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The Ultimate Guide to Acing the Columbia Supplemental Essays 2021/22

14 OCT 2021

Founded in 1754 as King’s College, Columbia University is one of the top institutions in the world. Nine Supreme Court Justices, 45 Olympians, and five Founding Fathers of the United States attended Columbia. If you aspire to be a Columbia Lion, you’re in good company! Since the university admitted only 3.7% of first-year applicants in the 2020-2021 admissions cycle, give yourself the best possible shot at a Columbia education by spending a little extra time polishing your supplementary essays.

How to stand out in your Columbia Supplemental Essays for 2021

Columbia asks applicants to write two kinds of supplemental essays with three questions each. The first is the unique list format, which requires you to respond to three questions. The short answer questions call for deeper reflection on your interest in Columbia. Compared to some other supplementary essay prompts, Columbia’s might seem surprisingly straightforward, but there’s still plenty of room to be creative within the limits of these concrete prompts.

As you work through these essays, remember that Columbia receives applications from more qualified students than they can reasonably admit. It’s challenging to impress these schools through the sheer quality of your academic record, so you will need to find other ways to distinguish yourself. One way to do this is to carefully construct thoughtful, insightful responses to Columbia’s supplementary essay questions. Here’s how to approach these essays.


Need help with your Supplemental Essays? Crimson Education is the world’s leading university admission consulting company. Our expert admission strategist can help you narrow down your ideas and word choice to help you craft the perfect essay prompt response. Get your essay reviewed today!

What are the Columbia essay prompts for 21/22?

Prompt 1: List Questions
Prompt
1List the titles of the required readings from academic courses that you enjoyed most during secondary/high school. (75 words or fewer)
2List 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)
3We’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)
Prompt 2: Short Answer Questions
Prompt
1A 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? (200 words or fewer)
2Why 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)
3Please 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)

Us Supplemental Essay Ebook

How to Answer the Columbia Supplemental Essay Prompts

Before responding to a list prompt, brainstorm about different ways you can format your responses. Your list can consist of single words, phrases, or both. Columbia is pushing its applicants to show insight and personality with limiting parameters. Experiment with different forms to determine which format offers you the most communicative responses.

Some additional notes about lists:

  • Separate your list with commas or semicolons.
  • You don't have to number your items or put them in a certain order.
  • Don't worry about italicizing or underlining book or publication titles.
  • Author names, subtitles, or explanatory remarks are not needed.

How to Answer Prompt 1 (List Questions)

Question 1: List the titles of the required readings from academic courses that you enjoyed most during secondary/high school. (75 words or fewer)

This prompt lets you off the hook a little since you should only mention things you read for actual coursework. The range of possible answers is already determined for you! Think of this list as an opportunity to do two things. First, this prompt allows you to show admissions officers how your experiences have prepared you for the rigors of a Columbia education. Second, use this list to express your unique intellectual fingerprint. You don’t have to justify the connections between these different interests! Let your curiosity lead the way.

Question 2: 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)

Resist the urge to pad or fabricate this list. Think honestly about what you’ve read in the past year, and take some time to reflect on how that reading made you feel. What does it mean to read for pleasure? Pure enjoyment is pleasurable, but so is working through a complex text that helps you better understand one of your interests. Maybe you take pleasure in augmenting your understanding of organic chemistry, or perhaps you’re obsessed with sports statistics and follow nonfiction releases with keen attention. Columbia is looking for students who pursue their interests independently. Take the opportunity to create a genuine sketch of your intellectual diet as you create this list.

Question 3: 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)

Don’t worry about generating equal proportions of print and electronic publications – that’s not the point here. Instead, focus on building a picture of the kind of information you consume regularly. This list can elaborate on the previous list. While it can take weeks or months to finish reading a book for fun, it’s possible to fill in the gaps with articles, short stories, and journalism every day. Truthfully respond to this question. If you don’t already read The New York Times, don’t add it to the list. If you read every article in Teen Vogue, it might be worth including. Columbia is a huge university, and there’s more than enough room for a diversity of interests and perspectives among the student body. If your response seems like someone else’s idea of a Columbian’s reading habits, you haven’t succeeded. Show this list to a parent or friend to make sure it seems like an accurate representation of both your serious and recreational interests.

Key points:

  • Experiment with the format.
  • Be honest.
  • Try to create a sense of what it’s like to be inside your head.

How to Answer Prompt 2 (Short Answer Questions)

Question 1: 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? (200 words or fewer)

Admissions teams want to see how you relate to others and how you behave within a group.

  • What do you bring to the table and how do you support others?
  • What are your most impactful community experiences?
  • What did you learn?
  • How might these experiences apply to your experience at Columbia?
  • How do you interact with people from different backgrounds?
  • What is challenging?
  • What is rewarding and valuable?

Give particular emphasis to what you imagine you will bring to the Columbia community.

Located in New York City, Columbia students can experience Broadway plays, high fashion, vintage shops, and authentic street food. Columbia offers unparalleled access to cultural resources because New York City is Columbia’s extended campus. While student life at Columbia isn’t the typical all-American college experience and is far from the quaint Princeton and Cambridge college towns, Columbia boasts a traditional campus in the neighborhood of Morningside Heights. What about this particular kind of college community appeals to you?

Question 2: 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)

Everyone knows that Columbia is an Ivy League school offering world-class education in a global city. There’s no need to repeat this in your essay. Admissions officers are very familiar with Columbia, both from their own experience and through the thousands of supplemental essays which repeat the same talking points year after year. Can you show them something fresh about their community? To accomplish this, you need to craft an essay that communicates how you’ll bring your individuality to campus in 2022.

You may have heard about the Columbia Core Curriculum, which has connected thousands of alumni since its inception in 1919. While it’s okay to write about the Core, make sure to push yourself beyond a generic statement of appreciation for the liberal arts. Do some research into the nuts and bolts of the curriculum so you can write about specific connections between your interests and the Core syllabi.

Question 3: 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)

This question gives you another opportunity to reveal something about your experience that has led you to where you are today. Reflect on your application. Is there something you’d like to elaborate on or share further? Think about how these experiences directly relate to what Columbia has to offer. What experiences prepared you for your intended course of study? What motivates your drive and passion? Be as personal here as you are comfortable. What questions do you have? Why will Columbia’s specific offerings best support your learning? What will you contribute? In addition to being specific about what Columbia offers, make sure you let your background and personality shine through. (This goes for each essay, of course!) You can achieve this effect by being honest and detailed about your particular interests, experiences, and dreams.

Final Thoughts

Columbia takes a holistic approach when they evaluate applicants. In addition to reviewing curriculum and grades, they look at your family background, community involvement, personal and academic interests, character, and how you’ll fit into Columbia’s distinctive community. Use the supplemental essays to reveal more about yourself to the admissions team. The more they can see of you, the easier it will be for them to see if you’re a top candidate for their university.


Crimson Education is the world’s leading university admission consulting company. Our expert admission strategist can help you narrow down your ideas and word choice to help you craft the perfect supplemental essay responses. Get your essay reviewed today!

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