How To Answer Columbia's 2023/24 Supplemental Essays: Tips & Insights

27/09/202322 minute read
How To Answer Columbia's 2023/24 Supplemental Essays: Tips & Insights

Columbia's supplemental essays are a crucial part of the application, offering a deeper insight into your fit with the university. This guide provides detailed prompts, tips, and insights to craft compelling responses that resonate with Columbia's ethos. Approach with authenticity, align with Columbia's offerings and showcase your unique perspective to stand out.

The Essay That Got Me Into Columbia

Columbia's 2023/24 Supplemental Essay Updates: What's Changed?

Securing a spot at Columbia University, with its acceptance rate of around 4%, is a monumental achievement. In the intricate dance of college admissions, your supplemental essays are instrumental in portraying your distinctive narrative and alignment with Columbia's ethos.

Elite institutions like Columbia refine their application criteria each academic year to ensure they gain a holistic perspective of their prospective students.

For the 2023/24 admissions cycle, Columbia has made several pivotal changes to its supplemental essay questions:

  • Consolidation of Prompts: The initial list-based questions about favorite readings from high school courses and beyond and resources and outlets of interest have been merged into a single comprehensive prompt. This new question seeks to understand the texts, resources, and outlets influencing the applicant's intellectual journey outside formal education.
  • Word Limit Reduction: Several questions now have reduced word limits, emphasizing the need for applicants to provide concise and focused responses.
  • Emphasis on Inclusivity: The question about learning from diverse communities has been refined to underscore the importance of an "equitable and inclusive community." This change prompts applicants to reflect more deeply on their perspectives and experiences.
  • Introduction of a Resilience Question: A new question has been added to gauge the applicant's resilience. It asks them to describe an obstacle they've faced and the steps they took to overcome it.
  • Minor Adjustments: While the question about the applicant's interest in Columbia remains, its word limit has been shortened. The prompt about attraction to specific areas of study at Columbia has been slightly rephrased but retains its essence.

These modifications highlight Columbia's evolving admissions approach, emphasizing a deeper understanding of the diverse life experiences and intrinsic values that applicants would bring to its dynamic undergraduate community.

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What Are Columbia's Supplemental Essay Prompts for 2023/24?

For the 2023/24 application cycle, Columbia University has meticulously crafted supplemental essay prompts to delve deeper into the profiles of its applicants. These prompts aim to uncover your intellectual influences, personal perspectives, resilience, and your vision for your journey at Columbia.

List-Based Question

Columbia's list-based question offers a glimpse into your intellectual influences outside the classroom.

  • Intellectual Influences: 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)

Short Answer Questions

These questions provide deeper insights into your perspectives, experiences, and values.

  • Equitable and Inclusive Community: 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)
  • Navigating Adversity: In college/university, students are often challenged in ways that they could not predict or anticipate. 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)
  • Interest in Columbia: 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)
  • Areas of Study: What attracts you to your preferred areas of study at Columbia College or Columbia Engineering? (150 words)


For the list question, adhere to a 100-word maximum. Your response should be a list of items separated by commas or semicolons without the need for numbering, italicizing, or underlining titles. No author names, subtitles, or explanatory remarks are required. Responses should be limited to 150 words or fewer for the four short answer questions.

Columbia's application process is undeniably competitive, with an acceptance rate of around 4%. These prompts offer applicants a unique opportunity to showcase their intellectual influences, personal growth, and the distinct perspectives they'll bring to the Columbia community.

Looking for inspiration? Dive into these Columbia essay examples to see what successful applications look like!

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How to Answer Columbia’s Supplemental Essay Questions?

Prompt 1 (List-based question)

“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

This prompt is an invitation to showcase the diverse range of materials that have shaped your intellectual journey outside the confines of a classroom. It's a chance to provide a snapshot of your intellectual curiosity, interests, and the resources instrumental in your growth.

