Essay Scoop: How to Answer Columbia Short Responses

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Julia de Raadt
Julia de Raadt

Julia has dedicated much of her career to education. Since commencing with Empowerly, Julia has looked after the research team which handles student questions on different topics about college admission.

Columbia University is one of the older private universities, founded in 1754.  It has one of the oldest engineering schools in the US. In addition to engineering, Columbia is also well-known for its Biological and Biomedical Sciences and Social Science faculties. Here we provide some tips and traps for responding to the Columbia short responses and questions.

In order to get a full sense of each applicant beyond his or her transcripts and test scores, Columbia University pays attention to short responses. These prompts, which are listed below, are typically the same from year to year. That means you can start preparing early!

What single activity listed in the activity section of your Common Application are you most proud of and why?

(150 words or less)

Keep it simple. Choose a major activity – one that you did not focus on in the Common Application major essay and write about it. Keep it to 1-2 paragraphs and focus on what it is, how long you have done it, why it is important to you, and what it means to you. The last two elements of this response are the most important and usually neglected. They just want to know which of your activities in your activity list is the most important to you if you had to choose one.

The Lists
  • 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)
  • List the titles of the books you read for pleasure that you enjoyed most in the past year. (150 words or less) 
  • List the titles of the print, electronic publications and websites you read regularly. (150 words or less) 
  • List the titles of the films, concerts, shows, exhibits, lectures and other entertainments you enjoyed most in the past year. (150 words or less)

For all lists: Columbia is known for its Core Curriculum, an intensive set of classes focused on fostering debate and pushing the boundaries of intellectual breadth. This prompt evaluates you against this backdrop. The strongest responses keep in mind questions like the following: What kind of exposure have you had and how does it inform your understanding of the world? What would your contribution be in class? You should be able to speak to the readings during the interview process – there is no right number of books for this prompt.

Please tell us what you find most appealing about Columbia and why.

(300 words or less)

This is a very straightforward “why us” question that requires research on aspects specific to Columbia that match your interests. Show that you have done some research on academic programs, professors, courses, clubs, or traditions, and mention your extracurricular activities that prove your interest in those specific Columbia areas. It is important to talk about both Columbia and why you would be a good fit. In addition, don’t focus on how much you want to be in New York City – the focus should remain on Columbia. 

Questions? Let us know!