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How to Write the Columbia University Essays 2022-2023

Located in the heart of New York City, Columbia University is one of the world’s leading institutions for research and commitment towards education. With its 265 years of history and ideal location, Columbia has had a major influence in history and continues to be at the forefront of innovation to this day. Offering both a rigorous curriculum as well as ample opportunities to explore one of the largest cities in the world, Columbia attracts thousands of top-performing students from all over the world.

 

Columbia University requires all applicants to answer two short questions about the books and media that have piqued their interest. All applicants have to answer three short essay prompts as well. If you’re applying to Columbia College or Columbia Engineering, you’ll have an additional prompt. And finally, Dual BA, School of General Studies, and Postbac Premed Program applicants have to submit an essay for their respective program.

 

Columbia receives tens of thousands of applications from strong students each year. To stand out among the crowd and showcase your individuality, you’ll want to develop authentic supplemental essays. In this post, we’ll discuss how you can write a stellar supplemental essay for the various prompts below.

 

Check out this Columbia essay example to inspire your writing!

 

Columbia University Application Essay Prompts

Short Answer List Prompts for All Applicants

 

For the two list questions that follow, there is a 75 or 125 word maximum. Please refer to the below guidance when answering these questions:

 

– Your response should be a list of items separated by commas or semicolons.

– Items do not have to be numbered or in any specific order.

– It is not necessary to italicize or underline titles of books or other publications.

– No author names, subtitles or explanatory remarks are needed.

 

List Prompt 1: List the titles of the books, essays, poetry, short stories or plays you read outside of academic courses that you enjoyed most during secondary/high school. (75 words or fewer)

 

List Prompt 2: We’re interested in learning about some of the ways that you explore your interests. List some resources and outlets that you enjoy, including but not limited to websites, publications, journals, podcasts, social media accounts, lectures, museums, movies, music, or other content with which you regularly engage. (125 words or fewer)

 

Essay Prompts for All Applicants

 

Prompt 1: A hallmark of the Columbia experience is being able to learn and thrive in an equitable and inclusive community with a wide range of perspectives. Tell us about an aspect of your own perspective, viewpoint or lived experience that is important to you, and describe how it has shaped the way you would learn from and contribute to Columbia’s diverse and collaborative community. (200 words)

 

Prompt 2: Why are you interested in attending Columbia University? We encourage you to consider the aspect(s) that you find unique and compelling about Columbia. (200 words)

 

Prompt 3: In Columbia’s admissions process, we value who you are as a unique individual, distinct from your goals and achievements. In the last words of this writing supplement, we would like you to reflect on a source of happiness. Help us get to know you further by describing the first thing that comes to mind when you consider what simply brings you joy. (35 words)

 

Columbia College and Columbia Engineering Applicants

 

For applicants to Columbia College/Columbia 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)

 

Trinity College Dublin and Sciences Po Dual BA Applicants Only

 

Describe how your experiences, both personal and academic, have shaped your decision to pursue the Dual BA Program. Why is an international academic experience important to you as you consider the ways in which it may influence your future?

 

Successful essays should not only identify and describe specific elements of the Dual BA Program that meet your needs as a student, but should also explain why the academic courses you have chosen for your time at Trinity College Dublin/Sciences Po and Columbia University are compatible with your aspirations, academic or otherwise. (750-1000 words)

 

School of General Studies Applicants

 

Tell us about your educational history, work experience, present situation, and plans for the future. Please make sure to reflect on why you consider yourself a nontraditional student and have chosen to pursue your education at the School of General Studies of Columbia University. Successful essays should identify and describe specific elements of the program, academic or otherwise, that meet your needs as a nontraditional student. The admissions committee is particularly interested in situations in your life from which you have learned and grown. This may include past academic experiences, professional accomplishments, or turning points and transformative events: new beginnings and personal achievements, but also events that may have affected your education, such as health and family challenges, personal obstacles or even issues with the justice system. Our expectation is that your reflection on your experiences will demonstrate your potential to add a unique perspective to the Columbia classroom. (1500-2000 words)

 

Postbac Premed Program Applicants

 

Please submit an essay of approximately 500 words discussing your decision to pursue a career in medicine or an allied health profession. A successful essay will not only describe the factors that contributed to your decision, but will give us a sense of you as an individual by discussing why you want to pursue this career and how you feel you will contribute to the profession. (500 words)

 

 

List Questions for All Applicants

For the two list questions that follow, there is a 75 or 125 word maximum. Please refer to the below guidance when answering these questions:

– Your response should be a list of items separated by commas or semicolons.

– Items do not have to be numbered or in any specific order.

– It is not necessary to italicize or underline titles of books or other publications.

– No author names, subtitles or explanatory remarks are needed.

Don’t worry! There’s no preset list of right and wrong answers. Columbia isn’t going to automatically reject you if you don’t include The Grapes of Wrath (or any other specific work for that matter) in your list. Instead, they’re curious about your interests, your intellectual development, the way you think, and the ways in which you’ve challenged yourself in your media consumption. So be honest about the stuff you’ve read and watched while selecting your examples judiciously.

