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How to Write the Columbia University Supplemental Essays

Columbia’s written supplements consist of two categories: the famous “list questions” and the regular short-answer questions that are designed to get to know you as a person and to assess your fit with Columbia’s campus.

This year, Columbia has updated their instructions for the “list questions” with the following clarifications:

Please refer to the below guidance when answering these questions:

  • Your response should be a list of items separated by commas or semicolons.
  • Items do not have to be numbered or in any specific order.
  • It is not necessary to italicize or underline titles of books or other publications.
  • No author names, subtitles or explanatory remarks are needed.

Given this clarification, here are the list item questions and how to answer them:

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)

This question asks you to list some of the literature you’ve read outside of school that you enjoyed the most. Contrary to popular belief, this is not a trick question, and there’s no need to pick books that sound impressive! Columbia simply wants to make sure that its students are avid readers and learners outside the classroom! Feel free to use this space to demonstrate your personal interests — if you’re a future English major, you might highlight your interest in medieval literature. If you’re interested in physics, perhaps list the theoretical physics books you’ve been reading.

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)

Columbia would also like to know what sorts of media you consume! This question is a great opportunity to further showcase your unique interests beyond academics! As with the previous list question, don’t try to write what you think Columbia wants to hear — be the most authentic version of yourself, as Columbia simply wants to create a diverse student body with intellectual curiosity. If you like to read graphic novels and explore operatic performances in your free time, this is the place to showcase it!

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)

While the question evaluates a student’s experience with and desire to work with and learn from people who are different from them, the wording specifically asks for an example. Perhaps there’s an experience that taught you the power of collaboration? An experience that influenced your approach to dealing with people who hold opposing beliefs? You should share details about the experience and discuss how you believe the experience will help you contribute to Columbia’s community.

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)

As you approach the “Why Columbia” essay, try to think of Columbia-specific experiences instead of just writing about wanting to go to a prestigious school. You can discuss specific professors and the classes that they teach or check out some of the many clubs that Columbia has on campus! Special programs through Columbia are also fantastic to touch on and are definitely appealing to future Columbia students! Most importantly, think about your past experiences and identity and try to express how you see yourself fitting into the student body at Columbia. You can discuss wanting to study in New York City as part of your response, but keep in mind that this should be in addition to your other reasons as there are plenty of other great schools in NYC!

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)

This is the “why this major” question. You’ll also want to start this question off anecdotally — maybe there was a specific memory that you have that helped you discover your passion for your given subject, or maybe your interest was cultivated over time. Whatever the case may be, try to pinpoint an experience that demonstrates your engagement and passion for a certain topic. You can also connect your passion to a future career and discuss how you plan to use your interests to make a difference in your community. Remember to be as specific as possible and make sure that this essay is uniquely you!

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)

This question simply asks you to identify something that brings you joy and very briefly describe what it is and how it brings you joy. This can be an object, an activity, or maybe even people — the easiest way to pick what to write about is to simply follow the instructions and write about the first thing that comes to mind when you think about what makes you happy.