Columbia Supplemental Essays 2023-24 Prompts and Advice

August 26, 2023

Columbia supplemental essays

Among Ivy League universities, Columbia received the third-highest number of applications for a spot in their Class of 2027. Of the 57,129 applications received, just 3.9% were accepted, the second lowest mark in the Ivy League (Harvard was the lowest). At a school where 96 of every 100 applicants are rejected, and the vast majority of those applying have near-perfect/perfect grades and test scores, you may be asking yourself, “How do I separate myself from the pack?” This brings us to the topic of this article: the Columbia supplemental essays.

(Want to learn more about How to Get Into Columbia? Visit our blog entitled: How to Get Into Columbia: Admissions Data and Strategies for all of the most recent admissions data as well as tips for gaining acceptance.)

Fortunately, Columbia’s extensive supplemental section affords applicants an opportunity to forge a personal connection with an admissions officer and also demonstrate what makes them uniquely qualified for admission. Columbia requires answers to one “List” question as well as four short answer questions.

Below are Columbia’s supplemental essays for the 2023-24 admissions cycle along with tips about how to address each one:

2023-2024 Columbia Supplemental Essays

Columbia Supplemental Essays: List Question

1) For the list question that follows, there is a 100-word maximum. Please refer to the below guidance when answering this question:

– Your response should be a list of items separated by commas or semicolons.

– Items do not have to be numbered or in any specific order.

– It is not necessary to italicize or underline titles of books or other publications.

– No author names, subtitles or explanatory remarks are needed.

List a selection of texts, resources and outlets that have contributed to your intellectual development outside of academic courses, including but not limited to books, journals, websites, podcasts, essays, plays, presentations, videos, museums and other content that you enjoy. (100 words or fewer)

In previous years, Columbia has required several different types of lists, but this year, they’re only asking for one. Note that they specifically ask for selections that have contributed to your intellectual development.

The goal is not to appear as well-rounded as possible. If you happen to be a person with wide-ranging interests, that’s cool—feel free to share your eclectic tastes. However, if you tend to favor learning about World War II, for one example, it can be great to communicate this primary passion by unleashing a list of a dozen books, podcasts, videos, and museums on that lone topic.

Columbia Supplemental Essays (Continued)

Moreover, the media we consume and the live events we attend can be incredibly connective. Entire communities pop up around a given podcast, musical artist, or social media personality. Share the resources/outlets that you are genuinely obsessed with the aim of painting a fuller portrait of who you are as an individual. Ideally, an admissions officer will come away from this section thinking, “This sounds like a really interesting person that I’d like to know more about.” Of course, you might get lucky and happen to adore the same obscure film, podcast, artist, etc. as the admissions reader which certainly can’t hurt your admissions odds.

Finally, per the school’s own directives, you don’t need to worry about formatting here. Thus, it is not necessary to italicize or underline titles. You can also skip subtitles and author names, if you wish (although most applicants do include the latter).

Columbia Supplemental Essays: Short Answer Questions

1) In college/university, students are often challenged in ways that they could not predict or anticipate. It is important to us, therefore, to understand an applicant’s ability to navigate through adversity. Please describe a barrier or obstacle you have faced and discuss the personal qualities, skills or insights you have developed as a result. (150 words or fewer)

Of course, some teens have lived more challenging lives than others—some applicants come from affluence, others from low-income households. Some have two supportive parents; some have more difficult family relationships. Some have dealt with mental/physical or learning/attentional challenges while others have enjoyed smooth sailing in all of those areas. The important thing to keep in mind is that the challenge/story itself is less important than what it reveals about your character and personality.

Even if you end up writing about a common topic like getting cut from a sports team or struggling in a particular advanced course—that’s perfectly fine! Any story told in an emotionally compelling, honest, and connective manner can resonate with an admissions reader. The bottom line here is that there are no trite topics, only trite answers.

Given the 150-word limit, your essay needs to be extremely tight and polished. In all likelihood, getting this one precisely right will involve a round or two of revision, ideally with some insight/feedback from a trusted adult or peer in the process.

Columbia Supplemental Essays (Continued)

Some tips to keep in mind include:

  • Firstly, make sure you share what you were feeling and experiencing. This piece should demonstrate openness and vulnerability.
  • Additionally, you don’t need to be a superhero in the story. You can just be an ordinary human trying their best to learn how to navigate a challenging world.
  • Don’t feel boxed into one particular structure for this essay. The most common (which there is nothing wrong with), is 1) introducing the problem 2) explaining your internal and external decision-making in response to the problem 3) Revealing the resolution to the problem and what you learned along the way.
  • Lastly, don’t be afraid that your “problem” might sound “trite” in comparison to those of others. This essay is about you. Your job is to make sure that your response to the problem shows your maturity and resilience in an authentic way. That matters far more than the original challenge itself.