 

Here’s a helpful hint: think of each list as a “capsule wardrobe.” In a capsule wardrobe, each piece of clothing is distinct and cool on its own: you can have a graphic tee, a leather jacket, a white tank, and a few pairs of jeans. And while each has its own character, each also contributes to the cohesive whole – your style. Putting two items together into an outfit can bring out interesting elements and commonalities in both.

 

The same goes for the books or movies in a list. Each should be interesting on its own, but should also contribute to the overall picture of your intellectual style. A great list includes items that illuminate each other and communicate with each other – like matching a hat with your socks. Some more style tips:

 

1. List items that build on each other. Key word: synergy. In the same way that wearing two matching items together can say a lot about your fashion taste, including two similar items in your list can communicate a sustained interest in a topic. For example, if I include both Macbeth and Throne of Blood in my list of films, I’m showing my readers: “Hey! I’m interested in exploring how the same story has been adapted by different cultures and artists!” Neither Macbeth nor Throne of Blood could demonstrate this on its own – but together, they become greater than the sum of their parts. Synergy!

 

2. Show multidimensionality. Beware! You can potentially demonstrate a sustained interest in a topic without indicating growth. For example, a litany of true-crime podcasts will feel a bit one-dimensional and start to lose its impact if they’re all too similar. Instead, pick works that indicate how you’re interested in the multiple facets and intellectual levels of a subject. If you combine the true-crime podcast Serial and Criminal Perspective with the journal Psychological Review and a blog on forensic psychology, you can paint yourself as someone with layered interests who wants to learn more about the world and a particular field.

 

3. Don’t overdress. It’s tempting to include the most impressive, arduous books you’ve read in an attempt to show you are a Serious Person. But too many straight-laced tomes can make you look like you’re overdoing it – kind of like showing up to a coffee shop in a suit. Instead, balance your hefty items with some more easygoing ones. Euclid’s Elements of Geometry and Russell’s Principles of Mathematics are going to look a lot more palatable if you sprinkle some Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in there. You want to balance your intellectual pursuits with your distinctive personality.

 

4. Don’t underdress. A pinch of fluff can add a little flavor and dimension to your lists. Nobody’s going to fault you, for instance, if you include It’s Always Sunny or The Da Vinci Code on your lists of favorite things. However, you should make a point not to include items that are too juvenile, and not to overload on items of questionable intellectual merit.

 

5. Recognizable brands can be effective. Hitting on a few respected “pop culture” items makes it more likely that you and the person reading your application will have something in common. And, psychologically speaking, similarities on paper can often go a long way in non-personal interactions. Just make sure to pick an item that has both critical and popular merit, like Pink Floyd’s The Wall or Avatar: The Last Airbender – something about which you and your potential interviewer could have an intellectual debate.

 

6. Dress for the job you want. Certain shoes can be impressive, but bad for dancing. Similarly, you should be careful not to confuse an “impressive” piece of media with a “relevant” one. War and Peace, Don Quixote, A Brief History of Time, and Ulysses are definitely impressive books, and you may have loved them, but if you’re interested in studying marine biology, they might not be all that relevant to your application. Include enough to show you’re diverse in your interests, but conserve the most space for items that speak to your personal academic and career interests.

 

7. Moderation. You’ve probably figured this out by now, but creating your lists is going to be a delicate game. You have to find the happy medium between intellectual and casual, specialized and well-rounded, fiction and nonfiction, differing types of media, and so on. Don’t throw together these lists last-minute simply because they’re not full-blown essays. It’s a different format, but you should be as careful with these as you are with essays. The lists can be just as revealing of you as a person and just as important to the admissions process as a full essay is.

 

8. Also… be honest! If you get an interview, you’ll probably be asked about some items on your lists. You don’t want to be caught off guard by something that you yourself wrote. There are few things more detrimental to an interview than not knowing anything about something you purported to have read/seen.

 

List Prompt 1

List the titles of the books, essays, poetry, short stories or plays you read outside of academic courses that you enjoyed most during secondary/high school. (75 words or fewer)

This question is pretty straightforward, as should be your answer. Think back to all the English classes you have taken and choose some of the titles that you genuinely enjoyed working through. If you’re an international or bilingual student, feel free to include titles that are not commonly found in an American high school curriculum. These readings may be in another language, but as long as you provide the translated titles, they can still be good choices. We recommend a minimum of three books and a maximum of around ten.

 

List Prompt 2

We’re interested in learning about some of the ways that you explore your interests. List some resources and outlets that you enjoy, including but not limited to websites, publications, journals, podcasts, social media accounts, lectures, museums, movies, music, or other content with which you regularly engage. (125 words or fewer)

This list will be a bit broader as you can showcase the kinds of books that you read outside of an academic setting. This broadening is reflected in the increased word count compared to the previous prompt. That means that, for books, you should include titles in both the fiction and nonfiction categories, and ideally in a variety of different genres. For example, you might include Fun Home by Alison Bechdel—an autobiography of the author as she discovers who she is and explores her relationship with her father in the process—and also Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami—a story about the circumstances surrounding one girl’s disappearance.

 

Whatever you list, the titles should not be ones that you have read in school, unless it’s a book that you have read before it was taught in a class you were in. Additionally, try to stick with things you have read in the past year as it will reflect your most updated level of reading. Like the previous part, including anywhere between three to ten books is a good goal.

