Columbia Supplemental Essays

October 17, 2020
By AdmissionSight

The Ultimate Guide to Writing the Columbia Supplemental Essays

Columbia is one of the most well-known and respected universities in the country and around the world. Every year, tens of thousands of eager students begin the highly vetted application process for a slim chance at gaining acceptance into the prestigious university. While every piece of the application is critical, the portions focusing on high school transcripts, standardized test scores, and other fairly straight-forward information don’t typically give applicants pause. Instead, it’s the Columbia supplemental essays that keep many people up at night. Unlike multiple-choice or fill-in-the-blank questions, these Columbia supplemental essays require students to write out detailed responses to some thought-provoking and revealing questions. Lucky for you, AdmissionSight has a proven track record of helping students successfully complete applications for Ivy League Colleges that result in admittance. In this article, we’ll take a look at each of the Columbia supplemental essays to help you formulate the best answers.

With the right plan….you can get into Columbia!

Columbia University is a famed Ivy League University based in New York City. Ever since its founding in 1754, it has been revered as one of the best institutions of higher learning across the country. As the oldest university of its kind in New York, Columbia has developed a reputation that precedes itself. With many thousands of students applying and only a small handful being accepted, Columbia’s acceptance rate of 6.6% leaves many applicants feeling extra anxious about their applications. After all, this is the only thing standing in between a student and the decision of their acceptance or refusal into the university.

The college admission specialists at AdmissionSight know how to transform the Columbia supplemental essays from a burden into an advantage. Instead of being something that admission officers can further scrutinize, you should be viewing these prompts as a great opportunity to reveal your passion for learning, desire to attend Columbia and unique personality. While other parts of the application provide a brief overview of your qualifications, the Columbia supplemental essays give admission officers a much more in-depth perspective. It’s tough to overstate the importance of the essays to applicants.

Female students writing on her notes

What are the Columbia Supplemental Essays?

All Ivy League Schools and most universities around the country, for that matter, require students to complete a series of essay prompts in addition to the standard application. Students will notice that the types of questions asked and lengths required to vary between institutions. The Columbia supplemental essays are a combination of longer prompts and shorter lists all of which seek to extract information from the applicant regarding their academic background, personality, and desire for attending the university. Here, we’ll break down each prompt from the Columbia supplemental essays and provide you with some hints and tips for answering the questions as best as possible.

Introductory Essay

The Columbia supplemental essays can be split up into 3 primary categories: the introductory essay, list-style essays, and the “why” question. It’s important to understand the context within which each prompt is being asked before diving into your response. The introductory essay is a lead-in for admission officers to get a better understanding of what kind of university applicants are looking for and whether Columbia would be a good match based on the answer.

Please list a few words or phrases that describe your ideal college community. (Length = 150 words or less)

Many students feel like they arrive at a crossroads when brainstorming possible answers to this question. On the one hand, you have a clear idea about what kind of college community would be ideal for you. Conversely, you understand that Columbia admission officers want to see some of the descriptions coincide with the ethos of the university. Answering the question properly will require you to balance in between these two extremes so as not to seem disinterested in the university or disingenuous in your response. Take a second to read through Columbia’s mission statement, background, and overall atmosphere. Highlight some areas that really stick out to you and include these in your response. Be sure to choose descriptive and creative words or phrases. For example, “eye-opening” is better than “interesting”. Using these highly stylistic descriptions can help your essay stand out, even more, further increasing your chances of gaining admittance.

Columbia University campus

List-Style Essays

The next four prompts are list-style prompts that require students to list out responses using semicolons or commas. Columbia stresses that the answers don’t have to be in a specific order, numbered, or provided with an explanation. Titles of publications don’t even have to be italicized nor authors’ names included. There are no minimum word counts although there is a maximum of 150. This is as basic as the Columbia supplemental essays get.

List the titles of the required readings from courses during the school year or summer that you enjoyed most in the past year. (Length = 150 words or less)

Before you let your list be overrun by some of your favorite novels, keep in mind that the prompt asks for required readings related to academic courses during the school year or summer. Instead of trying to write down the most impressive titles that you had to read for class, try your best to think of some of the works that left the greatest impression upon you. Maybe Mark Twain’s social critics left you with a penchant for debate and dialogue. Perhaps one particular physics book explained the subject in enough depth to spur your interest in the field. The titles that you choose aren’t as important as the reasons for which you choose them. Even though you won’t be providing explanations of your choices, it will be apparent to admission officers whether your selections are unique or not. Keep your mind open to the types of works you could include. Poems, textbooks, articles, short essays, letters, and much, much more.

List the titles of the books you read for pleasure that you enjoyed most in the past year. (Length = 150 words or less)

Now’s the time to think about all of your favorite authors, subjects, and books. The last prompt asked you about the works you’ve been required to read, while this supplemental essay wants to know about your personal reading choices. Take the same level of care in this response to make sure you don’t try to show off by listing the most complex or esoteric books that you’ve read. Only put War and Peace on your list if you truly enjoyed reading it. In fact, you should be meticulous when choosing books to place on the list. You should really only include works that had a tremendous impact on you either in how you viewed the world, values you chose to hold, or areas of study you wish to pursue. When organizing your list, get a little creative with the order. You could list them alphabetically, by genre, by time period, when you read them, or any other pattern that you can think of. This is a good way to give some life to an otherwise dry list.

