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Applying to Columbia: Insider Tips for your Application and Essays

Applying to Columbia: Insider Tips for your Application and Essays

The current trend among the top US business schools is the increase in the average GMAT score for the class and Columbia is no exception. However, a high GMAT score does not guarantee your admission into a top program and a lower than average score will not prevent you from getting an offer. You should begin applying to business schools once you are confident that you have obtained your best GMAT score and that further studying would go to waste because you are unlikely to improve your score.

The next step is to prepare a strong application and to demonstrate your knowledge of the program and fit. In the process of successfully assisting several candidates get offers to Columbia Business School, I have gathered insider tips that have come directly from members of the admissions team and I would like to share these tips with you.

Columbia wants to be your first-choice business school. CBS has often been a second or third choice to its East Coast neighbors: Wharton and HBS. The school has been making efforts to demonstrate how it is unique and it emphasizes its location as a way of attracting top candidates. If you are considering Columbia, you need to be a person who can thrive in fast-paced New York City and you should be prepared to take advantage of all the resources that the city has to offer.

The ability to thrive in New York City is one way to demonstrate fit with CBS. This means that you should make every effort to visit the school before you apply! If you live in the tristate area and do not visit Columbia, this will be held against you. Personally, I would extend beyond the tristate area and encourage anyone who lives in the Northeast and is considering the school to visit.

Interacting with the admissions committee is very important! I have been told that the admissions committee keeps track of when and how often you have interacted with them. Therefore, you should try to attend at least one admissions event. Once you sign up for an event, make sure that you attend! The admissions committee also keeps track of no shows. If something comes up, write the admissions committee and give them a valid explanation for why you could not make it.

Moving on to the application, while the application instructions states that you can submit a 1-2 page resume, I have firsthand knowledge that submitting a 2 page resume is viewed negatively. Keep your resume to 1 page. Whether you have 3 years or 8 years of experience, it is critical that you synthesize your experience into the most important points and do not go beyond one page.

Use the optional essay wisely. Some common mistakes that the admissions committee has seen is a candidate who inserts an entire essay on a new topic here, presumably from another application because they liked what they wrote. This is not appropriate. If you need to provide an explanation for a weakness or some context to your application, keep it concise.

Finally, apply early! With Columbia’s rolling admissions process, the earlier the better. While this year’s early decision deadline has passed, if Columbia is your preferred program make sure to emphasize it! Remember, the school wants to be your top choice. As for those applying by the January 5, 2018 Merit Fellowship Deadline, I strongly suggest getting your application in at least 7-10 days before that deadline. Columbia will be flooded with last minute applications, it is better that yours is reviewed among a smaller pool of recent applications.

Essay 1 Tips

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)

This question is a great opportunity to share your personal background, choices, or other factors that have influenced your decisions and goals. Make sure to find a compelling narrative for this question. Put yourself in the admissions committee member’s shoes. They have read hundreds of these essays and if you only state your goals, your application will not stand out from the crowd. Try to tell a story, this is what will capture the admissions committee’s attention.

Essay 2 Tips

The full-time MBA experience includes academics, recruiting, and networking. What are your personal priorities and how do you anticipate allocating your time at Columbia Business School. (250 words)

Make sure to show your knowledge about Columbia with this question. Reading about the program is not enough. Make every effort to attend an in-person event and visit the campus. If this is not feasible based on your location, you can attend a virtual event. You should also speak to current students or recent alumni and get more information about the aspects of the program or the resources of the school that are relevant to you. If you spoke to a student, an alumnus, or a professor it is even appropriate to mention them by name in this essay.

Another consideration for this essay is to show that you will be able to thrive in New York City. If you have professional or extracurricular experiences in the city, it may be appropriate to reference them here. The Columbia experience is intertwined with New York City, you can share what you want to achieve by living in the city.

Essay 3 Tips

If you were given a free day and could spend it anywhere, in any way you choose, what would you do? (250 words)

When answering this question, above all, be honest and genuine. Where do your passions lie? Business schools want to admit interesting people who are more than their job. What activities have you done in the past that you loved or that set you apart from others? Even if you have not participated in these activities recently (within the past few months, do not choose a long-abandoned hobby from high school), you can talk about it in this essay.

Make sure to avoid a very typical answer. For instance, do not talk about traveling. The admission committee knows that most of its students are worldly, love to travel, and would travel more if they could. A caveat to this would be if you have done something unique in your travels like striving to climb several of the world’s highest mountains, this type of response should be shared.


What sets Oriel Admissions apart from other admissions consulting companies? I provide highly a personalized service and work around your busy schedule. Your application will truly be your application, only the absolute best version that it could be. I never take a formulaic approach when guiding you.

Rona is an Oxford MBA graduate and she has successfully assisted clients in applying to Columbia Business School as well as other top programs both in the US and internationally. If you would like to learn more about my services and how I can help you with your applications, please contact Rona at for a free consultation.

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