 

Note on formatting: If you read these titles in a language other than English, feel free to make a small note in parentheses after each title noting this. For example, you might write “Les Misérables (read in French).”

 

With respect to other outlets and resources, follow the rules of thumb outlined above. Make sure you show multidimensionality, stay relevant, let your choices interact with one another, and don’t be too overblown or juvenile in your picks (it’s great to include “fun” items, but your choices should also show some intellectual engagement).

 

All Applicants, Prompt 1

A hallmark of the Columbia experience is being able to learn and thrive in an equitable and inclusive community with a wide range of perspectives. Tell us about an aspect of your own perspective, viewpoint or lived experience that is important to you, and describe how it has shaped the way you would learn from and contribute to Columbia’s diverse and collaborative community. (200 words)

This is a good example of a “Diversity” essay. Columbia wants not only students who will contribute to campus diversity because of their unique backgrounds, but also students who will be inclusive and benefit from a community of diverse people and perspectives. Your essay needs to convey how you will contribute to diversity and benefit from it. There are four questions implied by this prompt, and answering each of them in turn will create a strong and thorough answer.

 

1. What makes you diverse?

 

The first step is to figure out what makes you a diverse applicant. You might talk about more classic examples of background like your race/ethnicity, sexuality, gender identity, or country of origin. However, diversity comes in all shapes and sizes, so you can also demonstrate a unique background in things like your hometown, socioeconomic status, an illness/disability, or even an interest or hobby.

 

For example, a student who has a lot of food allergies might joke that he won’t be able to enjoy the dining halls like his peers, but because of his allergies he has learned to cook for himself and to find unique food substitutions other people would never think about.

 

2. How has your background impacted your development?

 

In order to establish the emotional connection that will strengthen your essay, you need to show admissions officers how you have been impacted by the community or background that makes you diverse. Including how you have been impacted will demonstrate how you previously benefited from being part of a community, how your new perspective will allow you to contribute to Columbia’s community, and how you evolved as a result of your background.

 

For example, maybe you were really shy until you started participating in a community theater where you came out of your shell and let your voice be heard. At Columbia, you will not only encourage others to join theater so they can gain confidence, but you will also use your newfound confidence in public speaking to call fellow students to action regarding issues you are passionate about, like raising the minimum wage.

 

3. How will you contribute to diversity on campus?

 

Here, you need to explain how the background or community that has shaped your identity will make you an addition to diversity on campus. This is where you convince admissions officers that they want you to enrich their university.

 

For example, you might talk about how you wish to start your own on-campus Spanish-language publication, so students like you can read the news in their native language. Or maybe as a first-gen student, your family and culture instilled in you the value of a college education, so you will form study groups to help enrich your classmates’ educational experience. Providing concrete examples of how you will contribute to campus will really show admissions officers how you’ll fit within the campus community.

 

4. How will being surrounded by diversity on campus help you?

 

The last thing you should address is what you will personally gain from being part of a diverse community. If you’ve already discussed what you gained from your previous engagement with diversity, you should choose a different trait or skill you hope to acquire at Columbia. For example, a student who’s never left the state he was born in might describe how he wants to meet people from other countries to learn about cultural differences and gain a better understanding of other nationalities without the stereotypes found in movies and TV.

 

Keep in mind that this essay should exemplify your positive traits and qualities you’ve either developed, hope to develop, or hope to share with others. With that in mind, there are a few things you should avoid in your writing:

 

  • Don’t just list all the facets of your identity/background. If you make a laundry list of things that contribute to your identity without elaborating on any of them, you risk running out of space before saying anything substantive.
  • Avoid writing solely about negative experiences. Your background may have led to some adversity in your life, which is normal, but college essay prompts generally aim to identify experiences that had positive outcomes or lessons. Not everything has a “happy ending,” but keep in mind that writing a negative essay is harder to execute well.
  • Avoid cliché topics. There’s nothing wrong with having moved across the United States or having emigrated from another country; however, the problem is that these are very common topics, which makes it harder for you to write a unique standout essay. If you write about a more common experience because it was integral to your growth, make sure to share your specific emotions and stories to help your essay stand out, rather than discussing the general challenges you (and others) have faced.

 

A truly focused essay that addresses the four aforementioned questions while steering clear of the things we recommend avoiding will allow you to go into more depth and elicit a far stronger reaction to your writing!

 


A person sitting cross legged, pointing to the text, with an abstract monitor behind them  

Your GPA and SAT don’t tell the full admissions story

 

Our chancing engine factors in extracurricular activities, demographics, and other holistic details. We’ll let you know what your chances are at your dream schools — and how to improve your chances!

Calculate your acceptance chances

Your GPA and SAT don’t tell the full admissions story

 

Our chancing engine factors in extracurricular activities, demographics, and other holistic details. We’ll let you know what your chances are at your dream schools — and how to improve your chances!

Calculate your acceptance chances

All Applicants, Prompt 2

Why are you interested in attending Columbia University? We encourage you to consider the aspect(s) that you find unique and compelling about Columbia. (200 words)

This is a question that a lot of schools ask; in fact, it’s so common that we’ve put together a whole guide on how to answer it. Check out CollegeVine’s guide to writing the “Why This College?” essay for some in-depth tips and examples! As you sit down to write this essay, you should definitely have Columbia’s website and any other materials you might possess open.

