College Confidential Columbia Essay Supplements


Brief Intro to Columbia University

Founded in 1754, Columbia remains one of the United States’ oldest and most prestigious institutions of higher learning. Columbia is known for its vibrant intellectual atmosphere and students who are passionate about a variety of social, political, and educational issues.


Columbia’s undergraduate liberal arts education is also well known for the Columbia Core, a set of common courses that all students must take. The Core provides every Columbia student with a journey through the Western intellectual tradition and serves to bind the university together as an intellectual community.


What aspect of the Columbia community, outside of the classroom…


What aspect of the Columbia community, outside of the classroom, would you most want to impact and why?


The first prompt, which asks you to describe what aspect of Columbia you want to impact and why, is a chance to show passion about a particular subject or achievement. Columbia students are well known for their individual passions and strong dispositions on certain subjects.


The best thing to do here is to pick something that you actually are the most proud of and connect that passion and interest to the aspect of Columbia that you would influence the most. For example, if you were a competitive debater in high school, consider mentioning what you would bring to Columbia’s debate team or how you would seek to influence the campus tone on intellectual disagreements.


List the titles of the…


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 fewer)


List the titles of the books you read for pleasure that you enjoyed most in the past year. (150 words or fewer)


List the titles of the print and electronic publications you read regularly. (150 words or fewer)


List the titles of the films, concerts, shows, exhibits, lectures and other entertainment you enjoyed most in the past year. (150 words or fewer)


For the next few prompts that begin with “list the titles,” this is a chance to show personality and depth. Don’t stress too much about these sections — they are not going to deny you admission based on your music and film taste. They’re looking to see if you’re an intellectually curious person and to get a glimpse of who you are outside the classroom.


It’s important to note that although your specific choices in music, literature, and art are not that relevant, it is a good idea to show a breadth of tastes and interests. This is an opportunity to showcase personality. And at a liberal arts school such as Columbia, demonstrating a variety of interests shows that you’re a good fit for Columbia.


The only word of caution we have to add here is to avoid listing any books, movies, etc. that are clearly controversial or questionable. Nonetheless, whether you’re an aspiring engineering student who also loves to play the piano and is highly involved in politics, or a potential economics major whose favorite hobbies include opera and paper mache, this is a chance to showcase your external interests! The only thing to avoid in this prompt is listing any books, movies, etc. that are clearly controversial or questionable.

Why Columbia?


Please tell us what you value most about Columbia and why. (300 words or fewer)


Perhaps the most important of these prompts is the one that asks what you value most about Columbia and why. Generally, most applicants will discuss New York, Columbia as an Ivy League School, and Columbia’s Core Curriculum. Given that the majority of essays will reference these, we at CV would encourage you to do some in-depth research on Columbia and really try to find something unique that speaks to you strongly about the school.


Or, if you want to write about either New York City, the Ivy League, or the Core Curriculum, try to adopt a creative or outside-the-box take on them. Unless you can make a response about any of these topics extremely unique, you’re probably better off looking for a more personalized or specific reason you’d like to attend Columbia.


Additional Essay Responses for Students Applying to Columbia College and the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science


If you are applying to Columbia College, 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 fewer)


If you are applying to The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science, 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. (300 words or fewer)


The last two prompts ask you to connect something from your current or past experiences to why you want to attend Columbia College or the engineering school, SEAS. This is an opportunity to expand on a narrative of yourself that you have crafted already on your Common Application. The key here is to continue to be specific and personal and connect the unique opportunities at Columbia with your passions and goals. Again, the aim here is to prove that you have done your homework about the school and that you convey a strong sense that Columbia is the best place for you.


For example, if you were highly involved in creative writing in high school, it would be worth mentioning how much you would be able to grow in that subject at Columbia. Your best move is to mention specific professors in that subject, the work that they have produced, and the unique aspects of the major at Columbia that really speak to you to demonstrate that you care enough about attending Columbia to have looked carefully into their offerings beforehand. If your essays only reflect a surface-level look at Columbia, that can work against you, because admissions officers tend to admit applicants who have demonstrated serious interest.


The Columbia writing supplement is a great way to showcase both your individualism and unique experiences, as well as serious interest in the school. Given the highly competitive admissions pool, it is wise to optimize every part of the application to showcase yourself as an ideal applicant. Columbia offers a truly unique college experience of living in New York City while at the same time learning alongside the best and brightest in the nation. Students lucky enough to earn admission here will have a truly unique opportunity for personal growth and learning.


Note: This final question differs slightly between applicants to Columbia College or to the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. For applicants to SEAS, there is no option to apply as undecided, so the second sentence is omitted from this prompt.


The admissions committee is interested in knowing what you find fascinating about your field and what you have done to broaden that interest. They are trying to weed out people who are applying for a given major just because it sounds fancy. But, more than that, they also want to see what makes you tick, how your passion for learning carries you beyond your high school classes, and what keeps you up at night in a fever pitch of wonder and excitement. You want to find the best, and most concise, way to showcase your passion. 300 words are a lot fewer than you would think!


At CollegeVine, we have broken down the “Why Major?” essay into two main questions:


  1. Why do you want to study this subject?
  2. Why are you qualified to study this subject?


Your essay should seek to address both of these questions with as high a degree of specificity as possible. Because this essay is so short, it is difficult to address a general field. You cannot fully explain your love of a subject with a mere 300 words. “I love astronomy” is not sufficient. Instead, you could write more specifically about your interest in exoplanets and astrobiology. Include a personal story about stargazing as a child that sparked your love of the field and mention scientific research completed in high school that further cultivated your interest in the stars.


It’s also possible that you are still figuring out what you want to study. No intellectually curious seventeen-year-old is ever certain about the topics and disciplines that will drive their future studies.


One way to communicate your interest and your desire to continue exploring a given topic is to talk about a recent conversation you had with someone who is already immersed in a field that you are curious about. An essay might begin: “Ever since my high school teacher combined potassium permanganate and glycerol and set his lab coat on fire, I’ve been fascinated with the chemical property of flammability. In order to learn more, I reached out to John McJohnson, a graduate student studying autoignition temperatures at the University of California, Davis. What most excited me about our conversation was…”


Of course, in order to write this essay, you need to actually have a conversation with someone who is working in that field. If you live in a town that has a research university, and if you are considering majoring in chemistry, you can actually go to the chemistry department’s university website, find a professor or graduate student whose work looks interesting to you, and send them an email asking to meet for coffee.


This may seem intimidating, but we can assure you that there are lots of researchers who might be willing to take 30 minutes out of their day to talk with a young person about their work. You might not get a response (most of these people are very busy), but the sooner you get used to reaching out to potential future colleagues and making connections, the better off you’ll be.


No matter what approach you take to this question, you’ll want to be sure to avoid cramming in too much jargon in an effort to communicate your technical mastery. You only have 300 words, and the point of this essay is not to dazzle your reader but rather to show what practical steps you’ve taken to explore and develop your intellectual interests. 


However, you choose to write your essays, dare to be a little creative. Don’t just describe the university that the Columbia admissions officers already know. Ideally, they will see their campus a little bit differently after having read what you imagine it might be to you. As Columbia’s website says, they are looking for students who “will take greatest advantage of the unique Columbia experience and will offer something meaningful in return to the community.”

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