Columbia Business School MBA Essays for 2022-2023: Tips & Strategy

May 30, 2022 | by Karen Hamou

Columbia Business School just posted its deadlines for the 2022/2023 season, along with a new essay question.  

Unlike its M7 rivals, Columbia operates on a rolling admissions process – both for early and regular decisions – and applications are reviewed in the order that they are received. The new Early Decision deadline is September 28, 2022 (which commits you to Columbia if you’re admitted), with January 11, 2022, as the Merit Fellowship deadline, and April 5, 2023, as the final deadline.

There are clear advantages to applying early for the Columbia MBA: the pool tends to be smaller and your application will likely gain greater visibility. Either way, if Columbia is on your target list of programs, the earlier you start working on your essays, the better.

Speaking of trends, MBA essay questions over the last several years have skewed toward behavioral, with programs posing essay questions requiring candidates to demonstrate substantial self-reflection. Like Standard GSB’s iconic essay ‘what matters most & why,’ Columbia essays 2 and 3 epitomize the notion ‘simple, but not easy.’ As each essay question should help build a coherent and powerful narrative for your candidacy, I’m offering my advice on how to tackle each prompt.

As a Fortuna Admissions coach and Columbia Business School alum, as well as a former Deloitte Consulting recruiting lead, I’ve seen firsthand how the best candidates translate their experiences into a narrative that’s both distinctive and persuasive. Onward to the strategy.

How to Tackle the Columbia MBA Essay Questions

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

The Admissions team wants you to be direct, succinct, and demonstrate direction (ambition is good but be realistic). This is an opportunity to provide a simple headline that lays the groundwork for subsequent essays on your career goals and reasons for pursuing the Columbia MBA. But note the subtlety that asks what you envision doing, rather than the position you hope to secure in a specific company. Rather than a narrow path such as ‘strategy consultant at Bain’ or ‘senior analyst at Morgan Stanley,’ you can open things up by indicating what you hope to achieve in a sector, such as ‘consultant focusing on clean technology’ or ‘structure investment deals in real estate.’

There is no right answer here, but whatever you choose should be coherent and credible based on your past experience combined with the Columbia MBA. Columbia is looking to see that you know what you want to do, have a general understanding of that role, and that you understand the paths that would be available to you coming out of Columbia.

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)

A common mistake here is to focus on where you have been rather than where you are going. Columbia specifically asks what your future career goals are, and so a substantial portion of the word count should specifically address short- and long-term goals (at least 250 words, if not more). It often helps to start with a brief hook to show what inspires you to take the path that you will then lay out. It can be a brief anecdote, a quote, a reflection on something that happened in your past, etc. Then, offer a (very brief) paragraph explaining what you have done on that career path to date, just to put a bit more context around the goals you will then introduce.

Short-term goals can be more specific than long-term goals. You certainly need to have a general idea of what you would like to do in the long term, but given that it would be quite a few years out, the admissions committee is not expecting the same level of detail there as they are for the immediate post-MBA goals. Again, Columbia is looking to see that you have a clear understanding of where its MBA can take you.

Essay question 2 is new this year.  While essay 1 invites you to speak to your professional ambitions, your two remaining essays should contribute to a fuller picture of who you are and what matters to you outside of the office. Note: 250 words each is scant real estate for storytelling, so you’ll want to aim for substantive yet succinct in your responses. Below is the new essay with additional context, along with my advice on how to respond to each of the prompt.

Essay 2 (NEW in 2022): 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 program.

Why do you feel Columbia Business School is a good fit for you academically, culturally, and professionally? (300 words)

It’s helpful to understand that the new question #2 distills last year’s choice between two questions. Last year, applicants were asked to either speak to a time they were challenged around one of the five “essential diversity, equity, and inclusion skills” addressed in its new Phillips Pathway for Inclusive Leadership (PPIL) co-curricular program, or, answer why CBS is a good fit. This new, singular question – particularly encompassing its context-setting statement – underscores Columbia has taken a more explicit stand around its values related to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the context of cultivating essential leadership skills. Moreover, the framing of the new question around fit related to CBS “academically, culturally, and professionally” invites you to make this connection as well, and to showcase the kind of person you are and the leader you hope to be.

This essay question prompts you to explain why CBS is uniquely positioned to help you achieve your goals. It is a great opportunity to demonstrate that you have done your homework and are passionate about attending Columbia. You should showcase your deep knowledge of the school and the engagement that you’ve had with members of the Columbia community. Self-reflection is essential here: Channel your authenticity and courage to show how you connect through your experience to Columbia’s values related to collaboration, mentorship, and DEI. Then, make clear where you hope to let this shine at CBS.

Even though it isn’t directly in the essay prompt (as it has been in previous years), you should still explain not only why Columbia’s campus life and leadership culture is right for you, but also why want to pursue the MBA in New York City, as NYC is such an integral part of the Columbia experience.

Essay 3: Tell us about your favorite book, movie or song and why it resonates with you. (250 Words)

Once again a required essay question (last year it was among the options), this is for the creative-leaning wordsmiths who are undaunted by having a little fun with getting personal. Know that Columbia cares less about the book, movie or song you choose, but rather the values, characteristics and insights that your choice conveys about what makes you tick. Just as any work of art – literature, film, music – has the ability to transform or reflect unspoken truths, the Admissions Committee wants to understand what moves you.

This essay is where you can really display who you are under the surface, beyond the ambitious achiever with a sparkling record of successes. While essay 1 shows the professional path you want to take in life, essay 3 can add additional depth to the type of person, and business leader, you want to be. So whether your artistic choice is an undisputed classic, political satire, or a Steampunk thriller, dare get personal and do not get stuck trying to pick the perfect, most impressive one. What is much more important here is the WHY behind your selection, how it speaks to you, and its impact or influence on how you show up.

Want more advice? 

For everything you need to know about how to get into the Columbia MBA program, from program basics and admissions requirements to our team’s insider tips for admission success, read my related blog: How to Get Into Columbia Business School: MBA Application Requirements. You can also view Fortuna’s Columbia MBA B-School Profile.

You can also view Fortuna’s M7 Admissions Masterclass below, which offers a deep dive on the Columbia MBA and how to position a standout application.

Let’s Get You In.

Fortuna Admissions is a dream team of former MBA Admissions Directors and Officers from the world’s most elite business schools, including the Columbia MBA program. With our unparalleled collective expertise, we are able to coach you to develop a clear vision of your goals for business school and beyond. We work closely with you throughout the application process and provide expert guidance at every stage to maximize your chances of admission to a top school.

Our free consultations are consistently rated as the best in the industry. To learn more about Fortuna and assess your chances of admission to CBS and other top programs, request a free consultation.

Updated May 30, 2022


Fortuna Admissions Expert Coach Karen Hamou is a Columbia MBA alum and former Deloitte Consulting recruiting lead, as well as well as #2 ranked consultant globally in Poets & Quants list of the Top 20 MBA Admissions Consultants of 2021. For more free advice and a personal, candid assessment of your chances, you can sign up now for a free consultation.

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