Columbia Admissions Tips

A transcript of's recent online chat with representatives of Columbia Business School's admissions and financial aid offices

Columbia Business School tries to take advantage of its location in one of the most prosperous and exciting cities in the world. That's part of the reason why it's a popular choice with B-school aspirants. But not everyone snags a seat. In 2006, Columbia accepted only 17% of the 5,372 applicants.

Recently, BusinessWeek reporter Francesca Di Meglio (FrancescaBW) and the next batch of would-be applicants posed questions about admissions to Linda Meehan (LindaCBS), assistant dean and executive director for MBA admissions and financial aid at Columbia Business School, and Lauren Franks (LaurenCBS), a 2007 CBS graduate, during a live chat event.

Here are edited excerpts of their conversation:

FrancescaBW: Brief us on what you look for in a candidate.

LindaCBS: Columbia Business School is obviously looking for the best and brightest of future business leaders of the world. When we review an application, we take a holistic approach. We assess a number of points within your application, including but not limited to academic prowess, personal characteristics, and future business potential.

asupls: I am very interested in CBS and it is definitely among my top three dream schools. To increase my chances of getting into CBS, shall I apply for the early decision (ED) round? Will the admit ratio be higher in the ED round?

LindaCBS: Early decision is geared toward those applicants who know that Columbia Business School is the right fit for them. They have researched many programs and have determined that the offerings, opportunities, and education available at Columbia will best fit their needs. We ask our ED applicants to know that they will attend Columbia should they be admitted and withdraw applications from any other schools to which they have applied and turn down offers they may have received.

saukumar: My wife and I are applying to Columbia ED. How does Columbia view couples who apply and what can we do to demonstrate our interest? Also, how do we get in touch with couples presently studying at Columbia?

LindaCBS: By applying ED, you have demonstrated sincere interest in Columbia and commitment to the program. It is important that you notify the admissions committee in essay No. 5 that you are both applying.

Anne_Huang: What makes CBS unique compared with other B-schools?

LaurenCBS: Columbia is able to draw on its reputation and location to pull in amazing and unparalleled academics and practitioners. For example, I took two classes from practitioners in the top of their respective fields: private equity and venture capital. These practitioners worked and taught, which enabled us to learn from their real-time experience. They brought in speakers from around the world.

miguel08_2: I was born in January, 1976, and I'm planning to apply in the second round in January, 2008. That will make me a 32-year-old fellow when joining the program. How is Columbia admissions for those over 30 years old?

LindaCBS: We do not have rounds. We offer rolling admission for both the January and September intakes. Advice is always to apply before the stated deadline—as soon as or as early as your application is the very best that you can present. It is not about age; it is instead about your experience and how your experience lends itself to your goals.

specialsuss: If you cannot ask your direct supervisor to write you a recommendation, who should you ask? An old boss, current co-worker, or someone else?

LindaCBS: You should ask the person you feel knows you best and can provide the most insight to the admissions committee about your potential as a future business leader. A client or former supervisor would be perfectly acceptable options if each knows you well. Please ensure that you utilize optional essay No. 5 to express that you are unable to obtain a recommendation from your current supervisor and why.

Thyag: How does the school view applicants who want to launch a business from within the MBA program?

LaurenCBS: Columbia has many resources for students interested in entrepreneurship, including mentorship, the Lang Center, the Greenhouse Program, access to funding, Outrageous Business Plan Competition (which funds outstanding new ventures), etc. Three classmates of mine are starting their own business and are in the process of acquiring office space and funding. It's an online initiative about which they are very secretive.

MareNubia: Can I gain admission with a German three-year bachelor degree or do I need to get a master's first in Europe?

LindaCBS: We consider each applicant on a case-by-case basis and have indeed admitted those with three-year bachelors.

Michele_Rozzi: How long does it take to be invited to an interview once the application is submitted?

LindaCBS: Applications are reviewed prior to interviews and the timing will vary. Applicants will receive their final decisions within eight weeks for January, 10 weeks for ED, and 12 weeks for regular decision.

marisol: What is the most valuable information that should appear in a letter of recommendation? Could you please give me some advice?

