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How to Respond to the 2022-2023 Columbia Supplemental Essay Prompts

Columbia University is one of the most superior schools in the country. As an Ivy League, it is also incredibly difficult to get into. Strong supplemental essay responses help you stand out among so many first-class applicants. Let’s go over each of the Columbia supplemental essays and help you cook up a great answer to each one:

Columbia supplemental essays: List questions

Columbia’s first few supplemental essay prompts ask for short list responses. In previous years, many students have attempted to write in complete sentences or elaborate on their choices. Columbia has spelled out exact requirements to combat these mistakes. Simply follow the guidelines, as they are not trying to trick you! 

  • Your response should be a list of items separated by commas or semicolons
  • No need to number items or put them 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

Prompt #1

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)

Prompt #2

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)

Avoid overthinking these questions and writing what you imagine admissions will find impressive. Be sincere in your answers. These titles should reveal what you like learning and what entertains you. If that’s listening to true crime podcasts in your free time and not reading War and Peace, that’s perfectly okay. You should aim to either showcase your versatility in topics that interest you or keep a common theme consistent. Also do not overlap works referenced across the lists. Take advantage of the longer word limit for prompt #3 to discuss the variety of media you consume; this could be anything from your favorite Ted Talk to a religious blog you’re a fan of. Have fun with this chance to show off your dynamic personality!

Columbia supplemental questions: Standard prompts

Prompt #3

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)

Columbia believes that interactions with diverse peers and faculty enrich students’ college experience. This prompt gets at how you engage with those who share different outlooks. A solid approach is to start with a story of a diverse community that you have collaborated with. Any group composed of people with differing identifiers, beliefs, socioeconomic statuses, etc. is fair game. 

For example, you could talk about a sports team you were a part of with players of varying backgrounds. Describe how you interacted with your teammates and what you learned. Did you gain greater empathy for your own family situation? Were your political views challenged? How did you manage conflicts that arose? Communicate your contributions and takeaways from this exposure. To tie things together, how will you apply these insights at Columbia? 

Questions to consider:

  • Have you had a particularly eye-opening volunteer experience? 
  • What is the benefit of working in groups with diverse viewpoints?
  • How might expressions of your cultural identity enhance Columbia communities? 

Prompt #4

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)

Obviously, Columbia is a highly regarded university.  But why do you personally find it so appealing? What traits make it your ideal school above all others? To answer this prompt successfully, you need to thoroughly explore Columbia’s offerings. Dig into Columbia’s website, informational materials, and social media. 

Write a list of your priorities for your college experience, in terms of both intellectual and personal growth. Take note of Columbia programs that fulfill these.  Do the school’s values really speak to you? Are there esteemed professors you’d like to learn from? What about cutting-edge research that you hope to participate in? Narrow your list by focusing on aspects uniquely offered by Columbia. The more specific you can get with your examples, the better!

Questions to consider:

  • Does Columbia offer a niche major or minor that other schools lack? Or a special study abroad program?
  • What is distinctive about Columbia in comparison to other Ivies?
  • What about the Columbia student experience outside of the classroom attracts you?

Prompt #5

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)

This prompt is very straightforward, asking why you selected your intended academic track. Think about when this subject first sparked your curiosity. Did moving around the world due to your father’s military occupation inspire your foreign language appreciation? Has Covid-19 piqued your interest in public health? Which novel made you want to become a creative writer, yourself? 

Describe the root of what intellectually stimulates you. Next, describe how you have pursued that topic; this could range from watching related documentaries to having conversations with those in the field. Showcasing ways you have continued to explore this area of study conveys genuine excitement. Columbia wants students that are enthusiastic learners! 

Questions to consider:

  • Did you take a course that began your fascination with your chosen subject?
  • Are you drawn to a particular field of study because of its need in society? 
  • Do you have any role models who have inspired you to pursue this topic? 

Also see: College essay primer: Show, don’t tell

Prompt #6

In Columbia’s admissions process, we value who you are as a unique individual, distinct from your goals and achievements. In the last words of this writing supplement, we would like you to reflect on a source of happiness. Help us get to know you further by describing the first thing that comes to mind when you consider what simply brings you joy. (35 words or fewer)

This question is as simple as it seems! When you feel exuberant joy, what is the source? Every person will respond differently here, but one thing applies to everyone, and that is the word count allowed. So, think of your own individual source of happiness that leads to total joy. Write about that without being so mindful of the word count. Keep cutting back and reworking your response until you reveal what truly brings you joy.

Summing it all up

Although the Columbia supplemental essays may seem daunting, they are not so bad. The list questions are a low-pressure way of sharing more of your interests. The three standard prompts are your classic community, why Columbia, and academic area questions. Planning out your answers beforehand ensures that your responses are clear and differentiated. With our tips, your essays are sure to shine! 

Additional resources for students completing Columbia supplemental essays

We know that supplemental essays are just one part of the college application process. Check out our other resources, such as how many colleges to apply to or how to find safety, reach, and match schools. Columbia University, as a private school, also comes with a hefty price tag. Our site also provides information on helping fund your education; for example, How to Write a Financial Aid Appeal Letter and Navigating Different Types of Student Loans.

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