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How to Write the Columbia University Supplemental Essays: The Unbeatable Guide (Examples Included!)

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Columbia University is one of the most prestigious colleges in the United States. It has an acceptance rate that hovers around 6%.

Located in New York City, it’s known for its strong academics, beautiful campus, and, of course, competitive admissions.

Although Columbia accepts the Common Application, it requires supplementary writing pieces that are crucial to bolstering your application.

Trust us, if a college requires you to write supplemental essays, then they care about the answers.

Read below to obtain a better understanding of what is required in these Columbia supplemental essay responses and how to write your way to admission!

What are the Columbia Supplemental Essay Requirements?

According to Columbia University’s website, the university requires additional writing supplements in order to learn more about your “academic, extracurricular and intellectual interests.

They seek to understand what makes you a qualified candidate beyond test scores and transcripts.

The first five writing prompts have a requirement of 150 words or less:

List a few words or phrases that describe your ideal college community.

List the titles of the required readings from courses during the school year or summer that you enjoyed most in the past year.

List the titles of the books you read for pleasure that you enjoyed most in the past year.

List the titles of the print, electronic publications, and websites you read regularly.

List the titles of the films, concerts, shows, exhibits, lectures and other entertainments you enjoyed most in the past year.

The last one or two prompts (depending on your application) have a requirement of 300 words or less:

Please tell us what you value most about Columbia and why.

If you are applying to Columbia College or The Fu Foundation of Engineering and Applied Science, you will have to submit an additional writing supplement.

This last question is fairly similar depending on which college you are applying to:

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.

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.

Formatting Your Responses

Columbia has strict guidelines for how they would like you to respond to these questions, and it is important that you adhere to them.

Disregarding these instructions may reflect poorly on your application and be a missed opportunity for adding detail about your interests and values.

Question 1 asks for a list, but Columbia University’s website separates it from the four following questions when discussing formatting.

This suggests that your answer could either be strictly a list or begin with a sentence.

  • You do not need to explain or describe why the words or phrases you include on your list paint the picture of your ideal college community. They simply need to describe that community, so admissions officers understand what an ideal college community means to you.
  • For questions 2-5, your response should truly be a list. After each item, you may use a comma or semicolon to signal moving on to the next item.
  • The order of the items does not matter, and you do not need to explain your choices.

Although you may be dying to extol the virtues of Frankenstein and Pride and Prejudice as crown jewels of British literature, this is neither the time nor place.

Other formatting notes include: author names are optional, no italicizing or underlining is necessary, there is no minimum word count, and no pressure to reach the maximum word count.

  • Prompts 2, 3, and 5 all say to include items “you enjoyed most in the past year.” This means that you shouldn’t list every single book you read or media you watched in the past year unless you genuinely enjoyed all of them and you don’t surpass the word limit.
  • Additionally, only include items that you actually took in during the past year as the prompt describes. Unless you reread a book or re-watched a movie you enjoyed from years ago, it should not be included on this list.
  • In prompt 4, you’re instructed to provide a list of items you read regularly. If you read a publication once or visited a website once, that does not fall under what Columbia means as “regularly.”

Columbia notes, “please respond to the extent that you feel is appropriate.”

The last questions with longer word counts will be formatted in a more typical fashion, using full sentences instead of a list.

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Describing Your Ideal College Community

The first question on the writing page asks you to list words and phrases that describe your ideal college community.

  • In some ways, this is a loaded question: Your readers want to know what you value about a college campus, but they also want to see if your vision matches what Columbia University offers.

If your ideal college is a small campus in a quiet country town, Columbia is probably not for you.

However, that does not mean that you should only write what you think colleges want to hear.

Be honest, and when describing your ideal campus, you might consider:

  • Mindset of students towards academics or extracurriculars
  • Makeup of student body
  • Columbia’s mission statement
  • Opportunities on campus or in the community
  • Faculty/Staff
  • Degree programs

This supplement is a great opportunity to express your vision for your college experience.

  • Do you see yourself single-mindedly focused on academics?
  • Do you want to balance your time between extracurricular and social activities?
  • Do you want opportunities to work and volunteer?
  • Do you hope to work on a research project with a particular professor?
  • Do you plan to follow in the footsteps of an esteemed alumnus or one you know well?
  • Do you identify with a portion of Columbia’s mission?

