Guide to MBA Applications • Guide to MBA Essays and Interviews in the US

Your Ultimate Guide to the Columbia Business School (CBS) MBA Essays

POSTED ON 06/09/2022 BY The Red Pen

How to Tackle the Columbia Business School MBA Essays

When it comes to putting your MBA application together, the essay is one of the most crucial elements. It serves as a way to tie together all your experiences, show the admissions committee who you are beyond your test scores and demonstrate how you are a good fit for their programme. 

Columbia Business School (CBS) Essay Analysis

Applicants to Columbia Business School (CBS) must complete one short answer question and three essays. The essays aim at eliciting information about your past and your envisioned professional life, how the CBS MBA fits into your journey, key personal stories, values that matter to you and your leadership style. Optimise valuable real estate to paint a coherent, distinctive and persuasive narrative of your experiences.

Morgan Janela, Director Admissions and Jordan Blitzer, Associate Director Admissions, shared the following high-level application tips for applicants in their recorded webinar for the 2020-21 application cycle:

  • Be your authentic self
  • Be as specific as possible in your application
  • Show that you’ve taken the time to get to know the programme
  • Show how you would engage with the CBS Community
  • Review your essays and make sure you are answering the questions asked

The school further added that it looks for intellectually driven people from diverse educational, economic, social, cultural and geographic backgrounds with a record of achievement, strong leadership and the ability to work in teams.

Are these traits well represented in your application? Reflect on whether you have led teams or been part of teams in college or at work. Did you start a college club or bring in new clients? Did you ideate something or introduce process efficiencies? You should speak of instances where you stood by your values, demonstrated a knack for building connections and made a lasting impact on your firm in the three required essays.

The Red Pen offers a variety of services that can help you stand out in the competitive MBA application process. Learn more here

How to Tackle the Columbia Business School MBA Essays

Essay Prompts – Short Answer Question:

“What is your immediate post-MBA professional goal?” (50 characters)

Tips on Brainstorming for the Essay:

Remember that this essay’s character limit (not word limit) includes spaces between words. Your challenge is to craft a sentence that best encapsulates your target immediate post-MBA role. Your best bet is to include your target industry, function, job designation and other elements specific to this goal. To make things easier, the admissions committee has shared examples of possible responses:

  • “Work in business development for a media company.”
  • “Join a strategy consulting firm.”
  • “Launch a data-management start-up.”

Essay Prompts – Required 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)

Tips on Brainstorming for the Essay:

  1. Articulate: In this essay, you need to articulate how you foresee your immediate post-MBA role (from the short-answer question) evolving in the mid-term. Show progression in your career, focusing on skills you will acquire or enhance in the next few years and how those skills will build on your previously demonstrated capabilities to pivot you towards achieving your long-term career goals.
  2. Demonstrate: While thinking of your long-term goals, be cognisant of words like ‘imagination’ and ‘dream job’ in the prompt. The essay requires you to think BIG – holding a position of power and showcasing how you will make an impact, such as bringing a positive social change or solving a systemic issue. Demonstrating a vision that creates impact at scale will speak to the school’s mission: “We are committed to educating and developing leaders and builders of enterprises who create value for their stakeholders and society at large”. It is also an opportunity to choose a sector/industry that resonates with you. For instance, you could be a wine connoisseur with an eventual goal of introducing home-bred wines in your country that would give a consistent revenue, source-free of market vagaries to the grape farmers in your region. While your long-term goal can be lofty or creative, you need to lay out a path connecting your mid-term and long-term goals to convey that even your biggest dreams are attainable. If you are currently in transaction advisory with an immediate post-MBA goal of IB, demonstrate your career progression by showcasing which skills you would gain in IB to move to the buy-side and then pivot to PE with an eventual goal of launching a venture fund that focuses on social enterprises.
  3. Contextualise: Set the context for your career goals within a specific past career or personal experience that represents your motivations, transferable skills, personality traits, etc. In the example above, you could talk about how an experience advising a social enterprise in a transaction advisory role or an intense pro-bono experience contributed to the capacity building of nonprofits alongside your full-time work.
  4. Identify Gaps: Finally, it is advisable to briefly share the skill gaps that an MBA will help you overcome to achieve these career aspirations. Be cautious of overlapping content with the ‘Why CBS” essay (if you are planning to opt for that essay)

Suggested Essay Structure With Word Count Breakup:

Depending on your story, you could either have a top-down or bottom-up approach, i.e. flesh out your long-term goals first and then show the mid-term goal as the critical missing piece to achieve it. Around 400 words should be allocated to the career goals, with the balance 70-100 odd words for “Why MBA”. The split between mid-term and long-term goals would depend on where you have relevant context to share. However, ensure you do justice to both elements.

