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How to get into Columbia Business School?

Columbia Business School

Ivy League is a big tag to carry. But with the addition of being an M7 school, Columbia Business School really is one of the finest in its field. Located in Manhattan (New York), the center for finance, advertising and much more, Columbia Business School has greater access to industry leaders than most of its competitors.

It doesn’t come as a surprise that the school receives close to 6000 applicants every year. If the number seems low for a top school, it’s because a lot of applicants each year are deterred by the competition, the financial burden, or the low acceptance rate.

If you have just started looking into the business school, don’t let the tuition or the competition faze you. There are solutions to almost everything.

This brings us to our initial question, the one you read in the title and clicked on this blog for. How to get into Columbia Business School?

Programs available at Columbia Business school

Although popular for its two-year MBA program, there is much more that Columbia Business School has to offer to its applicants. Not that it requires mentioning, but these other programs hold an equally high rank as the MBA, in their respective fields.

Since we want to focus on getting into the Columbia Business School MBA programs, two-year, and executive, let’s just skim over what other options the school has for applicants.

Doctoral: Columbia Business School offers five doctoral programs; Accounting, Decision, Risk and Operations, Finance and Economics, Management, and Marketing.

Master of Science: Columbia Business School markets their Master of Science program as a best of both worlds option for someone confused between a doctoral program and an MBA. It is supposed to be shorter than the time a doctoral program takes, and more in-depth on a subject than the overall approach that an MBA takes.

Executive Education: This Executive Education program, is wildly different from the Executive MBA that the school offers. Executive Education programs are short-period programs, that can be compared to workshops or weekend training programs for high-level executives at corporations.

Undergrad Concentration: The Undergraduate Concentration program at Columbia Business School is in collaboration with the Columbia College and can only be accessed by students at the Columbia College or General Studies. It allows the students to take up Special Concentrations in Business Management.

Pre-doctoral Research: The Pre-doctoral Research is a special research training and mentoring initiative by Columbia Business School. The students are given the opportunity to work closely with the seasoned staff of the business school.

MBA Programs at Columbia Business School

Now that we have briefly touched upon the various other programs that the Columbia School of Business offers, its time to finally get down to what you came here for. The MBA programs!

Columbia Business School offers two types of MBA programs, a traditional full-time two-year MBA, and a weekend or block-week Executive MBA which lasts over 20 months.

Full-time MBA at Columbia Business School

The Columbia School of Business offers a full-time MBA program that has two possible enrollment options.

If you’re looking for a more immersive MBA experience with internships, you should apply to the school during it’s August intake. In the August intake, the students can either apply to the early decision deadline in October, or the regular decision deadline in the summer.

As the name suggests, the early decision applicants get reviewed for admission before the regular decision applicants. The early decision applicants also sign a statement of commitment promising to withdraw all their business school applications if they get admission to Columbia.

The August intake works best for students who have not decided which industry they wish to pursue once they get their MBA as it provides the option of a summer internship.

For applicants with no requirement of internships, the January intake is ideal. This generally the lot that wants to remain in the same industry post-MBA. They are brought up to speed on their second semester of classes during the summer.

Another way to apply for the Columbia Business School full-time MBA program is through their deferred admissions option. Students who are either in their last year of an undergraduate program or getting a graduate degree can apply for this option. Applicants completing their graduate programs must also not have any gap between their undergrad and grad programs.

This allows an applicant to get a few years of work experience (2-5 years) and then a guaranteed admission to Columbia Business School.

While the time of application might defer for all these application types, the process is pretty similar.

Executive MBA at Columbia Business School

The Columbia Business School Executive MBA is for working applicants who wish to keep their job positions while getting a higher education. The school promises the same quality of education for EMBA students as it provides to the full-time MBA students.

With the same distinguished faculty line-up it is a claim that doesn’t carry much doubt. The students at the EMBA program at Columbia also follow the same curriculum, and have the same number of school hours as the full-time MBA students.

The difference, however, is in the concentration of these school hours. The classes are offered on weekends or in a block-week format.

One of the main criteria to be admitted to the Columbia Business School EMBA is to be employed full-time from the time of application up till the completion of the program.

