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How to Write the Columbia University Supplemental Essays 2020-2021: The Unbeatable Guide (Examples Included!)

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Columbia University is one of the most prestigious colleges in the United States with an acceptance rate hovering 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 chance of admission.

Trust us, if a college requires you to write supplemental essays, 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.

Section 1: List Questions

The first four writing prompts are especially unique. They require you to make a list, not write an essay. They state that no formatting or explanation is needed, just list your responses with commas or semicolons. Not even an order to your answers is needed.

We advise you to take these prompts as simply as they’re given to you. Simply list out your answers without overthinking it.

The admissions team wants to know more about you (in an efficient way, as they have many incoming applications to get through), and giving them the lists they request will give them the chance to do just that.

“List the titles of the required readings from academic courses that you enjoyed most during secondary/high school.”

Think back through all of the required readings you’ve been assigned in high school thus far.

  • Which was your favorite?
  • Which was the most fun?
  • Which taught you the most?
  • Which challenged you?

Simply list the titles of these awesome readings as your response to List Question #1.

“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.”

Can you tell that it’s important to Columbia’s admissions team that you’re an avid reader?

List your favorite non-school reads here.

If you’re not an avid reader, get creative. Think back as far as possible. You’re sure to have read at least a few books on your own. Even if they’re the only ones you’re read, write them down.

“List the titles of the print or digital publications, websites, journals, podcasts or other content with which you regularly engage.”

Once again, that ever-so-important reading factor is at the heart of this prompt. List out that other content that you’ve enjoyed so much.

Be sure to consider each of the content areas listed above, and write down your all-time favorites (especially the titles that will impress the admissions team the most.

“List the movies, albums, shows, museums, lectures, events at your school or other entertainments that you enjoyed most during secondary/high school (in person or online).”

The prompts take a small turn here to talk about what you’ve watched versus what you’ve read.

However, you’ll still answer the question in the same manner.

Get creative while creating your list. Don’t forget your childhood movies or neighborhood plays if they made an impact on your life.

How to Write a Powerful List

For the Columbia list questions, you’re asked 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. Simply show that you’re interested and passionate about 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.
  • Don’t let your favorites get you down. Columbia truly wants to hear about the real you.

One thing you want to keep in mind while creating each of your lists 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.

One prompt asks for “required readings.” This 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 as well!

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 type of common thread that points to your interests and values.

  • If you like Latin American literature, you may share a novel by Gabriel García Márquez, nonfiction by Paulo Freire, short stories by Jorge Luis Borges, and 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)

Section 2: Columbia Supplemental Essay Prompts

The last three prompts are true essay questions, and they have a requirement of 200 words or less.

They give you a bit more freedom to show the Columbia admissions team who you are and why you belong in their student body.

We’ll work through each prompt in detail below, sharing tips and advice so you can formulate your best possible response:

Columbia Supplemental Essay Prompt #1: Contribution to Community

Columbia students take an active role in improving their community, whether in their residence hall, classes or throughout New York City. Their actions, small or large, work to positively impact the lives of others. Share one contribution that you have made to your family, school, friend group or another community that surrounds you.

This prompt may sound intimidating at first, but it’s actually the perfect way to show the admissions team at Columbia that their next student body needs you.

It’s not about whether or not Columbia is the perfect school for you. It’s about how you’ll fit in with the incredible difference-makers that are already attending Columbia.

To start, think of a way you’ve made a difference in the world around you.

The prompt states that this does not have to be about leaving a huge impact (though it’s great if it is!), so don’t worry if the difference you made was somewhat small.

Just make sure to paint a clear picture of what you did and what impact it had on a community that you’re a part of.

  • Maybe you started a club to help your fellow first-time college students prepare for the journey that lays ahead of them (and you)
  • You could have paid for the groceries of the person in front of you when their payment was denied.
  • You may work hard at your after-school job to help your parents pay the bills, giving your younger siblings a better life

No matter what the difference is, if it made an impact in the lives of people around you, it’s sure to impress the admissions team at Columbia.

Be sure to use plenty of detail, so the people reading your essay feel like they’re right there with you.

Show the impact you made, and share a little about how it made you feel as well.

Make sure the admissions team knows you’re capable of making a difference in the Columbia student body as well.

Columbia Supplemental Essay Prompt #2: Why Columbia?

“Why are you interested in attending Columbia University?”

While this prompt’s word count maximum is still short (200 words), you’re at least able to express your ideas more thoroughly than a list allows.

  • It is important to address not only what interests you about Columbia University, but also why.
  • Always tie in your interests 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?
  • Try to briefly show how you would be a great addition to Columbia’s student body as well.

Here are some aspects Columbia prides itself in, with ideas on how to include them into your essays if they’re important to you:

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

It’s not enough to say “I want a college with diversity and Columbia values it, therefore, it’s a good fit.” This is true of hundreds of schools across 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 aspects.

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.

In “Why This College” essays like this one, you also want to write out school programs with capital letters.

  • If you value innovation, you’ll find that this 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.

You could also start your research at the university home page. Click on “academics” or “prospective students” to find out what the college offers in the fields that interest you.

  • Continue clicking on the courses and programs that interest you until you’re deep into their website.
  • Find the specifics that really speak to you. What details (both large and small) make Columbia your dream school?

If you take pieces of who Columbia is and combine them with who you are, you’re sure to write a stellar essay.

Columbia Essay Prompt #3: Area of Study Experience

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.

This is another question that sounds tricky at first, but is really an excellent stage to show off who you are and what you’ve got to offer to the Columbia admissions team.

Instead of feeling worried, get motivated; this essay is an excellent opportunity to share why you belong at Columbia next fall.

Start by thinking about your major or area of study. What drew you to it? Was there a specific experience that piqued your interest in the area?

  • Maybe your dad is a businessman, and you’ve always been interested by what he does all day
  • You may have seen construction workers building a house as a kid, and you haven’t stopped dreaming of being on the blueprint design team since then.
  • You could have become interested in the medical field after receiving a rare diagnosis because you want to make sure treatment is easier and more successful for kids who go the same thing after you.

With this prompt, remember to be authentic. You don’t have to have an impressive story as to why you chose your future area of study; the admissions team wants to know what actually led you to that specific field.

They want to use this as an opportunity to get to know you, so show them who you truly are and why you’re passionate about the field you’ll be entering in a few short months.

If it fits in your word count, try showing off a bit of knowledge you already have in the field. It may set your application above the rest, helping you into Columbia.

An essay that is filled with authenticity and detail is sure to impress the admissions team.

Conclusion: How to Write the Columbia Supplemental Essays

Columbia University is a competitive school known to 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. By following the tips shared above, you’re sure to submit a compelling application.

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