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How to Write the Areas of Study Essay for Columbia

This article was written based on the information and opinions presented by Joseph Recupero in a CollegeVine livestream. You can watch the full livestream for more info.


What’s Covered:



Columbia has 6 essay prompts in this year’s application. One prompt in particular that we’ll focus on in this article is the “areas of study” prompt, which is Columbia’s version of the “why major” essay. The prompt asks:


For applicants to Columbia College/School of Engineering, please tell us what from your current and past experiences (either academic or personal) attracts you specifically to the areas of study that you previously noted in the application. (200 words or fewer)


It can be tricky figuring out what you want to write about, but there are a couple things to keep in mind when choosing your essay topic. 


Common Essay Mistakes


Focusing on Future Goals


The areas of study prompt can be difficult to grasp at first. Columbia wants to know what current and past experiences you’ve had that attract you to the area of study you listed in your application. A common mistake with this essay is talking about your future goals. This prompt is meant for you to focus on your past and current interests. You can write about either personal or academic reasons, but make sure not to focus on the future. 


Not Responding to the Prompt


A lot of people want to end the essay with what they will be doing at Columbia, but that’s not what Columbia is asking you. They’re asking you what are the specific reasons, questions and  theories you have that lead you to choose an area of study. You only have 200 words in this essay, so you don’t want to waste any words answering a question they didn’t ask.


Answering “Why Columbia”


Another common mistake made is talking about why you want to go to Columbia. There is another prompt for you to focus on those reasons, so try not to focus on the classes or programs you want to take at Columbia. This question isn’t about Columbia. It is about the admission office getting a better understanding of your passions. Each prompt is designed for you to talk about different areas of your life. You want to maximize your essays by writing about unique topics in each one. 


The Best Type of Response


When answering this question, you really want to focus on answering why you chose a particular area of study. The best reasons are deeper than just goals. You want to have those emotional and personal reasons. Most student’s responses focus strictly on their academic and career aspirations, but wrapping those reasons into a deeper meaning are the best ways to stand out. 


Columbia is an academically rigorous place. Students spend many late nights and weekends studying for their classes. It takes a lot of motivation to accomplish that. This essay is meant for you to explain your motivation. 


For example, when Joseph was applying to Columbia, he wrote his essay on wanting to be an anthropologist. He talked about hiding an Atlas under his bed and reading it when nobody was around because his parents didn’t think travel was important, but he did. Joseph wrote about wanting to learn the mysteries of our world and that being why he wanted to study anthropology. It was a lot more meaningful of a response than just saying “I want to go to Columbia because I read a book about anthropology.”


It is easy to write a generic response that does not delve into who you are, but the deeper reasons you give, the more you will stand out. 


Responding as an Undecided Major


If you are applying as an undecided major, this prompt might sound challenging. Even if you aren’t sure about an exact major, you should have some idea about your academic interests. Do you like STEM? Are you more interested in the humanities? 


Pick 2 or 3 areas of study you are interested in and describe why they interest you. Remember this essay has a maximum word count of 200 words, so try not to spread yourself too thin. Responding as an undecided major might mean you craft your response a bit differently from those who already picked a major, but the topic stays the same. Tell Columbia about your academic interests and why they interest you!