We posed questions to admissions officials at Columbia University Business School regarding the application process, what they look for in applicants and what sets their school apart. These are their responses:
1. What can applicants do to set themselves apart from their peers?
Columbia Business School looks for intellectually driven people from diverse educational, economic, social, cultural, and geographic backgrounds. Our students share a proven record of achievement; demonstrated, strong leadership; and the ability to work in teams. The Admissions Committee looks for applicants who are well rounded, and interesting, and who have exhibited the will and ability to actively contribute to the well-being of their community.
2. What do you look for in the application essays? What do the essays tell you about a candidate?
The Admissions Committee looks to application essays to understand an applicant's professional promise as well as learn more about his or her personal characteristics. The essays allow applicants to describe in their own words, their experiences to date in addition to their vision for the future. There is no "right answer" for an essay; we are interested in knowing where the applicant is coming from and where he or she wants to go after business school. Through learning about the applicant's experiences and desired career path, the Admissions Committee is also able to discover more about the applicant as a person and gain insight into their individuality.
3. How important is the applicant's GMAT score? How do you weigh it against undergraduate GPA and work experience? Which of these carry the most weight? The least?
The GMAT is reviewed as one aspect of the applicant's academic profile. The Admissions Committee values academic performance and seeks candidates who demonstrate superior intellectual ability. There is no specific weight placed on the GMAT, undergraduate GPA or on any one piece of the application. The Admissions Committee reviews an application package holistically and takes every portion of the application into consideration when rendering a decision.
4. How much does prior work/internship experience weigh into your decision making? What's the typical or expected amount of work experience from an applicant?
Close attention is paid to each applicant's professional accomplishments as well as to his or her professional ambitions. We seek applicants who have developed a strong foundation for their future professional goals. For the entering class of 2009, the middle 80 percent's range of work experience prior to entering business school was between three and seven years.
5. What sets you apart from other schools? What can students gain from your school that they might not be able to find anywhere else?
Columbia Business School offers a comprehensive business education with an exceptional faculty, groundbreaking academic programs, and an incomparable network. Our location in New York, one of the world's most dynamic cities, makes it a program of choice for exceptional applicants worldwide. Beyond simply acquiring the business and management skills that will bolster our students' career paths, the Columbia M.B.A. offers a one-of-a-kind learning experience in which our students' personal development takes center stage.
6. What do you look for in recommendation letters? How important is it that the letter's writer has worked regularly with the candidate in an office or school setting? Do you put much weight on letters from prominent public figures who may not know the applicant well?
The Admissions Committee looks to the recommendation letters to provide us with more information about the candidate both professionally and personally. The recommenders should work, or have worked with, the applicant often so that they can speak knowledgeably about his or her strengths and accomplishments. We suggest applicants use recommenders who know them quite well so that the recommendation can be as robust and insightful as possible.
7. Can you give a brief description of the life cycle of an application? What's the timeline applicants should expect?
Each application is examined thoroughly and independently by multiple members of the Admissions Committee. Interviews are by invitation only. Applicants may be invited to interview with an alumnus/a in the applicant's local area. Once the interview is complete, the application then goes for a final review by the Admissions Committee.
Columbia Business School reviews applications on a rolling admissions basis so that the exact timeline of the review of the application depends on when the application is submitted and is considered complete. If the candidate is invited to interview, the application is not considered complete until the interview report is submitted to Admissions.
Final decisions can be communicated at any time after the application is complete. The goal is to communicate a decision within 12 weeks from the date the application is considered complete. For additional information, please check our website.
8. Which firms recruit heavily from your school? Which firms hire the highest percentage of your graduates?
Myriad firms representing a variety of industries and interests come to Columbia Business School to recruit our M.B.A. students for both internships and full-time positions. The top five employers of our 2009 graduates for full-time positions were McKinsey & Company, Inc., The Boston Consulting Group, Inc., Booz & Company, JPMorgan Chase & Co., and Deloitte Consulting LLP.
9. What are some of the most common mistakes that applicants make that hurt their chances of being accepted?
The most common mistake that applicants can make is not answering the questions that we ask in the essay portion of the application. The Admissions Committee asks specific questions in order to get to know and take into consideration the applicant's point of view on the topic. For example, within our first essay, we look for an understanding of the applicant's future career path. Therefore, it is important that the short term and long term goals are addressed within that essay. Applicants should make sure to address the essay questions as best they can in a clear and concise manner. Proofreading the essays is also very important.
10. Can you describe the archetypal student for your school?
Our student body is filled with a diversity of industry experience, geographic backgrounds and extra-curricular interests. Our students relish in the diversity the school offers as they are able to learn from each other in addition to learning from the faculty and alumni. The most prominent similarity among our students, though, is that they not only enjoy, but are active participants in the fast-paced environment of the school. Our students initiate and take advantage of the many opportunities that are available to them due to our New York location, extensive alumni network, and recognizable brand.