A bachelor’s degree or its equivalent from an accredited institution is required for admission to Columbia Business School. Applicants should scan and submit PDF versions of transcripts from each undergraduate and graduate institution from which they have received a degree.
Do not send paper transcripts via mail when first applying. If offered admission, you will be required to provide sealed hard copies or encrypted digital copies of your transcripts from each of the colleges or universities submitted on your application. Offers of admission are not binding until academic records have been verified.
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Applicants should report their grade point average as it appears on their transcript.
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GMAT or GRE Score
All applicants must submit a self-reported GMAT or GRE score. Your scores must be valid when you submit your application. (CBS considers scores to be valid for five years after your test date). Both the Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) and Integrated Reasoning (IR) sections are required if you take the GMAT.
If admitted, you must submit an official GMAT or GRE score. Columbia Business School’s GMAT code is QF8-N6-52 and its GRE code is 6442. The Admissions Committee will consider only your highest score when reviewing your application and will not combine subscores from multiple exams into a single composite score.
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International students who do not have a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree from an institution in which all instruction is conducted in English must take either the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language), the PTE (Pearson Test of English), or the IELTS (International English Language Testing System). You may be exempted only if you have earned a degree from an institution in which English is the language of instruction. We will not accept requests for exceptions to this policy.
The TOEFL, PTE, and IELTS scores are valid for two years. Your scores must be valid when you submit your application.
Be sure to self-report your TOEFL, PTE, or IELTS score when completing your application. If admitted, you must submit an official score report. For the TOEFL, Columbia’s ETS code is 2174, MBA department code 02 - Graduate Schools of Management. For the PTE and IELTS, select "Columbia Business School" from the list of schools provided. The Admissions Committee will consider only your highest score when reviewing your application.
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Applicants must complete one short answer question and three essays.
Short Answer Question:
What is your immediate post-MBA professional goal? (50 characters maximum)
Examples of possible responses:
“Work in business development for a media company.”
“Join a strategy consulting firm.”
“Launch a data-management start-up.”
Through your resume 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)
The full-time MBA experience includes academics, recruiting, and networking. What are your personal priorities and how do you anticipate allocating your time at Columbia Business School? (250 words)
Please select and answer one of the following essay questions: (250 words)
a. Please tell us what you feel most passionate about in life.
b. If you were given a free day and could spend it anywhere, in any way you choose, what would you do?
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. This does not need to be a formal essay. You may submit bullet points. (Maximum 500 Words)
Rather than answer Essay 1, current Knight-Bagehot Fellows applying to Columbia Business School should use the space allocated to the first essay (500 words) to complete the Wiegers Fellowship application essay.
Wiegers Fellowship Essay Question:
What are your career goals? How has the Knight-Bagehot Fellowship affected these goals? How will an MBA help you achieve these goals? (500 words maximum)
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All first-time applications require two recommendations. Reapplicants are required to submit one new recommendation. If you have been working full-time for at least six months, one recommendation should be from your current supervisor. If you are unable to secure a recommendation from your direct supervisor, please submit a statement of explanation in the Employment section of your application.The second recommendation should be from either a former direct supervisor or from another professional associate, senior to you, who can share their insights on your candidacy.
If you are a college senior or have worked full-time for fewer than six months, at least one, but preferably both, of your recommendations should be from a person who can comment on your managerial abilities. You may ask a summer employer or another person whom you feel can objectively assess your professional promise. The second recommendation may be from a college professor.
Please note that Columbia Business School and several of our peer institutions use similar, if not identical, recommendation questions. This is an effort on our part to make the process easier for your recommenders. We expect that you, the applicant, will not participate in the drafting of these recommendations. Applications are not considered complete until all required information is submitted. This includes recommendations.
We ask recommenders to consider the following guidelines when writing their recommendations (recommended limit - 1000 words):
- How do the candidate's performance, potential, background, or personal qualities compare to those of other well-qualified individuals in similar roles? Please provide specific examples.
