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How to Write a Stand-Out "Why Columbia" Essay

Posted by Hayley Milliman | Oct 3, 2018 1:00:00 PM

College Essays




One of the essays that you’ll have to write when applying to Columbia University is the “Why Columbia” essay. In this essay, you’ll need to convince the admissions committee that Columbia is your dream school and that you’d be a great fit on the campus.

The “Why Columbia” essay question can be intimidating for many students.You might be wondering: what should I mention? What does the admissions committee want to hear from me?

In this article we’ll breakdown the “Why Columbia” essay, explaining in detail what the prompt asks and what the committee wants to hear. We’ll also show “Why Columbia” essay examples and explain they work. Finally, we’ll suggest some topics for your essay and give tips on how to write your college admissions essays.


The 411 on the “Why Columbia” Essay Prompt

Please tell us what you value most about Columbia and why.

 The “Why Columbia” essay prompt asks a specific question: why do you want to attend Columbia University over any other school?

The admissions committee wants to see that you are genuinely interested in attending Columbia over any other school.

As an applicant, you might be thinking that everyone applies to Columbia for the same reason: it’s an Ivy League school and one of the best universities in the world.

The admissions committee knows all of these facts about Columbia and they know that all students will know those facts, too.

What the admissions committee wants to learn is why you, specifically, want to go to Columbia rather than another amazing university.

From the admissions committee's perspective, students who really want to go to Columbia are more likely to enroll when they're accepted. That increases the university's yield rate and ensures that the freshmen class will be full.


What Is the Purpose of The “Why Columbia” Essay?

Why does Columbia require applicants to answer this essay? What is the admissions committee really looking for in your answer? Let’s analyze this prompt.

No matter which schools you’re applying to, “Why __ School” essays are perhaps the most common prompt you’ll find on college applications because colleges want to see that you really want to attend their school.

Why do colleges care that you want to attend their school?

Students who are passionate about their college or university are more likely to feel that the school is a good fit for them. They’ll be more likely to commit to their studies, participate in on-campus activities, and become an active alum after graduation.

If you show in your essay that you really love Columbia, it makes admissions officers feel more confident you’re going to have a significant and positive impact on their school.

If your reasons for attending Columbia are vague or, even incorrect (for instance, you suggest you’d like to take a major that isn’t at Columbia), the admissions committee will think that you don’t care about the school and aren’t really interested in it.

Basically the purpose of the essay is to suss out whether your interest in Columbia is genuine and to see whether you are ready to take advantage of Columbia’s many opportunities.


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What Should You Write About in Your “Why Columbia” Essay?

There are a number of different topics you can pursue for your “Why Columbia” essay. Ideally, you’ll want to explore specific topics that you can talk about in-depth. Here are some suggested topics:

    • Majors or classes you’re especially interested in
      • Look for actual class names, which you can find in the school’s online course catalog.
    • Professors whose research you’re interested in
    • Extracurriculars that you’d be interesting in joining
      • You can likely find these online, too.
    • Current and past Columbia students you’ve met who you admire
    • Volunteer opportunities
    • Financial aid opportunities Columbia offers that make it possible for you to attend
    • Professional development opportunities that Columbia offers

You should make sure to choose something about Columbia that no other school offers.

For instance, Columbia is in New York City and has relationships with a lot of businesses and organizations in the area. You can examine how Columbia-specific opportunities in New York City will affect your education positively. You don't, however, want to wax on about how you love city-living - you need to make sure to describe how Columbia's specific relationship with NYC helps you further your goals.

Match opportunities at Columbia to specific goals that you have. For instance, you can talk about how a particular professor’s course aligns with your ultimate career goals.

You need to be very specific in your answer: every single thing you say should relate to a particular feature of Columbia. The entire focus of your essay should be what Columbia offers and how you will take advantage of Columbia's academics and activities to get the best college education possible.





Tips for a Great Response to the Why Columbia Essay

Regardless of how you decide to answer this prompt, there are four tips everyone should keep in mind to make sure they’re fully answering the question, giving the information Columbia wants to see, and making sure they stand out from other applicants.


#1: Do Your Research

Before you begin writing your response to this essay prompt, you should know exactly why you want to attend Columbia University. There are multiple ways to do this research:

You can visit the school website or browse the course catalog.

Check out the school newspaper, schedule a campus visit, or create a meeting with an alum, current student, or a professor to get a feel for the campus.

Every college campus has its own vibes - visiting is the best way to get a sense of how Columbia specifically works with your personality as a student.


#2: Be Specific

From your research, you should have come up with specific reasons why Columbia is a great school for you. The more specific you can be when answering this prompt, the better.

Don’t say Columbia has great academics, caring professors, and an interesting student body. The vast majority of schools have that.

Instead, try to mention opportunities only Columbia can provide, like specific professors, course names, extracurriculars, or research opportunities.

The things you discuss should be things your other top schools don’t offer, things that really make Columbia stand out.


