How to Write Columbia's Supplemental Essays

Columbia's supplement requires 5 short essays and 2 long essays. If you are applying to a specialized program, there are extra essays. You may also submit a research supplement if you have completed research with a faculty member or mentor in an academic discipline. Here are some tips to optimize your supplemental essays for Columbia:

Short Essay #1: List a few words or phrases that describe your ideal college community. (150 words or less)

Even though the prompt says to just "list" a few words or phrases that describe your ideal college community, I would recommend that you elaborate on any words or phrases that you include. For example, if you say that your ideal college community should be "collaborative," then spend a sentence or two explaining what exactly you mean and why this is important to you. Don't turn this into a long laundry list of words or phrases. Pick a handful of concepts that are most meaningful to you and elaborate on those concepts and their significance to you.

Short Essay #2: 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)

Again, just like I mentioned above, I wouldn't just turn this into a straight list of titles, although that is technically acceptable. I would provide pithy elaborations on these titles and why you enjoyed them. This is an example of one entry that you could include:

The Sound and the Fury (William Faulkner): exploring stream-of-consciousness through the perspective of a mentally handicapped individual introduced me to fascinating modernist literature.

Short Essay #3: List the titles of the books you read for pleasure that you enjoyed most in the past year. (150 words or less)

See my advice for short essay #2 above. Pick books that showcase the depth and the breadth of your interests. Don't just pick classic literature that would be typically assigned in classes.

Short Essay #4: List the titles of the print, electronic publications and websites you read regularly. (150 words or less)

See my advice for short essay #2 above. Pick publications and websites that are text-driven rather than poll-driven or graphic-driven. You want to show your scholarly qualities and personal interests through your selections.

Short Essay #5: List the titles of the films, concerts, shows, exhibits, lectures and other entertainments you enjoyed most in the past year. (150 words or less)

See my advice for short essay #2 above. You definitely don't need to list some from each of these categories. Just pick a few cultural events you have attended and explain what it was and why it was meaningful to you.

Long Essay #1: Please tell us what you value most about Columbia and why. (300 words or less)

This is the classic "Why Columbia?" essay. Don't turn this into a laundry list of reasons--aim for just a handful of reasons--at maximum--and make those reasons very specific and personal. Most of my tips regarding these types of essays can be found in my other post on how to write school-specific supplemental essays. With Columbia, try not to pick the predictable responses like Columbia's Core Curriculum. Think in a more niche fashion and pick something that really personally resonates with you. It will require you to do some homework on Columbia and its culture. Your answer to this prompt will be even stronger if you've actually visited the campus, toured the school, and have explored the extraordinary opportunities. If you've visited, make sure you mention that fact--it will give your response much more credibility.

Keep in mind this important litmus test: if you replaced Columbia's name in the essay with another school's name, would your essay still make sense mostly? If the answer is yes, then you are not writing specifically enough. You need to tailor your response more specifically and narrowly to Columbia. Only when swapping out Columbia's's name would disrupt the essay are you beginning to approach the level of specificity that will make your essay shine.

Long Essay #2: 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) [This essay prompt is virtually the same for engineering applicants]

Whether you are a non-engineering or engineering applicant, the approach to this type of essay is the same. In your Columbia application, you will be asked to pick three intended areas of study (i.e., majors). Obviously, these choices are not binding, but Columbia would like a sense of what your academic interests are. Although you should focus your essay on your primary area of academic interest, make sure that you dedicate space to each area of study you choose. I would recommend dedicating one paragraph to each area of study that you choose.

Because your space is very limited, you want to keep your answer very focused and specific. Don't spend a lot of time praising Columbia's specific academic programs--the focus should be on you, not Columbia (long essay #1 above was your opportunity to talk about Columbia specifically). This is more of an opportunity to showcase your own academic interests, background, and experiences. Provide specific and concrete examples of prior experiences and opportunities that sparked your interest in these areas. And try to connect these past things with your dreams and aspirations--specific short-term and long-term goals that you have.

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