How to Write the Columbia Supplemental Essays

Columbia lists all of their supplemental essays on their website, so you can start brainstorming them early. This year, Columbia has changed up some of their questions, as well as made the word length 200 words across the board (whereas before some were 300 words and some were 150 words).These questions are designed to get to know you better as a person, and not just as a student.

The first supplement asks you to list responses to the following prompts in 200 words or fewer:

  • List the titles of the required readings from academic courses that you enjoyed most during secondary/high school.
  • 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.
  • List the titles of the print or digital publications, websites, journals, podcasts or other content with which you regularly engage.
  • List the movies, albums, shows, museums, lectures, events at your school or other entertainments that you enjoyed most during secondary/high school (in person or online).

Honesty is key to successfully writing this supplement. Don’t try to manufacture a version of you that you think Columbia wants to see. Colleges want a diverse student body filled with quirky and curious students. If you try too hard with this question, you will run the risk of coming off as disingenuous or cookie-cutter. This is also a chance to demonstrate your various different interests – maybe you’re interested in both comic books and in musicology. Show both!

Columbia students take an active role in improving their community, whether in their residence hall, classes or throughout New York City. Their actions, small or large, work to positively impact the lives of others. Share one contribution that you have made to your family, school, friend group or another community that surrounds you. (200 words or fewer)

This is a great opportunity to talk about what you are most passionate about! Our biggest advice is to be unique, genuine, and creative. If you want to talk about a community service project or experience, draw us into the experience first by including lots of specific details. What did you see, smell, or hear the first day you volunteered at a library? What was going through your head–were you nervous, confused, excited, or everything all at once? How did your perception of that community change once you became a part of it? Avoid popular anecdotes about traveling to another country, helping low income communities, and understanding how other people live. These can sometimes come across as condescending or as a show of privilege. Brainstorm less about the most “impressive” contribution you may have made to a community and more about the most meaningful one to you. Think small community, big impact. The more specific and unique to you the better! Whether that’s helping your neighbor and his dad build his back deck when he got injured or babysitting your baby triplet cousins, these glimpses into your community can tell your reader a lot about you.

Why are you interested in attending Columbia University? (200 words or fewer)

Your response to this prompt should be Columbia specific; avoid talking about wanting to live in NYC or attend an Ivy League school. You should talk about specific professors you want to learn from, classes you want to take, or clubs you want to join. Research any special programs or requirements they have and write about the ones that attract you to Columbia the most. Be careful not to turn this into a 200 word list; choose a few traits of the college to focus on and dive into detail when describing them.

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)

For applicants to Columbia Engineering, 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)

For both of these questions, you should start off anecdotally and descriptively, and describe how the interest came about — perhaps it’s always been a fascination, or you started off hating the subject but grew to love it as you learned about it. At the end of the essay, connect this towards a potential career in this field and how you intend to use your studies and career to “make the world a better place.” Be specific about how you intend to benefit society through this career so that it doesn’t come off as cliche.