How to Write the Columbia University Supplemental Essays

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

How to Write the Columbia University Supplemental Essays

Columbia University is a popular choice on many students’ best-fit lists. From a prime location in the heart of New York City to its renowned Core Curriculum, there are many reasons why the Ivy League university appeals to thousands of applicants each year.

Given its popularity and unparalleled academic rigor, it’s no surprise that Columbia is one of the most selective schools in the country. To gain a seat, students need to ensure that every component of their application is top-notch, and that includes their supplemental essays. Keep reading to learn more about the best practices that will help set your writing apart when it’s being reviewed by Columbia’s admissions officers.

How Many Supplemental Essays Does Columbia Have?

The first question that many students have is “How do I get into Columbia University?”. When it comes to supplemental admissions essays, their second is probably going to be “How many will I have to write?”

Every college has its own specific guidelines for essay requirements. At Columbia University, applicants are asked to answer three short-answer questions with a 200 word maximum, as well as three list questions with a word maximum that ranges between 75 and 125 words.

2021-2022 Columbia-Specific Application Questions

If you want to write the best supplemental essays for Columbia University, it’s important to review each of the questions. Here’s a quick breakdown:

List questions

For the following questions, we ask that you list each individual response using commas or semicolons; the items do not have to be numbered or in any specific order. No explanatory text or formatting is needed. (For example, It is not necessary to italicize or underline titles of books or other publications. No author names, subtitles or explanatory remarks are needed.)

  • List the titles of the required readings from academic courses that you enjoyed most during secondary/high school. (75 words or fewer)
  • List the titles of the books, essays, poetry, short stories or plays you read outside of academic courses that you enjoyed most during secondary/high school. (75 words or fewer)
  • We’re interested in learning about some of the ways that you explore your interests. List some resources and outlets that you enjoy, including but not limited to websites, publications,  journals, podcasts, social media accounts, lectures, museums, movies, music, or other content with which you regularly engage. (125 words or fewer)

Short answer questions

Please answer the following questions in 200 words or fewer.

  • A hallmark of the Columbia experience is being able to learn and live in a community with a wide range of perspectives. How do you or would you learn from and contribute to diverse, collaborative communities?
  • Why are you interested in attending Columbia University? We encourage you to consider the aspect(s) that you find unique and compelling about Columbia.
  • Please tell us what from your current and past experiences (either academic or personal) attracts you specifically to the areas of study that you noted in the application.

How Do You Answer the Columbia List Questions?

The list questions might look simple, but they can actually be one of the most challenging parts of Columbia’s application process because they force students to be concise and use each word strategically to achieve maximal impact.

List Question #1

For the first list question about required reading, be mindful and take some time to reflect on various reading assignments before you make your selection. Don’t just name the first few books that come to mind. Instead, think back and try to pinpoint the texts that had the greatest impact on you and your learning journey. Strive to choose pieces that align with the goals and interests that you’ve articulated throughout your application. Whatever you do, don’t lie about what you read or add in a few titles just to sound impressive. It’s more important to be honest and present yourself more authentically.

List Question #2

The second Columbia supplemental essay question might sound similar to the prompt above, but it’s actually a very different query. This list is all about what you enjoy learning about in your spare time, versus academic assignments. Again, it’s helpful to first take some time to reflect on what kind of reading you enjoy doing outside of the classroom. Don’t just pick books or titles that you think sound good; instead, choose texts that had a real impact on you. Bonus points if they’re unique and specifically relevant to your interests and long-term goals.

List Question #3

The last list question is a bit longer, with a 125-word maximum versus just 75. This prompt asks students to explore other ways that they learn about topics that interest them, giving applicants the opportunity to cite journals, social media accounts, lectures, museums, and movies. Don’t be afraid to choose from a variety of mediums, such as a few podcasts and websites. Make sure to choose sources that are meaningful to you and accurately reflect your interests and ambitions.

How to Write Columbia Supplemental Essays

Students also need to prioritize the short answer questions in Columbia’s supplemental essay section. Here are a few top tips on how to tackle each question:

Supplement Question #1

The first Columbia supplemental essay question asks students to reflect on their ability to work with peers with different perspectives. The most impactful responses to this question will focus on an applicant’s desire to learn from those from different walks of life and a commitment to expanding their world views. Ideally, answers will reference specific times in which the student contributed to collaborative communities that are diverse and unified.

Supplement Question #2

Most colleges ask students why they are interested in attending their school specifically and Columbia is no exception. The best responses demonstrate that students have done their research and that they’re experts on what Columbia has to offer. Don’t be afraid to name clubs you would want to join, professors you are interested in studying with, and research programs and potential internships that excite you.

Supplement Question #3

This question is asking students to articulate what makes them excited about a field of study or passion that they’ve pursued and wish to continue to focus on in college. Since you only have 200 words to devote to this response, stick with one subject that really interests you and explore what draws you to this topic. Aim to include specific examples and anecdotes that highlight your commitment to the field, as well as any future goals you have.

Evergreen Tips for Writing the Columbia Supplemental Essays

While there are some tips that are specific to certain Columbia supplemental essay questions, there are also a few pointers that students should keep in mind for every prompt, such as:

Answer the Question

It might be tempting, but don’t go off topic, even if you have something interesting to share. Admissions officers want to see that you’re capable of following directions and giving them the exact information that they’re looking for. Reread each of your answers to make sure every point directly ties back to the question that is being asked of you. If you’re not sure whether it’s relevant, it’s better to play it safe by editing it out or asking a friend for their feedback.

Express Your Values 

Each of Columbia’s supplemental essay questions gives students an opportunity to express their opinions and articulate what makes them unique. Avoid giving cookie-cutter answers and instead embrace the traits and quirks that set you apart from the pack. Students who are especially artistic may even wish to include a supplemental creative portfolio to showcase their work.

Include a ‘Why Columbia’ Section 

The Why Columbia short answer question is one of the most important prompts you will be asked to respond to. Admissions officers are looking to accept students who are passionate about their college, so it’s important to let your love of Columbia University shine through. Make sure to do your research, be specific, and articulate exactly what kind of impact you would make once stepping on campus.

Discuss a Future Career Path 

Another one of the best supplemental essay tips that all students should keep in mind is that it’s beneficial to look towards the future in your responses. Admissions officers are interested in learning about your long-term goals and the kind of legacy you wish to create. When you discuss your passions and goals, don’t be afraid to think long-term and write about what you hope to accomplish post-graduation, and even five or ten years down the line.

Need Help With Your Supplemental Essays?

The application process for top-tier colleges like Columbia is comprehensive, and virtually every student can benefit from some college admissions assistance along the way. If you’re looking to learn more about what you can do to stand out for all of the right reasons, our team of expert admissions counselors is here to help.

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