For example, you might value being in an area where there is a diversity of culture and thought. An atmosphere where students are passionate about not only their academics, but translating that immediately into something useful to the surrounding communities.

This list will help you to express these ideas to your readers without the hassle of an essay that might lead you to over-explain fairly basic ideas.

Ideal College Community Example List

Here’s a great list written by a Columbia applicant. Don’t plagiarize, but use this list and the examples below as visuals for what an essay could look like.

  • Open-minded and inclusive regarding opposing and minority viewpoints
  • Consistently tolerant of all races, genders, and sexuality/romantic minorities
  • Accepting and intellectually diverse environment that promotes critical thinking
  • Encourages students to try new things and escape comfort zones
  • Intellectual, new ideas are always welcome and honestly considered
  • Active, both politically and physically
  • Challenging and demanding in extracurriculars and academics
  • Critical, but constructive, and honest about weaknesses in arguments and theories
  • Courageous and always willing to stand up for what is right
  • Supportive of all students, providing resources to help them succeed in all circumstances
  • Individualized attention from professors when necessary and appropriate
  • What is learned in classes can be applied in outside world
  • Students and staff strive to leave a positive impact on the world

How to Write a Powerful List

For questions 2-5, the writing sections ask you to provide lists of readings, books, cultural events, entertainment, etc.

You might be thinking to yourself, “Oh no! Classics are great, but I also love reading comics and attending heavy metal shows.” That’s okay! There is no requirement to show off “prestige” picks or to impress your readers with a list of dense novels.

These sections are intended to get to know you as a human interested and passionate in the world around you.

  • Columbia University’s student body is diverse, and there are plenty of comic readers and heavy metal listeners that break the Ivy League stereotype.

What you want to keep in mind while creating your list for each question is variety.

Even though you really love British classics, if you have read and enjoyed other works, you should also include those.

  • If your list includes works that are all from one genre, or are similar in terms of ease/difficulty in reading, try mixing it up.
  • Give your readers a well-rounded perspective of who you are and what you enjoy.
  • You should also pay careful attention to the questions.

The second one asks for “required readings” and, therefore, does not mean you have to strictly list books.

Maybe you read a research study in biology or a primary source in American history that captured your interest — list those as well.

Otherwise, you are just regurgitating the same reading list required for every English student in high school.

This same advice can be applied to the following questions. For example, try not to list films exclusively, but also other suggested types of entertainment.

  • If your science teacher played an episode of a show on Animal Planet as part of his curriculum and you really enjoyed it, add that episode to the list. If your history class went to a showing of Hamilton and you loved it, that counts!

The admissions office is looking for variety and intellectual sincerity. Curate your list to offer a coherent picture of how you think and what you think about.

While this is not an essay, you may want to have a kind of common thread that points to your interests and values.

  • If you like Latin American literature, you may mention how you read a novel by Gabriel García Márquez, nonfiction by Paulo Freire, short stories by Jorge Luis Borges, and saw a film by Alejandro Iñárritu.
  • If you’re a music enthusiast, you may have read biographies about musicians you love, watched The Voice, and saw Coco or The Greatest Showman.
  • If you are all about social media, you may include the show Catfish, an episode from a show that depicted the implementation of social media, and YouTubers you follow.

Required Readings List Example

A Doll’s House, Macbeth, Walden, Jane Eyre, Catcher in the Rye, Heart of Darkness, Beowulf, Grendel, Othello, Antigone, Pride and Prejudice, The Glass Menagerie, The Scarlet Letter,  “Self-Reliance,” “Invictus,” Malala’s speech to UN Youth Takeover, “A Modest Proposal”

Titles of Books List Example

  • Shoe Dog: A Memoir From the Creator of Nike by Phil Knight
  • We Are The Nerds: The Birth and Tumultuous Life of Reddit, the Internet’s Culture Laboratory by Christine Lagorio-Chafkin
  • The President is Missing by Bill Clinton and James Patterson
  • Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  • Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

Titles of Print, Electronic Publications, and Websites List Example

The Washington Post; The New York Times; Teen Vogue; National Geographic; Vice; Refinery29; BBC;  Al Jazeera

Titles of Films, Concerts, Shows, Exhibits, Lectures, and Entertainments List Example

Barbara Kruger, Belief + Doubt (2017); Ai Weiwei, Trace (2017); The blooming of the titan arums at the National Botanical Gardens; Leon Berkowitz, Coronation (1979); Johannes Verspronck, Andries Stilte as a Standard Bearer (1640); Wonder Woman (2017); Ghostbusters (2016); Thor: Ragnarok (2017); Wadjda (2012)

Expressing Your Values: Why Columbia?