- Please describe the most important piece of constructive feedback you have given the applicant. Please detail the circumstances and the applicant's response.
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Keep in mind applications cannot be reviewed until they are complete. Missing required materials, updated test scores, or additional materials must be received by the Admissions Office within three weeks of your application submission.
Once we have received all required application components your application will begin the review process. During this stage, your application is reviewed by at least two admissions officers, after which you will be either invited to interview or denied admission. Please note that August-entry Regular Decision applications will not be reviewed until all January and Early Decision applications are complete.
For all terms of entry, our goal is either to invite applicants for an interview or deny admission within six weeks of a completed application being received. Our goal for interviewed applicants is to render a final decision within two weeks of the interview report being completed.
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Applicants may be invited to interview with one of our alumni. In most cases, interviews are offered in the applicant’s geographic area, and invitations to interview can be sent at any time after a completed application has been received by the Admissions Office. Interviews are by invitation only and cannot be requested.
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The nonrefundable application fee for the Columbia Business School MBA Program is US$250. Applicants are strongly encouraged to pay this fee via credit card (Visa or MasterCard only) within the online application system in order to expedite the processing of their application.
Applicants unable to pay by credit card should contact the Admissions Office at firstname.lastname@example.org for directions regarding alternative methods of payment.
Fee waivers are available to full-time students, active duty US military personnel, and members of the Peace Corps, or Teach For All network partners who are currently in service. Proof of current service is required. Applicants who qualify for a fee waiver should email a fee waiver request, as well as proof of service, to email@example.com and explain their need for a fee waiver in the optional essay. Please allow up to one week for an update to your online status confirming that your fee waiver has been approved.
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Please note that candidates may only apply once to a given term of entry. Candidates may not apply twice to the same term of entry.
To reapply to the MBA Program at Columbia Business School, please use the following checklist to ensure smooth processing. Please note, information and requirements are subject to change without notice.
The Admissions Office retains all applications for one year after a decision is rendered. If you are reapplying no more than 12 months from your initial term of entry to Columbia Business School, the checklist below will help ensure that you submit everything the Admissions Committee will need to reassess your candidacy. For example if you applied for August 2017 you will be considered a reapplicant for January 2018 or August 2018. If you are reapplying more than 12 months after your initial term of entry, you must submit a new, fully completeapplication.
Please submit the following to the Admissions Committee for your reapplication. If you have trouble starting a new application, please contact the Admissions Office for assistance.
- Reapplication fee: U.S.$250.
- One new recommendation letter, preferably from your current employer. If you have already used your current employer for a recommendation, please choose someone else in a supervisory role or a client.
- Please update the following sections "Application," "Personal," "Family," "Employment," "Education," and "Extracurricular Activities".
- How will you finance your MBA?
- Submit transcripts of any additional courses you have taken since your previous application.
- Please remember to indicate the dates and self-reported scores of the standardized tests that you wish to be considered in your admissions decision.
GMAT scores are valid for five years. Your scores must be valid at the time of application submission.
TOEFL scores are valid for two years. Your scores must be valid at the time of application submission.
International students who have a degree from an institution in which all instruction is conducted in English are exempt from the TOEFL.
Reapplicants are NOT required to submit additional essays. Only the reapplicant essay is required.
- How have you enhanced your candidacy since your previous application? Please detail your progress since you last applied and reiterate how you plan to achieve your immediate and long term post-MBA professional goals. (Maximum 500 words).
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All admitted students are required to submit two nonrefundable tuition deposits to secure their place in the class after admission. Admitted students for the January-entry and August-entry Early Decision must submit deposits within two weeks of admission. Students for the January-entry are required to submit a second deposit by November 10, 2017. If you are admitted for August-entry Regular Decision on or before January 31, 2018 you must submit your deposit by February 20, 2018. If you are admitted from February 1, 2018 through April 6, 2018 you must submit your deposit by April 20, 2018. Applicants admitted after April 6, 2018 will have two weeks to submit their initial deposit. All early August-entry Early Decision and Regular Decision admitted students are required to submit a second deposit by May 25, 2018 in order to secure their spaces in the class.
