How to Write the Columbia Supplemental Essays (2021-2022)

Welcome to the Columbia supplemental essay prompts for the 2021-2022 college application cycle! Here's everything you need to know to write the best supplemental essay possible.



There’s no doubt that Columbia University is highly competitive. In last year’s college application cycle, Columbia University saw 60,548 applications for first-year students, about 33% more than the previous year, so in this year’s cycle, it will be important for applicants to write excellent supplemental essays.


Columbia says that these supplemental essays help them “better understand your intellectual curiosity, habits of mind, love of learning and sense of self, “you in your current community,” and” why you feel Columbia’s distinctive experiences in and out of the classroom would be a good fit for your undergraduate education.” You can refer to the Columbia University website if you want to see how exactly they're presenting their essay prompts for this year.


Columbia uses the holistic application review process to evaluate your application, which means that all the parts of your application — GPA, the rigor of your courses, standardized test scores (if submitted), essays, extracurriculars, art portfolio, and more — are considered. While academic performance is still the most crucial part of the college admissions process, the other facets of an applicant’s profile may also make a significant difference in the admissions decision.


List Questions


Most college essays ask you to explain and reflect on experiences and interests, but Columbia is just looking for you to list some resources that are interesting to you in order to get a better sense of your personality. Since you only get 75 words, it’s important to choose them wisely.


When answering these list questions, take heed of the guidelines on the Columbia website:


For the three list questions that follow, please refer to the below guidance when answering these questions:

  • Your response should be a list of items separated by commas or semicolons.

  • Items do not have to be numbered or in any specific order.

  • It is not necessary to italicize or underline titles of books or other publications.

  • No author names, subtitles or explanatory remarks are needed.

List the titles of the required readings from academic courses that you enjoyed most during secondary/high school. (75 words or fewer)

This seems like a straightforward question, but the way you choose to answer it will say a great deal about you. Just keep this in mind. The tricky thing here is that you don’t have much space to justify your choices. So. if you say that your favorite required readings were Hamlet and 1984, you’re not going to stand out from the pack much, even if you had a truly unique connection with these books that everyone in the country has (hopefully) read. Your strongest choices will be books that — even though someone technically made you read them — fit in with your narrative about who you are. What classes did you excel in? What are the most fascinating things you learned in your classes? These questions will help you narrow down your choices.

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. (75 words or fewer)

This question is a little more interesting and gives you more of an opportunity to show who you are. Again, it’s a straightforward question, but do your best to use this list to give admissions people a sense of your unique personality, and also show that you aren’t reading exactly what everyone else is — that you have your own individual tastes. The one thing you will definitely want to avoid here is listing titles that look like required reading, even if you were not required to read them. Again, Hamlet and 1984 won’t give you a lot of personality here.

This list should reinforce and expand on the personal narrative you are building throughout your college application. This doesn’t mean that if you’re a history buff all your favorite books have to be things like The Federalist Papers. Maybe you’re more of a Howard Zinn person, or a Walter Scott person for that matter. But if all your books are on or related to history you will risk looking a little one-dimensional. Let us know you’re also into horror fiction, feminism, old Toyota pickup maintenance, whatever. But there is no need to find a book you’ve never read just to fit an image of yourself you’ve constructed — that will become obvious.

We’re interested in learning about some of the ways that you explore your interests. List some resources and outlets that you enjoy, including but not limited to websites, publications, journals, podcasts, social media accounts, lectures, museums, movies, music, or other content with which you regularly engage. (125 words or fewer)


Same story: show your unique personality. More personality, more uniqueness. If the only things you read are highly predictable publications like the New York Times or the Washington Post, at least tell them which sections you read.

Don’t worry about trying to look cultured — if you have a genuine passion for opera or chamber music or lectures on Proust, that’s great, but don’t force it. Don’t worry about whether or not the admissions committee will share your interests. Maybe there’s an artist whose work has shaped your worldview or a podcast that you’re obsessed with. Perhaps you’ve watched every movie. While you should refrain from mentioning anything inappropriate, reflect on the kind of media that will keep you engaged for hours to months on end, especially if it reveals an academic curiosity you may have.

Short Answer Questions


A hallmark of the Columbia experience is being able to learn and live in a community with a wide range of perspectives. How do you or would you learn from and contribute to diverse, collaborative communities? (200 words or fewer)

This is a textbook example of a supplemental essay that asks about community, and there’s a good chance that whatever you write here can be used in a few other supplemental essays. Given that, it’s worth spending some time thinking about your most meaningful communities. One way to ask this is who do you know and where from. You probably have some friends you know from classes, but might also have others from church on the weekends, jazz band in the morning, your dance studio, or any number of other things you do.

There are two important parts of community questions — how you have impacted the community and how it has left a mark on you. Ideally, your story will communicate both. Perhaps through making your dance studio more accessible to the differently-abled, you discovered an interest in activism. Aim for the greatest magnitude of positive impact in both directions for the most effective essay, and provide as much evidence and as many numbers as you can smoothly. It’s easy to claim you made a change, but harder to back it up. Raising five thousand dollars for a local nonprofit to purchase 1000 meals for the homeless is more impressive than just saying you ran a fundraiser.

Why are you interested in attending Columbia University? We encourage you to consider the aspect(s) that you find unique and compelling about Columbia. (200 words or fewer)

Hopefully, you read all the prompts before you started your response because you want to make sure you’re not repeating yourself, and I’d advise you always to plan out all your responses before you start writing.

This question is really two questions: What are you looking for in college? And what is it about Columbia that fits with those values? Give this one some thought and do your research into the particularities of Columbia carefully to see how the opportunities the school provides will meet your values. Try to go deep into the particularities of Columbia, beyond its Core Curriculum, for example, since you can bet almost everyone talks about this.

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. (200 words or fewer)


I’m not a big fan of the “tell us what you’re going to major in” question since by answering it, applicants risk-reducing themselves to “prospective manager,” “prospective med school applicant” and so forth. But that’s not exactly what this question is asking. Here, you get to talk about yourself and your own experiences.

Ultimately, this question is less about your major and more about you. This is your chance to write about your experiences and how they relate directly to what you want to study. It’s a good chance for you to describe your accomplishments. Remember to be matter-of-fact and avoid hyperbole. Quantify your accomplishments when you can.


Looking for some help in writing your Columbia supplemental essays? Schedule a free consultation with one of our college application consultants today.