Diversify Your List

While focusing solely on academic or highbrow materials might be tempting, remember that intellectual growth can come from various sources. A podcast episode might have changed your perspective on a social issue, or a museum visit might have deepened your appreciation for art or history.

Be Authentic

It's essential to be genuine in your selections. Don't list items you think might impress the admissions committee but don't resonate with you. Your list should reflect your true intellectual diet.

Consider the Impact

While the prompt doesn't ask for explanations, the items you choose should have clearly impacted your intellectual development. Whether it's a book that introduced you to a new field of interest or a documentary that deepened your understanding of a global issue, each item should have contributed to your growth.

Format and Presentation

Given the word limit, you'll need to be concise. List items in a clear, organized manner, using commas or semicolons to separate them. While you don't need to provide detailed explanations, the order and grouping can subtly indicate connections or themes.


  • "1984" by George Orwell; "The Daily" podcast; TED Talks; The Louvre; "The Social Dilemma" documentary; National Geographic website; "The Future of Humanity" by Michio Kaku; Shakespeare's "Hamlet"; The Economist.
  • "The Alchemist" by Paulo Coelho; MoMA; "How I Built This" podcast; "The World in a Grain" by Vince Beiser; TED-Ed videos; "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" by Junot Díaz; The Smithsonian Magazine.


Columbia's first list question is a window into your intellectual world outside school. It's an opportunity to showcase the breadth and depth of your interests and the resources that have been pivotal in your academic journey. Approach this list with authenticity, diversity, and a clear sense of how each item has contributed to your growth.

Prompt 2 (Short Essay)

“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

This prompt delves into your personal experiences and how they've shaped your perspective. Columbia is seeking students who will not only benefit from its diverse community but also actively contribute to it.

Reflect on Your Unique Perspective

Start by identifying a specific experience, background, or aspect of your identity that has profoundly influenced your perspective. This could be related to your cultural background, personal challenges, unique experiences, or any other facet of your life that has shaped your worldview.

Show, Don't Just Tell

Instead of merely stating your perspective, narrate a brief anecdote or experience that encapsulates it. This makes your essay more engaging and provides a clearer insight into your viewpoint.

Connect to Columbia's Community

Reflect on how your unique perspective will enrich Columbia's community. How will you engage with others, participate in discussions, or contribute to campus activities? Consider how your viewpoint can foster understanding, spark meaningful conversations, or inspire collaborative projects.

Embrace the NYC Advantage

Given Columbia's unique location in New York City, consider how your perspective aligns with NYC's dynamic, diverse, and cosmopolitan environment. How might the city's cultural resources amplify your learning and contributions?


  • "Growing up in a multicultural household, I've learned to navigate and appreciate multiple cultures simultaneously. This has taught me the value of open-mindedness and adaptability. At Columbia, I aim to bridge cultural gaps, fostering understanding and collaboration in this diverse community, while also immersing myself in NYC's rich tapestry of cultures."
  • "Facing economic hardships, I've developed resilience and a deep appreciation for education as a tool for change. My experiences have instilled in me a drive to advocate for equitable opportunities. At Columbia, I'd champion initiatives that support underprivileged students, leveraging the resources and platforms that NYC offers."


Columbia's second short essay question invites you to share how your unique experiences and perspectives will enrich its vibrant community. By weaving a narrative that connects your journey to Columbia's ethos and the broader NYC environment, you can effectively convey the value you'll bring to the university's diverse and collaborative landscape.

Prompt 3 (Short Essay)

“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

This prompt seeks to understand your resilience, adaptability, and growth in facing challenges. Columbia wants students who persevere, learn from adversity, and contribute positively to the community despite unexpected obstacles.

Identify a Genuine Challenge

Begin by pinpointing a specific challenge or obstacle you've encountered. This could be academic, personal, social, or even professional. Ensure it's a situation where you faced genuine difficulty, uncertainty, or setback.

