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Columbia’s New Essay Questions & Writing on Your Failures

As of yesterday, Columbia’s 2018-2019 application is available, and it’s notable that CBS is debuting two new essay questions (three are required).

CBS’s new #3 essay question piques our interest:

“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).”


The trend among essay questions over the last several years has skewed toward behavioral, with programs posing essay questions requiring candidates to demonstrate substantial self-reflection. But another trend is a desire to mitigate the misperception that programs are seeking perfection or the perfect candidate.

This sentiment was expressed elegantly last year by Conrad Chua, head of MBA admissions at Cambridge Judge at the CentreCourt MBA Festival in London:

“We really like to see where students have failed and bounced back from it. And that’s becoming quite difficult to see because a lot of the younger generation really seem to have this drive towards being perfect. I think the key thing is we want to see how you’ve bounced back from failure because when you’re on the MBA it’s going to be tough.”


In its new essay prompt on the subject of failure, Columbia invites you to consider the circumstances and pivot points that shaped you into an ever-wiser human being, and in particular, the challenges you’ve faced and overcome along the way. What’s most compelling to the admissions committee on the topic of failure is what you’ve learned from your experience, whether you’ve had to face your fears, and whether you’ve demonstrated the grit and persistence to bounce back and forge ahead with new awareness.

It’s somewhat counterintuitive that the best candidates often have the most awful and memorable failure stories. As INSEAD’s former Director of MBA Admissions, I’ve reviewed hundreds of attempts to answer the question of failure (INSEAD asks applicants to “describe a situation where you failed” and how the experience, along with the achievement you’re most proud of, impacted your relationship on others).

As my colleague Matt Symonds quips, this type of essay should really be titled, “What I learned after I drove my car into a tree.” The failure essay prompt is a hard one. You want to choose something meaningful enough to discuss that has some depth to it, but without dwelling on the negative or painting yourself in an unredeemable light. You also do not want to choose something that has no impact. Being a perfectionist is not a failure for example, nor is your lamentable average GMAT score. It’s certainly a fine line what you choose to discuss in this essay, but the point is to demonstrate how you’ve grown from the experience.

Here’s what Columbia is asking for in its application essays for this year:

Short Answer Question:
What is your immediate post-MBA professional goal? (50 characters maximum)

Examples of possible responses:
“Work in business development for a media company.”
“Join a strategy consulting firm.”
“Launch a data-management start-up.”

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 3-5 years and what, in your imagination, would be your long-term dream job? (500 words)

Essay 2:
How will you take advantage of being “at the very center of business”?
Click photo. (250 words)

Essay 3:
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)

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)


First Round Deadlines for the 2018/2019 admissions season

Deadline School Decision
September 5, 2018 – R1 Harvard Business School TBD
January 3, 2019 – R2 Harvard Business School TBD
October 3, 2018 – early action Columbia Business School TBD
January 4, 2019 – rolling admissions Columbia Business School TBD
April 10, 2019 – final deadline Columbia Business School TBD
September 18, 2018 – R1 Wharton December 13, 2019
January 3, 2019 – R2 Wharton January 3, 2019
April 2, 2019 – R3 Wharton May 9, 2019

Deadlines for the 2018/2019 admissions season: European Schools


Deadline School Decision
Sept 19, 2018 – R1 (Sept. 2019 intake) INSEAD November 23, 2018
November 14, 2018 – R2 INSEAD January 25, 2019
January 9, 2019 – R3 INSEAD March 15, 2019
March 6, 2019 – R4 INSEAD May 10, 2019
May 1, 2018 (rolling) HEC Paris June 8, 2018
June 1, 2018 HEC Paris July 6, 2018
July 1, 2018 HEC Paris July 27, 2018
August 15, 2018 HEC Paris September 21, 2018
September 15, 2018 HEC Paris October 19, 2018
October 15, 2018 HEC Paris November 16, 2018
November 15, 2018 HEC Paris December 14, 2018


So far, HBS, Columbia and Wharton are the first of the M7 to debut their 2019 admissions deadlines, but stay tuned to Fortuna Admissions for updates as more are announced in the coming weeks. For the most essential facts and stats on each program, check out Fortuna’s Business School Profiles.

Fortuna Admissions Co-Founder and Director Caroline Diarte Edwards served as Director of MBA Admissions & Financial Aid at INSEAD. 

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