2) 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. (150 words or fewer)

Essentially, Columbia is trying to uncover how your personal experiences will impact what kind of academic and social community member you might be. As such, this prompt wants you to discuss: 1) a specific aspect of your lived experience 2) what you learned and how you might engage with others as a result of that lived experience. “Lived experience” is broad and could include:

  • Your role in your family.
  • Your role in your social group.
  • A challenge you’ve faced.
  • A formative experience or realization.
  • Important aspects of your upbringing.
  • Cultural, religious, community influence.

Columbia Supplemental Essays (Continued)

Once you’ve chosen a particular direction, think about what you’ve learned from the experience and what you think others could learn from you. This is a chance to show that you are an open-minded, curious, and humble young person who is willing to learn and grow from their experiences.

For example, perhaps growing up on military bases with a parent who was frequently deployed taught you about the importance of putting yourself out there to find a supportive community. Perhaps you also learned that you have to be intentional about creating said community, which can be a difficult proposition in an increasingly technological and social-media-centric world. It’s also taught you not to take the relationships in your life for granted. As a result, you hope to model the importance of in-person connections and friendships—and the importance of putting a significant amount of effort into those friendships—even when it may feel easier to connect virtually.

Space is at a premium here, so you’ll want to be very specific and intentional about what details and lessons you share.

3) Why are you interested in attending Columbia University? We encourage you to consider the aspect(s) that you find unique and compelling about Columbia. (150 words or fewer)

Last year, Columbia allowed up to 200 words for this response, and this year, they’ve chopped it down to 150. This should communicate to you, the applicant, that they would like you to be as specific and focused as possible. What is it about Columbia as a whole that attracts you? What does Columbia offer that you won’t be able to find anywhere else? For example, let’s say you’re interested in undergraduate research. Lots of colleges offer the opportunity for undergraduate research—why do you feel Columbia’s resources will be the best fit? (This often requires some serious digging.) Remember, you’ll have the opportunity to provide more specifics about the College you’re applying to in a different essay (see below). As such, great things to highlight here include:

This prompt opens the door to discussing opportunities outside of the classroom as well. You could include study abroad programs, student organizations at Columbia, or NYC-specific opportunities for internships, culture, and connection.

One important note: the Core Curriculum is a popular topic for this essay. If that is one of the main aspects of Columbia that attracts you, feel free to write about it, but try to do so in a highly specific way that will set you apart from the hordes of other applicants discussing the same thing. Same rule for any mention of NYC’s “plethora of opportunities.”

Columbia Supplemental Essays: College/School/Program-Specific Questions

In addition to the prompts outlined above, you’ll also need to respond to an additional essay that depends on the College, School, or program you are applying to. Here are the two most popular:

Columbia College

What attracts you to your preferred areas of study at Columbia College? (150 words or fewer)

Columbia Engineering

What attracts you to your preferred areas of study at Columbia Engineering? (150 words or fewer)

We all have a story of what drives us to pursue a certain academic pathway and career. How did your interest initially develop? What was the spark? How have you nurtured this passion and how has it evolved over time? For example, if you desire to go into engineering, this could be your chance to talk about your participation in an award-winning robotics program at your high school. Share a compelling narrative about how your love of your future area of study has blossomed to its present levels.

Additionally, connect your interests and passions to at least one or two school-specific resources or offerings. You want to not only share what attracts you to your preferred area of study but also what attracts you to your preferred area of study at Columbia in particular. As such, you could mention academic departments, professorsresearch opportunities, internship programscourses, degree structure/curriculum, etc. Be sure to note how you plan to take advantage of your chosen resource(s), and avoid repeating any information already shared in the “Why Columbia” question.

How important are the Columbia supplemental essays?

There are a whopping 8 factors that Columbia considers to be “very important” to the evaluation process. These are: rigor of secondary school record, test scores, character/personal qualities, class rank, GPA, recommendations, and extracurricular activities. However, the most relevant to this blog is, of course, the application essays. The essays undoubtedly play a significant role in the admissions process at Columbia University. They can help the committee decide who to admit when choosing between similarly credentialed (GPA, test scores, etc.) applicants.

Want personalized assistance with your Columbia supplemental essays?

In conclusion, if you are interested in working with one of College Transitions’ experienced and knowledgeable essay coaches as you craft your Columbia supplemental essays, we encourage you to get a quote today.