Columbia Business School is one of the best and oldest business schools in the world. Located at the heart of New York City, Columbia prides itself on being at the center of business, offering students lucrative access to the city’s diverse and thriving economy.
As one of six Ivy League business schools, Columbia has developed a reputation for being a world-class research institution, with multiple Nobel Prize winners among the faculty, and the business school is at the cutting edge of new developments in business and entrepreneurship.
Columbia's MBA alumni include Wall Street CEOs, billionaire venture capitalists, and even astronauts. Columbia boasts an alumni network of 40,000 across the world.
The Columbia MBA class of 2022 has an average GMAT of 726, and an undergraduate GPA of 3.6. Diversity also matters, with US minorities comprising a third of the class. Women constitute 40% of the MBA cohort.
So what does it take to ace your Columbia MBA application? We spoke to Michael Robinson (pictured right), associate director for MBA admissions at Columbia, to find out.
What do you look for in MBA candidates?
There are many different kinds of people in our class, and that’s what makes it so interesting and exciting. However, there are some traits we look out for.
There’s a quote from Nelson Mandela that says, 'I never lose—I either win or learn'. That’s a powerful mindset. One where you respond to failure or setbacks first by looking inward and figuring how what happened, learning from the experience and improving yourself for the next opportunity.
This doesn’t mean waiting for opportunities. We want people with a proven, demonstrated ability to create opportunities for themselves, the people around them, the institutions and organization that they work with.
These people tend to find open windows when doors are closed, and they make the most of every opportunity. Their core attitude is to always do more with the same set of resources. We look for people who are truly intellectually curious about ideas and truly curious about people who are different from themselves, people who love to learn.
So those are the folks that we like: opportunity creators, global in focus and outlook. People who are driven to make organizations more effective and efficient. They strive to get better, and lead with kindness.
Columbia MBA Application Essay Questions
1. What is your immediate post-MBA professional goal? (50 characters).
2. Through your résumé and recommendations, we have a clear sense of your professional path to date. What are your career goals over the next 3-5 years and what, in your imagination, would be your long term dream job? (500 words)
3. Why do you feel Columbia Business School is a good fit for you? (250 words)
4. Tell us about your favorite book, movie or song and why it resonates with you. (250 words)
5. Optional essay: Is there any further information that you wish to provide the Admissions Committee? If so, use this space to provide an explanation of any areas of concern in your academic record or your personal history. (Max 500 Words)
What are the biggest mistakes you can make in an MBA application?
The biggest mistake is just not doing the in presenting themselves in the best possible way while answering the specific questions asked by a school. Unfortunately, some applicants submit something fairly generic. Often that person has a first-choice school in mind, they do the bulk of their due diligence for that school and try to force-feed that work into other applications.
People think that by essentially writing one application for six different schools they are being efficient, but they are not helping themselves in doing so. Every year, I see people who put the name of the wrong school into their essays. This should never happen.
Yes, make it clear that you know how we can help you achieve your goals and can speak to this with specificity but just as important in my point of view, let us know what you plan to contribute to Columbia Business School.
What are the strangest things you have seen in an MBA application?
Early in my career someone went skydiving with a Columbia flag to make an impression. I remember an applicant superimposing his picture on a Wheaties cereal box and sending this to us as part of their package.
The thing is those things typically don’t work if everything else isn’t there. This is not just a branding exercise – you need to demonstrate what you can contribute to our school and answer key questions:
Can I do the work academically? Can I achieve my goals at a high level? Will I be a positive contributor to Columbia Business School? Being intentional, being steady and deliberate is a better strategy than tricks or gimmicks.
What questions should candidates expect in their Columbia admission interview?
Our interviews are blind, so the interviewer will only know what the candidate shares with them. They don’t have access to your essays, transcripts, test scores or any of your submitted material.
Alumni do the bulk of our interviews. We don’t have mandate that we ask a specific set of questions in a specific order. That said, we do ask our interviews to assess communication skills, assess the feasibility of career goals, knowledge of our program and an overall fit with Columbia assessment.
Do you have a clear sense of the Columbia ecosystem, the classes, professors, clubs, professional conferences that are relevant to your goals and so on? I think it’s important to demonstrate that you have done real diligence so you can speak with specificity. In coming back to what I said before – you need to share exactly what you want to contribute as well as what you want to extract from a value perspective.
Tell us one thing about the Columbia MBA application process that most people wouldn't know.
On their websites schools at times will feature the students who have done super extraordinary things. Too many people think, 'To get admitted to this school I need to be a super-person'. This is not the case, and I think the mistake many people make is to try and pretend that they are.
We often see a lot of over-promising in application essays – 'Admit me because I’m going to be the next [insert name of famous person here].' There is nothing wrong with being inspired by someone or having huge aspirations but show me what you have done – the work matters more than the promises, it’s about demonstrated, proven accomplishment that illustrates your potential.
Just present yourself authentically and give us the sense that yes, you can handle the workload at a rigorous academic institution, that your goals are clear and achievable, and how you’ve always been an asset and contributor to every community you’ve been a part of.
Hardworking, good people – good in the classroom, solid, ethical and value driven professionals – this is the core of our school.