The school also provides help to applicants in the form of informational sessions. The sessions review things like getting the right recommendations, formulating the right stories for their essays, and requesting sponsorship from employers.

This also brings us to probably the biggest difference between full-time MBA and EMBA at Columbia.

Employer Sponsorship

As you fill in your application for an EMBA at Columbia, you will be required to submit a letter of sponsorship from your employer.

This sponsorship could be financial but doesn’t necessarily have to be.

This means that a letter of sponsorship is a basic evidence of support from your employer that states that you will be relieved of any work-related duties on days that you will be attending classes at Columbia Business School.

In case you are self-employed or an independent professional, you will have to write your own letter of sponsorship and submit it at the time of application.

Columbia Business School application requirements


Applicants need to submit pdf versions of their transcripts from their graduate or undergraduate institutions during the application process.

If selected, you will be required to share the encrypted digital versions of the same. The university can pull back their admission offer in case a student is unable to do so.


If your university did not grade you according to the GPA that Columbia Business School follows, you should use their online GPA Conversion Tool to do so while submitting your application.

GMAT or GRE Score

The admissions committee at Columbia only requires you submit the official reports once you are admitted. Your application will be considered on the basis of the score you report yourself. Also, the admissions committee will only consider your highest composite score present on your GMAT or GRE score report.

CBS Essay Questions

The Columbia Business School admissions committee asks applicants to answer 1 short essay question (50 words), 3 long-essay questions (500 words for 1 and 250 words each for the remaining two), an optional essay (500 words max), and 2 fellowship essays (500 words each).

The deferred enrollment candidates however, need to answer only 3 essay questions with the word limit of 250 words each.


The letters of recommendation have been given a generous word limit of 1000 words.

In case of a deferred applicant, or a re-applying candidate, one letter of recommendation is considered enough. If you’re a fresh candidate, you will be required to provide two letters of recommendation. One of these letters must come from a former direct supervisor, or a senior professional associate. It should be written by someone who can expand on your managerial abilities.

The second letter must come from a current direct supervisor in case you have been working at the current firm for over six years. If for some reason you’re not able to procure this letter, you must submit a statement of explanation in the Employment section of the application.

In case you have worked full-time for less than six months, you are allowed to submit one letter from a professor, while the other one should be a direct supervisor’s letter.


Keeping with the spirit of understanding the business school has shown so far in the application process, the interview is also mostly offered in the applicant’s geographical location. It is generally conducted by an alumnus of the school.

Application Fee

The non-refundable application fee at Columbia Business School is $250. Applying for the fee-waiver is always an option. But, your chances of getting the same would be higher if you are employed with the US Army, Peace Corps or Teach For All.

How to answer an application essay?

Short Essay Question:

What is your immediate post-MBA professional goal?

Although the answer to this question must be precise, do not end up just writing about a better pay-scale or job title. Have a clear description of the type of work or industry you wish to be involved in post-MBA. (50 characters)

Long Essay Questions:

1. Through your resume and recommendations, we have a clear sense of your professional path to date.

What are your career goals over the next 3-5 years and what, in your imagination, would be your long-term dream job? (500 words)

2. For Full-time MBA: Why do you feel Columbia Business School is a good fit for you?

For EMBA: Columbia Business School’s Executive MBA will challenge you by offering a rigorous academic experience, global exposure through the international seminar, and the opportunity to immediately apply what you learn to your career. How will you approach balancing the demands of the program with your professional and personal life while you are in school? (250 words)

3. Who is a leader you admire, and why?

Optional Essay Question:

Is there any further information that you wish to provide the Admissions Committee? If so, use this space to provide an explanation of any areas of concern in your academic record or your personal history. This does not need to be a formal essay. You may submit bullet points. (Maximum 500 Words)

How to polish your recommendations?

Do not, and I repeat, do not write your letters of recommendation. Also, do not revamp a letter of recommendation from your recommender.

The only way to have very well written recommendations is to provide your recommenders with pointers of the skills and professional highs you want them to focus on. Once a recommender forwards you their response, do a quick grammar and spell check and go through the essay to see if the skills you wish to be on the fore-front of your application are fairly represented.

