Columbia Supplemental Essay

Tips for answering Columbia’s 2017 writing supplement

In addition to the primary components of the Common Application and Coalition Application, applicants are asked to respond to Columbia-specific questions to tell the Admissions Committee more about their academic, extracurricular and intellectual interests. We review the responses to these questions very carefully in order get a full sense of each unique individual beyond his or her transcripts and test scores.

We encourage you to familiarize yourself with these questions before beginning your application:

  • In 150 words or fewer, please list a few words or phrases that describe your ideal college community.

Lists are accepted here, so feel free to do just that. Of course, you want your “ideal college community” to overlap with the Columbia community that you’ve observed. Research is key here – if you can, visit campus! There is no better way to learn about the “feel” of a school than to be there. If you can’t visit, try to contact current students and have them answer some questions. Learning how current students feel about a college can speak greatly toward the type of community the school fosters.

For the four list questions that follow, we ask that you list each individual response using commas or semicolons; the items do not have to be numbered or in any specific order. No narrative or explanatory text is needed. It is not necessary to italicize or underline titles of books or other publications. Author names may be included, but are not required. You do not need to fill the entire space or use the maximum number of words; there is no minimum word count in this section, so please respond to the extent that you feel is appropriate.

  • List the titles of the required readings from courses during the school year or summer that you enjoyed most in the past year. (150 words or less)

Pick out the books that you enjoyed most this year (and don’t fake it!). When brainstorming, pick out novels that you learned something from or that had a meaningful impact on you in some way.

  • List the titles of the books you read for pleasure that you enjoyed most in the past year. (150 words or less)

This cannot (and should not) be a repetition of the list from the previous question. Columbia wants to learn more about you by seeing what you’re interested in reading.

  • List the titles of the print, electronic publications and websites you read regularly. (150 words or less)

Again, be honest here (there are no wrong answers). You could list a newspaper, magazine, blog, cookbook or website. Try and show a connection between the particular publication and an interest or hobby you’ve discussed somewhere else in your application.

  • List the titles of the films, concerts, shows, exhibits, lectures and other entertainments you enjoyed most in the past year. (150 words or less)

A strong answer here can come in a variety of shapes and sizes, just as with the previous prompt. Stick to who you are and what you enjoy, whether it’s movies, music, theater or art, for example. The important thing is to continue to reinforce your unique interests and personality to the admissions officer.

  • Please tell us what you value most about Columbia and why. (300 words or less)

Before writing, always try and re-read the question to highlight key components. The three most important words here are “you”, “value” and “Columbia” – use this as a reference while you write. Think about what draws you to Columbia – what specifically does the school offer that you see the most value in? What does it offer that no other school can? Additionally, how will you benefit from this? How will this add to your education as a student? Columbia’s admissions officers are looking for students who will thrive as a result of the resources the school provides.

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The Requirements: 6 lists of 150 words each; 1 essay of 300 words.

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

Columbia University 2017-2018 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 five 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 a few words or phrases that describe your ideal college community. (150 words or less)

This prompt is a trap – the Scylla and Charybdis of this supplement. To nail this list, you’ll need to navigate carefully between towering platitudes (like “diverse” and “intellectual”) and words that merely echo what you read on the Columbia website. Instead, think honestly about your preferences: Where do you do your best thinking? What qualities do your favorite teachers share? And so on. How do these preferences align with Columbia’s resources and ethos? Somewhere at the intersection of your needs and Columbia’s offerings, you’ll find your list. And remember it says words and phrases, so have fun! A unique simile (“like a bodega”) or clever sequence (“eye-opening, ear-splitting, fragrant, alive”) could really help you stand out.

(And if you don’t quite recall this Odyssey reference, you might want to review before you write anything about Columbia’s Core Curriculum.)

List the titles of the required readings from courses during the school year or summer that you enjoyed most in the past year. (150 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 you read for pleasure that you enjoyed most in the past year. (150 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.

List the titles of the print, electronic publications and websites you read regularly. (150 words or less)

This list is probing for your understanding of what it means to be an informed citizen. What do you think are the most responsible ways to engage with the world? What do you consider a reliable or worthwhile source of information? Newspapers and news sites may be the first sources that spring to mind, but don’t stop there! What’s the first thing you read every morning? What’s your go-to for a specific topic of interest? Do you absolutely love the sharp satire of the Onion or the crisp writing of a style blogger? Beyond simply showcasing your engagement with the world, this list can reveal the specific political and cultural niches you care most about.

List the titles of the films, concerts, shows, exhibits, lectures and other entertainments you enjoyed most in the past year. (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.

Please tell us what you value most about Columbia and why. (300 words or less)

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. In some ways, this question is similar to the first required list, so be sure you don’t recycle too many of the same words and concepts. In fact, you should consider writing the essay before any of the lists since this is your primary opportunity to speak to admissions in your own voice.

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