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The Requirements: 4 lists of 150 words each; 3 essays of 200 words each.
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 four 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Chances are, you’ve done some community service at some point in your life, and Columbia asks you to reflect on that experience. The prompt is clear about what it wants you to cover and you have up to 200 words, so your response will require condensing! In some ways, this is a glorified resume entry, but you can bring it to life by devoting more of your word count to concrete, personal details instead of a verbatim recitation of the mission and vision of the organization you volunteered for (or worse, a bloated list of clichés related to the value of service). Why do you care so deeply about a particular cause, culture, or community? What have you contributed to this community and how did that experience make you feel? Remember that fundamentally, community service is not about personal glory or achievement; it’s about doing what you can to help others. Reflect on why being part of a community is important to you and, for bonus points, touch on how you would like to contribute to Columbia’s community once you arrive on campus.
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. Whatever the case may be, you should consider writing this essay before any of the lists, since this is your primary opportunity to speak to admissions in your own voice!
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 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.