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Nervous about your MBA admissions essay? You’re not alone! Many applicants wonder how to put their best foot forward in a business school entrance essay.
In this article, I’ll tell you what admissions committees look for in application essays and offer MBA essay tips on how to make yours stand out. We’ll also take a look at the different kinds of business school essays and a few examples of MBA essay prompts.
Why Do Business Schools Ask for Essays? What Do They Look For?
Business schools ask for essays for several reasons, all of which help admissions committees determine whether you have the skills and traits to succeed in an MBA program.
First, MBA admissions committees want to see how you write. Communication skills—including concision, clarity, style, and fluency in English—will be essential to your success in business school. One way of discerning your level of writing ability is to require an original writing sample. In an MBA essay, you have to get your point across straightforwardly, elegantly, and concisely; being able to do this is a key element of succeeding in business school and the world of business in general.
Also, MBA admissions committees want to get a sense of who you are on a more personal level. MBA application essays tell admissions officials about you not only through what you say, but in how you say it. Are you self-aware, for example, and can you reflect on past challenges or mistakes in a thoughtful way? Do you demonstrate insight into who you are and your goals? How you answer questions about yourself, your career, and your journey can help MBA admissions officials discern your level of critical thinking and personal insight.
You can have countless accomplishments, but to succeed in business school, you’ll also need to fit in with the campus climate, work well with your peers, and contribute to campus diversity in a meaningful way. The MBA essay is a place for you to talk about the background or experiences you have that are unique to you and that you believe could differentiate you from your colleagues and/or provide a fresh perspective to campus.
Finally, essays are a way for you to showcase the qualities that most MBA programs say they are looking for in applicants, such as leadership skills, community involvement, problem-solving skills, communication skills, clear goals, and a strong sense of ethics. Some of these traits might not be readily apparent from a resume alone, and an MBA essay can be a place for you to elaborate on how you’ve cultivated them in yourself.
MBA Entrance Essay Sample Prompts
Most MBA entrance essays ask you about one of several things. Many of them are variations on similar questions: the open-ended question, the leadership question, the personal growth question, questions on short- and long-term academic and career goals, and the diversity question. For each one, I’ll give an example of a real MBA essay prompt from 2016 or 2017.
The open-ended MBA application essay question is just that: open. It allows you to tell your own story, giving you quite a bit of freedom but also little to no guidance. For that reason, many applicants find it to be the most challenging MBA essay prompt.
Harvard Business School has only one essay for its MBA application, and it’s the quintessential open-ended MBA essay question. This is the prompt for 2017-2018 applicants.
As we review your application, what more would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy for the Harvard Business School MBA program?
Note that, as in other open-ended MBA admission essay prompts, this question asks you to decide what you’ll write about. Successful Harvard applicants and HBS admissions counselors have advised applicants to use the prompt as a chance to demonstrate their past use of an especially desired trait, such as problem-solving skills. For example, many successful applicants use the prompt to describe a scenario in which they faced and overcame a challenge, especially as a leader or alongside a team.
Notably, Harvard also doesn’t list a word limit, so you can decide the appropriate length for your essay. However, most admissions counselors will advise you to keep it concise and straightforward.
Another common MBA essay prompt asks you to demonstrate your experience and skills as a leader. Leadership qualities are listed by nearly all MBA admissions counselors as fundamental to a career in business and, thus, to a successful business school application.
Let’s look at a sample leadership MBA essay prompt from Kellogg.
Leadership and teamwork are integral parts of the Kellogg experience. Describe a recent and meaningful time you were a leader. What challenges did you face, and what did you learn? (450 words)
In a response to this kind of prompt, you should be as specific as possible. Name the company you were working for or specifically describe the project you were heading. Who was on your team? What were your objectives? Did you meet them? How could you have done so more effectively?