 

Specificity is crucial here. Vague platitudes about Columbia’s virtues – such as “Ivy League academics,” “shared classes with Barnard,” and “location in the heart of New York City” – aren’t going to cut it here. Instead, such superficial phrases signify that you did inadequate research. To set yourself apart from everyone else, you need to clearly delineate your academic interests and values, as well as the exact resources and programs at Columbia that will help you thrive. Proper nouns, concrete goals, precise examples. Specificity.

 

1. Provide a tangible connection to Columbia.

 

A “tangible connection” comprises specific elements of the university that appeal to you, and you should set aside ample time to research this. Look on Columbia’s different websites, and carefully explore the links that pertain to particular majors (Columbia College (CC); Columbia Engineering (CE), research centers, courses, and professors (CC; CE). Hint: it may be worth your while to read Columbia’s magazine, which contains updates on its educators’ most recent work. Many departments also put out their own e-newsletters, so be sure to sign up to those that pique your interest.

 

Don’t do a small or moderate amount of research and decide it’s “good enough.” For example, it’s tempting to list a few things you like about a program based on the first couple of blurbs you read on its webpage. A student might concoct a passage like this:

 

“As someone interested in studying Mideast politics as well as literature, Columbia’s Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies program sounds like a great place to blend my interests and study from renowned professors like [insert name].”

 

This example looks fine at first glance, but it’s pretty superficial and definitely not the best response. Instead of just name-dropping professors and programs, you should articulate your future with them like you’re fantasizing about your wedding, down to the last beautiful detail. A much more specific passage about Columbia’s MESAAS would sound like:

 

“When reading about the last Adab Colloquium, I was intrigued by how Columbia’s Middle East Institute recruits authorities from other universities, like [Name], to better immerse Columbia students in the diverse voices of Middle Eastern literary studies. The frequency of colloquia provided by the MEI shows that Columbia is dedicated to expanding Middle Eastern studies in the U.S., and that I would find ample guidance as an MESAAS student there.”

 

It’s immediately evident that crafting the second statement required much more probing, revision, and familiarity than the first.

 

2. Describe your intangible connection as well.

 

How is Columbia a place that aligns with your values, dreams, and goals? How do you vibe with it? For example, if our hypothetical student continued to write about MESAAS and MEI, he would state explicitly how it draws him in, and how it aligns with his philosophical and societal intentions:

 

“Additionally, I’m impressed by how the MEI provides students with the opportunity to volunteer with talks and activities at local high schools. As someone who grew up in a small town in Illinois, my grade school education about culture in the Middle East was misinformed and sometimes dangerous. I would love to study and volunteer in a department dedicated to combating misinformation and offering resources to underprivileged teachers.”

 

A clearly outlined path and a strong personal philosophy will indicate to admissions officers that you’re likely to succeed at Columbia.

 

3. Engage with faculty and students, if possible.

 

Your response to this “Why This College?” prompt is the perfect place to talk about specific interactions, like sitting in on an awe-inspiring seminar during a campus visit, hearing a professor speak, or seeing how Columbia has prepared a friend for his career.

 

However, always be sure to tie these experiences into your own goals and interests! Don’t just name-drop a certain Professor Smith. Instead, take the opportunity to find a personal connection to Prof. Smith’s research and to mention how great Columbia is for supporting people like her. Your format should be:

 

Program/Individual/Major -> Columbia’s Values -> My values

 

If you want to learn more about a specific professor or their subject/research/work, don’t be afraid to politely email them or contact their department. Many professors love to talk about their work and their interests, or would at least be happy to put you in touch with current students you could talk to. You might also want to look for online colloquia or talks, which are (Fortunately? Unfortunately?) more widely available due to the pandemic. Doing this will better inform you about the school and give you a great edge for this prompt. And more importantly, you’ll probably get great advice for your higher education journey in general.

 

Note: the earlier you prepare for this prompt, the more time you will have to do deep research – and the more research you do, the better your essay will be!

 


A person sitting cross legged, pointing to the text, with an abstract monitor behind them  

Your GPA and SAT don’t tell the full admissions story

 

Our chancing engine factors in extracurricular activities, demographics, and other holistic details. We’ll let you know what your chances are at your dream schools — and how to improve your chances!

Calculate your acceptance chances

Your GPA and SAT don’t tell the full admissions story

 

Our chancing engine factors in extracurricular activities, demographics, and other holistic details. We’ll let you know what your chances are at your dream schools — and how to improve your chances!

Calculate your acceptance chances

All Applicants, Prompt 3

In Columbia’s admissions process, we value who you are as a unique individual, distinct from your goals and achievements. In the last words of this writing supplement, we would like you to reflect on a source of happiness. Help us get to know you further by describing the first thing that comes to mind when you consider what simply brings you joy. (35 words)

The admissions committee knows that applying to college can be a stressful experience. This prompt is intended to allow you to inject a bit of joy into your application. It will also give the adcom a taste of what makes you tick, motivates you, makes you smile, etc. This is a perfect opportunity to let your personality shine.

