by Evan Forster

So you want to go to Columbia? You and everybody else. There are a ton of things you need to do amazingly well to have a shot. This is about perhaps the most important one – your essays. Don’t overcomplicate this advice, but don’t dismiss it either, after twenty-five years of a near-perfect success rate, believe me, I know of what I speak.

Essay #1: Through your resume and recommendations, we have a clear sense of your professional path to date. What are your career goals going forward, and how will the Columbia GSB MBA help you achieve them? (100-750 words)

College is for finding yourself. Grad school is for people who know what they want. So don’t tell me you’re “not sure yet,” “thinking about it,” or “going to figure it out while I am there.” That means pretty much game over at a place like Columbia Business School, or any b-school for that matter. Think about it. All things being equal—your grades, scores and experience—the only aspect of your candidacy that says “I have a vision that you and your community want to be a part of” is that specific long term goal, something bigger, better and bolder.

So when Steve began to see b-school as more than a mere opportunity to gain some skillz, a resume bump and a better job, he drew that much closer to the gates. Steve, who was in a large real estate management and investment firm, realized that after three years of seeing possible development deals in Detroit glossed over in favor of a quick transactions, he wanted to help transform communities in his backyard through real estate.(Note the little bit of background about himself.) Basically, he saw the possibility of Brooklyn and London’s East End everywhere. And that’s what he wrote about—how CBS would take him from one small rehabbed building to Brooklyn’s Boerum Hill or Hong Kong’s Sheung Wan neighborhood springing up in 8 Mile. I’m not saying you have to create a tectonic plate shift on the planet, but you do have to at least be up something greater than yourself if you’re going to stand out.

So sit down and figure out what you want to do long term, and make sure it’s not just working at a hedge fund. (Sigh) Look into your life and see what’s missing –at work or at play—and consider what you could do to fix it. Give us the context of why you want to be a part of this change and how it relates to what you’ve done in the past. It can’t come out of nowhere. It has to make sense.

Then, figure out the short term stepping stone you need in order to walk across the river without falling in. In other words, you can’t just go from CBS to world domination. There’s a middle ground. In Steven’s case, it was a year long internship with an NYC real estate development corporation at the Hudson Yards project to hone his skills.

After that, you’ll need larger representation of how CBS is going to help you gain the skills and the community you need to get to where you want to go. I am talking big picture, with an academic focus such as Real Estate, Health Care or management. Maybe mention Columbia’s various institutes, like the Lange Center for Entrepreneurship, that will be of help to you. Then get specific about the skills you need in order to reach your short and long term goals. Some soft skills like decision-making, negotiation, assessment and/or team-based problem solving. Some hard skills like you’ve been in Marketing and PR now you need to understand DCF or discounted cash flow. Mention the type of classes—two or three that CBS has to offer and, and, of course, who do you want to study under? Don’t just drop names. Get specific about who you’re excited to meet—all in to order reach your goals.

Essay #2: Columbia Business School’s students participate in industry focused New York immersion seminars; in project based Master Classes; and in school year internships. Most importantly, they complete a questionnaire taught by a combination of distinguished research faculty and accomplished practitioners. How will you take advantage of being “at the very center of business”? (100-500 Words)

Yup, Columbia has changed this second question up again. This year its simple -- how is Columbia’s NYC location going to help you reach your long and short term goals? This time we are talking VERY SPECIFICALLY about courses, professors, speakers, externships, etc. that are at your fingertips because you’re in the hood. What resources does Columbia have, thanks to its NYC location that you need to achieve your goals, as stated in essay 1?

Remember, if they think you’re running the old “hallowed halls of academia game, then two things are possible in the minds of admissions officers: 1. You’re BSing and didn’t do your homework or 2. If you’ve got really great stats, story and experience, you might not show up. In other words, if you’ve got that 740 GMAT, killer resume, and a 4.0, you really need to SHOW Columbia that you know how its program is going to help you get to where you’re going.

Figure out exactly what you’re going to take and who you’re going to study with each semester. Envision your time there and then break it down for them—courses, professors, and internships. Who will you meet—from fashion to finance, real estate to the art? How will Master Classes Executives in Residence help you and why? Use this essay to drill down even more deeply into the curriculum. Explain how Columbia will give you all the resources and advantages you need to achieve your goals.

Essay #3: CBS Matters, a key element of the School’s culture, allows the people in your Cluster to learn more about you on a personal level. What will your Clustermates be pleasantly surprised to learn about you? (100-250 Words)

This is so, so simple. Why do so many people love to make this complicated? Look, they even boldfaced the most important word for you. Pleasant. You know, like grandma’s doilies or a Kenny Chesney single. Don’t you dare take that as carte blanche to send me something boring, I hate boring. But don’t try to show off, don’t try to prove what a gold-plated bad boy you are, and don’t waste your precious time and word count writing about people and things that aren’t you!

Pick a hobby, or a habit, or something you love, that you can nerd out about. Write about your favorite Game of Thrones character, or an ode to Cherry Coke, or Havana Cigars. Write about your love for backyard baseball, or teaching your cousins to ski on the bunny slope, or setting up free Wi-Fi for your home town. Should your story reflect well on you? Well, you shouldn’t come away looking like a dog! But gloating is not the point. The point is relating.

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So that’s what’s up, kids! I really hope that after my master class, you don’t have any lingering questions. But just in case you do, feel free to call. Always happy to scream in your ear until you get clear!

Lovingly,

Auntie Evan