Chat Transcript: Columbia Admissions

Columbia Business School (Columbia Full-Time MBA Profile), which is No. 7 on BusinessWeek's 2008 list of the best business schools in the nation, is highly selective. In fact, this year the admissions committee accepted just 15% of the nearly 7,000 applications it received. Standing out and expressing how you could contribute to the community are key elements in the Columbia application.

Recently, Mary Miller (CBSMaryMiller), assistant dean of admissions at Columbia, and international student Rui Francisco (CBSRuiFrancisco) took questions from BusinessWeek reporter Francesca Di Meglio (FrancescaBW) and the public in a live chat event. They discussed everything from the criteria for admissions to how to overcome a lower-than-average GMAT score. Here are edited excerpts of their conversation:

soujanya8321: What are the major criteria for admission to the full-time MBA program at Columbia?

CBSMaryMiller: We are looking for business leaders of the future. We look at all aspects of the application for indications of the ability to handle a challenging curriculum, get involved in the life of the community, and display interpersonal and leadership skills and ethical values. [We look for] someone who will represent the Columbia brand well while at Columbia and in the future.

question4group: I have read that Columbia used to have a rather high acceptance rate (about 45%), and thus a lower ranking. Since selectivity is a key aspect of any top business school's brand, can you discuss how Columbia has addressed these historical issues? Also, what has Columbia done to increase the quality of its teaching, specifically in the core?

CBSRuiFrancisco: As a student, I will answer the second part of your question. The core is vital to giving all students the required business fundamentals to be successful. Therefore the school has been working hard to make the core the best available. Some of those efforts include adapting the courses to the outside environment (such as what happened recently with the economic crisis); adjusting the length of the core courses and sometimes reducing the length and allowing students to take more electives; and paying close attention to the rigorous evaluation process of professors, which helps them be at their best in their classes and improve the overall class experience.

pav_lov: After the completion of the interview and the status update reflecting the same, how long will it typically take to render a decision for the January-term applicants?

CBSMaryMiller: It can happen at any time after the interview is completed, but typically your final decision will be released within eight weeks from the date your application was complete.

pav_lov: How difficult is it for students entering in January to find accommodations? Is there a decent chance of getting into on-campus housing?

CBSRuiFrancisco: I entered in the fall term in 2008 and was able to get campus housing. I was a peer adviser for the following January class in 2009, and I met most of the students. Many of those students did get campus housing, and some were actually my neighbors. The chances of getting housing are pretty good, especially if you are international. (I haven't met any international [student] who has applied for school housing and didn't get it.)

JackSB: I'd love to hear about how Columbia compares to other top programs. It's tough to get a sense of what makes a place different, even after visiting several campuses.

CBSMaryMiller: Columbia is a very special place for many reasons. We pride ourselves on being a bridge between academic theory and real-world practice and educating our students and graduates for a lifetime. Innovations such as the Individual, Business, and Society curriculum, a program in Social Intelligence, and Master Classes [project-based elective courses], combined with research centers that connect faculty and practitioners, are just a few good examples of our competitive advantage. We also take full advantage of our New York location. Many of our alumni and recruiters are just a subway ride away.

CBSRuiFrancisco: There are several different things that make Columbia Business School a unique place. First, the diversity of the student body is impressive. You have students at Columbia from everywhere in the world with all sorts of experiences. For instance, in my entering class, my classmates included an Olympic medalist from the Beijing games, a writer with a published biography of President Barack Obama, and a former N.Y. Mets player.

Second, CBS gives its students many opportunities to grow, learn, and lead outside the classroom. I think that if you want to be a change agent, CBS is the right place to be. The school gives you opportunities and support to build your own projects, participate in helping with projects at other organizations, and even improve the school itself. This is like a company where your boss empowers you and gives you the tools to [make] change.

Third, I have to mention the bond you build with people. From professors and administrators to students, the people at CBS are very friendly and always have something to give. Our sense of community, especially taking into account that we are in New York, is impressive. I really feel that my network, after graduation, will be strong, powerful and, most of all, genuine.

LAG_2: Does the admissions committee start reading applications as soon as they are submitted, or does the committee only start reading after the January deadline?

CBSMaryMiller: If you apply for regular admission and you submit your application by the deadline, you will receive a final decision within 12 weeks of Jan. 6.

pav_lov: Rui, how do students associate themselves with the Eugene Lang Entrepreneurship Center? Is it possible to take all the courses mentioned on Lang Center's Web site without a hassle?

CBSRuiFrancisco: The courses on entrepreneurship follow the normal bidding process of the school. This means that you have to bid points to get into those classes, so it may be possible to get them all depending on what other students bid. Some of the most popular courses are Entrepreneurial Finance and Intro to Venturing, and they usually require more points. I am taking Entrepreneurial Selling this semester, and I didn't have to bid many points for it. And I have heard from other colleagues that it is a great class.

