Please select and answer one of the following essay questions: (250 words)
A: Please tell us what you feel most passionate about in life.
Okay gang, this is where things get interesting. Looking at this application as a total package (that’s our jam, and by the way, that’s the kind of lens you should be utilizing, too, as you assemble applications for MBA programs), consider that you’ve expended a decent number of words on some practical, functional stuff: goals and such.
This is your chance to take a risk. Go for something here. Be a little zany. Reveal something strange and bizarre. Show off your personality that might otherwise not come through when discussing all that practical, functional stuff. The worst thing you can do is SQUANDER that opportunity by writing about something that’s – at best – compelling. Yawn. Compelling anywhere else is gold. Here? Poison.
Here, your goal is to DISRUPT, AGITATE, STIR.
If the thing you’re most passionate about in life is something that a bunch of other people write about, then no matter how cool it is, it’s automatically no longer cool BECAUSE others “share” in your exact passion. If it does run the risk of being common, then find an angle to make it uncommon, and highlight THAT. The differentiator factor. If the passion is truly cool/bizarre, let your pen run wild on your first draft (there’s always a way to rein it in on re-writes, but it’s critical to capture that energy on your first pass). Go a little nuts here. Make your reader smirk to himself when reading it. That’ll only happen if you write this one for yourself, and not for others.
Don’t try to impress anyone here. Write it for yourself.
Oh and one quick note. As much as we’re recommending to go nuts with this one, the only version that’ll work is the AUTHENTIC one. In other words, if you try to manufacture a passion because you think it’ll fit the bill for a “quirky” essay here, it’ll show, and it’ll fall even FLATTER than the boring, common one. So there’s the ranking from best to worst:
- THE BEST (Uh, do this one!) – An essay about a GENUINE passion that’s… bizarre, or surprising, or funny.
- NOT GREAT (Don’t do this) – An essay about a common passion that works perfectly well, but others will also be writing about the same damn thing.
- THE WORST (Good God, don’t do this) – An essay about something frivolous that feels disingenuous, and manufactured, trying too hard to be unique and quirky.
How to structure? Normally, we have very clear recommendations for how to set the foundation for an essay, but for this one, no such thing exists, because the format can be a million different things. It can be 200 words of a story that ends with a taut 50-word characterization about your passion based on that story. It can be 25 mysterious words at the top that intros the passion, and then three examples of how that passion manifests in real life. Or anything in between.
We’ll say it again because it bears repeating: go for BROKE on this one, and take a huge swing.
B: If you were given a free day and could spend it anywhere, in any way you choose, what would you do?
Once again, riskiness and edginess will be REWARDED here. So, same exact approach as with Option A. Whatever you do, go a little NUTS here. Your choice of response (not the response itself) will reveal something vital about who you are as a person. And by the way, good for CBS for asking this kind of question because it really can separate life’s garden variety types from the folks who have “crackle.” It’s a litmus test. They don’t give a rat’s tookus about what you’d actually do, they just wanna see “how you answer this kind of question.”
A great version of this answer reveals something about you that feels aspirational, forward-leaning, energetic, creative, “fun to be around,” surprising, deeply passionate, a lover of life. A terrible version of this feels like you’re just trying to “say the right things to impress the reader.” Not only will that reader NOT be impressed, they’ll be “negativeimpressed” (not a word, but you get the idea).
So, think about the question THAT way: “Prove to us that you’re cool BASED ON HOW YOU’D SPEND A FREE DAY.” See the subtle difference? Make us wanna hang out with you based on your answer. Make us see that you have fire in your eyes, some personality, some qualities that would make others drawn to you.
Now, you may wonder if there’s a contradiction there. “Hey Admissionado, on the one hand you’re saying to be authentic, to specifically NOT try to impress the reader; but now you’re telling me to say things that will make the reader want to hang out with me.”
The answer is that it absolutely needs to be both. Here’s how: Imagine you’re given the unfortunate task of giving a eulogy at a funeral, or a maid of honor/best man’s speech at a wedding. On the one hand, you want to be (1) authentic, and deeply personal, because you know that in order for emotions to resonate with others, they need to resonate within you, first. All true. But also, (2) you need to deliver a speech that has appeal beyond just you and the deceased, or bride/groom.
Same general idea here: be authentic – always, no matter what, period, end of story. Now, within THAT box, pick the “story” that reveals qualities of yours that are enticing/intriguing to an outside observer. Let’s say you end up with two possible story ideas:
Idea #1 – say you’re a beach lover, and an incredible day for you might just be doing absolutely nothing, slathering on sun block, and roasting in the sun for hours, napping.
Idea #2 – but also, you like the smell of fresh-baked bread so much that if gifted an entire day, you’d spend it elbow deep in flour making bagels, pizza, Fünfkornbrot, naan, and baguette, over the course of the 16-odd hours you’d be awake.