Narrate the Journey, Not Just the Outcome

While it's essential to discuss how you overcame the challenge, also delve into the emotions, thoughts, and processes you went through. This provides depth to your narrative and showcases your problem-solving and coping mechanisms.

Highlight Personal Growth

Discuss the qualities or skills you developed from facing this challenge. Did it make you more empathetic? Did you develop better communication or analytical skills? Maybe it gave you a fresh perspective or a renewed sense of purpose.

Connect to the College Experience

Reflect on how this growth prepares you for the unpredictable challenges of college life. How will these qualities or skills help you navigate Columbia's academic and social intricacies?


  • "When a close family member fell ill, I had to balance school with significant home responsibilities. This period taught me time management and the value of support networks. I've learned that seeking help isn't a sign of weakness but of strength. At Columbia, I'll proactively join study groups and access available resources."
  • "Facing academic challenges in my calculus class, I initially felt defeated. However, I sought tutoring, collaborated with peers, and spent extra hours practicing. This experience honed my perseverance and collaborative spirit, qualities I'll carry into challenging coursework at Columbia."


Columbia's third short essay question provides a window into your character, resilience, and growth mindset. By detailing a genuine challenge and the subsequent personal development, you can effectively convey to Columbia how you'll handle the unpredictable challenges of college life and contribute positively to the community.

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Prompt 4 (Short Essay)

“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

This is a classic "Why This School" essay, a staple in the college application process. Columbia wants to understand not just why you want to attend an Ivy League institution but why you're specifically drawn to Columbia over other prestigious schools.

Research, Research, Research

Before you start writing, research Columbia's programs, culture, and opportunities. Go beyond the obvious and look for unique offerings or traditions that resonate with your interests and aspirations.

Connect to Your Goals and Interests

Discuss specific Columbia programs, courses, or opportunities that align with your academic and extracurricular interests. Maybe there's a particular professor you're excited to work with or a unique program that aligns with your career goals.

Beyond Academics

Columbia is more than just its academic programs. Maybe you're drawn to its location in New York City, diverse student body, or its commitment to community engagement. Highlight aspects of Columbia's culture or values that resonate with you.

The Core Curriculum

While many applicants will mention the famed Columbia Core Curriculum, make your mention stand out. Dive deep into specific courses or texts within the Core that excite you. How do you see the Core enriching your academic journey?


  • "Columbia's interdisciplinary Science and Society program perfectly aligns with my passion for bioethics. The blend of rigorous scientific study with philosophical inquiry offers a holistic education I'm eager to dive into."
  • "Being in the heart of NYC, Columbia offers unparalleled opportunities for real-world learning. I'm excited to engage with the city's diverse communities and bring those experiences back to the classroom."


Columbia's fourth short essay question is your chance to showcase your genuine interest in the university and how it aligns with your goals. By connecting specific Columbia offerings to your aspirations, you demonstrate a clear vision of your future at the university.

Prompt 5 (Short Essay)

“What attracts you to your preferred areas of study at Columbia College or Columbia Engineering?”

- 150 words or fewer

Columbia wants to understand the driving force behind your academic choices. This question delves into your intellectual passions and how they align with what Columbia offers in your preferred study area.

Reflect on Your Journey

Begin by considering the experiences, both academic and personal, that have shaped your interest in your chosen field. Was it a particular class, a personal project, or maybe an internship or mentorship?

Specificity is Key

Avoid generic statements about the value of education or the prestige of Columbia. Instead, delve into specific programs, courses, or opportunities within Columbia College or Columbia Engineering that resonate with your interests.

Connect Past, Present, and Future

Discuss how your past experiences have prepared you for your intended major. Then, bridge this with how Columbia's offerings will further your academic and career goals.


  • "My internship at a local tech firm ignited my passion for computer engineering. Columbia Engineering's renowned Data Science Institute offers the perfect platform for me to delve deeper into machine learning applications."
  • "After spearheading a community art project, I realized the power of visual storytelling. Columbia College's interdisciplinary approach to art and media studies will allow me to explore the intersection of art, culture, and social impact."


