Stay on top of the latest

Advice, tips and insights from the
admissions dream team.

Table of Contents

How to Tackle the Columbia MBA Essay Questions

Columbia Business School requires three essays in its MBA application. The Columbia essay prompts probe your career goals, your track record as an ethical and inclusive leader, and your commitment to the CBS community and to co-creating your MBA experience. 

In Essay 2, Columbia’s MBA admissions team is once again asking applicants to describe a time when they were challenged around one of five skills essential to becoming an inclusive and ethical leader. That’s a question that should be confronted with courage and careful self-reflection. I have some advice on how to respond below, but first, let’s take the application questions from the top.

Columbia MBA 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 clear, overarching headline that lays the groundwork for subsequent essays that cover your career goals and reasons for pursuing the Columbia MBA.

Note that the question asks about your goal; it’s subtly asking what you envision doing, rather than the position you hope to secure in a specific company. A strong answer will indicate 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, bolstered by the Columbia MBA. The admissions committee 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.

Tips for Columbia MBA Essay 1

Essay 1 remains the same:

Through your resume and recommendation, 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 is your long-term dream job? (500 words)

My advice for this Columbia essay prompt is to be sure to focus on the future and how your Columbia MBA will get you there. A common mistake here is to write about where you have been rather than where you are going. The school 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, and so on. Then, it helps to 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 the admissions committee is not expecting the same level of detail about where you will be decades from now as they are for the immediate post-MBA goals. Again, the school is looking to see that you have a clear understanding of where a Columbia MBA can take you (and then essay 3 will show how the MBA will help you get there).

Tips for Columbia MBA Essay 2

The Phillips Pathway for Inclusive Leadership (PPIL) is a co-curricular program designed to ensure that every CBS student develops the skills to become an ethical and inclusive leader. Through PPIL, students attend programming focused on five essential diversity, equity, and inclusion skills: Creating an Inclusive Environment, Mitigating Bias and Prejudice, Managing Intercultural Dialogue, Addressing Systemic Inequity, and Understanding Identity and Perspective Taking.

Describe a time or situation when you had the need to utilize one or more of these five skills, and tell us the actions you took and the outcome. 

Alternatively, please share a specific example of how you made a team more collaborative or fostered a greater sense of community within an organization. (250 words)

This essay seems to reflect the importance Columbia Business School places on its values of diversity, inclusion, and equity and the importance of explicitly cultivating the specific skills that ethical, inclusive leaders need.

Here, you have wide flexibility and latitude in your response. After all, there are five specific skills to choose from. You can, of course, address several. Or you can choose the alternate option that focuses more on a situation and your actions. 

This offers many ways to highlight how you’ve engaged in one of five themes and how you have built and nurtured teams. Your response should identify one meaningful example from your career or experiences, and then extract lessons learned that showcase the kind of person you are and leader you hope to be.

Implicit in this prompt is a question about your knowledge of and your commitment to Columbia Business School. Channel your authenticity and courage to show how you have already engaged this capacity — and then make clear where you hope to let it shine at Columbia. Be sure to show how you will engage with the diverse and global Columbia Business School community and how you will add value.

I repeat: Show, don’t tell.  Give us the scene, then tie the story to the implications for your future. Self-reflection is essential here: Remember that diversity and inclusion can be about race and ethnicity, but also gender, sexual orientation, religion, disability, age, or different viewpoints, ideas, or experiences. Show how you are questioning the status quo, inviting diverse perspectives and cultivating awareness of the less visible forces that shape decision-making and group dynamics.

Tips for Columbia MBA Essay 3 

We believe Columbia Business School is a special place with a collaborative learning environment in which students feel a sense of belonging, agency, and partnership–academically, culturally, and professionally.

How would you co-create your optimal MBA experience at CBS? Please be specific. (250 words)

This is a version of the classic Why Columbia? essay, revised slightly for the 2024-2025 cycle. Last year, this essay asked candidates why CBS was a good fit for them. This year, the admissions committee is asking what you will do to shape that fit and make your “optimal MBA experience.”

With terms like “co-create” and “agency,” the school is signaling that they seek students who will be active contributors to the class and community. CBS is asking how you will participate in shaping your own learning experience. The prompt mentions agency — a term which refers to the ability of students to take control of their own learning, make independent decisions and actively shape their academic, cultural, and professional experiences. This indicates that students are empowered and expected to contribute to these experiences, rather than just absorbing them. Columbia Business School values applicants who will seize opportunities among its offerings — and perhaps create new ones. 

This is a great opportunity to demonstrate that you have done your homework, assessed your fit with the school and are eager to attend Columbia. You should showcase your knowledge of the school and its emphasis on collaboration and partnership. You could mention experiences such as clusters, learning teams and career mentorship opportunities like their Executives-in-Residence.

In light of the demonstrations surrounding the Israel-Hamas conflict that roiled the Columbia University campus in early 2024, this essay question seems designed to reinforce the school’s commitment to cultural inclusion. (Note that the protests took place on Columbia’s Morningside Campus; there were no disturbances around the business school’s new home on the Manhattanville Campus.) In the framing of the question, the school is subtly suggesting that students have a responsibility and role to play in creating that critical sense of belonging, agency and partnership.

This is an opportunity for you to illustrate your readiness to be an inclusive leader. Again, this will require some self-reflection and honesty. You must authentically show how your experiences and strengths prepare you to connect to Columbia’s values related to collaboration, partnership, mentorship, and DEI. Be specific; explain how and where you will contribute to the Columbia MBA community.

Even though it isn’t directly in the essay prompt, you should still explain why you want to pursue your MBA in New York City, because the city, as a global center of business, is such an integral part of the Columbia experience.

Additional Essay Advice

A few final details are worth noting.

  • Columbia Business School offers an optional essay as an opportunity to share any other information you wish with the Admissions Committee (500 words). This space could be used 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.
  • Deferred admissions applicants answer two different essays:
    Why are you interested in obtaining a Columbia MBA in the future? (300 words maximum) Who is a leader you admire, and why? (300 words maximum)
  • Reapplicants submit just one essay response to this question: How have you enhanced your candidacy since your previous application? Please detail your progress since you last applied and reiterate how you plan to achieve your immediate and long-term post-MBA professional goals. (500 words)

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 colleague Karen Hamou‘s related blog: How to Get Into Columbia Business School: MBA Application Requirements. You can also view Fortuna’s Columbia MBA B-School Profile or the 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.

Fortuna Admissions Senior Expert Coach Cassandra Pittman is a Columbia MBA alumna and a former member of admissions teams at London Business School and INSEAD. For more free advice and a personal, candid assessment of your chances, you can sign up now for a free consultation.

Share this article on social media

Sign up now for a free 30-minute discovery session to get personalized feedback on your profile and learn how Fortuna can help you secure admission to your dream school!

Free Consultation