How to Write the “What Brings You Joy” Essay for Columbia
This article was written based on the information and opinions presented by Vinay Bhaskara and Joseph Recupero in a CollegeVine Livestream. You can watch the full Livestream for more info.
How To Approach This Prompt
Columbia asks its candidates several questions about a range of topics to better assess if they are a good fit beyond their academics, extracurriculars, and test scores. This prompt is a perfect example of how the admissions officers are specifically trying to get to know you better, not only as a candidate, but as a person.
Among the litany of short responses you’ll need to write this admissions season, essay number six, or the What Brings You Joy essay, is arguably the most simple – but that also makes it complicated for students. As you get increasingly used to answering questions about your academic and career goals or your extracurricular accomplishments, this question may bring you pause.
Philosophically, this essay serves as a sort of palate cleanser, a chance to write about something that’s purely fun. You can think of it as an opportunity to showcase a side of yourself that isn’t as readily understandable through your larger application, or captured cleanly through your extracurriculars.
What Brings You Joy?
In one word, your approach to this essay should be quirky. Generic activities such as listening to music should be avoided as many students are likely to choose this as a topic.
The goal is to almost embarrass yourself with how personal you get – if you feel vulnerable, that’s a good sign! While you should never share anything you’re not comfortable with a stranger reading, you should aspire for a level of granularity that can be achieved only by you.
Think about what you do in your spare time, things you enjoy doing without documenting them on social media or thinking about how they will look on a college application. And then go deeper – make it even more personal to you and include details that only you can include based on your unique life story.
Perhaps you have your grandmother’s old pair of knitting needles and you enjoy making baby socks for your cousins while watching Never Have I Ever. Or, maybe seeing if you can swing higher than your sister at your local park is what you love to do while also catching the sunset. Or maybe sniffing and ranking all the different seasonal soap and lotion scents at Bath and Body Works is your favorite holiday tradition. Whatever the case may be, don’t hold back, and show why this activity is so important to you.
Just because you’re writing a ‘fun’ essay, however, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t put care into this response. In fact, because you are writing only about two sentences in response to this, the quality or lack thereof of your writing will stand out even more than it does in a longer essay.
It’s important to take the time to ensure each word is well thought out and that your response is cohesive, punchy, and comprehensive all at the same time.
After writing your essay, read it out loud and check it over several times to ensure there are no grammatical mistakes. It should flow smoothly off of your tongue and you should be able to hear your voice within the words. Ask yourself if your essay adequately conveys your joy – and see if you can feel a glimmer of it each time you read your response.