to justify itself, but you should show how a degree will allow you to reach your career goals. How will the degree enhance your skills and opportunities and help you overcome your weaknesses and external threats? If you can complete Step 4 than you should be ready to explain what your goals are, why you want a degree, and the relationship between your past and future career, as well as your strengths and weaknesses.

The above table will also help you answer such common interview questions as: Where do you want to work after you finish your degree? Why do you want an MBA (or other degree)? What are you strengths? What are your weaknesses? What are your goals? Thinking about these issues now will help you to develop a fully worked-out strategy for how you will best present yourself both in the application and in an interview.

Making career goals exciting requires thinking about whether your goals are compelling. Admissions committees ask applicants to write about their goals after graduate school, but can applicants actually know what will be on the cutting-edge in two or three years? While many applicants will be able to successfully apply with relatively standard goals ("I want to be a consultant because..."), communicating aspirations requires going beyond the typical.

Be informed. Columbia Admissions needs to believe you know what you are talking about. If you are changing careers, no one expects you to be an expert, but you should come across as having a clear plan based on real research into your future. If you are planning on staying in your present industry, you should be well informed not only about the companies you have worked for, but about the industry as a whole. If you are not already doing so, read industry related publications and network.

Those September ED and RD applicants who are changing fields should most certainly read industry related publications in their intended field. Additionally I suggest conducting informational interviews with at least one peer level and one senior level person in that field. Conduct a peer level interview to get a good idea of what it would be like to actually work in that industry. Conduct a senior level interview to get the perspective of someone who can see the big picture and all the little details as well.

Don't know anyone in your intended field? Network! One great way to start is through LinkedIn. Another is by making use of your undergraduate alumni network and/or career center.

No matter whether you are changing fields or not, learn what is hot now and try to figure out what will be hot by the time you graduate. Now, of course, this is just a plan and chances are that what is hot in your industry or field now may very well be cold in the future. The point is to come across to Columbia Adcom as someone who is not only well informed, but has CUTTING-EDGE knowledge. In addition to Columbia's
Public Offering blog, also look at ideas@work, and The Chazen Web Journal of International Business. Some other great general sources for learning what is hot: Harvard Working Knowledge, Harvard Business Review, University of Chicago GSB's Working Papers, The University of Chicago's Capital Ideas, Stanford Social Innovation Review, Knowledge @ Wharton, and MIT Sloan Management Review.

You may also want to do a search on itunes for podcasts: My favorites are Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders (from the Stanford School of Engineering, but totally relevant) Net Impact, Chicago GSB Podcast Series, and Harvard Business IdeaCast. INSEAD, IMD, LBS, and Wharton also have podcasts.

LinkedIn Answers: Also consider joining LinkedIn and make use of LinkedIn Answers. LinkedIn Answers is a great way to tap into cutting edge expertise (including my admissions advice!). Follow LinkedIn's rules and you will often be able to obtain excellent information.

Hoovers: For information about specific companies, Hoovers is just a great way to learn about key facts including competitors (a very useful way of knowing who else you might want to work for and to learn about an industry). While primarily focused on the US, Hoovers does have listings for companies worldwide.

Vault: For scope of coverage, this site is a must. Vault includes both career and admissions information. It includes both company specific and industry-wide information.

Other sources: Read magazines, websites, and books that relate to your intended field.

I never participated in speed dating, but given the brief nature of the Columbia essay set, I think the speed dating metaphor holds because just as in speed dating, first impressions are everything.  For those not familiar with the concept, Wikipedia provides an excellent description. The film, The 40-Year-Old Virgin includes a rather funny speed dating scene. In this case, every applicant is given 500 words to charm CBS Admissions. Just remember that if you start talking about your professional accomplishments here, they will not be charmed. Here is a nice academic take on speed 

Essay 2: Please tell us about yourself and your personal interests. The goal of this essay is to get a sense of who you are rather than what you have achieved professionally. (Maximum of 500 words)"

I was, frankly, a bit shocked when I first saw this question, not because it is particularly odd, but because it represents a real change in what Columbia has been asking applicants.  They had previously eliminated their one personality question, but now personality is back!  

The question itself is asking for you to introduce yourself on a personal level.  Each applicant will have a very different way of doing that.  

1.Don't focus on facts that they can find elsewhere in the application.
2. In Essay 1, you have already discussed your goals and why you want an MBA from Columbia, so don't discuss goals and why MBA here.
3. Don't write about your professional accomplishments.

