Note: Check out the updated Columbia University Essay Breakdown for 2016-107

Located in New York City’s Upper West Side, Columbia University offers its students one of the country’s more unique learning experiences. Thanks to its famed Core Curriculum, Columbia undergraduates are encouraged (or 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 their undergraduate years in New York City, which offers a litany of benefits both socially and professionally.

As an Ivy League school, Columbia regularly places in the top 5 of American universities. Accordingly, high school seniors looking to call themselves Lions have a tough road ahead of them—last year, Columbia accepted just 2,228 students from a pool of 36,250 applicants, bringing its acceptance rate to a mere 6.1%.

On its supplement, Columbia asks for three short essays, as well as answers to several short questions. In the face of such high stakes and tight word limits, students can feel overwhelming pressure to answer these prompts perfectly. Luckily, Admissions Hero is here to help.


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Short Questions

Please list the following (150 words or fewer for each question):

  • the titles of the required readings from courses during the school year or summer that you enjoyed most in the past year;
  • the titles of books read for pleasure that you enjoyed most in the past year;
  • the titles of print or electronic publications you read regularly;
  • and the titles of the films, concerts, shows, exhibits, lectures and other entertainments you enjoyed most in the past year.

It is not necessary to italicize or underline books or other publications. Author names may be included, but are not required. You may use semicolons or colons instead of line breaks to separate items. Lists to not need to be numbered or in any specific order.

These types of questions are rather standard for Ivy League and top-tier private institutions, but because Columbia gives you 150 words, there are a couple of different tactics you could take. As always, the standard disclaimer is to avoid anything that could be potentially controversial or offensive applies.

For extensive tips on how to answer this question, see Admissions Hero’s posts for Princeton and Stanford—schools that both have this prompt archetype.

Essays

In 150 words or fewer, please briefly describe which single activity listed in the Activity section of your application are you most proud of and why.

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 immense effort you put into studying before an economics competition, or the countless times you broke balsa wood before designing the perfect 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. The point is to lend insight into why your accomplishment is worth being proud about.

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 writing about are location (New York) and Columbia’s Core Curriculum. New York is a great city and offers many opportunities for college students, but literally 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 since it is such an apparent differentiator among the top schools, so you can be penalized for taking the same approach and failing to look deeper. The key to success here is research—spend time on Columbia’s website trying to ferret out other academic or social characteristics of the university, and make sure you can cite why they appeal to you specifically. You can 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 since your answer will end up overlapping with the next essay.

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 appeals to you on a personal basis, and spend the other half providing support by referencing your experiences or activities in the field. 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 your knowledge from a statistics and economics double major to build a self-learning program that optimizes inventory figures for grocery stores is a natural goal). You can opt to 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. 

With these tips, you should be well on your way to writing the perfect Columbia Supplement. Best of luck from the Admissions Hero team!

For more help, feel free to check out last year’s post on How to Tackle the Columbia Essays or reach out to work 1-on-1 with one of CollegeVine’s trained Columbia essay specialists.






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