Once a recommender forwards you their response, do a quick grammar and spell check and go through the essay to see if the skills you wish to be on the forefront of your application are fairly represented. Any unnecessary additions or subtractions from the recommenders’ narrative, if noticed by the admissions committee, will play against you in the admissions process.

Choose your recommenders carefully too. Make sure that the people you are asking to take up this task for you are people who have good professional relations with you and have closely seen your work. They should be able to deeply analyze you in a professional capacity, thus providing examples for the skills they mention you have.

How to get into Columbia’s MBA Program?

Getting into Columbia is no cakewalk especially for Indian applicants. Since the applicant pool is saturated with Indian Engineers from top colleges with high GMAT scores, both the non-engineering and the engineering students face problems when applying to top MBA programs.

The IITans face the problem of an oversaturated pool of applicants while the non-IITans face the problem of competing in the same pool even with a very different profile.

Thus, having an application that shows you share the value and vision of Columbia will definitely help you out here.

Lead with leadership

Columbia is a leading business school with a focus on creating industry leaders. While most business schools would say the same, the top business schools actually have a long list of alumni that backs this statement.

Thus, they are looking for students that can further this tradition set by the alumni of the school.

Showing your leadership potential is something every MBA consultant on the face of Earth would say, but it is a tricky thing to put down on paper. While sharing examples of leadership without losing the humility in your application could be difficult, you can use some other skills that would portray the same in a more modest way.

  1. Motivating
  2. Result oriented
  3. Adapting well to change
  4. Resolute
  5. Decisive

These are a few qualities that can be transformed beautifully onto paper, without sounding arrogant, and that the admissions committee will associate with having leadership qualities.

Be a cultural fit

Columbia has tried to change its reputation in the recent years. The school has been known to have a cutthroat environment especially when it comes down to it’s MBA Program. This generally happens at a school with a large class size.

However, it has, in the recent years, worked towards making a more collaborative environment.

Knowing a school’s culture is important for one reason only, to make sure you would thrive in such culture. Apart form your MBA classes and the city you’d be living in, New York, the school’s culture will have a deep impact on your performance at the school. If you’re someone who thrives in a more collegial structure, you might sink under the pressure and competition at Columbia.

This is why the school admissions committee cares to know if you’re a cultural fit for the school. You could be an exceptional candidate, but if you show signs that you won’t handle competition well, the admission committee will drop your application as they would predict a less than average performance from you in the school’s environment.

Showcase an execution-based attitude

An MBA is challenging and demands a lot of hard-work from a student. When you add the rigor of top MBA program like Columbia’s, it becomes essential for the admissions committee to analyze if a student will be able to see it though and come out shining on the other side.

They will look for instances and proofs of determination in your application. One easy way to showcase this quality is by revealing an execution-based attitude.

An execution-based attitude is basically an example of the applicant’s resourcefulness and passion for a cause. Give examples of projects or ideas that you started from scratch and finished.

Even if you had a failed start-up, mention it. It would show innovation through the idea for the start-up, resourcefulness through the work you put in to materialize your idea, and decisiveness for when you knew to drop the business.


This is merely an example but it covers most skills that a Columbia admissions committee member is looking for.

Have potential employability

This point comes in two parts. The first is to have a career plan more detailed than earning more money or having a better job title, and the second is how Columbia ties into that plan.

When telling the admissions committee members about your career plans, be specific about the type of industry or the type of work you wish to pursue. There is nothing wrong with wanting better pay, but a one-dimensional passion like that will make you seem not motivated enough to be an innovator or a leader post MBA.

Columbia is not trying to churn out MBAs that just earn well. The school is trying to prepare MBAs that will make an impact, in return adding goodwill to the school.

For the second part, you need to show the school how the opportunities the school provides will further your career. Simply put, how your post-MBA goals can be fulfilled through Columbia’s Career support.

Post-MBA employability is very important for an admissions committee as if the career choices that you make cannot be converted into a post MBA job with a recruiter through Columbia, the school is set to steer away from your MBA application.

Looking to grow in life by exploring a top tier MBA?