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2018-2019 Columbia MBA Application, Tips for Essay #3

“Please provide an example of a team failure of which you have been a part. If given a second chance, what would you do differently? (250 words)”

For the 2018-2019 admissions cycle, Columbia has modified their application questions. Essay 3, a new addition to this year’s application, probes at two critical characteristics that any member of an elite MBA program must have: teamwork abilities and communication skills.

Much your MBA experience will revolve around working in teams and it is expected that conflict will arise. Making sure that you will be able to contribute and drive your team to success is an important element that the admissions committee is trying to address with this question.

This will probably be a difficult question, especially for applicants with less work experience. Take your time in brainstorming different examples. When you first read this question, what is the first experience that came to mind?

Start by:

1. Thinking about the past few years and the times when you have been on teams. Make a note of those occasions. Remember that a team failure can occur in any setting: in the workplace, an extracurricular activity, a religious organization that you are a part of, a volunteer activity.

2. Next, try to remember any experiences when something went wrong while working on a team.

The question uses the words “team failure”; however, defining what constitutes a failure is subjective. You might be prone to think of a failure as a disaster of an event when things go significantly wrong. I want to point out that what you consider to be a failure might be different from someone else.

For example, when I was completing my MBA, I worked on a consulting project with four of my classmates for a large multinational firm. This project was outside of our MBA coursework and we were chosen to participate out of a pool of applicants. While we all started the project with enthusiasm, toward the end of it summer was approaching and the other team members became distracted with other obligations and were no longer prioritizing the project. We completed the project, putting other a Powerpoint presentation and sharing our recommendations. By all accounts this project was complete successfully.

From my point of view, we did not give the project our best effort. Our presentation was not visually compelling and our recommendations were not as well researched as they could have been. While my other team members might say that our project was a success, I considered this to be a failure and I would use this example to answer the essay and to describe what I would have done different to lead and motivate the team from the beginning.

Remember that the actual failure should not be the focus of your essay; it will only serve to set the backdrop for your actions. The focus is on what YOU would do differently. In writing your essay, consider different characteristics that business schools are looking for and try to include several in your essay that fit with your overall brand: leadership, teamwork, self-awareness, creativity, empathy towards others, communication ability, interpersonal skills, and a determination to succeed.

Oriel Admissions has helped many candidates get admitted to Columbia Business School and other top MBA programs in the US and internationally. If you would like to know more about our services and how the Oriel team can help you with your applications, please contact Rona at for a free consultation.

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