 

Before you begin writing, think of things – no matter how simple or complex – that genuinely make you happy. Learning new languages, playing the piano, watching the sunset every evening, drinking lemonade on your fire escape – anything is fair game as long as it’s sincere.

 

A student who loves playing the piano might write something like this:

 

Every time my fingers tickle those keys I light up with joy. There’s nothing quite as beautiful as the dulcet tones that flutter out of my piano when I play Chopin or Beethoven.

 

Note that you have a very small word limit, so you should aim to be as vivid and descriptive as you can as quickly as possible. The example above uses descriptive language from the very start to paint a strong picture of both the visuals and the sounds that accompany the act of playing the piano. It also doesn’t immediately say what the activity is, which is a subtle way to attract your reader’s attention.

 

Another student might write this:

 

Every night the sun sets in direct view of my window. It’s hard to find serenity in this city, but I’m at peace daily as I sip lemonade on my fire escape watching the sunset.

 

This is another good example of not showing your whole hand at once. The student’s joy doesn’t just come from seeing the sunset, but also from drinking lemonade on her fire escape, which she delays talking about.

 

Note: As with the list prompts, don’t write what you think the admissions officers want to hear; write only what is true to you. You don’t need to write about something academic here. Remember that the contents of your application are likely to come up in an interview, and it will not look good if you can’t elaborate on your own words.

 

Beginning your response sort of vaguely before jumping fully into what brings you joy is a good strategy, but it’s only one of many. You have a lot of freedom with this prompt, both in content and structure. Don’t be afraid of the word limit; you can say a lot with only 35 words!

 

Program Specific Essays

 

For Columbia College and Engineering Applicants:

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)

This is an example of the common “Why This Major?” essay that you may have already seen during the application process. Columbia wants to know about your interest in the majors you will have listed earlier in the application. They also want to see how your previous experiences contribute to this interest and how you may use your major in the future. This type of prompt isn’t the hardest to answer as long as you hit on some important points. For more tips and examples, be sure to check out CollegeVine’s guide to writing the “Why This Major?” essay!

 

Before writing, there are a few things you should think about:

 

1. What genuinely draws you to this field of study? Don’t be disingenuous here. Writing answers you think the admissions committee wants to see will not benefit you in the long run.

 

2. What are things you enjoy specifically about the field you want to study? Saying that you love reading is a superficial statement. Instead, aim for specificity: “I enjoy reading novels that explore themes of power and corruption.”

 

3. How do you think this field of study/major will help you fulfill your life and career goals?

 

4. What did you enjoy most about this subject both in school and in your own free time?

 

5. Is there any emotional state or mindset that you experience every time you explore this field? If so, what draws you to this state of mind?

 

Think particularly hard about questions 4 and 5, as these two questions will remind you of anecdotes that can elevate your explanation of your connection to the major.

 

It’s fine if you haven’t totally decided on a major yet. Columbia gives you space on its application to provide three majors you might be interested in; you can pick some things you’re really fascinated by so you’ll have plenty to write about.

 

You only have 200 words to work with, so you shouldn’t be too flowery or elaborate in your writing right at the start. You don’t want to spend 110 words writing a beautifully crafted introduction to the major just to be left with 90 words to answer the actual prompt.

 

There’s no need to set up an elaborate preface like: “I was in eighth grade, and it was a cloudy day in mid-March. I wasn’t very confident or skilled in computers.” Instead, try starting in medias res, diving right into the middle of an emotional moment: “The screen glared blue. My program crashed. I buried my face in my arms and sobbed.” This structure is better for immediately grabbing your reader – a necessity in short essays like these. CollegeVine’s guidelines for college essay writing include a great primer (or refresher!) on in medias res storytelling.

 

Load up on your knowledge and expertise. Just because you’re weaving an engaging narrative doesn’t mean you should neglect the “area of study” part of this prompt. It’s crucial to demonstrate to Columbia that you’re not just passionate about your interest – you’re a seasoned expert. This means being specific about a certain subtopic, technique, operation, phenomenon, or term that you find fascinating. Don’t just say “programming encourages me to think in creative ways.” A better proof of this assertion would be a time you used a specific programming technique to creatively solve a specific quandary:

 

“Frustrated and desperate, I looked at all the data I still had to sort. Hadn’t Archimedes said that he could lift the whole world with a finger, if he just had the right lever? THINK, I told myself. And then I realized I had a lever – a processing array.”

 

Try to incorporate something about Columbia’s specific take on the major. For example, maybe you love psychology and you’re more interested in cognitive behavioral perspectives than psychoanalytic ones. Columbia College’s psychology major has a greater focus on cognition and behavior than on psychoanalysis, so this is something you’d definitely want to mention.

 

Be sure to avoid writing the following things in your writing:

 

  • Empty flattery about a subject – Anyone can call a field “cool” without saying anything substantive about it.
  • Disagreeable reasons for picking a major – Admissions don’t want to hear that you only want to study a major for money, prestige, or due to parental pressures. They want people who are dedicated to their respective fields, who want to realize their potential, and who want to contribute to the betterment of the world.
  • Starting the essay with an irrelevant anecdote – Don’t try to write an enticing introduction that doesn’t cleanly transition into the “Why This Major?” part of the essay. Stories are engaging and effective, but only when relevant.