LindaCBS: Columbia Business School asks your recommender to respond to 10 specific questions.

NicoleLindenbaum: Do you recommend writing the optional essay?

LindaCBS: An optional essay is just that, optional. It is up to you to decide if you feel there is something further we should know about your candidacy.

gr_victoria: Is mentioning really specific career goals in the essay (e.g., the name of the company where I would like to work after graduation) a good idea?

LindaCBS: I feel that if a business school does an outstanding job it will open new doors and ideas to those who enter. Therefore, we understand that many of you will indeed change your minds during business school as to your career goals. What is important is that you understand who you are, what you have achieved, and what skills you will develop to allow you to accomplish your goals.

Nastasia: What is better, to apply earlier with a lower GMAT score or to improve GMAT but apply later (closer to the round's deadline)?

LindaCBS: We encourage applicants to apply once they have crafted the very best applications they can.

Yury_DROZDOV: Could you please tell me more about the Program for Social Intelligence? There are only a few words about this program on the CBS Web site now. What kind of activities and training does PSI provide?

LaurenCBS: The PSI program is simply one part of the innovative curriculum at CBS (see, 10/17/2006, "Columbia Gets Personal"). I had the opportunity to benefit from the program through extensive training provided by the Peer Advisor group. I received leadership training and presentation- and communication-skills training that I feel were invaluable to improving my skills. The school is serious about investing in its students' overall leadership and management skills—in a nutshell, through mentoring, experiential learning, and training.

McCullarM: If I apply in October, 2007, regular decision, will I possibly hear results before April, 2008?

LindaCBS: Yes. You will receive a decision within 12 weeks following Jan. 9, 2008, the date on which we start reading applications for the regular-decision applications.

ErinMcGirt: I'm applying for the dual-degree program in business and urban planning. I was wondering how many people are in this program each year? Also, it is unclear to me if I can also have a concentration such as real estate if I participate in the dual-degree program.

LindaCBS: The number of people who apply varies from year to year. And yes, you will be able to concentrate, if you so choose, in the RE program.

sachet: I am applying for the intake in 2008 and wanted to know if accommodations are provided by Columbia, or are students encouraged to find accommodations in Manhattan?

LaurenCBS: Columbia does provide housing to incoming students; however, it is not guaranteed. Most of my friends live on the [Upper West Side] within a short commute from campus. There is support in finding off-campus housing, too. Once admitted, we had resources available on the admitted-student Web site.

ComtesseDub: What is the ratio of foreign applicants to enrolled students?

LindaCBS: Approximately one-third of our students are international, providing one of the most diverse student bodies.

Bobs: What are the downsides (from the admissions committee point of view) of students opting out of their ED admits, even after paying the nonrefundable $6,000 deposit?

LindaCBS: When one applies ED to Columbia, you sign an honor pledge. As part of this agreement, you state that you will withdraw your applications from any other school to which you may have applied, as well as submit the deposit. That being said, you are bound ethically by your initial decision to apply for the ED period. Should you not be confident that this is the perfect fit for you, please apply during the regular-decision period. Everyone should be able to live with the decisions and commitments they make.

bpole308: What was last year's acceptance rate? The brochure lists the class of 2006 as 17% (925 students), but I'm curious about the most recent class admitted?

LindaCBS: 16%.

Sanya: When submitting my application online, how do I include the recommendations?

LindaCBS: The entire application is online. You will submit the name and e-mail address of your recommenders and we will send them a link to our recommendation page.

Mindy: I would like to know the process for re-applicants from the point that the application is submitted. Is the application considered a "new" application? Please be more detailed than the Web site information in your response.

LindaCBS: Our re-application process will include your original application in its entirety, plus the information required in the re-application. This includes one essay and one new recommendation.

DWeisberg: I have a pretty low GPA mostly because of full-time work during my undergrad studies. However, my GMAT is above 700. What is the admissions committee's viewpoint of such an issue and should I directly address it in the optional essay?

