Short Answer Question:What is your immediate post-MBA professional goal? (51 characters maximum)

Examples of possible responses:

“Work in business development for a media company.”

“Join a strategy consulting firm.”

“Launch a data-management start-up.”

This short answer is as straightforward as they come. Columbia is essentially asking you to cut the crap and say exactly what it is that you will be doing post-MBA. 51 characters is a hard cutoff – in terms of flexibility, not difficulty – so there is no room for fluff. They want the most blunt, most clear, most unapologetic statement of what you want to do after your MBA. In other words, the MBA is a job placement agency, and they are asking to where do you hope the MBA will help you be recruited.

One thing to keep in mind is that Essay 1 in the application asks for you to talk about your career goals going forward. So it would be best to first build a career strategy in order to answer Essay 1 and then extrapolate from there the very specific step of where you intend to go right after graduation. If you are not sure how to build a career strategy, first of all, read this entry – second of all, give us a call.

Essay 1: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? (100-750 words)

The way this prompt is phrased clues you in to what they are interested in hearing. This isn’t an essay about you did, but rather, where you want to go in your short, mid, and long-term goals.

We always recommend writing a short (short!) intro about what you’ve done to date, maybe highlighting your passions and interests, so that it will set you up with a solid foundation for explaining what your career aspirations are and why they make sense with your overall story. Now, if your career path is somehow different from what your past experiences speak to, you should dedicate a few sentences to what things make you excited, what parts of what you did interested you, and how that connects to where you want to go. Nothing should be out of left field.

Remember how we said nothing should be out of left field? Well, we’re saying it again because it’s crucial. Your experiences should have some relation to what you want to do, even if at first glance it seems indirect. We created a “Function x Industry” matrix to help you test the legitimacy of your short-term goals.

Career Matrix

Here’s how it works: each position you hold has both a function and an industry. If you’re a software engineer, engineering is your function and tech is your industry. Now, when you think of your short-term goals, you should align your desired position in one axis: either function or industry. For example, if your short-term goal is to be a product manager in a startup, you’ve shifted functions, but maintained an industry. This makes your overall professional story coherent, sound, and feasible. If your goals are in line with your experiences and follow a reasonable track, the admissions committee will be excited to help you take your next step. However, if you write your short-term goal to be a consultant in McKinsey, you’ve shifted both industry and function. This jump is too big and makes you seem unreasonable. If you notice that your short-term goals have jumped both industry and function, revisit your career path and hone it back to something that is more in line with your professional history. Furthermore, note that shifting an industry can be a little trickier. If you want to shift industries, you should be able to draw some tangential connection of skillsets or work styles that make sense within both industries. Emphasize these similarities to soften the jump so that it isn’t too jarring. Let this matrix serve as your sanity check.

As for your mid-term goals, they should be a logical step forward from the position you intend on holding at the short-term level. Long-term should be a both realistic and ambitious. In other words, your long term goal should be something that would take a while to build up to, hence the short and mid-term goals, but it should also seem reasonably achievable considering your professional experience and past successes, your passions, and your career strategy.

The last part of this essay should address the question “why Columbia?” Your answer should be tailored to the courses, clubs, recruitment opportunities, professors, programs, and any other offering at Columbia that will help support your career path. Essentially, Columbia is the bridge between your current employment situation and your short-term goal – so now is the time to say what it is Columbia offers that specifically will help you get there. Leave nothing to the imagination of the admissions committee regarding how Columbia’s program can be beneficial to you. You should also show that you will take advantage of the more socially oriented opportunities at Columbia. This will demonstrate that you also understand the importance of campus life and that you will be a good fit for the social student body. Here is an example of the degree of specifics you should aim for:


cbs Q1 example 1


Essay 2: Columbia Business School’s students participate in industry focused New York immersion seminars; in project based Master Classes; and in school year internships. Most importantly, our students are taught by a combination of distinguished research faculty and accomplished practitioners. How will you take advantage of being “at the very center of business”? (100-500 words)

If Essay 1 is asking about Columbia in general, this question wants you to touch specifically on what opportunities exist in NYC that make it the optimal location for your MBA education. In other words, how will your experience be bettered by the fact that you’re in New York City?