 

Finally, note Columbia’s timeframe: “past,” “current,” and an implicit “future.” Although they explicitly ask about your past and current experiences, you should definitely conclude with a trajectory towards future pursuits. Present yourself as someone with a firm philosophy of developed beliefs and mature interests you want to explore in college and beyond. Anticipate future problems you’re eager to tackle – state them explicitly. You don’t need to mention Columbia explicitly in this “future” portion of your essay – you’ve already discussed it enough – but Columbia should be your unspoken future setting. The admissions committee should see this essay as foreshadowing what you will accomplish at Columbia.

 

Dual BA Applicants

 

Describe how your experiences, both personal and academic, have shaped your decision to pursue the Dual BA Program. Why is an international academic experience important to you as you consider the ways in which it may influence your future?

 

Successful essays should not only identify and describe specific elements of the Dual BA Program that meet your needs as a student, but should also explain why the academic courses you have chosen for your time at Trinity College Dublin/Sciences Po and Columbia University are compatible with your aspirations, academic or otherwise. (750-100 words)

This prompt is asked of students who are applying for Columbia’s prestigious dual degree programs, either with Trinity College in Dublin or Sciences Po (Paris Institute of Political Sciences) in various regions of France. The prompts for both programs are the same, with only the name of the partner university differing, so they can be approached in a similar way (scroll down for distinct tips for each). 

 

Note: this prompt is similar to the previous prompt discussed, which inquires after applicants’ interest in areas of study, so feel free to read through that previous section for additional insight and tips. 

 

It’s a marathon essay, not a sprint. Note that the length – 750 to 1000 words – allows you a lot of space. It’s better to fall on the longer end of this range than the shorter end, because Columbia wants you to delve into as much detail as you can, and feel less pressure to be pithy. The onus is a little less on vivid storytelling, and much more on thoughtful analysis and complex intellectual engagement. Demonstrate your proficiency by being thorough, considering multiple angles, and utilizing specific terms. You can be a bit more technical, logical, and sophisticated, especially since these programs have a broad, international focus. 

 

The same rules apply here as the rest of your Columbia essays: be specific, be active, and conduct a high degree of research. Studying abroad appeals to a lot of people – 10-16% of all undergraduates do it. Consequently, stating simply a “desire to explore other perspectives” or “passion for international cooperation in research” isn’t going to set you apart from the pack. You should concentrate your efforts in identifying key elements of your specific program and how they fit with your concrete goals and higher moral callings. You should hit on both the “tangible” and “intangible” items we mentioned earlier in the “Why Columbia?” prompt.

 

Brainstorm with a T-chart. Well, you don’t have to, but we recommend it. It will be a great way to sharpen your thoughts before writing, so that you can plunge into your essay with a much clearer idea of what you want to include. It could look something like this: 

 

Me My Target Program
  • My very specific academic interests
  • Classes and programs that have shaped my learning and interests
  • Seminars, mentorship programs, etc. that will help me pursue those interests
  • The academic focus of the dual degree program
  • How students in the program are held to high standards
  • My ideal research environment and community
  • The philosophy, models, and styles of research that attract me about the foreign university
  • Specific recent projects and research that have come out of this university
  • Don’t forget to give the Columbia portion of the dual degree program its due! Resources, institutes, and pathways at Columbia
  • Research and accomplishments of students in my target dual degree program, specifically: what proves the program’s effectiveness?
  • Specific research, skills, experience, and knowledge I want to explore in college
  • Available courses, student testimonials
  • Programs and pathways at the foreign university
  • Programs and pathways at Columbia
  • Larger issues in my field that I want to address moving forward
  • Perspectives and paradigms I want to strengthen
  • Social concerns
  • How I want to “make a difference”
  • Philosophy of the dual degree program and its student community
  • Opportunities for service and active participation in global communities
  • Post-college paths taken by past dual degree students

 

It’s a lot of work, but break it down and tackle it bit-by-bit. 

 

Tips for Dublin Applicants:

 

  1. Attend one of the several online information sessions about this program in the fall. Check back to see if any more are added. These sessions would be a prime opportunity to have your questions answered. You can also use them to get in touch with current students and alumni. If you can procure an insight that benefits your essay, even better. Mentioning something you learned via an information session will also demonstrate your committed interest in the program. 

 

  1. Research your major at both Trinity and Columbia. The Dublin program allows for a wide variety of majors, so you should look at the webpages and publications of your target departments. Cite research projects or department mission statements that appeal to you. A super strong essay will identify a common thread between departments on both sides of the Atlantic. 

 

  1. Is there a cultural factor? For example, do both New York and Dublin have strong local theatre communities that would allow you to explore your love of Shakespeare outside your academic setting? This is the kind of goal-oriented specificity readers are looking for. It’s so much easier for them to admit a student who already has a strong blueprint going forward. If they can envision you already as a member of the program, then half your battle is already won. 

 

Tips for Sciences Po Applicants: 

 

  1. Attend one of the several online information sessions about this program in the fall. Check back to see if any more are added. These sessions would be a prime opportunity to have your questions answered. You can also use them to get in touch with current students and alumni. If you can procure an insight that benefits your essay, even better. Mentioning something you learned via an information session will also demonstrate your committed interest in the program.