#3: Show Your Passion

Columbia wants students who care a lot about their studies and their school, so make sure this comes across in their response. A bland statement like, “I am impressed by Columbia’s strong engineering program” doesn’t tell the school anything about you or help you stand out from other applicants.

Show your passion by naming specific professors or features of the program.

You’ve done your research to mention specific qualities of Columbia that have enticed you, and now you need to discuss specific qualities about yourself as well. Why does the engineering program make you so excited? What do you want to get out of it? Be detailed, specific and honest.


#4: Proofread

Your Columbia essay should be the strongest example of your work possible. Before you turn in your application, make sure to edit and proofread your essays.

Your work should be free of spelling and grammar errors. Make sure to run your essays through a spelling and grammar check before you submit.

It’s a good idea to have someone else read your “Why Columbia” essay, too. You can seek a second opinion on your work from a parent, teacher, or friend. Ask them whether your work represents you as a student and person. Have them check and make sure you haven’t missed any small writing errors. Having a second opinion will help your work be the best it possibly can be.


Why Columbia Essay Example

If you’re stuck on what to write, looking at “Why Columbia” essays that worked can be helpful. In this section, we’ll examine one of the “Why Columbia” essays that worked and talk about what made it strong.

At a college visit this year, I met a Columbia alumnus named Ayushi, whose stories helped me develop a thorough understanding of Columbia. Ayushi told me that Columbia funded both her summer trip to Syria to interview refugees and her seed money for a start-up she launched. As an aspiring entrepreneur, I’m impressed by a university that encourages students to pursue their own independent creations instead of simply offering the option to work on faculty projects. Columbia’s four entrepreneurship organizations, among them the Columbia Organization of Rising Entrepreneurs, provide a dynamic start-up community for me to launch my own business.

In addition, when I explored Columbia online, the emphasis put on interdisciplinary studies particularly excited me. The Columbia Engineering website is rich with stories of engineering students who are also involved in Shakespeare troupes, service projects, and multicultural groups. In my opinion, diverse experiences are the foundation of creative thinking. At Columbia, I will continue to diversity my experience by not just joining the Parliamentary Debate Team, but also by making new friends on the intramural soccer field and starting a cultural club for Italian heritage students who wish to learn more about Italian history, language, food, and current events.

Columbia Engineering stands uniquely apart from other programs by incorporating several in-depth humanities and writing classes into the graduation requirements. I believe that looking at critical issues with an open mind and sophisticated grasp of the humanities is extremely important to being an engineer. For example, I could not imagine exploring the future of quantum cryptography without considering the political ripple effects of Edward Snowden, the moral ramifications of the quantum encryption revolution, and the relationship between technology and income inequality. I am confident that I will thrive in the Columbia culture of passionate engagement and vibrant, energetic conversation.

This essay comes to us via an accepted Columbia 2020 student at AP Study Notes.

Why does this essay work?

It answers the prompt specifically.

This essay gives examples of personal experience with the school and reveals an applicant who did their research. They give examples of how engineering students are involved on campus and talk about specific academic courses.

There are many details in this essay that are impressive, and the section that addresses the extracurriculars is cleverly written to showcase the applicant's diverse interests. The applicants mention of specific extracurriculars that they want to join indicates that they looked at many facets of Columbia University, not just the engineering department.

It’s clear from reading this essay where the author sees their self at Columbia. They’ve talked about specific organizations that they would like to be part of, such as the Columbia Organization of Rising Entrepreneurs, while also showing why they would want to be a part of that organization.

The author mentions a Columbia University student that they spoke with, which means they took getting to know the student body seriously and really wanted to find out what Columbia students were like to see if they fit in. The conversation with the Columbia alum also shows the applicant’s initiative - he or she is willing to go above and beyond to learn about the school.




In Conclusion

The purpose of the “Why Columbia” essay is for you to show Columbia that you feel Columbia is the best school for you

In your Columbia essay, you can write about multiple topics that are specific to Columbia, like academics, the student body, extracurriculars, and research opportunities.

When you’re writing your “Why Columbia” essay, make sure to research on the school and be specific about activities and opportunities that make you want to attend Columbia.

If you’re stuck on how to proceed, analyzing a “Why Columbia” essay example may help you get inspiration for what to write.


What’s Next?

How tough is it to get into Columbia? For answers, read our expert guide on how to get into Columbia and the Ivy League, written by a Harvard alum!

Should you apply early or regular decision to college? Find out the pros and cons of early decision in this article.

Want to see some more college essay examples? We have links to 101 great college essays that includes our expert analysis on how you can write a standout essay of your own.


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Hayley Milliman
About the Author

Hayley Milliman is a former teacher turned writer who blogs about education, history, and technology. When she was a teacher, Hayley's students regularly scored in the 99th percentile thanks to her passion for making topics digestible and accessible. In addition to her work for PrepScholar, Hayley is the author of Museum Hack's Guide to History's Fiercest Females.

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