While you shouldn’t be overly self-deprecating, don’t be afraid to address the challenges you met and how you overcame them (or would overcome them now, with more experience and knowledge). Remember that one important aspect of leadership is accountability, so if there were problems, don’t solely blame your team for them. Instead, reflect on how you successfully worked with your team to solve the problems, and/or on how you could have done so more effectively or efficiently.
#3: Personal Growth
The personal growth MBA admission essay prompt will ask you how you’ve changed in the past and how you want to grow in the future. Here’s one example from the Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management.
Pursuing an MBA is a catalyst for personal and professional growth. How have you grown in the past? How do you intend to grow at Kellogg? (450 words)
Don’t be afraid to get a bit personal with these kinds of prompts. They’re meant to gauge something about your personality and who you are, rather than only what you’ve done.
Many successful MBA admission essays that respond to these kinds of questions follow a past/present/future format. Ask yourself what traits you’ve gathered over the years that have benefited you personally and professionally, how you’ve improved, and what you’ve learned. What experiences have shaped you? Be as specific as possible.
Then, take stock of yourself now: your career, your education, and where you see yourself in the future. What do you need in order to get there?
Finally, most essay MBA prompts in this vein (like Kellogg’s) will ask you how they can help you move towards that personal or professional goal. Be as specific as you can, focusing on the particular strengths of the prospective MBA program and how they match up with what you want to improve about yourself as a person, colleague, and leader.
#4: Your Plan
Some MBA application essay prompts will ask you about your career goals and how attendance at a particular business school will help you to achieve them. Let’s look at one from the USC Marshall School of Business.
Essay #1 (Required) – What is your specific, immediate short-term career goal upon completion of your MBA? Please include an intended position, function, and industry in your response. (word limit: 100)
As you can see, questions like these often request brief responses. So get straight to the point, and give details. Name a specific job you’d like to hold, what you’d like to do there, and even particular companies if you can.
Questions like this one will require some research. Research alumni from your prospective business school who’ve ended up in positions comparable to ones you’d like to hold in the future, particular companies and positions that match up with your personal and professional goals, and specific coursework or industry experiences offered by your prospective business school that would help you get there.
#5: Diversity, Culture, and Community
Finally, some MBA essay prompts will ask you how your unique background and experiences would contribute to the overall diversity and collegial atmosphere of a school’s campus climate and community. Here’s one example from USC.
Essay #2 (Required) – At Marshall, we take pride in the fact that our students work collaboratively, both inside and outside the classroom, to create a culture, a community, and an environment that truly defines what we call the Trojan Family. Please describe the contributions you expect to make to your classmates during your time at USC. How will they benefit from your presence in the program? (word limit: 500)
You can respond to questions like this, depending on the wording of the original prompt, by discussing your cultural background, identity, and/or personal experiences that have given you particular insight into a given community or that have lent you a unique perspective that could be valuable to your colleagues as you collaborate.
You can also discuss past community service projects or issues you’re passionate about and how you plan to carry those experiences and passions into your work at your prospective MBA program.
7 MBA Essay Tips
Writing MBA essays takes a particular skill set. Let’s go over the top seven MBA essay tips for making your application essay shine.
#1: Write Early and Often
Even though MBA entrance essays are brief, they take a lot of polishing. Writing MBA essays takes time.
Don’t expect to write yours at the last minute or knock out a quality essay in a day. Most students need several drafts to make sure they’re getting their points across as elegantly and clearly as possible.
Start your essay well before the application deadline, when you don’t yet feel any pressure. For several weeks, don’t try to write at all. Instead, before crafting your essay for MBA admission, take notes on your past, present, and future. What have you learned? What unique experiences have you had? What have been the most meaningful projects you’ve undertaken? Ask friends, family, and mentors to tell you what they value most about you or what they see as your greatest personal and professional assets.