When we talk about “why” as regards a particular school, we want to demonstrate that we appreciate the caliber of the institution and intend to utilize the opportunities, faculty, and programs it offers. The fact that Columbia added this extra question – not just why Columbia, but how will being in New York City enrich your experience – speaks volumes to their perspective. The force of this question indicates that Columbia sees New York City as a key opportunity in and of itself. It is like its own course, its own professor, and its own open building. So now is your time to explain why, of all places, you chose New York City. Hint: it’s not just for the Broadway shows.

There shouldn’t be too big of a debate regarding what goes in Essay one versus what goes in Essay two. Anything that has to do with location and New York City, such as executive lunches with visiting professionals from all over the world, proximity to Wall Street, proximity to basically any industry in the world –should go in this essay. Also, there might be a few immersive courses that utilize the city. While that is a Columbia offering, it is made possible by the location of the school – so this type of detail belongs in Essay two. The fact that your aunt lives in NYC is not a good reason. Make sure that your reasons are professional and support your short and long term career goals. You can ask yourself the question: is this course/event/club enhanced by the city? If so, put it in essay two. If it is a program that could very well have been in any other program, and therefore, is not dependent on the specific location of NYC, it belongs in essay one. Here’s an example:

cbs Q2 example


Essay 3: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 Cluster mates be pleasantly surprised to learn about you? (100-250 words)

Those of us coming from abroad might be misled by the word “surprised.” Let’s be clear, it does not mean “tell us something that will shock us to our very core.” The idea is not to elicit any harsh reactions from your readers. On the contrary – the idiomatic expression “pleasantly surprised” means something that they won’t expect of you, but will be happy to learn about you. For example, Columbia probably expects all of their candidates to have a certain level of ambition. So if you write that you’re ambitious, they will not be pleasantly surprised. However, they most likely do not expect everyone to be a stand up comic. If you do stand up comedy in your spare time, that is a cool and pleasantly positive thing to learn about you, because it is demonstrative of your character and a unique hobby.

The majority of the Columbia application revolves around what you did and where you want to go professionally. This is the opportunity to give color to an otherwise barebones application. Choose something that will warrant the reaction “Whoa, nice!” Nothing too fancy but also something that is not obvious from your professional resume. This is your place to shine as a personality, not just a capable professional. You can talk about hobbies, volunteering, interesting personal anecdotes – anything that shows you in a flattering light. Another way to choose a topic for this essay is to ask yourself whether it passes the airport test. This means, that if you were stuck in an airport with a stranger who possesses the exact same quality you describe in this essay, would you be happy to be by their side for ten hours – or do you cringe at the thought. If you cringe at the thought, go back to your brainstorm.

In terms of structure, this essay should be about two-thirds story or anecdote and one-third description of what the actual quality is, what can we learn about you, etc. Keep it personal, keep it close to home, keep it positive, and keep it gentle. Be the person you’d be happy to meet at the airport.


Optional Essay: An optional fourth essay will allow you to discuss any issues that do not fall within the purview of the required essays.

Optional essays can be tricky. The thing to keep in mind in an optional essay is that it is… well… optional. That means that from the first word you put to paper, you are wasting the time of the admissions committee – so it better be worth it. Do not by any means use this section to reiterate anything you mentioned elsewhere in your application. This could be detrimental to your application because it will leave your readers cranky.

In this section, you can talk about gaps in your resume or any particularity regarding your application. The question is asked in such an open way so you are given the opportunity to talk about anything you like – but it had better be interesting as hell. Do not abuse this privilege. Remember that Essay 3 is your opportunity to “be you”. So the optional essay needs to really seem necessary and not self-serving. It is best to consult an advisor as to what warrants a legitimate response to this question. The last thing you want to do is leave the readers with a sour taste in their mouth at the very end of your application.

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