Please tell us what you value most about Columbia and why.

In this question, while the word count maximum is still short (300 words), you can at least express your ideas more thoroughly than a list allows.

  • It is important to address not only what you value about Columbia University, but also why.

Many students get caught up writing about their values and forget to detail why those values are important to them. This is information that your readers want to know!

  • Always tie in your values with Columbia’s. This means that you should not write about just Columbia or you; write about how Columbia is a great fit for you. Is there something about their values you love?

For example, you can write about the following things and tie them in with your experiences:

Sustainability

  • Perhaps you love how Columbia is upgrading its campus to become friendlier to the environment.
  • Does this fit in with how you grow plants and keep a garden?
  • Does it fit in with your accelerates classes or service learning?

Diversity

  • Do you love how Columbia brings people together?
  • How has your identity shaped your experiences and life? Would you feel welcome at Columbia?
  • What do you want to do on campus to promote diversity?

Rigorous Academics

  • Is there a faculty or alumnus/alumna that you want to study with or admire?
  • Do you want your beliefs challenged in college? Which do you anticipate will be challenged?
  • Is there a class you want to take or group you want to join?

It’s not enough to say “I value diversity and Columbia values diversity, therefore it’s a good fit.” This is true of hundreds of schools in the country.

Imagine that you’re telling someone on a third date what you appreciate about them. You wouldn’t say, “I like that you have hair.” You’d want to point out the particulars.

  • You could say that you appreciate how Columbia offers generous financial aid options to ensure that qualified students across the socioeconomic spectrum have the opportunity to learn from each other.

You may want to consider limiting your response to two or three values.

If you write about 8 different reasons you want to attend Columbia, you will not have enough space to fully develop your response. It’s better to be thorough and clear.

There are a variety of topics you could cover, but be sure to choose those that apply to you.

  • Think about your response to the first question about what you value in a college community, but do not restate or rephrase the exact same sentiment from the first prompt.
  • You may be able to springboard off that response to write about Columbia specifically.

In “Why This College” essays, you also want to include school programs with capital letters.

  • If you value innovation, you’ll find the school has a cross-university program called Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Columbia.
  • You’ll want to research this program and demonstrate how you’ve already exhibited an alacrity for building and producing new products and services.

Start your research at the university home page, click on “academics” or “prospective students” to find out what they offer in the fields that resonate with your values.

  • Continue clicking on the courses and programs that interest you until you’re deep into their website.

If you can pair your values to the types of programs at the school, you’re on your way to a stellar “Why This College” essay.

Do your research on the Columbia University website. This will help you brainstorm ideas and ensure that you are being accurate.

It would be embarrassing to write about valuing Columbia’s dedication to a program that they do not even offer.

Why Columbia Essay Example

Although I’ve grown up in an agricultural reserve barely 45 minutes from the nation’s capital, I’ve felt disconnected from the rest of the world, unaware of the experiences that await me in new places. It’s quiet here – I’ve grown used to overhead planes and the few cars passing by at night. Although New York City is only five hours away, it’s practically a foreign country to me.

While location is certainly an aspect paramount to my interest in Columbia, the school’s commitment to sustainability is what I find most intriguing. As a student in the Environment Sustainability magnet program, I am very passionate about environmental activism and the ecological impact of humans. Seeing a major school taking steps to reduce its carbon footprint by implementing new technologies is inspiring, and I hope to learn more about sustainability.

For two years, I competed in Operation Go Green, an action-based, month-long challenge designed to raise awareness for ecological problems plaguing society, a perfect fit for the Global Ecology student focusing on human interaction with the environment. With my team, I have won prizes for excellent work, in projects varying from research on endocrine-disrupting hormones in cosmetics to the environmental and human toll of the fast fashion industry.

Additionally, I’ve attended a USDA summer camp, and have implemented the skills I’ve learned in my own garden, where I’ve grown potatoes, tomatoes, strawberries, and herbs. Through my vocation, I have picked up a commitment to sustainability, as well as learned the necessity for research in making educated decisions; each choice has an impact, and I want mine to leave the world a better place. Columbia University will help me build on my passion for sustainability.