Only once you’ve gathered this material should you begin your first draft of your MBA application essay. Start with an outline for each one that includes the story you want to tell and the main points you want to get across.
Once you have a clear outline, you can start drafting. Taking the writing process seriously from start to finish will give you a much better product in the end than trying to write something hastily right before the deadline.
#2: Show, Don’t Tell
MBA admissions committees want to be able to tell that you have the qualities that are necessary to succeed in business school, such as leadership skills and integrity.
Your MBA admissions essay can be a great place to showcase those qualities. However, remember to show, not tell. Saying “I have strong leadership skills” doesn’t tell an admissions committee much. Through an anecdote about, say, meeting a difficult deadline or overcoming an obstacle, a reader should be able to tell that you have the qualities of a strong leader without your having to say so explicitly.
#3: Research Your Goals
When describing your future goals, be as specific as possible. Business schools know that your goals may change in the future, but stating specific goals now will show that you’ve done your research and have an idea of what you want and how an MBA program can help you get there.
Before writing your essay for MBA admission, research the ins and outs of the industry you want to enter, the position you’d like to have, companies you might like to work for, and coursework and internships or fieldwork that could aid you on your way to those goals.
#4: Keep It Concise
Never, ever go over a stated word count limit when you’re writing your essay for MBA admission. It might be tempting, but business schools want to see that you can get your point across concisely and straightforwardly.This rule goes for MBA essay prompts that don’t have specific word counts, too: sometimes, less is more.
One of the biggest mistakes applicants make in writing an essay for MBA admission is to use too much flowery language to come across as more professional. If you do this, it can be distracting and cause the admissions committee to miss the main points you’re making.
Bottom line, trim anything extraneous from your essay—that is, anything that doesn’t actively support the main point(s) you’re trying to get across.
#5: Show Self-Awareness
It might feel tempting to use the MBA admission essay as a space to list all of your accomplishments (and since your resume is already part of your application, this is unnecessary), but MBA admissions committees would rather see that you have insight into both your strengths and weaknesses. No one is perfect, and in your essay for MBA admission, you shouldn’t try to come across as if you’ve never made a mistake or faced a challenge that you’ve had to learn from.
Also, in business school and the business world at large, bouncing back from failures, being flexible, and problem solving are all essential skills. All of them require a thick skin and awareness of what you could do better.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t showcase your achievements, but if you’re asked about personal growth or an obstacle you’ve overcome, be clear about what you could have done more effectively in the past (at a job or in your education, for example) and the steps you’ve taken or will take to sidestep that mistake in the future.
#6: Share Your Personal Journey
Many applicants would prefer to focus only on their professional backgrounds and goals in their MBA essays, but you shouldn’t be afraid to get personal in your essay. You don’t need to tell your whole life story, but especially in response to questions that ask about your growth over time, you should showcase your personality and give the admissions committee an idea of your personal background and experiences.
#7: Ask for Edits
It might seem obvious, but many applicants don’t do it: proofread your work! When writing MBA essays, revision is key. Turning in an MBA essay with typos and other errors will come off as thoughtless and unprofessional.
You should also get a second (and, perhaps, a third and fourth) pair of eyes on your essay to make sure it’s coming across as you want it to. Going through several rounds of drafts is a necessary part of the writing process to ensure that you’re putting your best foot forward in your MBA entrance essay.
Worried about how your GMAT score matches up to other applicants’? Find out more in our list of average GMAT scores by school.
Concerned about your chances of getting into an MBA program? Our guide to business school acceptance rates will help.
Ready to apply to business school? Check out our top eight tips for applying to MBA programs here.
Author: Laura Dorwart
Laura Dorwart is a Ph.D. student at UC San Diego. She has taught and tutored hundreds of students in standardized testing, literature, and writing. View all posts by Laura Dorwart