Just pretend that a real human being had EQUAL passion for each of those two things. And further, pretend that both days were equally noble. Now ***for the purposes of the CBS MBA Application*** given just those redux versions, doesn’t it seem like Idea 2 has more legs than Idea 1, in terms of painting a picture of a guy who has some unique quirks, interesting hobbies, interesting passions, etc.? Wouldn’t you have more follow-up questions to the guy behind Idea #2? Wouldn’t you say you’ve probably met FEWER Idea #2 guys than Idea #1 guys? All of those things tilt the decision more heavily toward Idea #2. And those are good litmus tests, by the way. “How many others might write about this.” “Will this create MORE, fun questions than it answers.” Etc.
This is all simply to say that not all ideas that may be equally interesting to YOU are equally great choices for this kind of essay. Think about that eulogy/best-man’s-speech dilemma. Dig deep on authenticity, but then, keep your audience in mind as you start to hone your answer…
Columbia GSB 2015-2016 Essay Review
Let’s get the MBA application season kicked off with Columbia Business School—April is early Columbia, I was still on vacation! Well, back to work and with Columbia kicking off the season due, in large part, to its January Cohort, it’s time to sharpen the pencils for another MBA application season. Not much has changed since last year with respect to the Columbia application. Grab your Metro Card and let’s head uptown on the 1 train together!
Short Answer Question:
What is your immediate post-MBA professional goal? (50 characters maximum)
Down from 100 characters just two years ago, this is short and to-the-point. If you’re on Twitter, or under the age of 30, you should be fine here, just no smiley faces, hashtags or standard web jargon. If you’re a pinky and the brain fan, maybe you can just tell them you’re going to take over the world! In all seriousness, something quick and to the point like: “Join an industry leading EdTech platform, Admit.me” (awesome people only please). Columbia gives a few examples that are great resources, just don’t copy them. Seriously—it happens.
Through your resume and recommendations, we have a clear sense of your professional path to date. What are your career goals going forward, and how will the Columbia MBA help you achieve them? (Maximum 500 words)
Admit Advantage: As an MBA admission consultant, I must tell you not to fall into the trap of taking an essay from another school and dropping it in here. This essay does not ask you for a breakdown of your resume, in fact it clearly states that they have your background information. The first question asks for some direction around your career goals. We know (and Columbia knows) you may not exactly know what your career goals are for sure, but you should have a compelling story of what you want to do (and why).
The second question really has two parts: 1) why an MBA is important to you and 2) why Columbia is the place to help you achieve the MBA. Why do you need an MBA to achieve your goals? Why not just go after your goals now? Don’t tell me, tell them. Also, talk specifically about how Columbia’s program will help you achieve your ST/LT goals.
Admit Advantage: This is a great essay to start with the end in mind. Where do you want to go and what is the best path to get there. Believe it or not, a lot of applicants will stumble here. If you are a career changer with no finance experience, private equity is not a likely short-term career goal. That being said, the same person could transition directly to investment banking with no prior experience and eventually transition to private equity. Not sure if you have a compelling and realistic career goal?—Ask a Question on www.admit.me.
Admit Advantage: Definitely incorporate why Columbia will help you achieve your career goals, but you have some additional room to talk about it in the next essay. Clearly fit matters to Columbia, so if some is good, more is better!
Columbia Business School’s location enables us to bridge theory and practice in multiple ways: through Master Classes, internships, the New York Immersion Seminars, and, most importantly, through a combination of distinguished research faculty and accomplished practitioners. How will you take advantage of being “at the very center of business”? (Maximum 250 words)
Admit Advantage: Don’t be fooled into thinking this is a question about why you want to go to business school in New York. If I can copy this essay and insert it into the NYU Stern application, you have failed. This is about how being in NY, taking advantage of Columbia’s Master Classes and all of the other resources at Columbia, will give you an advantage during your MBA experience.
Admit Advantage: Fit is a key part of this essay. We strongly suggest that you visit CBS and get to know what it is all about. Lots of people want to go to NY for business school, but it is your responsibility to make it clear why CBS is the right choice for you.
CBS Matters, a key element of the School’s culture, allows the people in your Cluster to learn more about you on a personal level. What will your Clustermates be pleasantly surprised to learn about you? (Maximum 250 words)
Admit Advantage: CBS Matters is a presentation that you will give to your cluster or others in your class that gives your listeners insight into what has influenced you and what matters to you! The great thing about CBS Matters is that you will get to know the others in your cluster in ways you couldn’t have imagined. As such, it is your responsibility to provide your trial run of CBS Matters and give the reader real insight into what makes you tick. If you do your job right, you may elicit a smile or even a tear from your reader.
Admit Advantage: This is meant to be a tough essay to write, but it’s supposed to be about the real you. There are so many life events that may have influenced who you are, why you do what you do, or what you stand for—take this opportunity to share it. Don’t fall into the trap of being a “tough guy/gal” or worried about what think they want to hear. Be you. Just brainstorm your ideas, write them down and don’t forget to answer the question. Best of luck with the reflection—you may learn something about yourself.
Eric is the President of Admit.me and the admissions consulting company, Admit Advantage. Eric has is B.S. from Brown University and his MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Eric previously served on the admissions committee at Wharton. Create a free profile on Admit.me to connect with other applicants and get a free evaluation of your application.
|Kofi is a founder of Admit Advantage. Click here to learn more about Admit Advantage's products and services.|