 

  1. Pick a French campus program. Based on the geographic region of your political interests, you’ll have to select a certain Sciences Po campus. Be specific in your application: you could be studying Indonesian policy at the Havre campus in Normandy, or North African societies at the Riviera campus. Look at the sample programs on the Columbia webpage above. It’s also worth it to delve into the websites for each campus, and subscribe to e-news from each. That will give you the most recent updates about exciting research going on there. 

 

  1. Mention any language goals, such as taking classes in Arabic and French in addition to English. The Sciences Po program places a firm emphasis on international cooperation through learned languages. 

 

  1. Have a global focus. The Sciences Po program is aimed at forming the next generation of international leaders, so you should really lean into a goal or issue with a broad provenance. “Tax law” is broad, but not necessarily global or targeted. “Americans need to work with Mideast countries to streamline cross-border taxations, which will ease tensions and encourage economic development in struggling border communities” is better.

 

  1. Don’t forget your personal connections. Just because the Sciences Po program is so vast doesn’t mean you should neglect your own story in favor of large-scale discussions. Tie them both together by talking about what experiences led you to your path of study. If I was the student interested in tax law above, I might describe family struggles with complicated tax codes, or volunteer work with a local business. 

 

School of General Studies Applicants

Tell us about your educational history, work experience, present situation, and plans for the future. Please make sure to reflect on why you consider yourself a nontraditional student and have chosen to pursue your education at the School of General Studies of Columbia University. Successful essays should identify and describe specific elements of the program, academic or otherwise, that meet your needs as a nontraditional student. The admissions committee is particularly interested in situations in your life from which you have learned and grown. This may include past academic experiences, professional accomplishments, or turning points and transformative events: new beginnings and personal achievements, but also events that may have affected your education, such as health and family challenges, personal obstacles or even issues with the justice system. Our expectation is that your reflection on your experiences will demonstrate your potential to add a unique perspective to the Columbia classroom. (1500-2000 words)

The School of General Studies exists to afford nontraditional students the opportunity to complete their bachelor’s degree with flexibility. The typical GS student falls into one of three categories:

 

  • People who have interrupted their education with a gap of a year or more.
  • People who have never attended college and are older than typical beginning undergraduate students.
  • People who, for personal or professional reasons, can only attend college part-time.

 

If one of these (or another nontraditional path) describes you, this essay is your chance to tell your story.

 

Before you begin writing, we strongly recommend that you organize your thoughts and outline your essay. Unlike typical college essays, this prompt is essentially asking you for a condensed autobiography. It has a very large word count for a college essay, but this is because you need a lot of space to hit every point the prompt mentions.

 

You’re asked about your educational history, work experience, present situation, and future plans – this order isn’t accidental. Typically, even for nontraditional college students, early education precedes work experience, both of which lead to the present situation, which then leads into the future. The prompt lends itself very well to a collection format in which multiple chronologically ordered anecdotes will tell your story.

 

You can’t talk about everything meaningful that has happened during your entire life, so you’re going to have to choose anecdotes judiciously. A good idea is to choose anecdotes that are related or that naturally transition into each other to establish a theme. This theme will vary greatly between applicants depending on the trajectory of their individual lives.

 

For example, one student may have had an unconventional education due to travel for high-level athletic competitions. This student may write an essay with a positive tone, filled with anecdotes about her competitions and accomplishments. Another student may have had an unconventional education due to recurring hospitalizations for an illness. This student may write an essay with a serious tone that emphasizes how he has grown to overcome adversity.

 

Even though your essay will have an overarching mood, you should aim to keep a balance between accomplishments and adversity. Writing an essay with too many positive achievements may come off as a bit arrogant whereas writing an essay with too many negative events may seem like it’s trying to elicit pity. Besides, the prompt specifically asks you for both personal achievements and educational challenges. Your essay should reflect how your highs and lows both had a profound impact on your values, beliefs, lifestyle, and/or worldview.

 

To begin, unless it was truly unconventional, don’t spend too much time talking about your early education (kindergarten to middle school). These are formative years that generally follow the same kind of trajectory for most people. Of course, if you were homeschooled, changed schools multiple times, or something of that nontraditional nature, feel free to mention how these circumstances changed who you have become.

 

With respect to educational history, what you should focus on is your high school years and any experience with college you may have already had. Write about factors that make you an nontraditional student. Maybe your grades weren’t ideal because you had to work a job while attending high school to support an ailing family member. Admissions committees understand that everyone comes from a different walk of life with different circumstances. Don’t be afraid to be sincere about complications you may have faced, but be careful not to make hollow excuses. You have to take responsibility for things that are within your control.

 

The same idea applies to work experience. Any experiences that have contributed to your growth while simultaneously altering what would have otherwise been a traditional experience are fair game. Perhaps you already finished college and began working in a field related to your major, but decided that it isn’t what you want to do. Explain why you’ve switched gears and elaborate on your plans for the future.