Some questions to get you brainstorming:
1. What do you want Columbia to know about you that would positively impact your chances for admission?
2. What major positive aspects of your life have not been effectively INTERPRETED to the admissions committee in other parts of the application?
3. If you were going to tell admissions two to five important things about you and your personal interests that would not be obvious from rest of the application, what would they be? Why should CBS care?
4. If there was one story about yourself that you think would really help admissions understand you and want to admit you, what is it?
5. Do you have a personal interest that you are very passionate about and committed to that would reveal important positive aspects about your personality?
6. If you have a sense of humor and/or creativity, how can you express it here? I suggest doing so if you can.

As you can see, these questions would lead to very different kinds of responses. There is no one way to answer this question, but I believe there are right ways for every applicant to do so.
  For some people, this essay could focus on one major topic, but for others it might be focused on three or more.  The important thing is to use your 500 words to leave Columbia with a strong positive impression about you as a person.  Without focusing on the professional, you need to reveal key aspects of yourself that will make Columbia admissions feel like you have the kind of personality to succeed in their program and afterwords.

Optional Essay
Is there any further information that you wish to provide to the Admissions Committee? (Please use this space to provide an explanation of any areas of concern in your academic record or your personal history.)
As with other school's optional questions, do not put an obvious essay for another school here. If you read the above, it should be clear enough that this is the place to explain anything negative or potentially negative in your background. If you have no explanation for something negative, don't bother writing about it. For example if your GPA is 2.9 and you have no good explanation for why it is 2.9, don't bother writing something that looks like a lame excuse. This is more likely to hurt than help you. In the same vein, don't waste the committee's time telling them that your GMAT is a much better indicator than your GPA (the opposite is also true). They have heard it before and they will look at both scores and can draw their own conclusions without you stating the obvious. That said, if you have a good explanation for a bad GPA, you should most certainly write about it.
You can certainly write on something positive here if you think its omission will be negative for you, but before you do, ask yourself these questions:
1. If they did not ask it, do they really need to know it?
2. Will the topic I want to discuss significantly improve my overall essay set?
3. Is the topic one that would not be covered from looking at other parts of my application?
4. Is the essay likely to be read as being a specific answer for Columbia and not an obvious essay for another school?

If you can answer "Yes!" to all four questions, it might be a good topic to write about, but my suggestion is to keep it brief so as to be consistent with the length for the other essays, ideally around 100-500 words.

Reapplication Essay
 How have you enhanced your candidacy since your previous application? Please detail your progress since you last applied and reiterate your short-term and long-term goals. Explain how the tools of the Columbia Business School will help you to meet your goals and how you plan to participate in the Columbia community . (Recommended 750 word limit).
The period of Reapplication at Columbia is rather limited, 12 months from the time of the initial application. If apply to Columbia more than 12 months after an initial application, you should apply as a new applicant. Columbia's Reapplication Checklist can be found here. You will not be able to submit new answers to essays 1-3, but will have to use only the reapplicant essay.

When judging reapplicants, Columbia makes it perfectly clear what they are expecting. See here for their criteria.

Clearly this essay gives you the opportunity to:
1. Showcase what has changed since your last application that now makes you a better candidate.
2. Refine your goals. I think it is reasonable that they may have altered since your last application, but if the change is extreme, you had better explain why.
3. Make a better case for why Columbia is right for you.
For more about reapplication, please see here and here.

CONCLUSION: Columbia Loves to Be Loved
One thing that is consistent about Columbia Business School is that they want to know that their school is your first choice. If you have an alumni interview you can be expected to be asked about that very directly. See here for my advice on Columbia interviews.

If you have not yet done significant Columbia related networking, you had better do so. See my earlier post on the value of networking.

Questions? Write comments or contact me directly at adammarkus@gmail.com. Please see my FAQ regarding the types of questions I will respond to.
If you are looking for a highly experienced admissions consultant who is passionate about helping his clients succeed, please feel free to contact me at adammarkus@gmail.com to arrange an initial consultation. To learn more about my services, see here. Initial consultations are conducted by Skype or telephone. For clients in Tokyo, a free face-to-face consultation is possible after an initial Skype or telephone consultation. I only work with a limited number of clients per year and believe that an initial consultation is the best way to determine whether there is a good fit. Whether you use my service or another, I suggest making certain that the fit feels right to you.

-Adam Markus
アダム マーカス

MBA留学 ビジネススクール カウンセリング コンサルティング コロンビア・ビジネス・スクール エッセイ
Real Time Web Analytics