Columbia’s MBA prompts are designed to give you a chance to show one thing: your focus. How are you going to deal with the distractions of New York City? What are you going to do with your degree as soon as you have completed the program? In response to this question, Columbia does not even want an essay. They simply want a phrase:
What is your immediate post-MBA professional goal? (50 characters)
The most important thing to keep in mind when you provide your 50-character goal (see Columbia’s website for some examples) is to make sure that your response aligns with the goals that you identify in your first essay.
Columbia’s MBA Essay 1 Prompt: Through your résumé and recommendations, we have a clear sense of your professional path to date. What are your career goals over the next 3 – 5 years and what, in your imagination, would be your long-term dream job? (500 words)
For business applicants, nothing is more important than your goal, and the best approach with a goals essay is to state your goal in your opening paragraph. Keep in mind also that the reader may not have access to the resume, so if your goals involve working for a particular company, be sure to be clear about this in the text.
Because of the way Columbia has set up its prompts, it is better to avoid references to New York City in this essay, because this should be the focus of your second essay. Referring to the advantages that the program has in terms of providing particular skill sets (that you will need for your goal) are best in this essay.
Columbia’s MBA Essay 2 Prompt: How will you take advantage of being “at the very center of business”?
This prompt can get you into trouble because this is an invitation to talk about all of the advantages of living in New York City. This will lead to a lot of deathless clichés, none of which will advance your cause as a candidate for Columbia. Apart from that, how are you going to deal with all of the distractions of New York City?
One of the best ways to show them that you can avoid all those distractions is to identify the specific programs at Columbia that you hope to participate in. Almost any verbiage in this essay about the advantages or allure of living in New York City will backfire (the committee has heard it all), but an essay that is focused on specific opportunities and references to how you could contribute in them is ideal in response to this prompt. Keep in mind also that if you already have family or business ties in New York City, mentioning these can advance your cause as well (familiarity with New York City is one of the best preparations – if not the best preparation – for studies there).
Columbia’s MBA Essay 3 Prompt: Please provide an example of a team failure of which you have been a part. If given a second chance, what would you do differently? (250 Words)
What sets this prompt apart is the fact that it is requesting so short a response. Since you have to develop a very short essay in response to this prompt, the thing to do is to focus less on the details of the failure than on what you would do differently. One approach is to actually identify two or three things that you would do differently (or learned about) in your opening sentence (“In my failure on project X, the three main lessons involved…”). You can then go on to refer to each particular lesson and how you learned it in this setting.
The Optional Essay for Columbia MBA Candidates
An optional essay for Columbia is appropriate if there are additional aspects of your candidacy that need to be explained, such as gaps in employment, academia, etc. It can also work to your advantage if you can talk about a recent activity (a new community service endeavor, for example) that is very favorable to your candidacy but that appears nowhere else in the packet.