 

Once you’ve gone over the events that have informed who you are today, it’s time to write about what you’re doing and where you want to go. The prompt asks you to delineate how “specific elements of the program, academic or otherwise, […] meet your needs as a nontraditional student.” This is where a huge amount of research will be helpful. Look into Columbia’s webpage for your desired major to see how you can work specificity into your essay. Also consult the course search tool to find program features that appeal to you (you can pick a department to see all the courses it offers).

 

For example, an applicant who has already worked for two years as a pharmacy assistant might want to pivot to a different scientific field. An excerpt from her essay might look like this:

 

I had always loved chemistry, so I jumped at the chance to work a chemistry-related job right out of high school. I became a pharmacy assistant, which mostly involved filling prescriptions but not actually doing any of the chemistry itself. I didn’t mind it, especially because I needed to provide for my young son, but one recent experience opened my eyes to a whole new world of chemistry. One night, someone tried to break into the pharmacy, but couldn’t get in because of our specialized glass. I was fascinated by this glass’s ability to withstand a lot of force, which inspired me to pursue chemistry and physics more rigorously.

 

Materials science quickly became my new favorite thing. I would love to secure a job in this field so I can fulfill my passion while creating a more stable future for my son. The Chemical Physics major at Columbia’s School of General Studies will allow me to pursue employment in materials science. Courses like Quantum Chemistry and Materials Chemistry IIA are essential to learning how to craft high-density glass. Additionally, the flexibility of scheduling at the school lets me continue working at the pharmacy, so I can keep paying my expenses…

 

Be sure to provide as much detail as possible about your current situation and about how you got there. Columbia wants to know who you are, where you wish to go, and how your life experience will add to the GS community.

 

Postbac Premed Program Applicants

Please submit an essay of approximately 500 words discussing your decision to pursue a career in medicine or an allied health profession. A successful essay will not only describe the factors that contributed to your decision, but will give us a sense of you as an individual by discussing why you want to pursue this career and how you feel you will contribute to the profession. (500 words)

This is a slightly more specific version of the academic interest or ”Why This Major?” prompt. The admissions committee wants to understand your interest in the medicine and allied health fields, how your background supports that interest, and what you intend to do on this career path. Check out CollegeVine’s guide to writing the “Why This Major?” essay for some tips and in-depth examples!

 

Before you begin writing, ask yourself a few questions to guide your response:

 

1. What are your authentic reasons for wanting to pursue a career in medicine or allied health?

 

If you’re applying to this program, you should have a genuine interest in medicine to some degree. If your reasons are primarily money, prestige, and/or pressure from your parents, this is already a bad sign, and you should really consider if this decision is right for you.

 

2. What are specific examples of things you enjoy about medicine or allied health?

 

Instead of thinking “orthodontics” or “audiology” generically, think “treatment of temporomandibular joint disorders” or “diagnosis of presbycusis.” Specificity is key to a successful essay.

 

3. How might a career in medicine or allied health help you achieve your life and/or career goals?

 

Figuring this part out will give Columbia a clearer picture of what motivates you and will show the admissions committee that you have a career plan (or at least an idea of where you’re going). Again, avoid writing about things like money or status. Universities want students with deep academic interests, people who wish to realize their potential and to improve the world or their community in some way. Saying that you want to make a lot of money is too one-dimensional and self-serving, especially for an aspiring medical professional.

 

4. What has been the best part of your experience in a health field, both within and outside the classroom?

 

5. Do you experience a particular emotional state or frame of mind every time you explore this field of study? What about this state of mind appeals to you?

 

Your answers to questions 4 and 5 should help you recall relevant anecdotes, which will be your greatest asset in writing this essay. Bear in mind that medicine and allied health are very broad fields, so your personal motivations and your essay can take shape in vastly different ways.

 

Consider the following hypothetical applicants:

 

  • Lucy spent a lot of her childhood sitting in her mother’s medical office. For years she would see kids come and go, each treated by her mother. After graduating college and working for a few years in the field she got a degree in, Lucy realized that she truly wants to be a pediatrician like her mother.

 

  • James was a civil engineer for a year and a half before he had an accident on the job. His jaw and teeth were damaged, but an oral surgeon was able to restore them so well that the damage was nearly unnoticeable. Grateful for modern surgery and now deeply interested in the field, James now wants to become an oral surgeon to pay it forward.

 

  • Michael got a bachelor’s degree in data science and ended up working in a medical office. His job mainly consisted of creating predictive models to identify people at greater risk for adverse health outcomes, but having worked with so many medical professionals gave him a change of heart. Michael admires how the doctors he worked with improve patients’ lives in a very direct way, so he now wants to become a doctor himself.

 

Treat this prompt as an opportunity to tell your story. Show the admissions committee where you’ve been, where you are now, and where you want to go. You may have heard the old writing trope “Show, don’t tell.” Rather than saying that you like the medical field, use anecdotes to showcase your specific passions and motivations.

 

Where to Get Your Columbia University Essays Edited

 

Want feedback on your Columbia essays to improve your chances at admission? After rereading your essays over and over again, it can be difficult to find where your writing can be improved. That’s why we created our free Peer Essay Review tool, where you can get a free review of your essay from another student. You can also sharpen your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays.

 

If you want a college admissions expert to review your essay, advisors on CollegeVine have helped students refine their writing and submit successful applications to top schools. Find the right advisor for you to improve your chances of getting into your dream school!


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