Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Admissions Tip: Columbia Essays

This is a copy-paste from Alex Kelley's post on BusinessWeek Forums. The link to this post is here
http://forums.businessweek.com/bw-bschools/messages?msg=64785.59

Admissions Tip: Columbia Essays

With a number of diligent applicants already beginning work on their application essays, we wanted to offer some guidance on how to handle Columbia's essay questions.

1. What are your short-term and long-term post-MBA goals? How will Columbia Business School help you achieve these goals?

The general advice we offered in our blog last week on how to tackle this sort of question applies here. Because Columbia is very sensitive to the fact that it is often treated as a backup for Wharton, it's especially important to convince the adcom of your interest in the program by packing your essay full of school-specific details about classes and clubs.

2. What has been the greatest challenge to your value system that you've faced and how did you handle it?

Questions of this sort are designed to gauge an applicant's ability to see two sides of a situation and appreciate the merits of both - and ultimately choose the best possible solution. First and foremost, you should make sure that the example you present represents a true dilemma. It's not enough to simply discuss a situation where you chose to do the right thing; you need to be able to show that there was a compelling reason for you to have acted otherwise. The question lends itself to personal experiences as easily as professional ones, but it's nice to give an example of how you view and handle ethical complexity in the workplace. For instance, there are often instances of conflicts between people and profit that work well in this context.

After setting the scene in your essay, you should explore the dilemma in depth, analyzing each of your options and explaining the potential positive and negative consequences of each. Once you've acknowledged the difficulty of the situation, you should lead the reader through your decision-making process, explaining the reasons behind your ultimate decision. Ideally, your strong grasp of leadership and of problem-solving will be displayed by this analysis. Finally, you should present the results of your decision. Even if there were ultimately some negative consequences, it is important to stand by the decision you made and to be proud that you stood behind your values in this situation.

3. In discussing Columbia Business School, Dean R. Glenn Hubbard remarked, "We have established the mind-set that entrepreneurship is about everything you do." Please discuss a time in your own life when you have identified and captured an opportunity.

This question is not only looking for resourcefulness in seeing something that others missed, but is also interested in the process by which you garnered support for your idea. See our thoughts from an earlier blog entry on Columbia's fascination with entrepreneurship for further advice.

4. Please select and answer one of the following essay questions.

a. Please tell us what you feel most passionate about in life.

b. If you were given a free day and could spend it anywhere, in any way you choose, what would you do?

While it's important to write about something that you truly enjoy, it's also important to approach this essay from a strategic standpoint and write about something that is relevant to your business school candidacy. While your hobbies and interests are certainly of interest to the adcom, it's important to avoid getting too personal. For instance, writing about one's family can make an applicant sound immature, and it's difficult to predict how a reader will react to comments on potenially sensitive topics like politics or religion.

The best topics for this essay are activities and interests that you can connect to some contribution you would make to the school community, ideally those in which you are currently active and to which you have a long-standing commitment. Although it is good to keep in mind that more unusual activities are advantageous, you don't need to have something that is really rare for this essay to succeed. It is more important to discuss what you do in a compelling and personal manner that conveys the depth of your enthusiasm for your topic by exploring your individual experiences. Finally, remember that specific anecdotes will make a greater impression on your reader than a broad discussion.

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