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Columbia University 2021-22 Supplemental Essay Prompt Guide

We try our best to make sure our guides are as up to date as possible, but we still recommend confirming each prompt and word count with the school in question.

The Requirements: 2 lists of 75 words each; 1 list of 125 words; 3 essays of 200 words each.

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

Columbia University 2021-2022 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 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!

List the titles of the required readings from academic courses that you enjoyed most during secondary/high school. (75 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, essays, poetry, short stories or plays you read outside of academic courses that you enjoyed most during secondary/high school. (75 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.

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)

What are you interested in? How do you pursue knowledge? Columbia wants to know! A savvy applicant will think not just about the resources and outlets they currently take advantage of, but also the resources available at Columbia (or nearby, since this Ivy League is in the middle of NYC!). This is your opportunity to geek out while demonstrating interest. So, which publications do you have bookmarked for all the latest updates on AI? Which museums fill you with inspiration and creativity? Which Spotify playlists open your mind to new genres and sounds? Have fun and don’t overthink it. Nothing is too silly or out there, and this is a great way to reveal something new about yourself and/or demonstrate how well-rounded your interests actually are.

List the titles of the films, concerts, shows, exhibits, lectures and other entertainments you enjoyed most during secondary/high school (in person or online). (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.

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)

Ah, the infamous “community” essay. Many schools ask students about their communities because they want to know how you relate to the people around you, forge connections, and commune with your peers. In this particular instance, the question emphasizes diversity and collaboration. What do these words mean to you and how do they relate to a community that you’re a part of? Maybe you’re very involved in a progressive church youth group that celebrates its members differences, including trans and nonbinary members. Perhaps the friends you made at the skatepark have introduced you to a new culture and mindset of “try and try again” that you love. Maybe there are different languages spoken by the volunteers in your community garden, and now you know how to say “basil” in four different dialects (BTW in Italian it’s “basilico,” fun fact). How do you see diversity and collaboration play out in your community? And, looking forward, how would you keep those values alive at Columbia next fall?

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)

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!

For applicants to Columbia College, please tell us what from your current and past experiences (either academic or personal) attracts you specifically to the areas of study that you previously noted in the application. (200 words or fewer)
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 areas of study that you previously noted in the application. (200 words or fewer)

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.

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