Of course, too, I’d love a real New York bagel.

Columbia College and The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science

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.

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.

If you are applying to Columbia University, then you are likely applying to either Columbia College or The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science.

This means you will have an additional writing supplement.

(Other options include the Barnard College or the School of General Studies. For more information about the differences between these programs, click here.)

Columbia College is Columbia University’s undergraduate liberal arts college, while The Fu Foundation is Columbia’s engineering college. As listed above, the writing supplement for either of these colleges is pretty similar, and both have a maximum word count of 300 words.

  • The question asks you to write about what academic and personal experiences have led you to want to pursue the fields you listed as potential majors in your Common App.

The difference in the Columbia College response is that although you may be undecided, you should still discuss potential majors.

While writing, it is important to be specific and to, once again, use variety.

As always, a story about your academic or personal experiences is a great way to exhibit your individuality.

  • Describe, for example, how you discovered your interest in civil engineering when you and your father made a trestle bridge out of popsicle sticks for your electric train.
  • Explain your choice to study linguistics. Perhaps you traveled out of the country where another language is spoken.

If applicable, use both academic and personal examples as this will strengthen your response.

  • You could highlight that you enjoyed the design of the bridge and working with your father – how you appreciate both the technical and the relational part of building things.
  • Expand on how you were fascinated by the new language and learned as many words as you could on that trip, then continued exploring that language and others after you returned home. Maybe you can say “hello” in 10 languages!

This is one of the most important questions on your application.Your passion and enthusiasm for these majors (and potential careers) should be apparent.

If you are undecided, that’s okay!

Many students are not sure which field they want to pursue in college during their freshman year. Writing this response will not lock you into a contract with that major.

  • Instead, think about your skills and interests, and how they match with potential majors. Make sure the majors you’re expressing interest in are offered at Columbia (check their website).

Write about these majors and your interest in delving into the topics to learn more. Once again, use personal examples and tie them to your prospective academic pursuits.

You can write about the following:

  • Extracurricular activities that have changed your life
  • Personal experiences that have influenced your ambitions and beliefs
  • Volunteer experiences that have changed your values
  • People who have left a strong impression on your life
  • Aspects of your identity, struggles, hardships, or upbringing that have provided an important perspective to you

Remember, everything you write about should connect to your future major or fields of interest. When you are writing this essay, stop after every 50 words and ask yourself whether the crux of your sentences relate to an academic pursuit or field of study.

Current and Past Experiences Essay Example

Thinking about the “why” when it comes to business always keeps me going. For me, the “why” is not about the money, it’s about working to help others find a better way to live. I wanted to take this passion and apply to it tackling poverty. After months of researching how to alleviate poverty in India, my friends and I founded Individual Power, a nonprofit that connects underprivileged artisans and their products to American consumers; the artisans then keep the profits. As communications director, I facilitated our partnership with the charity Blessings Org, who linked us to families in Jharkhand that were interested in creating products for us to sell. Once the products were manufactured and shipped, I devised supply-chain strategies and negotiated product pricing for American consumers to generate sales.

By promoting the true, unique stories of the families back in India at local events, I raised $1,000 from donors who believed in our message and valued the products. After selling 300 products, we returned the profits to the communities in Jharkhand. Now, we are currently working with additional villages across India to grow our business and mission.
My experience in building our message through Individual Power has helped me discover my passion for solving problems through social entrepreneurship. After talking to rural families in India, I realized that many of them have creative ideas they can offer to the rest of the world. Considering their challenges, I want to help defeat their hardship of financial instability.

Although this issue is complex, I will do my part to reduce poverty through innovation. My goal is to learn the nuances of important business fundamentals and focus on gaining more knowledge about social ventures. Ultimately, I want to start a business similar to my nonprofit pull others out of poverty.

Conclusion: Columbia Supplemental Essays

Columbia University is a competitive school, and they will scour through applications to find the strongest candidates for admission.

Be sure to check your responses thoroughly for grammatical and spelling errors.

Ask yourself: Have I been specific, honest, and enthusiastic? Have a friend or family member read your responses to provide feedback on their authenticity. You want your supplemental essays to reflect who you are, not who you think admissions officers want to read.

Finally, before submitting, review your answers for variety. Do your responses paint a broad picture of who you are? If so, you are ready to send your work onward.

We wish you the best of luck.

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