How to Write the Columbia University Supplemental Essays

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

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

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 should ensure that every component of their application, including their supplemental essays, are top notch. Read on to learn best practices that will help your writing stand out to Columbia’s admissions officers.

How Many Supplemental Essays Does Columbia Have?

The first question you might ask yourself 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 different essay requirements and guidelines. At Columbia University, applicants are asked to answer three short-answer questions with a 200 word maximum, as well as three list questions with word limits ranging between 75 and 125 words.

2022-2023 Columbia-Specific Application Questions

If you want to write the best possible supplemental essays and question responses for Columbia University, it’s important to carefully review each list question and essay prompt. Here they are, as listed on Columbia’s application:

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 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.

  • A hallmark of the Columbia experience is being able to learn and thrive in an equitable and inclusive community with a wide range of perspectives. Tell us about an aspect of your own perspective, viewpoint or lived experience that is important to you, and describe how it has shaped the way you would learn from and contribute to Columbia’s diverse and collaborative community. (200 words or fewer)
  • Why are you interested in attending Columbia University? We encourage you to consider the aspect(s) that you find unique and compelling about Columbia. (200 words or fewer)
  • 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. (200 words or fewer)
  • In Columbia’s admissions process, we value who you are as a unique individual, distinct from your goals and achievements. In the last words of this writing supplement, we would like you to reflect on a source of happiness. Help us get to know you further by describing the first thing that comes to mind when you consider what simply brings you joy. (35 words or fewer)

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 their word limit is so low. These questions will force you to think strategically and choose every word carefully to achieve maximum impact.

List Question #1

For the first list question regarding reading, take some time to really reflect on the titles you have read and enjoyed. 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 personal journey. This list should be all about what you enjoy learning in your spare time rather than inside of the classroom. Strive to choose pieces that align with the academic goals and extracurricular interests that you’ve articulated throughout your application.

List Question #2

The second list question allows for a slightly longer response with a 125-word maximum versus just 75 words. This prompt asks you to list other ways in which you learn about topics that interest you. This gives you the opportunity to cite journals, social media accounts, lectures, museums, and movies. Don’t be afraid to include a variety of formats, such as podcasts and blogs. 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 who are different from them and that highlight the applicant’s commitment to expanding their world view. 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 that college specifically and Columbia is no exception. The best responses demonstrate that you have done your research and that you are an expert on what Columbia has to offer. Don’t be afraid to be specific: name clubs you would want to join, professors you are interested in studying with, and research programs that excite you.

Supplement Question #3

This question asks students to articulate why they are passionate about a field of study that they wish to continue to focus on in college. Since you only have 200 words to devote to this response, stick to one subject that really interests you and fully explain why you are interested in that topic. Aim to include specific examples and anecdotes that highlight your commitment to that field, as well as any future goals you may have.

Supplement Question #4

The final short answer prompt aims to bring a little cheerfulness to what is often a very stressful application process. For this question, Columbia asks you to share your first thought when presented with the concept of joy. The word count is extremely low for this question — just 35 words — so you must be intentional. Admissions officers do not want to hear any more about your academic achievements or goals in this essay — the best answers will be both heartfelt and unique to you as an individual. Relax and don’t rush through this one just because it is the shortest!

Evergreen Tips for Writing the Columbia Supplemental Essays

While some tips are specific to certain Columbia supplemental essay questions, we also have a few general pointers:

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. If you’re not sure whether it’s relevant, it’s better to play it safe by editing it out or asking someone you trust for their feedback.

Express Your Values

Each of Columbia’s supplemental essay questions gives you an opportunity to express your opinions and articulate what makes you unique. Avoid giving cookie-cutter answers. 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.

Focus On the “Why Columbia” Question

The “Why Columbia” short answer question is one of the most important prompts on the Columbia application. 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 like to make on campus.

Discuss a Future Career Path

Other top supplemental essay tips include highlighting a view toward the future and toward your career aspirations. 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, even five or ten years down the line.

Need Help With Your Supplemental Essays?

The application process for top-tier colleges like Columbia is complex, and virtually every student can benefit from some college admissions assistance. If you’re looking to learn 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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