How To Write The Columbia University Supplemental Essays (2019-2020)



Welcome to the Columbia University supplemental essay prompts for the 2019-2020 application cycle! Here's everything you need to know.


(You can refer to the Columbia University website if you want to see how exactly they're presenting their essay prompts for this year.)


In 150 words or fewer, please list a few words of phrases that describe your ideal college community.


This is not an exercise in free association—come up with a theme, and get straight to the point. Even a short list like this can say something meaningful about your personality. Avoid simply using all the buzzwords that appear on college websites when schools brag about themselves (intellectual rigor, diversity, community of scholars in the greatest city on earth, yada yada). If one of these things is truly important to you, then it’s fine to include it, but your list will say the most about you if it has some coherence to it and doesn’t look exactly like everybody else’s.


Give some serious thought to what the ideal college community would be for you. Where do these two things overlap? What are your unique desires for college? Keep in mind, of course, that even though the question doesn’t say so explicitly, this is still about Columbia, so if one of your unique desires is to go to a school on the Great Plains then you’re applying to the wrong college.


Finally, keep in mind that your “community” at Columbia can extend beyond the school if you want it to, to curious museum goers and concert attendees, to the people you ride the subway with.





Please list the following (150 words or fewer for each question):


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


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 made you read them—fit in with your narrative about who you are.


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


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.


the titles of print or electronic publications you read regularly;


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


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


More personality, more uniqueness. 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. I recently had a conversation at an airport café with a young man from a small working-class town, and when Thunder Road came on, he confessed to me that he’d been to over 30 Bruce Springsteen concerts by the time he was 18. He showed me a video on YouTube of himself and a buddy singing with The Boss on stage in Newark when he was 17. I’ll never forget that guy. I don’t know if he ever applied to Columbia, but if he did, I sure hope he brought that anecdote up.


Please answer the following short answer questions (300 words or fewer for each question): Please tell us what you value most about Columbia and why.


Hopefully you read all the prompts before you started your response to question 1. With this question, 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 do you value? And what is it about Columbia that fits with those values? This is a little different from a traditional “Why This College” question, since you can’t just say you’re really excited about taking physics with Professor So-and-so: physics and Professor So-and-so aren’t among your 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, to get a clear sense of what you value most about Columbia and why. Try to go deep into the particularities of Columbia, beyond its Core Curriculum, for example, since you can bet almost everyone talks about this.


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.


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—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.


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.


See above. Tell us how your experiences and accomplishments relate to what you want to study. Give us your personal reasons, and show us that you’re different from everyone else in your position.


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