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How to Write the Columbia University Supplemental Essays

You can find the Columbia supplemental essays on their website. Though Columbia has reworded some of their supplemental essays for the incoming class of 2026, the bulk of the content remains the same as last year. Columbia’s application consists of two categories: the famous “list questions” and the 200-word 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 “list item” instructions to provide the following clarifications:

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 below and how to answer them:

List the titles of the required readings from academic courses that you enjoyed most during secondary/high school. (75 words or fewer)

A hallmark of Columbia’s intellectual experience is engagement with the Core Curriculum, a set of courses designed to expose students to the cornerstones of Eastern and Western cultural, socio-political and philosophical development. These courses require ample amounts of reading, with Literature Humanities (the freshman literature seminar) sometimes requiring students to complete 500-600 pages of reading in a single week. Columbia wants to see that you are not only able to handle a rigorous academic curriculum but also that you’re able to enjoy the great works of culture that you’ve encountered in your academic journey thus far. Be honest with this question! It will allow Columbia to see what academic areas of interest you’re most passionate about.

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)

Similar to the previous question, this question asks you to list the books that you enjoyed, but this time for pleasure. Columbia wants to know that its students are avid readers and learners! 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 STEM, why not show off some of 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’re engaging with! Listing other cultural media that you regularly engage with will help Columbia get a sense of your interests outside of the classroom, further allowing your inner passions to shine! As you think about these list questions, remember to be honest! Don’t try to write what you think Columbia wants to hear–be the most authentic version of yourself. Columbia wants to create a diverse student body with curious and quirky students. These lists are a great opportunity to showcase your unique interests! If you like to read graphic novels and explore operatic performances in your free time, don’t be afraid to list both!

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)

You can use this space to discuss your greatest passions! Make sure to be unique, creative and genuine. Feel free to discuss a volunteering experience or a personal project that has had an impact on your local community. A great tip is to approach this essay anecdotally: tell a story about your experiences and provide as much detail as possible! Was there a specific moment that made you passionate about service? Did you meet some people along the way that helped you become a more zealous community member? Try to avoid the cliched “I traveled to another country” story to avoid coming off as pompous or condescending. You want to use this space to showcase the real, authentic you! Sometimes, making a small impact on a small group of people might be more meaningful than a large-scale endeavor, so make sure to think about how this might be unique to you!

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 or wanting to study in New York City. 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.

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)

You might also 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 with 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!