LindaCBS: Yes. I would certainly address any work during your undergraduate studies, in addition to your coursework and extracurricular activities. When evaluating your academic performance and potential, we look at your course of study, your success in your academic studies, and your GMAT—both verbal and quantitative.

highlyspirited: I want to know more about the job scene after the MBA. How easy or difficult is it for international candidates to get jobs?

LaurenCBS: Columbia provides excellent resources from the day you arrive through your time as an alum. I am going to return to my previous employer; however, many of my classmates made industry switches. One example is a classmate who worked in a manufacturing plant and started last Monday at an investment bank.

akamal: Lauren, can you please discuss some of the extracurricular activities that added value to your overall experience? Also, any tips for balancing schoolwork and activities?

LaurenCBS: From day one, you will be inundated with opportunities to get involved in the CBS community. Possibilities include sports, volunteer work, and professional clubs, to name a few. I was a member of the Social Enterprise Club, Columbia Women in Business, and the Wine Society. As part of the Social Enterprise Club, I was sponsored on a weeklong trip to Santiago, Chile, to work with a nonprofit. The possibilities are endless.

ragimli: Lauren, how do the academics of J-term vary from those of the regular one?

LaurenCBS: They don't. The courses are the same. The professors are the same.

mlchang: I am interested in focusing on venture capitalism and private equity in the technology arm at CBS. I've reviewed classes that you offer as well as clubs. I was curious in what other ways does CBS connect students with industry.

LaurenCBS: I know people, working one day a week (in the second year), who did internships during the school year. In addition, many classes, taught by experts in the field, bring in guest speakers. For example, in my private equity class, I was connected with a private equity firm in Latin America for a semester-long project. Adam Dell, for example, teaches the Business in Technology Class. Remember, we are Columbia in New York. It's location, location, location.

dhfan2: Is the January term a better way to go for an applicant based in New York?

LindaCBS: January targets not location, but those applicants who are interested in a 16-month program without an internship. It is designed for entrepreneurs, those returning to the same industry, as well as those with a strong network in that industry preceding business school. It is also appropriate for those in a family business.

gr_victoria: How would you rank the application parameters according to their importance? Does a good GMAT score help a lot?

LindaCBS: As you may have seen from the response earlier as to what we consider during an application, I'd reiterate that we take a holistic approach when reviewing your application. One piece is not more important than the next. Each part of your application adds value in a different way.

JadePhoenix: What advice would you give on writing a good entrance essay?

LaurenCBS: My advice is to approach essay writing systematically. In addressing a question, think about all of your experiences that relate to that question and jot down ideas and thoughts that come to your mind. Use that as a starting point. It should be real. I benefited greatly from having people who knew me well review my essays before I submitted the application.

prepRashun: Essay No. 2 seems to overlap with essay No. 1. What different points is Columbia seeking with the second essay?

LindaCBS: Depends on if you are applying for January or September. The essay No. 2 questions are different.

Dario_3: I'm applying for the accelerated program 2008. I'd like to have an idea about the flexibility of the program. In particular, I'd like to know how many courses (in percentage to the total courses) are compulsory?

LaurenCBS: Regardless of the term of entry, all CBS students take courses in the core curriculum. This encompasses two semesters of coursework. You can place out-of-core courses if you have an area of expertise. I did and was able to take advantage of additional elective classes.

akamal: What are you looking for in candidates for fellowships and what is the average award?

LindaCBS: Our fellowships are listed on the financial aid portion of our Web site. As you may note, some are targeted by geography, some by industry, and all by strong academic performance and potential for strong leadership.

FrancescaBW: Do you have any final thoughts for the crowd?

LindaCBS: Lauren and I would like to encourage you to come to our Web site, visit us on campus, and discover the new innovation in business education to prepare you for the rapidly changing world.

LaurenCBS: Having graduated in May, I can say my two years at CBS are among the best learning years I've had. I had opportunities to travel and work in various countries, to learn from classmates around the world, and to take advantage of some of the best academics and practitioners in the world.

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