Columbia University, located in Manhattan, New York City, is one of the most competitive universities in the United States, with an acceptance rate of only 3.73% in the 2021-2022 admissions cycle. Columbia’s acceptance rate has declined significantly over the past decade, so if you dream of attending, differentiating your Columbia supplemental essays from the crowd is that much more important.
There are six Columbia supplemental essays, also known as the Columbia-specific essays. The first two questions ask for lists of media you consume, and the second set of four questions are short essays that illustrate your interest in Columbia and how you would fit into Columbia both as a student and a community member. In this blog post, you’ll learn how to write the Columbia University supplemental essays, understand the underlying question the admissions officers are asking, and distinguish yourself from other applicants.
Columbia’s 2022-2023 Prompts
- 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)
- 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)
- A hallmark of the Columbia experience is being able to learn and thrive in an equitable and inclusive community with a wide range of perspectives. Tell us about an aspect of your own perspective, viewpoint or lived experience that is important to you, and describe how it has shaped the way you would learn from and contribute to Columbia’s diverse and collaborative community. (200 words or fewer)
- 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)
- 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)
- In Columbia’s admissions process, we value who you are as a unique individual, distinct from your goals and achievements. In the last words of this writing supplement, we would like you to reflect on a source of happiness. Help us get to know you further by describing the first thing that comes to mind when you consider what simply brings you joy. (35 words or fewer)
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)
This prompt asks you to list your favorite reading material—what you read in high school or secondary school, but not what you read for your high school or secondary school. Even if The Great Gatsby changed your life, if you read it in AP English Lit, it’s not the right answer to this question. On the other hand, if you read a poem no one’s ever heard of, but you read it on your own time and enjoyed it, don’t hesitate to include it in your list.
Additionally, if you read a lot of books in high school that aren’t generally considered “literature,” but you enjoyed them, you also definitely shouldn’t hesitate to write them down. The most important thing is authenticity, which will serve to differentiate you. It’s unlikely that any other applicant is going to write down exactly the same titles as you, given that you can fit 5-10 titles within the 75-word maximum, especially if you include a few beloved titles that are not novels, but instead short stories, poems, essays, or plays.
However, it’s not recommended to list graphic novels, comics, other primarily visual reading material, or reading material that is only available via audio format (even if you listened to audio versions of other titles on your list). The second list question is much more expansive in the types of media included, but the first list question aims to understand what you like to read, without the other methods of media consumption included. Lastly, don’t include any reading material you wouldn’t want your parents or teachers to know you read (i.e., nsfw-type material).
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)
This prompt asks you to list other media you enjoy or regularly consume that don’t fit into the categories of the first list question. Although the first list question gives you plenty of room to express your unique personality through your reading tastes, the second list question gives you the opportunity to differentiate yourself further. Given that you have 125 words in which to answer this question, you have plenty of room to offer a broad list of answers. If you love listening to music, you might want to start your list with your favorite musical artists, composers, soundtracks, or songs, but remember to offer a couple of other types of media before the list is over.
Like the first list question, don’t be afraid to list something that is popular, unpopular, or “not serious.” Admissions officers want to know that you have a strong personality, and if you can express that personality by naming your favorite comedian’s podcast, the romantic comedy you re-watch every year, or the social media account of a celebrity llama, then go for it. If the admissions officer decides to look up the media you referenced and gets a laugh out of it, then you’re probably on the right track to planting a more memorable seed in their mind. Nevertheless, if there are also “serious”/academic lectures, Ted Talks, educational YouTube videos, or museums you really enjoy, be sure to include at least a few of them in your list.
That said, there are some “don’t”s in answering this prompt. Including the name of a social media account you love but which is not publicly accessible won’t allow the admissions officer to look it up. Like the first list question, nsfw-type material is a no-go (R-rated movies are generally fine, but X-rated movies are probably not appropriate).
Finally, in terms of websites, it’s not advisable to list websites you must use for school, or websites that have many distinct purposes, because it is already implied that you use these websites. For instance, listing the government website of your town doesn’t clearly express that you’re heavily involved in polling efforts for local elections; listing Wikipedia doesn’t necessarily communicate that you are a registered admin on the site. Linking the community portal on Wikipedia, though, or a page explaining how to register to vote, might more specifically communicate your involvement in those endeavors.
The underlying question behind these list questions is, Who are you outside of the classroom, and what media shapes you? These questions are not the time to indicate your academic interests, but instead the perfect occasion to display your unique personality, your cultural influences, and your authentic media consumption.
Short Answer Questions
A hallmark of the Columbia experience is being able to learn and thrive in an equitable and inclusive community with a wide range of perspectives. Tell us about an aspect of your own perspective, viewpoint or lived experience that is important to you, and describe how it has shaped the way you would learn from and contribute to Columbia’s diverse and collaborative community. (200 words or fewer)
The first short answer prompt of the Columbia University supplemental essays is your chance to express who you are as a person. In this 200-word essay, you can dive into a (not necessarily marginalized) identity you hold (for example, your religion, cultural background, or LGBTQ+ identity), or a formative experience you have undergone (for example, taking care of a family member, participating in sports, or overcoming a health issue). The underlying question this essay prompt asks is, How has your unique identity shaped the way you move through the world, and how will it continue to shape your life?