There are other resources to support entrepreneurship. The Lang Center provides many ways for students to interact with it and gain its support. For instance, some of the most popular ways to participate are through the Lang Fund, which supports ventures, and the Entrepreneurial Sounding Board, where a group of experienced people review your business plan and give you advice.

Besides the Lang Center, you also have other organizations and events to support entrepreneurship, such as the Columbia Entrepreneurs Organization and the Outrageous Biz Plan Competition.

yeahitsme: How does Columbia view older applicants?

CBSMaryMiller: We look at each applicant holistically. Applicants are encouraged to share their individual characteristics about themselves in the application. Applicants should tell us why now is the right time to pursue an MBA. Diversity in the classroom is integral to discussions, and years of work experience as well as breadth of experience make for lively conversation.

Sarah2009: My early decision application was under review about four weeks ago. Is the office still sending out interview invitations to applicants who turned in application four weeks ago? What is the normal timeframe for getting an interview invitation after submission?

CBSMaryMiller: Absolutely. Invitations to interview can be extended at anytime throughout the admission process.

GauravVerma: How does CBS view students who have taken some foundation business courses from other universities? Is this looked upon positively or negatively?

CBSMaryMiller: It depends on the type of courses, where they were taken, and the grade that was received. It can have a positive impact, but it is not a requirement.

GauravVerma: Rui, I would like to know about the clean energy opportunities at CBS and the focus on the social enterprise track. Do you know someone in your class who is pursuing this course?

CBSRuiFrancisco: Energy is one of the hot topics right now. From academics to recruiting, Columbia has many interesting options in this field. In terms of academics, there are classes such as New Developments in Energy Markets, which is taught by Jeff Heal (a world-renowned expert in energy).

In terms of recruiting, there are many energy companies recruiting at CBS. For instance, I had two friends from my cluster working in clean energy for the summer internship: one at a solar-power company and the other at a clean-energy research company.

In terms of social enterprise, the school also has a great offering. In fact, CBS even has an official Social Enterprise Program that allows you to focus your academics on social enterprise and gives you the opportunity to work in the area, too. For instance, one of my friends worked in Cambodia for the summer with a fellowship from the Social Enterprise Program.

pav_lov: How are students given individual attention? Are there any faculty advisers, or is it more about peer-to-peer feedback?

CBSRuiFrancisco: You can get individual attention and opportunities to improve yourself in many different ways. It starts with your learning team (the team with which you are assigned to do the core course assignments). This is a team that simulates a working environment, where feedback and coaching are essential. I would also mention that student clubs and leadership organizations are a great opportunity to get peer feedback and personal focus.

In addition, many of the courses have a strong individual focus. For instance Professor [Hitendra] Wadhwa's class, Personal Leadership and Success, is about learning to be a better you and gets excellent reviews every semester.

Last, I would also mention the program on Social Intelligence. I have benefited from the program as part of the peer advisers' team. In the program, I had access to a special class on leading teams and workshops (for example, how to effectively manage meetings).

RmitWadehra: I have been working on the business side of health care for several years. I have a business undergrad degree and little life-science education. When reading the profiles of the current students in the Health-Care and Pharmaceutical Management Program, I found it curious that a large majority of the students were not from a business background. Does this trend reflect the nature of students who are applying? Or do you tend to select those with a medical/science background over those with a traditional business work history?

CBSMaryMiller: The MBA is designed for individuals who do not necessarily have a business background, so that may explain why health-care professionals are pursuing an MBA degree. By having individuals with business experience and health-care backgrounds in the same classroom, students learn from each other. However, there are some useful resources you may want to explore. We recently hosted a health-care panel and that is available on our Web site. In addition, Columbia Business School hosts a health-care conference in November that you might consider attending.

GauravVerma: Mary, does the admissions committee entertain personal visits from prospective students when their application is under review?

CBSMaryMiller: We encourage prospective students and applicants to visit our campus. The best way to get to know about the school is to visit a class and talk to our students. You are making an important decision about your future, and you need to have as much information as possible.

prl: If a candidate is weaker on the academics portion of the application (lower-than-average GPA, lower end of 80% GMAT, how can he or she offset this weakness in the application?

CBSRuiFrancisco: From my perspective as a student, the admissions committee looks at you as a whole. If your academic credentials are not as strong, you can try to differentiate yourself with other things. For instance, have you ever done something unique and challenging in your life? Some of my classmates focused their applications on personal achievements. There was my friend who climbed Mount Everest, and some others participated in the Peace Corps in Africa. Try to find something unique in you, and communicate it in your application.

In terms of the GMAT, perhaps repeating it could also be an option. Low scores on the GMAT happen, and repeating the exam is usually a good option.

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