Columbia's fifth short essay question seeks to understand the depth of your commitment to your chosen field and how Columbia's specific offerings align with your academic journey. Connecting your past experiences with Columbia's resources demonstrates a clear vision of your academic future at the university. Remember to be genuine and specific, and show how your background and Columbia's offerings align with your educational aspirations.

How Anuar Got Into Columbia

General Guidelines for Answering Columbia's Supplemental Essay Questions

  1. Deep Dive into Columbia's Offerings: Columbia's prompts are tailored to understand your fit within its academically rigorous and culturally diverse environment. Highlight specific programs, courses, or professors that align with your interests. Demonstrating this level of specificity indicates genuine interest and thorough research.
  2. Reflect on Personal Growth: Columbia values introspective students. When discussing challenges or personal perspectives, always circle back to what these experiences have taught you and how they've shaped your worldview.
  3. Celebrate Your Unique Perspective: Columbia thrives on various voices and backgrounds. Emphasize how your unique experiences or viewpoints will enrich classroom discussions and the broader Columbia community.
  4. Authenticity Above All: Be genuine in your responses. Rather than trying to fit a mold, showcase your true self, interests, and aspirations. Authentic narratives resonate more deeply.
  5. Conciseness is Key: With tight word limits, it's essential to be concise yet impactful. Prioritize depth over breadth, giving a comprehensive view of selected experiences or thoughts.
  6. Engaging Narratives: Engaging storytelling can elevate your essay. Whether you're listing resources that have shaped your intellectual journey or explaining why you're drawn to Columbia, a narrative touch can make your response memorable.
  7. Meticulous Proofreading: Ensure your essays are polished and free from errors. Beyond grammar, ensure clarity and coherence in your narrative. Seek feedback from trusted individuals for fresh perspectives.
  8. Connect to the Columbia Experience: Relate your answers to how you'll engage with and contribute to the Columbia community. This showcases a long-term vision of your time at Columbia beyond just securing admission.
  9. Embrace the Opportunity: These essays are more than just a formality; they're your platform to present a holistic picture of who you are. Use them to articulate why the synergy between you and Columbia would benefit both.
  10. Stay Updated: Columbia, situated in the heart of New York City, is ever-evolving. Stay updated with recent developments, courses, or initiatives that might align with your interests.

Columbia's supplemental essays are your gateway to showcase your fit, passion, and potential contributions to its esteemed community. By thoughtfully crafting your responses and intertwining them with Columbia's ethos and offerings, you can compellingly convey why you're a perfect match for Columbia University.

For more inspiration, you might want to explore these Columbia essay examples to understand what makes an application truly stand out.

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Final Thoughts

Embarking on the journey to Columbia is not just about showcasing academic prowess but weaving a narrative that aligns with Columbia's esteemed legacy and the admissions committee's expectations. Your supplemental essays are a window into your character, aspirations, and the unique contributions you'll bring to the Columbia community.

Every Columbia aspirant has a distinct story to share. This is your moment to articulate yours. Approach your essays with authenticity, depth, and a genuine passion for your narrative.

If you're unsure whether your essay truly captures your essence or stands out amidst many applications, our essay review service is here to guide you. Our experienced experts will provide a thorough review and feedback, ensuring your essay resonates with Columbia's admissions officers. For further inspiration, dive into our ebook, which showcases essays from students who clinched spots at top-tier institutions. And for those targeting Columbia, our compilation of successful Columbia essay examples will be invaluable.

For those just beginning their college application journey, consider scheduling a free consultation with our seasoned college counselors. We're dedicated to assisting you in crafting an application that enhances your chances of joining the ranks of Columbia's Lions. Your dream of becoming a part of Columbia's legacy is within reach, and we're here to support you at every juncture.

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