Essay Prompts – Required Essay 2:

“We believe Columbia Business School is a special place. CBS proudly fosters a collaborative learning environment through curricular experiences like our clusters and learning teams, co-curricular initiatives like the Phillips Pathway for Inclusive Leadership, which aims to equip students with the skills and strategies necessary to lead in an inclusive and ethical manner and career mentorship opportunities like our Executives-in-Residence programme. Why do you feel Columbia Business School is a good fit for you academically, culturally and professionally?” (300 words)

Tips on Brainstorming for the Essay:

  1. Remember that this essay helps Columbia Business School evaluate your fit. When laying out your reasons for considering CBS, consider Michael Robinson, Admissions Director at CBS, quote: “In the end, we want people who are going to add value to our community and you can’t really add value without knowing the community, taking the time to immerse yourself and asking: ‘Is this the right thing for me, given what I want to do?'”
  2. You must outline how CBS resources, including the MBA programme, will uniquely equip you with the skills or exposure needed across the three dimensions (academic, cultural and professional) to succeed in the immediate and future career aspirations outlined in the first essay. The essay provides specific context towards how you will use the skills you acquire during the programme to lead inclusively and ethically. Deepen the impact of your essay by rooting it in personal anecdotes and stating how these elements have played an important part in the outcomes you achieved. This will help you display a strong personal connection with the school – why its curricular and co-curricular offerings appeal to you. The school’s location is integral to its MBA experience, so don’t forget to share how you see NYC as an essential part of achieving your goals. While you can include specific personal interests that have influenced your choice, avoid generic statements, including details like tourist attractions within NYC.
  3. To demonstrate your fit with the school and its culture, make a list of CBS features across academic, career and community offerings that align with your target industries/functions. For instance, you may want to take a class with a faculty who has expertise in cutting-edge research in your area of interest, pursue an in-semester internship, collaborate with the overall CBS community at the Tamer Centrer for Social Enterprise or seek mentorship with an Executive-in-Residence.

Stephanie McCalmon, CBS MBA, 2019 shared, “By the time I was applying to CBS, I’d gone to several events, met with admissions officers, [and] spoken to current students and alums, so I knew how to map my career-to-date and interests onto what I wanted to get from and contribute to CBS across academics, career and community.” Similarly, leverage the following resources to discover numerous opportunities at CBS:

Suggested Essay Structure With Word Count Breakup: 

This essay’s word count can seem tight, given the plethora of unique CBS features. It is an excellent idea to bucket resources according to themes and then weave multiple CBS resources around a common theme while conveying what you will gain and how you will add to the MBA experience.

The Red Pen offers a variety of services that can help you stand out in the competitive MBA application process. Learn more here

Essay Prompts – Required Essay 3:

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

Tips on Brainstorming for the Essay:

This essay aims to get a sense of who you are as a person. List possible options, whether a book, movie, or song; think of themes around your upbringing, values, passions and experiences that are important to you. Then, from your list, identify the topic that best correlates with your chosen personal traits. Be creative – while your preferred plot might resonate with your personal beliefs or experiences, it may have been significant at a defining moment in your life. The chosen topic need not be universally popular. However, if you chose an obscure object, giving a brief context or mentioning how you came across it is advisable.

It would be best if you elaborated on how facets of the chosen subject speak to your value system. However, remember that the topic needs to show who you are and what matters to you personally, not how it relates to your professional life. For instance, if the subject of your chosen book focuses on how the protagonist utilises sports as a medium to psychologically empower the refugees, merely talking of how those insights have nurtured your values of an adaptive team leader at work will not provide an all-encompassing insight into who you are in other areas of your life. In this essay, the personal elements of your life need to take precedence.

Suggested Essay Structure With Word Count Breakup:

Remember, YOU are the hero of this essay and not the book/movie/song. So, state your favourite subject directly and then explain how you associate with it by emphasising your life experiences.

Essay Prompts – Optional Essay:

“Is there any further information that you wish to provide the Admissions Committee? If so, use this space to provide an explanation of any areas of concern in your academic record or your personal history. This does not need to be a formal essay. You may submit bullet points”. (Maximum 500 words)

Tips on Brainstorming for the Essay:

Write this essay only if there is an extenuating circumstance in your candidacy that you feel needs additional explanation – a low GPA in a particular subject/semester, gaps in your education, lack of proven quantitative ability, etc. Avoid writing about gaps in professional history or the inability to submit a recommendation from your immediate supervisor since those are covered in the online application form. Therefore, it is critical to thoroughly study the online application form before you start thinking about the application essays.

Suggested Essay Structure With Word Count Breakup:

While the given word limit is 500 words, focus on brevity and don’t treat this essay as an opportunity to impress the admissions committee.

Essay development is part of The Red Pen’s end-to-end MBA Admissions Consulting packages. Each year, our applicants have been admitted to some of the best universities, including Columbia Business School. Get in touch with us for an introductory session today!