List the titles of the print, electronic publications, and websites you read regularly. (Length = 150 words or less)

This prompt is aimed less at what you read for leisure or academic purposes. Instead, Columbia admission officers want to know what you read in order to remain as informed as possible as a citizen. What resources do you turn to for news, current events, and other important information to help you make informed decisions? What kind of publications do you consider reliable? Newspapers might be the first major source that pops up in your mind, but don’t forget about other news sources as well. Websites, magazines, periodicals, and even some blogs would count. Maybe you love reading a good satirical piece from the Onion every once in a while. Keep your answers genuine and broad to show your diverse range of information sources. This list is a good way to show what kind of cultural and political areas you care most about.

List the titles of the films, concerts, shows, exhibits, lectures, and other entertainments you enjoyed most in the past year. (Length = 150 words or less)

Columbia is asking this final list-style essay as a kind of a catch-all prompt to get to know more about you without having to ask a series of additional questions. The medium and content are both important factors to consider when answering this Columbia supplemental essay. You might approach the topic by honing in on one subject you care about while highlighting the various forms of mediums through which you engage with the topic. Alternatively, you could focus on one medium with several different types of subject material to show your passion for that particular medium. Finding a way to express a passion of yours through this list will do wonders in terms of sticking out on your application.

Female college student wearing headphones and carrying a binder.

The “Why” Essay

Every college includes a classic “why” question in their supplemental essays. Typically, it kicks off the series of prompts, but Columbia has opted to leave it towards the end of their list. Essentially, this question is asking applicants why they chose Columbia in the first place. With hundreds of colleges and universities throughout the state, why do you want to come here?

Please tell us what you value most about Columbia and why. (Length = 300 words or less)

While this question might seem straightforward and easy to answer, don’t make the mistake of rushing into it. Too many students assume that they know exactly what admission officers are looking for and will end up destroying their supplemental essays with this question. The prompt is asking you to talk about what’s great about the university. Columbia already knows why it’s one of the best Ivy League Schools in the United States. It’s obvious why students from around the world are eager to attend, receive a quality education, and excellent job prospects. Regurgitating this information in your answer will only come across as lazy and nothing special.

Instead, you need to talk about what you, specifically you, value about the university. Sure, it could still be related to the prestige or another obvious characteristic of the university, but your job is to make that sound personal. Finding a way to connect it to interests you already mentioned early on in the Columbia supplemental essays can be a great way to bring everything full circle. Maybe there’s a certain professor at the university conducting research in a field that you’re incredibly passionate about. Perhaps there’s an esteemed debate club through which you want to perfect your debating and public speaking. Whatever the case, it’s critical to find something that you find motivating about the university that inspires you to apply.

Group of students working on a project on a table.

If you are applying to Columbia College, tell us what from your current and past experiences (either academic or personal) attracts you specifically to the field or fields of study that you noted in the Member Questions section. If you are currently undecided, please write about any field or fields in which you may have an interest at this time. (Length = 300 words)


If you are applying to The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science, please tell us what from your current and past experiences (either academic or personal) attracts you specifically to the field or fields of study that you noted in the Member Questions section. (Length = 300 words)

The Columbia supplemental essays require you to answer different prompts depending on what school you hope to enter: Columbia College or The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science. The prompts for both schools are essentially the same. Admission officers simply want to get an idea of what kind of experiences prompted your desire for attending the school. The reasons can either be personal or academic, truly leaving the door open for honest answers. This isn’t the time to talk about how much you’d love studying in New York, graduating with an Ivy League diploma, or being part of an esteemed alumni network alongside the likes of J.D. Salinger, Amelia Erhardt, and Alexander Hamilton. Instead, admission officers want to know what about these specific schools interest you. In other words, how are they aligned with your academic interests and goals overall?

As you should do with an answer, it’s smart to take some time to research your particular school in specific. This will give you a better understanding of what makes the school unique and can give you some pointers on what to include in your response. Even if you already know what drove you to apply to the school in the first place, it can’t hurt to double-check your facts, refresh your memory, and maybe even gain some new insight. While you could easily provide a laundry list of reasons you’re motivated to attend, the prompt wants you to focus on an experience that prompted your passion or interest in the field. Maybe your parents worked in the same field or you had a passionate professor who fueled your interest. Either way, it’s key to pinpoint a meaningful experience and then tie it in with some specific advantages of the school you want to attend.

AdmissionSight is here for you

Hundreds of students have entrusted the college admission experts at AdmissionSight with their applications. After years of studying the admissions process in detail, we’ve developed a method for applications that can help any student drastically increase their chances of gaining acceptance to an Ivy League school or any school of their choosing. Whether you need help perfecting your supplemental essays, want to learn about some new summer programs, or simply want to speak with a knowledgeable expert, we have the expertise and experience to help you. Feel free to contact AdmissionSight today and we’ll do our best to serve you.


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