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How to Tackle the Columbia Supplement Essays for 2014-15
Note: this blog post has been updated for the 2015-2016 application cycle. To view the most recent version, click here.
Nestled on New York City’s Upper West Side, Columbia University Offers students one of the country’s more unique learning experiences. Thanks to the famed Core Curriculum, Columbia undergraduates are forced to engage with several areas of study outside of their major to a greater degree than students at other elite universities. And of course students get to spend four (or more years) in New York City.
On its supplement, Columbia asks for three short essays, as well as answers to several short questions.
List the titles of the required readings from courses during the school year or summer that you enjoyed most in the past year. (150 words or less)
List the titles of the books you read for pleasure that you enjoyed most in the past year. (150 words or less)
List the titles of the print, electronic publications and websites you read regularly. (150 words or less)
List the titles of the films, concerts, shows, exhibits, lectures and other entertainments you enjoyed most in the past year. (150 words or less)
These types of questions are common amongst Ivy League and top-tier private institutions, but because Columbia gives you 150 words, you can list more items for each and provide a broader view of your personality. As always, the standard disclaimer to avoid anything that could be potentially controversial or offensive applies.
What single activity listed in the activity section of your Common Application are you most proud of and why? (150 words or less)
This is a standard essay asking you to discuss your extracurricular passions, however the key word in the prompt is “proud.” You can discuss the activity in which you have accomplished the most or found the most success, but you should focus the essay on the process of achieving those things (i.e. the effort you put into studying before an economics competition, or the time you spent breaking pieces of balsa wood before designing a model airplane for a science competition). And even activities where you didn’t find success but put in a lot of work or overcame some sort of challenge can be good topics for this essay.
Please tell us what you find most appealing about Columbia and why. (300 words or less)
This “Why Columbia” essay is reasonably straightforward, and as always you want to focus on things specific to Columbia. Because Columbia also has a distinct “Why Major” essay, your focus should be on Columbia’s broader academic environment, and social life at the university. While you can discuss almost any facet of Columbia, two that you do want to avoid are location (New York) and Columbia’s Core Curriculum. New York is a great city and offers many opportunities for college students, but thousands of students will cite New York as a reason for wanting to attend Columbia. The same thing applies to Columbia’s famed Core Curriculum, which requires students to take several classes outside of their major before graduating. Too many students use the Core for this essay, so you can be penalized for taking the same approach. The key is research – spend time on Columbia’s website trying to ferret out other academic or social characteristics of the university. You can also have some discussion of specific characteristics of the academic program for your major, but you want to avoid getting too deeply into why you enjoy your major.
For applicants to The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science, please tell us what from your current and past experiences (either academic or personal) attracts you specifically to the field or fields of study that you noted in the Member Questions section. (300 words or less)
For applicants to Columbia College, please tell us what from your current and past experiences (either academic or personal) attracts you specifically to the field or fields of study that you noted in the Member Questions section. If you are currently undecided, please write about any field or fields in which you may have an interest at this time. (300 words or less)
Both of these essays are similar to other “Why Major” essays, but because of the wording of the prompt you don’t have to spend too much time discussing Columbia-specific factors. Instead, devote half of your essay to discussing why the field (or fields) appeals to you on a personal (emotional and rational) basis, and spend the other half providing support by referencing experiences, or preferably activities. You can also posit a higher purpose or goal, but make sure that goal is aligned with your profile (for example if you spent a lot of time working at a grocery store in high school, saying that you want to apply a statistics and economics double major to build a self-learning program that decides optimal inventory figures for grocery stores is a natural goal). You can discuss several fields, however this is dangerous, because with multiple areas of study, you condense the amount of space you have to convey affinity (why you want to study something) and competence (why you’re qualified to do so). If you do decide to discuss multiple fields, make sure that your resume has activities from disparate fields to match.