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Columbia University 2019-20 Supplemental Essay Prompt Guide

Regular Decision: 

The Requirements: 5 lists of 150 words each; 1 essay of 300 words.

Supplemental Essay Type(s): Community, Activity, Why

Columbia University 2019-2020 Application Essay Question Explanations

Your college application is full of lists, from your transcript and test scores to your resume and activity list, but that hasn’t stopped Columbia! Their supplement asks you to generate five more lists, each revealing something new. As a general mindset, try to approach each one as if you were a curator. Can you pick items that connect to a common theme in surprising new ways? Can you turn seemingly contradictory interests into a humorous juxtaposition? When the prescribed format is a list, order matters just as much as content, so use every element of the assignment to your advantage!

List a few words or phrases that describe your ideal college community. (150 words or less)

This prompt is a trap – the Scylla and Charybdis of this supplement. To nail this list, you’ll need to navigate carefully between towering platitudes (like “diverse” and “intellectual”) and words that merely echo what you read on the Columbia website. Instead, think honestly about your preferences: Where do you do your best thinking? What qualities do your favorite teachers share? And so on. How do these preferences align with Columbia’s resources and ethos? Somewhere at the intersection of your needs and Columbia’s offerings, you’ll find your list. And remember it says words and phrases, so have fun! A unique simile (“like a bodega”) or clever sequence (“eye-opening, ear-splitting, fragrant, alive”) could really help you stand out.

(And if you don’t quite recall this Odyssey reference, you might want to review before you write anything about Columbia’s Core Curriculum.)

List the titles of the required readings from courses during the school year or summer that you enjoyed most in the past year. (150 words or less)

The key to this list is honesty. You may be tempted to rattle off the longest works or most impressive-sounding titles, but to create the most authentic and unique list, you need to answer the question. What is it that you enjoy in an academic setting? Homework may not be your favorite thing in the world, so ask yourself: What has excited or surprised you in the past year? What texts motivated you to work, read, and apply yourself to challenges? What has inspired you? Maybe it was a single Emily Dickinson poem, or maybe you couldn’t get enough of your physics problem sets. Consider the full scope of options (including textbooks!) and don’t shy away from picking texts from disparate subjects. This is your shot to reveal yourself as a well-rounded student and to demonstrate how your mind works.

List the titles of the books you read for pleasure that you enjoyed most in the past year. (150 words or less)

While the last list was about your academic mind, this list is all about your time off. How do you entertain, soothe, or rest your mind during your non-academic reading time? Similar to the preceding list, you’ll need to be careful to avoid self-aggrandizing or pandering choices. Don’t top your list with Crime and Punishment unless you genuinely picked it up of your own accord, read it from start to finish, and loved every second of it. Think not just of the most recent books you’ve read, but also of the old classics you can’t help rereading (“Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (for the fifth time)” or “My sixth grade diary”). Play with the sequencing here: how would you set these up in your library? Chronologically? Alphabetically? Thematically? According to the relationship between authors? Can you draw fun connections between your favorite works? Or maybe you can make an entertaining leap from the sublime to the ridiculous by placing a classic work of fiction alongside a graphic novel. Have fun with it! After all, this list is, at its core, about what you do for fun.

List the titles of the print, electronic publications and websites you read regularly. (150 words or less)

This list is probing for your understanding of what it means to be an informed citizen. What do you think are the most responsible ways to engage with the world? What do you consider a reliable or worthwhile source of information? Newspapers and news sites may be the first sources that spring to mind, but don’t stop there! What’s the first thing you read every morning? What’s your go-to for a specific topic of interest? Do you absolutely love the sharp satire of the Onion or the crisp writing of a style blogger? Beyond simply showcasing your engagement with the world, this list can reveal the specific political and cultural niches you care most about.

List the titles of the films, concerts, shows, exhibits, lectures and other entertainments you enjoyed most in the past year. (150 words or less)

When constructing this list remember that the medium and the content both say something about you! Perhaps you’ll list an array of events and activities all related to the environment, to show how much you care about the issue. On the other hand, you could enumerate a range of plays and musicals to highlight your enthusiasm for theater. Finding a central theme that speaks to a passion or your favorite way to take in the world around you (visual, verbal, physical) will help you transform your favorite experiences into an incisive look into your recreational brain.

Please tell us what you value most about Columbia and why. (300 words or less)

This brief assignment is Columbia’s version of the classic Why Essay, and the key to every good Why Essay is solid, specific research. Spend some quality time with the Columbia website or, if you can, on a campus tour. Ask questions, take notes, and dig to find specific people, programs, and experiences that excite you. In the end, you’ll need to go beyond simply listing the things that appeal to you. (For once you can write in full sentences!) You will need to make a more personal point: what do your interests reveal about YOU?

Now, revisit the question. Columbia doesn’t just want to know why you want to go there, but specifically what you “value.” Examining your research, ask yourself: what is the common thread in everything I have written down? Is it being a part of a global community? Once in a lifetime research opportunities? Something more abstract and philosophical? Imagine you’re writing a mission statement. In describing what you value about Columbia, how can you reveal what you value, period? Maybe an interest in a cappella points at an appreciation for collaborative working environments. Or perhaps your entrepreneurial aspirations will be fulfilled by Columbia’s unique Innovation and Entrepreneurship program. In some ways, this question is similar to the first required list, so be sure you don’t recycle too many of the same words and concepts. In fact, you should consider writing the essay before any of the lists since this is your primary opportunity to speak to admissions in your own voice.

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. (300 words)
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. (300 words)

These are two classic why essays. Regardless of whether you’re applying to Columbia College or The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science, your essay should be personal and, if possible, unexpected. This is not the place to detail your love of New York City or the dining hall. And Columbia already knows it has an impressive alumni network. Admissions wants to know what excites you about the specific school within Columbia to which you are applying — something that is aligned with your interests and academic background. So as with all why essays, you’ll want to set aside some time for research either in the form of a campus visit or deep dive on the school website. Even if you already have a great idea, a little fact-checking never hurt anyone. Since you don’t have a ton of words at your disposal, try to narrow your focus down to one or two elements and make a bridge from Columbia’s resources to your own experiences and goals for the future. Is there is a professor in your department who has done research you admire that you hope to work with? Is there a program that combines your unique interests that is not offered at any other school?  Get specific. Let Columbia know what resources you will take advantage of that others might not think of or know about.

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