By posing this short-answer essay, the admissions officers indicate that they are curious to know who you have been within your community(ies) throughout your life, and how you will participate in the community of Columbia University undergraduates. As a result, it is important for you to describe your past participation in a community through actions you have taken. For instance, if you identify as Muslim, how does your Muslim identity manifest (or not manifest) in your choices, personality, or relationship with others? If you are a boy in a family of all women, how has that experience influenced your perspective on women and society? Reflecting on questions like these may help you consider how you may evolve as a Columbia University student.
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)
The second short answer question asks Why Columbia? Although this question may seem straightforward, it is both one of the most common and one of the most commonly misunderstood by applicants. Unlike the rest of the college application, the Why Columbia? question should not tell the reader about yourself (at least not directly), nor read like a Columbia University advertisement. Instead, this question expects you to research, refine, and relate to Columbia and its current student body.
Research what classes, programs, professors, extracurriculars, and other aspects of Columbia most interest you. Then, refine this list to include only what is unique to Columbia (you might think Columbia’s English department is amazing, but many other universities have English departments. What about Columbia’s is different from the English departments elsewhere?). Lastly, relate to your own unique interests what you’ve listed.
For instance, don’t sing the praises of the Columbia Ballet Collaborative unless you want to do ballet! Moreover, don’t assume that the reader knows exactly how you relate to a given aspect of Columbia unless you’ve explicitly stated the relation earlier in the application. If you haven’t mentioned anywhere in your application that what you want to do with your physics degree is to work at NASA, then your reader won’t necessarily know why you so badly want to take a class with Professor Massamino.
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 less)
The third short answer question is one of the tougher questions among Columbia’s supplemental essays, because it asks you to explain why you are interested in the academic fields that you wish to pursue. Many students feel like they have to explain some grand story about how a doctor saved their best friend’s life and now they want to be a doctor, or they looked at the stars every night as a child before dreaming about astrophysics. The truth is, for many students, they chose a subject because they had a talent for it, or because the job opportunities are numerous. As a result, these students need to engage in some introspection before writing this essay.
If you do have a grand story about the origins of your love of 16th century French history, then that’s amazing, and you should write about it in as much detail as your 200 words permit! If that doesn’t sound relatable to you, though, there are still plenty of ways to express the answer to this essay’s underlying question: Why are you passionate about your prospective major(s)?
One way to help you get started on this essay is to think back to the origins of your academic interests. After all, a variety of financially reliable fields exist, and you likely have a talent for more than one academic subject. How did you end up choosing this one (at least for now), and what motivated this decision?
Another question to consider, especially if you can’t remember how you got into the subject, is how you feel when you are doing activities or assignments related to this subject. Are you always engaged during Spanish class? Do you feel a jolt of excitement when you find out you get to do a chemistry lab? Does reading a book for English class feel more like leisure than work? Addressing your emotional state can be a great way to “prove” that you are interested in your subject(s) of choice. That said, be sure to use specific language when talking about your emotions, involving rhetorical devices if you can, versus just writing that math makes you happy.
In Columbia’s admissions process, we value who you are as a unique individual, distinct from your goals and achievements. In the last words of this writing supplement, we would like you to reflect on a source of happiness. Help us get to know you further by describing the first thing that comes to mind when you consider what simply brings you joy. (35 words or fewer)
The fourth short answer question is also the shortest Columbia University supplemental essay, at only 35 words, in which you are asked to describe what brings you joy. A key word in this essay prompt is “simply.” Given the brief word count and the broad-ranging topic, it’s important to keep your answer simple to avoid leaving too many details unexplained. Moreover, as described in the prompt, this question is an occasion to display your uniqueness to the reader. Being simple, authentic, and specific in your answer to this short essay, using complete sentences if you can, will help your supplementals stand out even more.
The underlying questions this prompt asks are, How well do you know yourself? And Can you write clearly? This short answer is not necessarily the occasion to talk about your academic interests, unless they’re what truly, simply bring you joy. It’s also not the place to describe a specific happy event, like winning a tennis match or meeting your newborn sister. Instead, a way to turn those examples of happy events into a clearly written answer would be to describe your love of tennis over the past ten years, or your joy in spending time with your sister.
Because this essay is so brief, it’s advisable to stick to one topic that doesn’t require a lot of background information and remains, while personal to you, somewhat relatable to your reader. Admissions officers are humans too, and in this question, they are looking for your humanity. Providing an answer that displays your humanity authentically and relatably will be sure to round out your application effectively and holistically.
If you need help polishing up your Columbia supplemental essays, check out our College Essay Review service. You can receive detailed feedback from Ivy League consultants in as little as 24 hours.