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The Requirements: 1 lists of 75 words; 1 list of 125 words; 3 essays of 200 words each, 1 short answer of 35 words
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 two 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!
How do you entertain, soothe, or rest your mind during your non-academic reading time? 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 of not just the most recent books you’ve read, but also 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.
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.
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 equity, inclusivity, diversity, and collaboration. What do these words mean to you and how do they relate to your perspective or lived experience? 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,” #funfact). How do you see equity, inclusivity, diversity, and collaboration play out in your community? And, looking forward, how would you keep those values alive at Columbia next fall?
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!
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 area of study within Columbia you are pursuing—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 and 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 which resources you will take advantage of that others might not think of or know about.
Columbia wants to know about something that makes you feel on top of the world, over the moon, like a dog with two tails! The “thing” you address can really run the gamut. Think about what has brought you great joy over the past few years. It could be learning an instrument, making TikTok videos, or building a relationship with a family member across the ocean. What you choose to write about won’t determine the success of your response so much as your reflection on it. Can you point to a need fulfilled within you or an experience you never would have had without it? Show admissions that you’re self-aware and can give credit where it’s due.